HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser July 24, 2013

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences


And So to Amed

It’s a great little place, and decidedly easier to access from South Bali since the splendidly named Prof. I.B. Mantra By-Pass was (finally, mostly) duplicated. We hadn’t been to Amed for nearly two years and were keen to see how the place had moved along since then.

     On the trip up we logged a Bukit-Amed trip time of just over 3.5 hours including a stop in Candi Dasa – a sneak look in a realtor’s window, the obligatory distaff rummage through a handy boutique, and a drink and a bite in the sea breeze at Pondok Bambu – and traffic once past Sanur was easy. That is not to say the traffic was calm, far less that it was well behaved. Neither truck   nor motorbike riders can yet read: they all ignore the “trucks and motorbikes keep left” signs. The unduplicated bridge over the Unda River is still a bottleneck. And the infantile desperation of Indonesian drivers (of anything from rattletrap carry-van to souped-up mob limo) to overtake a Bule on the road is as tedious as ever.

     We’d planned to stay at a certain place in Amed but didn’t, since on arrival it looked decidedly derelict. The internet and the camera conspire to lie too often. Following a short reconnaissance, unmolested by anyone either visible or sentient at the premises, we drove on. We ended up booking in at Anda Amed Resort; a much sweeter deal.

     Coming back from Amed – it was a Sunday – was more difficult since everyone who has access to a yellow truck seemed to have lent it to their cousins that weekend, and they clearly couldn’t drive, and the Unda River bridge was reduced to one lane. This was because a truck – a red one as it happens – had decided to overturn itself mid-span.  Two harassed policemen were controlling the traffic (theoretically at least) while their more numerous colleagues enjoyed the facilities of one of those little roadside cafés further along.


Sailing On

While at Amed this time, we dined at Sails, the cliff-top establishment at Bunutan, on two occasions.  We’d been there before. This trip, we had the apple, ginger, cinnamon and palm sugar dessert dish the first time. We had to go back for more.

     The restaurant is a magic spot. It was a shame Patrick and Anik were unable to provide mahi-mahi for diners whose taste buds juiced at the thought of the pan-fried fish listed on the menu. Tuna is no substitute. But the place was packed both nights, so clearly business is booming. They’re playing some nice music too. A New Zealand-resident Chilean group has recorded songs from its NZ tour itinerary. Those Andean pipes are truly haunting. Patrick, who is from those other shaky isles, burned us two disks, at Rp20K a pop, money going to the staff fund.


Monkey Business

We’ve finally made it to Three Monkeys Sanur‎, which we’ve been promising ourselves we’d do as soon as possible. It was a handy way-stop on our return from East Bali. Three Monkeys at Ubud has long been a favourite and we had deemed it essential to check out the Sanur operation.

     It’s very good. The pizzas are delicious and the baklava is not to be missed.

    On that late Sunday afternoon promotional material at the entrance  indicated that the deliciously jazzy Edwina Blush was performing there that evening, on the latest of her regular visits to Bali from Sydney. We’ve missed her again! Clearly we have deeply distressed some spirit or other and it is determined to keep us apart.


Late Roast

A recent necessary outing to Kuta – it’s still a Napoleonic Retreat from Moscow job from the Bukit – brought us, on the way home, to the capricious delights of the Grocer & Grind outlet at Jimbaran Corner, where (killing time ahead of a date with masseuse Elvin at Island salon just up the road) we ordered a double macchiato and a slice of lemon and lime cake. The former was available. The latter was not (maaf, habis) so we elected to sample the lemon meringue tart instead. The macchiato arrived. The lemon meringue was a “wait moment” proposition.

     We waited. Outside, where there’s what passes for fresh air and a relative absence of people idly fiddling with their smart phones, while our macchiato also cooled its heels. We had to tell them that part of the order was missing, but as a culturally sympathetic and patient acquaintance later reminded us, these things can happen anywhere; point taken.

     The tart eventually arrived and was delicious. We had amused ourselves while further waiting for sustenance by speculating about the wondrous sign near a jumble of parked motorbikes that bore this legend: “Parking reserved for costumers.”

     Given that most of the bikes there belonged to G&G staff, not customers, this prompted thought. As it was reserved for costumers, perhaps the odd wanita or two among the pretty little things who wait tables at that establishment might not be all they seem.

     Next time we drop in, we’ll go in drag.


It Will Toll for Thee

Well, eventually. We refer to the new motorway that runs from Nusa Dua to the Port of Benoa road (not quite Sanur!) and will, so it is said, help reduce traffic congestion in the Kuta-Airport area. We hope it does, when it eventually opens for business, which on the latest reports will be mid-August. It won’t help reduce traffic chaos, of course. Only driver education, effective licensing and strict policing would ever do that.

     Out of interest recently we consulted Google Earth which revealed that we had misnamed the thoroughfare (it’s still waiting for an official moniker, which in this cart-before-the-horse land is no surprise at all). On the basis of (1) the fuss about the mangroves and (2) the inaccessibility to the public of any definitive documentation detailing its construction – or route – we had informally designated it the Mangrove Motorway.

     But Google Earth, courtesy of the latest satellite pass, shows that it runs straight up the guts of Benoa Bay, with a handy little traffic circle midway, about where aircraft on final approach reach go-around point, to take traffic to and from the airport.  On this basis it is now known at The Cage as Wavebreak Way.

     We were reasonably happy with the mangrove option – since it was a fait accompli and the builders of it assure us mangroves grow much better in a forest of concrete pylons – because a mangrove tree to cling on to might be handy should one’s transit be curtailed by some disaster. But now it looks as if we’ll have to pack water-wings.


A Different Leap of Faith

Pondok Santi, bungee king AJ Hackett’s former private retreat on Gili Trawangan (memo Aussie media: the Gilis are not “off Bali”; they’re off Lombok) that has converted to up-scale paying guest resort, has gone into the wedding business.

     We learn this not from the operators or owners directly, but from its Facebook page. Thank goodness for FB. Without it you’d never know what was happening on certain little islands that are not off Bali. Pondok Santi’s page is apparently run from Hackett HQ in Cairns, Queensland, since it refers to “Gili Trawanagan”.

     But be that as it may. Cheering news reported is that Pondok Santi has been awarded a certificate of excellence by the online globetrotter geeksite Trip Advisor, having rated number one out of 63 accommodation houses on Gili Trawangan.


Anchors Aweigh!

Neil Carl Hempsey, the nautical chap, is deep into organizing the 6th Annual Super Yacht Charity RDV Event. It’s on Friday, August 2, at Vin+ Wine & Beyond, Winery Restaurant and Bar; it’s a new grazing place in Seminyak (Jl Kayu Jati No1, on the Jl Oberoi corner).

     Hempsey says: “We hope that you all enjoyed last year’s event. This year’s event will take a different format with raffles and prizes to be won at the entrance, with the focus being an uninterrupted music and entertainment festival. This year will be bigger and better. So set your calendar for Bali’s biggest charity event of the year.”

     It’s certainly all in a good cause, which makes it worthwhile turning up whether or not you’re into uninterrupted music and entertainment. It would certainly limit deeply meaningful conversation, which some may think might also be a good thing.

Email Hector at hector.mcsquawky@yahoo.com or tweet with him on Twitter @ scratchings


HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, July 25, 2012

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences


Oh Yes, It’s Paradise Here

Some days you just want to sit down and cry. It’s not the crowded crassness of mass tourism that does this, or even the mindless self-absorption of the Rave ‘n’ Groove sector; though both can cause intense irritation if you let them. No, it’s the fragile, deadly, outer fringe of Bali’s already marginalised rural life that stings your eyes and makes you feel like a helpless fool.

We heard a dreadful story the other day from a new chum, Englishwoman Sarah Chapman, who now lives here after many years of visiting as a tourist – a common provenance – and who has found a little girl in east Bali who she calls Annie.  She found her via a Balinese friend, Putu Yuni, who read about Annie in the local Bahasa press and told her the story. Yuni also went round her own friends and raised money to buy a mattress and some food for the family, and left the cash residue with them as well.

Rotary Seminyak has come to the party too, we hear, by arranging for Annie to have a full suite of medical assessments. Rotary does such a lot of good work that is often unheralded.

Annie is eight. She weighs – at last report – eight kilos, and that was after a three-week stay in Amlapura hospital. She may be deaf, since Chapman – an experienced nurse – tells us Annie seems not to respond to aural stimulus; she is given to screaming fits and tends to hit out at people. She lives in a hut in the Karangasem district of Sideman with her granny, another elderly woman who is apparently an aunt, an undersized (but otherwise OK) older brother who is 14, her grandfather, and her father, who is mentally ill. Her mother left the home when Annie was six months old, apparently because Annie’s father was violent.

The family basically has no income and care for Annie – whom they love – as best they can. The little girl now has a mattress to sleep on – it was old newspapers before – and a few other things. More help is on the way, courtesy of a small but growing army of people who want to help – including, belatedly, the authorities.

But there are questions here.  Where was the local Banjar on this? Why wasn’t it helping the family? Where were the village authorities? Had they been doing anything? What about the regency social welfare people? Did they care, before the story broke in the local press? What about the provincial authorities and Governor Pastika’s programme to assist the very poor? And for that matter, what about the central government’s duty of care to all Indonesians?

We’ll keep you posted on Annie, who at last report was beginning to progress. If any reader would like to join Annie’s Army, drop Hector a line at reachme61@yahoo.com and we’ll pass the details on.

High Road

And now for some brighter news. We hear from two impeccable Bali-resident sources – Belgian travel and business adviser Marc Jacobs and Australian blogger Vyt Karazija – that the new IB Mantra Highway linking the crowded south with the less crowded east (the road provides travellers with a good idea of the extent of erosion on the Gianyar and Klungkung coasts) is now complete. Well, Jacobs told us 99 percent complete, and all the way to Goa Lawah. It’s long been a work in progress, funded by Australian aid, muddied by the truly Byzantine politics of this island, and doubtless bedevilled by the snafu factor and the ongoing belief hereabouts that making a road is just a matter of slapping a couple of centimetres of blacktop on some crushed rock.

According to Jacobs it’s now just an hour from Sanur to Padang Bai. That would be if the trucks and the motorbikes kept left, presumably. We’ve avoided expeditions to the remote east for several long months, not having a tent in which to camp out while they made the highway, but we’ll take a look soon. We certainly need to check out Vincent’s at Candi Dasa again, and we do hope the Haloumi has been getting through to the restaurant.

Karazija, by the way, was also able to advise us why the traffic signs telling trucks and motorcycles to keep left are universally ignored, on the new highway as elsewhere. We’re greatly indebted to him, because we hadn’t realised that Indonesian traffic signs use subliminal shorthand. Those KEEP LEFT signs actually say “KEEP doing what you’ve always done or you’ll be LEFT behind.”

Airport Alert

The things you see: Angus McCaskill ,the Melbourne travel industry figure who used to double as Willie Ra’re, Bali party guy and drug convict, recently told a Facebook friend who posted a picture of her lunch at Kuta‘s Little Green Cafe (it did look good): “I so miss LGC and their delicious taste sensations… but I’ll be back!”

No Jumping

The things you don’t see. On July 11 we noted the presence on Gili Trawangan of a revitalised AJ Hackett private retreat, Pondok Santi, now open to paying guests, and said AJ had a bungee operation in Bali.

Oops: For has, read had. A little e-billet-doux from Nigel Hobbs in Cairns, Australia, where he markets Hackett’s operations, told us the Kuta venue was closed last year as the land lease was not being renewed. Apparently the landowner wanted to build a resort on it. So Kuta is down one unique tourist attraction and up yet another resort property.

So, we’re sorry about that. If only we were into leaps of faith we might have joined up all the developmental dots and noticed that Hackett’s big plunger was no more.

Weaving a Tale

Textile-inclined bookworms  at this year’s Ubud Writers and Readers Festival  (October 3-7, don’t miss it) will have a chance to add another five days to their experience and join a tour of traditional weavers that UWRF and local not-for-profit outfit Threads of Life have organised.

Ubud-based Threads of Life uses culture and conservation to alleviate poverty in rural Indonesia. The heirloom-quality textiles and baskets are made with local materials and natural dyes. With the proceeds from the Threads of Life gallery, they help weavers to form independent cooperatives and to manage their resources sustainably.

The five-day sojourn takes in homes, studios and cooperatives in the Seraya area on Bali’s dry north-eastern tip, the lush rice fields of Sideman and the ancient village of Tenganan Pegeringsingan. Participants will be based at the rather-better-than-basic Alila Manggis, near Candi Dasa.

That all sounds fun and could be a powerful restorative agent following the diet of pious platitudes likely to be served up at the writers’ festival itself by veteran scribbler John Pilger, the Australian-born journalist who has made a stellar career out of bashing PHIABs (People He’s Identified As Bastards) and who is the headline attraction this year.

Incidentally, Janet DeNeefe who – when she’s not being determinedly insouciant about which well-moneyed corporation might agree to part with substantial readies and be tagged as this year’s UWRF naming sponsor – is officer in charge of coffee etc at a number of Ubud destinations for degustation, had a swish knees-up at Casa Luna on July 22 in honour of the establishment’s 20th birthday. Guests enjoyed fruits of the vine and canapés from 5pm-11pm.

Ethereal Tip

Australia Network, the visual voice of Oz in the region and rated required watching by the Diary, has joined the iPhone App revolution. Now, wherever you are on regional terra firma, you can get news updates and all that other gizmo stuff out of the ether as well as programme information; and you can fool around on Facebook and make a twit of yourself tweeting on the go.

It also links you to AussieFunk. No, we’re only joking: we mean the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s emergency information service, which is a sensible must for travellers and overseas residents alike. The free application is available via iPhone download and at the itunes online store.

Seriously, it’s good news. Perhaps we should get ourselves an iPhone.

Blight is Right

Poor old Blighty! The London Olympics are upon us and the Misty Isles’ summer (that’s the northern hemisphere summer, which is what happens when the important bit of the world is having its winter) is being its usual self: abominable.  We’re indebted – yet again – to James Jeffrey’s admirable Strewth diary in The Australian newspaper, which recently found time to report what one exasperated Brit said about it in the pages of the Guardian, a British newspaper for the meddling classes.

Charlie Brooker’s tirade – published on July 16 – ended thus:  “It’s got to the point where pulling back the curtains each morning feels like waking up in jail. No, worse: like waking up inside a monochrome Czechoslovakian cartoon about waking up in jail. The outdoor world is illuminated by a weak, grey, diseased form of light that has fatally exhausted itself crawling through the gloomy stratospheric miasma before perishing feebly on your retinas.”

Well, that’s tough on the Brits, but it’s oddly comforting. It precisely describes the sort of weather that drove your diarist to desert hearth and home way back in 1969.

Easy, Now…

Suggestions that Tantric practices were first thought up by Buddhists – this ephemera surfaced recently in the chatterverse – prompt the thought that, properly considered, this could have led to someone writing the Calmer Sutra.

Hector’s Diary appears in the Bali Advertiser, published fortnightly. Hector is on Twitter (@scratchings) and Facebook (Hector McSquawky).

HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, July 11, 2012

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).