The Best of Bali

This evening, while relaxing at my favourite sundowner spot on Sanur beach, I started thinking about the best thing about Bali.

Now, I know what you’re thinking – you’re on an island, aren’t the best things the beaches? But for me it isn’t the beaches. I suppose I could say that I have visited places like the Maldives and the Seychelles, which makes it hard for most beaches to stack up, but if I’m honest, I don’t really think that’s it.

If you pressed me for a favourite area in Bali, I would have to say anywhere heading north from southern Bali. Leaving the tourist beaches of the south, Bali becomes a place of quiet villages full of school kids walking home, impossibly green rice fields and towering volcanoes always shrouded in a belt of clouds. You see fewer tourists, the air becomes clearer and you start to feel the spirit of the island. But this still isn’t my favourite piece of Bali.

My favourite thing about Bali is quite simply the Balinese. In the two months that I have been here, I am yet to encounter an unhappy, grumpy local. I think coming straight from a big city like London, where the unofficial rule is: Walk with your head down and Never. Ever. Smile at a stranger, the Balinese rule of: Smile affectionately and heartily greet every living thing that passes by, was a wonderful shock to the system.

Another thing I love is the local kids. Not in a weird way, I just love how they play and interact with other kids and adults. These kids are so socially adept – they are happy to play with other kids of any age, and they do so happily and without ever fighting. I sit on the beach every evening watching in awe – there are never tantrums, the kids love being outdoors and active, and they can entertain themselves for hours. What an eye-opener. The Balinese kick our western ‘let the kids play Playstation’ attitudes ass.

I have also learnt a lot since being here. The other day, I was having a broken conversation with a local (they tend to really enjoy chatting to us strange, suspicious westerners) and the chap was telling me his philosophy on life. He said to me: ‘I don’t want to be rich. I want to love my family as much as I can, I want my son to go to school, and I want to work hard enough to put a good meal on the table every night. That makes me happy, and I am happy.’ I listened intently, eating humble pie the whole time.

A healthy game of 'piggy in the middle'

Dinner on the beach from banana leaves (and for some reason always in the water) after a tiring time of playing

Kids of all ages playing perfectly together

Sunset fishing with families relaxing in the sea in the background

Kids entertaining themselves at their poor pooch's expense


Gunung Batur at Sunrise

A 1717m above-sea-level-sunrise from the top of a volcano is not the world’s worst view of Bali, but it was well deserved by the time we got there.

I didn’t sleep the night before – I never can when I know I have to wake up crazy early. In this case, ‘crazy early’ was a 01:30 am alarm – enough time to throw on good walking shoes and sunscreen. Our driver picked us up at 2 for the 1-2 hour drive from Sanur to Toya Bungkah. We made good time and arrived just after 3am. At Toya Bungkah village, the Association of Mount Batur Trekking Guides is the only place to collect your mandatory guide and at 3:15 (after making sure our flashlights were working and we had water in hand) our guide Adi started us on our way. At this ungodly hour, 5 groups had already left before us.

Round trip, the hike is around 10kms – from parking lot, to volcano summit, back to parking lot. This was our starting and end point:

That small green peak in the background was our summit.

The first section is easy going – it’s basically just a walk from the starting point to the base of the climb. From there it gets a little trickier. There are sleep parts and flatter parts, rocky parts and sandy parts – made a little more treacherous by the fact that you’re doing it with a flashlight. At around 04:30 we made it to the ‘sunset viewpoint’. A little weary, we stopped for a drink of water. Now, here is where our guide offered us a get-out-of-jail-free-card. ‘This is a great view for sunrise,’ he said, ‘and most people stop here’, but we could see that there was still volcano above us. ‘But it’s not the top?’ we asked. ‘No, it’s only another 20 minutes to the summit.’ Only.

We still had an hour until sunrise, and we still felt fairly fresh at this point, so onwards and upwards was our perky decision. It’s this last 20 minute hike that’s the kicker though. Now, don’t get me wrong, there are absolutely much harder things to climb out there, but for casual trekkers this is a decent workout. The last 20 minutes is basically like climbing a hugely steep and slippery sand dune. We climbed in black volcanic sand (which only allows small shuffling footsteps) interspersed with gravelly patches with no grip. A good test of my core strength. On this section, there are no water breaks because its too steep. We got the the top around 5am, out of breath and still in total darkness. On arriving, the only other person on the summit was a guy with a little shelter where he makes tea, coffee and food. Hmmm…now thats humbling  – he climbed all the way up here even earlier than me so that he could make me coffee.

On the summit, it was the coldest I have felt while here in Bali, but well worth it when the sky started turning pink and a flawless sunrise unfolded before our eyes. We could now make out the crater 500m below (with steam rising from places) and had a spectacular view of lake Batur.

Setting up camera equipment in the thick pre-sunrise darkness.

Our first glimpse of sunrise.

The mountains of neighbouring Lombok island.

A perfect sunrise.

Gunung Batur Starbucks.

On the way down, our guide took us to see some of the sacred caves and we felt some of the volcanic steam (hot enough to cook an egg in 15 minutes apparently) before making the return trek. We arrived back at our starting point around 9am.

The view of the volcano from the last stretch of the trek.

What an amazing morning, but I was looking forward to getting back to my local massage spot in Sanur.

The Beauty of Travelling

In the past few years, I have been quietly building up my list of travel fashion and beauty essentials – those things that I start stockpiling months before a trip and do not step foot in an airport without.

Here are some of the things that always find their way into my suitcase, no matter what:

1. Clinique Lashpower Mascara

I have always suffered from acute panda eye, a condition that only other sufferers can truly understand. After trying literally every mascara on the market, a wonderful friend (to whom I will forever be indebted) recommend Clinique Lashpower Mascara. Her recommendation was based on an upcoming trip to the islands of Thailand, but I have used it every day since. This stuff stays put through the toughest of workdays, through hot weekends at the beach, through having snow in your face, through torrential downpours, you name it. This magic mascara stays happily on my lashes (not my face) until I easily massage it off with warm water. A.MAZE.ING

2. Diorsnow UV Shield BB Creme (a new and instantly adored addition)

A friend and I found this online before our Greece sailing trip last year. We were searching for a tinted sunscreen that had a SPF50. Seems like an easy task, but there are surprising few good ones out there. We stumbled upon Diorsnow, and I will never look back. It is non-greasy, moisturising, has kept my face sunburn free and makes my skin look fab. Admittedly, the the tint is probably a little too foundation-looking for a relaxed day at the beach, but its a great substitute for foundation when on holiday. I now travel with a normal SPF50 for the beach, and the Diorsnow when I want to glam up a little during the day or night.

3. Sunscreen

I tend to be a little neurotic about sunscreen these days. I am petrified of the return of the freckles I had when I was a kid, and the appearance of wrinkles later in life. So, I always travel with a range of sunscreens. I always have an SPF30 for my body and SPF50 for my face. The Clarins 50+ Creme Solaire Anti-Rides Visage is a great, non-greasy, yummy smelling one for the face.

4. ZamBuk (only South Africans will know and understand this beauty)

Zambuk is a largely Eucalyptus based product that can be used for anything. Some examples are: lip balm, soothes burns, softens chapped hands and feet, soothes insect bites. Its basically a miracle cream that I never leave the country without (and had posted to me when I lived outside the country).

5. Sunglasses

My new Fav pair of sunnies are my Persols. Apart from being the biggest sunglasses brand to hit the fashion scene since Robert Downey jr sported a pair of Initiums in Iron Man (well, in my humble opinion at least), they are super travel friendly. Some fold up, and some (like mine) are bendy. By this, I do not mean that when dropped they bounce (although mine have passed this test twice in the last month), the arms are actually flexible like a shatterproof ruler. Genius, pure genius, especially for those of us unable not to bend a pair of sunglasses. (I also picked these up at duty free in Heathrow and saved myself 50 pounds)

Rob in his 'last seasons' hottest sunnies

6. Haviannas

My little coral coloured Havis have done their rounds and been good to me. Now, don’t get me wrong, these are wonderful for beach trips and resort wear, but they are so, so much more. These puppies have been the barrier between my feet and less sanitary showers/bathrooms, they are been the easy on/off shoes required when visiting temples/island hopping and they have kept my feet cool and ventilated when the need arose.

7. Merrel Barefoots

Ok, so maybe they’re not the trendiest footwear on the market, but as far as walking shoes go, these guys are pretty damn awesome. When travelling, you always need a good pair of walking shoes. I often used to ignore this rule (and suffer the consequences) because walking shoes are bulky and took up valuable room I wanted to use for other more important things, like another 6 bikinis. Apart from all the health benefits (improves posture, makes you walk properly blah blah), they are crazy comfortable, keep my feet warm when its cold (these were tried and tested in the London snow), and keep your feet cool and ventilated in the heat. They are also super light and can smoosh down to almost nothing at the bottom of a bag.

8. Travel sizes

Before any trip, I make sure that I have travel-sized everything. This means that when it’s finished, it gets thrown away. There is no excuse these days because everything comes in travel friendly sizes. For my skin products, I always restock when it’s bonus gift time. This means I always have a few 30ml moisturisers and face washes lying around. Another tip is to always ask at the counter for testers when buying products. When you are making a purchase, the staff are always happy to give you a few extra small ones if you’re buying a big one. There is no harm in asking. My last facial scrub was a 75ml tester that was given to me for free (the normal one is only 100ml. Score!).

The ‘No Mean Feat’ Photo Challenge: Day 9

We specifically planned our trip to Munich around one event. THE event. Oktoberfest.

I must confess that my pictures just do not portray the true mayhem that surrounds Ofest. In fact, it was near impossible to find any pictures at all (that weren’t of us proudly hoisting our steins to say ‘cheers’ for the camera, pink cheeks and massive grins in tow).

We arrived at our carefully selected Augustiner ‘tent’ (one of 16 massive 10,000 seater constructions – this one chosen for their incredible ‘Popes’ beer and the distinct lack of other crazy/drunk tourists) at 9am and had to squeeze into one of the last available tables with a bunch of locals. The keg was to be tapped (with much ceremony) at 12. The waiting was thirsty but fun. The locals took under their little German wings, teaching us the songs (that appear to be there only to make you drink faster), ordering our beer with theirs and making sure that our table was high up on the waitress’ pecking order (a must if you want to be served promptly and often).

An entire day in the tent, many litres of beer later, was then followed by roller coasters and rides. In retrospect not the best idea after a few litres of beer!

The party of a lifetime.

The Augustiner tent.

Now that is how you carry beer. And to think that I had trouble lifting just one!

Lederhosen – the real deal.

Our friendly locals singing their crazy drinking songs!

The ‘No Mean Feat’ Photo Challenge Day 6

Ok, so I may have stretched the ‘pick just a few photos from each trip’ part of the challenge, but let me explain.

I adored Istanbul. ADORED.

This city has every. History, ancient sites, breathtaking temples/churches, a modern city, a historic city, bustling markets, modern public transport, delicious food..I could go on forever. Istanbul is the perfect mix of old and new, exotic and modern, order and chaos. It has charisma, charm and colour. So much colour!