There is a sense of perpetual motion in Bali. The traffic, the shops, bar and restaurant quality, all prey to the churn. This is great. For traffic. For the rest? It is a lesson in enjoying the moment, because next year that great little [thing you found] may be gone. Once thriving shops are vacant. Inexplicably next door, new shops under construction. Fabulous pool bars within a year have worn, stained, and tired decor, menus reduced to pizza, and cocktails awash with ice, cordial, and ethanolic vapour.
On the other hand, the palpable drive to meet tourist desires does keep things fresh. Streets of last years Chinoise furniture trend are magicked away, and freshly carved up fishing boats repurposed into everything. Those crazy metal chairs for your hipster cafe? Name a colour. International street food? Check.
There are numerous guides online bursting with solid, if not occasionally alarmist, advice on how to approach your trip to Bali, so I’m going in another direction. With the shelf life of around one month, here is my round-up of how to worry less, and have some fun when you only have a week to do it:
Board the plane intentionally ignorant of the Seedy Side of Bali, incidence of tourist deaths, motorbike accidents, air, water, dog, chook or mozzie-borne viruses and parasites.
Spring for a Bali fast track service at the airport. Sail past the queues, the unfragrant, the over-wrought children, and into your holiday. Stat.
Buy some local natural mosquito spray. Use it. Bali Deli sells a perfect pocket-size Utama Spa bug spray for $3.30. Starve those disease carrying varmints.
Drink filtered water. Don’t drink water from the tap or brush your teeth in it. Take an empty water bottle or buy a bottle of water there and refill from your hotel or villa water cooler if they have it. (Bali is fighting an immense growing plastic bottle waste mountain)
Get a massage at Bodyworks in Seminyak or Therapy in Canggu for around $27. (Yes, you can get one for $6 at walk-in places. Do it, I dare you.)
Book a sport mani-pedi for the bloke in your life and keep it a secret till he is in the chair. Get a mani-pedi yourself and say ‘so last month’ to orange. Choose pretty pinks or lavenders like OPI’s Lucky Lucky Lavender and Elephantastic Pink. Try Bodyworks, Think Pink or Shampoo Lounge
Hire a scooter for a day (ONLY if you are confident on one) and ride beyond Kuta – Seminyak. Wear the manky bikie helmet they give you.
Have a sunset drink at Potato Head and marvel at the body confidence radiating off the sun-beds.
Order a margarita at Hotel Mexicola – the spicy Verde Margarita is a winner, or a Bloody Mary at Chandi. The ingredients alone should frighten off any threatening stomach bug.
Scarf Mexican food at Lacalaca – a fun spot down a laneway with a $5 soft taco and Bintang lunch special that revives the shop weary.
Offset the cocktail diet with the green salad at Biku or stuff yourself with high tea. Order coffee at a hotel you cannot afford to stay in.
Try Mamasan for dinner. Anomali and Drop for coffee. Take your seat among the expats for brekkie at Watercress.
Stay one night in a villa where the lounge has no walls.
Book a driver for a day. Get the heck out of your hotel. Drink Luwak coffee that transitioned through a cat-like Civet, marvel at the rice paddies, and learn a little about the island.
Don’t argue with taxi drivers over $1, eat anything that moves independently, say it louder if someone doesn’t understand you (restate it simply).
Walk with a purpose, keep your hand on your bag, and wash your hands a lot. That’s with soap, guys.
Big call, I know. But we found it, ate it, and left all the better for it.
Babi Guling is Balinese roast pig. Sometimes inaccurately referred to as suckling pig, the roast Balinese pigs I’ve seen are well into the sunset of their suckledom.
When any man-food is labelled The Best, it attracts interest from chefs and hungry blokes alike. Ever since Anthony Bourdain put Ubud’s Ibu Oka on the international map, the warung (a small family owned business, usually a cafe or shop) has maintained quite the reputation, and its central location makes for a steady stream of tourists eating the place out every day. Adam Liew also did a thorough job of summing up the balinese roast pig landscape in his article here, so if you want to learn more about the ins and outs of it all, it is worth a read. If you just want to learn about a midnight drive to the perfect secret stash, read on.
One way or another, W and I frequently find ourselves in situations that could challenge some, and I can thank W’s unrealised goal of discovering the best Babi Guling in Bali, for the latest in our adventures. W had been tipped off by a blog called Bali Manual that hinted at the location of the mostly secretive warung. We asked around and eventually found a local who knew where it was, and could take us there.
It was 12.30am. Barely out of our driveway, and hurtling toward crowds of dogs on unlit roads in Canggu, we connected with two hapless canines, and to the sickening strains of yelping, sent one rolling to the side. I asked that we stop to check, prepared to press W into euthanasia duty, should the animal be suffering. Made, our driver, obliged, and alighting the vehicle, commenced inspection of the damage to his car. With the animal nowhere to be seen, and a driver distracted by the damage bill, we got back in the car, and continued silently into the night.
The warung opens at 2am. It is run from the owners house, and is located down an alleyway just wide enough for a motorbike. Customers start arriving from 1am, all men, predominantly in their 20’s, and on their way home from work. By the time the pig is good to go, around 30 people have got their number, found spots on the stools to watch the carve up, and the anticipation is palpable.
Every family and staff member have designated roles in the preparation, and every part of the pig is used. From the rice, to the spice, greens, and sausage preparation, everything is made fresh each night. For around $1.50, a local gets the mixed plate of meat, sausage, greens and condiments. As a foreigner, the rate is more like $3. If you do get here, pay extra with good grace. Around 4am, the warung sells out. With the same precision that began the process, cooking and serving implements are washed and stacked, and returned to their spot for the next day.
If pig and crackling are your thing, I would wager this is the ultimate. Roasted with salt and tumeric, the crunchy skin, fresh off the fire, is perfect. Accompanied by fresh and tasty greens, lemongrass, sambal and rice, the meals served to the waiting call-center boys lasted just moments.
If animal welfare is close to your heart, this is no place for you. I’ll be frank. The pig lives an unpleasant and short life, but it is killed humanely. I decided that if I was going to take photos, I should eat the result, and face the truth. I freely admit I find it confronting in the extreme, but I also understand that not everyone finds it so. When an average wage is around $100-200 per month, I appreciate priorities are different.
If an albeit adventurous and well-intentioned celebrity chef and TV crew got in here, the place would be ruined. Tourists wanting a menu and table service also qualify out. So I am keeping it largely secret. (If you want to go there, call Made when you are in Bali, on 08155725158, or email him on email@example.com.) What I can tell you is that it is open from 2am till sold out (around 5am), near Buduk, and follow anyone on a scooter ravelling toward the scent of roast pig at 2am.
I asked if the owners wanted to have more customers and the reply came, “that would mean instead of one pig, they would need five, and they would need to move”. Silly question really.
To the uninitiated and risk-averse, a taxi journey from Denpasar, Bali, Airport to any town or suburb within 20 kilometres is a white-knuckle adventure. In seeming chaos, and with scant regard for white lines, all drivers adopt a go-for-the-gap strategy. And it works a treat. With an organic grace that could not be described in transit policy, calm and unflappable drivers/riders effortlessly negotiate each other, tourists, dogs, chooks, holes, piles of earth, and rubbish.
It was while riding shotgun on an underpowered scooter, nasal passages replete with the dense notes of two stroke and monoxide, that I had my epiphany. Stepping calmly into the fray is the only way to negotiate Bali, and this applies to everything. Any attempt to predict or understand the flow is futile, and is mostly keenly illustrated in the panicked jerking back and forwards of any newly landed foreigner attempting to cross any street. Step or drive out as if there is no one there, and like a miracle, the way is clear.
Apply this ethos to every experience you have in Bali, and you will present as one who has spent months eating, praying, and loving up a storm.
Over the next few days, I’ll share snippets of a couple of weeks on this wonderful island.
Excitement! It has been a while in development, but I can finally tell you all about the wonderful work I got to do with my great client OAMPS Insurance Brokers.
What began as a brief back in 2011 to produce some iconic Australian images for their marketing material, eventually grew into a fantastic brand refresh project, leaping from the pages of templates, to going live on the website, and now adorning the walls and meeting rooms of OAMPS offices.
So what is iconic in Australia? For me, it is so much more than the Sydney Harbour Bridge or a kangaroo. Australia is out-of-the-box. The incredible colour and variety of its land, eco-climates, and flora is vast and undervalued. While I love to travel to the more remote and difficult areas of this country, I appreciate that not everyone has the same will or ability, and so I aim to bring it to them. In a world of manufactured fun, beauty, and instant gratification, I like to encourage people to value the incomparable natural wonder that is Australia, and its contribution to the irrepressible Aussie Spirit.
So, how did we get there? The Marketing team and I began by going back to the beginning, identifying the very heart of what OAMPS is about. OAMPS has grown organically over its long history and although the name of OAMPS held a very strong connection with clients, the brand identity itself had become fractured and the way they presented to clients, very inconsistent.
We landed on the idea of representing aspects of Australia’s environmental and geological diversity; from rainforest, to coast, to the arid zones and treasures buried in rock. After story-boarding our way through sandy beaches and other obvious choices, we narrowed it down to a group of potential subjects. Over the next few months, I kept these ideas in my head as I travelled, ever vigilant for the ‘right’ image.
I credit the team for choosing the brave direction, leaving industry imagery behind, and instead, taking clients and colleagues on a journey to Australia’s wild heart and beautiful landscapes. Executed with Simon Long’s gorgeous organic graphic design, these images help OAMPS tell their story, where they have come from, what they value, and what clients can expect from them. This is Project Iconic Australia.
When I first looked at this piece of boulder opal I saw a topographical map; an aerial view of the Australian landscape with broad dry plains, ridges and meandering waterways. I liked the ambiguity of the image and that the viewer may have to look closer to figure out what it is. I also like the way the opal forms between separate pieces of rock, tenaciously looking for an opportunity, just like the hardy and colourful characters who optimistically seek it. Opals are difficult to photograph, and often a photo does no justice to the range and depth of colour you can see with the naked eye. I spent hours trialling all sorts of angles, light sources and photographing different pieces of opal before I found ‘the one’. To me, opal represents the tough Australian spirit, ingenuity and perseverance, a precious gem wrapped in rock.
As an island surrounded by ocean I wanted to represent the coast in a way that wasn’t simply crashing waves. Rockpools are a part of the Australian coastline. Highly resilient, they exist at the whim of tides, sun and human intervention. Rockpools represent carefree childhood summers at the beach, hours spent investigating each one for a sign of life, and dodging breaking waves to get to the best ones. Taking time to peer into each tiny ecosystem, you never knew what you would find, and creatures would only emerge from hiding to reward those with patience. Taking this shot, I had to discourage around 100 seagulls from landing around me and casting shadows. One of them left me a little white present in my hair.
Native to Australian tropics, the staghorn fern lives in symbiosis with its surroundings, seeking out the best position to thrive. It symbolises Australia’s many forest and tropical regions and presents such an abundant contrast to the open arid centre. The scale, colour, delicate beauty and ingenuity of the staghorn appealed to me. Growing on the trunk of a tree it makes the most of its host’s water attracting ability, but does no harm to the tree. Thriving in the filtered light of a rainforest, this plant is sculptural and unmistakably tropical. Photographed it in the Otway Ranges of Victoria, a gutsy Bull Ant took its chances on my foot while distracted. Thinking it was a stick digging into me, I ignored it. For a week, the three bites I had gave me a cankle that could not be forced into any boot.
Spinifex grass is essential to the arid landscapes and dune ecosystems of Australia. Resilient and ubiquitous, it is one plant that is present where little else survives. Appearing soft, it is actually very sharp to touch, and I recommend long pants when walking through it, although I never take my own advice and always end up with shredded legs. I have seen two-metre snakes, large lizards and scores of spinifex mice disappear into a single plant. The plant appears solid in the centre, so to this day I wonder where they go. Nothing beats the way light shines through it at sunset.
Created millions of years ago, and transformed from granite by water alone, they are symbolic of Australia’s ancient roots. I love the idea that we can walk around and touch something formed 1600 million years ago. Granite graces the landscape all over Australia, in different colours and shapes, but the Devils Marbles are especially stunning. There are few sharp edges or straight lines in the mounds of rocks piled precariously, and the rich colour at dawn and dusk is arid Australia at its finest. I cannot imagine anyone visiting this place without being moved or impressed by it. When shooting this at dusk in January, biting flies that blotted out the sun tested my ability to retain courage under fire, and complete my mission. It was a radiant 34 degrees at 5pm, and I would have given anything for a biohazard movie crime-scene suit.
A more perfectly adapted plant to an environment beset by wildfire I know not of. Found in the woodlands of Australia, gumtrees connect us to resilience, regeneration and hope, even after disaster. When thinking about iconic Australia, I kept coming back to the gumtree, but as an image itself, I felt it was overdone. Looking closer into the actual seeds and life cycle, I developed a greater appreciation for one of the most uniquely adapted and beautiful plants Australia has. I love the fine detail in each gumnut across the varieties and the contrast between the leathery, hard, gumnut shell and the delicate tutu-like flower that emerges from it. I like the connection for those Australians who grew up reading about May Gibbs’ Gumnut Babies.
Most gumnuts are annoyingly out-of-reach and I spend many hours leaping up to snatch at them, or filling my car with broken branches (and resident bugs) picked up off forest floors for later research. This has spawned an obsession for gumnuts, and a calendar for my Mum. I discovered this particular gumnut in the Great Otway National Park in Victoria, on an extremely windy day with branches crashing around me. It felt like a long walk down to the coast and back up a trail to find this treasure. 40,000km of tyre and foot wear later, I have never found the same one again.
For a big country town, Perth holds its own for homeward traffic. Stuck on the motorway with no spot to stop my vehicle and whip out the big gun, the iphone got the gig. I would have risked police intervention if only there had been space for the monster truck.
The sky was like this for around 4 minutes in total, and looked even more amazing before I was pulled inexorably into a tunnel, an excrutiating 2 minute crawl to freedom and vision at the other end.
Say hello to my brilliant, funny, creative sister. Hily continually produces art across numerous mediums from a magical, quirky, left-field place many of us could only dream of possessing. Zumba anyone? I could make you look really good.
Not sure what alerted me first; the spotted Peter Pan collar and pallid complexion, or his high hair and moustache worthy of a lead role in Deadwood. And the plaid. I am happy to declare Hipsters are alive and flourishing in the big country town. Ah Melbourne! So far and yet so near.
Those close to me may have noticed my barely concealed pathological desire for order. I am fully aware that this is one of those genuine weaknesses one could declare at a job interview, and not sound smug, unlike “Oh, a weakness? Hmm, let’s see. I’m a perfectionist?”. I say pathological because I actually feel anxious when things are disorderly, to the point of preventing forward motion. I write spreadsheets of packing lists for roadtrips, bike trips, work trips, lists for things that live permanently inside the camper, lists for stuff that gets added on the day of departure with the camper. I spend hours arranging the lists. I print the lists. W ignores the lists. Last weekend we took a quick trip to Margaret River. It is our 20th trip, and 150km down the road we realise we have no coffee. In terms of functional necessity, one may as well have forgotten to bring clothes.
I deal with my Disorder Disorder by making myself take abstract photos, and not rearranging my tees that call to me daily to be placed in order of hue and saturation. The Fleeting Glimpses technique (named during a road trip from Melbourne to Perth with photographer C, who introduced me to the idea) of shooting out the window of a car travelling at 110km is one way I practise achieving the unpredictable. I took these photos in the wonderfully verdant and be-sheeped hills of New South Wales, between Wagga and Canberra a couple of weeks ago. I love that the Auto-Focus and Vibration Reduction mechanism on my 70-200mm lens go crazy trying to lock onto something, which results in blurred lines going in lots of different directions, or a single plane of sharpness and all the rest a blur. Which is exactly what my brain feels like more than some of the time.
I welcome feedback on any of the pics I post. What do you like? What don’t you like? What do you want more of? Don’t be shy! It is great to hear what strikes people.
Given the kerfuffle swirling about Canberra this week, I decided my pic of the day would show a different side of Canberra.Canberra sports some pretty orderly plantings, so this weedy little spot really appealed. A perfect pastel sunset, with a jaunty pink float in the pond, and I was sold.
It was my first trip to Canberra. I swept through there a couple of weeks ago on the way back from a weekend at Wagga, attending a Marching Out Parade at the Kapooka Army Base. I drove around the parliament buildings so many times trying to escape the infernal hexagon of road planning hell, I feel certain I am on some security watch list.
Gaby Bryan is acutely aware of the preciousness and brevity of life. Recovering from colon cancer, and most recently losing her brother to cancer, Gaby’s outlook is one of determination and incredible selflessness. With a passion for the plight of the endangered rhino, Gaby has covered 550km of an 1800km walk around Germany to fight for the survival of one of the worlds most gentle and prehistoric animals, and to fight for her own life.
Every 11 hours a rhino is poached and killed. For their horn. Prized for a myriad of mythical medicinal properties and mana as a carved object, the slaughter is driven by demand, based on centuries of folklore. Made of mostly keratin, it delivers similar benefits to chewing your own fingernails. But the myth seems to grow stronger, and along with it, demand. Valued at around the same price as gold, poachers in South Africa can afford to go high-tech, using helicopters, silencers, and night-vision goggles to meet the demand from East Asia, particularly Vietnam. As at mid June this year, 437 had been killed, around 100 in the last month alone, with a shameful end of year projection heading north of 900.
In Gaby’s words, “The chances for survival for both of us depends on many things, but hope prevails in my heart. Hope that my lifestyle, my beliefs, and my determination will conquer cancer, and hope that the myth of Rhino-horn having special properties will be finally dismissed, as this view is borne out of superstition and misunderstanding.”
Overcoming debilitating foot pain, Gaby gets up every day and continues her mission. She welcomes company on her walk and is worthy of every support we can manage as an audience, in her goal to reach $50000 for the Save Foundation, a leader in rhino conservation and protection.
Feeling comfortable? If you cannot make it to Germany, undertake your own walk to raise funds, donate, or at least learn a bit more about the plight of the rhino. I want to write about the incredible list of qualities Gaby possesses, her generosity, positivity, tenacity, her warmth, and ability to encourage others while she embraces physical and mental challenges, and how she lights up a room. But Gaby would rather I talked about rhinos.
Let’s give Gaby strength.
Donate securely to Gaby Walks for Rhinos (donations go to the Save Foundation but Gaby can track them if you donate here)
Subscribe to Gaby’s blog at GabyWalksForRhinos
Follow her on Facebook and get to see awesome photos of her feet
Learn about The Save African Rhino Foundation
Read this, get mad, and act Vietnam’s appetite for rhino horn