Pool

Baliance: The Beginning

Well, we’re back in… you’ll never guess… Bali. Yup, it’s tradition that every two years we just have to get on a plane, fly biz or first for basically an entire day, and skip a day crossing the international dateline while we’re at it. The whole production is a tiring hassle, but it’s always worth taking a bit of pain for the ultimate Bali gain.

We started this Balinese adventure in an area near Ubud proper called Penestanan. If you want to tuck yourself away in the jungle and rice fields, this is the place to do it. Here are a few vignettes from our time there…

Please tell me we didn’t just do what I think we did

DSC06798

Once upon a time there was a grand villa in the middle of the Balinese jungle. And it had many rooms. And with those many rooms came many doors and keys and locks in both analog and digital flavours. There were two main doors – one for the front gate that led to the road to other villas, spas, and restaurants admist the jungle – and the other for the back that led to the walking path to the main street.

And so it is our first night, which after travelling for 20+ hours left us weary and a bit slow-witted. We decide to go to the market to get susu (milk) for coffee, Bir Bintang and other vacation necessities. We walk out the back gate, and I firmly shut it, only to discover shortly after that it is now locked, and whatever keys we have can’t open it. It’s starting to get dark, there’s no lights and we can’t see any way around the house other than to take a long alternative route… which we don’t really have a grip on yet. I look at Cam and say, deliriously, you mean we’ve been here for five minutes and we’ve already locked ourselves out of the villa?!?

I thought I was going to cry. But, ever the problem-solver, Cam MacGyvered the situation using a temporary bank card to finesse the lock bolt. It opened in about two seconds. And we never fully closed that door again.

After all that, we forgot the susu. But my first taste of kopi Bali the next morning was nothing less than heavenly, milk or no.

Ol’ Growly on the path (no, not Cam)
That’s our place in the background of the picture below.

DSC06814

You could say it was a wee bit big for us, but it was damn private, which was the principle goal. This place was so remote that we had to walk down a winding, partly hilly, cracked and narrow concrete path, complete with very steep steps from the main road. No motorized vehicles allowed. Thus, after making a few wrong twists and turns – the best being pitch black and sans torch, we would arrive at our palace.

One day we headed out on said path to get provisions at the Bintang Market, only to find a ‘guard’ dog waiting in the middle of the path, looking super-scruffy and growly (upon closer inspection, he was just old and cranky and didn’t want to move). Of course as soon as we got close, he started barking and growling. Cam, born to face fear it seems, just kept on walking and reluctantly Ol’ Growly moved out of the way. We made friends later when I threw him and a canine friend doggy treats out the villa window.

Have stick, will herd 

DSC06872

While up on the rooftop terrace of Rumah Cahaya, Cam spotted this ~4-foot tall ibu (Indonesian for mother or elder female) herding ducks through the rice fields, with the intention (we think) of getting them to eat all of the bugs. Small or no, ibu could surely wield a mean stick.

More Ibu – from field to market
Cam’s been taking some serious language lessons, and enjoys practicing with the locals. One time while on a provisional trip to the Bintang Market for Bir Bintang – naturally – he was in the checkout line behind an elderly ibu who seemed to regard his bottles of beer with some disapproval. That is until Cam said to her “untuk makan malam” (“for dinner”). Ol’ ibu went from seriously serious to highly amused. She thought it so funny that she repeated it to her husband beside her. It really is the small victories.

Martinis but no Internet? Perfect.
There’s a restaurant in Penestanan which happens to have the best martinis – by my opinion – in all of Bali. And we’ve been to a lot of swanky places. So, naturally, we happened to find ourselves there. It’s called Element and it’s waaaay tucked away in a small side street. The martinis come in two ways: strong or really strong. This place is so good that we’re actually thinking about making the one-hour trek back up there from Sanur. Plus, you’re forced to talk to your companions after 5 pm. Seriously?

DSC06846

It’s a small world, after all
Before we even arrived, we quickly learned how small of a town Ubud is. Turns out that the house manager for Rumah Cahaya, Juli, is none other than the brother of the ibu whose family manages the other house we stayed in – Rumah Cinta – two years ago. In fact, we went to this cat’s wedding in 2012 – pictured below with me and bride Koming.

shar bride and groom

Note the before and after pics of Juli – quite a difference! (No makeup for instance…)

IMG_1524 (1)

Pictured above: Bapak (Indonesian for father – also used for an elder male) – who carried my 50 lb suitcase on his bony shoulder all along the path and down aforementioned wicked steps – Juli and me the morning we left Penestanan. BTW, that’s Ol’ Growly in the background.

One of the coolest house features… EVER
The whole time we stayed at Rumah Cahaya, we were wondering how to access the basement suite. We could see the door from the outside, but had no idea how to get to it from inside. That is, until the owner Bruce showed us a secret door behind the bookshelf, which led to a whole other room, bathroom, bar, and theatre.

DSC06873

The space between the shelves is the opening to the secret room below. Spooky!

Apparently this is where Bruce lived when the rest of the place was being built. I was super-impressed. How English gothic is that? Noted for our future mansion.

Stay tuned for my next post – a remote island called Gili Trawangan off the east coast of Bali.

– S

Advertisements
Categories: Adventure, Bali, Pool, Travel, wedding | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Travel Highlights of 2013

It’s the last day of the year and, once again, I find myself apologizing for not writing in an awfully long time. Yeah, I have great excuses: courses, work, and a bit of travel. However, the looming year end has persuaded me to write something – anything. So, it’s time for my travel highlights for 2013. (This is admittedly nothing particularly original on my part – see Best Travel Moments of 2012 for last year’s wrap-up.)

Mexico de Mayo
We kinda lucked out last May – so much so that we dubbed the month Mexico de Mayo. Turns out that months after we booked the first Mexico trip to Sayulita, Cam’s employer awarded him a bonus trip to the other coast of Mexico – the Mayan Riviera. And it happened to take place 10 days after the first trip.

Trip 1: Sayulita
My absolute favourite time of the day anywhere is twilight. And although twilight in Sayulita didn’t actually happen until like 8:00 pm in May, that only meant more sun, more swimming, more time to savour the good life. So when happy hour rolled around, I could usually be found hanging on the edge of the pool, taking in Sayulita’s astounding beauty. (Not to mention it was so damn hot, I didn’t really want to be anywhere else.) You can read more about the trip here.

shar casa pool

Trip 2: Mayan Riviera
Although the Mayan Riviera is undoubtedly beautiful, the area isn’t new to us (we’ve been to Playa del Carmen and the island of Cozumel). But the Rosewood Mayakoba Resort definitely was a novel experience. Lush and plush, no expense was spared in this gem of a spot right on the beach, with its own private lagoon. I’ll spare you the details, but definitely worth mentioning was our room – more like a mini villa – situated on a strip of sifted-flour sand at the end of the complex, with just palm trees and a resident Mexican coati to keep us company. And let’s not forget our private plunge pool (see below) – that, despite its beckoning on a typical tropical day – was not nearly cool enough for us sweltering Canadians!

plunge pool

Iguana on the Cliffs of Tulum
Ok, this post is definitely setting a strong pool theme, so let’s move on to a different body of water: the ocean. But not just any ocean; the intoxicating aquamarine beauty of the Caribbean. No one can resist it, really, not even a local iguana striking a pose on the cliffs of the Mayan ruins of Tulum.

iguana in tulum

More water: right after this tour, we cooled off with a little cave diving in one of the mere 10,000 systems believed to exist in the Yucatan. Unfortunately, I have no pictures of the adventure, but think very underground, very low, very narrow, very dark and very quiet. Off we went in our crocs and snorkel gear.

Salt Spring Island for Canada Day and…
…our 10th wedding anniversary. Back to one of our treasured places in the world – practically in our own backyard. We spent the three-day weekend basking in the sun, driving around in our li’l baby blue, and feasting on jumbo shrimp caught that very afternoon. Bonus start came when our B&B host friend Cap’n Dan happened to be piloting the ferry from Victoria. The moment we parked in our lane, an announcement came over the speaker to the effect of: would Cam & Shari please make their way up to the captain’s deck for an important message? From that point on, our 30-minute ride was from the captain’s quarters, high, high above, with a prominent view of our destination route. Then, upon docking at Salt Spring, our car row got to offload first. It helps to know the right people.

ssi shelf

One of the decorative shelves at our fave B&B.

Another SSI highlight – of the culinary kind this time: tracking down our pottery friends whom we’ve been buying from every summer. Sadly, for practical reasons they packed in the pottery, and instead opened a new bakery called Bite Me. These were the best (and biggest) darn ice-cream sangys we’ve ever had.

ssi ice cream sangy

Note the evil grin on the oatmeal one. Bite me, indeed.

Picking up a New Addition to the Family
Post-Canada Day, we took a quick trip across the city to pick up Billie (after Billie Holiday), our beautiful red-headed, green-eyed girl. We got her through an animal shelter, who rescued her and her five kittens from an SPCA in the States. Her kittens had been adopted out, and now it was her turn. We were only too happy to bring her into our home and our hearts. Needless to say, she’s settled in quite nicely. A recent visit to her foster family’s website revealed a strong resemblance of one of her male kittens to his mom. Awwwwwww!!

little billie.

More cats – but twice three times as large
Ok, we are definitely moving away from the water theme, with our annual August jaunt to the heart of the Canadian prairies: Brandon, Manitoba. Home to the in-laws, and some of the biggest cats in Canada. Yup, no question – these barnyard beauties are as cuddly as they are huge. Meet Casey (top) and Callie (the calico). Not surprisingly, there wasn’t a mouse or similar rodent to be found on the 66 acres that is their home. Good kitties, they is.

big cats

Cleveland – A little work, a little ball, and a whole lotta of Rock & Roll
September found me at a content marketing conference in none other than Cleveland, Ohio, along with three of my colleagues (the crazy one madly waving his arms is actually my boss). Although we were there technically for work, there were plenty of moments to discover the city of Cleveland itself, which frankly, I hadn’t thought of much before I packed my bags. This pic was by far one of my favourite moments – en route to an Indians game, via lively 5th Street and in 36 degree C heat with not a breeze to be had. Other highlights were an opening bash at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and an 80s party at the House of Blues. Oh, and the best damn stuffed snapper I’ve ever tasted. Practically in the Midwest, no less.

cleveland

bowlin shoes

Decked out in our bowling shoes, ready to hit the lanes.

Maple Ridge Sisterhood
Back to my sister Karen’s place, not only to say goodbye to one of her great friends – note her Death Party in this post – but for a permanent change. Namely, a tattoo. But not just any tattoo, and not just one. We both decided to get a Celtic sisterhood insignia combined with an infinity symbol marked on our skin. And yeah, it hurt – especially on a place with very little skin and a whole lot of nerve endings (that’s my wrist and her ankle). But, it was worth every hot-fire-poker-dragging-across-skin minute. And, Karen didn’t mind me crushing her poor hand, so that’s OK.

tattoo2

I love you infinity times, Karen.

Bonus Highlight: Snow Love
Technically, this still counts as traveling. It was the morning of my last day at work before the two-week holiday closure. We woke to a dusting of snow – nothing to be alarmed about, but enough to make a few people decide to take an early vacation. This is Victoria, after all. This very cool design was actually done by tire tracks just outside our house.

snow love

‘Tis the season of love.

– S

Categories: Beach, Gulf Islands, Mexico, Pool, Sunset, Travel | Tags: , , , , , | 1 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.

mex sun

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.

mex mariluna

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.

mex casa

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

mex casa turret

The pool shot. ‘Nuff said.

mex casa pool

And then…

mex sunset

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.

mex guac

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

mex playa

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

mex president

Looking for graveyard quiet?

mex muertos

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

mexshar

– 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.

bali hotel twilight

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.

bali tub

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.

bali shar bike

Our resident family of ginger kucings.

bali kitties

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

bali legong

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.

bali shar moon

– 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

Sin City Part 2: Welcome to the Doucheteria

This is Part 2 of our highly-amusing Vegas Vacation; if  you need to catch up, see Part 1.

We wake up Saturday morning feeling a bit groggy and out-of-sorts. Decide the best treatment is to grab some provisions from the hotel’s pharmacy/grocery/clothing store/liquor store and head to one of the Aria’s four pools for the day. It was a balmy 31 degrees and not a cloud to be seen. We go to scope out the area and discover that aside from the three common pools, there is also a ‘private’ club, with a semi-secret entrance complete with a roped area and no visibility from the outside. Intrigued, we asked a friendly twenty-something-ish fellow at a random kiosk on the property what the deal was. He was more than happy to help, showing us the menu, giving us free passes, and letting us know that the ladies get free champagne until 1:00 pm. We thought: “Why not?” Let’s be exclusive for the day. So, and after going back to the room to grab our day pack, we headed for the Liquid Pool Lounge, full of naive hope and excitement that we’d be experiencing a genuine slice of what Vegas is all about.

I’ll say we did. After lining up to get in (not much of a challenge at 11 am), we were subjected to a bag search, during which we had to rid ourselves of our beloved camera. Somehow, I knew this place would warrant a blog post – and some juicy photos to accompany it, so I wasn’t too happy about that. Anyway, Cam offered to run it back up to the room (at least a 20-minute trek), while I secured us seats in the lounge. Once in, I was a bit overwhelmed; I’m bad enough at making decisions of any kind and it was worse here because I had no idea which seats were what price (although I could guess the cabanas were probably the priciest of the joint). After I (tentatively) decided on a spot, Cam appeared sans camera, and we were read the minimums. Turns out the minimum you could spend for sitting by the pool in a lounge chair was $400. To sit by the pool! Cam and I had a good laugh at that, somewhat to the chagrin of our server, who was perfectly serious. We even had to sign an acknowledgement stating that we agreed to spend that much. Oh well – I could think of worse ways to spend money in Vegas (I don’t think I need to go so far as to list them). So much for the free champagne – what was the point? We had to spend some serious cash! Our servers then laid our towels, brought us a bucket of water and a couple of mojitos, and we sat back to take it all in.

At first it was quite subdued, and certainly it was beautiful and the service was pretty amazing. It was so weird – so surreal – with the collection of douchey guys, Fake Plastic Trees (AKA girls who have had a lot – and I mean a lot – of work done). After a while, things ramped up quickly, and the overall debacherous atmosphere was overwhelming and included not-so-subtle features like sparkly bikini-clad dancers who suddenly appeared on two podiums rotating their bottoms and attempting to look jaded and ultra-cool. Well, they probably were genuinely jaded. My second thought after Cam announced “check out the dancers!” – and I think you can guess my first thought – was: are they going to start stripping? But apparently, Liquid is way, way too classy for that, so the “clothes” – more like minuscule scraps of material – stayed on.

Here’s a fairly tame image of the scene, before the party really got started:

Click here for a flavour of the clientele this place attracts, especially after a few pitchers. So much for not allowing cameras!

As the afternoon wore on, things definitely got stranger.  And people got drunker. Way drunk in many cases. There was the arrival of the San Diego Takeover – a group of women from – you guessed it – San Diego, who occupied one of the many $1500 day beds. Then random douches – including one in particular who was lip-syncing along to the booming music catering to the super-trashed – and the Euro-douche, who creepily scoped out the scene on his very own day bed. Then there was the gaggle of cheerleaders of varying falsity – and all blonde – except for a token brunette. Let’s just put it this way: as time went by, the skirts got shorter and the tattoos somehow grew more elaborate and abundant. Although I had my lay-by-the-pool book with me (Fifty Shades Darker – which turned out to be the perfect choice for this kind of scene), I could barely read more than a sentence at a time. And it was usually the same sentence. The scene was really that entertaining.

Meanwhile, Cam and I were trying our hardest to spend our $400. You’d think it be pretty easy with pitchers of mojitos going for $60 each, and tiny Fiji water bottles for $12, but alas, we found it a struggle. One of the reasons was because we wanted to stay relatively sober for the Metric concert that evening. Despite Liquid’s hedonistic nature, I’ll say one thing for it: the food was excellent. Expensive, yes, but definitely in the yummy zone. Which goes to show you can get decent food just about anywhere on the Vegas strip.

Finally, after almost four hours of hilarity, we decide to call it quits, partly because the music was making us bleed out our ears. Our waitress, who was undoubtedly one of the smarter ones there, took pity on us and sent us home with a goody bag to bump us up to our minimum. 2 bottles of water, a can of Red Bull, and two shots of Don Julio tequila shots later (at a go of $45 each), we left the place at $399 + tax + gratuity. Yeah, I never thought I’d pay that much to sit drinking and eating by the pool, but at least I could honestly say I got my money’s worth in epic people-watching.

And, we will never, ever do that again. Ever.

– S

PS  In case you’re wondering, those cabanas I mentioned went for three thousand bucks each, although they did seem to come pre-populated with several douches/douchettes. Reserve yours now!

Categories: Adventure, Pool, Travel | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

Blog at WordPress.com.