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Trip Report First time in Bali

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Hotel review: Le Meridien is a beautiful resort, located on the southwest coast. It has a stunning view of Tanah Lot, the temple just off the shore where everyone goes for sunset photo ops. At first I was disappointed, because it seems so far from anywhere. I finally realized that it takes a long time to get anywhere in Bali: most of the roads are small and windy. Once I got my Bali-sense, I appreciated the resort even more. The resort is surrounded by rice terraces, and that is reflected in the landscaping. The grounds are gorgeous. For those of you who like golf, there is a course there. We took a villa – a walled enclosure emulating a family compound. There was a gazebo with a day-bed, a small cool plunge-pool with fountain, and lounge chairs, as well as our spacious aircon room. There was a private outdoor shower, perhaps my favorite thing of all.

The food is very good, with plenty of variety. My favorite is the fresh local fruit, much of which I had never seen before. There is little outside the resort. The most important thing to know about Le Meridien when you are picking a place to stay is that it has no beach. The ocean crashes into the cliffs right below you, and there is often a mist from the water – but there is no sandy beach and the closest one is at least ½ hour away.

Our first excursion was to see the Tanah Lot Temple. Be warned, you need a little cash to enter. You then wind through a bunch of stalls to get to the temple itself. This occurs at most of the temples visited by tourists, I found. It was a little annoying to think you were going someplace holy and be accosted to buy trinkets, but I guess it happens everywhere (Lourdes, for example). We could not go up in to the temple area (I heard they were renovating in ’06 – still?).

We asked at the desk for a recommendation for the closest sandy beach – one with restaurants, bars, etc. They sent us to Canggu. At the dead end of a rutted, lonely track, we found a single strip of 3 restaurants. Flat rocks into the water, which is surfer water. No sand. We made the best of it, and enjoyed chatting with the touts (only 3 there – what the market could bear apparently), eating, and having a few beers. Storm beer is a good local brewery, with 3 varieties from which to choose. Or drink all of them. It’s the only place we ever bought trinkets. Back at the hotel, we ate a lovely meal at Nirwana.

Took the hotel shuttle to Ubud. They dropped us off at the entry to the Sacred Monkey Forest. I had heard one too many horror stories about those mischievous monkeys to want to go in there. Our experience of Ubud was a disappointment. Perhaps if we had stayed there, we could have enjoyed what it had to offer. As it was, we walked up one shop and hotel-lined street, then another, looking for something air conditioned (massage, coffee, you name it). It was hot. NB: there is less air-conditioning in Bali than in Thailand. Much less. One coffee, one massage and one terrible manicure later (no a/c, by the way), we headed back for the early bus. Advice to others: get a hotel in Ubud to enjoy it.

That night, I was looking out my window, and saw a creature walking along our villa wall, then sleekly moving down into the bushes below. It looked like a big cat with a weasel face. I found out later it was a Lowak (what we call a civet), the animal famed for eating coffee fruit, excreting the beans which are then harvested, cleaned, and roasted to make the most expensive coffee in the world. I’m glad I saw it in the ‘wild.’

Next day, we tried again for a sandy beach. This time, they told us to go to Seminyak. Our driver took us there, chatting with us all the way. As we drew closer he asked what we were looking for. When we told him, and he told us that Seminyak was black sand. Instead, he took us to Nusa Dua, to a small public beach tucked in between the fancy hotels. There was a decent restaurant, chairs in sun and shade, a lovely beach, great, calm water for swimming, showers, towels, massages…you name it. The locals were harvesting seaweed – at least that is what we came up with: they were bringing in the seaweed, sorting through it, then taking a bunch of it back into the ocean. On the way back, we arranged for Made (Made Suardika), our driver, to take us out for the day to see the sights. He was a great guide and driver, and we recommend him to anyone who wants a great guide:

Next day, Made (pronounced Mardy) picked us up and we began temple-hopping. Goa Gaja (Elephant Cave), Pura Tirta Empul (Sacred Springs). Stopped at a coffee ‘plantation,’ where you sample the goods for free before going through the gift shop. This is where I saw a Lowak in captivity. On to Petulu to see the Kokokan (egrets) congregating in the trees (who made a ‘deposit’ on me). This whole time, Made is giving us a fabulous education on Balinese culture, religion, and politics. We stopped in a Batik factory, a wood-carving site. Went up to the caldera overlooking Gunung Batur and lake Batur. On our drive home, we watched people in several villages as they progressed to the temple for celebrations. The women were dressed beautifully, carrying their intricate offerings of fruit and other items, several feet high, on their heads. It was beautiful. All in all, quite a tour for one day!

Note to Bali Newbies: in the temple, you must be dressed appropriately. I wore short sleeves and a skirt below my knees, and I was fine. Mike had to cover his shorts with a sarong, which they either lend or rent to you. In two of the places we went, a guide simply adopted us and took us around the temple. I was planning to simply ignore them, but they were very informative. They give you the history and interesting facts and may take pictures for you. At the end, we gave them a ‘gift.’ It was well worth the buck or so we gave them.

In summary: It took us awhile to get on “Bali time,” not sweating the time spent on the road. We didn’t see everything we wanted to in the 6 days we had. We would have gone diving off the Eastern shore if we had a chance. If we did it again we would stay in Seminyak, which has the beach town atmosphere we like, if not the beach. We did enjoy our time there, and were relaxed beyond belief. Made really made the difference for us. He taught us, entertained us, and was genuinely interested in our lives as well.

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