Travelogue Indonesia 4: Sanur and Ubud

SANUR AND UBUD
12-13 June 2015

The fast boat from Lembongan back to the mainland was much smaller than the ones we’d been on previously, taking no more than about 20 people. Presumably this was because of our convenient departure directly from Mushroom Bay and the boats from the main points further up the island would command more traffic. They must have a great understanding of supply and demand as the little boat arrived full and left full, we had no trouble getting a ticket and nobody seemed to have been turned away.

There are 3 boats a day and we’d opted for the 11am to give the best balance of a lie in on the departure side but still a full day to explore on the arrival side. The  concierge (in the loosest use of the word) at our hotel had commended our choice when we’d bought the tickets from him, saying that was low tide. And thank heavens for that; can’t imagine the (unwanted) ab workout my poor unsuspecting relaxed holiday body would’ve had to endure if the tide had been in and our Wave Warrior skipper was crashing through bigger ebs!

On the upside, the journey was barely half an hour.

Arriving in the port, with no sense of direction and no clues on which way to get to our hotel, we dealt with our vulnerability by hailing a taxi. This would have been easier had it not been for the hundreds of scooters parked around the ‘No Parking’ signs, requiring the taxis to do some tricky negotiating to get to the pick-up point.

Our hotel is very swish and right on the beachfront; a real gem of a find, discounted to nothing on Agoda.

Our room wasn’t yet ready (it was barely midday and check-in was at 2) so we left the bags with the porter and took a stroll along the beachfront.

The paved pathway and the endless visual stimulus of activity both in the sea and on the beach kept us entertained, while the feet moved themselves one in front of the other. The stroll that turned into a 10km (according to the pedometer on my phone) walk to the very end of the beach and back!

We did stop for refreshment at Le Pirate, one of the many beachfront cafés. We were lured in by their comfy daybeds, the promise of the icy-cold San Miguels and real authentic Balinese pizza. All of which delivered way beyond expectation and took a huge amount of willpower to break away from.

On return to the hotel, we were surprised to find we’d been upgraded. Instead of the original room we’d been allocated in the back corner, we’d been moved to a stunning garden unit near the pool! Asking no questions, lest a mistake be corrected, we scuttled off to our flash new digs and settled into our new station with no effort at all.

We had searched all along the beachfront for an ATM, without success. In need of cash (we’d spent MILLIONS on the islands… which, at 1000:1 didn’t translate into a fortune in Rands), we caught the hotel’s free shuttle into Sanur town where we were told we would find one.

One? There was a literal bank of them!

Much like the shops that cluster according to what they sell, it seems that all the ATMs are positioned together as well. This is a really silly system – the shops must surely struggle when surrounded by direct competition and the banks would definitely service more people if they expanded their footprint.

And you can’t go without cash like you can at home; while more places accept credit card here than in most of the farflung places we’ve been to, there are still lots of places that don’t. Small traders don’t, taxi drivers don’t and while most hotels and restaurants do, some don’t, so you have to carry cash just in case. Credit card usage also comes at an added 3-5% merchant fee, which stings on top of the 15-21% tax and service fees levied on most bills. By the time you’re done, unless you’re Rain Man, the prices on the bill are only a vague guideline of what you can sort of expect to pay.

Good thing we got cash though as this opened up our dinner options. After a swift sundowner at the hotel pool bar, we headed along the trusty beachpath to find ourselves some dinner.

We found a homely lively real mom ‘n pops seafood shack where we had delicious fresh prawns, deep-fried calamari rings and a brilliant snapper fillet, grilled to perfection in a garlic butter so that the outside had a crisp to it. The food was served with traditional Balinese condiments – a red, slightly grainy hot saucy and an oil-based onion relish.

Thank heavens for the walk back to the hotel after all of that food or we’d never have been able to fulfil our planned early night (in anticipation of our early morning day tour to Ubud).

We did manage to get up at the princely hour of 8.15 (very early by our Bali standards) and took a trot down the now-very-familiar beachfront walkway to look for a tour operator to make our Ubud dreams come true.

Obviously, nobody was open yet.

We found a cleaner who was nice enough to guide us through a windy-windy route of back streets to “where da taxis are”.

Paydirt.

A taxi.

And by that I mean A Single Solitary Taxi.

But we only needed one. And he quoted us 450,000 Rupiah for a half day tour, so we hopped in and headed to Ubud.

The driver introduced himself as Wayan. This seemed quite coincidental as the business card we’d gotten from another tour desk the day before was also someone called Wayan. I asked if this was a common name. The driver explained the firstborn son is always named “Wayan” (meaning oldest), the second is “Made” (middle), the third is “Nyoman” (usually Man for short), and fourth is “Ketut” (often elided to Tut). If you have a fourth son, he’s “Wayan Balik” (Wayan again). So yes, Wayan is a very common name!

Our driver had asked us what we wanted to see on our daytrip and we’d listed the usual suspects: monkeys, temple, market etc… He suggested a detour to the Budsari coffee plantation. Seemed as good an excursion as any, so we approved the suggestion.

We were greeted at the door by a charming young hostess who guided us around a short looping pathway with live exhibits in the gardens on either side. She picked berries and leaves here and there as we went, skinning and splitting so that we could smell and guess. Coffee cherries, vanilla, lemongrass, ginseng, cinnamon… it’s quite hard to pin down the smells without the familiar visuals cues.

The path included a Luwak cage. Luwak coffee is famed to be “the most exotic, rich, smooth and excellent coffee from Bali”. It’s little wonder too, since the bean has such an unconventional journey from tree to cup! They pass through the Paradoxurus (that’s the scientific name, the locals call them Luwak). These little (furry and cute but apparently aggressive) creatures live in the trees and one of their food sources is the red coffee cherry. While the bean is in the chap’s belly it ferments, then exits the animal still intact through the digestive system. The beans are collected from the forest floor, dried, roasted and then ground and sifted by hand until it’s a fine powder. We checked and were assured that the beans are washed twice before being processed.

The tour included a sampling of all of the teas and coffees produced from the spoils of the vegetation we’d seen. Highlights were the mangosteen peel and lemongrass teas for me, Bali and Ginseng coffees for Christian… and finally finding a coffee I like: coconut coffee, which tastes like neither. It tastes like caramel!

He’d also asked what we wanted to buy at the market and when jewellery was on the list, he suggested a stop at Celuk, which is famous for its silversmiths.

He took us to a big company that included a tour on how jewellery to prime you for their ridiculously large, canteen-bright showroom with umpteen display cases glinting with pieces from the completely unimaginative to garish globs of misguided creativity. It was not what we were looking for – I wanted somewhere quaint and charming with original pieces – so we were in and out like a turnstile.

We then took a turn past the Temple. We were given sarongs to tie around our waists before being allowed to enter the sacred grounds. The funny thing is that most of the statues flanking entrances also have sarongs (always a black and white check fabric) placed around their waists, presumably also to preserve their modesty.

The temple complex was nice enough, but we’re still a bit temple fatigued from our past few holidays, so it was a quick 10 minute looksee, contrasting the other tourists who were poring over the exhibits and enjoying lengthy lectures from their guides.

Next stop was one we’d been really looking forward to: the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary.

It’s really awesome. A self-guided walk along smoothly paved pathways (you have no idea how welcome that is after losing a layer of skin on the barefoot beach path walk yesterday) that wind through and past the highlights: main temple, dragon stairs, holy pool, holy spring temple, open stage, deer stable.

The thing we appreciated was that we expected monkey *exhibits*. It’s not. The monkeys live there, wild and free, and you wander through their home; ancient trees with Tarzan hanging vines arching the passageways that only slightly interrupt their habitat. The monkeys are quite used to people and wander among them, occasionally using a person as a post or plucking at an item of interest (which is why you are warned to remove glasses and anything not securely attached to your person).

There are stalls selling bananas – with the proceeds going to the maintenance of the sanctuary – which the monkeys will take right from your hand. There were loads of delighted tourists dangling peels or propping a banana strategically on a shoulder or lap to lure a monkey in for a photo.

For R30 entrance fee it’s well worth doing, and travellers with more sightseeing time (or appetite for temples) could easily entertain themselves there for double or triple the time that we did.

Wayan then took us to the village of Ubud. It had been a consideration for us to split our week between the beach at Sanur and then have a couple of nights inland as a breakaway in Ubud instead of going to the islands as we had done. Thank goodness we did as we did – Ubud is a very busy “sleepy little village”.

It has the expected single lane road, with lovely shops lining it and a really good market… but none of them are pedestrian streets and there is the added complication of cars alongside the squadrons of scooters. It’s mayhem.

We paid a quick visit to the obligatory temple and then focused our energy on jewellery shopping, eventually doing a fantastic job at a shiny little outlet called Kapal Laut (only to find that they have 3 branches in Sanur, so we could just as easily have shopped close to home. Doh!).

Wayan then suggested that we lunch at the rice paddy, which was a fabulous idea (especially since we hadn’t had a formal breakfast, opting to snack in the car to save time).

He took us to a big and bustling restaurant, where we got a front and centre table overlooking the tranquil rice paddy terraces so, with our back to everyone, it was quite peaceful.

We savaged a crispy duck – delicious! – and paired it with a juicy chicken curry. We certainly have eaten well this holiday!

The drive home was delayed somewhat by a traffic jam coming out of Ubud where a cremation ceremony was blocking the road. Apparently this is quite commonplace and, being the spiritual people they are, the drivers just grin and bear it. It seems hard work being a Hindu: all the shrines, offerings, obligatory decor and regalia, ceremonies and lots and lots of patience.

Every hotel we’d been at dotted banana leaves with petals and incense sticks about the place several times a day. The houses we drove past, no matter how humble, had murals moulded into their walls and sculpted into their cornices, statues in their entrances and shrines taking up most of their gardens. Traffic circles were stages for resplendent displays of mammoth stone statues illustrating religious tableau. It’s fascinating. Especially for the uninitiated.

We’d managed to tick off everything we wanted to see – and more! – on our short tour, so the plan was to spend the afternoon relaxing at the pool. Having had such luck with the hidden pool on Gili T, we decided to follow the signs to the smaller pool in our hotel complex. Hardly small by any means, it was a series of 3 pools, the largest being very deep at around 7ft, separated from the smaller, shallower two by a little waterfall tunnel.

Perfect to wile away a couple of hours.

Our original plan was to have a farewell seafood dinner in Jimbaran, the fisherman beach on the far side of the peninsula. The restaurants provide free transfers and the hotel had already recommended the one they considered best… but it seemed like a mission, so we walked down our road to the Cat & Fiddle Irish Pub instead.

It was a good decision and we enjoyed a relaxed evening, singing along to the cover band. And, for an Irish pub, they served a legit rendang (for Christian) and fisherman’s pie (like a cottage pie but creamed white fish instead of mince, for me).

A great last hoorah for an excellent stay in Bali!