Saturday, June 18, 2011

Bali: Bali Dynasty Resort, Kuta

Well, we did it. It was completely out of character, but on this trip we stayed at a resort. The Bali Dynasty. It was a bit of a shock to our systems . We normally stay in small hotels, so in comparison this was a bit like being at the door-opening of Myer at the start of a Boxing Day sale. A trillion people, a trillion rooms, a trillion towels reserving empty deck chairs for days on end, and a trillion starving, fork-wielding guests at the breakfast buffet ready to steal your kids toast and fiercely shove their little bodies out of the way in the quest to grab the last omelette. 

But overall it was a great place to stay. The facilities were terrific, especially for kids, and the service was pretty good.

It was packed to the brim with cheerful, bantering Aussies. Which would explain why it's the only place I'd been outside of Australia that had a truck load of Vegemite sachets available at breakfast time. This made hubby very, very happy. And happy hubby meant happy life. Which meant happy wife. Happy holidays! Yay for Vegemite. It's powerful stuff. The mere sight of that little black smudge of smelly goo while we're travelling excites my hubby.You can take the boy out of Australia. But you can't take that yeasty bit of Australia out of the boy. I'll pack some in the first aid kit next time. Filed as 'Daddy's little mood-enhancer'.
 
For this post I'll give you a quick run-down of some of Bali Dynasty's facilities, and of places of interest close by. 

- In terms of kid-friendliness, you could barely fault The Bali Dynasty. 
 
- There was a kid's club, although we did not use it so we don't know what it was like.

- For an adult break, there was also a day spa, with massages available in open-aired, covered over thingies (sorry, couldn't think of the word!) This service was pretty exposed to the general public, though. I received a complimentary massage with our room cost, and provided a bit of bare-skinned entertainment for the workmen maintaining a nearby section of the resort, and to guests walking to and from their rooms. Also check that you don't book your massage during activity time at the pool. My therapist kneaded my body whilst I listened to the diving and bombing competition, with a megaphone blaring, "1, 2, 3....JUMP!!!!" and commenting on the star quality of every diving and bombing contestant. I knew each participant so well by the end of my massage I felt like we were besties. The soothing sounds of the maintenance guys hammering and my therapist talking to another therapist for most of my massage were unexpected bonuses. But hey, I couldn't complain. It was still the most relaxed I'd felt in a long time...and was definitely way more pampering than I'd get at home!

- Rooms
There were family rooms  available, with partially separate sleeping areas for adults and kids. In the family room that we saw, a section of wall separated a queen-sized bed from a section with bunks and a trundle bed. If you missed out on a family room, you could also get inter-connecting rooms - a spacious option and great for a longer stay (be sure to throw a washer or towel over the top of each interconnecting door so that your kids don't lock you out of their room).
 
People with small children might want to request a room on the ground floor.  But not on the pool side as kids would have direct access to the water. Each room has a balcony with outdoor furniture - interconnecting rooms have two. On upper floors, it would be easy for kids to climb onto the furniture and fall over the edge of the balcony. Our five-year-old and three-year-old could both unlock and open the sliding doors to the verandahs. I was mighty glad that we were on the ground floor.
 
If you have difficulty walking you might also like to request a ground-floor room. There are no lifts at the hotel and you would have to negotiate flights of stairs. Actually, you would need to negotiate stairs no matter which level you stayed on. If you were in a wheelchair or had a lot of trouble walking, it might be an idea to look at alternative accommodation.
 
Prams would need to be carried up and down stairs. 
 
- Eating
There were a few places to eat on-site, including a good Indian restaurant. The breakfast buffet had a great selection of food catering to a lot of cultural tastes. And lots of Vegemite. And there were tonnes of restaurants along the road fairly close to the resort, and also along the beach close by.
 
 
- Pools
There were three pools. An adults only pool (we got nowhere near that one!), another with a fairly large, tubular waterslide (great for older kids), and another large, deep one with a pool bar and toddler pool. Be careful of the tiles around the pool (and throughout the whole resort). They were really slippery when wet.
 
 
- Tiny bees swarmed into any sweet drink that we left near the pool or on the grounds. Be careful if your child has a can of drink, as you cannot see the bees inside. If anyone tells you that the bees don't sting, DON'T BELIEVE THEM!! We were told that they do not sting. Just after I assured my three-year-old that the bees were harmless, the trusting soul stuck his fingers in his glass to scrape them out and was stung five times. Screams galore. No mother of the year award for me that day. Now he's scared shiteless of bees. 
 
 
 - Location
The resort was in a great location – walking distance to restaurants and shops. Directly across the road was a tasty Thai restaurant - and the cocktails there were half the price of those at the resort.

- If you head out  of the gate near the waterslide pool and turn right you will get to the beach, which is very close. You’ll walk through some market stalls on the way, where the owners will remember your name and ensure that you look at their stall the next time you wander through - keep an eye out for 'Jimmy Barnes'. There’s also a path that takes you around the stalls if you want to avoid the stalls and stall owners.

- Once you get to the beach, turn left and walk up the beach path a little way. There’s a great restaurant called Pantai. Top seafood. And an excellent spot to sit and have dinner or a few drinks watching the sun set over the ocean.

- It’s a bit of a walk from the resort to popular Legian street (which is filled with more shops than anyone could possibly need in life). Legian street is not very pram-friendly, and it's very looooong. Consider getting day-release from the little tykes if you want to go here, folks. 

- Waterbomb Park (full of waterslides and pools and a great family day out) is within short walking distance from The Bali Dynasty. Turn left out of the driveway and it is just up the road on the opposite side of the street to the resort.

- Be careful walking the streets in general. There's slippery tiles, holes and tripping hazards for kids, and the footpaths are not very pram-friendly. You might find yourself carrying your pram up and down gutters and stairs at times. There's a good path along the beach, which is great for prams.

- Safety standards on building sites are pretty low. I went to walk under some scaffolding and saw sparks flying down in front of me. A welder was working  in the scaffolding just above the pedestrian thoroughfare. I would have been burnt or had my hair singed if I’d continued. 

I hope that this information helps anyone planning a trip to The Bali Dynasty with their kids. Please feel free to comment if you have any other questions.

Selamat Tinggal (goodbye)! For now.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Thanks for your support!

Thanks to everyone who voted for me in the Sydney Writer's Centre's Best Australian Blogs 2011 People's Choice Award. I really appreciate your support! As a rookie blogger, it was great fun being in this competition.

Congratulations to the winner, Chris Hunter, for his blog Bike Exif www.bikeexif.com . Chris received 2,583 votes - at least 1000 more votes than any other blog in the competition. Check it out if you're a bike fanatic!

Thanks a million.

Monday, April 18, 2011

I'm in the People's Choice Award! Wanna Vote for Me??

Well, folks. Voting for the Sydney Writer's Centre People's Choice Award has started.

Do you think my blog deserves a bit of recognition? If you do, why not vote for me?

Just click the 'Vote for me Now' badge at the top right of this blog. Once you've entered the voting area, the blogs are listed alphabetically. Find my blog (Help! My Mum's a Travel Addict!) and place a tick next to it. Click through the remaining pages and you'll reach the end. Don't forget to click 'done' or your vote won't count!

Voting closes Thursday 5th May at 5pm.

Thanks guys.

I'm not sure how I'll go. But it's fun finding out. Wish me luck!

P.S. I'm off to work on another travel post. Stay tuned.....

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Feel free to say hi!

Right. I think I've finally sorted out the settings on this blog so that anyone can leave a comment. It's not always been that way! Sorry. I'm a blogging newbie, so I'm trying to get my head around technical and design issues. I'm sure I'll make friends with it all soon.

I've added a 'follow by email' gadget, so please subscribe if you would like email notification every time I post something new.

I've also included a currency converter so that you don't have to consult Mr Google every time I quote a price in foreign currency.

Feel free to comment on any of my posts. Or to just give me feedback on how this blog is working and how I can make it better. Any suggestions are welcome suggestions. And I don't care if I don't know you. It's a buzz for me to look on my blog stats and see an audience from all around the world! It's great to know you are reading my stuff. Responding to your comments also gives me a chance to say thankyou.

I'm a nominee in the Sydney Writer's Centre's Best Australian Blogs 2011 Competition. If you really like my blog, please vote for  me in the People's Choice Award. Voting starts Monday 18th April via the link at the top right-hand side of my blog.

I hope to hear from you soon!! Whether I know you or not!

Kind regards,
Nina

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Post-Travel Posting Blues

It was a few years ago that my husband said it to me. But I remember it clearly.
“I think you have trouble completing tasks”.
Probably not the brightest thing to say to the mother of two babies.  As I slammed a dirty nappy into the bin of my half-cleaned kitchen, grabbed a toy for my two-year old to play with and ran to my screaming, hungry newborn, I resisted the urge to throttle my husband.
“I don’t have trouble completing tasks”, I told myself.  I was a task super hero. No task was too tall. I could complete tall tasks in a single bound!
 At least, I USED to be able to. But that was before children. BC.
BC was different. I could concentrate on one or two tasks at a time, and complete them in a flash. I had no distractions. BC I could clean my house from one end to the other in an hour and a half. I could read a book before work, spend an hour at the gym after work, complete any unfinished tasks once I got home, then cook a meal, clean the mess and be ready to go out on the town by 8.30pm. I had no hungry mouths to feed, no little people to play with, no fights to mediate, no kiddie play and sporting commitments, no head lice outbreaks, no vomiting bugs, no life lessons to teach and no toys to constantly trip over and pick up. BC was a breeze. And tasks were a breeze to complete.
These days it’s different. We have kids. And as any parent would know, the tasks involved in parenting combined with housework, and maybe paid work = severe lack of time. Hats off to any parent. I admire you.  
These days I start a task. I’m interrupted from that task to do another task. On the way back to my original task I do another five unexpected tasks. If I’m lucky I can get within 5 metres of my original task before I hear cries of, “Mum, I’m hungry”, “Mum, can you get my puzzle out of the cupboard?” or, “Mum, I’m doing a poo and I’m finished. Wipe my bottom please!” Maybe I won’t get back to my original task for another hour, day or week. But one thing’s certain. I always get back to it. Eventually. And I finish it.
So at the risk of sounding defensive, I think hubby was wrong. I don’t have trouble completing tasks. I just have trouble completing them the way I did BC.  These days I can’t concentrate on completing one task at super hero, break-neck speed. No “up, up, and away!” for me. My tasks, a gazillion a day, are done in quick, little baby steps the size of my children’s. Some are done fast.
Some take ages.
Like this blog. We’ve been back from our last overseas trip for a few months now, and I’m busting to finish my stories. I think about posting new tips and tales every day. But even writing this, I was interrupted by my three-year-old throwing a massive tanty, and my five-year-old begging, “Play with me!!” I still want to tell you all about the rest of our time in Bali, and about our adventures in Kuala Lumpur, Northern Borneo, Penang and Langkawi. So please bear with me, folks. Baby steps. I will post more.
But in the meantime I have to go and tidy my kitchen, get one of my little fellas something to eat, pick the other one up from day care, pop into the shop, play soccer with the kids, cook dinner, bath the kids, get them off to bed, pack for a weekend away...then get stuck into my paid work tonight. Hmmm. Maybe I’m closer to being a post-kid super hero than I think!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Bali: Bali Bike-Baik Tour

Friday 24th December 2010
Christmas Eve.
Bali Bike-Baik Tour.
We sat in anticipation at a long, wooden table at the edge of a coffee plantation. We’d already wandered under large coffee and cocoa trees, witnessed a coffee bean roasting demonstration, and seen how they grew vanilla, spice and all things nice. But now it was time to get down to some serious business. Sampling the wares. My five-year-old stared at me with a big grin and wide-eyes as I explained how ‘poo coffee’, the plantation’s specialty, was made. “Bahhhh Hahhhh!” He bellowed. “Can I taste it?”
Now freeze right there.
‘Poo coffee’ is really called Luwak coffee. We’ve just re-named it. It is said to be the world’s rarest and most expensive coffee. And here’s a very simple explanation as to why it is rare, expensive and deserves our tag of a‘poo’val.
The Luwak (or Asian Palm Civet) is a tree-dwelling mammal that is native to Indonesia and parts of Asia. It eats small vertebrates, insects, seeds and ripe fruits. And it loves to hang out in coffee trees, where it eats the ripest whole coffee cherries it can find. In the Luwak’s stomach, the soft outer flesh of the coffee cherries is digested. But the beans remain intact, and the animal’s enzymes penetrate them, making them less bitter than normal coffee beans. The beans then pass through the Luwak’s intestines before being shat out into long, faecal-coated bean bars. They look a bit like small Picnic chocolate bars...only nowhere near as inviting to eat. The bean bars are then collected and the beans are separated from the excrement, cleaned, lightly roasted and ground. Coffee producers then sell the finished product for a motser. And some people pay a motser for it, brew it, and drink it. The coffee is supposedly smooth with a full, sweet taste.
Now if you’re going to let your kid try coffee for the first time, I’m not sure that it’s best to let them guzzle a brew that started its tender years in the bowels of wild animals. But hey, we were on holidays. So, what the hell.  
Un-freeze.
Our five-year-old eagerly put the cup to his mouth. Woo hoo. Coffee! Caffeine! Despite two years of harping, Mum and Dad had NEVER let him taste THAT before. He took a sip. He looked into the cup. Then he turned and stared vacantly out towards the nearby rice terraces and coconut palms. His eyes started to water. We watched him swallow. Brave move. Then he screwed up his face, poked out his tongue and said, “Blehhhhh”. If rudie words were in his vocabulary, I’m sure he would have blurted out, “This coffee tastes like poo!” But instead he quietly muttered, “I didn’t like that, mum. I don’t want any more”. No worries, sweetie. Hand it over to mummy. I wasn’t scared either. Bring on that pooey brew. Now I’m not a big fan of coffee, but poo coffee was really good. It was smooth-tasting, and without a doubt the strongest coffee I’d ever tried. I’d drink poo coffee all the time if I could afford it. But I can’t. So I’m happy with the thought that we’ve not only tasted this rare concoction that kept my heart racing for most of the day and (unhappily) kept me awake for most of the night, but we’ve also potentially turned our son off coffee for life. Yesssss. Result.
The first sip of poo coffee

Thinkin' about it...
 
Ooooh dear...

Damn it! I missed the tongue 'blehhhh'. But here's the stunned look afterwards.
This coffee plantation visit was the kick-start to a day full day of bike-riding and sight-seeing with Bali Bike-Baik Tours. And it was a fitting start. We’d need all the energy we could muster for that ride, even if it was caffeine-induced. So before moving on to fully fuel our bodies at breakfast, we tasted tropical fruits and sickly sweet organic chocolate, and sampled ginseng tea, lemon tea, ginger tea, hot chocolate, and strong, bitter Balinese coffee (which tasted weak compared to its pooey counterpart).  
Roasting coffee beans
 
Tropical fruit at the coffee plantation
Breakfast was at Kintamani, where we sat on a restaurant verandah eating deep-fried battered tuna, rice, prawn chips and deep-fried banana overlooking nearby Lake Batur and Mt Batur, an active volcano. The view was stunning. The volcano last erupted in July 2000, and you can still see a charred, grey trail spilling down the side of the mountain. Our guide told us that it is “very beautiful” sitting at the restaurant at night when the volcano is erupting. You can see the orange sparks and lava. Hmmm. It might be pretty. But I think I’d choose another dining venue. As adventurous as I am, I don’t fancy being barbequed whilst downing my bowl of nasi goreng.  
Breakfast overlooking Mt Batur, an active volcano

After brekkie it was back onboard the minibus to the start of our bike ride. And what a ride! It was definitely a highlight of our trip. It’s often hard to find travel adventures for tiny tykes that also pack an adrenaline punch for Mum and Dad. But we found a winner here. Sure, it wasn’t the kind of adrenaline rush that had you crapping your dacks or gasping for your life (unless you were REALLY unfit and couldn’t breathe!) It was more the kind of rush that came with thinking, “Holy crap. I’ve got my kid in a tiny plastic seat on the back of my bike on winding roads  in the mountains in Bali and I hope like crazy I can stay balanced and my brakes don’t fail and I don’t stack it going down this really steep hill around that blind corner whilst dodging that chicken and...oh shite, is that a dirty, big truck coming towards us?! Hold on kid! I’ll keep you alive. Trust me. I’m your motheeeeer! Wahhhhhh Hooooooooo....wasn’t that HEAPS of fun?!! Awesome! Bring on the next chook-infested downhill corner!”  
My three-year-old and I at the start of the ride

The crew at a rest stop

We’d previously seen some of rural Bali and the Ubud area from the window of a van. But this ride gave us an opportunity to see it, smell it, hear it, feel it and taste it. We rode mostly downhill or on flat, isolated roads with very little traffic, except for the occasional motor scooter, truck or car. We passed through tiny villages, where local men and women in batik sarong skirts went about their everyday life. Some women balanced thick bunches of reeds on their heads. Others skilfully head-balanced large bowls, bags or baskets of produce.  
Riding through a village

The narrow roads were lined with large blue or white tarpaulins strewn with drying rice, white-husked corn cobs with bright orange kernels, and pale, cream-coloured peanuts in their shells.  Chickens pecked at the rice and corn, and ducks waddled haphazardly down the road.  
Riding through a village

A Hindu Temple

Smiling children rushed out of houses to say “Helllooo!” and slap our hands in a side-5 as we rode by. Their giggles turned to looks of surprise when they saw the kids perched on our bikes, followed by excited laughter and yells of, “Baby! Baby!” Adults sat on the road-side or under the shelter of awnings watching us curiously, before chattering quickly amongst themselves, nudging each other and pointing at us with wide smiles muttering, “Baby!” I suppose it’s not every day they see two pale-skinned kids in plastic bike seats wearing brown, leather aviator helmets riding through their ‘hood’.
We passed beautiful, ornately carved terracotta and grey, stone Hindu temples, parts of them covered in thick, bright-green moss and white lichen.  Each village appeared to have around 3 of these temples, and their grounds were often scattered with Frangipani trees.  
 
As we rode through the villages we could hear children laughing, roosters crowing, birds chirping, and chickens clucking. Occasionally we’d smell a subtle waft of spices or food cooking. Locals dried their washing flat on the ground, on tarpaulins or over stone fences.


Temple entry

Outside the villages the landscape varied. One minute we’d ride through jungle filled with thick-stemmed, dark-green bamboo, ferns, tall coconut palms and small waterfalls cutting their way through narrow, little gorges. The next we’d be out in the open passing rice paddies filled with countless rows of bright green rice plants, their reflections sometimes visible in the shiny water of the flooded fields. People waded in shin-deep water tending to their rice crops, some wearing those peaked hats you see in Vietnam. Each rice field housed a small temple for worshipping. And most rice paddies were surrounded by coconut palms with dark-green leaves and long, thin grey trunks towering into the sky. The smell of moist, hot soil (one of my favourite smells) occasionally teased my nostrils. 

Riding past rice paddies
                             
                             
My three-year-old and I whizzed past a large, squashed snake, and I nearly crapped myself when my foot pedalled way too close to a very alive, small light-brown one. Hopefully not a viper. Yikes. Once again, my sense of adventure has been known to wane, especially when a snake rears its shiny, tongue-pokin’ little head. Luckily we all completed the ride free of fang-marks.
                                         
 Once the ride ended, the tour continued. We were taken to the tour operator’s home – a traditional Balinese compound – in Ubud. His entire family lived there. It was stunning. And peaceful. The buildings were ornate. And the garden was beautiful. There were red and yellow ginger flowers stretching to the ground, white and purple orchids, bird baths, Balinese lanterns, and grass so soft and bouncy underfoot you’d swear you were walking on a sponge.   We sat on cushions at a long, low wooden table in an open-aired building over-looking the garden, where we ate a traditional Balinese lunch cooked by the tour operator’s wife. Without a doubt, this meal was the best we’d eaten on our entire trip through Indonesia and Malaysia. 
 


Tour operator's garden

Traditional Balinese lunch


A soybean dish

Our lunch table

After lunch we were given a tour of part of the compound, and were given an insight into everyday Balinese family life and Hindu culture. We learnt that the placentas of newborns are wrapped in cloth and buried in the family’s garden so that part of the child is always there. The site of the buried placenta is given daily offerings of flowers and rice. We also learnt that a newborn’s feet cannot touch the ground for the first 3 months of their life. The compound housed a beautiful Hindu temple, upon which offerings of rice and flowers in tiny, palm-frond bowls were scattered. We felt honoured to have been given such a personal insight into this family and their way of life.  
 
At the end of the day we felt pleasantly tired and elated. And thirsty. Back at the hotel my hubby asked me what I wanted to drink. I actually felt like a poo coffee. But I settled for a cocktail. It was cheaper. And our five-year-old quickly asked for lemonade. I think poo coffee was still fresh on his mind, but had permanently disappeared from his ordering repertoire. Ahhhh well. I’m glad we let him try it. At least now we’d be able to finish a latte without his tongue hovering over the froth begging for a taste. And one day he’s going to love telling his mates that the first coffee he ever tasted came out of an animal’s butt. And we couldn’t deny him of that kind of glory, now, could we!
 
 

On the way back to the hotel


Statue at tour operator's home

Tips for general travellers and those travelling with children:
- Bali Bike Baik Tours:
I have not been asked to promote this company. I want to recommend it as it was fantastic, particularly for children.
Bali Bike-Baik Tours cater for toddlers and children.
They supply bike seats on the back of adult bikes for smaller children. Our five-year-old, who is quite tall, fit into one of these seats. I did not see any children’s bike trailers available.
They also have different sized children’s bikes for older kids who are competent riders. I’d want to be sure my child had a lot of road sense and pedalling capabilities before setting them loose on the ride by themselves. The company owner, Wayan, told me that the youngest solo rider they’ve had was seven years old, and the oldest rider was about 75. They once had a man ride with a toddler on the back of his bike, and a baby in a carrier strapped to his chest. The man is featured in photos on the website.
Bali Bike-Baik supply helmets (even for children), bottled water, bikes (and bike seats for little ones), and cold towels and more bottled water at the end of the ride. 
Their insurance covers children as young as one (a couple of other companies catering for children that I saw did not insure children under five).
The ride is suitable for all ages. It is mainly flat or downhill, with about four uphill stints. Staff members ride with you, and warn you when the downhill and uphill stints are coming, so you can change your gears accordingly. The uphill stints are not too challenging. If you couldn’t ride up a hill, you could easily and quickly get off your bike and walk it up.
There is a support vehicle that follows the group, and it carries extra bikes in case something goes wrong. Hubby had gear issues, and staff quickly attached the child seat to another bike for him.
You would not need to be super-fit to complete the ride, either. But if you were exhausted and felt you could not finish the ride (which I reckon would be rare), you could hitch a ride in the support vehicle and still complete the route with the group.
The company is Balinese owned. Wayan sponsors his local elementary school’s English literacy program & only employs Balinese people, so some of the money he earns helps support the local community.
The food is fantastic, and vegetarians are catered for. Wayan’s wife, Made, cooks it, and she also runs a cooking school. Details are on their website. 
The company picks you up at your hotel early in the morning (we had a 7am pick-up from Kuta) and drops you back in the afternoon. The tour price includes transport, the coffee plantation visit (where you sample fruit and hot drinks...and pooooo coffeeeeee), breakfast overlooking the volcano, everything you need for your bike ride, a guide, doting staff, and lunch at Wayan’s house and a tour of his home. The tour costs less for children.
There are other companies offering similar tours, but they include different things (some end at the safari park) and cater for different ages. A Google search will list them all so that you can make an informed decision about which company to use.
If you are keen on doing a tour with Bali Bike-Baik, I recommend contacting Wayan directly, otherwise hotels might talk you into using a different company. I contacted Wayan via email prior to leaving home, and called him from Bali to confirm our tour date. You’d need to stress that you have children, and stipulate their ages and whether they’d need a bike to themselves or a child seat. That way staff can get your bikes ready prior to your arrival.
The website is http://www.balibike.com/index.php . Wayan’s email link is on the website. He answered my emails swiftly.
It might be an idea to take a plastic bag if your child experiences motion sickness. Our mini-bus drove around some winding roads near Ubud, and our five-year-old got sick unexpectedly. Luckily we had a plastic bag. (Tip: take a large zip-lock bag. You can seal up the vomit in a neat, tidy little package with no spillage ;) ) Wayan was great. He offered our son bananas to help him feel better, and supplied us with a small bucket lined with a plastic bag to use on the bus for the rest of the day. Luckily the fresh air on the bike ride pepped our son up.
I would highly recommend this company. The tour was fun, well-run, supported the local economy, and provided a lot of cultural insight into Bali and its customs and religion. And I loved finishing at Wayan’s house. It was a unique Balinese experience and a great way to end a bike ride through Bali.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Our hearts go out....

Our thoughts are with those effected by the floods in Queensland and Victoria at the moment. Not to mention Sri Lanka, Thailand and Brazil. We cannot believe the devastation we are seeing on the news over here. It's hard to comprehend, especially given it's the wet season here, yet we've had such incredible weather throughout our trip.

The news in Oz is close to home, and it's hard not to shake your head in disbelief. We received a touching and inspiring email from a friend in Brisbane. He and his family were not physically effected by the floods. However, yesterday they bought several hundred drinks, packets of chips and chuppa chups, drove to the most flood-effected areas, and walked around for hours handing out drinks and snacks to families who'd been hit hard. They also offered families a chance to debrief and express their grief. He could not believe the strength of those effected, especially the kids. In his words,

"The spirit of everyone has been simply beyond belief. This truly is the best of human nature in the face of unimaginable loss".  

Our friend is amongst many volunteers who are trying to help in any way they can. Such simple acts of kindness can make a difference to people. Even if it's just for a moment. 

Bali: Kuta and Ubud in a nutshell



I’m pretty sure we were the only Aussies on the face of the earth who hadn’t visited Bali. Un-Australian, I know. But to be honest, we’d never had the desire. There was always another country or region more appealing. Then my hubby’s family suggested that 18 of us get together for Christmas on the Indonesian island. We agreed, and that’s how our 5-week tour of Indonesia and Malaysia began. We’re mighty glad we went to Bali. We had a top time. And now we can legitimately sing, “I’ve been to Bali, too”!
We stayed in Kuta, which bustled with action both day and night. Motor scooters, cars and taxis constantly cruised along the streets, girls in colourful sarong skirts and t-shirts sat at sidewalk stalls robotically handing out brochures for massages and manicures, and street salesmen offered tattoos and custom-made leather goods. There were more shops than anyone could ever need. From expensive boutique fashion and surf-brand originals to rows and rows of market-style booths selling similar dresses, sarongs, jewellery and fake surf shirts and board shorts boasting ‘Balibong’.  There were large, open-aired pub-style restaurants filled with Aussie men watching the cricket. And any kind of food could be found at the many eateries around town. Balinese men sat by the side of the road on their parked motor scooters crooning, “Transport darrrrling?” (roll your tongue on the r’s like Jerry Hall does in that song “Let’s stick together”) as you walked by, and women with bright red nails reached for your arm offering, “Pedicure, manicure or massage, darrrrrling?” Hundreds of tourists walked the streets in Bintang Pilsener singlets, and many women and girls sported heads full of dangling plaits weighed down with multi-coloured beads – arduously crafted by local women on the beach or in street salons in return for a few tourist dollars.  
Kuta provided a safe amount of difference. The comforts of home, but also a glimpse into another culture and different religions. Amongst the commercial hustle and bustle you could see women carrying large bags filled with who knows what on their heads, Hindu temples, shrines and floral offerings. And you could smell the occasional waft of rotting seafood, rancid mud or urine.
Women in Kuta



Shrine
 
Hindu Temple in Kuta

A drive to Ubud gave us a nice dose of Bali’s overall ‘difference’ and an insight into its hill culture. We drove through village after village, each selling different handicrafts: wood and mask carvings, mosaics, stone sculptures, carved timber furniture. A homemaker’s and garden-lover’s paradise! Our driver told us that each village or region had its own traditional handicraft passed down through generations.  If I’d had a trillion bucks and a mighty big shipping container, I could have easily bought each village dry.  
We passed men riding bikes overloaded with plastic bowls, buckets, scouring brushes and other plastic implements, and feather dusters made from rooster and chicken feathers. Motor scooters held several people, with tiny children standing on the front between adult legs, or sleeping on the laps of passengers or drivers. There were women wearing batik sarong skirts carrying long bunches of grass or bowls full of produce on their heads, and dark-skinned, smiling school boys wearing navy blue shorts and crisp white shirts with blue batik patterns. Tiny trucks carried stacked cages of ginger-coloured chickens crammed in so tightly they couldn’t move.
Down narrow side-streets we caught glimpses of Balinese houses through the tiny gateways of their tall, stone fences.  A typical ‘house’ consisted of several free-standing buildings, some with open-aired verandas held up by pillars. The roof tiles, often dotted with bright-green, white or black moss, stepped their way upwards to an ornate, decorative peak at the top, or out to decorative tiles at each corner. Families sat on verandah floors relaxing, women squatted peeling vegetables, children ran around pillars playing, and chickens pecked at the dirt.
Ubud itself was set amongst jungle filled with palms, bamboo and banyan trees. It was laid-back, had a funky feel, and ticked at a much slower pace than Kuta. If ever we go back to Bali, I’m high-tailing it straight to Ubud. I loved it.
Whilst in that area, we visited the Monkey Forest. Holy crap, those monkeys had faces only a mother could kiss. They weren’t the prettiest primates going around. And I wish I could say they had great personalities to make up for their strikingly questionable looks. But they didn’t. From the moment we walked into the forest they glared at us, showed us their fangs, and sat stubbornly in front of us like furry little speed humps. It was clear that we were on their turf and they were the boss. Some were teeny. Others were really old. Some breast fed their young. Some lazed on stone fences. Others hung from horrified tourists trying to rip food from their bags. Not my favourite place to be, but the kids seemed to like it. The forest itself had gorgeous, twisting banyan trees, each with hundreds of roots falling from high branches towards the ground, and it housed a beautifully carved Hindu stone temple.
Can ya see what I'm sayin' here?!

The terraced rice paddies at Tegallellang were stunning. And here's a picture.  

We spent a sunny Christmas day with family at Zanzibar Restaurant, Seminyak, overlooking palm trees and the ocean. Ahhhhhh. Truly awful, this travel business. The food there was delicious. I can highly recommend the grilled swordfish...and the ‘Be Sexy’ cocktail... although the latter didn’t work on me. With my humidity-induced frizz-ball of a head, I looked more like a monkey forest resident than a ‘be sexy’ finalist.  
Christmas traffic back to Kuta can be slow, slow, slow. You get plenty of stationary time to check out what they’re selling in the road-side stalls. Note to you all. When you see a table full of different sized carved, wooden penises don’t say, “Check out the penises!!” too loudly with your window down, unless you want the stall owner to yell back, “I have big one. You want?” Err. Nah tanks.  But it’s kind of you to offer.
That's it in a nutshell. All crammed into one.There’s a couple more Bali adventures to come, though. But they deserve posts all to themselves. Besides. I’m really tired. And brain-dead. And thirsty. My Heineken waits...and since I got this post in tonight, I can rightfully sink it. So I’ll sign off for now.
Hooroo.
The boys in the Monkey Forest

Balinese dancing

A Banyan tree

Travelling in style

Offerings

On the way to Ubud

Hindu Temple at the Monkey Forest
Hindu shrine amongst Banyan roots
The boys near a temple next to the Bali Dynasty
Tips for those travelling with children and for general travellers:
-        Monkey Forest.
      Don't take food in. The monkeys will claw at you and tear at your bag until they get it. You are not supposed to take bottled water into the forest for the same reason. If you buy bananas from the women at the entry to feed the monkeys, you might not get far before you have to ditch them. The monkeys try to take them from you.

The tiles on the toilet floor and entry to the toilets at the forest are really slippery. Our three-year old came a cropper.

Women need covered shoulders to enter the Hindu temple, and I think they need to wear a sarong. Consider taking one. There’s a stand where you can donate money for the use of a sarong.

-        You can hire a taxi for the day. We hired an airconditioned 7-seater van & driver for the day for 350.000 IR. The driver took us around and waited at each stop for us.  

-        Set ground-rules with your driver. Drivers get commission from handicraft shops, or can accumulate points to trade for an item, if they take tourists there. Our drivers would have taken us to loads of different shops if we hadn’t told them to stop. You can’t blame them for trying to make a living. But if you want a full day of sight-seeing without having to pull you kids in and out of the car to see loads of unwanted handicraft stores, you might need to set some ground rules early.

-        Plan your own itinerary and stick to it. Do not let your driver dictate your route. If you hire a car and  driver for a day trip, be really clear about what you want to see and do. Don’t just rely on drivers to take you on a tour of the best spots. We spent too much time at obligatory shop stops.  

-       Beware of traffic light newspaper sellers!  The newspapers they try and sell you at traffic lights might contain Aussie publications, but they are really old! Poor pop spent about AUS$6 on news he’d read a couple of weeks ago.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Apologies, folks.

Well aren’t I the biggest slack ass when it comes to keeping this blog up to date! Apologies to those who religiously check for new posts...I’ve been givin’ ya nothin’!! We’ve been on the go constantly since we left home, the average bed-time for the kids has been 10.30pm (YIKES!),  and we’ve been regularly booking accommodation through cyber-space, so there’s been little time for recreational computer use in my world.
Put simply, we left Bali a few weeks ago, so I’d better  get my butt into gear and fill you in. If I can remember. My brain’s so full of new, amazing experiences that it’s hard to focus on the good, old Bali days. But I’ll give it my best crack. My next post will be in tonight. If I fail to live up to my word, I promise I’ll punish myself by refusing the next can of Heineken that tempts my lips. Believe me, that will hurt.
Stay tuned, folks.
Dinner at Pantai Restaurant, Kuta Beach