Auctions rule. We buy things at auctions we would never think to spend money on normally. Like the huge basket of O Boy! Oberto snacks I bought a couple of years ago. This year among the receipts we found a week stay for eight at a villa called Villa Pantai in Bali, Indonesia. The villa sleeps eight and has a staff of six including two cooks, a masseuse, and a driver. After a quick sync up with our friends for logistics, we were on our way.
It's not a short flight to Bali. In fact, it's a grueling seventeen hours with a layover in Taipei. Our layover was only for a few hours which is unfortunate, because I'd really like to visit the city. There were many examples of Engrish to enjoy but my favorite part of the airport was the Hello Kitty jets.
When we arrived in Bali immigration was crazy. There must have been five hundred people in line to get into the country. Luckily, for the low low price of $40.00 we were able to "hire" one of the guards to guide us through a special door where there was no line. I was in love with Bali already.
We had some concerns about going at all considering both the US and Canadian governments were advising against travel to Bali. Any fear we may have had lingering in the back of our mind vanished as we drove the two hour drive to the villa. It was so far away from mainline civilization we were practically living with the farmers. This made it nice and quiet -- except for the damn roosters.
The villa was ridiculously nice. We drew straws for each of the bedrooms, and while some where clearly better than the others everything rated a few notches higher than my own house. The beach behind the villa was very rocky and was working fishing boat launch, so we didn't hang out there. That wasn't an issue because the villa had a fantastic pool with a hammock and built-in bar seating.
Our first problem was one of liquor and logistics. Pool + sun + vacation == frothy drinks. While the villa was stocked daily with soda, juice and beer there wasn't a drop of rum or vodka to be had. For this, we had to drive back to the more populated part of the island: four hours round trip. We decided to "suffer" that afternoon with beer and agreed to buy a sizable stock of liquor when sightseeing the next day.
The next day we had high hopes of seeing all sorts of things. We would start off with a tour of the largest temple on the island. Balinesians are Hindu but it was explained to us that Hindu is not just a religion in Bali -- it's woven into their culture. You can see signs of this all over the countryside with even the most rural shack having a fancy place for offerings. Before the temple we all suited up with sarongs. Danna and I came prepared with sarongs we bought in Sri Lanka for the same purpose and we watched as our friends picked out some very spendy -- although nice -- sarongs right next to the temple.
The temple itself was extraordinary, although it was very expensive. We had to buy the sarongs, pay an admission, hire a guide (no one can go in without a guide), and were finally guilted into giving a donation to help maintain the temple grounds.
After the temples, we went on our mandatory elephant ride, and then we ran out of time for the day. It is surprising how much time you spend driving on such a little island. On the way home we picked up five bottles of vodka.
The next day we hung out at the pool and just relaxed. The vodka didn't last. Rather than brave enough four hour drive we hired the driver to do it for us. We gave him a big tip and I'm sure he thought we were the biggest lushes but hey, we're on vacation. We spent the day inventing interesting things to do with the pool toys.
Whenever we go to another country there are always some things that surprise us. In Bali, the infrastructure of the island was my biggest surprise. Even in rural farming communities farmers living in shacks built high on the hills had fresh water, power and cell phone coverage. All the roads were paved an in good condition.
Another surprise for me was the different exchange rates for $20.00 bills and $100.00 bills. The $100.00 bills fetch a better rate, but money changers will only accept newer builds from certain series due to counterfeiting. Also, money changers aren't in secure buildings behind bullet-proof glass like they are in the US. They are you and me, standing out on the street with a fanny pack of money. Either theft is severely punished in Bali or there was hidden "security" I didn't see (or need to see).