Mecca and the Soul Brother (Our first trip to Uluwatu and Balangan)

Our weekly day trip and this time we’re headed south. Moped fueled up, supermarket sandwich for breakfast and we’re off.

We followed our well known route all the way down the main road. Turning right at McDonalds and then wow! It’s hill time. Huge long hills and the bike is huffing and puffing. We spot the sign for Balangan beach, our first destination.

We make it to the beach around 11am. It is ridiculously hot. I take my board off its rack. It just fits under my arm. Today in its board bag for sun protection, it is the most awkward thing I could wish to carry. Prior to the trip I even talked to Jen about leaving my board and renting one at the beach to avoid having to babysit. After my first wave I’m glad I brought it.

As we arrived at the beach, the bay opened up. Headlands at either end and a big crescent of yellow sand. The tide is in, the beach is thin and there’s only 20 surfers out. What is most apparent is the amount of plastic on the beach. Tomorrow we will be part of Bali’s biggest beach cleaning event to date. Today, right now, this ocean paradise is covered in plastic.

We progress through a familiar ebb of ‘plastic’ despair and find a spot where Jen can chill while I get my surf fix. The Bukit is the centrepiece of Balinese surfing. The southern end of Bali ‘The Bukit’ is practically it’s own island; linked to the mainland by a narrow northerly neck. I bodyboarded at Balangan 16 years ago. It was so-so. I remember likening it to a powerful UK beach break. Today was completely different. It was certainly doing its thing and from what i’d read, it was only just getting started. Thank god.

There were two groups of surfers out. The first were right out by the southerly headland. The second were just in from there, sat further down the line of the reef where the waves were breaking. I sat outside the second group, feeding off their scraps. It worked well to get a few quick waves and boost my confidence. These were steep waves. I’d been surfing fatter waves recently up the coast at Canggu with the Longboarders. This was different. I got nailed by some bigger waves. My board being whipped out of my hands as I attempted to duck dive through them. I pulled on my leash to reach the surface and take a new breath. Later I felt the grip of my fins catch into the face of the wave as I notched up a couple of intensely fun, short fast rides. It was beautiful. There was an eddy of plastic flotsam floating nearby.

Buzzed off my surf I came in to find Jen on the beach. In need of shade we walked towards the raised wooden shacks that lined the centre of the beach. The waves were breaking between their head high stilts. We timed our move carefully to reach an entry ladder.

Overlooking the sea we had a perfect view of the waves. 2 big Bintang beers and some Nasi Goreng (vegetable fried rice) equals a pretty sweet setup. We must have sat there for an hour and a half at least. Playing with the zoom lens on the camera, watching the surf, and talking somewhat passionately about nothing I can remember. Looking back now, I want to call it Vibing. That’s what we were doing. You might say we were chilling. You could say that. But it was more than that. Vibing. Off my tits on happiness. Of course I can’t answer for Jen.
The energy waned, we paid our bill and headed back up the hill. We explored the empty roads of a bizarre complex of holiday resorts behind the beach. It felt alien and a bit soul-less, compared to where we’d just been.

ULUWATU
Finding the coast road once more and I realised we had managed to divert past the beach where I had stayed 16 years ago. We kept on, knowing that we’ll come back another day and have a look.

We passed Padang Padang, another legendary wave and carried on all the way to Uluwatu.
Built into the cliffs, numerous cafes offered incredible views over this impressive setting. Stretched out across maybe 200-300 metres, four groups of surfers were catching what can only be described as massive waves. And It was a small day in comparison. ‘Everybody’s just so freaking good out there’ replied the guy in the carpark as he put his board back on his bike.

For now, I am strictly in research mode. Yes you can surf Uluwatu at any level of experience. Anyone can enter the water. It’s just that I’d rather get a bit more clued up. There’s a lot of water shifting around. Further, entry to the sea is through the infamous cave. And you have to get back in through the cave too. Miss your timing and you have a long paddle back around the currents. It’s a serious venue. Not too mention the reef sitting beneath the waves.

As we passed a monkey eating a banana we made our way to the top of the cliffs. Our zoom lens did us proud and we witnessed some incredible surfing.

Driving back, we found a dirt track that led to an empty beach. We floated in the sea as the sun went down. It was lush.
RETURNING HOME

Bumper to bumper the whole way. We stopped at a mini supermarket after an hour to down a red bull AND a coffee and then inhale a bumper pack of chilli tortillas. That lot sure got us home. Knackered we slumped onto the bed. The next morning we woke up with the sun as per normal. It was beach cleaning time.

 

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JenderBender go to the mountains. (“It’s a bit chilly in vest and shorts”).

It was so good to get on the bike and go. We headed off around 8am, ponchos in hand. You never know quite what the weather’s going to do here. It’s our day off. Let’s go and find out.

Over the years, and in everywhere we’ve lived, we’ve found that we share a love for exploring. Quite simply, all we do is set off with a direction not a destination. We have a look at the map, get orientated and then go. We love it. Simple discoveries that may have been taken for granted become memorable discoveries. And decisions of which turn to take at a junction become full of intrigue. We can always retrace the way we came anyway.

So we set off from the coast and headed towards the centre of the island. That was it. The whole plan. As we motored through the first set of rice fields we caught sight of our first Balinese mountains. Neatly laid out across the horizon. They looked as if they each stood alone like a monument. Llittle did we know how far we would climb through them later on.

One of the beauties of the bike is that it’s even easier to stop and check things out. Far from whizzing along we found ourselves ‘pootling’ through these fascinating new landscapes. A roadside river with a small waterfall. The back gardens of houses sprawling over a hillside. The endless roadside temples and ornate balinese family homes. It was sunday, and every village was making huge temporary statues of Ogres! Guessing this is part of the upcoming new year festivities (which includes an entire day of silence for the whole island!) Huge 20- 30 foot statues were being made of gruesome Ogres. I can’t wait to see them in procession.

A pet love (is that the opposite of a pet hate?) of mine are the words and phrases you come across when travelling. I love to roll new unfamiliar words over and over. Guessing meanings and pronounciations, and laughing at what it could possilby mean if you took it literally in english. We saw a guy at a birthday party later on in the day wearing a t shirt with a cup of coffee on it. It simply read ‘Fuck Cups’. Love it.

We carried on toward the mountains and all of a sudden there were tourist buses everywhere. And massive fruits. I mean huge. Like the size of 3 year old kids. Seriously, google ‘giant jack fruit’ and you’ll see what I mean. Literally the size of 3 year old humans. They were everywhere. Stall after stall after stall of these gargantuan beasts. Slightly intimidated we kept on rolling by. If I find out what all the buses were there for I’ll let you know.

From then on the road bent uphill. And it didn’t stop. Our little moped handled the entire trip courageously as the long straight roads started folding into excessively steep hairpins.

And then came the view. Looking southeast, a wide expanse of lowlands. Two volcanic peaks in the distance to the left and the coastal islands of Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Penida straight ahead. It was hazy and the air temperature was starting to get very fresh too. Time to switch from vest to t-shirt. It wasn’t yet time to double up my layers.

APEX

Switching to downhill is always a strange experience after a consistent climb. The wheels roll freely, there is an absence of engagement in the engine and everything gets quieter. This vacuum was soon replaced with an instant heavy downpour. It was time for a break. The ponchos can wait. We saw a sign for a farm/restaurant up a track. It turned out to be incredible.

The restaurant was a wooden structure that jutted out over a playground with a wide view of a lake beneath a mountain. All around were trees, tall bamboo and small huts. It was proper junglistic.

There was even, to our amusement, a birthday party in full swing. The MC was rocking the party beats and the crowd were loving it. In a post lunch digestive haze (best chips so far in Bali!) I suddenly jogged into cognition: I know this tune! It was only one of the first keyboard pieces I learnt to play a couple of years ago. So that’s how it’s meant to sound. It’s called Sakura which means cherry blossom in Japanese. Cherry Blossom is one of Jen’s absolute favourite things…..

We wandered the orchid garden, Jen got attacked by a massive turkey, (no really, we were beating it off with our bags and we had to be rescued!) We found Buddha statues throughout the grounds and then a beautiful nest of yurts that were big enough to accomodate a lot of people. It would be an epic place to have a party. Even a wedding. We called the place Bali Matara as it struck parallels with our wedding venue back in England.

More Buses

Back out onto the road and within 5 minutes another congregation of buses appears. We roll past slowly, eyes wide, what’s it all about? The flash of a sign for a water temple. Looks pretty cool. Let’s do it.

Western Superstars

‘He’s my husband’, Jen replied. ‘Wow!’ Came the reply. We laughed as we remembered that now we too were part of the tourist attraction. By now I imagine we are all over Indo facebook ūüôā

The Lake and the Temple

A badass temple sits in the lake just off the shore. It’s a beauty, with many ‘meru’s’ or layers of roofs stacked high. I think this indicates the level of spiritual importance. This is one of the lakes that drains into the irrigation channels of the island. I’d say that’s pretty sacred. The heavy black clouds that darted instantly over the adjacent mountain only added to the ambiance.

The Homeward Bungee

We decided to head back towards home. Retracing our tracks down the mountain would be fine. Still a new experience. A quick check on the map showed a possible new route that would lead us back toward a main road on the west of the island. It was 2:30pm loads of time before it gets dark. Let’s do it!

There is a completely different experience between heading away from, and heading towards home. That instant fear that the fun is coming to an end can only be played with through distractions. We took lots of little detours to delay the imminent return home. This IS our day off after all!

The change of direction was amplified by the mountains. The persistent effort of gaining height into the mountains was now completely inverted. It was like the mountains couldn’t wait to get rid of us. Now the breaks on the bike became a constant necessity as these smaller back roads warped and weaved down mega inclines. I am glad its not raining right now.

The quietude and the views all made it worth it. Breathe it in. Smile it out.

We wound down the back roads through villages of open mouthed and then spontaneously-happy-to-see-us locals.

Tanah Lot

The roads got bigger, the houses denser. We followed the main routes toward Tanah Lot, the well photographed island temple just 30 minutes north of our house.

We heard it was touristic and they were right. Maybe luckily it was cloudy and there would not be the epic sunset that this place is famous for. It was beautiful. And busy. Our second ‘tourist attraction’ of the day started to weigh heavily. After being whipped along the conveyor belt pathways, we took a back seat to gather our rapidly fraying patience and goodwill.

Spirits in tact we recalibrated our raison d’etres and were able to enjoy it more. Enjoy the crowds. Enjoy the hanging bat with his lil’ cock and balls hanging perfectly for all to see. Enjoy finding out what Luwak Coffee is. (No thanks!) Enjoy watching the big python (from a distance).

We had a quiet beer overlooking the temple as the sky darkened and the crowds dispersed. A short ride home, some local food and an epic video call to Sarah Boo. I love my adventure days.

 

Garden Giants

First day of sun in a week and all the nature turns up. It’s Bee day at the web. 10 and counting so far. Still haven’t named our resident spider but she’s a personality. She’s going out with a guy who, at a conservative estimate is at least 50 times smaller than she is. We can’t work it out. Either she’s a bully or he’s a feeder. Our flatmate reckons he forged his Tinder profile pic. ¬†She’s a big web builder, one of the best in ¬†the industry according to wikipedia. This morning’s highlight was watching her bloke try and score some of the bounty. As these crazy Bees are literally diving into her web it was almost as if they thought they were going to get another go. Like those fairground attractions when you bounce up onto a velcro wall in a fluffy suit. Sorry guys, you only get one go on this one. As for the husband, well she was literally booting him away with her big ‘flicky’ feet as he tried to get some of that wonderful bee juice that she was sucking on.

A few metres to the right and there’s a snail parading across the outdoor shower. I’ve never seen anyone wear Grey so well.

 

It’s raining so we’re going to make Hot Sauce and Casa Melon Cocktails!

Growing up in England, Jen and I are skilled at rainy day fun. ¬†We are in our element here in Bali cos it been raining all day and night. Checking the satellites and weather charts just shows more of the same. Ain’t no sunshine coming our way. On the bright side we haven’t spent any money on sun lotion for about 3 weeks now. Every cloud.

Last night we had one of them rather fun evenings where you’ve got bugger all food in, but just enough to whip something up. Real life ready steady cook. Gin on its own is rank. Whizz up a watermelon and you’ve got this alcoholic sherbert dip dap esque cocktail bonanza. All Jen’s idea.

How hot are those chillis then?

We go to the local market every other day. Our staples are ‘Bawans’ – Onions, Corn on the cob, ‘Buncis’ – green beans, ‘Wortels’ – Carrots, and Tempeh, (we steam/dry fry it in Soy- my new favourite thing).

And there’s always this HUMONGOUS basket of mixed chilli’s sat right next to the till. Everyone’s getting bags of the things. Apart from us. Until now. There’s a threshold for everything and here we now find ourselves with a huge bag of chillis.

Having never made hot sauce before, a quick google and we find the simplest recipe.

Fry the chillis with garlic and salt. Add a load of water, reduce it down. Leave it to cool. Add a load of apple vinegar and whizz it up. Job’s a good ‘un.

Check the photos out, I wasn’t sure about the colour, plus you’re meant to leave it for 2 weeks in the fridge. We had it on our rice for lunch and you know what. It is Badass! Yeah, probably actually Badass……

So far in Indo, all we’ve found are the thicker, gloopy hot sauces. There good but I miss Franks, (please tell me you know Franks!) You can get tabasco in the supermarkets but my tabasco days have passed me by. I think what works with this is the apple vinegar. It’s fruity, acidic and its got a ‘good heat’. Jen and I both went back for more which meant it didn’t ruin our taste buds, or the rest of our meal.

The rains eased off for the past 3 hours and it’s gone dark. The lizards are having a field day above our heads, catching flies attracted to the ceiling lights. The hot sauce sits quietly in the fridge, perhaps slowly plotting its maturation (and our demise)…….

 

 

Singapore Slingshot

We just got back from an amazing trip to Singapore.  We were lucky enough to have The Burthems: Simon, Emma and Harry to welcome us, and put us up for a couple of days. It was gurt lush!

As a first trip to anywhere new, I love the whole ‘not knowing’ ¬†and then finding out. It’s pretty much the best excuse to ask so many questions. And you’re allowed to be amazed by the way things are done, even if its just the slightest bit different to what you’re used to. ¬†It always reminds me of a Peter Kay sketch where a Brit has found a packet of Cadbury’s Chocolate Fingers in Spain: “They taste EXACTLY the same!!!! Look, it says “Les Fingres!”

Permission granted then to Gape. We’ve hosted many guests in our time and have grown fond of being on both sides of the new arrival scenario. Emma, Simon and Harry, 4, were all too happy with our endless questions.

And we’re off!

Off the plane and straight onto the public transport. Within three minutes of reaching our destination, and following a convenient use of H&M’s wifi; Emma appears. This place is running like clockwork! I’m so happy about it that the next time I go to on the train I casually walk through the turnstiles with an open drink. Merely 5 metres through and I am efficiently stopped by security. It’s a $500 fine for eating or drinking on the subway. As I politely proceeded to finish my drink before I went any further her face turned to ash. Had I just awoken a sleeping giant. Had I pressed a button that should never be pressed. For a split second it seemed that way. And then we all got on with our day.

 

Welcome to Sentosa

Sentosa? What is this? The first I heard of the word was in a facebook post just this weekend past. Steven of Sentosa it read, and was accompanied by some big smiles and beautiful sailing photos . Who was this man! I recognised him of course, as Emma’s dad, out to stay for a couple of months, and enjoying the company of his family.So why the new nomenclature. It turns out that Steven has taken to daily cycles around the island, resulting in a fast growing recognition of the locals. And so fittingly became Steven of Sentosa.

We only just missed Steven, as he returned back to the UK just a day or two before we arrived. Word on the street is that he’ll be back in a month. Lucky guy!

Sentosa, I learned was where we would spend the next few days. It’s a small island of Singapore, with beautiful beaches, amazing appartments and marinas, Jackie Chans house and some eccentric music venues. There is also a theme park that we’ll check out next time.

 

I know I cooked it but it’s not really a meal

After picking Harry up from preschool (he was exceedingly happy to have new playmates), Simon came home from work and we, ahem ‘got on it’. It’s just what happens. I mean, it wasn’t like we trashed the appartment and the neighbours called the police at 5am. Not like back in the day. But we still got on it. My particular combo of Beer, Gin, Whisky and Wine was just what tomorrow’s hangover had requested.

The beautiful giddiness of catching up and hanging out with friends.

Simon can cook. Both nights he sorted us out some badass food. For some reason though, and with great amusement to us all, the Creamy Mushroom sauce and rice DID NOT pass as a meal!

A meat eater cooking for veggies is a beautiful thing. Thankyou. Word on the street is that 2 days later he had a veggie lunch……….

 

Super Tramp

After dinner we sneaked onto their nearby boat for a few more drinks. In the dim red light down below the Super Trampolines of this nippy Trimaran, a toe war (yes a Toe war!) of epic proportions crowned the evening. Later Jen remarked that her confidence was buoyed by the drink, while she believed that Simon’s competitiveness loosened. All things being equal, there may have been a different outcome. As Jen pinned the winning move just seconds after I switched off the lights, you could even say it was rigged.

 

Meet me at McDonalds with your passport and a load of cash

The hangover really helped as I handed our passports over to Mike at McDonalds the next day. Yes, that’s right. In Bali, couriers on scooters come to your address and take your passports away with them for a couple of weeks. In Singapore you have to go to the outside tables at McDonalds and hand them over, with a hefty wad of cash. The absurdity was eased by the crack-like addictiveness of the processed Egg and Cheese sandwich that I had decided was going to soak up the alcoholic remnents remaining in my stomach. ‘Back here at 4pm’ I was told. ‘Sure, please come back too’ I said with my pleading eyes as I shook Mike’s hand.

He was there at 4. The Visas were sorted. I can vouch for Mike at McDonalds now.

 

Chop the table and a Pizza ATM

Stop the Press: Had we not just eaten lunch it would have been a no brainer. PIZZA ATM: Take. My. Money.

Earlier, we met Simon just next to his downtown office in a¬†huge dining hall. ¬†We got the call in advance. He’d chopped us a table. Uh?

Very quickly- put a napkin on a table to reserve one seat. If there’s more of you then put a business card at each seat. I think that’s it. Though there’s probably more. I guess it works really well if people know the system. I envision many napkins getting brushed aside by innocent newcomers.

The food hall was incredible – 2 huge concentric circles of food stalls surrounded by endless tables and sat under a huge skylit roof with a bell tower in the middle. ¬†It makes for an exciting dining experience. Choice is aplenty. Even for veggies. ¬†Chinese, Indian, Singaporean, Traditional, Novelty, even Pork Floss is available. ¬†And there’s beer too of course.

In Bali we call it point and shoot. You just keep pointing and they keep putting it on your plate.  Afterwards, I could not move.

Following lunch we wandered through a beautiful downtown temple and then past rows upon rows of incredible smells, all coming from the vast array of eateries lining the streets in amongst the office blocks. Everywhere was full. It felt like everyone had their own favourite place and they were right there enjoying it.

 

The second evening is always more refined

We ended up raiding the photo drawer in search of an elusive ‘flasher photo’ of Simon. It never showed up. I did however relive some of my own past through an epic photo album of his first trip to Faliraki, club 18-30’s style. Get in.

 

Cycling in Jurassic Park

The next day we got on the bikes and headed off on a morning explore. ¬†First stop was to drop Harry off at school. He’s a fast pedaller and so ready to kick those training wheels off. His adventurous streak will only be fuelled by his growing abilities. ¬†It was awesome to be introduced to his toys in the house as well. Until now I did not know that Thunderbird 4 lived inside Thunderbird 2. And I had certainly never explored Tracey island in such detail.

We carried on past his school, where Harry was busy rehearsing for his Chinese New Year Celebrations, and took our bikes around the coast path. I imagined Steven of Sentosa cruising along these paths. Probably a bit faster than us, as we were in full Gape mode, stopping at all the different waterfront houses, each with its own statement on how to incorporate a swimming pool between your lounge and your garden. Modern appartment blocks with sculpted baclonies intertwined with marinas, trees and mansions.

I became fantastically lost as we continued to edge our way around the cost, noting all the different yoga and pilates classes shading under varying pagodas. We stopped at an automatic gate surrounded by jungle. As it silently opened I had a flashback to Jurassic Park. “What were they keeping in here?!” ¬†I saw no dinosaurs at Sentosa. I remain sceptical.

We made our way along the run of beaches and had some lush food at a beach cafe. Palms and coconut trees up to the shore.  Someone was doing Tai Chi by the water. He simply did not stop. A beautiful reminder of energy in action. Of grace and flow coupled with strength and concentration. Right on.

And so we headed back to the airport and said our thank yous and goodbyes for now. I smiled cheekily knowing that there was so much more to do in Singapore. We didn’t even see the big eco tree thingies!