HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, July 11, 2012

by 8 Degrees of Latitude

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences 

My Hat, it’s Good to See You

A spell in Lombok can do wonders for the jaded soul, and thus it was recently when Diary and Distaff took some lovely Balinese friends from Nusa Dua, a family of five, to the island and to Gili Trawangan for a five-day break. We flew both ways, some among the party not being nautical types, and visited that other Kuta – the one on Lombok’s spectacular Indian Ocean coast – and Cemara near Lembar harbour.

At Kuta we had a light brunch at Ashtari, the Australian owed place that offers a world-beating view along the ocean coast. Parties of little boys from the local villages were extorting traffic fees on the “road” – quotation marks essential – and Ashtari itself is for sale. Perhaps that says something about Lombok; we forbear to comment further. But the coffee was good and the view superb.

At Cemara, later, there was an interesting incident. We’d returned across the narrow no-car bridge from a walk to the beach, where our friends had recently bought some land, to find our driver decamped. He was away getting a flat tyre fixed. We established ourselves at a little fizzy drink and high-cholesterol snack stall to await his return and fell into desultory conversation with a fellow customer, a local gent in a white skullcap who looked less than pleased that his afternoon had been disturbed by foreigners, even if most of the foreigners were from just across the Wallace Line in Bali.

But he softened up eventually. And he broke into a huge and thoroughly bemused smile when, as we left, your previously chiefly silent diarist shook him lightly by the hand and said “Salam, Hajji.”

Ah yes, not all Bules are ignorant infidels devoid of even a minuscule grasp of local culture, Islamic practice, and essential nomenclature.

Comfort Zone

We stayed two nights in Senggigi – one on the way in, one on the way out – and of course chose Puri Bunga, on the viewing hill opposite the art market, as our domicile. GM Marcel Navest is always good to chat to – even if he is no longer chairman of the Lombok Hotels Association, having quit late last year in pursuit of a less fractious life – and Novi in the restaurant was as lovely and attentive as ever at the breakfast table.

On Gili Trawangan – to whence we were conveyed by Dream Divers (the diary had a quiet moment at Gerd’s Rock at Teluk Nara to say hello to friend Gerd Bunte, who sadly is no longer with us) – we stayed at Martas, back off the party beach and the home of former diver Martas himself, his wife Jo and their delightful preschool daughter Ayesha. It’s a lovely little spot.

By the way, Gili Deli near the jetty and food market has fabulous Guatemala coffee. It’s more addictive than any of the other substances offered locally, and far more pleasant.

There is one Trawangan demerit to report. One afternoon, having been let out alone, your diarist was strolling down the lane from Martas towards the shore and was accosted by a gentleman of very dubious provenance who intoned “Want drugs?” and, on getting the standard dismissive no-thanks hand movement, came back with “Want a woman?

It’s not a good look for the island (on which, by the way, you will now find police).

Do Drop In

Bungee king AJ Hackett’s plushly private Pondok Santi bungalows on Gili Trawangan, which are managed by the redoubtable Baz and Georgie from New Zealand, are now taking paying guests. Hitherto the happy little cabins have been camping unmolested in Trawangan’s best-kept green-grassed parkland, where AJ set up a holiday place for his family.

We stumbled on this intelligence by spotting a “bungalows for rent, inquire within” sign on the gate on our first morning walk around the island. We made an inquiry without and discovered they are being marketed as a chill-out spot for jaded jumpers and others and officially opened for business this month. There are six bungalows (there’s a 12-guest maximum at the resort) equipped with Wi-Fi, iPod docks and other accoutrements among modern life’s must-haves. Also available is a very nice boat – we’ve been on it – that when fully equipped for those with fat enough wallets could surely carry you around the islands in the style one imagines an Ottoman vizier might have enjoyed so greatly that he decided to be generous that day and not have his most mealy-mouthed eunuch strangled.

Hackett invented bungee jumping three decades ago, inspired by the intrepid tree-leapers of Santo Island in Vanuatu, and has since made a mint out of getting people to plunge off tall things attached to ropes they doubtless devoutly hope are just a bit shorter than the vertical space into which they launch themselves. There’s one in Bali, where tourists jump from a tower in Kuta.

His Trawangan retreat is for more sybaritic pursuits. Hackett says of his newly available facility:  “It’s not your average resort. Pondok Santi is a sanctuary for people to come and play in one of the world’s most awesome spots.”

G’day and Ni Hao

They’re still pouring in – foreign tourists that is. In the five months to May, 1,150,000 of them landed on our shores. That’s 9.31 percent up on the same period last year. The Aussies totalled 299,360 – my oath, that’s a whole lot of Bintang – which was up nearly 8.5 percent, but the standout performers were Chinese, whose 143,382 represented a 64.73 percent increase. (No, they’re not all in Pepito Express at Bukit Jimbaran at the same time; it’s just that it sometimes seems that way.)

Bali chief of BPS, the national statistics agency, I Gede Suarsa, said when releasing the figures that 31,432 tourists had come here on cruise ships. The overwhelming majority of arrivals chose instead to experiment with chaos theory at Ngurah Rai International Airport.

Interestingly four countries turned in a decrease in Bali arrivals: Japan, down nearly 11 percent; Taiwan (14 percent); France (2.15 percent); and the biggest non-performer, the USA, was down by nearly 60 percent.

Last year a total of 2.82 million foreign tourists visited Bali, up 9.72 percent on 2010.

Tugu Times

The decoratively desirable Hellen Sjuhada, who is now promoting the Tugu Hotel at Batu Bolong, tells us of an event there on Sunday, July 29, that would be a delight to attend and indeed we might try to force our way through the traffic – the Bukit to Batu Bolong is not an easy ride – on that occasion. It is not one to lightly miss, since as well as gazing upon the ocean while lit by torches and candles and sipping languidly from a glass of wine (and being within sight of the delicious Hellen would add further lustre) you get the chance to lie back on pillows and watch and listen as Legong dancers and Gamelan musicians serenade you with tales of love and passion from old-time Bali.

The event, which will set you back Rp250K if you just want cocktails and Balinese canapés or Rp450K for the full dinner – with an early-bird Facebook special offering 15 percent off – showcases an artistic spectacle that once upon a time was seen only in the courtyards of Balinese royal palaces.

Pelegongan was very popular in the early 1900s and was revealed to the world by artists such as the Belgian painter Adrien-Jean Le Mayeur, Canadian composer Colin McPhee and German painter-choreographer-writer Walter Spies. Over time it was subsumed by more modern streams of gamelan, but today the tradition is kept alive by the Mekar Bhuana Conservatory, which has re-popularised court gamelan and dance traditions.

Tugu Hotel has full details of the July 29 event if you’d like to experience the old Bali.

Colour Me Jade

Ubud is an eclectic spot, as it pays never to forget. But it is perhaps slightly less so at the moment with the absence from its many wondrous scenes of writer, blogger and passionfruit cowgirl Jade Richardson, who is in Ecuador. Never mind, she’ll be back in these parts within a month or so and, we hear, with a treat in store for scribblers.

This will take place not at Ubud, however, but on Lombok’s magic Gili Air, where she’s organising a writers’ workshop in September. The Way of the Writer (Sept. 11-15) invites book writers, stuck novelists, blocked poets, memoirists, bloggers and those who wish to fall in love with the source of their written magic to retreat to a quiet island paradise to connect to the spirit of their story and learn the writer’s arts.

Gili Air, along with Meno and Trawangan are renowned for diving and snorkelling, or if you prefer to relax without exertion, for dining, reclining and imbibing.

Richardson – who told us by cyber-chat recently that she is enjoying the Andean cloud forest, though she admits it’s a tad frio – suggests you might want to dive deep into the soul of your writing. Great idea! We’ll have a Hemmingway on the rocks, thanks. You can contact Richardson for details and prices at http://passionfruitcowgirl.wordpress.com.

To the Moon and Back

Casa Luna, the Ubud eatery in which proprietor-doyenne Janet DeNeefe can often be spotted having a quiet cuppa, was 20 years old on July 10. My, how time flies. It must be 13 years, then, since your diarist first passed the doors of the establishment and stole a glance inside. That’s been a regular treat ever since.

Hector’s Diary appears in the print edition of the Bali Advertiser, published every second Wednesday, and on his Blog at http://wotthehec.blogspot.com. Hector is on Twitter (@scratchings) and Facebook (Hector McSquawky).