June 11, 2019. This was my penultimate day in Bali. My friends and I booked our flights separately, and we were to return to Manila on different days. I was going ahead because I wanted a full recovery day before going back to work the next day.
So on our last day together in the island, my friends and I spent a good part of the afternoon exploring the Garuda Wisnu Kencana (GWK) Park in south-central Bali. GWK is a cultural theme park centered around the gigantic 21-story tall monument depicting Hindu deity Vishnu riding the legendary bird Garuda. The entire complex felt like a modern theme park complete with standard theme park amenities and shops, minus the rides. It’s a relatively new development on the island, and I think they plan on setting up more amenities in the next few years.
There is an hourly cultural show at the amphitheater where Balinese dancers perform different sets of dances, depending on the schedule you get to watch. That afternoon, we were able to catch the Barong Keris dance, which depicts the mythological tale of a half-lion spirit beast and a Bali noble family. To be honest, I had to rely on the pamphlet to understand what was going on.
June 10, 2019. Not a lot of travelers go to Bali to trek its jungles and hike to its waterfalls. I realized it’s one of the things I that makes Bali a great travel destination–there are activities that cater to different types of travelers. For the more adventurous types, there are numerous cascades to trek on the island. For this particular adventure, we chose Sekumpul.
Before narrating further, I note that the night prior, Robby, one of our friends arrived from Manila to catch up with our trip. He couldn’t make it sooner, so for the first two days, it was just Rap and I. Henceforth, there were three of us buddies exploring the island.
We started our day early because it takes three hours to drive from Seminyak (where our hotel was) to Sekumpul far north of Bali. That morning, Joe, our driver, was sure to make a stop-over halfway through the drive, at a roadside shack that resembled your regular Filipino sari-sari store. There was your typical junk food and snacks. We had, aside from coffee, ta-da, more pork skewers! What’s with Joe, or Bali in general, and their penchant for babi (pork)?
Anyhow, after three hours on the road, through verdant rural landscapes and mountain passes, we arrived at Sekumpul. It was around midday, but we decided to postpone lunch and begin our trek into the jungle. It wasn’t really a trek trek, because much of the way has been paved with concrete. Although the climb down to the valley to the base of the waterfall and the hike back up was still as strenuous as it could be because a hundred vertical meters is, still, a hundred meters of pure physical effort.
June 9, 2019. We had originally planned on a whole day excursion to Nusa Penida, an island east of Bali known for its picturesque beaches and cliffs. However, considering that we were still exhausted and that a trip to the offshore island would take an entire day, we decided to change our plan and opted for a more relaxed day at a beach club near our hotel in Seminyak and explore some of the nearer towns.
That morning, we skipped hotel breakfast and asked Joe to bring us to a place where locals love to eat. He decided to bring us to another “babi” (pork) place called Pak Malen where they serve babi guling (see photos below). True enough, even though we were there a good half hour before opening time, a horde of customers and Grab delivery riders were already waiting. Apparently, in Muslim-dominant Indonesia, Bali is one of those places with a big fascination with otherwise haram (forbidden food) pork.
How was it? The dish was hella spicy for me and it turned my face into a giant waterfall of sweat. It’s like lechon kawali, Bali-style, but make it tongue- burning with chilis and spicy sidings. Halfway into trying to finish my food, my tongue had numbed I couldn’t really decipher the other flavors anymore. I would, later on, learn upon further inquiry that it was possible to get a non-spicy version of the dish.
After breakfast, we decided to go to Canggu, Bali’s hipster and laidback surf town north of Seminyak.
June 8, 2019. My friends and I only had four whole days to spend in Bali, so we decided to do just some of the “essential” destinations for first-time vacationers on the island. Two ticks in the checklist were sites in Ubud, a town in central Bali, regarded as the island’s cultural heartland and a temple in Manukaya right next to Ubud.
I had previously followed the referral of another friend who recommended a local driver to take us around our desired destinations for a flat fee per day. His name was Joe. It is essential to have someone drive you around Bali since there doesn’t appear to be any mode of public transportation convenient enough for tourists to go about the island on their own. The only other way is to rent scooters or motorbikes. None of us knew how, so that was not an option. I coordinated with Joe days before the trip and agreed on an itinerary.
From our hotel in Seminyak, Joe drove us an hour to the interior of the island along rural sceneries typical of tropical Southeast Asia–meaning, nothing too unfamiliar to Filipinos like us–rolling hills, rice paddies, terraces and vegetable gardens flanked by towering coconut trees and clusters of village homes.
But first, breakfast! Joe drove us to an obviously tourist restaurant called Bebek Joni. It was your typical tourist trap, but hey, whatever–we were hungry. We were there for breakfast, so the chartered tourist groups have not arrived for lunch, and we were the only guests around. Set in the middle of rice paddies and duck ponds, it had a very peaceful and provincial ambiance. I had a combination plate of satay, fried chicken, and some morsels of scrambled egg with my nasi. It came with Bali coffee and some rice crackers.
After breakfast, we drove a few more kilometers to Tegalalang, still in Ubud, for its famed rice terraces. We dropped by the Instagram-essential Alas Harum agro-tourism site. It was a privately-owned resort with perfectly-manicured rice terraces running along a small valley with a freshwater stream in the middle. The basic entrance ticket allows you to roam around the garden for as long as you please, but for some additional rupiahs, you can avail of their other activities such as luwak coffee tasting, the sky bike, and the Instagram-famous swing. It is what it is–a beautiful garden with plenty of spots to take great vacation photos.
At the beginning of the year, one of my close friends in law school asked if I had been to Bali, Indonesia and if I, along with our other friends, wanted to tag along his trip. I had just spent two weeks in Sri Lanka and the UAE at that time, so I was not precisely raring for another journey. Bali is neither, likewise, on my list of preferred destinations, as I felt back then that it was too mainstream a vacation. I am a snooty traveler like that. I would have instead saved up for more challenging or unpopular destinations. The only factor that enticed me was that it would be a trip with my friends.
To give some context to my eagerness towards the invite and the novelty of the idea–I have never traveled overseas with friends. I’ve gone backpacking for months, in total, traveling through India, Sri Lanka and most of Southeast Asia on separate occasions–but these were all by myself. In other instances, I would be traveling with my family on less ‘adventurous’ and more convenient destinations, but never with friends. Thus, despite my initial hesitation, I said, let’s go! I booked my ticket half a year in advance of our planned escape. Soon enough, I warmed up to the idea and looked forward to it as the date approached. I even volunteered to handle the itinerary planning, hotel bookings, and all the ground arrangements with a local driver.
It turned out to be a memorable trip. I have enjoyed traveling solo all these years, but traveling with friends who you get along with is immensely gratifying. Bali, likewise, exceeded my expectations of a mainstream travel destination.
I shall be posting my chronicles of the trip on separate blog entries pertaining to particular days and destinations during our vacation over the next few days.
A slight problem in setting a weekly schedule of publishing blog entries is that life’s stories and continuing narratives don’t begin and end on Sundays when I usually conclude and wrap up my posts. Many events are bound to happen and overlap multiple weeks. Thus, there is the slight discomfort in writing about something that hasn’t ripened into a complete narrative, just because it is a Sunday.
This week, for example, started off like how most of my usual work weeks do, but near the end of it, I embarked on a trip to Bali, Indonesia with my law school buddies, and as of writing–we are still here and the trip is still on-going. There is, then, a reluctance to include this part of the week in this narrative.
Without the trip to Bali, this week was just a largely uneventful week at work in the law office. The only remarkable thing of note was that during last Wednesday’s Eid al-Fitr non-working holiday, I caught up with two groups of friends I have kept (and who have kept me!) over the years (and decades), despite and notwithstanding my propensity to drift apart whenever I venture into new pursuits in life.