Bali was a constant unfolding of surprises. On the flight from HongKong, a young woman who I thought was a teenager, plopped down next to me, covered her face with her jacket and promptly went to sleep. It was only upon disembarking, and queuing up for the immigration line that we started a conversation which lasted the length of time immigration took to process arrivals. Maggie is a Cathay Pacific flight attendant and was on a mini-vacation to Bali after a long haul wintry trip to and from Chicago. Unfortunately, after sharing so many tips about Bali, it escaped my mind to take down her contact information. Maggie has mine, so hopefully she reconnects.
The immigration process in Bali took close to two hours. While the big birds were disgorging hundreds of passengers, there were only about eight immigration officers, on and off, with some taking breaks in between. But the time was well spent having a pleasant conversation with Maggie.
I was quite happy to see the hotel driver at the arrivals terminal who patiently waited the entire time immigration took to process arrivals. I found out that my driver was a typical Balinese, pleasant and engaging. The Balinese try very hard to speak English as tourism is a major component in their lives. Along the way to the hotel, I was impressed with the Bali Toll Road, a graceful swirl of infrastructure of roads and bridges, some over water, from Ngurah Rai airport to the various sections of Denpasar to Nusa Dua. Inaugurated in late 2013, in time for the APEC Economic Leaders meeting, a ride which would normally take about an hour, took less than half.
There were two sets of security barriers by the Courtyard entrance and a scanner for incoming packages and baggage. Security was strict and scrutiny with dogs and mirrors under vehicles was eyebrow raising until I was reminded that Bali was the site of terrorist attacks in 2002 and 2005. My driver and friend Augustine, claims that Indonesian police are now supposed to be number two in the world, next to the Israelis, in terms of efficacy.
Despite the huge lobby of the hotel, and there was a feeling of serenity and calmness. Water gently trickling through stones set on the floor added to the feeling.
My room had a balcony which overlooked the pool and garden. A guest remarked that if one stood still, a staffer would gently inquire if you needed assistance.
The pool stretched the length of the hotel, bisected by stepping stones, bridges and small islands, with a bar centrally located. Surrounded by trees, and lush vegetation, the staff had their hands full constantly clearing the water and pool area of falling leaves.
The bathroom featured smooth pebbles lining the tub which was a distraction when stepping out of the water.
Setting off on foot, I discovered numerous altars along the way. Some were makeshift shrines but most were traditionally built of stone and bricks, covered with golden parasols and draped in cloth. On an early morning stroll, I saw Balinese start their day with offerings to the Gods. Simple things, a small yoghurt, a mini-cupcake, flowers and water would be sprinkled on the altar and vicinity. Even hotel corridors would have shrines near staff rooms and during the day, thin spiral of smoke from an incense stick would be visible. The Balinese live in compounds and central in each compound would be an altar.
Some of the altars were draped with black and white checked fabric. This was explained as the man’s struggle between good and evil.
Even the road roundabouts had huge statues of a God. Some fierce-looking.
After a discussion on typical Balinese pastries, Augustine pleasantly surprised me by twice bringing a box of homemade delicacies, before he started his early morning shift on his alternate job as a shuttle van driver for the various hotels in Nusa Dua to the Bali Collection mall. The care packages were delicious and truly appreciated.
Talking about food, I had a poolside dinner of a dish called Lillet. A variety of mashed seafood, stuck to a popsicle, served on a brazier with live coals, accompanied by rice steamed in banana leaves. Yum. . .
Bali lived up to my expectations and could be one of the places I would want to revisit.