From Bali with love

20 August 2014
Written by Vanessa Kenny
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Taking the opportunity to travel to Bali and undertake spa therapy study, MyWellbeing writer Vanessa Kenny shares her hilarious journey of travelling alone  

So, lesson number one: don't travel without any internet devices because apart from at the airport, internet cafes apparently are a thing of the past. I hum and ha about taking my laptop. It's heavy, it has no battery so I would need to plug it in and I'm not sure I want to lug it around. I put it in and out of my bag TWICE, deciding against it in the end.

Any-hoo, onward to BALI woop woop!

There's nothing like being thrown in the deep end when travelling. My plane lands right on time with my pickup person waiting in the entrance carrying a placard with my name on it but, just to give things a shake-up, four planes land at once. Aaaagh! Clearing Customs two hours later and feeling relieved nothing dodgy has been found, I discover my driver has got fed up and left.

Along with a bunch of other passengers, I emerge from the Customs area and thank Allah for the barrier between us and an unruly mob of 50 or so drivers yelling and waving anything from big placards to tatty pieces of paper with names, hotels, tours and so on.   However, there's no 'Bali Spa School', no Vanessa Kenny or Vanessa MacDonald for that matter! There's no way I'm going outside to that lot so to plan B: phoning the school. Alas in the age of modern technology public phones are a thing of the past. I ask a girl at a computer shop where I can send an e-mail and she points me to a kiosk that sells Indonesian sim cards. Not quite the answer to my question but that could work.

I enquire at the kiosk and am told 150,000 for a sim that a complete rip-off as it sounds like an AWFUL lot of money? I decide to think about it as I need to make only one call and don't want to spend all my rupiah at the first hurdle. As I'm walking up and down past the drivers once more just to be sure I glimpse a sign at a counter right next to the girl I had just spoken to - 'FREE INTERNET'. Hallelujah!

By this time it’s 5pm and, darn it, the school office might be closed. I send an e-mail anyway: ‘I am at the airport now and cannot find my driver ..HELP!’. While waiting for a reply I Google 150,000 Rupiah in NZ dollars and find it equals a grand total of $12.50. With a sigh of relief I go back to the sim card booth, buy one and call the school. Yep, as I thought, no reply so I go back to the computer and, thank goodness, Penny the spa school owner has just logged on at home to see if I have been in contact and sent a reply with her home number and address along with instructions to go to the internal taxi stand and pay 150,000.00 to get to Sunur, which normally takes about 30 minutes. Yay, at least I know how much that is in NZ dollars and it sounds like a bargain!

It’s mayhem outside on the roads as it’s a public holiday and, as my driver tells me, everyone from Java goes to Bali and everyone from Bali goes to Java. I don't care as long as I have a driver and am heading to my destination. At this point it could take another two hours and I wouldn't care one little bit.

So that evening over pick-up apologies (the driver really did wait two hours) and a Balinese beer I chat with Penny the English owner and Lisa the American marketing co-ordinator of the spa school where I am studying for the next week. They live in a lovely home five minutes' walk from the beach. Lisa promises to fix me up with a bike as I’ll be staying with them because the school accommodation is full. I'm happy with that - did I mention they have dogs, a pool and my bedroom is a beautiful air-conditioned room with ensuite?

The next morning Lisa and I set off in search of the bike man she has used before to get a good deal. However, there turn out to be many bike men and they all look similar. He is found, or at least someone just like him, and I hire a bike for a week for a grand total of 120,000. Things are getting cheaper by the minute! Lisa gives me a map of Sanur - it's only small, she says, and if you pass McDonald's you've gone too far. Showing me the direction of the beach, a couple of good eateries and Hardy’s, the only western-type grocery store, she leaves me to my own devices.

Trying to look nonchalant and brave I jump on my bike - ‘yeah I've got my map and my bike, how hard can it be?. Lisa has told me Sanur is pretty safe and the people are nice - what she hasn't mentioned is that the roads are mayhem. There are scooters, cars and stray dogs all over the place and many of the dogs carry rabies. Nice!

I take a big deep breath, do my Reiki protection symbol over my body numerous times, trust the universe to listen to my safety prayers and decide to enjoy the experience. I pass some funny signs along the way, a nightclub called 'Flashbacks' that appeals to my sense of humour but prompts a mental note: "Don't go there!" I also get a chuckle over the one on the promenade at the beach: 'Love the planet, save our water, drink beer'! 

Ending up on a big main road that seems to be heading out of town I realize I must have travelled far and decide to turn around, which is a mission in itself. On the way back I stop and have my first...and LAST... Balinese mochaccino. I ask the guy at the counter where I am and show him my map. Where did I come from and did I really bike here, he asks, looking more and more puzzled? It turns out I have cycled a fair distance indeed and his place is way off my map. How long have I been in Bali...just one day? He thinks I am crazy and hilarious all at the same time but I just smile and say "it's okay" and ask him to point me toward the sea.  All is well, I am in Bali, on my wheels cruising like a local...well kind of, I don't have any live chickens in my basket -yet!

More cycling around Sanur, a trip to the supermarket for supplies and my first massage, yay! Penny advises me not to go to the beach for a massage but to pay a little more and have a good one at a proper spa so I pay $30NZ for a 90-minute massage. It's expensive for here but well worth it. On my relaxing ride home a big fat rat runs across my bike path and nearly gives me a heart attack. Ha! That'll teach me to bliss out TOO much.

That evening Penny, Lisa and I head down to the beach for dinner at one of the many beach cafes. There’s a kite-flying festival on and some of the kites are absolutely beautiful and really big. There is something sweet about grown men and tough-looking (well trying to be) teenage boys doing an activity so gentle and passive that makes me smile. Next time I see a bunch of testosterone-fuelled boys and men back in New Zealand needing to release some tension I’m going to yell “go fly a kite’.

We drive the dogs to a beach down south and have breakfast on a lounger by the sea. I decide to have a "homealette" which looks and tastes surprisingly just like an omelette :-).

School starts tomorrow, yippee! Blimey that's a rare utterance from this student.

The spa therapy school is beautiful and I have enrolled in a course on traditional scrubs and wraps (my son thinks this is hilarious: “So mum you just scrub people then wrap them up?” Well yes). Once a grand house with big rooms and marble floors it now houses therapy tables, yoga mats and treatment chairs. All sorts of spa therapies are on offer with international training standards so I feel I’ve chosen the best place to learn. 

We start our days with yoga and meditation. My week making and applying a selection of tradition scrubs and wraps is great, almost like a cooking course with the ingredients all natural and good enough to eat…turmeric, seaweed, coconut, coffee, papaya etc. I meet some lovely people from Belgium, Italy, Japan and Australia and pass my two-hour exam with flying colours…bonus.

On the Saturday morning I say my goodbyes to the school and Penny and Lisa and take a taxi-van to the quiet mountainous village of Ubud about 40 minutes from Sanur. My driver tells me that he has 10 children to which I say "well done", although I suspect his wife should take most of the credit for that. We pass some incredible carving shops with everything from intricately carved doors to massive Buddha heads. If I want to stop he can take me to his friend's carving shop. "It's okay," I reply, "just on to Ubud thanks." Anyway I’d have a bit of trouble getting a giant Buddha head through Customs. Darn it!

Quiet little Ubud? Ahh maybe not - this place reminds me of a European ski resort minus the snow but including the French, Dutch, German you name it tourists. I am staying in a family compound in the middle of town and it’s a noisy affair. There’s a live tattoo show on tomorrow too but sadly I miss that event, choosing to explore three temples and a coffee plantation instead. The plantation offers the coffee delicacy luwak, which is about $7 a cup (expensive even for Indonesia). Coffee beans pass though the bodily system and out the bottom (yes, bum) of an animal that some people say is a cat, others call a monkey; well it looks just like a possum to this suspicious traveler :-). The beans are then cleaned and roasted (I kid you not) and then brewed up for a cuppa .....ummmm last laughs on the tourists me thinks.

On my final day in Bali I join a small tour and we cycle from the volcano Mt Batur down through beautiful villages and rice paddy fields, stopping off at a traditional Balinese family compound to see how the generations of Baliness live together. I enjoy high-fiving the local children as we cycle past and the scenery is stunning. I share in a traditional Balinese feast for lunch before stopping to look at a 500-year-old Banyan tree, an awesome conclusion to my Bali adventure.

Bali to me can be summed up by the delicious flavour of the mangosteen, the likes of which I had not tasted until offered one by a Balinese woman on the steps of the Elephant temple. David Karp sums up this beautiful fruit perfectly:

“I cut open a thick rind to reveal six snowy white, almost translucent segments that were like little eggs nestled in a jewel box. The flavour was almost unbearably exquisite - a sweet-tart melding of elegance and opulence that had echoes of fruit of every climate. Think of cherimoyas, lychees, and peaches mingled into one soft, moist, fragrant mouthful. I understood at last why many people consider mangosteen the finest fruit in the world and why Queen Victoria is said to have offered a knighthood to anybody who could bring her one."

(David Karp, The Fruit Detective, Meet the Mangosteens, Gourmet Magazine, July 2003, pp. 88-89)

I'm with Queen Victoria on this one. 

And so, blessings from Bali,





0 #1 MLis Flynn 2014-10-26 12:52
Lovely story Vanessa! Would love to hear from either you or Sacha and have a catch up! x

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