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<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 132 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

December 5, 2003

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Beautiful Bali, A Traveller's Journal

Farhan Quddus

Monday 28th July, 2003
7.15 pm: Still in the office attending to last minute work. Same time tomorrow I shall be in Bali, lying on a deckchair with a tall drink by my side, palm trees swaying, the blue waters of the pool shimmering, the roar of the ocean waves lilting me into gentle slumber... Better stop daydreaming as my wife is calling me to get home now or I won't have a packed suitcase to carry with me! Reporting time is 9:30 pm. We are traveling with 11 friends and there are two children with us.

01:30 am: Malaysian Airlines is great for bargain prices and not-so-great when it comes to providing basic in-flight services. Now I for one quite like airline food and at 30,000 feet I get pangs of hunger at frequent intervals. But even with this rogue appetite, I shy away from Malaysian Airlines food. Suffice it to say that Dhaka - Kuala Lumpur service leaves a lot to be desired.

Tuesday 29th July, 2003
0600 am: Kuala Lumpur International Airport. Everyone heads for the nearest Deli France outlet to gorge on croissants and coffee.

0950 am: Off to Bali.... It's a 3-hour flight from KL to Denpaser. We are twenty minutes from landing and flying over two volcanic mountains in the middle of the blue seas. One has a crater filled with light green volcanic substance looking like key lime Jell-O, it's an amazing sight. Indonesia is a country of 17,000 islands, so you cannot go wrong here if you are looking for a beach holiday!

1.30 pm: We are all huddled around the airport money exchange booths. My wife takes out two US $100 bills to convert to Indonesian Rupiahs. The lady behind the counter scrutinises the notes & returns them. We go from counter to counter in vain. Later, we find out that apparently US $100 notes issued in 1996 and earlier are widely unaccepted in Bali. They prefer newer notes, as the older ones are more likely to be fakes. Travellers Cheques are okay though. Anyway, US $1 gets you Rupiah 8,500 so instantly we are all millionaires!

2.00 pm: Driving from the airport through the Jimbaran area heading towards Nusa Dua-Tanjung Benoa beachhead where our Hotel is located. The notable beaches around Bali are Kuta, Legian, Seminyak, Sanur, Tuban, Nusa Dua, Jimbaran. Kuta is a haven for the surfers and the backpackers and Nusa Dua for the upscale market and those preferring exclusivity and privacy.

The reception at Grand Mirage Resort and Spa is overwhelming!! We are greeted by Balinese women dancers in traditional dresses garlanding us with flowers. Professional photographers are clicking our pictures (to be sold to us later) and resort staff are scurrying around treating us like VIPs. The Sales Manager, Jacob Johannes, my contact man greets me with a hug. The Bangladesh flag is flying next to the Australian, Canadian and American Flags at the entrance. A Balinese orchestra with gongs, drums and xylophones play Balinese music. I feel like Captain Blythe from the "Mutiny on the Bounty" ! We bask in the attention and enjoy our 'elevated' status!

You can tell how accustomed the Balinese people are towards tourists and the leisure industry in general with the way they extend their hospitality. Then again, the Bali bombing has had a tremendous effect on the economy too. The hotel is a good example. Two years ago these resorts in Nusa Dua, Tanjung Benoa, Sanur and Jimbaran boasted full occupancies and the high rates were non-negotiable - making Bali an expensive holiday option. Today we are serenaded to our rooms and that too at a fifth of the price.

Wednesday 30th July, 2003
10.30 am: Nothing like casual conversation around the breakfast table late in the morning. Endless trips to the buffet table and eating at leisure.

12:00 pm: Off to the beach to do some serious snorkeling. The coral reef starts almost right out of our beachhead, and the water is so clear you can count the lobsters on the sea bed. The waves get a little choppy and we quickly put on our life jackets. Masks, snorkels, flippers are ready as we set anchor in the middle of the sea. Of all the coral I have seen over the last seven years, Bali's wealth of underwater life is absolutely the finest around. There is an abundance of marine life and coral in the strangest of shapes and sizes and in the most breathtaking colors can be seen off the shores of Nusa Dua, a mile into the sea from our hotel. The feeling of being at one with nature is a high that cannot be compared to anything else...

8.00 pm : Bali has an abundance of places to eat. Sharif knows the best place in town for seafood. We have two mini-buses at our disposal, fully air-conditioned 4WD jeeps which we can keep as long as we want. At US $25 per car, transportation is cheap. We are off to Jimbaran beach, the place for seafood but also a huge tourist haunt. The roadside restaurants operate literally on the beach where tables are set on the sand and waves come up to your feet. A wandering mariachi band appears and they are serenading us; they look Oriental-Latin (must be of Portuguese descent). I ask the quartet to play Gypsy Kings and they do great covers of "Volare" & "Djobi Djoba" & Santana's "Oye Como Va". Bali's nightlife was legendary until the bombing of the "Sari Club" in Kuta last year. We hit the nightspots of Kuta but the crowd is relatively thin. We are at the "The Bounty", a 3-storied building shaped like an old pirate ship. The sheer fact that the Bounty is opposite the now demolished plot where the "Sari Club" once stood leaves you feeling a little uneasy. While passing by the club we notice the numerous messages, flowers, candles, stuffed toys and t-shirts left there by sympathisers, friends and family. It all feels somewhat surreal ..... 200 Australians, British and local party-goers died in that blast and it is a haunting reminder of how a serene and tranquil place like Bali can become the centre of such violence and bloodshed.

Thursday 31st July, 2003
7.00 am: Today we opt for a full-day cruise to Nusa Panida, an island one and a half hours away from Bali. A specially priced package of US $ 35 per person includes return transfers to the "Quicksilver" Catamaran Jetty. Breakfast on board, buffet lunch and afternoon tea, free snorkeling, water slides, banana boat, jet-ski etc. The "Quicksilver" is a state-of-the-art vessel resembling something out of a sci-fi movie, carries about 200 people and sails at 50 knots. The cool wind in my hair and face is exhilarating. An hour later we are entering the bay off Nusa Panida Island, a fjord with cliffs on both sides and the colour of water changing to emerald. Waves are smashing against the rocks and sending white spray up 30 feet in the air. It is a picture perfect sight. The Quicksilver docks onto a platform in the middle of a lagoon, this is a huge pontoon for 200 people looking out at the shore of a remote fishing village with few inhabitants. The platform has a dining area, a sun deck, plenty of space to lounge, an underwater observatory, a 20 feet high spiraling water slide, provisions for snorkeling, scuba diving and other water sports, showers - very organised. The buffet is fantastic - BBQ seafood, wide variety of salads, meats, Chinese and Italian food. There really is plenty to eat and do all day long. The cruise is definitely worth it, an unforgettable experience.

Friday 1st August, 2003
11:00 am: We are off to do a spot of shopping. It should be mentioned here that Indonesian teak is one of the finest in the world. The workmanship is also truly outstanding, from antiques to modern designs. Our driver takes us to a furniture store in Nusa Dua. The prices are amazingly low and it's hard to keep temptation at bay.

2.00 pm : Our driver Beno joins us for a local lunch at a roadside restaurant. He fills us in on the local Balinese culture. Predominantly Hindu, the Balinese are proud people who claim that they are a world apart from the rest of Indonesia. The cuisine here is quite different from what you will get in other parts of the country too. Though “Padang” food is pretty much what we eat, it's sweeter and richer here; cooked mostly with coconut sauces. Zarah my wife asks Beno to take us to a beautiful spot in Bali, somewhere that's revered by the locals as much as the tourists. So we are off to the Ulawatu cliffs and the temple of Rudra. It is a 30-minute drive to the hills of Bali passing by the beautiful campus of Bali University against the backdrop of mountains. On the right we pass by a large empty stretch of land overlooking the sea. This huge expanse is walled and said to be the most expensive property in Bali. It is owned by Tommy Suharto and he will build one of the most expensive hotel properties in Indonesia here.... right after he gets out of jail that is!

3.00 pm: We reach the Ulawatu Temple and it is on the edge of the highest cliff in Bali. The island's panoramic view can best be seen from here. Tourists are allowed to walk the grounds, but not up to the temple, leading to the edge of the cliff where you get to see some of the most amazing sights. The view really is quite breathtaking -- a sheer drop, aqua waves crashing onto the sides of the cliff, the temple sitting on the highest point... However, do watch out for the many monkeys in the sanctuary. They are very forthright and have a passion for anything shiny.

They will snatch! So guests walking in are required to take off jewellery, watches, glasses -- anything that might attract their attention.

8.00 pm: It's decided, we are going to paint the town red tonight! The ladies have been pampered at the spa. The men are relaxed and have indulged in the complimentary beach massage courtesy of Grand Mirage Resort. Tonight we throw caution to the wind , tonight we leave a mark on the very nightlife of Bali!!! But first, dinner at MYKONOS, suggested by our Hotel photographer who's Turkish. This Greek / Mediterranean restaurant is on Seminyak beach. We get down to some “taramasalata” (fish eggs blended with mayonnaise and olive oil) served with pita bread. The entrees are truly a treat for the taste buds -- be it Turkish Kebab, Souvlaki or Moussaka. A brilliant meal costing just over US $16 per person, with drinks and dessert.

12.00 am: It's time to hit "KAMA SUTRA", the hottest discotheque in town. This huge building has the coolest crowd and a kicking live band. Though I am a blues and rock lover, I pretend to be hip and make all the latest hand gestures and act 'cool' . The night gets hotter and wilder and Bali rocks! We make a name for ourselves as the band gives a shout-out to the visiting Bangladeshis.

Saturday 2nd August, 2003
8.00 am: We have extended our stay by one night. Actually you need seven nights in Bali to just get a feel of the place. A few of us are going back to Seminyak street this morning. We saw all those lovely shops last night and we want to explore them today. We land up at the 'Home of Treasure', a quirky looking shop selling lifestyle products on Seminyak. The American owner/artist goes about showing his one of a kind artifacts in glass, wood, rattan, stone, ceramics. The latest soundtrack from "Chalte Chalte" is playing on his stereo, which makes the shopping even more weird. I feel like I am in Mumbai. The guy has great stuff and we pick up some unusual things. Last night, I had noticed a "Spaghetti Jazz" signboard -- written in the same manner and with a saxophone just like the one we have in Gulshan -- on this street. It had intrigued me, so we decided to check it out. I see this man sitting there, he looks awfully familiar. We stare at each other and I realise it is Mario Ciccone. Mario and his wife Antonella are the Italian couple who set up "Spaghetti Jazz" in Dhaka. He jumps up and we are both completely taken aback! Mario cannot believe it's us as he sits us down for the next two hours to catch up while we order some of his excellent food. He calls Antonella over to surprise her and we go through the latest gossip in Dhaka. After a bite of Antonella's Tiramisu and two hours of chatting and a shot of Grappa we are back on the streets of Seminyak.

8.00 pm: Tonight we try the Moroccan Restaurant that we read about in a 'Things to do in Bali' magazine. "Khaima" is on Seminyak Street too. The place is lively and crowded with customers, giving you a feel of a 'souk' in downtown Marrakesh. Waiters in Moroccan outfits scurry around with trays of delicious looking food. The owner, Idris, suggests the chicken tagine with lemons and lamb tagine with sausage along with seven vegetable couscous for entrees . Two Indonesian belly dancers set the place on fire by running to the middle of the room and sashaying to the sounds of Middle Eastern music! I join them for a spot of belly-shaking... The dinner is scrumptious, the atmosphere crackling as we retire to the makeshift tent inside the restaurant with cushions and hookahs ready. The owner has set up the area to replicate an oasis and we smoke apple-flavored tobacco and nibble on Baklava . This is a great way to end the evening.

Tomorrow morning we will be packing our bags and heading for the airport, all of us wish we had stayed longer. There's so much we didn't get to see and do. Going to Ubud for shopping and sightseeing, the volcanoes, the other beaches... Bali grows on you, there is a seductive charm about this island which is addictive. Maybe it's the laid-back lifestyle or the warmth of the people, but something makes you want to linger....... Beautiful Bali, we will be back.

The writer is a Travel Consultant and Managing Director, Travel House Limited



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