Thursday, March 3, 2016

February 27th & 28th – Eating, Praying, and Loving Bali

Just before we arrived in Bali, I watched the fairly dodgy Julia Roberts film of "Eat, Pray, Love" – which features our Julia cycling blissfully along empty roads through the idyllic green paddy fields of Ubud. This was rather different from the reality of the manic, traffic-clogged streets of pretty much anywhere we went in Bali. However, in spite of the ever-present traffic and the tourist hoards, there is still a serene magic to Bali that was great to discover in our two days here. 

We'd hired a driver for the two days, and even if his English wasn't great, he was a lovely guy with an infectious giggle, and most importantly, his car was air-conditioned. Our plan was to cover off the "Pray" part of the deal first, before we got to Eat and Love; so, we headed up to Bali's most important temple, Besakih, which is known as the Mother Temple. Besakih is located on the slopes of Mount Agung, an impressive volcano, whose spectacular scenery we unfortunately weren't able to appreciate because it was shrouded in cloud for our entire stay. 

Actually, it turned out that these clouds were rain clouds, because the heavens absolutely opened just as soon as we got there, and water was pouring down in torrents down the slopes. After 20-minutes it relented, and the bad weather had at least kept the tourist numbers down. As you approach this gorgeous temple, you get to see the dichotomy of modern Bali. The superb architecture is challenged by tacky souvenir stands, and the serene atmosphere is upset by annoying touts trying to overcharge you for their unqualified services. However, this heavenly temple overshadows the earthly mundanity, and the devout worship of the white-clad devotees is impressive to witness.

Next we headed for a late lunch overlooking another impressive volcano and crater lake – the spectacular views were much better than the mass-produced food, but our plan was to go big on the "Eat" part of our mission that night.

Now we headed down to Ubud, the island's most attractive inland town – not quite the oasis of quiet contemplation depicted in Eat, Pray, Love, but still a wonderfully atmospheric place. We were staying at an incredibly cheap hotel that turned out to be much nicer than we'd imagined was possible for that price – a really pleasant surprise. After some chilling by the pool we went out for the evening, eventually ending up at a French-Balinese restaurant called Mozaik. This restaurant regularly features in the "Top 50 Restaurants in the World", and it wasn't difficult to see why. We had the 8-course tasting menu and the flavours were exquisite – so much imagination had gone into the menu. Tracy is rating this one as her best meal ever.

Our eating exploits had left us a little weary, so we didn't achieve too much the next day. We did a trip out to some incredibly picturesque rice terraces carved into the side of a hill, and then headed to the coastal resort of Sanur for lunch. We'd stayed in Sanur when we were backpacking around Bali 16 years ago, and it's changed so much since then that it was impossible to even work out which side of town we'd been staying on. However, it's not been totally ruined yet and we found a nice place for lunch.

Bali is in danger of losing some elements of what makes it such a magical place; however, our couple of days proved that you can still Eat incredibly well here, you can Pray at some wonderful temples, and there's still enough to Love to make you want to come back to this unique island.