HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, Jun. 10, 2015

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

Let’s Get Nauti

It is Ratty, in Kenneth Grahame’s wonderful 1908 children’s fantasy story Wind in the Willows, who reminds us that there is absolutely nothing better than messing about in boats. As a theory, this is quite possibly an incontrovertible statement. As a practise, if one is of the sort whose natural nautical agilities and skills equate with those of Frank Spencer in Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em, avoidance is the best technique.

The Diary’s preference, despite some early messing about in boats, has always been to be aboard something rather larger than the fierce marine creatures that inhabit the waters upon which one is sailing. So we were very pleased when Pulau Luxury Charters invited us aboard its latest acquisition, a 22-metre catamaran called Haruku, for a day of fun and frivolity arranged for the media by The Diary’s favourite local dish, Diana Shearin. This event took place on May 8, shortly before we needed to make an unscheduled two-week-long visit to the chilly climes of pre-winter southern Western Australia. The recalled warmth of the occasion kept us going throughout that later ordeal.

Aboard the Haruku on that sybaritic day all the messing about was done by the efficient crew and the drinks and nibbly things were offered around by svelte young ladies wearing tiny skirts which could easily have doubled as belts. This was, the Diary mused, just how nautical experiences should be enjoyed. It gives you something to contemplate other than the horizon or your own navel.

The Haruku, which has joined five other boats in the Pulau fleet, is a refurbished and upgraded long-range expedition yacht that purrs along at 12 knots and is pushed through the briny by two Cummins 700hp diesel engines. Its twin hulls flatten most of the wind waves one might encounter in our waters, though the Indian Ocean swells punching up the Badung Strait made the trip from Serangan to Nusa Penida a little interesting for some on board.

There’s plenty of space and lots of headroom, plus all the kit you expect in these days of state-of-the-art music systems, monster flat screen TVs and on board WiFi. On day trips the boat can accommodate up to 25 guests and for long-range cruising it sleeps up to eight passengers in three cabins.

The open aft deck is a great place for lounging. It leads down to dual swim/dive platforms and the range of watercraft available to guests. It also leads up to the spacious fly bridge where further comfy seating is available to people whose on-board job is to relax and have fun.

The boat was built in 2002 and refurbished in 2014-15. It’s very comfortable and well equipped. One quibble: It did seem a shame that the refurbishment did not extend to changing the two-pin power points to universal points. Pulau Luxury Charters is part of the group that includes boutique villas at Banjar Anyar Kelod in Umalas and the eclectic Cafe Cous Cous whose Moroccan cuisine and ambience are worthy of inclusion on anyone’s must-do list.

Big Day

We note with pleasure that two lovely people we know – Australian Marian Carroll of Four Seasons and long-term Bali resident Brazilian Alexsander Martins Paim – tied the knot on June 5. It would have been a grand party, especially as it also tied together two representations of the Southern Cross, the stellar icon of the southern hemisphere night sky. It features on both the Australian and Brazilian flags.

The nuptials took place at former Alila Manggis executive chef Penelope Williams’ destination for gourmets, Bali Asli at Gelumpang, near Amlapura in Karangasem, and featured a megibung feast, served in the style of the royal family of Karangasem. We’re sure the Brazilians in the party were happy to forgo pão de queijo and coxinha on that occasion.

We hear there was a spot of Capoeira on hand, however. This will have helped the guests feast not only on the fine fare but also the spectacular views of Gunung Agung. Alex is from Porto Alegre in southern Brazil, where the local mountains aren’t quite as lofty but do occasionally sport picture-postcard snowfalls.

Bali Asli recently hosted the Great Chefs of Bali dinner. Female chefs from all over Bali cooked their signature dish as part of a meal celebrating the not to be missed feminine component of exemplary cuisine in kitchens. They raised Rp 56 million to help the nearby village of Pangi restore a traditional paon kitchen and also to build a needy family a bathroom and a family temple.

Scumbags

A sickening video showing a group of men from Tabanan regency savagely beating to death a black dog that they had led to a pole and then tied to it has gone round the world. Even more tragically, the dog was obviously a pet or at least habituated to being around people, since it was happily wagging its tail as it walked towards its execution place. It only panicked and began yelping piteously when it finally realized what was about to happen.

Such incidents, less the videoing, are regrettably possibly commonplace wherever thick young men with too much testosterone and too few brain cells gather, but that neither excuses nor explains it. Specifically, it is very bad for Bali’s image as a place of great spirituality. That’s already taken a hammering from the authorities’ fixation with killing dogs, vaccinated or not, in their mad and unnecessary panic over the rabies crisis that they have prolonged through their own negligence.

It’s against Indonesian law to mistreat an animal, especially in a way that causes painful death. So since these ridiculous and unpleasant young men had themselves videoed committing their crime and laughing while they did it, and since this incriminating evidence was downloaded elsewhere before their brain cells picked up enough power to think that perhaps they shouldn’t have posted it on Facebook, no doubt the police will take action.

We’re keen to see the outcome of the judicial proceedings that will naturally follow.

In the video a man – he was not one of the murder-party – is filmed riding up on a motorbike without a helmet. That might bring the traffic police into the action too, since it is also against the law to ride a bike without a bone-dome, however thick your skull is.

A Frisson Too Far

The Diary’s international cultural attaché, Philly Frisson, who has just enjoyed a sojourn in Bali and should return as soon as possible for further talks in the 2015 Made’s WarungWatercress series, reports a curious incident when she arrived back in Sydney and went out to buy her morning bagel (it’s the sort of thing you do in Sin City).

She tells us: “Being just back from Bali where I smile at my neighbours, the local mangy dogs and even the devious money exchange boys on the corner, I smile hither and yon. Oops, well sorry folks, I didn’t realize it was some sort of taboo.” She notes, though, that the resident nutcase acknowledged her. And that she still loves Sydney. Well don’t we all?

Feliç Aniversari!

We missed the party, since we were still in the pre-winter chill far to the south, but it seems incredible that it is four years since El Kabron opened on its pretty cliff-top at Pecatu on the Bukit and brought a Catalan-Spanish flavour to the sunset scene. That was where we fell in love with Yellow Dog, an evocative water-colour by Leticia Balacek that to our mind completely captures the true expression of modern Bali.

Balacek has long since returned to her native Argentina – and to Buenos Aires, which has been our favourite global city since a fabulously long holiday there in 1986 – and we can only hope that Yellow Dog has found a suitable home.

El Kabron’s fourth birthday party was on Jun. 7. We’re sure David Iglesias Megias and the crew made it a memorable occasion for party-goers.

Coup d’État

Ku De Ta is an icon of Bali’s beachfront eat-drink-and-be-merry sector. Its name is globally known for its ambience – less for its victuals, in the Diary’s subjective assessment – and its premier position as a spot to watch the sun go down. It’s where the party set parties and the wannabes want to be.

Its name is its essence, its commercial actuality, and it was therefore surprising when an establishment entirely dissimilar to the Seminyak venue opened on top of one of Singapore’s lofty towers and began trading under the same name. So it was good to read the other day that after a five-year court battle over the rights to the name Ku De Ta, the Bali partners have won the case and a name change for the crowd-pulling Singapore club.

Hector tweets @ scratchings on Twitter. His diary appears in the print and online editions of the Bali Advertiser http://www.baliadvertiser.biz

 

HECTOR’S DIARY Bali Advertiser, May 27, 2015

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

Comedy of Horrors

The head of animal husbandry in Badung regency, Made Badra, is reported (by the Jawa Pos newspaper) to have come up with a brilliantly cunning Baldrick-style plan to solve the rabies problem in Bali. These guys must be watching bootleg DVDs of the entire series of The Black Adder, the way they go on. Pak Made in particular seems to have been chatting with the Wise Woman. She was the witch who advised Lord Blackadder, who had a little difficulty with two men and a queen, to kill everyone.

No, that’s unfair. He apparently would like to keep 200,000 dogs in Bali as long as they’re vaccinated and sterilized, and kept as pets, in order to protect the Bali Dog. It’s possible that he was misreported as to the precise detail of his proposal. As head of animal husbandry he would presumably know that sterilized dogs have difficulty reproducing. Given the average lifespan of a dog, on the reported basis of his plan he’d be looking at eliminating the Bali Dog as a distinct species within about 15 years.

The crux of the problem with rabies control in Bali is that no one is in control. There’s not enough vaccine in stock because not enough is being bought. District control programs are administered – though that hardly seems the word – by officials who don’t know how many dogs there are but nonetheless would like to kill lots of them. The health bureaucracy cannot vaccinate people who need anti-rabies shots after they’ve been bitten by village dogs that no one can say have been vaccinated. Look up shemozzle in the dictionary. It’s all the rage here.

On top of this, the Badung animal husbandry chief has a shot at animal welfare organizations that, he says, really should do more than just shout and scream if they want to help. We know of one such organization that right from the start of the crisis in 2008 actually did rather a lot more than just run around like a headless chook. It reduced rabies in dogs by a huge quantum in the first stage of a vaccination campaign it organized with international support. Then it ran into a poisonous thicket of provincial posturing and little local jealousies – these were not in Badung regency; that needs to be noted – and has since been monstrously hindered by inventive licensing and permit restrictions in doing its day job, let alone the government’s.

We say again: world best practice shows that controlling rabies and eventually eliminating it as a threat to human and animal populations is achieved by vaccinating (and regularly re-vaccinating) domestic and informally owned dogs to create an effective vaccinated screen. Dogs are territorial and will see off interlopers and hence keep potentially rabid animals away.

What part of “Oh I see” do the authorities here not understand?

Two Gems

The Diary dined in excellent company at the new Jemme Restaurant in Jl. Petitenget at Kerobokan on May 9, its opening night after significant renovations. It was busy and at times a little noisy – but, hey, there’s nothing wrong with a little chatter and clatter – and the food hit the spot. It’s a gem. There’s a very decent wine list and a menu that suits all tastes. Our advice: Do drop in.

Another gem was along for the occasion. Eva Scolaro, Perth jazz singer and now Bali resident, sang for everyone’s supper. She’s doing regular spots there. And we hear she’ll be performing at the next DIVA do, on Jun. 12 at Slippery Stone at Kerobokan.

In an entirely different style, we looked in at Hog Wild’s soft opening in Jl. Batu Belig on May 14. It’s the former Naughty Nuri’s and the charity outfit SoleMen had a benefit there. The grub’s good. So was Ceremco, the Dutch illusionist who has now been reading minds in Bali for two years.

We’d seen him not long before at the Europe on Screen film festival at Pan Pacific Nirvana. He specializes in two different genres – kids’ magic (which was certainly working magically for the kids at Hog Wild) and hypnosis, psychological magic and self-help for adults.

Chaos Theory: Proved

We’ve had a lovely taste of the chaos the European and post-Ramadan high season will cause on Bali’s roads this year. The long weekend recently brought South Bali’s major arterial roads to a standstill. It’s reported that on the Friday evening of the long weekend it was taking up to two hours to make the trip from Seminyak to Kuta. That’s 6.4 kilometres via Sunset Road. Traffic was stalled for kilometres on the Ngurah Rai Bypass and all the connecting roads were jammed.

Vehicle traffic from Java via the Ketapang-Gilimanuk ferry link rose by 37 percent. More than 3500 vehicles entered Bali from Gilimanuk on the Thursday before the long weekend alone. Since the Denpasar-Gilimanuk road would be flat out properly handling 10 percent of its regular traffic and alternatives to this – a toll road option – are still in the department of pretty pictures, nothing’s going to change on that arterial route soon.

In South Bali, the traffic situation at peak times has returned to the jam-packed inch-forward profile for which it was famous before the Nusa Dua-Benoa toll road was built. Given rock-bottom airfares aimed at domestic tourists and the Chinese invasion (they drive around in large parties in Leviathan-sized charabancs, as is their wont) the future looks bleak.

It’s a Squeeze

A telling illustration of the bind Bali has got itself into over tourism and infrastructure comes to light in new figures released by the statistics bureau that show a disastrous 2011-2015 decline in room occupancy rates of classified hotels (the ones with stars basically).

They’re worth running your eye over even if you’re not directly involved in the hotel sector, since they demonstrate with stark clarity why retail outlets and other services that depend on high throughput of human customers are also struggling.

In January 2011 the occupancy rate was 64.66 percent. In 2012 it was 62.01; in 2013, it fell to 57.57, then to 52.85 in 2014 and 47.23 in 2015. For the month of February the rates were 62.23 (2011); 55.52 (2012); 58.05 (2013); 52.76 (2014); and 47.59 (2015). Similarly sharp falls in occupancy rates occurred in all but two months of each year between 2011 and 2015. March in particular stands out. In Mar. 2011 the occupancy rate was 63.16 percent. In Mar. 2015 it was 43.24 percent. August and September are the only months in the series in which the 2015 occupancy rates are higher than they were in 2011. (The 2014 and 2015 figures are provisional.)

Under Bali’s unplanned planning rules, new hotels are still being built and opened. Existing hotels are discounting room rates to attract custom, or are being squeezed by the online bookings sector. We hear a suggestion that most hotels even at the top star-rated level are effectively getting only Rp300,000 a night per room. If this is so – it’s unlikely any hotel general manager is going to be saying so publicly – then the situation is unsustainable in the long term without massive new numbers of visitors.

Eat Up!

Penelope Williams, whose unique Bali Asli restaurant is at Gelumpang, near Amlapura in un-crowded East Bali, and who featured as a foodie at the 2014 Ubud Writers and Readers Festival, is on the program at the first Ubud Food Festival on Jun. 5-7. She is giving a cooking demonstration on Jun. 7.

Williams, who was formerly executive chef at Alila Manggis, has a stellar CV and came to Bali from 12 years in Sydney, Australia, says her aim is to promote Balinese cuisine and culture without exploiting it or Bali’s people. The menu offers authentic Balinese food using a traditional Balinese style kitchen. They cook on wood-fired, mud brick stoves, which Williams says allows the real flavours of Bali to shine. Most of Bali Asli’s ingredients are either grown in its own or a neighbour’s garden or bought from the local market. There’s a cooking school too.

She has a refreshingly open approach to life and its vagaries. On the Bali Asli website there’s this lovely entry: “On Trip Advisor …. Among the few critics is an expat who has lived in Bali for several years. She describes the restaurant as a place for naive tourists and her advice is to get far less expensive but good Balinese food at a local warung.”

Well, we’re another expat who has lived in Bali for several years and eats at local warungs. And Bali Asli is on our non-naive-tourist must-visit list.

Hector tweets @ scratchings on Twitter. His diary is published in the Bali Advertiser print and online editions http://www.baliadvertiser.biz