Friday, February 24, 2017

Feb 23rd – Seeing the “Other Bali” from Celukan Bawang

Today we called in at the little-visited cruise port of Celukan Bawang in the north of the island. The contrast with the South coast we'd visited before could hardly have been greater. Here, development was low key, the traffic was manageable, and the shops were mainly aimed at the locals rather than us tourists. In fact, it reminded me of Bali from when we first visited the island nearly 20 years ago.

Of course, there are reasons why development in the north is at such a relatively low level. Firstly, there's a range of steep volcanic hills that protect this side of the coast, and deter all but the most determined of visitors from crossing them – although, they certainly make for an attractive backdrop to the port. Secondly, the beaches here aren't as attractive – they're mainly narrow and consist of dark, volcanic sand; although, the waters are calmer on this side, so they're not bad for snorkelling. Thirdly, there aren't as many sights on this side of the island – there are temples (like the Beji Temple that Tracy visited), but they're not quite as spectacular as those to the South. And, finally, there aren't the same number of upmarket resorts here – most are 3 and 4 star (or below).

But, to be honest, for me, most of those are good reasons to visit the north – away from the tourist crowds and the motorbikes that clog the south and centre of the island.

So, I joined a cookery tour that visited a market in Singaraja (Bali's second biggest town), and then went to a nice beach-side hotel in Lovina (the north's biggest beach resort) to do a cookery class. We got to the market for about 9.30am, and it was already beginning to wind down, but it was great to explore its rows of tropical fruit, veg and spices without the crowds. In fact, this was an utterly untouristy environment where most people didn't speak English – but, they were really friendly, wanting to show us what they were selling, and happy to pose for photos. It was a change from other parts of Bali, where tourists can sometimes be seen as just big dollar signs, and the level of hassle can get annoying.

Then, we went to the resort, where they treated us really well - at times it seemed like there were more people looking after us, than there were guests. It was more of a cookery demonstration than a hands-on class, but in that heat this was probably no bad thing. There were plenty of opportunities to join in, but we were mostly just happy to watch and learn. The cuisine here seems to be dominated by ginger, galangal, turmeric, garlic, shallots, chilli and shrimp paste, mushed up together to make up a paste/sauce, and then this was added to lovely fresh ingredients to make a really tasty salad, and a delicious fish satay.

Of course, the best thing about a cookery class is getting to taste what you've "created", and it was every bit as good as I was hoping – I managed to plough my way through six satay sticks.

So, today made for a nice contrast with my experience the day before. This was an understated, much more personal experience, in an environment where tourists aren't made to feel that they're a part of "an industry". I wonder how long the northern part of Bali will remain like this?