Thursday, August 26, 2010

Perth, Freemantle and Bali

photos can be found on my Picasa site


The middle class suburbs of Perth's north shore all appear newly minted almost artificial as you watch the many weekend joggers along the strand do their best for body and soul. We were there for Denise's Aunt Irene's 80th, great to catch up with people you haven't seen for years and we all enjoyed a lovely celebration for a lovely lady. The trammels of time......, but everyone looked splendid, and I'm sure they thought Denise and I looked splendid too!!

Marinas have rows of white yachts for sale, some close to $0.5m, there is more than a sniff of wealth here, if not an overpowering pomade. Yet graffiti near the long sandy beach warns that stabbings occur in this tidy splendour, which sped up my walk no end. We wandered around Freemantle's old streets, once the scene of hardship, larikins, looneys and the lash, now flush with the tourist dollar from markets to harbour. Ye olde Victorian and Georgian buildings have been airbrushed and gentrified, the former Lunatic Asylum now the National History Museum and former warehouses now part of the medical University of Notre Dame. The howl of the convict is echoed now in the howl from Ipods playing Freemantle's famous son, the diminutive but loud Bon Scott of AC/DC, whose grave is a National Heritage site and visited by thousands of fans. Poor bugger can't sleep.

The harbour is now spruce with piscatorial eateries and together with Geoff and Bernice we tasted Freemantle's No 1 Best Fish and Chips from the Italian restaurant which we all enjoyed. The next day we returned and had lunch at the Greek Freemantle's No 1 Best Fish and Chips, delicious. A visit to a second hand bookshop reaped some treasures but more expensive than Canberra where we are blessed with a number of quality bookshops (especially Canty's), which sell quality books at reasonable prices.


There we were, the plane was chokkers, all aboard and ready to take off when the Captain announced that a ''technical fault'' had been found and that the engineer was on his way. Some two hours later we boarded another plane, well thankfully they were taking no risks. In the meantime Denise had phoned Taman Harum Cottages to advise that we would be arriving at least two hours later than expected. No problem, the driver would wait. The flight was rough, the plane bumped, buffeted and burped about in a bellyache sky – Denise had a number of cushioning wines. We eventually arrived at around 2am, found our driver and were into a familiar S.E. Asian night with its earthy, pungent aroma, mixed with incense and perfume, smoke and humus. Ahhhhh!!



I posted this review of Taman Harum on Trip Advisor:

We arrived at Taman Harum after 3:00am, walked along a path on a balmy night through lush vegetation to our two storied cottage. Clean and roomy, a large four poster bed both downstairs and upstairs, table and wardrobe, scattered artwork. The balcony outside the bedroom upstairs overlooks trees (possibly star fruit) and rice paddies. The cacophony at 3am is amazing, frogs, insects and what else? You are seemingly in the jungle, yet it is quiet inside. The shower is open Balinese style – nothing between you and lush vegetation, unless you want to use the screen, but we enjoyed the sensuality, hey.... tropical and exotique.

Breakfast is either continental, Asian or the full monty. Fruit juices are several and delicious, fruits, good eggs done to your liking, the bacon is good in Bali unlike elsewhere in SE Asia (the Balinese enjoy their pork), but the sausage has little going for it, toast, jams, tea or the excellent Balinese coffee. Music is ubiquitous in Bali and the soft liquid notes blend with the sound of water in the warm, (slightly) smoky, flower perfumed Asian morning. The staff are cheerful, helpful and friendly.

Taman Harum is located in the artisan village of Mas, which is 10 to 15 minutes south of Ubud and you can book the complementary shuttle. Alternatively you can arrange through the staff to hire a car or motor bike which we found a convenient way to travel, using the shuttle to and from Ubud restaurants at night. The swimming pool is inviting with its lounges, mosaics and statuettes and you could imagine yourself in an ancient Roman indulgence, but a Balinese indulgence is fine.

UBUD and getting around

Ubud is inland, about 45mins from the nearest coast, on the rise towards volcanic slopes. Set in rice paddies, vegetation and jungle but besieged by the traffic of commerce and tourists, you need to move away from the main routes to find peace. It isn't hard, even a walk down Ubud's many long narrow back streets will find discrete, well established and resplendent gardens poised behind ancient walls. The dwellings within, and often the walls themselves are a work of art, being painstakingly constructed by artisans. Ubud has an artistic heritage and there are galleries galore, of varying quality from what we saw, but because our stay was short we hired a motor bike and headed out off the beaten track.

The rented motor scooter cost me 60,000 rupiah per day, about $8 plus petrol. Out onto the great SE Asian grid of moving humanity you become at one with Asian Purpose, enveloped by Asian aromas of warm earthy vegetation, cooking, smoke, incense, humus and traffic fumes (until you move off the main roads). A great way to travel and in my list of Top 10 pleasurable experiences....

We have hired motor scooters in Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and now Bali so we are comfortable with it. The best for me for views and skill was around SaPa, the northern region near the Chinese border in Vietnam. Riding out of a valley climbing a dirt mountain road to find a water fall has eroded the surface to pot holes and then gun the bike so close to the edge of a drop was a mite hairy but ah yes, very exhilarating.

The Balinese are fervently religious, those we encountered loved to talk about it. Most, particularly in the tourist business speak English very well. Their general aim is to perform good works in order to provide descendants with the best karma. Each morning offerings are made to the spirits, both for the good spirits and also to appease the bad guys. Such offerings are found even in the middle of the road, at a crossroad, evil spirits reside everywhere. You see trees wrapped in black and white chequered cloths which represent good and evil forces. Statues and carvings of magnificent monsters are everywhere – the Balinese recognise and visualise the forces counter to achieving a good productive life, for instance, by excessive drinking. That said, the local beer Bali Hai is reasonably priced, of excellent quality and aptly named. Bintang is the brew from Jakarta, also excellent, and the noise you hear when the bottle top strikes the bin.

We travel north on the Denpassar Road then west toward the Goa Gajah, or Elephant Cave. The man at the servo asks ''German?'', then smiles when we say “Australian''. Aussies are liked here, despite the young yahoos who come in droves to the Kuta Beach area. The ladies at the stalls outside the temple try to rent us saris (appropriate temple attire) but we decline and then find that they are included with the entrance fee.

Holy pools and shrines Batman, the elephant cave is within a black gaping mouth, which could be either the earth god Bhoma, or the widow-witch Ragda, or perhaps a combination of both. Whatever, beware all who enter..... Inside the elephant god Ganesh is at one end and phallic emblems of the god Siwa at the other. Interestingly, neither of my photos of the gods came out, just a round glow from where the gods are placed, but you can see the cave sides and offerings clearly. Weird.

From Goa Gajah we step down into a beautiful gorge. Lush green moss covered boulders, ancient trees with tendril roots and a stream with lily covered ponds, exotic plants abound. We follow the forest path above the valley finding another temple, make a donation to assist restoration, sign the book. The somewhat slippery and muddy pathway leaving the temple descends towards the river and we are lucky to meet a young girl who guides us down. The path becomes narrow and hazardous, a slip would plunge you into the swift flowing river. Denise decides to stop.

The girl is confident and holds out her hand as we step carefully along the dripping cliff face to a bamboo bridge with a single guide rail. Needless to say I'm apprehensive, the bridge is not that stable, and I'm relieved to reach the other side. Here is a wide, low roofed cave, and filled with bats, so she says.

Her name is Wyung, the name given to the first child. She is fourteen and hopes to develop her English and become a guide. She is a lovely girl, open and friendly. Do I want to go into the cave? And disturb the bats I reply....?? Maybe next time.....On the way back she takes us to another small temple. There are temples everywhere. That afternoon I have a Balinesian oil massage. Wonderful.

Apart from Goa Gajah we also visit other temples, the water purification temple at the holy springs, Tirta Empul. Here the then President Sukarno holidayed in a large house overlooking the temple grounds and he allegedly used a telescope to spy on the girl bathers, so it says in our guide book. We also visit the 11th century shrines at Gunung Kawi. Pictures are on my picasa site.

Eating in Ubud

Our daughter Cara has visited Bali twice and was not so impressed with the local cuisine by comparison to Thailand or Vietnam, so we were not expecting much in the way of epicurean delights. But while we found little street fare by comparison to Thailand and Vietnam we were pleasantly surprised with the restaurant cuisine. Visitors to Ubud are well served by the number of restaurants but also the variety of domestic and international cuisine.

On our first day we had lunch at Miros – not Greek but local – barbecued chicken marinated in Balinese spices pour moi, Denise had a selection of sambals with duck. Excellent. A great start. Dinner the following night at Arys Warung, a stylish restaurant was very good – I had prawns as an entrée and pork because the Balinese love pork – Denise had duck. The waiters/waitresses were wonderful. We overlooked the temple complex opposite, the skies opened and no not a Balinese god but rain which pelted down and added to the atmosphere. You can check out their website

The third Balinese cuisine experience in Ubud was totally different. Masakan Padang is more a café with its down home Indonesian/Sumatran dishes on display in the window. No table service you simply find a seat, go to the window and point to your choices which are plated. We chose a number of interesting looking small portions, asked for chilli sambols and sat down with a drink – wonderful, in fact it so impressed us that we came back for a takeaway tea. Around $AUD5.00 for both of us i.e. all up. Wow!!

Opposite Ubud Palace is Warung Babi Gulung which is famous for its roast Balinese piglet. The restaurant was recently featured in Rik Stein's SE Asian series on SBS Australia. But alas the queue was daunting and we ended up at Ryoshi Japanese restaurant. Loved it. The sashimi selection was really fresh, as it should be but sadly not always, the barbecued selection was perfect, and the wasabi exploded! As Japanese food should be, clean, fresh sharp flavours, simply beautiful food and presentation!

How many Nyomen?

Nyoman is the name given to the third child, but it can also be the eighth child.

Well there we were walking in Ubud like a pair of tourists and who should we meet but Nyoman, a cheery guy who spoke English very well and offered his driving services, a day tour, wherever – cost around $AUD40. Good stuff. We said that we would keep it in mind, maybe tomorrow.

So the following day we booked the free shuttle from Taman Harum and on the way the driver asked where we were going and said that his good friend had an excellent vehicle and spoke English very well, perhaps we would like a price? So it sounded good and we didn't know whether Nyoman would be there anyway, nor the type of vehicle he had, so we agreed to the same price.

Well no sooner had we arrived in Ubud when we spotted Nyoman.... looking very cheery, he waved and we waved, but less cheery when another vehicle pulled up and whisked us away. The new driver whose name also turned out to be Nyoman said no problem, his friend.

All went well, Nyoman2 drove us to the temple, up the mountain for lunch overlooking the volcano and more temples, a coffee plantation and at the end of the day when we were all satisfied he offered his services for future drives. We said we intended to motor bike around the following day, which we did. The day after we were off to Sanur so we decided to contact Nyoman1 to compensate for having given the original drive to Nyoman2. But who should arrive to pick us up but Nyoman2.

This was odd. We thought we had used the wrong number but good old Nyoman2 seemed a bit miffed and on the way he asked why we had contacted Nyoman1. We explained that because we had promised (albeit loosely) the first Nyoman we had felt bad about given the job to him, Nyoman2. No problem he is friend, said N2, we work together. Now that explained the phone call.

So, going further N2 was happy to provide information about the religion which they live and breath and I asked why umbrellas were often seen with statues. Well here I had hit a mother-lode of information with N2 explaining the epic Ramayama story about the monkeys building the bridge and the Hindu heroes in full detail which went for most of the journey, about 45 minutes. We parted on good terms and once ensconced in Sanur we hired the motorbike again and organised a drive around the region. Who should turn up but another Nyoman. N3 was as good as you'd expect a Nyoman to be....

Support Police Superannuation

I have hired motorbikes, well motor scooters to be precise, in Hanoi, SaPA, Van Vieng in Laos, Chang Mai and numerous times in Ao Nang, Thailand. You don't need an international driver's licence (IDL), they don't ask for it. You sign the form which exculpates the renter from any legal obligation and puts your head in the noose if anything happens; you pay your money and take your chances. Some places ask for your passport which they retain until the bike is returned. I know, foolhardy you might say, but you take your chances.

(pic taken Van Vieng, Laos)

However I'd read about the police in Bali being stringent on the motorised tourist. I checked the web and one school of thought was that the cost of an on the spot fine/donation is less than the cost of the IDL. Another was you wouldn't drive without a valid licence in your own country, so why here? Well I didn't want any problems with the local police so I obtained my IDL from the NRMA.

So, we decided to ride to Kuta, the main tourist arena, a distance of approximately 20ks. A very windy day out on the highway, blow a rhino off a ride on mower..... a modest pace pour moi. Eventually we hit Kuta and seemed to drive around in circles in three lane roads chokkers with traffic, fumes and noise, round and round like a chook with its foot cut off.....a fly in Barnaby's head......, cockroach down a drain? Ok not the imagery I wanted but you get the drift. Denise being the impatient, well er...pragmatic person decided to ask for directions and so eventually we found the beach, and wandered around enjoying the sights. On leaving we were pestered by a persistent Nyoman selling share accommodation, and Denise's scratchy was revealed as a cam corder!! “Scuze me lady you won very special prize”....... We made the getaway and rode into the vast mass of motorised humanity.

Now, road rules when it comes to an intersection, according to Nyoman2, is ''who goes first gets there, unless someone crashes into you''. So, when turning I would ride on the inside of another vehicle which would effectively ''shepherd'' me from oncoming traffic. When the highway reached Sanur a truck was turning right and I stayed close but alack and alas it decided to make a u-turn, so I pulled up........on the pedestrian crossing.

Ok. I should have backed off the crossing and I failed to spot the nice policemen with the smiling faces. I could come to the station, fill out forms for a number of hours, wait around, or I could pay the 100,000 rupiah now. They had me by the Brindabellas as we say in Canberra. I paid. It wasn't painful, about $14, but a nice little earner for those guys. According to the bloke at the bike shop it is usually about 50,000 rupiah. The strange thing is that the bike's owner had placed an offering to the Traffic Spirit on the front of the bike. Well maybe it saved me from being undercharged....


Our daughter Cara suggested the beach side Sanur as being more leisurely and elegant than Kuta. We had booked at Segara Village, a large resort which opens on to the beach. This was a bit of a splash and in contrast to the moderate country Balinese experience of Mas/Ubud. While the resort is tourist oriented it does maintain its Balinese identity with two temples within the beautiful gardens, plus the spirit and god statues and of course the cheerful and obliging staff – no Balinese Basil Faulty here. The gardens have been designed, as all Balinese gardens, in accordance with religious stipulations, and each day a priest performs a ceremony in a temple presumably to appease the evil spirits and praise the good guys. This about fifty paces from the jacuzzi pool where later in the day the cool Euro types wade towards the cocktail bar to the pulse of Asian lounge music.

Sanur is a centre for black and white magic, according to our guidebook, so the daily offerings are all important. Outside the resort along the beach pathway are markets and the ladies from the stalls take turns in trying to entice tourists to buy. They are persistent but they enjoy a bit of sport, a good laugh. We bought a couple of shirts from a lady called Coco who told me that she had been cursed by a person who was jealous of her family. She became very sick and called in an exorcist, in the end having to move house.

Their belief is fundamental to their life, much as it was in the old Scots/Irish Catholic black and white days when you were chased by the Devil – he was in colour, all black with a red hot tongue according to my sister Colleen..... - and his minions, and all his ''works and pomps'' beguiled you, and you prayed to the saints to intercede for you. You lit candles and placed them before the side altar. The priest swung the censer with the incense to signify prayers rising with a pleasing aroma to The Big Y'un, and to get up the Devils nose.

From what I've read the Balinese regard their religion as fun. The Catholic religion of my youth was anything but fun. If you chomped on a pie on a Friday and were hit by a bus you could find yourself shovelling shite for eternity. For an imaginative healthy youth the ever present spectre of sin was an onerous burden. One wonders about those pie eaters who were sent down the shute before the goalposts changed.

Again we used the bike to explore many back roads and lanes through villages. The countryside is is just minutes away from the coast, and villages following the coast south of Sanur are prosperous and attractive.

Music is pervasive in Bali, more so than other SE Asian countries. The player combos are called a gamelan, ranging from a duo to an orchestra. The instruments are plucked or struck, drums and strung instruments apart from flutes, creating a liquid, bell like hypnotic sound, which meanders pleasantly around your brain and around again. Segara Resort had a trio which played during breakfast, but they also had acoustic duos and fiery r'n b bands; there are some excellent musicians in Bali.

Music is everywhere. One night I sought a sound which seemed to be a muezzin call to prayer but turned out to be a Balinese Hindu preaching over loud speakers. Male groups were gathered in gardens for instruction and prayer. I walked through towards the beach past feeling like an intruder but they took no notice. Down on the beach path a reggae band pumped out rasta fare. At another beach restaurant was a solo artist. On the main thoroughfare an Irish pub jumped to jigs and reels. At other cafés and pubs crowds gathered to watch the soccer world cup finals. So much variety.

Eating in Sanur

Sanur earlier on was the centre for Bali's best cuisine and even now has some top restaurants, ranging from haute cuisine to the popular beach front blackboard fare. For lunch we sat out on the beach tables at the Beach Café, tasted their quick and fresh blackboard specials barbecued chilli prawns and garlic calamari, and one day I tried their steak sandwich – excellent! Mixed barbecued seafood on Jalil Danou Tarnblingan was very good and reasonably priced but one lunchtime we headed south on the bike to find the best Italian food anywhere at Massimo Restaurant. Their swordfish in garlic butter was just superb, the fish succulent, the sauce heavenly. Denise was in raptures over linguine crab, tomatoes garlic and chilli. Needless to say we returned twice, for their lauded Saltimbocca alla Romana and their Lecce speciality pizzas, both very good but the swordfish was the trip highlight for me. We also returned to Japanese cuisine, the Sanur Ryoshi, again very good but not quite up to the Ubud standard.

Overall Bali was an enjoyable experience, geared more toward the commercial tourist end of the market. The Balinese are friendly and happy and we felt welcome and safe there. There's much more to see, but perhaps after another visit to Thailand.

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