Before moving to Japan, I had never been to Asia. Part of the appeal of moving here was the chance to see an entirely new part of the world. Until last week, though, we hadn’t left Japan since our arrival in July. What country compelled us to get on a plane for a visit? Indonesia. More specifically, the paradise island called Bali.
Full disclosure. This was not intended to be an adventurous vacation. Wil works crazy long hours at his job and the enticement of a few relaxing days and nights at an all-inclusive resort on the beach was our main imperative. We hoped to absorb some Balinese culture during our stay but we weren’t intending our visit to include tons of hours of sightseeing. Rest assured, though, even on just a four-night visit, we couldn’t keep ourselves from poking around and getting a small taste of Bali outside of the sheltered environment of our resort.
Our resort was wonderful, though. We stayed at the beautiful Grand Mirage Resort and Thalasso Bali in Nusa Dua, in southern Bali. Our elegant suite included a wide balcony which looked out over the ocean. The sunrise photograph above was shot from our room. We lounged by a large meandering pool and splashed in the ocean along an expanse of glittering beach. We ate grilled seafood with the sand at our feet, tasted a variety of local foods at an extensive outdoor buffet while watching Balinese fire dancers, and dined at a global buffet breakfast every morning that included everything from waffles to fried rice to fish to cured meats. Liam had a couple of mornings to play in a Kids’ Club and Wil and I made ample use of the pool’s swim up bar. We let the beauty of our surroundings seep into our skin, passing easily through our SPF 60 sunscreen, until we sunk into a pleasant state of deep relaxation.
On our second morning, we rose early so we could take a walk along the ocean as the sun greeted the day. Our son was rather grumpy about our decision to drag him from his comfortable bed so early but the stroll was more than worth it.
We followed a brick path that took us past shacks. Bali is still a part of a developing nation. We didn’t see signs of abject poverty during our stay, but the families piled onto motorcycles, the hawkers carrying cheap scarves and hats, urging you to buy, and the haphazard ‘architecture’ of shacks and shops along the beach and roads reveal a less-than-affluent reality behind the facades of the resorts. Right now, 1 U.S. dollar equals 13,352 Indonesian Rupia. Tipping locals with dollar bills is encouraged.
We also passed several shrines. Indonesia is a primarily Muslim nation – there were many Islamic tourists – but Bali is 84.5 per cent Hindu. Just as in Japan — even more so, really — they have small shrines everywhere.
We also saw several beautiful resorts and hotels.
And of course, the Indian Ocean was always by our side.
Later that day, we took a small motor boat – glass-bottomed but dirty, so we had limited views of the coral beneath – on a short ride out to a place called Turtle Island. (Liam was the object of attention of several nearby boats loaded with girls in t-shirts and head scarves who giggled every time he smiled and answered their shouts of “Hello.”) Described as a turtle sanctuary, it’s clearly a tourist trap, crowded with visitors vying to hold the turtles as well as see caged bats, birds and snakes. Our boat driver arranged for a guide to take us through the sanctuary, so we had the opportunity to hold or touch all of the animals. Liam gleefully stepped into a cage with bats longer than my arm and made friends easily with all of the creatures, even grinning as a snake was wrapped around his neck. After holding one turtle, I was content to keep my distance.
Our last big adventure for the day was heading outside the resort for dinner. Liam stayed behind with a staff baby sitter while Wil and I enjoyed a traditional Balinese meal at Bumbu Bali, a nearby restaurant. We were warmly greeted by waiters and waitresses in sarongs who seated us at a table under the dark sky in the center of the restaurant. Around us, diners sat in raised thatch-covered pavilions. Even before our food arrived, we were enchanted, by the lamplight above, the nearby trees swaying gently in the breeze and the stone sculptures smiling serenely from their posts throughout the restaurant.
The meal was rich and varied. We ordered a shared Balinese Rijsttafel, which was a selection of richly seasoned meat and seafood dishes – minced duck, lamb stew, grilled fish, etc. — in small bowls served with white rice. That was followed by a sumptuous dessert tray, complete with Balinese cakes, rice pudding and dumplings and local fruit. We learned that the restaurant also offers a cooking school, with lessons beginning early in the day with a trip to the local market. If we return to Bali again – and we are seriously considering it – we will do our best to sign up for a day’s lesson.
On our last day, we took a 10-hour tour of the island before catching a post-midnight flight back to Tokyo. I’ll save my stories from that portion of our trip for another day.