Arrived in Bali and took a bus to the northern town of Lovina - the highlight of the journey being that the bus driver actually stopped to make an offering at a shrine. As we get off the bus we are approached by a fat man offering to show us a hotel. We are tired and hot and headachey since our day had started at12.30am with the Injun crater in East Java and it was now 4 oclock in Northern Bali so we jump on his and a friends bike, take a look and accept it. (Man those bikes are worked hard - mine had me, two back packs and the fat man - that's about 214kg on a 100cc Honda!!
Anyway we pay, have shower and realise it's a bit smelly, the shower requires balancing on a small slippery pedestal and there's no a/c. At about EUR10.50 we would normally be happy enough but we might stay here for a few days and so we decide to see what else there is for the next day. Virtually next door is the Nirwana Beach hotel - Lovely gardens, huge air-con room overlooking a great pool, statues, flowers and a sprung mattress. It is delightful and we are able to negotiate down to EUR9.00. So we go back to the original hotel, pay half the room rate for using the shower and messing the room up and move out and into our new room and end up staying there 5 nights.
There is not much to say about Lovina. It's got several nice restaurants, a not terribly good beach and that's about it. We looked at a few houses and plots of land for a guesthouse/bolthole (2 up 3 down with carport and tiny garden EUR19,000; An amazing large 3 bed villa with lovely garden inc pool and all furnishings EUR71,000 and our favourite that the owner refused to sell in the end was a 5 bed bungalow in about an acre that needed doing up but had huge potential for EUR38,000). We also did a cooking class in someone's kitchen with a man who only wore a sarong and made everything way too hot. We did a couple of morning yoga classes on the beach with a nice Dutch woman, met and spent some time with an interesting 18 year English girl called Rosa and generally just chilled and toodled around some villages in the nearby highlands which was interesting and pretty with some stunning views and incredibly steep and dilapidated roads.
Eventually we drag ourselves away from our sun loungers and get the minibus to Ubud. We first came here a couple of years ago on holiday, with the requisite holiday budget and time constraints so doing it again as a traveller is a little different. This time we are not paying the laughably high prices and can actually take time to really see stuff.
We have decided to stay in a little village on the outskirts of Ubud in a family compound of a wood carver. When we arrive we are shown our delightful room on the compound roof with with open doors and windows on two sides, a dining area with big table and chairs and a further area with raised, covered daybed. Our view is over the village roofs and palm trees. It starts well with meeting many members of the family and joining them in making various decorative items for religious ceremonies out of reed. Real generation game stuff! We sup cold drinks, coffees and eat proffered cakes and it all seems perfect until that night when they first bring us a meal that is supposed to be cheap but is the most expensive we have paid for a meal in months (and this is the only eating option in the village) and then later when we were kept awake by constant barking of the family and neighbours dogs followed by cockerels and having leave the windows open because there was no power hence no fan. The termperature just built and built and we ended up lyng naked on the daybed watching Greys Anatomy till about 4.30am when the power came on, the dogs decided to sleep and the cockerels quietened a little. Sad to say we had to leave the following morning to the shock of the family who were expecting us to stay for 4 or five nights. New hotel has a huge airy room, air-con, no dogs and is in the town so eating options are somewhat better. We don't mind limited facilities its just we don't like getting ripped off.
Bali, so far, is by far the most beautiful place we have come across in our tour. The people are an attractive bunch and, as most Asians, are very friendly and smile a lot even when, through their appalling driving habits, there are near death accidents and still everyone laughs and smiles and waves rather than reach for the baseball bats. The towns and, even more so, the villages and fields all smell wonderful and the profusion of aromas leave you dizzy and smiling. No wonder they are so calm here with aroma therapy on tap 24/7. The air is heavy with the scent of Frangipani, Flowering Arabica coffee bushes, bougainvillea and a whole host of other smells.The architecture is stunning - bamboo walls, thatched reed roofs, highly carved stonework, sweeping tiled roofs, shuttered windows and ornate doorways and wonderfully aged lava stone bricks with lichen, moss and vines growing all over. Anywhere there is space there is an ornamental pond, a lily filled basin, bonsai trees or a decorative Feng Shui garden complete with twisting and turning pathways that weave amongst aging statues, pleasing wooden creations or some intricate metal artwork. Whilst in the back ground the gentle tinkling of bells can be heard. It is a place where the sense of touch, smell, sight, sound and taste are all gratified equally and each day we are left satiated and tired through the experience with it.
Ubud is a town of craftsmen and artists selling every imaginable wood carving. The villages outside seem to have a similar gravitational pull with some working iron, others stone or Batik and one that concentrated on bone carving with a heavy emphasis on water buffalo skulls. Of the places we visitied the highlights were the Elephant Keep which was a stone temple for Hindus, Buddhists and Animists which was set on the edge of a forest which Rachel went off to explore and found a beautiful river. The very impressive Rocky Temple which was carved out of the side of the cliff face that drops away at the edge of some paddy fields and looms over a very picturesque river that tumbles over rocks as it cascades through the central plaza area. And finally the most beautiful shrine we have seen so far with water fountains, decorative garden and loads of interesting and finely detailed stone pieces (The stone masons were still chipping away at new and ever more elaborate creations). Bali is very much a thumbs up from us and a place one could easily live in.