In my last post, I considered the differences between travel and vacation, and how finally we managed to have a relaxing January getaway with 10 days in Bali.
Now I need to get honest — five of those days were as part of a photography workshop, with my favorite photo and travel-writing group, Great Escape Publishing.
The photography workshop would be based in Bali’s artistic capital, Ubud, with one of my favorite instructors and a local photographer who would give us access to temples, sights and events we might not otherwise get to see — one of the very best reasons to take a photography tour (even if you’re not and never plan to be a pro).
Knowing that the last half of our trip would be itinerary-driven, we made sure to give ourselves time to decompress and de-jetlag before early-morning sunrise shots, sweaty hikes and crowded temple ceremonies.
It would be days before we got to our destination — the Hotel Alam Indah in the village of Nyukuning, just outside of Ubud — but the (relative) challenges of getting there were well-rewarded by the simple luxuries that we’d slowly uncover in our wind-down to wind-up.
We decided to make the most of our jaunt across the globe and take an almost unheard-of two weeks away. We started with two days in Seattle, a rare opportunity to catch up with friends. Then a 12 hour layover in San Francisco, and a rare opportunity to catch up with Brother Tom.
Space Needle from the International Fountain.
Seattle’s Great Wheel on Pier 57.
You can get a sippy cup of a local craft brew to overcome any Great Wheel jitters.
A 13-hour flight on the delightful Korean Air led us to another 12 hour layover, in Incheon, one of my favorite airports (and almost worth the trip itself). I’ll post soon on how you can have a brilliant time on layover in South Korea, but for now, just know this:
After all the Bibimbap I could eat in one day, we boarded for our five-hour flight to Bali’s Ngurah Rai airport, touching down on the Indonesian island at 12:30 am.
The late arrival after a kinda sorta grueling few days of travel didn’t worry me a bit. We had a previously-arranged for transfer — soon we’d be in good hands and on the way to our lodging in Ubud. We easily cleared customs and passport control. Already we loved Bali. They even cared about our urine!
Check, check, check and drink, drink, drink.
Except that, upon passing through the gauntlet of drivers with tablets bearing various names of their passengers, ours was not there.
Surely we just missed him, being exhausted and mostly delirious. I stumbled through the sweaty throng of cabbies and limo drivers hustling for fares, fending off offers of “Taxi? Taxi?” with the confident assurance of a Very Organized Person who has all of her details looked after. But the name Engelsiepen was nowhere to be found, and it’s a hard name to miss.
A polite young cabbie suggested that we have the information desk page our driver. When he still did not appear from the (literal) fog of humanity, our helpful friend earned himself a fare to Ubud. Score one for Little Miss Organized, who had the foresight to grab a handful of Indonesian rupiah from the airport ATM — just enough for the fare and a tip (around $70).
We arrived in Nyuhkuning at 3:30am, driving down a steep driveway lit with a last few flickering candles, to the Alam Indah.
Monkey not optional.
Thick, black jungle cloaked the property, which was so still and quiet that there seemed to be no one anticipating our arrival — and in fact, there wasn’t. A few words of Balinese were exchanged with the security guard in the outside “lobby,” then a night clerk appeared from a back room. It was a simple snafu — we’d added on this night’s stay at the last minute and it simply hadn't been registered at the resort.
Our host, Dewa, shook off his drowsiness and smiled with the warmth that we’d soon learn was a common trait of the Balinese. Our room was not quite ready, but we were welcome to it; the details would be sorted out later.
Dewa led us through the property, the full beauty of which wouldn’t be revealed to us until daylight, to what would be our “room” for the next 10 days — a two-story HOUSE with carved wooden doors, an outdoor shower, and, most welcome to us, a sleeping porch with a full-sized mattress strewn with pillows. Nothing could have been more inviting than that bed and we flopped down without even a blanket. The sultry tropical air lulled us into immediate slumber, and we arose just a few hours later to the call of birds and monkeys.
Luscious view from our balcony.
Finally we were able to explore our room and see the splendor of our surroundings.
Our house was a traditional Balinese style, with woven reed “walls” — effectively screens, since they were open to the air, a necessity in this humid region.
Our house for the week. I can’t believe it either.
Of course, that means also open to a host of insects and lizards, the latter of which were welcome, to control the former (during our stay, each of our group had challenging experiences with swarms of the bug du jour — ours being an early morning onslaught of red flying termites which caused us to flee the room before the sun rose).
The view from our lovely second story bedroom revealed a lily pond, stone mosaic pathways, and inviting pockets of tropical plantings. I took a rinse under our outdoor shower — and left my hairdryer in the suitcase — before we ventured out for the first of many memorable breakfasts in the outdoor dining pavilion.
Used this twice a day, even in the rain!
Hair dryer not recommended (and too hot anyway!)
View of the dining pavilion.
View of my Balinese pineapple crepe.
In a daily ritual, the hotel staff was setting out offerings of flowers, rice and fruit in coconut-leaf trays at each threshold, house and shrine — and the monkeys (Balinese long-tailed macaques) were never far behind, gobbling up the goodies almost as soon as they were placed. (As we learned, it’s the simple act of making the offering that counts).
Eating of the daily offerings.
After breakfast, we wandered the grounds — a compound of around a dozen buildings, set in lush gardens barely carved into the jungle and next to the Sacred Monkey Forest. (And as we would soon learn, there is no “next to” in the jungle, monkeys having no respect for human boundaries).
Each of the guest houses had its own name and unique design, exhibiting the famed craft of Balinese artists with wood and stone carvings and woven and dyed fabric hangings.
Our room was named Rambutan, after the prickly red fruit that we found in our welcome basket later that morning.
Stone shrines were nestled among the gardens, adorned with flowers or draped with black and white checked fabric called saput poleng — the black and white squares representing the Balinese version of yin and yang.
We spent the rest of the day taking a few dips in the pool, venturing to the nearby spa and into downtown Ubud, (both of which I’ll cover in my next post).
Back in our room later that night, we decided to sleep indoors, with the benefit of mosquito netting and air conditioning. Living in the Pacific Northwest, we’re accustomed to humidity, but the heat in Bali took some getting used to (the dampness killed my laptop within two days by shorting out its keyboard). But delicious daily afternoon rain showers kept things cool, and a well-packed suitcase of shorts, linen shifts and several bathing suits took care of the rest.
Our workshop companions soon began to arrive, greeted by bowers of woven palm fronds created to welcome us.
Weaving flower baskets.
Weaving the welcome decorations.
But for a few heavenly days, we’d soaked up the tropical air, drank in the fragrance of frangipani, and slurped more frozen fruit smoothies than in all my years combined. And we embraced being embraced by the warmness of the Balinese — and our escape to a place where it’s okay to smile.
Koman, our trusted monkey manager!