the nothing whatever...

Scooters, sunsets and Sari Bundo

Our Bali holiday began the way most holidays do, with a taxi ride from the airport. Being to Bali last year helped as I was ready for the immediate negotiation that would be thrust upon me walking out the doors of Denpasar airport, and even though I know I was still probably being ripped off by Balinese standards, I felt satisfied that I was able to reclaim ten bucks AU in my first monetary transaction within the country. Ben: 10, shady-aviator-wearing-Balinese-cabby: 30.

Without much trouble we got to Sukun Cottages in Sanur, and I tipped the cabby for no real reason, I think just because I was relieved we were no longer in transit. He helped us unload our bags before stopping two lanes of heavy traffic so we could cross.

Once we settled, we went for a swim in the pool and a wander of the streets, found a place called Rocket Bar, had a few beers and an assortment of Balinese curries and skewers, then stopped at the grog shop on the way home to pick up a few more for our little balcony, as well as two big fat cigars.

The day ended with us sitting in peace, happy we had finally made it, and thankful that our first meal in Bali had not resulted in any form of gastric abnormality.

The following day was basically an unwinding. Nic and I went for an early morning swim and then had some pancakes for our free breaky, mine were Banana and hers were Pineapple. We had not booked a second night at Sukun, so Nic went on Agoda and found a place half the price that was a little further down towards the beach called the Abian Boga. At around midday, we checked out of Sukun and into our new room that smelt a little like a stagnant water tank, but it did the job.

The first real notable experience we had was that night, at Sari Bundo, a restaurant suggested to us by the Lonely Planet. We had tried to find it the night before, but typically, I had walked us in the exact wrong direction.

Sari Bundo was a fair way from the main strip of Sanur, and several times we questioned whether we had passed it a while back, eventually arriving at a 4 way intersection that had on its corner a small convenience-store-looking place. Sari Bundo was written in big tacky block letters of clashing colours, and about a hundred assorted Indonesian dishes were stacked in the window. We entered the door to a cafeteria like set up, plain chairs and tables and a menu on the wall at the back that we could not understand, with us being the only westerners in there.

The man who greeted us (maitre’d probably doesn’t quite describe him) almost seemed to be laughing at us when he showed us to our table. He pointed to another table that had about 9 or 10 different small dishes on it, and said he will bring over one of everything and we only have to pay for what we eat, which sounded like both a good deal and a great way to avoid the language barrier.

He was back within the minute with an armful of plates, and we went to town. This curry, that curry, this green thing, that brown sludge, this fried chicken, that anonymous protein. All really foreign, all really tasty. The only dishes we did not eat that were left were a beef jerky looking thing that probably wasn’t beef, a pumpkin bread looking thing that probably wasn’t pumpkin, a spinach-y looking thing that probably wasn’t spinach, and something else that was so unappealing it has escaped my memory. And one wing of fried chicken. I normally wouldn’t include that as being a dish we did not eat, as in my eyes once somebody eats something off their plate, that virtually renders any food left as being a “left over”, implying that it is no longer presentable as a “dish”. But when it came time to pay he looked at the plates we ate and the ones we did not, and according to his differing rationale, we only had one serve of the fried chicken.

So, the good news was that we only had to pay for the one wing of chicken that Nic ate. Fifty cents saved, and every little bit counts.

The bad news about that is that we watched the fried chicken wing make its way back into the kitchen, having another partner-wing thrown on top of it, and then stacked neatly in the display of the front window along with all the other food we claimed we didn’t eat. For my own sanity, I have conveniently dismissed the possibility that there are people out there who are less honest than we are, and it helps if I try not to wonder how far Sari Bundo takes the “no-left-overs” approach, particularly concerning the less well-defined dishes like the soups and the curries.

He tallied us up at the table like they would at a Sushi Train and then took us to the register, where we stood a little nervously as he and the young kid manning it spoke in Bahasa for about two minutes, probably about how much westerner tax they were going to apply. But, even with the westerner tax, a small bintang and a small water, the grand total for the 6 or 7 dishes we ate came to about $14 AU. Both Nic and I felt as though they had misread the tag when we handed over the cash, and struggled not to look at each other with a smirk. And even knowing the questionable dynamic behind the food, Sari Bundo is a place that we both agreed we would eat at again.

We had always planned to, but after Sari Bundo, we booked in for a cooking class with “Bamboo Shoots Cooking School”, with Nic making the phone call to a semi-legible woman named Irma. I kept laughing at Nic wincing every time she would have to repeat the word “sorry?”, which, by the end of the call, had happened about thirteen times. We were meant to leave Abian Boga the next day, but asked if we could stay another night for the same price. He added about three bucks, and rather that use my disgraceful bartering skills that would probably see the price head in the wrong direction, I shrugged and agreed.

Irma came and picked us up from Abian Boga at about 7 am, getting her car stuck tightly between two others in the carpark. I tried to direct her out numerous times, but it is tough explaining even an elementary level of physics to someone who speaks broken English, and eventually she handed me the wheel, shaking her head and saying obviously the one word she knew that could describe her feelings about the park that she had just made – “hmmm…regret”. I stuck the tongue between my teeth, ripped it out in one move, and then dubiously handed the wheel back to Irma so she could negotiate the busy alleyways, tight squeezes and chaotic intersections of the morning rush to the markets.

I can imagine that seeing exactly where your food comes from is a confronting experience for anybody, whether it is a trip to the abattoir or visiting a thousand drip-fed hens that have never seen the light of day. So while there was a plethora of hand grown and picked vegetables, fresh fruits that I had never even heard of before with bizarre shapes and colors, chickens decapitated and plucked that morning, and mounds or beef that looked like anything you would see at your local butcher, the strongest memory I have of the markets is the flies, particularly the one drowning in the juices seeping from an unrefrigerated pile of small fish.

Irma collected all the veggies while about 8 or 9 of us (all Australian, with Nic and I being the youngest by about 20 years) tailed her closely. Eventually we hopped back in the car and went out to a resort called Sanur Beach Villas, where she had a little outdoor kitchen. She made the pastes on what could only be described as a giant mortar and pestle, and you could tell the thing was purpose built as it obliterated eshallots (small onions), red chillies, numerous herbs and spices and leaves and sticks to a pile of viscous glop in about 5 minutes. It might be redundant these days with the food processors and such, but those two pieces of stone are something I will be purchasing when I have somewhere to put them.

The entire thing was really fun and rewarding. In some dishes, like the curries, we helped with various aspects of the food making, particularly the eating. In others, like the spring rolls, we did a lot of it ourselves. Nic rolled her spring roll with simplicity and finesse, absolutely dominated it. Mine split three times and looked like the runt in a litter of beige sea-slugs. I’ll stick to the curries.
Guess which is mine poor effort

We got a copy of Irma’s cookbook and she dropped us back at the Abian Boga, this time at the gates. Our day ended with a few beers at a restaurant on Sanur beach that I can’t remember the name of, and an early night seeing as were were headed for Lembongan at about 8 the next morning. We got to Lembongan with no real incident, and are now at Mainski, which has a room that suffices, a nice swimming pool, free pool and ping-pong, and looks out over a few of the island’s surf breaks. When we arrived and for the first 3 days, we were the only occupants of the resort, and we got to know the owner, Bryan, a 62 year old Australian ex-pat who has a young Indonesian wife and her sister living at the resort with him.

A massive Bruce Springsteen fan, he has a collection of about a hundred live DVD’s of old-school rock bands, playing one of which every night on his projector over the bar, enticing the interest of a few other Aussie ex-pats that live in the area, all of which are really nice people.

He also has some interesting stories. The other night at about two in the morning (with Bryan shouting us a few beers after the bar had closed) to the tune of Fleetwood Mac I listened to the story of how, a few years ago, he shot the leg of a drunk Balinese trespasser who was threatening to trash his place, and now he and the locals don’t see eye-to-eye. He went to jail, but only for a night, and to this day swears that the kid went home and dug the bullet in deeper in an effort to incriminate him. I have no opinion on it, and regardless, he and his staff have been quality company.

The last few days a decent swell has hit, and Mainski is now full of English bodyboarders who are part of an organized tour group. I have been surfing a few times a day, with the 200m paddle to the reef break keeping my weight and my fitness in check. The Balinese kids are amazing surfers, their board is like an extension of their feet, gaining speed is never an issue to them, and they know the break so well that they just select the best waves at will. Two of them got barrels that I would deem to be the best of my life, but that they seemed to just shrug off, adding it to the tally of fifty million. But I have held my own out there, and have had people cheering and hooting when I have taken off on a few big ones (3-4 feet or so). To fill the few hours of the day that I spend surfing, Nic has just downloaded the latest Jodi Picoult book on my Kindle, which she is reading as I speak, unable to put down.

We hired stand-up paddleboards yesterday morning from a guy called Made who owns the resort next door. It is harder than it looks, and the majority of the next two-hours we spent falling in the drink and clawing ourselves back out of it again. It didn’t help to laugh at the other person when they fell off, as that was a sure-fire way to see you fall straight in after. By the end of the two hours, I was OK at it, and Nic was, once again, dominating. I maintain that it was because my board was smaller and hers was thicker, but I might be wrong, and we may have just found Nic a new profession.

On our second or third day here, while the surf was flat, another of Bryan’s staff, Siti (pronounced “city”, not sure how you spell it), said that we can hire a Scooter through her for 5 bucks AU and take off around the island. “This one…front brake. This one…back brake. This one…make go.” And, after squeezing though an alley between two walls and nearly crashing about four times, we were on the main road of Lembongan. A cliff-like learning curve.

I am fairly accomplished at it now, but without wanting to panic anyone, admittedly, for that first hour on the road, there were a few times when I thought we were going to die. One of which was when we were going up a winding hill over towards a place called Dream Beach (which is indescribably spectacular), and a truck (the novice Scooterer’s natural enemy) decided it was going to cut it’s corner and take up the entire friggin’ road. We awkwardly swerved to the side, and to the truck driver, it might have seemed like I knew what I was doing. But I know how close I was to losing it and running straight into his goddamn windshield, and I think Nic knew too.

Since then, we have had numerous trips without incident, to Sandy Beach, to Tamarind Beach, to Mushroom Bay, and again today, to Dream Beach. I am yet to know whether Siti’s fee was per tank or per day, as she said said we can just keep the keys while we are here and hasn’t pressed for any more money. But, I guess we will find out.