Saturday, August 31, 2013

Singapore/Bali trip diary - day 8

We eased into Saturday, letting the light slowly fill our villa, and watching the early morning rain give way to a beautiful clarifying heat; it was simply a gorgeous day. We'd booked a car for 10 am; our driver was Agusta. Our desired destination was the beach resort of Sanur, although he didn’t really try to hide his view that this was a somewhat lowbrow request – we explained that we were specifically doing this as a contrast, to see the other side of Bali, but I think he still thought it was a dud choice. However, he elevated the tone of things with well-chosen diversions on the way.
First we stopped at a plantation where they grow various organic crops, and produce numerous varieties of coffee and tea and chocolate, as well as wine and other sundries. The speciality is the luwak coffee, made with beans that have gone through the digestive system of the Asian palm civet. We each had a cup of this, as well as sampling fourteen other flavours of tea and coffee (which thankfully failed to turn us into high-strung messes for the day) and two kinds of alcoholic beverage. Frankly, I wouldn’t have said the luwak coffee really benefitted from the extra work – not that I’m a connoisseur in this area (a Google search suggests this might not be an uncommon assessment though). Anyway, we bought quite a few things in the gift shop, as was no doubt expected of us.

Then we stopped at the Pura Puseh temple in the village of Batuan, some parts of which date back a thousand years. It’s obligatory for visitors to wear a sarong, thus generating the only photo that’s ever likely to exist of me in such an item. It’s a magnificent space, and seemed quite busy with local as well as tourist activity. Once again, I noted as we drove along that Bali seems over-supplied with unsold stone statues, but Agusta didn’t seem too worried on the stonemasons’ behalf. We passed through one village where it seems every second building houses a wood carver; another where everyone seems to craft jewelry; these groupings, it seems, reflect and reinforce the continuity and coherence of Balinese families and communities. Certainly the people we’re talking to seem wonderfully serene and grounded, although I suppose that might speak in part to the power of the Four Seasons brand (by the way, some 300 people apparently work at the hotel, and there are two sniffer dogs; celebrities who’ve stayed here include Julia Roberts, Cindy Crawford, Steven Seagal, and most recently, Metallica, as a break prior to the Asian tour I mentioned the other day).

We eventually reached Sanur, and no doubt he’s right – beach resorts are more the same the world over than they are different. But it still turned out perfectly because it has a path along the edge of the beach that goes for several kilometers – we didn’t even reach the end of it before turning back, because I guess we’re too nice and thought we might be keeping him waiting unduly. Much of the beach belongs to hotels or private clubs,  but at least they let you pass through, unlike some irritating places we’ve been which impede the flow of public space (he wrote as he looked up and surveyed the view from his villa). Of course, your progress is constantly accompanied by people trying to sell you a boat ride, or souvenirs, or (today’s variation on the vending activity) massages and facials, but they’re seldom very strident about it. In general it didn’t seem particularly busy, even though I believe this is one of the peak seasons. The only group I would have identified as being at a possible tourism peak was the, uh, older crowd – I haven’t seen so many elderly people since I went to the matinee of a Woody Allen movie. And most of those kept their shirts on. Anyway, we stopped for lunch along the way and it was a very pleasant few hours.
The roads around Ubud are generally quite narrow, with a rather startling number of seemingly perilously young kids on motor scooters. Apparently the official driving age is 17, but the police don’t enforce it on the smaller roads. Quite a few times as we drove along, I imagined we were going to plough right into the bike in front of us, but it probably all co-exists in deceptive equilibrium: drivers don’t seem aggressive, and you can stop the flow of traffic by stepping out into the street. Anyway, on the way back we stopped at a “batik,” where we observed a group of women (and one man) dyeing and designing various fabrics; someone showed us the process and then, naturally, led us into the accompanying store which (not to seem obsessed by this point) contained more inventory than a group of workers of that size and apparent pace could have produced if they’d been at it for a millennium. Ally bought a robe, similar to the one she’s been enjoying wearing at the Four Seasons.

And then we came back – she had a swim again, I sat at my desk again…all as if we’d been doing it for years. I had a bath later, although I just had a boring regular old bath rather than summoning someone to our villa to prepare a “serenity bath,” a “reconnect together bath” or one of the four other options. The resort has a great number of special spa treatments, guided walks and other offerings (for example, an eight-hour package which supposedly allows you to experience the life of a Balinese rice farmer), but as you see, we generally prefer to design our own events.
The hotel restaurant was running another theme night, based around a local Ubud feast, with a suckling pig as a highpoint. It looked great, but it was much more food than we needed, so we just ordered off the regular menu. We were soon, yet again, the only table in the place, and once the staff satisfied themselves no one else was coming, they all started enjoying the pig themselves, and why not. Once again we drank our wine outside our villa, the perfect vacation day being an artful mix of discovery and of repetition…

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