Candidasa and Amed
Laura, my dear friend who I’ve known since I was five years old, met me in Candidasa on Bali’s east coast. Her trip would be a short 9 days, so we needed to make the most of it. She chose Candidasa based on a recommendation from a friend that it was mellower than the more frequented beaches of Kuta and Sanur. It used to be more popular with tourists, but beach erosion due to coral mining whittled away most of the coastline. There is no beach, but from our room at the Bali Palms Resort, we had a view of the pool with the ocean as the backdrop. During high tide the waves even came over the railing of the property- we were as close as you could get without sleeping over the water.
I arrived two days before her, so I had some time to explore. Soon after settling in, I walked down to the hotel gift shop/deli looking for some lunch. A woman named Yuli worked there and started chatting me up right away. It didn’t seem like the shop got many customers, so she was probably grateful for someone to talk to. Yuli even offered to walk next door and get me some nasi campur, a local rice dish with pork, egg and veggie so I wouldn’t have to pay the inflated tourist price. Then she asked if I wanted to come to her house at 5pm for her “lunch” break. It was only a mile away and she said it was an opportunity to see the local side of Bali. I wondered if she was this hospitable to all her customers, but later found out she’d only been working there for three weeks. Never one to refuse an invitation and always eager to peer inside peoples’ lives, I accepted and returned to the shop at 5pm.
She took me on the back of her scooter down the small road to her village, and then down a narrow dirt path through a coconut grove. “Wow, this is amazing”, I said to her. “It’s so beautiful”. I had to squeeze my knees so as not to get caught on a tree trunk as we rode. Yuli’s home was definitely rustic. They raise chickens (true free range, so they were just walking about), pigs and roosters for cock fighting. Let’s just say it was on the loud and smelly side. While only a mile away from the resort, I couldn’t have felt farther away. Their home was typical Balinese style with two structures facing each other and a walkway in between. She lived in one side with her husband and two kids, while her in-laws stayed across the way. The kitchen was separate still, and of course they had a family temple. Yuli offered me Balinese-style coffee, which is different from most other coffee. The pre-sweetened powder is mixed with hot water, usually in a narrow glass. You stir it up, then let the mixture settle at the bottom. After waiting a few minutes you sip until you get close to the grainy slurry and then stop. It’s much sweeter than I like it, but of course I drank and enjoyed.
We sat on the ledge of her quarters where I met her husband and children. Yuli brought out some snacks and told me I should come back the next morning for a small celebration. I was a little unclear what the celebration was for, but again I happily accepted. She pointed out one of the white chickens running around and told me they’d be grilling her tomorrow. Uh, nice to meet you, tomorrow’s meal!
At 9am the next morning I hopped back on Yuli’s scooter and off we went through the coconut trees, arriving at her village abode. The chicken was skewered on a large bamboo stick with a garlic and chili marinade slathered on its freshly plucked skin. It would be roasted over… what else… coconut husks. Her husband did the honors while I watched Yuli and her daughter give their temple blessing. Once the bird was done cooking, they put it on a tray and offered it first to the gods in the temple by placing it in one of the shrines. More blessings followed as I stood there, entranced. Each day they are conscious of their gratitude, and I find such beauty in how they express it.
Ok, time to eat! Before me was fresh roasted chicken along with a spicy coconut “salad”, rice and some vegetables. It was utterly delicious, especially our chicken friend who was perfectly seasoned and juicy. For dessert was this AMAZING homemade treat that Yuli called frozen rujak, a variation on a traditional Balinese dish. She blended together pineapple, chili, cucumber and palm sugar, then put the mixture into a long, thin plastic sleeve (a la Otter Pop) to freeze, resulting in a sweet, spicy and refreshing frozen treat. It was such a joy meeting Yuli and her family. They clearly didn’t have much, but were so welcoming and proud to share their culture. I’m consistently astounded by the hospitality of people I barely know.
The next day I rented a motorbike to explore the surrounding villages. This was my first time riding alone, and a first for driving on the left side. But after Hanoi I felt like I could handle anything. I was armed with Google maps on my phone and took it slow. Throughout the afternoon I made my way down small, tree-lined roads with hardly anyone on them. I zigged through small villages and stopped to take photos of locals walking to the temple with offerings on their heads. There were rice field expanses and dark, green forests. A feeling of joyous freedom overwhelmed me as I rode up small hills and down around curves, the surroundings pulling me in, imploring me to explore. It’s no secret that I’ve developed an affinity for motorbike riding (much to the dismay of my mother), but this was a whole different experience. Perhaps it was being out there alone; perhaps it was the ridiculously beautiful and peaceful surroundings. Whatever it was, Bali had me in her grips and I fell in love. Again.
Following a very long flight and two-hour drive to our hotel, Laura knocked on our hotel room door at 3am the next morning. I wasn’t actually asleep as I was too excited about her arrival. Before she was halfway in the room we jumped each other with huge hugs, oblivious of the time or our volume. After chit-chatting for a few minutes, we pushed pause to get some sleep.
Once the sun was out and we were fully awake, Laura presented me with my brand new Havaianas and a resupply of sunscreen (yay!). We spent a few days relaxing by the pool, breaking to walk into to town for meals… or eating at the restaurant by the by the pool if we just couldn’t be bothered. One day we hired Yuli’s brother to drive us around some nearby rice fields and temples, one of which was Tirta Gangga, a water palace that literally means “water from the Ganges”. It’s a reverent site for Balinese Hindus and its grounds are amass with pools and fountains. Again, everything was beautiful, and it was even nice just to drive around and take in the view.
We spent our last day on the east coast in Amed, about 90 minutes north of Candidasa. Amed is best known for its volcanic black sand beaches, diving and snorkeling. Laura is a certified SCUBA diver, but the last (and only) time I snorkeled was in Hawaii when I was in fourth grade. Let’s just say there was a slight experience gap. This is never something I would’ve done on my own, so I credit Laura for getting me in the water. We arrived at a café/dive shop and she took over, asking the shop owner for the equipment we needed and how far down the beach we should go. Clearly I was in good hands, but I was still a little gun shy. Would I remember how to breathe? What if I flipped over… or sank? Ok, highly unlikely, especially in a wet suit, but I was still unsure about things. After suiting up we walked on the very pebbly beach and into the water. I had to watch Laura because I didn’t even know HOW to get in the water. Fins on first, then walk backwards. Out I went, and before I knew it, I was swimming alongside her.
Luckily we didn’t need to venture too far offshore. There were plenty of coral to swim over, albeit dark and broken in spots. I’ve seen enough underwater IMAX documentaries to know this wasn’t flourishing coral, but it was enough to provide a home for many different fish. I can’t tell you what we saw, but they were supremely colorful. I particularly remember this huge school of long, thin, silver fish that swam right in front of me. Others were yellow and purple or electric blue. While I had to tell myself to relax and breathe more than once, I did enjoy my snorkeling experience. That is… until I started feeling a little nauseous and decided to head for land. The nausea wasn’t that bad, but walking up the sharp, black, HOT pebbles was too much for my tender little feet. Laura continued snorkeling for a bit longer before joining me, running up the beach with such ease it was like a carpet had been laid out for her. Ok, fine, whatever. I really am a bit of a baby when it comes to certain things.
After miraculously locating our flip-flops on the beach (again, thanks to Laura), we made our way back to the café, had lunch and returned to our hotel. The next morning we would be heading for dry land- a return to my first love, Ubud.
During my last few days in Bali, I decided to hit up another beach area, so upon the advice of my Swiss traveling friend, I headed to Balangan Beach on the Bukit peninsula, the farthest southern section of Bali. I wanted to avoid crowded, party-goer Kuta, and Balangan seemed to fit the bill, just south of Jimbaran and north of Uluwatu. I had no doubt I was in surfer country as all the motorbikes parked outside Balangan Sea View Bungalows had jimmy-rigged surfboard holders. The Sea View Bungalows greeted me with an open-air restaurant and swimming pool. Just down the cliff was the beach, peppered with surfers slicing through waves. Later that evening I walked out to the cliff to watch the sunset. A few days here? No problem. Bali consistently spoils its visitors.
The next morning I was sitting in the restaurant on my laptop, planning to spend my day a few steps away at the pool, when I heard an Australian voice ask to use my computer for a minute. “Sure,” I said as I slid it over. Luke had been in Bali for a month, and was looking to extend his visa for another month. His approach was friendly and comfortable, mentioning he was going to ride a motorbike around the beaches nearby if I wanted to join him. He was on a quest to find some hidden surf spot called Mushroom Rock. I’m sorry, did he just say the magic motorbike word??
I abandoned the pool, rented a motorbike and off we went. Luke had been in the area for a while, so I followed his lead. We rode to Nusa Dua, which I had heard was just a strip of high-end hotels and resorts. Not so. This was prime real estate to be sure, but there were also little nooks and empty cliffs with breathtaking views. We kept stopping to ask about Mushroom Rock, and each time I would gasp at the sea. At some points it was perfectly turquoise. After unsuccessful attempts to locate the mysterious surf spot, we parked and walked along the sand to find a suitable beach shack for lunch where we gorged on fresh squid, shrimp and beer. Blissful.
Suitably full, we made our way to the surfing mecca of Uluwatu. We took a quick peek at the temple of the same name, then made our way to the beach, down steep steps that passed by shops, bars and cafes. It was like a little surfer village in the cliff; very quaint and functional. Need your board waxed? Look to your left. Fancy a meal after a long ride? Look to your right. Since it was low tide, we walked over rocks and tide pools, watching some of the best surfers in the world simply glide across the water. The waves here are unlike anything I’d ever seen. They roll in almost perpendicular to the shore, and continue for a long time without breaking. As it approached sunset, we hiked up partway to a bar where we drank beer, ate a quesadilla (which was shockingly delicious) and watched the silhouetted surfers hold on to the last bit of light. It was a splendid tour of the Bukit beaches, thanks to an Aussie’s need to surf… the internet on my computer.