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


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.


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 


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?


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.


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

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


OK, so apparently an update is desperately needed – all the people I haven’t talked to since we returned from Maui think that it rained the whole time we were there! Definitely not the case, as a day after my first post, the sun came out and Maui shined. Oh, how it shined.

Now, I can’t really remember the sequence of events that happened after the rain stopped, but here are some pretty cool things. First, though, I do want to mention this little hidey-hole of a spot – actually it’s a van – that contains yes, probably the best fish tacos I’ve ever had (I know I’ve said that before, but this time it is really true). It’s worth the sometimes 45-minute wait at lunch.

Horhito’s – glamourously located next to a 76 gas station in Kihei (“Come Get Hooked!” is right – we went back a couple of times)


After the severe tropical rain fest of the first couple of days, we resumed our regularly-scheduled program of sunshine and kisses. We were itching to get into the water and experience the amazing sea life Maui is so famous for. So off we went, fins and goggles in hand, to one of the most recommended snorkeling spots in Kihei. However, conditions were sketchy – the surf was way up. Nevertheless, we proceeded to enter the water backwards, only to get swept along by the tidal break, falling into the water and me ripping my knees on hidden (and very sharp) black lava rocks. Thankfully, I didn’t notice until we battled our way against the current, past the rocky point to Kam 2. After getting tossed back onto shore, we called it a day and set up camp on the beach, where I attended to my bloody cuts with bandages and settled in to soak up the sun. I got rewarded with a burn, and an attractive X on my knee. I do realize this looks like something out of a medical journal.

Can you spot the X?


Since the main reason we traveled to Maui was to attend our friend’s wedding, we figured we should go and check it out. Whales breached in front of the Molokini crater as about 30 of us witnessed a traditional Hawaiian ceremony.

A gorgeous morning at Makena beach


By noon, we were at our fave beach in Wailea with a couple of beverages and the latest Reacher novel. With (yet more) whales breaching in the distance for entertainment, it so did not suck.

beers on beach

As we were staying in a residential area in south Kihei, we developed the happy-hour habit of wandering around our ‘hood at sunset.

Um, yeah… that’s a pretty nice view.

hood sunset2

We did a day trip to another one of the airport beaches described here. Down a dodgy old road off the highway, we parked in a man-size pothole and made our way on foot to the beach through a billy-goat trail and past a beach creature napping on the grass (complete with mini dog and a trailer). We emerged from the bushes to find gorgeous silky sand, picture-postcard turquoise water (see top pic of this post), and of course more beach creatures, this time sans clothes. Oh, and this sign in the distance, which I did actually take as a ‘sign’, seeing it’s the name of our cat we left behind.

A tribute to you, Billie. (It’s a little weird, but definitely cool.)

billie sign

After quite a few snorkelling expeditions around the island, I despaired I would never see a green sea turtle – in the water. Sure enough, on our last attempt at Ulua beach, I bobbed to the surface at one point and asked Cam, “So where do you suppose the turtles hang out?” He shrugged and told me later that he was thinking: does she think I come from a long line of Turtleologists or something?!?. About three seconds later, he noticed another snorkeler gesticulating towards the water, stuck his head under and then quickly surfaced to say something like “Thrs turtloe umber view”. He pulled me under, pointing… and there was my famous Maui turtle! It swam along gracefully and we followed it for some time. It turned out to be a huge specimen, and almost fluorescent in appearance. I was ecstatic.

Ah, beaches, beaches. There are waaaayyyy too many on this lustrous island to hit just in a week. But we sure did our best. Mahalo, Maui.


– S

Categories: Adventure, Beach, Hawaii, Sunset, Travel, wedding | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

Maui: Our First Wet and Wicked Days

So, we’re in Maui. We decided to come here after much twisting of rubber arms for our friends’ wedding. But, they’re not just any friends. They’re about the best neighbours one can ever have, so we thought we would return the favour by attending their nuptials. Plus, we really wanted to come to Maui – there was that.

We arrived to grey skies, which by yesterday graduated to full-on rain, the socked-in, all-day kind. Sometimes it was ‘light’ showers; sometimes a torrential downpour. In any case, it’s been pretty wet. Nevertheless, we’ve made the best of it, touring around the isle and even sneaking in some snorkeling up north at Honalua Bay (pictured above). The conditions were pretty good, albeit a bit rough. Visibility was decent considering it was the afternoon and we chewed up a bunch of time prior trying to find a place recommended for its amazingly fresh mahi-mahi tacos. We found it after taking a bit of an involuntary tour of Lahaina, but it was definitely worth the confusion of going down the wrong Lower Honoapiilani Road at first.

Our south Kihei cottage’s welcome sign
cottage sign

The next day we woke up to yet more rain, so after taking our time getting organized, we decided to drive down to swanky Shops at Wailea for some $10 iced Americanos, and then up north to seek out better weather (we got ‘showers’ instead of rain). We had noticed when we flew in some people running about on beaches down below, pointing at planes, so we made a note to check them out ourselves. Sure enough, today was that day. But, more about that later.

First, we had to eat. Upon reading many reviews of ‘must-eat-at’ places, Mama’s Fish House in Paia on the north end was at the top of almost every list. Founded in 1973, this place looked like it hadn’t changed a whit since. The name ‘Mama’ has a particular affinity for me, so it was perhaps a bit destined that we try it.

Set beach-side on Maui’s dramatic north coast, with a view that you could feast on while – um – feasting – this is the kind of place famous people go. Seriously, it wouldn’t have surprised me in the least if I had spotted Don Draper slurping down a whiskey sour in a giant bamboo tumbler at the main bar (this place has two). Picture a super-kitchy and dimly-lit teak-wooded place, complete with cheesy but classic Hawaiian tunes, amidst hanging shell necklaces intertwined on lamps, tiki torches lining the lawn. Well, this place was no ordinary fish house.

And the prices sure weren’t. You see, they have a very simple payment system. What you do is go to the ATM, withdraw all the money in all of your bank accounts, bring it in a wheelbarrow to the restaurant, hand it over, and they will give you amazing food and outstanding service in return. It actually seemed like a fair system, and we didn’t drink any booze – YMMV.

Mama’s sign

Macadamia-crusted mahi-mahi stuffed with crab and lobster ($52 – outstanding)
macadamia mahimahia

A selection of carefully-chosen condiments for my curry fish trio of Ahi Tuna, Mahi-mahi, and Ono (from left: fresh house chili sauce, local banana, macadamia nuts, and Mama’s homemade mango chutney)

Me and Mr. Tiki on Mama’s grounds (he seems happy with this relationship)
me and mr tiki

It was a great way to spend a rainy afternoon. However, after that epic meal, we really, really needed to go for a walk. Enter the aforementioned airport beaches. First, it required a drive through the charming town of Paia on the Hana highway. Paia feels like you’re in a time warp, like stepping into a Hawaiian spaghetti-western, with a watering hole, local bank, ice cream parlour, and several many touristy shops. For you BCers, think of it as a tropical Fort Langley.

Anyway, we made for Baldwin Beach, carefully avoiding parking lot puddles the size of small swimming pools (yes it was still raining). Grabbing the umbrella, we trooped out onto the impossibly-beautiful honey sand beach and watched the local boogie boarders/body surfers navigate the waters.

At the park looking back toward the highway
north maui

This guy seems to know what he’s doing


Surfers laughing together after one particularly crazy wave (the guy in the middle hurt his shoulder and we figure the one on the left must have lost a tooth)

And so concludes our first couple of days here. There’s lots more I could tell you, such as when the cottage owner’s friend’s dog hijacked our pool right before we got a decent swim in – but this post is already waaay too long. The rain’s supposed to clear up soonish (already by the time I publish this post), and believe me, we will seize the opportunity by the snorkel. Stay tuned.

– S

Categories: Beach, Hawaii, Travel, wedding | Tags: , , , , | 1 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

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