Bali: then and now

Our car swept into the hotel’s large arrival pavilion, and we walked into a vast, endless gallery of light and space, a breezeway of extraordinary proportions dotted with chairs of differing design and wonderful hanging objects of light shade designs.

Neighbourhood Gallery (3)

This was the recently opened Hotel Indigo, Seminyak Bali. A five-star beauty. In the heat of the day we were offered a cooling drink, wet towels and sincere smiles of welcome.

Our room’s hero was the enormous bed, the bathroom had a shower with a nod to old Bali with a large, gold pitcher mimicking the ‘mandi’ style of the simple Bali way to bathe.

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It was then it hit me, how things have changed, Well, of course I have changed in 30 years and so has Bali! I arrived here with a presentable piece of luggage and not a world-weary backpack. I was wearing linen pants and not a long cheesecloth skirt. And I was immediately unashamedly in love with this hotel.

Bali for a beginner

An earlier visit for me was a spontaneous decision to go to Bali when I found I had a secret stash of $500 in an old bank account. I had been back in Sydney for 10 months after living in Europe for three years. I was restless and needed to get away again. Bali it was. That $500 was a bloody fortune then.

I stayed at el cheapo places along the way when on the island; motels. guesthouses and losmens (a bit like homestay but in a family compound). The places cost no more than $2 a night. Came with a room, simple furnishings if any, a bed, overhead fan and a mandi. A mandi is a divine way to clean yourself. Usually round about a square metre concrete tub filled with clean water. You stand outside the tub, soap up then dip a pale or pitcher in the tub, scoop up the water and pour it over your head and body.

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Cheeky monkey, and a minute later he grabbed hold of the top of my dress and dragged it down about my waist.

Travelling solo I met up with other girls and we ate together, went to the beach and one of them (from Canada) and I ended up in a tiny truck, sharing the back with large bundles of bamboo, a pig and an old lady with large holes in her pierced ears that held her rolled up money (notes). She kept on plucking at the blonde hair on my thighs and chuckling for the long journey

We arrived in Singaraja, an old Dutch port in the north of Bali to see a river crowded with rubbish and filth. This was my first encounter with a polluted river. Not much has changed in Indonesia.

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River pollution in the 1980s . . .and it gets worse, right into the 21st century.

The beaches along the coast up north have black sand and the sea is warm. There were few tourists in town back in the day and most restaurants were tiny shopfronts selling basic but good nasi goreng and sates. But there was always a good breakfast even at the cheapies, fresh fruit, strong Bali coffee and flakey pastries.

Back down south to what was to become known as Bali’s cultural heart, Ubud. It was a sleepy village then, where bullock drawn carts crackled though the dirt roads, someone would be churning ice in a roadside cart making ‘icejuices’ (ice, condensed mild and fresh fruit) and where women still comfortably walked around with bare breasts as they went about their daily chores and placed pretty Hindu votives on the side of the road and at entrances to homes and shops.

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Hardly another tourist in sight.

After two weeks in Bali I had $150 left over and ended up giving it to a guy with a motor bike whom I had hired to drive me to all the sites in and around Ubud. His response surprised me, he said that the money would keep his two daughters in school for a year. Sometimes you don’t know when you do a good deed.

Years on and $500 wouldn’t go so far. But Bali is still quite inexpensive.

And no longer do I sleep under rickety fans, eat for 50c at the beaches or get a baby oil massage on the sand and fry like a hot chip!

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Ready to roast. What were we thinking?

At Hotel Indigo I swam in beautiful pools, sat in the shade under tropical foliage around one of the pools and the sun didn’t stand a chance with my 30 plus sunscreen.

BALIXOLOGY

Instead of drinking ‘java’ on the roadsides I sipped on Earl Grey tea in the beautiful Pottery Cafe at Hotel Indigo. Here all types of coffee is roasted and served. Choose from the wide variety of beans grown throughout Indonesia. But for me, it has to be tea in the afternoon because you have to eat scones, jam and cream with your soothing cuppa. The main restaurant is large and inviting with a visible kitchen and after experiencing dinner and breakfast (lunch was lazy hot chips by the pool), I could see how the hotel has lifted Bali’s culinary offerings. Beware the breakfast menu! After fruit, toast, eggs, and a few other delights, you think you’ve finished, then a sneaky fella turns up at your table with fresh-out-of-the-oven chocolat au pain – what can you do? And with the coffee roasting next door, a large cup is mandatory!

The hotel is opposite the beach at Seminyak, separated only by the road. So, with local design ambience and colour, the hotel has a typically local feel, but  . . . everything is better on this side of the road.

Time flies, and my early hippie days were fun and frivolous, but older and not wiser now, the comfort of a beautiful hotel, the kindness of Balinese staff and the indulgence of a five-star experience beats the past. And if I feel nostalgic for the old days, I’ll just fill my elegant pitcher in my shower and pour water over my head.

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Writer, Bev Malzard was a guest at Hotel Indigo Seminyak www.hotelindigo.com/Bali

And despite age and moving on from the past, she can still rock a cheesecloth skirt, but refuses to have an afro perm – one of her appearance fails in the early 1980s.

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