Sunday, December 23, 2012

Food and Sleep in Bali

Part 1: What is Bali like?


We booked a package deal with AquaMarine Diving for three days of diving and a stay at the Watergarden Hotel and Resort.

I highly recommend both of these.

AquaMarine even picked us up at the airport (standard service with tourist dive packages, but still appreciated) at 9:30pm, and arranged a "VIP meet and greet," a service in which someone meets you at the gate, runs off with your passports, and gets everything approved so you can skip all the immigration and customs lines and walk right out the door.

Candidasa is just starting to really develop a tourist center. The whole area is very quiet and every person we saw was very friendly. We were constantly asked if we wanted to hire a taxi, (Hire a taxi? No? How about tomorrow?) but nobody was aggressive about it, like we've heard they can be in the southern regions where the tourist industry is thriving. A little ridiculous when someone driving in the opposite direction honked or slowed down to ask, but never aggressive.

It is standard for employees to have a base salary, so even in the off season when there may not be a single customer for days at a time, everyone has to show up for work just like they would in the peak season. It's a little eerie to walk down a street of restaurants and see dozens of tables with pristine linens and uniformed wait staff and not a single customer.

Our room at the Watergarden was a cabin, set well away from the road, past the restaurant, pool, and spa.

The bed is a canopy style, probably only partly to add to the ambiance; the windows open, but have no screens.

We're pretty sure a gecko snuck in and stole some crackers while we were asleep one night.

The view out the double doors it pretty awesome. We have our own koi pond! We saw a three-foot water lizard swim by once, but I couldn't get to my camera before it swam away.

There are plenty of nice places to eat along the main stretch of road, but the Watergarden cafe was exceptional all by itself. Breakfast was included, and the menu had dozens of items for a traditional breakfast no matter what part of the world you are from (three Asian, three European, one or two Western style). I couldn't stay away from the muesli with fresh fruit, yogurt, and honey. The interesting part was that it was sesame based, not oats. Stuck in my teeth like nothing else, but it totally worth it.

Bonus: gecko in the lamp

These were more like dessert samosas than we expected, but they were so good that eating them was a zen-like experience. And I don't know what's in that brown sauce, but it is amazing.
No shortage of vegetarian entrees!

For our three days of diving, we went to Tulamben to dive the shelf and the Liberty wreck. It's always a good sign when your base of diving operations looks like this:
Past the pool is a set of stairs. At the foot of the stairs is the ocean.
The diving was fantastic! (For divers: 30ºC in most places, a 3mm suit was perfect, and visibility was 15-20 meters.) It was just the two of us and a dive master, who handled navigation and kept an eye on depth and time. The current was so mild that we barely had to swim for long periods of time, it was like a moving sidewalk slowly bringing us past all the coral, fish, worms, and shrimp. We were able to do very long dives, generally 40 minutes to an hour each.

I realized that it was the first time I wasn't nervous going in. I think I'm ready for an underwater camera.

Lunch at the dive resort was good, too. I wasn't sure how to eat it, but all the veggies were fresh and I'm reminded how good tempe can be when prepared by someone who knows what to do with it.

One memorable part of our dive was when we went into the half-open cargo area of the shipwreck and saw a great barracuda the size of my leg. The dive master gestured at my earrings (barracudas are known to be curious and occasionally mistake shiny things for prey), and we backed away slowly. I'm not sure how much we needed to be concerned, I've seen videos online of people getting nose to nose with this fish and it has no reaction, and there wasn't much light to make my jewelry sparkle, but better safe than sorry when the teeth are that big.

The triggerfish are definitely feeling their oats this time of year (egg-laying season). Very territorial. The dive master advised us that if we see one, to face it at all times while swimming slowly away. Apparently it'll hit you from behind if you give it a chance. If one comes at you, blast some air from your spare air source and that should discourage it. One swam right up to my fin before it was discouraged enough, but it was more exciting than terrifying because it wasn't going after my face. It wasn't a tiny thing, either, about the size of a throw pillow.

We also (finally!) saw an octopus. We didn't touch it, but we saw it hug a rock and scoot around to hide, changing colors and patterns the whole time. Definitely one of the highlights of the trip.

One night for dinner we went to a jazz bar/lounge named Vincent's. The architecture, like most buildings here, are open and airy. No air conditioning, but if a fan is on, that's enough.

We were a little surprised when we were led to a table straight out the other side, in a beautiful candlelit seating area just as large as the indoor bar and lounge.

I opted for a veggie-filled pastry, not quite as heavy as a calzone.

Husband ordered a pile of seafood. We have differing opinions on how delicious this looks.


AquaMarine also made a trip to the Watergarden to pick us up when we checked out and brought us to our other hotel in the central region of Ubud.

We splurged a little and stayed at the ARMA Museum and Resort. It's breathtaking, but it still cost less than a regular hotel room in Manhattan. Money goes a long way in Bali.

Complimentary fruit basket! The furry one on the left is lychee, the scaly one on the right is snakefruit, but I can't tell you with certainty what the others are.

The resort grounds are enormous, and there is a lot to see. There's the museum of Balinese art, of course, but also a cafe, spa, temple, and elegant Thai restaurant. That's not counting the walkways, villas, ponds, gardens, and the dining area with a stage for performances.
Oh, the places you'll go. And the statues you'll see!

The view over the railing just outside our room

Even the stones in this wall have details.

To add to the atmosphere, there are strategically placed orchids in several trees.

The dining area; the stage is to the left.

Random monkey-and-buck-toothed-turtle statue at one of the many ponds.

Temple gate

Inside the temple

These structures are used for daily ceremonies.

So much detail!

The back door to the museum. Right, not even the main entrance. The back door. 

Random statue

Statue of somebody important just behind the museum

Statue inside the museum that is part of the building, not an exhibition.

Slightly alarming statue in front of another buiding

Statue in front of a cafe, but not done in the traditional Balinese style. It's a little Burton-esque, if you ask me.

The Thai restaurant
This concludes our tour of ARMA, and that doesn't even include the museum! It's quite a place.

Part 3: Fire, Monkeys, and Sightseeing

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