We have avoided the mass tourism spots of southern Bali and opted instead to stay in Candidasa, on the East coast of the island. Our tiny bungalow, Buana Alit (meaning Smallworld), nestles in a ‘compound’ consisting of about twenty little cottages. These occupy the hundred metre wide strip between the restaurants and shops along the road and the seafront. The owners of the compound, an extended Balinese family live in about half of these cottages and the remainder, smarter units closer to the beach, are holiday homes leased to expats on ten to twenty year contracts. Most of the lessees are Australians who then sublet the units to holidaymakers. Bungalows are about a metre apart, separated the green strips with banana, coconut and yellow-flowered Frangipani trees. The vibe is friendly and cheerful and as inclusive. Cats, with collars and bells, all sharing the same genes for deformed tails, visit us. Chickens of all shapes and sizes, with one tailless hen looking like a miniature Emu, scratch in the flower beds and happy children dressed in bright colours bound up and down the walkways. The fragrant spicy aromas from Komang’s kitchen waft past as we relax on the verandah. Our studio is always left open as we head off to swim or snorkel. Theft seems very rare in this part of the island and our goods remain respected, intact and untouched.
To the south, visible across the calm sea of the Badung Strait, lies Padang Bai, the ferry terminal and bustling tourist beach. The larger Indonesian ferry ships swallow an assortment of trucks which drive into gaping mouths in their bows, while passengers climb the narrow gangways from the quay to their decks. A fleet of ‘fast boats’, each powered by six or eight massive outboard motors lies moored to nearby jetty, ready to load tourists, anxious for the hour-long trip to nearby Gilli Islands. A small vessel loaded with half a dozen fuel tanker trucks makes its way between our vantage point and Nusa Penida, some of the larger islands on the horizon.Five rock islands breach the water about a kilometer out to sea. The largest, probably fifty hectares in extent, supports a small forest of trees on its crown. A host of fishing boats, junkungs, their high arched cross struts which attach the outriggers resembling huge quadrupedal arachnids, drift lazily around the protected lee of the rock. Each herds a charter of snorkellers, many of whom opt to wear life jackets and look like a gaggle of orange goslings bobbing above the coral gardens in the clear water.
The Balinese people we have encountered are amazing. Smiles, patience and respect are the order of the day. Karma rules. Dress is casual and cool, but come a celebration, sarongs and udungs transform the wearers into pictures of dignified beauty. Our pale complexions draw the attention of touts offering massages, boat rides, meals, taxi services and a host of souvenirs and trinkets, and I’m sure a host of other goods and services would be available at our asking. Deals are offered even on the steps of the local temple. All accept our gentle refusals and even stop traffic to allow us to cross the road.Komang, our immediate neighbour, whose name indicates that she is the third child, is the caretaker of the cottage, a mentor, font of local information and source of rented scooters and helmets. She advises on customs, dress, shopping and places to see and even lends us the appropriate apparel when we attend ceremonies. An expert scooter rider, she makes her first trip of the day to the local fresh market, which operates from 03:00 to 06:00. Later she casually loads her young children, the smallest standing in front of the seat and the older on the pillion, to head for a warung (roadside stall) or mini market which trade until late at night. An accomplished chef, she produces the most delicious local fare in her very simple kitchen. Chicken soup, tempeh (soybeans in a cotton wool-like fungus mycelium) in various forms and tofu dishes with fragrant peanut or chili sauces.
The cool evening brings a receding spring tide which exposes a myriad of coral colonies. Massive purple plates, brown staghorns and green domes emerge tentatively into the air. Huge soft corals, like thick wet lime-green blankets lying folded on the rocks. A gentle wave breaks onto the exposed reef in a swash of white foam. Shoals of tiny irridescent fish dart into the gulleys and two grey-black herons settle on the exposed coral islands. Beyond the exposed reef, the submerged coral gardens extend, seemingly forever beneath a few metres of crystal clear ocean. A snorkellers’ paradise. A troop of excited Balinese teenagers, with a host of little children in tow, scour the emptying pools for fish, eels, crayfish and octopi. Whoops of joy erupt as each captured delicacy is skewered onto a long thin hooked metal rod. A few tourists wander on the beach or head for the restaurants on the main street.
Mothers sweep leaves from the beach path while a host of toddlers dash to and fro, their excited yells adding to the communal vibe. Ellie, the resident overweight dog tags along, tail wagging, behind the little people. A few fathers set up simple kites, single sticks attached to a thin sheets of coloured plastic, for the children. Even the little ones expertly play their aircraft in the wind and soon the kites are engaged in an intricate un-choreographed dance just above our heads.The breeze sags with the setting sun and the kites sink, fluttering slowly to earth. The sailing ships are hauled down from the sky and moored in the seller’s bag. A woman, dressed immaculately in a beautiful sarong places a ‘canang’ of woven palm leaves filled with a bouquet of fresh flowers and a smoking incense stick in the entrance to each cottage and on the beach to appease the gods and keep us safe. I’m off to the local warung for a take away serving of nasi goreng or perhaps babi guling wrapped in waxed paper. Either will cost less than a cup of coffee at home!
If You Go
Buana Alit Bungalow in Candidasa can be booked through www.Airbnb.com
Price: Between $20 and $30/day for the unit
When to go: November to March can be very wet. June to August are busy months.
What to take: Minimal clothing. Laundries abound. Insect repellant, Rooibos tea.
An international driver’s licence with motorcycle endorsement if you wish to hire a scooter
30 day visitor’s visa is issued on arrival.