The Three Faces of Bali – Day 1
I arrived in Denpasar, Bali at 7:53AM, 04 October 2014, not having had a good sleep on the plane (4 hours flight) and even back home since I needed to leave the house for the airport at 1AM. My kids had slept in our room as the next day was a no-school day, and as I lay there beside my second daughter, Keeto (6) and my youngest and only boy, Lucas (3), I knew they were a bit sore that I was going to be travelling again, just having gotten back from a business trip from India a week or so back. My eldest daughter, Jamie and my hubby, Nestor also did not make their “annoyance” a secret.
My two friends met me at the Ngurah Rai International airport – Cheryl Ling, Payroll Lead from J&J Singapore (now promoted to a new regional ASPAC role) and Michelle Lee, ASPAC Payroll Manager for J&J based in Sydney, Australia. We met during a payroll transition project in Singapore back in 2011-2012 and we bonded quite well during the times I travelled there for specific phases in the project. There was another lady, Carol Lawrence, the PMO, also based in Sydney. The plan to go to Bali together was hatched as the project ended. As we moved on to different and quite stressful and pressure-filled projects, the plan had always been there, discussed, but never really fleshed out. Initially, we planned to do the trip in 2013, but Cheryl got pregnant with her 2nd child (after waiting for 8 years!) and so it was postponed until Cheryl gave birth and got back her bikini body!
2014 came and we set a tentative date, but the year was so hectic that is wasn’t until a few months ago that we bit the bullet and scheduled/booked everything. Cheryl arranged for the accommodations, the tours, etc. Michelle, Carol and I just needed to book our flights. Carol begged off as she needed to be home to support her son’s exams at Uni. And then there were 3.
I have been travelling so frequently this year that I was afraid I couldn’t squeeze it in, but after a while, I just booked it even if it came after so many other trips – my family was just about ready to disown me.
So, as I exited the airport, I saw Michelle and Cheryl waving at me frantically from the arrival area. They had arrived the day before at different times, Cheryl in the afternoon, and Michelle late at night.
No sleep, with luggage in tow, they led me to our car and I met our tour guide and driver, Rajux Dwipa, and then we were off on our Day 1 tour. Rajux favored club music so the blaring beats of techno was our soundtrack for our first day of touring Bali. First stop was Watermarks, a water sports place at Tanjung Benoa beach in Nusadua. We booked for the following:
- Jet Ski
- Fish Flyer
We wanted to go parasailing as well but the time was not suitable as it was low tide, we were told. I changed out of my travel attire of black polo shirt, jeans and rubber shoes, to a bathing suit, running shorts and flip flops. Cheryl and Michelle changed as well. Cheryl wore a Speedo bathing suit under board shorts and a dark t shirt. Michelle wore a traditional bathing costume that was almost a short dress over a bikini. She was debating whether to wear something over it, but Cheryl produced a sort of sarong which an office mate brought her from India (I was in India at the same time, but didn’t have the time to shop for anything…). And so, we were ready.
First up, Jet Ski. 15 minutes around the water with a guide/instructor. I am used to jet skiing alone (took up the sport in Subic when I stayed for a project there for 3 years), and having a stranger sit behind me managing the controls, was a bit disconcerting. However, the water was busy with traffic and for a first timer, like Cheryl and Michelle, it made sense to have a guide. After the instructor made sure I knew what I was doing, he more or less melted into the background. I didn’t notice him, and only when I needed to steer somewhere did he do a reach out to correct my course. I went full speed, but the jet ski was huge, so with my short legs, I couldn’t do a proper standing position, but it was exhilarating just the same. It basically just gave me the high I remember when I go full throttle, standing on the jet ski and jumping on the waves. The 15 minutes flew by so quickly.
Next up, Donut. A round shape inflatable raft with compartments was connected to a speed boat (below picture is NOT of us).
This one was a bumpy ride, and we had to hold on only to some plastic covered rope to prevent ourselves from hurtling into the sea. I wanted to kill the boatman who seemed to enjoy our misery. He went fast and then round and round and the 3 f us were holding on to dear life. Michelle and I had our individual spaces in front, and Cheryl at the back. At some point, I couldn’t hear Cheryl anymore and she admitted after that she was having a hard time. But… it was fun! Such masochists!
Next up, Fish Flyer. This was an inflatable flat raft tied to a motorboat, which can go airborne at certain speeds. Max of 2 can go at a time, so Cheryl and I went ahead. After the Donut, we weren’t surprised to see there were no seatbelts or any other safety devices, just the plastic covered rope again, to hold on to. We had a guide with us on the raft and Cheryl asked him good-naturedly what would happen if we were airborne and she suddenly let go, would he catch/save her? Guide looks at Cheryl seriously and said, “If you let go while in air, drop in water, motor boat hit you. Gone!” Cheryl and I looked at each other and tightened our hold on the ropes. Oh, we have been wearing life vests since the Jet Ski, so at least that part of safety is covered (below picture is NOT of us).
It was a bumpy ride while in the water, but twice we launched into the air and it was magnificent! Our guide was in our middle (in the picture he would be on the middle “banana”), maneuvering the raft while in the air, distributing balance (stepping from one banana to another). What was weird was that he took it as a time to do chitchat. Imagine our positions. Cheryl and I were lying down on the raft, our arms raised to hold on to the ropes, and he in the middle on his arms and legs. Once airborne, Cheryl and I seems to be standing, holding on, and he hovering OVER us. Then he distributed weight and at one point, he was directly over me (right foot on 1st banana and left foot on second banana) and went, “Are you afraid?”. I went, “No, this is fun!”. He went, “Why not afraid?” He could be a killjoy, for sure.
Michelle went alone. And then we were back on the beach having a cold Coca Cola and a light snack. Half day gone and we were already sore all over. But it was fun! Except for me and the Jet Ski, all the things we did, we did for the first time.
One question we got a lot was, “Where are you from?”. And it took quite a while to explain we were from 3 different countries, we met on a project at work and we just flew in separately to spend our vacation together in Bali. Then there were the inevitable comments made where they thought we were from different countries. Like, some people spoke to me as if I was a local, and one waiter thought I was Indian. Michelle was normally mistaken for Chinese, as there were many Chinese tourists around, and Cheryl was also mistaken for local sometimes.
Rajux then took us to the Dewi Fortuna Spa, still in Nusadua. We spent 2 hours getting a massage, a body scrub and a flower bath. Refreshing after the adventures of the morning. For lunch, we went to Iga Warung Jimbaran, where we had pork ribs, Nasi Goreng (fried rice with egg) and Mie Goreng (friend noodles). Nice, we were famished and we almost finished everything!
Mid afternoon, Rajux took us to a new beach, Pandawa at Nusadua.
Here people lounged about and it was fairly new. Also, there were lots of people para-gliding nearby, so the sky was strewn with colors. We took a leisurely stroll. Rajux joined us and I started taking pictures. At one area, here was a soccer match in progress on the beach. Bali kids vs. Chinese visitors.
It was fun to watch and cheer, and take pictures. We then walked further and took more pictures.
As sunset neared, Rajox drove furiously to take us to Uluwatu Temple (temple by a cliff) for a spectacular view of the sunset. We had to wear a sarong to cover our short-clad legs. The sunset was indeed picture-perfect.
I realized at this point that I should have brought my other camera lenses. I just brought my new fixed prime lens for portraits and I didn’t have any zooming capabilities, except my own legs. Oh well, I took the pics anyway. Good thing Cheryl brought her own point and shoot camera. We watched a cultural show, Kecak and Fire Dance. According to the brochure, Kecak is the most unique Balinese Dance which is not accompanied by any orchestra or music but by a choir of seventy men providing the background chants all throughout.
Dinner was at Sri Gangga Café Seafood at Jimbaran Beach. It was a whole strip of restaurants by the beach. We had grilled prawn, steamed prawn and grilled fish. There were fire dancers.
I had my first cocktail in Bali, a margarita, Cheryl tried the Kamikaze, and Michelle had…well…a coconut. She still was a bit wary about taking any alcohol because of her allergies. Or maybe she is preparing for our party night out on the 2nd day.
After the cocktail, and while waiting for dinner, I strolled alone on the shore and got my feet wet as the waves kissed the sand. The waves were high and beautiful and I was in heaven.
After dinner we called it an early night and went back to the hotel, the TS Bali Suites and Villas in Seminyak, where I shared a room with Cheryl. I unpacked, called hubby, settled in and slept.
The Three Faces of Bali – Day 2
Day 2 started with breakfast together and then we were picked up by Rajux again. He said he forgot to book us for the water rafting in the morning and it was now fully booked, so we had an afternoon slot at 130PM. So, we spent the morning, contributing to the Bali economy. Rajux took us the different shops in the Batubalan Villages in Gianyar. For this day, the soundtrack prevalent in the car is…Green Day! So this was my kind of music and I was a happy camper.
We looked at a Gold and Silver factory, Batik making factory, wood carving place, and a Polo outlet store. In the Gold and Silver factory, I marveled at the stone carvings around and inside the building. We didn’t buy anything. Next stop was the Batik place and we ended up buying some shawls/scarves. Next stop was Polo and again, my credit card saw some action. Wood carving place was next, but the chicken there was too big and too expensive. Oh, I was looking for some chicken figures for my hubby who was this obsession with well, chickens, fighting cocks to be specific. He has a collection at home – of the figures, the real chickens are in our farm.
Cheryl was a bit put out though because Rajux took us to the tourist shops and she wanted to visit the more thrift shops. Rajux said he will look for those and he will bring us.
Lunch was at Bebek Teba Sari in Ubud, a beautiful place overlooking a rice paddy field. We were in a gzebo with koi swimming under and around us. We had crispy duck (very good!!!), some kebabs and some vegetables. We were given a shot glass of lemongrass, ginger and lemon juice/tea. Very nice! Add vodka and it would have been perfect!
After lunch, we went to the rafting place. It was very crowded and very noisy, with lots of Chinese tourists. We waited for ages for the transport and we were standing in a group, most smoking and it was getting a bit irritating by the minute. We were seeing people coming back all wet, one even injured, but we didn’t know where they were coming from. The transport arrived and 25 or so people got into a vehicle built to hold at most 15. Cheryl had to sit facing the other side, with a guide standing beside her with his butt near her face. A photo moment, for sure, but we left everything with Rajux in the car. The drive was a quite a distance, very bumpy and in the cramped space, Michelle only had half her butt sitting and I was squeezed between 2 Chinese tourists, sitting in one of those little thingies you put down between main seats for kids to fit into.
Finally, we arrived, got fitted for life vests, helmets and given a paddle each. Then, we walked across a rice paddy! So many photo ops, but no camera. Arg! Then, the fun started. We needed to go down steep uneven slippery steps. It was not fun, and twice I slipped. I used the paddle for support and we had the musty smelling vest for company. I walked ahead of Cheryl, calling out where to be careful. Cheryl then shouted to Michelle. It took forever… then I started hearing running water. And soon, we reached the river! The guides/boatmen started inflating their rafts – yes, they carried everything down the steps with them. The 3 of us went with a Chinese couple and their young daughter. They boarded first so… we were left with the front area. Michelle and I sat up front, Michelle at the left side and me at the right side. Cheryl sat behind me. Chinese Dad sat behind Michelle and Chinese Mom behind Dad. Daughter was behind Cheryl and guide was at the back. We were obviously not balanced so our guide had to work double time.
But before we set out, our guide gave us instructions. “Forward Paddle” meant we paddle to move forward. (What the–? We were actually expected to paddle????) “Backward Paddle” was the reverse. “Stop” meant bring your paddle in the raft and hold on to the rope. Sitting in front, there was no rope in front of us, so we needed to hold on behind us. Last instruction – if raft capsized or we fell overboard, we should not panic and just lay on our back. We have helmets so if we hit rocks we would be okay and we had vests so we would float. Our guide will come for us. At least… no talk of other rafts hitting us and … Gone…
So off we went. Paddling was hard work and Michelle and I were thrown this way and that as we passed through the raging waters. At one point, Michelle was on top of me… then she flew to the second row (Mmmm…. I hope Dad didn’t mind). We got stuck several times as our raft seemed to want to go to the difficult areas all the time. Our guide had to get down to get the raft unstuck and moving. After one hour, we stopped for a rest. Guides re-inflated the rafts to replenish what air was lost during the hour long ride. Michelle and I switched places for the next leg. Lots of paddling, splashing from other rafts, going through mini waterfalls drenching us, and one guide from another raft playfully tugging Michelle’s vest as if trying to throw her overboard. Michelle was a popular target for the splashes. All in all, very fun!
Towards the last part of the trip, we saw some little boys bathing and playing naked in the river. They were so cute! I started missing my own little boy who liked to run around naked after a bath. But then, at some point, we saw two obviously naked adult men sitting in the water with their legs up on a rock. They were facing each other, the rock seemingly a table between them and the water was just high enough to cover their…ah…er…manhood. The raft flowed past and they paid us no mind. We tried to avert our eyes, but guess what…our raft chose to get stuck at that point so we were given a minute or so more of viewing pleasure.
When we alighted from the raft, I declared that it was ALL worth it – the long wait, the cramped van, the trek down the steep steps. Then… I saw that we needed to GO UP ANOTHER STEEP FLIGHT OF STEPS to go back to the rafting center!!! Thankfully, the steps were even and cemented. But it was HARD WORK. I was panting like crazy. Women with deflated rafts on their heads were walking with us up the steps. I had to pace myself, made sure I didn’t overdo it. There was no water and I didn’t want to have a heart attack in Bali! You hear about people doing marathons, duathlons, triathlons and then dropping dead because they just overdid it.
I survived of course, and Rajux was waiting for us at the top. The center was right there. So THAT’s where the wet people were coming from. We changed, bought pictures and Rajux drove like crazy to catch the coffee place before it closed. No luck. It was 6:15PM and the place closed at 6:00PM. So we said we just wanted to go for dinner. There was a jam and we got to a Chinese Seafood place way past 7PM. The food was spectacular! The 3 of us were tired, but…we promised to have a night of partying so… we asked Rajux to find us places to go to. We also had a mission. Cheryl and I were married with kids. Michelle is single. We had a mission to look for prospects for Michelle in Bali and we only had that night to do it!
Before the bars, we got to a souvenir place (Ole Ole!) and we bought some knick-knacks. There was a funny attendant there who kept on asking us if we were married (when you say yes, he will say, even if married, can he be our Bali boyfriend?), and who asked us where we were from. Having been asked this so many times, Cheryl had some fun and said we were from different countries and we met online and just met each other in Bali! At one point, Michelle whispered that there was a whole shelf with phallic-shaped souvenirs. Cheryl was in awe. I was a bit more used to it, since we have the barrel guy being sold locally. I told them there were more like that in the key chain area. Then… funny attendant came and said Hi while he had the key chains of the you-know-what hanging in his ears. He asked Michelle whether she liked to buy, and Michelle went, “No, too small!!!” He looked hurt and we all had a big laugh. He was funny and everything was just fun in that store. Oh, and I found the chicken wood carving for my hubby, so I was happy!
We were too early for a bar/club, so we first went to Double 6 beach and had a few drinks in Déjà Vu Kitchen. We talked about our mission. Rajux joined us for the drinks, and he put on another hat—bodyguard. At some point, he asked Cheryl to find him a girl in Singapore. As we mellowed, we asked Rajux to help us in our mission. And if he helped, Cheryl would look for a girl for him in Singapore. At one point, he made a joke. That if he was unsuccessful in finding Michelle a guy, he was available. We laughed.
Rejuvenated by the drinks, we went to La Vita Loca bar which had a live band and dance floor, with people dancing. We had more drinks, including a fire-lit B-52/firefly combo. Cheryl loved it!
There was a white guy dancing like crazy with some fancy footwork (he was wearing a t-shirt, shorts and flip flops) and I spied a nerdy looking white guy who looked like a young Woody Allen nursing a drink apart from all the people. Rajux seemed to know dancing guy so we asked him to introduce the guy to Michelle. I was about to approach nerdy guy for Michelle as well but he was gone when I turned to look again. So Prospect #1 was Dancing Guy. He danced with the group and we maneuvered our positions so he would be dancing with Michelle. Cheryl and I were such good wing-women! I found out he was from…Sydney! He offered to buy a round of drinks for all of us, but when we said we wanted tequila shots, he got scared. Haha! So we left. He said we were crazy with a smile. It was fun. Michelle said he was okay, but… well… so we left.
Sill not willing to wind down, Rajux took us to a pub in Legian. This area was near the site of the bombing in 2002. The Sky Garden was a techno-dance club and when we entered, it was packed, dark, people dancing like crazy to ear-shattering beats and the lights were… well, dizzying, which added to the ambience. Rajux found some seats but Cheryl and I wanted to dance so we dove deep into the throng of people and danced.
What happened in that place I cannot go into too much detail, to protect the innocent, hahaha! But suffice it to say, Cheryl and I managed to get Michelle a couple more prospects, which she basically had to say “No” to. Mission accomplished. Just some key points though:
- That place to a certain extent was a meat market. I have never been to a club like it, or maybe once a very long time ago, in Los Angeles, where I danced with my girlfriend and we suddenly had two Hispanic guys (we were in LA, remember?) dancing “behind” us. Whenever we would move away, they would be right “behind” us. Things have not changed. I may have aged 20-odd years from that time, but the guys definitely haven’t.
- People went there to hook up. It didn’t matter that you were married, engaged or taken. Men will ask, then still flirt just the same. People would meet, not talk too much, dance, drink and then, just hook up.
All 3 of us were not used to the club scene so we left after some time. Our egos were definitely bolstered some, our mission accomplished, and we had Rajux there who had our backs and we all had each other’s backs as well. So…it was all clean fun at the end of the day. We left at around 2AM.
The Three Faces of Bali – Day 3
Breakfast was a bit later on our last full day in Bali. This was the day of Cheryl’s flight back to Singapore, but it wasn’t until the afternoon. Michelle and I went back to Watermarks in Nusadua and went parasailing. We chose a tandem ride, so we rode a boat, got strapped in and had around 5-6 minutes in the air (Picture below IS of us, not that you would be able to see. The nice lady at the desk offered to take our pics all throughout the ride. The small spec in the sky is a plane! I love this shot.). It was relaxing, not too much of an adrenaline rush, but just right. We’ve had our share of adrenaline rushes to last us for a bit. Rajux drove Cheryl to a Hard Rock Café to buy shirts for her family.
We met back for lunch at the Lagoon Seafood in Nusadua. Then it was off the airport to see Cheryl off. Rajux then took Michelle and I to a coffee plantation, where we sampled the different teas and coffees and did a bit of shopping.
We then went to Tanah Lot Temple, washed using the holy water, got blessed and had rice placed on our foreheads, then we went to a neighboring place for drinks and dinner and to watch yet another spectacular sunset. Last night in Bali, so Michelle and I just lounged about, basking in the surroundings.
We then had a nightcap at the Potato Head Beach Club in Seminyak. A very nice place, with day beds, lounges, an infinity pool and the beach a few feet away. That night, it was mostly populated by tourists, but Rajux said that on weekends lots of locals also frequent the place. Michelle and I had a last drink and a talk. Then it was time to go back to the hotel. I had to pack and reminded Rajux to pick me up at the hotel at 630AM. Michelle’s flight was at night, so she still had a day to go around, or rest, depending on her mood.
I packed and slept and dreamt of home. I missed my family. But I also dreaded the going back to reality at work.
The Three Faces of Bali – Day 4
I am writing this down in my steno pad while in the plane flying home. Rajux had arrived a few minutes after 6:30AM but I made my flight, so all good. Just a few more moments, and I will be back to being Mom, wife and J&J project consultant. I have experienced the 3 Faces of Bali – adventure Bali, Party-central Bali and peaceful Bali. I experienced it with 2 good friends who I got to know better and deeper during this trip. It was, overall, a very fulfilling experience.
They have a saying, “What Happens in Bali, Stays in Bali”. So, I believe, some portions of this hand-written account will never make it to my blog. So if you are reading this now on my blog, just read between the lines!
Postscript: Michelle had rashes due to the alcohol intake (she said she will not be taking in alcohol for a very long time), Cheryl went to the doctor in Singapore for treatment of some itchy insect bites, and I had muscle pains for the first 2 days I was back home (both Michelle and Cheryl also had this). I do have red spots as well on my lower leg, although not too itchy that I would need to go to a doctor, but I also discovered a big ugly bruise on my left thigh, and think this was from the rafting from when Michelle was hurtled on top of me at some point. Nevertheless, the trip was great! And the 3 of us will always have Bali!!!
If you ever find yourself in (or planning to go to) Bali, contact Rajux and he will make sure you go to the right places and have a good time!
Kadek “Rajux” Dwipa (Tour & Service Driver)
Facebook: rajux bali
Phone: +62 81 934 330 262; +62 85 333 395 191; +61 361 4012046