Saturday, January 28, 2012

Bali Who: Part II -Meals, Mullets and Magical Dance

Happy Birthday Duncan. I planned a relaxing day for Duncan, starting with a Balinese massage. Balinese women are miracle workers with hand strength far exceeding their petite stature. While Duncan tried to put the disposable underwear on his head, causing a commotion at the spa, I settled into a book and people watching.Yes, Duncan thought that the tiny pare of undies one of the ladies handed him could not possibly be expected to cover his unmentionables. I have had a massage in Bali before and has encountered to paper panties, but forgot to warn him. An international incident was avoided when Dunk negotiated with the ladies to wear his own boxers instead of the standard issue pair, not without a lot of blushing and laughter. The beach was decorated with large men in small swimsuits. Speedos, banana hammocks or my favorite-budgie smugglers (Australian slang) are certainly not fashionable, but they definitely don’t look comfortable either. So neither fashion nor function, unless you are a competitive swimmer and I doubt any of the men I witnessed fell into that category. Always amazes me.

Duncan survived his massage and we enjoyed a relaxing day by the pool before getting ready for our dinner adventure. The reviews I read about our hotel had several complaints about the size of the pool. I have to say that the pool was pretty massive with a large deep end and special area for kids. Yes, I have seen bigger pools, but this one was lovely and always very clean. I will say however, that the ocean in front of the hotel was pretty murky, which limited my swimming to one wade in up to my shins. Sad that such a gorgeous place has much so much trash and pollution.

My plan for Duncan’s birthday dinner was to eat on the beach at Jimbaran Bay. This area is renowned for its seafood restaurants that line the bay and offer tables on the sand, often with live dances or music. I selected a restaurant and made arrangements with Made, who would be our taxi driver for the remainder of our trip. When you pull in to the restaurant, yes you pull in vehicle and all; you are rushed by staff members and escorted to the dinning area. The vehicles are checked with mirrors on sticks in attempt to scout out bombs. This happens at every hotel as well. Since the 2002 bombings that killed 202 people, security has been heightened to reduce other incidents and also ease the minds of tourists in attempt to draw them back to the island.

Our host suggested we sit inside because the wind was quite intense, ripping up and down the beach. I was so disappointed and checked the beach tables just in case. Seeing that we would have been blown off our seats we settled at a table just inside a covered patio with an ocean view. We opted for fruity cocktails and the bartender whipped up something special for Dunk’s birthday, said with a twinkle in his eye. I reiterated that we did not want ice in our drinks. Water is an issue in Bali and even though you might not drink from the tap the ice cubes are made from that water. Yes, many hotels make them from bottled water, but many places do not. I did not want to start our holiday off with a nice serving of Bali Belly, so we asked for our drinks straight up. We were warned by the news before we left that there were issues recently, even with the bottled water. Duncan’s family grabbed us a bottle of Cotties Red Cordial to stash in our suitcase. Apparently this is the Australian travel secret for Bali. There is some sort of antibacterial chemical in the red cordial (a little scary in itself) that prevents Bali Belly. We started each day by pouring some in our bottles of water.

The standard procedure of these restaurants is for you to pick out your seafood and the amount you want. I let Dunk have the honor and waited to see what would arrive. You have the option of fried, grilled or steamed. We went with grilled, trying to stay somewhat healthy. We enjoyed local snapper, clams and calamari. We always check the fish, what type and where it is from. Nice when you can actually see it before. We rarely eat seafood out, so this was a nice treat. They put on quite a lavish spread with soup, salad and rolls before the main entrĂ©e. Dishes are served family style and you go for it. We washed down dinner with some cold Bintangs, the local Indonesian beer and enjoyed the wild ocean that was ravaging the beach. A local band sang “Happy birthday,” to Duncan as well as the Jimmy Cliff classic, “ I Can See Clearly Now.” Amazing how some songs transcend all languages and culture and make people smile everywhere they are played. The man singing had an incredible voice and we graciously tipped them for their performance.

We enjoyed fresh fruit for dessert before taking a stroll along the beach. Sadly, the beach was covered in trash. Debris washed a shore, but was also refuse from the restaurants. Makes your heart so sad to see. The waves crashing onto the beach were littered with brightly colored masses of plastic, while napkins, plastic forks and straws covered the beach in white. All the romance in the walk was lessened because we were both disheartened trying to dodge the trash. I wonder why people don’t care about the planet. Filthy beaches are no good for the earth and certainly not a selling point for tourists, a major industry in Bali. We managed to find some bare patches and did our best to enjoy the stroll before returning to meet Made. He was there and ready, most of the time they don’t actually leave, but hang out and wait for you. We were whisked back to the hotel and enjoyed a few cocktails before retiring.

Breakfast on our all-inclusive package was consistently the best meal of the day. They really put on a spread with the most eclectic mix of options I have ever seen. The Asian culture has had a tremendous influence on the island and this is seen in miso soup, noodles and pot stickers for breakfast. They also offered fresh fruit, yogurt, eggs cooked to order, pancakes, sausage, bacon, potatoes and other hot treats along with dozens of bread and pastry options. I figured, “ when in Rome,” and had some noodles with vegetables on one morning, veering from my regular massive fruit bowl and yogurt. We hit the fresh fruit season just right. The watermelon, my favorite fruit, was incredible. Definitely the best watermelon I have ever had. We also enjoyed pineapple, mango, cantaloupe, papaya, honeydew, mini bananas, passion fruit and snake fruit. I became obsessed with snake fruit on my first visit and have tried to find it other places with no luck. Called snake fruit because of the skin, Salak looks like giant cloves of garlic and is like no other fruit I have tasted. I got a giant bag at the market to have in our fridge along with having it at every meal. Dunk was not a fan; fine more for me.

Lunches were al a Carte and always include a lush salad bar and fruit tray. Gado-Gado was my favorite option. A traditional dish of noodles, bean sprouts, cabbage, green beans, scallions, tofu and tempe (firm soybean patty also known as tempeh) with a light peanut sauce. YUM! Dinners were a bit more varied with themes most nights. We had a Moroccan BBQ followed by some unfortunate live music. Think BAD karaoke. We had a traditional Indonesian night with a great dance performance. This was amazing and part of the culture that is incredibly beautiful. I was so excited for Duncan to see the intricate movements of the girls’ eyes and individual fingers. The movements are trance like and I got completely lost. Balinese dance is not just a performance, but also a visual and audible experience.

Another night we enjoyed the Kecak Dance. In this tradition, a group of men chant and sing to create a beat and tell a story. Dancers fill the space around a flame and love, battles and drama unfold in front of the audience. We got a seat up front and got drawn into the rapture. It always amazes me how disrespectful people can be when others are speaking or performing. We had people that would not stop talking sitting next to us. If you don’t want to enjoy the show then why are you sitting up front? I thought we might be safe from the loud talkers on their cells phones, but no, not even a quiet evening at a remote resort can thwart that. These people are sharing their culture and a sense of pride in their country and you cannot sit and stay quiet for 20 minutes. Boggles my mind.

When you stay at an all inclusive resort you get to know the other guests, as you see them at almost every meal and at the pool each day. Most people opt for all-inclusive because God forbid they venture out and see the country and meet the people. We had some amazing characters that shared the week with us. I spotted a Boston Bruins hat and commented, making friends with a couple from Massachusetts. There was the young couple that slathered themselves in sun block, but failed to cover their small children, who turned various shades of red over the week. The massive eating couple, with the husband nearly taking off my arm to grab a plate and get ahead of me in the buffet line. His wife gave me an embarrassed look of apology while he mumbled something under his breath. I just smiled and remembered never to get between him and a meal. Then there were the three young Brits that had shown up probably looking for Spring Break and found a family resort. These three guys played chicken in the pool and often shared 2 sun loungers between them. They were an odd looking trio, but seemed to make the most of the lack of party atmosphere. Most people that age flock to Kuta, the supreme party epicenter.

The most amazing couple however, was team mullet. It is not often that female mullet is displayed in full glory, but we were fortunate enough to have such an encounter each day of our holiday. Mr. Mullet rocked the graying long and curly, with luxurious locks below his shoulders for the party portion. His wife preferred the sporty model in jet black. The icing on the cake was the collection of banana hammocks that Mr. Mullet rocked poolside. My personal favorite was a pair of aged boy shorts that had writing on the butt, usually reserved for college coeds or members of cheering squads. I have never seen anything like it and it really was his defining moment of glory. When you start to grow that style, what do you say to the hairdresser or barber? Do you ask for business on top and party in the back? I am sure this couple had been sporting these dos since the 80’s and just wonder what goes through people’s heads. As someone with short hair that often decides to grow it out, the impending mullet that could happen makes me cut is short with reckless abandon. I fear the mullet, but am in awe of those who put in a solid performance.

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