We left magical Ubud heading south towards the Bingin peninsula, the place which put Bali on the surfing map in the 1970s. We hired a lovely driver who took us round to a number of homestays and small resorts in the area, and we on Three Monkeys in Uluwatu. What sold it to us was the huge pool and sunny gardens, and also the proximity to the surf. The boys spent so much time in the pool that Josh ended up with bright red fingertips – from pulling himself out of the pool repeatedly (rather than a weird infectious disease, thank goodness).
The Uluwatu surf break was within walking distance, and we headed in that direction with boards in hand. It’s quite an impressive walk down the cliff-face to the beach – with steps winding down amongst restaurants and ding-repair shops perched precariously on the edge, ending in a massive cave where the sea rushes in at high tide. The boys paddled out and I found a good viewpoint at a restaurant higher up, and settled down with my camera and Bintang (purchased from a rather rude restaurant-owner).
The wave wasn’t working properly and was pretty big and messy – but there were some sections that looked good, and the boys headed in that direction. As Murphy would have it, a new swell pulled in while they were out, with daunting freak sets that loomed out of nowhere and broke right on the line-up. Poor Josh got pummeled by one and got washed down towards the beach. He came in soon after that, but was quite proud to have survived Uluwatu. Noah made it his aim to sit in the “sweet-spot” – that being the spot where the big sets wouldn’t catch him, but also meant he was so far out that he had no chance of catching any waves at all. He managed to dodge the sets and came in unscathed. Meanwhile Marco had the time of his life, only coming in when a storm approached and lightning was crackling in the sky above us.
What a storm it was, a total tropical torrential downpour! It absolutely bucketed down for over an hour, and the stairs winding up the cliff-face became a series of rapids and waterfalls which we had to negotiate to get back to our chalet.
The next day we hired motorbikes and went to explore the peninsula. We avoided Padang-Padang, which charged a fee for parking as well as a fee to enter the beach (commercial = avoid!), and explored Impossibles and Bingin. Bingin is a charming area with a maze of lanes winding through the jungle, and cute villas tucked away between villages and temples. Although there are many resorts and homestays in the area, it felt less commercial and more authentic than Uluwatu.
In our exploration we stumbled upon Temple Lodge, which I had read about but which had unfortunately been fully booked whilst we were there. We decided to check it out, just out of interest. What an amazing work of art the place is – with lush colourful gardens, cobbled pathways and ornate doorways leading to interesting nooks, and a variety of suites each with their own character and feel. To our surprise, we found that the owner was the brother of the owner of Utopia Lodge which we had visited way back in Rote, an Italian-South African nogal! We got chatting to him and he offered us a room in their “Annex”, slightly up the road from the resort but also as interesting and unique as the other rooms. I couldn’t wait to stay in this beautiful place!
Back in Uluwatu we relaxed by the pool and tried out some of the nearby restaurants. The Station served great burgers, and Outside Corner Organic Café had a great vibe – complete with table tennis and pool table, much to the boys’ excitement! Overall, Uluwatu is pleasant and the cliffs and beaches are stunning, but the people and facilities are definitely geared to the influx of surfers and tourists, and in my opinion, not half as quaint and authentic as Ubud. Although Ubud is touristy, it attracts those more interested in exploring the culture of Bali – whereas Uluwatu tends to attract surfers and party-goers, who (as Marco will freely admit) are often more interested in self-gratification than exploring and discovering a different culture.
When we arrived to stay at the Temple Lodge in Bingin we found we’d been “upgraded” to one of their prime suites, the Gecko Suite overlooking the ocean. What a treat! Every part of it was a work of art – from the antique double door leading into the main bedroom, to the huge wooden “day-bed” draped with comfy throws and cushions – the perfect place to read and laze during the day. The bathroom was sculpted out of concrete, with pebbles leading to an open-air volcanic rock shower with panoramic views of the ocean.
Another bonus was that it was perched on the clifftops above Bingin surf-break. The boys could walk down the winding stairs by themselves, whilst we could keep an eye on them from our room high above. The surf was small, manageable and uncrowded, and they had great fun in the water. I treated myself to a massage at the Lodge – an hour of complete bliss for $16! Marco went for a “surfer’s massage” the following day.
At sunset Bingin beach becomes an informal restaurant. Tables and chairs are laid out at the water’s edge, the fires are lit and the smell of braaied fish fills the air. We enjoyed a delicious meal of fish and roasted mielies with rice and veges on the side, in a casual candlelit atmosphere. The walk up the hundreds of stairs afterwards was a little more difficult on such a full stomach!
After a glorious 10 days it was time to leave Bali and get back to Noah’s Ark. We organised a driver to take us to Padangbai and caught the slow ferry back to Lombok, with the mighty Gunung Agung standing tall as we sailed away. A thought crossed my mind – “Imagine if it erupted now”. Little did I know how close we had come – and that it would indeed erupt the following day, throwing many people’s lives into disarray!
We were welcomed by the smiling faces of Junaidi and Lan, who took us up to Mataram for yet another visa extension, and then back to Gili Gede where Noah’s Ark was floating safe and sound (hooray!).
Bali had been an unexpected treasure. I really didn’t expect to enjoy it so much – I really thought it would be overdone, westernised and full of brash, drunk tourists. There are probably areas like that, but I was pleasantly surprised at how strongly the Balinese have held onto their culture, architecture and way of life. I was also surprised at the mix of westerners that travel and have settled there. I expected most to be Australian, but we encountered people from all over, including many from Italy, South America and even South Africa. It’s a place I definitely want to return to and explore further – and I now understand the allure and charm that has captivated people for decades.