Dining

Tortugas, Tacos and Total Bliss

We recently escaped from the dreary rain of Victoria to the brilliant sun of Mexico – namely to the Yucatan. Not only did we get some serious sun and sand, we had a few other surprises come our way, which tends to happen on our trips. It might be a simple language barrier, a missed turn, or getting locked out of the villa the first night… whatever the case, the unfamiliar and unexpected is exactly the reason I love to travel.

And travel we did. After 12 hours of assorted trains, planes and automobiles and a stop at the Mega in Playa del Carmen for groceries, we finally made it to our sweet, sweet condo overlooking Half-Moon Bay in Akumal Norte (about an hour-and-a-half’s drive south of Cancun). Akumal translates to ‘place of the turtles’ in the Mayan language. Seems fitting, given the amount of tortugas we saw (but did not touch, because we didn’t really want to get arrested – or lose a finger). Of course, it was pretty much dark when we arrived at the condo, so we could scarcely make out what awaited us view-wise. But the next morning we woke up to luminescent turquoise water and sweeping views of a curving bay, giving way to a brilliant, glaring white shore. Yep, it’s what we signed up for.

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Urchinville, USA
Warning! This relatively calm, beautiful bay is not as tranquil as it seems. Take the first day we step into the water, clad in our reef shoes, essential for the rocky terrain. Fortunately, most of the time the water is quite clear so you can spot where the spiny black sea urchins are. Until you don’t, and you step on one. Case in point: Cam. We’re in the water no more than 15 minutes, when he simply brushes by one and howls with pain. Losing his balance with the shock of it, he almost falls ass-over-tea-kettle in a whole big patch of ’em. I look at the injury and see it’s just a little blue spot, kind of like an ink stain, near his ankle. But it was enough to become a running joke of sorts from then on.

Losing Keys on Day Three
You’ll notice that a lot of the glitches that happen on our vacations are courtesy of my (most excellent) travel partner. Me? I just go with the flow. Anyway, this particular incident is no exception. After the traumatizing urchin episode on Day Two, we decide to brave the waters once again, this time for some snorkelling. Despite minor annoyances, such as his mask filling with water every five seconds (turns out it was because he hadn’t shaved – don’t ask), and the snorkel bag riding up his back (we had to take it to store said reef shoes, because we didn’t want to step on more urchins…), Cam trudged on like the true trooper he is.

All is well until we surface after some pretty decent snorkelling to get our surroundings. Cam grabs the sealed valuables case – that annoyingly kept riding up the cord around his neck and whacking him in the face – which stored our condo keys. As he does, the latch flips open, revealing – nothing. To this day, we’re still not sure whether the keys fell out at that moment or while we were swimming. It doesn’t matter – they’re gone. After searching the area to no avail, I helpfully offer, “Oh well, we’ll just get another set of keys.” Cam counters with, “That’s great, but one of the keys just happens to be the safe key.” Let’s just say that images of spending the rest of our stay waiting for someone to come and drill the safe open motivated me to seek help – fast.

(When I asked Hector, one of the resident concierges, for another safe key, he asked, “Where did you lose them?” To which I replied, “At the bottom of the ocean.” He shook his head and silently handed me another key. I’d rather not guess as to what he was thinking.)

What Time is it, Akumal?
You may recognize this title to an older blog post of mine from Sayulita, back in ’12. Technically, we knew that Cancun was two hours ahead, which means Akumal would be the same, being just down the coast. Well, technically yes, but not when we got there. Our many digital devices told us that the local time was only one hour ahead. Temporarily confused, we manually change said devices to two hours forward. Then, through a series of confusing two-hours-ahead-and-one-hour-back-incidents (including my iPhone waking me up at what it thought was 7 am, but it was actually 6 am and pitch-black), we took a time risk and made a reservation at a local fancy place on the beach for 6:30 pm. We arrived for dinner at what we thought was 6:30. The waiter greeted us and then nervously explained that it is actually 7:30. I was so unconvinced (and embarrassed) about this that he had to help us change the iPhone setting. Doh!

The full moon in full view by 7:30 pm.
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Emergency Cashola in Chemuyil
The great thing about Mexicans is they are incredibly helpful. Yes, I know I am speaking from a tourist perspective, but I think it’s an inherent trait. Case in point: we’re in Akumal Playa (the beach ‘town’ – a few kms from where we were staying), when we discover it’s time to replenish the peso supply. Yet all ATMs in Akumal are closed. We’re talking about five of them. Closed. No service. We ask another one of our condo concierges named Alfredo – ‘Freddie’ for short – what to do. He tells us there’s an ATM close by in a teeny town called Chemuyil that we could go to. He asks us if we have a car. We say no. “Take mine!” he exclaims, reaching in his pocket for the keys. We contemplate this for a moment, and after he gives us painstaking directions of the take the first left at the halfway tree, then follow the road until you get to the scarecrow at the Anderson farm variety – we say no. Instead, we ask “Can you take us?” Freddie nods, closes his notebook and says “Let’s go right now!” So off we go, do a few loop-de-loops to the highway, zoom past several Pemex’s, and then finally pull up at a dusty, worn grocery off some random side street, complete with ATM. And it was open. Now that’s helpful.

Adios, Akumal
We had pretty much the perfect last day in Akumal. We went back to Akumal bay, where it was slightly less crowded (the first time was over Easter weekend – you can just imagine in a Catholic country). We swam past yet more tortugas to the small and largely unvisited reef. We bobbed under the ropes and discovered a bounty of fish: schools, angels, parrots, whistling needlefish (well it looks like they are), brightly coloured sea fans and huge coral heads. Add that to our turtles (complete with clingy remoras, as pictured on header of this post) and a rare stingray sighting, and we were sufficiently suffonsified.

Two hours later, we lunched at one of our fave places – aptly named Turtle Bay Bakery – where I had the BEST blackened fish tacos EVER. The day gets better: as we head back to the Akumal Norte area on our rusty yet trusty bikes, we discover that the tiny, hole-in-the-wall eatery we’ve been wanting to try but is never open, is actually open! In true carpe diem style, we order dinner for six hours in the future (to which we later bike back to pick up, natch).

Shar with Ol’Rust Bucket – literally. Note the painting of the local fauna imbibing in refreshments of the Mexican beach kind.IMG_2225
Once back at the complex, we received more good news. Hector informed us that someone found our keys, washed ashore four days after we lost them, at the complex next door. They figured the plastic ID tag kept them afloat. We were amazed, and Cam was (rightly) relieved. We left Akumal the next day with a clear conscience and a couple of Sols to refresh our sun-drenched souls.

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– S

Stay tuned for more funnage in Part 2 of our Mex vacay: Island of the Women.

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Categories: Beach, Dining, Mexico, Sunset, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Those Who Find You: A Tribute

Ah, Christmastime. Although we were in Bali well before Christmas, there were signs of it popping up here and there: a fake tree in the local Hardy’s Supermarket/Mall, a smattering of wreaths and lights adorning stalls. At the (many) airports heading home, trees and baubles surrounded every shop entrance. Flying into our home airport was a bit surreal – Canadians take this North Pole stuff seriously.

When we finally turned into our own little dead-end street, we saw that it had exploded with lights (we had some work to do to catch up). It was a bit weird; so familiar but we weren’t quite ready to embrace it. Yes, we knew it was coming, but when you’re frolicking around in a land of blazing sun and sand, you really don’t think much about it.

So I can’t say I’m deep into the Christmas spirit this year. That said, I do know what I am thankful for: families of all varieties.

There’s no question that I’m grateful for the family I was born into – as wacky as it is. I love them very much and appreciated every day I have with them, but here I’m referring the Balinese family we’ve adopted (or perhaps more correctly, they’ve adopted us).

We’ve been to Bali quite a few times now (five for me; six for Cam), and when you go back to the same place enough times, you’re bound to make connections – wherever you’re from, whomever you are.

Tandjung Sari at twilight. Just go.

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I’ve mentioned before how welcoming the Balinese are – and the Wawo-Runtu family, who founded and still run the sublime Tandjung Sari hotel on an amazing property in Sanur – is no exception. They’re a large bunch – a blended family extraordinare. (We kid them about being a Balinese Brady Bunch.) They’ve all received us with genuine curiosity, open arms, and two or three kisses on the cheek. This reception is a big part of the reason we keep coming back.

Yes, Bali is our home away from home, the place we think about often and fantasize about in the cold, dark, rainy days of a Canadian winter. We crave its colourful, mystifying chaos. It’s where we become accustomed to sweating constantly, needing three showers a day, and epic humidity.

After a breath of frangipani and incense, feeling the sun on my face, hearing the constant swish-shish of sweeping, the ‘ting’ of a bike bell along the boardwalk, stepping over the ubiquitous sidewalk offerings, almost bumping into mini-shrines and dodging stray dogs and cats – it’s like coming home. Actually, that is the coming home.

Here are two people who have made it so for us.

Me and Avi, with duelling cameras.

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Avi is general manager of Tandjung Sari; he’s the first person from the family that we met. He’s married to Wita, who’s father, Wija Wawo-Runtu, started the hotel. They are our age, and from there the similarities are endless (such as Cam and Wita having a birthday within one day of each other).

Me between two Sagittarians: pre-birthday dinner drinks at the fancy Legian on Seminyak Beach.

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Apparently we’re not the only ones who wish we were back there; as much of their job involves entertaining guests, both Avi & Wita relish the chance to hang out with people more ‘their age’. Our relationship with these guys has grown since the beginning; each time we go back we learn new things about ourselves, share funny family stories, indulge in our love for good food and even better company – such as good friends do.

Cam & Wita, toasting to their birthdays. Yes, Cam’s drink is wrapped in a bag.

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Cam & Avi: two great minds (and they have fun haggling over the bill)!

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Me & Wita goofing around at TS.

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I have fond memories of Wita coming down to join us every twilight at our bungalow’s porch for a couple of drinks when Avi was working late: the two of us shrieking as we dodged swooping bats; playing Bowie on the stereo; listening to Wita’s tales of living abroad and her brushes with famous people.

And then there’s us tucking into an enormous plate of kambing kare nasi goreng (lamb curry), homemade dinners at Tatie’s (Wita’s mom) or parties at one of her half-sister’s breathtaking open-air pavilion-style houses. And jazz on the beach, where Avi had the kitchen and the outdoor barbecue time our dinners perfectly. The time when Wita had extra bottles of water delivered to our bungalow when I was sick. It’s both of them going out of their way to make our stay as comfortable, happy and special as possible. Well, like family.

A Balinese tree ornament.

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For me, this Christmas is not about presents, or lights, or the big turkey dinner. It’s about family; it’s about remembering and appreciating your loved ones. There’s no denying the spirit of family this time of year brings, be it good or bad. For us – both near and abroad – it’s good.

Time to say goodbye – we’re smiling through our tears.

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Here’s to second families… ’til we meet again.

– S

Categories: Adventure, Bali, Beach, Dining, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

La Dolce Vita in Sayulita

So, I know I haven’t written in… well, ages. Seems I’ve used that line fairly recently, but that’s because I hadn’t really been anywhere.

That confessed, I’m happy to report that after five dreary months in the soggy, freezing climate that is Victoria (the rest of our beloved country has had it much worse, so I will stop complaining), we finally found the sun. It took us only 4,402 kilometres to get to it, but I’m not going to get wrapped up in data. The point is, we found our sun. And it was right here the whole time. In Sayulita.

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OK, that pic is not really the sun (which is doing its duty by scorching us daily – but I’m not complaining). It’s one of the many, many stunning art features of the rather amazing villa we rented in the north end of town – the quiet part of town. Admittedly, it’s a wee big for us, what with three bedrooms and four full bathrooms (including a pool bathroom – genius idea – noted for future palace). We tried our best to get friends to come and stay with us, but no one bit. Crazy people.

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I adore the design of this place: open air, simple and elegant. Did I mention it’s surrounded by water? Two water features, a pool, and the ocean just steps below.

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Enter the turret. It’s actually home of two of the bathrooms. Nothing like showering while peering out from domed windows.

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The pool shot. ‘Nuff said.

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And then…

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The other night we had a local chef come to our villa to cook us a traditional Mexican feast of homemade guacamole, mahi-mahi with a sesame seed crust and mango sauce, sautéed veggies, and fresh fruit garnished with coconut shavings for dessert. A lovely light dinner, perfect for these hot nights.

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Yesterday we went on a jungle walk to one of the many secluded beaches around Sayulita – three miles of sand… and us.

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We walked a little farther and spotted the residence of a former president of Mexico:

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Looking for graveyard quiet?

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Oh, Sayulita – how I missed you. It’s good to be back.

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– S

Categories: Beach, Dining, Glamorous, Mexico, Pool, Sunset, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Sanur: Home and Away

Well, it’s been a while now since we returned from our favourite place in the world (that would be Bali, for those of you not paying attention) – and let’s just say it’s a bit of an adjustment. But I don’t want to waste your precious reading time lamenting about being back in chilly Canada. This is a postcard about our home-away-from-home: sleepy Sanur.

After dusty, scorching Seminyak and the serene lushness of Ubud, we departed for the golden sands of the southeast coast. Sanur is where we first experienced the magic of Bali, where we discovered a peaceful bungalow-style hotel on the beach, where we made lifelong friends and are always treated like family. With fond memories in tow, we were anxious to get there and start creating new ones.

Once we turned off the main street (Danau Tramblingan) and into the Tandjung Sari driveway, I exhaled deeply. It’s hard to describe the feeling I get when I enter these grounds. It’s like I’ve closed the door on an all-too-busy, crazy, rushed world, retreating into a hidden paradise. The long, narrow, two-laned driveway is lined with palms in the middle and high hedges on either side, only hinting at the bungalows behind it. It’s as if I’ve entered a home in a village, going back into another quiet, simpler time. It’s a feeling of arriving at a place unlike anywhere I’ve been before; someplace safe, warm and welcoming.

As usual, we were greeted warmly by the staff in the receiving area: a huge, open-air pavilion that was once part of a Balinese royal house. Three ceremonial beats on a large gong announced our arrival, and we were given cold towels by a fresh-faced Balinese woman. Happily signing in, we started what was to be a two-week-long reunion with all our old friends and the Tandjung Sari family. Indeed, several times a day we were welcomed with a chorus of exclamations, handshaking, kissing on each cheek (often three times), and lots of Apa kabar (what’s the news?). To which we’d reply: baik, baik (very good – especially since we were there).

The Tandjung Sari beachfront at twilight.

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We had booked one of the new garden bungalows (they hadn’t built new ones since the ’90s, so this was pretty special). Bright and spacious, the bungalow boasted beautifully blue tiled floors depicting Balinese themes of animals and birds; industrial-strength air conditioning; a welcome bowl of island fruit adorned with frangipani; a separate room with wash area complete with skylights; and yes… the classic outdoor shower. This time we even got an outdoor bathtub – an essential tool for the cooling-down process, especially after scorching beach days, and yes, our dreaded morning runs along the boardwalk. (This we endeavoured – and succeeded – to do every morning, despite any late activities the night before. It was really the only sane time to do it – that is, if you didn’t want to faint of heat stroke while dodging bikes, scooters, sketchy gangs and, God forbid, the razor-sharp women hawkers who hang around outside the Circle K, just waiting for the next victim to drag down a crowded and confusing alley of shops.)

Outdoor bathtub – Cam’s favourite place to cool off while reading the latest Jack Reacher and sipping a cold Bir Bintang.

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Shortly after our arrival, I really began to relax. Translation: lots of spa treatments. Fresh fruit peel facial and rose petal face masks, a dual manicure and pedicure (to the tune of $15 Cdn – absurdly cheap compared to the $70 – before tax and tip – jobby I had at home).

And then there was the massage. Not just an ordinary one – it was a Javanese massage. Picture a 4-foot-ish Javanese ibu knocking on your bungalow door with just a sarong and some oil. You dress down to your skivvies, lie on your bed and proceed to get worked over by her magic fingers both back and front. Modesty goes out the window as she transforms your entire body into a lump of jelly and goodness. Her touch is utterly perfect: not too gentle that you can’t feel anything, but not too strong that it starts to get stressful. Perfect for us picky North Americans. Again, absurdly cheap: $20. For an hour and a half. ‘Nuff said.

Then there was the fresh fruit every morning at breakfast: pineapple, papaya, watermelon, even passionfruit or banana juice if you so desired. Not to mention perfectly-baked buttermilk biscuits and Tandjung Sari’s famous croissants: fresh from the oven, with a rewarding puff of steam when you break one open. Everyone swears they are better than what you find in Paris, and we can’t disagree.

Shar on bike along Sanur’s beach boardwalk.

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Our resident family of ginger kucings.

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Our third and last week in Bali – what we referred to as our “bonus week” – was spent pretty much planted on the beach, where our biggest decision of the day (aside from what to have for lunch or dinner), was if we should go for a swim in the pool or float on our backs in the 27 degree Indian Ocean.

However, we did manage a day trip to east Bali – to a series of pretty, small fishing villages lining the coast and stemming south from the town of Amed – satisfied our snorkelling urge. The quality was outstanding, with the best part not having to rent a boat to get to the reef. All we did was park on the road, cut through the grounds of an obscure homestay on the beach, step out onto the black sand and put our flippers in the water. A push off the rock and we were transported to a world of angel and Nemo fish, bright blue coral, sea turtles and eels. We let the current take us deeper into the relatively garbage-free water (a treat compared to, say, what we experienced in Nusa Dua) – swimming through warm, cool, and then almost too hot patches – down to a sunken Japanese shipwreck (there are doubts about its provenance, but it was cool nonetheless). We emerged two hours later, and with salt water crust in our hair and cracked lips, rinsed off underneath a rustic communal shower before wolfing down our picnic lunch. Hours later I felt the ill-effects of the classic too-long-in-the-water-without-protection nasty burn, but it was sooooo worth it.

A young woman dances the traditional Balinese legong

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After the ‘cool’ mountain air of Ubud (28 degrees as opposed to 32 – it makes a difference, believe me) we were once again cozily-wrapped in the hot and humid, even with the ocean breeze. But the warmth of the island doesn’t just come from the elements. It’s in the people, too: their gentle and welcoming nature, their stunning smiles, their genuine interest. During our time in Sanur, a series of invites ensued: drink gatherings, birthday outings (including Cam’s), legong dance performances, art exhibitions, dinners at our friend’s house… so much that we barely had a night to ourselves during our whole two-week stay.

But that’s what I love so much about the Balinese: they are eager to include you and have you take part in their customs (and to practice their English while they’re at it). Just take the wedding we went to in Ubud. It’s just what they do, who they are. And that’s what keeps us coming back.

The full moon and me.

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– S

Categories: Adventure, Bali, Beach, Dining, Glamorous, Pool, Shopping, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ubud: Serenity Now

Tucked into the Balinese highlands, in the midst of long and lush flora, gently-flowing rivers, and cooling skies, lies Ubud, Bali’s cultural capital. On previous trips to Bali, we’ve only gone to Ubud on day trips perusing silver, batik and wood carving shops while baking in the afternoon heat, stopping to have a kopi es (iced coffee) until we’d gathered enough energy to venture out again. We’d have a grand old time at the monkey forest, or partake in a popular locals’ pastime, such as dining at Ibu Oka’s (for more detail on that, check out one of my previous posts: The Freaky, The Fresh, and the Fabulous).

But listening to other travellers describe how peaceful, even magical, it is to actually stay in and around Ubud made us think differently for this trip. There were stories of incredibly private villas with glorious pools set in the middle of lush rice fields, with a myriad of spa resorts and retreats steps away, where you could rejuvenate, meditate and no-doubt exfoliate yourself to a temporary Nirvana. Many people swear Ubud is the ‘real’ Bali, so we thought we’d give it a try.

We arrived via transport from Seminyak, about an hour away. Our destination was a villa in the outskirts of Ubud proper, in an area called Penestanan. Once our driver figured out how to find our rather elusive and hidden villa, it was crazy to think we could actually have missed it. I took one look at the entrance’s 100 or so steep (and I mean steep) stone stairs and said to Cam, “How are we going to get our suitcases up there?” He pointed to the two frail-looking Balinese women who greeted us on the street and said, “That’s how.” OK – I had to see this.

Without hesitation, each woman took a 50-pound suitcase of ours and placed them ever so gently on their heads. And up the stairs they went. And up. And up some more. By the halfway point, I was panting from just carrying my beach bag. Watching these women, I was respectfully humbled. Who needs bootcamp, anyway?

Pic of our entrance stairs sans incredibly strong ladies (but an equally capable Cam).

The villa is called Rumah Cinta, which translates to the house made out of love. It was humongous – built to contain at least a couple of families. In fact, they closed off half of the house so the two of us occupied the newer half.  The place had all the right things: a large pool and an open-air, stone-built shower (the greatest thing EVER) for starters. It was simply an awe-inspiring place, somehow mystic, comprised of beautiful traditional Balinese architecture as shown in the pic below, which just happened to be above an alcove in our gardens:

(There were so many large and small touches like this that every day we seemed to discover a new gem or another – including many shrines on the property, which received daily offerings.)

Shortly after we settled in, it started raining unlike anything I’ve ever seen or heard. Not the typical long, misty, all-day affairs we get at home. No, it was one of those tropical rainstorms that give little warning and a lot of result: big, hard drops that render you completely drenched almost immediately, umbrella or no.

Our timing was spectacular: getting caught right in the middle as we were walking back from the supermarket. It was so ridiculously loud and intense that we  laughed most of the way… until the aforementioned 100 steps, where we slopped and slipped as we juggled bags and umbrellas all the way up. Despite this, it was a lovely respite from the from dusty, scorching streets of Seminyak. Once somewhat dry, we tucked in for a night of watching the rain from our balcony, relaxing, reading, and drinking Bali Hai beer. We finally succumbed to a long, deep sleep to the tune of a VERY loud singer – what we originally thought was a frog and then later learned it was actually a large gecko – and dreamt of green phosphorescent fireflies (which we really did see – very cool).

View of our villa grounds from the master bedroom balcony during a rainstorm.

We woke up early that first morning and breakfasted at Ibu Putu’s warung, a local’s restaurant just down the path. Ketut, the man whose family manages the villa, met us there to help us prepare for our first-ever Balinese wedding. He had invited us to his brother-in-law’s wedding about five minutes after we arrived. Although we were initially taken somewhat aback, we quickly learned that it’s considered a bit sophisticated to have foreigners at your wedding, especially as we were in the (relative) Balinese sticks. Whatever the case, we were only too happy to oblige to attend as very pale ornaments. Ketut dressed us in layers of fancy sarongs and sashes – required for entering holy sites and temples – and off we went with another couple hailing from – weirdly enough – Edmonton, Alberta.

Ketut led the way through the village, and once at the family compound, we were greeted warmly by the betrothed couple, who then promptly disappeared to adorn themselves in elaborate dress and makeup.

Then we proceeded to wait. And wait. Two hours, many cups of sweet tea, spicy satay, rambutan (a favourite of Cam’s) and several suspicious-looking jellies later, the young couple emerged, snapping us both out of our near-comatose state. The bride and groom then led a procession through the streets to her family’s home for more visiting and eating. As the actual ceremony was not for another several hours, we decided to bow out at that point.

Me with the bride and groom: Koming and Wayan. I’m the one in the middle.

Since we were only in Ubud for three nights, we decided to do yet another thing we hadn’t done before: walk through the Ubud countryside (translation: vast rice fields). While attempting to follow a route suggested in one of our guidebooks (the directions left a bit to be desired), we made a few wrong turns, one in particular that set off a neighbourhood dog in a fit of snarling barks, chasing us back up the slope (much to its owner’s delight).

The trek took about three hours, during which we sighted rice field after rice field, flooding, harvesting, a river gorge and an intricate irrigation system, scarecrows comprised of a combination of stalks, metal and garbage, and miniature shrines. Finally the crooked stone and dirt path spit us out, sweaty, hot and dirty, about 1000 metres from where we were staying. Very convenient.

An old ibu works the fields.
A flooded rice field before harvest.

Although you can pretty much get anything you need in Ubud – massages, manicures, health retreats, yoga studios, sweet organic cuisine – really, there is no need. The place itself is enough – serene and beautiful in its nature alone. It envelopes and captures you with its beauty and raw nature. (Not to mention you could hide out in a warung/homestay and pretty much disappear altogether for months on the cheap.)

I can’t really articulate properly how I felt in Ubud. Some people may describe it as a spiritual connection. Others would say my aura agreed with it, or some other such nonsense. All I know is I felt quiet. I could just clamber up to our rooftop terrace (where the feature photo of this post was taken) and stare into the surroundings all day. Just watch life go by. I felt like I didn’t need to talk, or even think all the time. I felt serene. Or maybe I found something there I haven’t found anywhere else: peace.

Then again, it might have been the Bali Hai – pun intended.
– S
Categories: Adventure, Bali, Dining, Pool, Travel, wedding | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Postcard from Seminyak

Sooooo… it’s been more than a week since we first arrived on the sweet, sweet island of Bali, in the Hindu heart of the Indonesian archipelago. As incredibly long as the flights were (about 21 hours of total travel), we ‘toughed’ it out as best we could in our first-class pods. Rather than reiterating the fabulousness of traveling first class on Cathay Pacific, I’ll direct you to my 2010 Bali trip post.

We arrived in the crowded, hot and vaguely smelly Denpasar airport unperturbed, because after several trips to Bali, we know the drill. We arranged for immigration Fast Track service, and sure enough our paid ‘facilitator’ was waiting for us with a sign as we got off the escalator.

As our new friend disappeared with our passports, we eyed up the long and winding customs queue from the other side and couldn’t help but sigh with some relief that we had skipped over all of that. Of course, it’s always a little scary handing your passport over to a relative stranger, but this service is definitely worth it. Six mysterious minutes later our man emerged with our stamped passports and tourist cards for the return trip all tucked inside. Sweet developing world goodness.

Newsflash: it’s bloody hot when you’re in close proximity to the equator. Here, it’s 32 celsius with 100% humidity pretty much every day at this time of year. Constant sweating and at least two showers a day is the norm. This goes on well into the evening – it’s basically shorts and tanks ’round the clock. After a couple of days, we seriously can’t even remember what it’s like to be cold. Mind you, according to the weather reports from home, it’s the usual 24/7 November rain and wind festival, so I’m definitely not complaining – we’ll be re-joining the rest of our grumbling paisanos soon enough.

Our Seminyak villa: where all that is good and warm can be found. (And also many, many mosquitos.)

Our previous visits to Seminyak were done by day trip from sleepy Sanur (AKA Snore) on the east side of the island, our usual home base. This time, however, we rented a villa off Jalan Laksmana, the main road, sometimes called “Eat Street”. The idea was to hit some of our favourite haunts and actually log some beach time.

A Balinese cremation ceremony on Seminyak beach – note the duck trying to escape.

It’s become a bit of a tradition for us to hit Ku De Ta at least once a trip for sunset drinks and epic people-watching, and this trip was no different. It was a beautiful night, definitely sunset-worthy, and after scoring a sweet spot overlooking the beach, we settled in for lychee martinis, mojitos and lobster dumplings.

It was all moonbeams and kitten bums until I was returning from the washroom in high heels, misplaced a step, and did a spectacular face plant right in front of picture-snapping dinner patrons (I distinctly remember a flash or two as this was happening). The frustrating thing was I hadn’t even had that much to drink!

I returned to my seat with a wobbly chin and tears in my eyes, smarting from a temporary nose-dive (literally) to the ol’ self-confidence. Cam brought me around by pointing out the ridiculousness of the situation and soon had me laughing again. Everyone’s been there, in one form or another. Mine just happened to be on camera where every poseur in Bali happens to show up.

Hawkers on Seminyak beach.

On another night on the town, at another putatively super-cool Bali hangout (that shall go unnamed here), we happened to spot a big, furry rodent friend while sipping martinis and – unfortunately – waiting for our appetizer. I heard some scuffling, but Cam saw the whole thing, complete with rat jumping from the top of the bar (yes!) to the ground before zipping away. Our appetizer arrived shortly after that, and we promptly crossed the place off our list. Forever.

On the flip side, if you’re in Seminyak, go to Chandi. Just. Go. Are you there yet?

Let’s bottom-line this: for some, Seminyak is a must-see, renowned for its brown/black sand beach stretching from Kuta to the south, great (but expensive) shopping, and incredible restaurants. I know what you’re thinking: Oh, that sounds just horrible! However, compared to much of Bali, Seminyak is dirty, dusty, crowded, noisy, and just generally waaay too busy for us. It’s kind of like a been there, done that sort of place. Once is enough, say us.

But if you’re looking for a more ‘real’ laid-back Bali experience, try a villa tucked into the rice fields in Ubud, or head for the quiet sands of Sanur. That thought leads to my next post: walking through rice fields, getting caught in torrential rains, being practically deafened by gecko calls, and attending a Balinese wedding. This is all from our private haven tucked up in the cool, serene Bali highlands.

Sun setting over Seminyak beach.

– S

Categories: Bali, Beach, Dining, Glamorous, Pool, Shopping, Sunset, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Sin City Part 3: Las Metras

Part 3 of our fun-filled stay in Sin City. If you need to catch up, check out Part 1 and Part 2.

Post-pool-party-from-outer-space scene, we return to our mansion/suite to rest a bit after our long day of imbibing, douchery and sensory overload (if I saw another mojito or drooling guy in a cowboy hat it would have been way too soon). Plus, we needed to reserve some energy for the big night ahead: Metric at the House of Blues in the Mandalay Bay hotel. (BTW, we had no idea who Shpongle was, but Wikipedia did.)

Me in our massive conference room before the show.

Metric on stage. I know this pic is not exactly a close-up, but trust me: that’s really Emily Haines at the keyboards. Best I could do with my iPhone 3, which has only sneaker-zoom (i.e., walk closer to your target).

Still, pretty damn awesome venue for the ultimate intimate experience.

Although it was a real rock ‘n rolla of a show (including an acoustic version of “Gimme Sympathy” for an encore), the one disappointment was it only lasted an hour or so. I couldn’t understand it until a colleague of Cam’s said that’s typical LV: show lengths are sometimes limited (especially those with a casino close by) in order to get people back to the slots. Maybe that’s just a myth, but to someone who doesn’t even really gamble, I found it simply maddening.

We ended the night with our own little concert – blasting Metric and dancing in our hotel suite, adrenaline pumping. That’s when I truly appreciated (and used) all of our space.

Next day, back at pool. This time we went to the ‘public’ pool and settled in for some relaxation – for real this time. Or so we thought. In some ways, it was like Liquid all over again, but this time it was the redneck-trashy version. The girls in the pic below were pretty tame; it was the 20-person, middle-aged, we-left-the-kids-at-home gang that drove us (OK, me, really) over the edge. Beers, cocktails, cigars, cigarettes, shouting, drunken-picture taking, splashing, and all of the body piercings and tattoos you would expect in such a gathering. In one comical scene, Drunky McBachelorparty pitched a cell phone to his buddy in the pool which splashed down about 30 feet short of its intended target. Ba-bye, iPhone – we hardly threw ye.

Well, you don’t come to Vegas to rest (or save money), that’s for sure. We eventually abandoned this scene to do a walkabout on the strip, and I just have to share some over-the-top Vegas shots.

Classic clash of cultures: a Thai shrine with a backdrop advertising Donnie and Marie performing at the Flamingo.

Our very own 15-foot chocolate dragon on display at the Aria. Like, seriously?

That evening, we decided to go for martinis and a shrimp cocktail in the Eiffel Tower restaurant (to the tune of $96 US!). And there was only three drinks between the two of us.

But, the fun view was worth it:

For something a little less exorbitant, we decided to take a friend’s advice and hit up the popular off-the-main-drag Firefly Restaurant. Potent martinis, delish tapas, cheap prices, oh my! So what if it overlooked a strip mall parking lot? Ambience isn’t everything!

– S

PS Stay tuned for the final chapter of the story – our EPIC trek back home and the joy of unglamorous travel.

Categories: Dining, Glamorous, Pool, Travel | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Freaky, the Fresh and the Fabulous

From a rustic beach fry shack to fine-dining at the Eiffel Tower (well, in Vegas), I’ve had some pretty varied and unique foodie times. While traveling, Cam and I tend to shy away from all-inclusives (with the exception of one or two no-brainer getaways), instead opting to frappe la rue on our own and explore. To me, not only the cuisine but the actual dining experience is all part of the unknown, the weirdness of travel that often makes a good story. (We have another litnus test of how good the restaurant is by what their bathroom facilities look like. I’ll save that for another post.)

Since I refrained from listing every funny little place I’ve been to in my last post of a similar nature (A Dozen Ovens), here’s the second part of some weird and wonderful foodie scenes. Let’s start with one of my favourites…

1. Ibu Oka  Ubud, Bali
Our driver Made accompanied us to this Ubud, Bali institution in the heart of the mountains, where the specialty is fried Babi Guling (suckling pig). The scene is rustic, the menu basic with a choice of four different combinations: Special Suckling Pig (with rice), Different Suckling Pig (also with rice, not entirely sure what’s ‘different’), Suckling Pig Meat, and just the Pig Skin. Grab some Indonesian fruit tea, have a seat on the floor and get cozy with your neighbours. Personally, I found it the whole meal extremely fatty, so I mostly ate just the meat sans skin, giving the rest to Cam and Made. But it was a must-do and undeniably an unforgettable experience. If you go, don’t forget to collect your shoes from the massive pile on your way out.

2. Tapas Bar in San Sebastian – Spain
The old quarter in San Sebastian was home to my first tapa dining experience. Basically, we tried to do what every good tourist should do: follow the locals. So we walked in pretending like we’d been there a hundred times (we couldn’t have been more green), casually sidled up to the bar (more like carefully picking our way through hoards of leering Spanish men), and helped ourselves to the dizzying array of itsy bitsy bites lining the bar (well, I might have wrinkled up my nose and given some the sniff test). The whole time we wondered how anybody would know how much we ate, or who was keeping track for that matter. Turns out the bartender had a pretty sharp pair of peepers, because by the end he had a tally of everything we touched, even including a few glasses of the local vino (which we ordered via the pointing system). He gave us the bill itemized on the back of an old receipt and we were done. Oh, and food was awesome – everything from fresh prawns to thin proscuitto on crostinis – and the atmosphere crowded, smoky and alive.

3. Pizza Venezia – Sayulita, Mexico
Along a dusty, lone Mexican village road appears what at first seems like a mirage, and then turns into a bright yellow surfboard. On it boasts the menu of Pizza Venezia, a place that is both a feast for the eyes and the stomach. All bright reds and yellows and brick, this fire wood oven, thin-crust pizza joint is home to some gutsy Italian-turned-surfer who landed in Sayulita sometime within the last three years. Apparently he liked it so much he decided to stay a while. Delicious and refreshingly uncomplicated, the pizza pies were cheap (an extra-large pie put you back a mere 90 pesos – about $6 Cdn). Perfect for a late-night snack on the way home, the rest saved for a picnic on the beach the next day.

4. Le Baiser Salé – Paris, France
Le Baiser Sale translates to “The Salty Kiss”. Being avid jazz buffs, Cam and I decided to hit up this place after we attempted to get into another jazz club where the cover charge back in ’04 was 25 euros (about $50 Cdn back then). This was at a time when the Canadian dollar was at an all-time low, mind you, but still – $50 to get in? Each? Even though they were open to negotiation (the price got lower as we began backing out of the club), we decided to move on and stumbled upon Le Baiser Sale. Despite the fact that it was ‘only’ $25 to get in, it turned out to be one of the best jazz clubs we’ve ever been to. I’m including it in this dining post because they did serve food – mostly snacks to accompany your champagne – but I think that counts. Enter via an outdoor patio, sweep past a bar and up a narrow staircase to a small, dark room with a makeshift bar and a stage – and when I say stage, I mean a basic platform of sorts. The sheer intimacy of the place was astounding: as four young guys belted out classic Dizzy Gillespie and Oscar Peterson, we were so close we could feel the beat pulsing in our chests; see the spit and the sweat. It was like they were playing just for us.

5. Hu’u Bar & Grill – Seminyak, Bali
Picture a dark and romantic outdoor setting, the tropical breeze tickling your bare shoulders as you stroll along the poolside patio under white canopy and twinkling fairy lights. Now imagine the delish taste of duck crepes as you dine surrounded by mosaic-like decorative busts and low-hung chinese lanterns, with cool hip groove beats filling the air. And, if you want your own private dining experience, there’s always the cozy dining day-beds strewn about the property. The food is pretty decent, but it’s really the ambience that keeps us coming back. Where else do you get to lounge about on huge white pillows while sipping on a lychee nut martini? Who knows: you may just run into Paris Hilton partying it up right next to you.

6. Lobster on Booby Cay Beach – near Negril, Jamaica
Let’s face it: this is no fancy hotel dining, or drinks by a hip poolside bar. It doesn’t get more fresh, and I mean really fresh than having your lunch cooked for you right on a sandy cove in the middle of the Caribbean Sea. I think these lobsters were caught maybe 20 minutes before, and the next thing you know they’re on the grill. Delightfully delish. Have Famous Vincent take you over to the island.

7. Kayu Manis – Sanur, Bali
This funny little place is slightly off the beaten track, some distance from the touristy throngs on Sanur’s beach boardwalk. After reading some decent reviews on Trip Advisor, we had our hotel make us a reservation. Still, it took us a while to find it in the dark, and after wandering around for an hour, we found it tucked just off the street, surrounded by trees and tropical flora. Even at 8 pm, the interior was sweltering hot, and much to our dismay, they didn’t serve any booze aside from the local beer. We forgave them because the food was good; however, when we tried to get the bill, they wouldn’t let us pay, no matter how much we insisted. Suffice to say both parties were very much confused. So, we ended up leaving without paying. For some people this is a dream; for us just felt downright strange and wrong. Totally bewildered, we relayed the story to our hotel hosts, who were just as confused as we were. Then about a week later, the restaurant phoned our hotel to say that someone from the restaurant was coming to pick up the money for our tab. Seriously! Poor Cam had to run about to get cash from the money exchange, put it in an envelope, and have it at the front desk for pick-up. So much for thinking we got it comped because they thought we were movie stars.

8. Eiffel Tower Restaurant – Las Vegas, Nevada
For a special occasion, a completely decadent experience (or if you just can’t get to Paris, France for the weekend), the Eiffel Tower Restaurant in Vegas is a must-try. It’s pretty close to the real thing, its authenticity bolstered (pun intended) by makeshift tower beams jutting through the walls, an almost pitch-black interior, and a martini bar to die for. My sister and her husband came with us to Vegas last year for a special birthday of mine (see A Most Un-Glamorous Journey for more on that trip), and although my sister got sick the night of my birthday dinner, we still enjoyed a romantic evening for three. Attended to by at least four tuxedo-clad servers (who all seemed ecstatic to be serving us), this restaurant boasted an incredible view of the main strip, notably the fountain show at the Bellagio. It oozed romance and yes, a bit of a cheese-factor, albeit classy cheese. An appetizer of roasted foie gras for $28? Why not? You may as well really splurge and have the Filet Mignon for $56. It’s totally worth it.

9. Random Restaurant at the top of Mt. Batur – Bali
Although the view to Gunung Batur is clearly incredible, the touristy and crowded buffet-style restaurant perched on a cliff at the side of the road wasn’t. Think exorbitant tourist prices for a measly, fly-ridden selection of fried rice, dried-up satay, and wilty greens. I won’t even get into the state of the washroom. Not to mention it was so windy up there, my bad food practically flew off my plate. (To be fair, that’s not the restaurant’s fault). Anyway, an obvious tourist trap, but what can you do – not a lot of choice way up in the middle-of-nowhere-mountains. The only thing that tasted somewhat okay was the prickly red rambutan fruit – plus it was really cool and exotic-looking.

10. Burrito Revolution – Sayulita, Mexico
A Sayulita institution, Burrito Revolution is a gem of a place, with burritos the size of babies and sauces with different spice levels (hint: watch out for the whitish one – very spicy). Although you can sit inside, it mostly caters to the grab-and-go people. Make sure you get lots of napkins, because within one bite you’ll be wiping the delicious stuff off your mouth and chin. Incredibly fresh, handmade  and hot – think smoked marlin wrapped up with tomatoes, beans and fresh guacamole. Come hungry and prepare to wait a bit – you’ll be glad you did. The last time we were there, the proprietor let us have a taste of the newest thing on the menu: tacos (yummy). And, you gotta love their awesome sense of humour – I just had to take a picture of this sign!

– S

Categories: Bali, Dining, Europe, France, Glamorous, Jamaica, Mexico, Spain, Travel, Unglamorous | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

10 Weird and Wonderful Things about Saltspring

Normally this time of year finds us on the deck of a B&B on heavenly Saltspring Island, sipping wine and watching the sunset over Vesuvius Bay, a mere 20-minute ferry ride from Vancouver Island. Regrettably, we had to forgo our annual jaunt this summer for many reasons, the biggest one being that we need to save vacation days for Bali (three weeks!) in the fall. C’est la vie. Summer in the city ain’t so bad.

Saltspring is artist’s haven nestled within the southern Gulf Islands, about halfway between Nanaimo and Victoria, the capital city of British Columbia (and our home). As noted on the official Saltspring website,”there are over ten thousand human residents on Salt Spring Island, several thousand sheep and a sizeable deer population.” That pretty much sums it up.

With its close proximity to Victoria, Saltspring makes a great scenic getaway. (A perfect little day trip, too, if you’re so inclined.) We’ve been going there together for years, starting with the summer we got engaged on the island’s ocean-side campground (more about that shortly).

So, I’m going to tell you about some of the Saltspring things we’ll be missing this year, including the brilliant weirdness it has to offer.

1. Ruckle Park
The camping here is breathtaking. Picture a wide-open field perched on top of a cliff, where you can sit back and watch the sailboats, ferries, and big ships go by. Walk along the rocky beach below, feeling the hot stones on your feet as you explore the tidal pools teeming with starfish and crab. The first time I camped here, I fell in love with it. The next time was with my true love, complete with a proposal setting of sea, stars, and a bottle of Wolf Blass Black Label.

2. Saturday Hippie Market
Famous for its patchouli-scented weirdness, this weekly seasonal market offers everything from dog treats to homemade jams and jellies, colourful pottery, hemp clothing, jewlery, and, uh, ‘rarities’ like utensil wind chimes. You can sample local island delicacies such as chocolate and goat cheeses, all while perusing fresh local produce and to-die-for-breads. Watch for six-year-olds playing the violin – or autoharp, or recorder, or whatever – right in the middle of it all.

3. Wineries
There are several wineries on the island, our faves being Garry Oaks and a relatively new one called Mistaken Identity. Garry Oaks is known for its Fetish, a tasty blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Take a stroll through the lush vineyards at either one – you can practically pluck the grapes off the vine yourself. But don’t – think of the wine!

4. A Mix of Hippie Cool and Upscale Eateries. And Just Plain, Good-old Seaside Eats.
I can’t say enough about SSI’s choice of resos. It’s got upscale European, such as the English tudor-style Hastings House and House Piccolo, tried-and-true Moby’s Pub overlooking the marina, and the local favourite Seaside Kitchen. On the latter, you almost have to be local to find the entrance and the washrooms (watch out that someone from the kitchen doesn’t walk in on you!). It’s also got the best view of ferry-watching that side of the island.

Hands-down, our casual fave is the Tree House Cafe – a funky, outdoor establishment framed by – you guessed it – trees. It’s kinda like dining à la Swiss Family Robinson. This gem of a place offers big and bold breakfasts complete with thick multigrain toast and homemade berry jam. It’s the perfect setting for a hangover-style brunch, or for evening drinks with live folk music as accompaniment. Also a prime spot for people watching: one time we witnessed a guy getting pooped on by the many little birdies inhabiting the trees.

5. Hidden Watering Holes
It seems there’s one around every corner of the island. Whenever we camped on Ruckle, we would stop by a particular one en route to the Fulford ferry terminal to cool off (it’s always sunny on Saltspring – I think it’s almost an island “rule”). Locals and tourists alike swarm this tiny beach, stretching their towels on every bit of available sand. The lake is not too cold, not too deep – just right with a small dock that’s perfect for sunbathing when you just can’t stand the dogs anymore. As long as you don’t mind the kids diving off and splashing everywhere about every five minutes, that is.

One early trip we stumbled upon what we fondly nicknamed “Bits and Bites Bongo Beach” – a long, narrow, tree-lined path opened up to reveal dreadlocked bongo players and, well, hirsute women. Did I mentioned they’re naked?

Above all though, the warmest swimming beach on the island is Vesuvius Bay. I swear we see the same old leathery guy swimming laps in the ocean back and forth every time we stay there.

6. Pixie Pies – and Other Random Roadside Stands
Dotted all over the island are roadside stands with a variety of offerings via the honour system: produce, flowers, lemonade, jams, cookies, and pies. The first time I saw this little cupboard containing the mini-est of pies, I was charmed – but I didn’t have any change. Every time I’ve gone back – armed with coins – the box has been empty. Those pixies are a fickle lot. So, while I’ve thus far never got to try a Pixie Pie, this image will stay with me forever.

7. Long & Winding Roads…
And lots of hills. Saltspring is a perfect setting to learn how to drive a standard (I just had to sneak a pic of the car in there). Imagine the bottom of a very steep hill, my foot on the gas and popping the clutch. A squeal of tires and I was off. We laughed until we cried (and I tried not to wet myself in the process).

8. Famous Local Residents
Saltspring is a home to such celebs as BTO’s Randy Bachman and the artist Robert Bateman, both of whom have residences there. I’ve never seen either of them – then again, that may be the point.

9. The Seafood and the Sea
You can’t beat prawns caught fresh off the boat. Or smoked salmon and crab cakes from a funny little fisherman’s hut called The Fishery, just north of the main town, Ganges. All amazing paired with a glass of cold Pinot Gris on the deck overlooking Ganges Harbour, or the wide-open ocean off Ruckle Park, Fernwood, or Vesuvius Bay.

10. That Laid-back, Small Town Feel
What I love most about Saltspring, though, is the people. They all seem to support each other: such as the local cheese factory displaying their culinary delights on another local artist’s ceramic dish. Best of all, even as a tourist, they remember you (hard not to when we keep coming back every year, I suppose). Case in point: every time we go to market, we stop by our favourite pottery stand to say hi to Annie. One time we picked out some dishes and then shopped around while she wrapped it up. It was only when we got back to Victoria and unwrapped the goods did we notice that she snuck in an extra little nut bowl with a note saying “Happy 4th Anniversary.” Then there was the time when Dan, our B&B host and a captain on the ferry that runs from Vesuvius to Crofton, greeted us over the boat’s loudspeaker with “Welcome back, Cam and Shari” while we were sunning on the B&B deck. Now that’s what I call the personal touch.

– S

Categories: Beach, British Columbia, Dining, Gulf Islands, Sunset, Travel | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Fear and Loathing by the Balearic Sea

So I figure since my blog’s name is From Barcelona to Bali I should probably write something about Spain. Tagged on to a month-long European tour, my rendezvous with this amazing country did not disappoint in the weirdness department. Our agenda consisted of touring the Northern coastline, Barcelona, and then driving up to one of my favourite European cities, the lively and culturally rich San Sebastián, located on the coast of the Bay of Biscay and only 20 kilometres away from the French border.

Heaven… or Hell?
After driving for hours, we decided to stop at a quaint seaside resort just north of Barcelona, where we discovered we could conveniently take the train from there into the city itself. We weren’t especially keen on driving in the big cities (Florence was particularly interesting), so this seemed like the perfect solution. Perched upon a long white-sand beach and boasting an enormous pool, the resort was reminiscent of one of those charmless all-inclusive Mexican deals. But, the setting was pretty, and after being holed-up in tiny little hotel rooms right on busy main streets (with the bathroom down the hall), this was a nice change.

I was charged with securing accommodation for the majority of the trip, calling around for available rooms and switching languages every three days, so I reluctantly prepared to inquire after a room yet again. Since my Spanish was more than a little rusty, I hoped-against-hope that the people at check-in knew another language besides their native one. It was cheating, I know, but I was so damn tired that I just wanted it to be easy. So I greeted them first in Italian (nada), then French (je ne sais pas), and then finally, English (success!). Before I knew it, we were booked for four nights in what we thought was paradise.

Trapped in Cattle Class
The nightmare started the next morning, when we were herded down to the breakfast parlour (which had an early cut-off for breakfast, so naturally you had to fight the crowds to get there first-thing and score a good seat, or any seat for that matter). We joined the masses of families with their screaming children (some things never change, no matter what part of the world you’re in), and basically felt just like cattle feeding at the trough. Service was non-existent, and the food was about as far away from flavour country as possible. Not really the kind of mentality and atmosphere I gravitate towards while on vacation. It was also that kind of place where people got up at the crack of dawn just to reserve a poolside chair with their towel, and then stay there all day. Really, really annoying.

Nude or Prude?
Then there was the beach. For many Europeans, Spain is like our Mexico – people go there on vacation to relax and hang out at the beach. Note that I wrote “hang out”. Needless to say, it was packed from one end to the other with overweight, middle-aged sunburned tourists. And it wasn’t just your everyday sunning-on-the-beach, oh no. Little did we know that this particular stretch of sand was a nude one. And let me tell you, Europeans are not shy – really not shy – about stripping down, no matter their size or level of wrinkly-ness. So instead of a lovely sea view, we got to gaze upon very large, very leathery nude sunbathers. And that’s because we couldn’t get a seat by the pool. Sigh.

Barcelona to the Rescue
By contrast, Barcelona was awesome. We took the train right into the city and proceeded to explore every inch of the place like the good tourists we were. We got on a hop-on/hop-off style tour bus and checked out everything from the Sagrada Familia to Casa Milà, the Arc de Triomf and the Picasso museum. And we couldn’t miss seeing the melting-wax-inspired work of architect Antoni Gaudí, which is visible throughout the city (the Sagrada Familia being his most impressive feat). With its grand harbour, vibrant downtown core and lively port, Barcelona reminded me a lot of Vancouver. Not surprisingly, it’s also a sister city to San Francisco.

Food to Die From
Every so often we resigned ourselves to eating at the resort, where the cuisine would be best described as, well, downright gross. Don’t get me wrong: it’s a great place to go if you’ve a hangover and are craving greasy spoon tucker. True to beach-style form, it offered no shortage of full-fat battered fish and salty chunky fries, burgers, ice cream; basically anything fried and super-bad for you. Seriously, you wouldn’t even know you were in Spain… there wasn’t a paella dish in sight. I did luck out one time when I discovered an English pub off the beaten track serving a green curry and rice combo, which when washed down with a nice watery Strongbow cider was borderline decent. Let’s just say we were extremely thankful for that train, where in less than an hour we could dine on authentic Basque cuisine in the heart of Barcelona’s old quarter. It was a bit logistically-challenging to go there for every meal, though.

The Coup de Grâce
What really tipped the experience to a comical degree was when I was on the strip one scorching day shopping for a bathing suit. I was idly browsing when I heard some terrific shouting from along the boardwalk. I looked over to see a very large, very white young man with a blond buzz cut, red baseball cap, massive beer gut and arms the size of tree trunks marching along the street. This guy couldn’t be missed as he waved and raged at random passers-by for no apparent reason. The best part was he was heading straight towards me, a path of terrified people parting in front of him as he walked.

I managed to avoid his fury by ducking behind the racks, and once safely out of view, watched as he cursed at people, even striking out at one or two just for kicks. I mean, the guy was totally out of control. And of course, security was nowhere to be seen. We decided that this would be a good time to hop back on the safety of the train and get the hell out of the Twilight Zone for a bit. It wasn’t until we saw the guy again hours later, walking up and down the boardwalk, doing the same terrorizing, when security and the policía finally wrestled him down to the ground screaming, and escorted him off the premises. It was quite the sight.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, I did end up finding a bathing suit. Although, looking back now (viz., Nude or Prude?, above), maybe I should have just gone native.

– S

Categories: Adventure, Beach, Dining, Europe, Spain, Travel, Unglamorous | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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