Five years ago, we said we’d never return to Bali. We said at the time, that the Bali we knew and loved; the Bali we’d visited regularly for nearly 30 years was dead. Thirty years earlier, the streets of Seminyak were surrounded by rice fields; the tinkle of the water in the irrigation systems contrasting with the rustle of the breeze in the ripening rice husks. But then the rice farmer found he could sell his field for 100 times his annual income. And so the paddies became hotels and villas, all with pools and extensive gardens. As Joni Mitchell sang, They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.
So that’s where we were five years ago. Bali had just got too crowded; there was too much development, too many people and too much traffic. And the high-end fashion stores, which were sprouting like mushrooms after a shower along the Seminyak strip wouldn’t have been out of place in Toorak or Double Bay. It was no longer the Bali we knew and loved. So never again. Ever!
But then someone told us about Amed, the small fishing village three hours and 120kms north-west of Denpasar International airport. And so we decided to give Bali another chance – and we’re delighted we did.
Amed is a simple, slow-paced strip of low-rise accommodation, warungs and empty black sand beaches. Coral reefs dot the coast and although the water quality is not as good as the Maldives or Fiji, there are fish of every variety, size and colour that can be enjoyed from the beach with just a pair of flippers and a mask.
We’re staying at Aquaterrace and I’m still struggling for a descriptor. It’s not a hotel, it’s too small for that; It describes itself as B&B, but that’s not doing it justice either. It’s too small to be a resort, with just three rooms above the road and four below on the beachside. But it has everything we could want. The hillside was built 9 years ago and includes the restaurant, spa and a nice pool, and below the roadway, the newer component includes another spa and pool, together with a breakfast facility. If you’re below the road, you can just walk up for lunch or dinner. It’s simple and a little rustic but it certainly isn’t where you’d want to stay to recover from a hip or knee operation.
Early morning, with the sun rising over Lombok in the east, I walk four or five kms through the local villages. Cocks crow, children wait for the school bus and exquisitely dressed woman place their morning offerings on the small temples around their houses. There is woodsmoke in the air. The road winds along the coast and at about 7.00am, the fishermen start returning with their catch of mackerel, running their outrigger canoes up the beach. Day hire labourers crouch by the roadside, smoking roll-ups and awaiting collection for their work while small piglets squeal and run into the leaf-litter in the surrounding forest. We’re a long way from Kansas now.
We’re traveling with our dear New Zealand friends, Linda and Gottfried, recently released from the travails of their orcharding business. Less than a month since finally concluding their sale, they have had the yoke removed from their necks and are behaving accordingly. We have slipped easily into a rhythm here; a cooked breakfast, a ride on the back of a motorbike to a reef to snorkel, back in time for a Vietnamese salad for lunch, a snooze by the pool or a massage until the complimentary afternoon tea arrives before a sneaky couple of G&Ts and it’s time to slip on a pair of shorts for dinner. The food is excellent, and Aquaterrace owner Made has sourced some decent wine which he sells at about $15 a bottle. It’s a far cry from the days in Bali when the wine cost over $40 and was practically undrinkable.
So we leave Amed, delighted to have found it and the Aquaterrace. We’re relaxed and restored for the rush toward Christmas and you’ll hear from me next when we leave Chennai in January for our trip south. Temples, laughter and sunshine.
And there’s one or two more photos here.