Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Uluwatu ~ The Gong ~ 23rd to 28th March

After checking out of Hawaii Bali a hotel in Kuta that was not too far away from the Airport, so we had chosen this as our first stop as we had a late night flight traveling to Bali.
We had heard from a lady at the airport that hiring a driver was the way to go and after seeing the traffic we had decided that this was an easier way to get used to the new traffic culture! Our driver  Ketut is waiting for us with our backpacks and surfboard in tow.  Before taking us to The Gong in Uluwatu, the next place we are staying at and less than 2km from Uluwatu beach, we are heading North to Ubud.

We asked Ketut to show us Kuta - Poppies 1 and Poppies 2 area as well as Ground Zero memorial for the bombings that happened in Bali a few years ago. 

 Scooters at Kuta Beach.
 Kuta beach!
Ground Zero Memorial.

Typical Balinese family of 4 on the scooter.

Ketut took us to see some of the handicrafts that many Balinese take up. We visited jewellery making, painting and wood carvings. We can say it is some of the best wood carvings we have seen, better than the Malawians and Zimababweans wood carvings. Such delicate and intricate detail that took months and in some instances more than a year to create. In all three places the person showing us around and explaining how the jewellery was made or how the paintings were done were very friendly and we were always offered water when we arrived.

Ubud is another place we were keen to visit. Unlike the south Ubud has the most ancient temples in Bali and is where the true Balinese culture exists. Its a busy little town that is famous for its art, crafts and music. We stopped off for lunch which had an amazing verandah view of rice fields and delicious Balinese food and cheaper than the seafood restaurant the day before. It was the first time for us to see rice fields.

 Rice fields.
 Lunch with a view.

After lunch we stopped off at one of the many temples Goa Gajah or Elephant Cave. There are local kiosks before you go to the temple all selling various items. Ketut is from Ubud and his family have a kiosk here. He lets us meet his family and we feel kind of obliged to buy something, so we found something small. At all temples in Bali everyone has to wear a brightly coloured sarong around their waist and one is provided for you at the entrance before entering. The cave is carved into a rock face and you enter through the mouth of a carved demon. Inside the cave are two gods, one being the elephant headed god. Both with offerings of flowers, rice and money. Outside the temple are steps leading to holy water pouring out of vases from stone sculptures women with fish swimming in the pools. We walked to where there had once been a massive budda that was carved into a rock face. This is no longer there as it was destroyed in an earthquake some years ago. The area however was surrounded by a tropical jungle with mini waterfalls flowing down the slope. We ventured further and came across a shrine with an old Balinese guy. He ushered us to the shrine, we bowed our heads in a praying motion while he splashes holy water on us. We thought it was quite a novel thing until he asked for money. Typical! We carried on our walk through the jungle as we had seen signs posted for the temple in the jungle. It was very hot and humid, we were drenched with sweat again and this time we had no water with us. So we stopped and turned around to head back. Pity we were not prepared but next temple we visit we aim to be more prepared for the impromptu jungle walk.

 Elephant Cave temple.
 Entrance to Cave.
 Steps to the forest walk.

 This is an old Bayan tree. Love this pic - old Balinese man, old tree.

 Steps to the holy water.

 Ketut then took us to a coffee plantation. It reminded us of being in Zanzibar on the spice tour. Every spice you can think of was being grown there. We sat down at a table while a Balinese women showed us a menu of the various coffees and teas we could try for free. Think of it as similar to wine tasting. We opted to try everything on the menu. Why not! They had the famous Luwak coffee. We tried some and oh my goodness, good tasting strong coffee. There was even home made chocolate to taste too and probably the best chocolate we have ever had. We left the coffee plantation with some goodies we bought.

 Selection of coffee and teas to try.
 Balinese man finished harvesting for the day.
Balinese girl at the coffee plantation.

Its a long slow drive back to Uluwatu but we arrive at The Gong at 9pm after Ketut got a little lost. The homestay we are at is run by a lovely Balinese family. They were very welcoming and offered us water when we arrived. Even though they were closing the kitchen they still gave us a table and a menu but after having a rather large and very filling Balinese lunch we opted for a fruit platter.
The Gong is situated 2km from Uluwatu beach. There are only 8 rooms at The Gong, but the family have done a really good job maintaining the place and ensuring the rooms are cleaned on a daily basis. They have a lovely pool, but again its 25 degrees in the pool, hardly anything to cool you off but it beats sitting in the shade sweating. Tomorrow we plan on walking to Uluwatu for a look at the beach and surf.

The walk to Uluwatu is literally less than 10 mins from where we are staying. We walk the first day all eager, but we are dripping wet in sweat by the time we get there for a surf. Fortunately the tide was low on the first day and there wasn't much of a paddle through the cave for Dave.  I wander up the steps to a lovely little local cafe overlooking the Uluwatu waves. Most days when we came here I either sat and waited with my zoom lense for pics of Dave on the waves or a read my kindle.

View from the cafe at Uluwatu.

More Uluwatu

The novelty of walking to Uluwatu soon wore off and we ended up renting a scooter from the place we were staying at for 50,000 Rupiah for 24hrs. Good price. Saves us sweating and practically melting in the heat. The scooter was great fun, although Shev was constantly asking to slow down and we were only going 30km! I guess its the fear of not having metal surrounding her in a car. We took the scooter to Balangan for a late afternoon surf along with Atli, a guy from Iceland also staying at The Gong that we had become aquainted with. Who thought you would meet a surfer from Iceland but apparently there is some good surf in Iceland - bladdy cold though! It was a bit scary hitting roads slightly busier than the Uluwatua and Padang Padang beach areas. On our way back after sunset we needed to make a right turn at an intersection and the traffic was something else. Scooters left, right and centre again all going various speeds. We had probably been waiting for amout 5 mins when a local on a scooter pulls up next to us and starts having a casual where are you from conversation, where have you been today and then he asked if we needed help crossing the road. Of course we did! So he edged his scooter slowing into the middle of the intersection and all traffic came to a halt. With that all the scooters and cars stuck turning right all made a mad dash to join traffic. Phew!

Sunset at Balangan.

Padang Padang beach

 Padang Padang at sunset.
 Local fisherman at Padang Padang.

The next few days was a combination of surfing, chilling at Padang Padang for sunset, sunset dinner at Uluwatu, lazing about at the pool where we stayed, taking the scooter for a spin and just generally relaxing. The Balinese family at the Gong were preparing for a festival and they gave us free fruit platters and rice cakes. They have made our stay very comfortable.

 Uluwatu sunset drinks
 Uluwatu sunset drinks
 Uluwatu sunset dinner

 Dave has been in his element surfing for 5 days in a row at Uluwatu mostly, some in Padang Padang and once in Balangan.

 The Gong - Uluwatu
 The Gong - Uluwatu

Staying at the Gong has been a very relaxing experience. The Balinese family running the place are very friendly and always up for a good laugh. Most of them speak good english. They were nothing but helpful, the food was great and for a good price too (US$3-5 a plate), rooms were clean, 2km from Uluwatu beach. They rent scooters as well. There is a laundry facility 3km up the road called Surf Laundry - probably the best launder service we have ever had. We highly recommend staying here.

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