Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Bali's Crazy Scooter Driving

Bali, Indonesia

Sorry, we have been lazy with our blog lately. For those who think this blog is interesting, we apologize but there has been a lot going on here.  We hope to update more often.

We just returned from a nice long weekend in Bali. Easter weekend here in Australia was a 5 day holiday this year with ANZAC day (Australia and New Zealand Army Corps) falling on Easter Monday. Nancy and I decided to take the opportunity and head to Bali for some wedding planning.

It was a jam packed weekend visiting potential hotel locations. We arrived late Thursday night in Denpasar, the capital of Bali. A friend arranged a "rental" car for us which was a local's mini van. We were advised it had no insurance and if pulled over by police to state that we owned it. That's just the way things run around Indonesia. It was also my first go with a manual transmission vehicle with right hand drive. It is really odd switching gears with your left hand.

We headed off to our first resort to check out, which was in an area called Seraberata. It is about 55km from Denpasar up the west coast of Bali in a beautiful remote location. The drive was a bit hair raising, driving in Bali is a bit like playing a video game. Roads are very narrow, very windy, and full of pot holes. To add to the excitement there are dogs running around, scooters riding the wrong way and almost no street signs. You have to be incredibly alert and never, ever take your eyes off the road. The 55km trip took us 2 hours of driving. It was a long drive with never a dull moment, we saw one bus half over a cliff and had to navigate coconuts falling to the road from a truck while driving.

The effort was rewarding, we ended up at a beautiful small resort on a peninsula. The beaches in this area are dark black volcanic sand with glittery gold bits, the feeling on your feet is really different. The sea was powerful and awe inspiring and except for the few fishermen, not a person in sight for as far as we could see.

We enjoyed a 90 minute massage in a hut on a point high on cliffs above the ocean for only 200,000 Rupiah (about $20). The hut on the right is the massage villa, the building on the left is a honeymoon guest house.

We spent the next few days in Ubud, which is a small town in the centre of Bali. Ubud is known for its arts, culture and craftwork. It is also known (for good or bad) as where the book/movie Eat, Pray, Love was set. So yes we did eat great food, and pray, but only when on the scooters. And love - that should be obvious shouldn't it?? Ubud is a town that can be hot, steamy, chaotic and busy. Frequently there are scooter traffic jams around town, it can be faster to go on foot than by car or scooter.

Have you ever seen a parking lot like this?

The other side of Ubud can be very different. It can be very peaceful, calming, and has many hidden treasures. The dingiest looking restaurants from the street can open up into the most beautiful patio backing onto a rice paddy in the middle of the city - a balinese oasis. The perfect place to enjoy local ice cold Bintang (Indonesian for star) which comes in my favourite "Big Bintang" 620ml size.

Rice paddy in middle of town...

Ubud has great variety of foods to suit all tastes. It is a quirky town of locals and expats. Accommodations can range from the simple guest house, to ultra luxurious resorts. In the same week, you can take a cooking class, go white water rafting, hire a scooter for a tour, shop for bargains, or enjoy some great live music. All of this is within reach of beaches, diving, volcanoes and temples. 

We visited Monkey Forest in Ubud which is a sacred site, but as expected, full of wild monkeys. A bit unnerving as they crowd around you, kind of like going to a deer feeding park - but monkeys! Here is a monkey terrorizing a tourist for his bananas, complete with a baby in tow.

The last few nights we stayed in some really cool places around Ubud that were great value for what they were. We had everything from jungle valley views, to thatched roof huts, to outdoor showers.

But in Bali, it's all about the infinity pools...

We finished off our weekend with a scooter ride back from Ubud to Denpasar where the airport is, about a 25km ride. We only had one scooter, so it was me, Nancy, and two large backpacks on a 50cc scooter through crazy Denpasar traffic. Navigating can be tough, a local SIM card in the iPhone for service and Google Maps got us around without issue.

For those that will hopefully come here for our wedding, never fear, we will have a real car for you (and will get you at the airport).

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Being Tourists

Sydney Australia

As new residents to Sydney we decided it's important to get all the touristy stuff out of our system asap. This way we'll know where to take visitors when they come to visit and have a better understanding of the area. Maybe these photos will help entice you to come visit us!!

Oprah House & Harbour Bridge
One evening Dean and I decided to go for a picnic at the Botanical Gardens. We rode our bikes through the city which has an amazing bike system complete with designated lanes and signal lights to the park entrance (passing Russell Crow's house on the way)

We set up on the grass with a perfect view of the Oprah House and Harbour Bridge. Here I taught Dean a short yoga class and then we popped a bottle of wine and picnicked until the sun went down. And a beautiful sun set it was.

The Blue Mountains
Last weekend we took a road trip out to the famous Blue Mountains (aprox. 1 1/2 hour drive from Sydney). We had a quick stop along the way at a farm shop to pick up duck food for a friend (who obviously has pet ducks) a bit random but gave us the opportunity to see a bit of the country side.

Once we hit the city of Katoomba we took a lunch break at this really cool Cafe called the 'Common Ground Cafe' which had a warm and welcoming vibe, very unique decor and excellent home made organic food. The setting is hard to describe but had this lord of the rings kind of feel. It felt a bit like being in a fantasy world tree house with it's squiggly wooden booths, stools made of old wheels, hand paintings on the actual wall itself, wooden barrels for sinks in the washroom and apple baskets lamp shades.

Next, headed on to the trails..
The Three Sisters
The infamous Three Sister Mountains. Each standing over 900 meters tall (3000 feet).

Legend: As the Aboriginal legend goes - three sisters 'Meehni, Wimiah and Gunnedoo' lived in the Jamison Valley as members of the Katoomba tribe. These beautiful young ladies had fallen in love with three brothers from the Nepean tribe yet tribal law forbade them to marry (this sounds like an Aboriginal's version of Romeo and Juliet) The brothers were not happy to accept this law and decided to capture the three sisters causing a major tribal battle (well duh.. holding hostages rarely leads to eternal happiness)

As the lives of the three sisters were seriously in danger, a witchdoctor from the Katoomba tribe took it upon himself to turn the three sisters into stone to protect them from any harm. While he had intended to reverse the spell when the battle was over, the witchdoctor himself was killed (would have been smart to have an understudy maybe?). Only he could reverse the spell to return the ladies to their former beauty, the sisters remain in their magnificent rock formation as a reminder of this battle for generations to come (and reminder to always have a plan B)
And here they are, the lovely Three Sisters in rock formation.
Next we ventured down the Giant Stairway which is literally over 900 steep steps down into the lush forest below. Excellent workout for those glutes!

The steps varied from stone to wood to wire of random sizes and steepness. It took us about 40 min to go up and down and definitely got our hearts pumping.

Kangaroo Scrotum "a genuine Australian Souvenir"

Like a true tourist onto the gift shop we go!  Postcards, books, hats, toys, candy and other australian paraphernalia. What is this? Kangaroo Scrotum on a key chain or if you prefer a bottle opener!?!  A "Genuine Australian Souvenir" yes I suppose it is but oh that is wrong in so many ways.

Aboriginal man playing the didgeridoo
And his lovely boomerangs for sale