- I’m sorry, Mr Chris, but your room is not ready yet
- That’s OK – I’ll drop my bag … and drop my trousers and jump in the pool
Three nanoseconds later – but who was counting? – I was naked and diving into one of the two lovely swimming pools at the small naturist resort Bali au Naturel (www.baliaunaturel.com), on Bali’s north coast, a lifetime away from the frenzy and clotted traffic of Seminyak and Kuta. Luscious gardens lead past Mock’s Restaurant down to a black pebble beach, and the feeling of Eden revisited is strong:
- Forget the asp – give me the apple and I will eat it! I might even take a bite out of the snake!
I had flown from Bangkok into the chaos of Denpasar’s international airport and was very pleasantly surprised to find that there was a sort of slow Express Channel for oldies like me (over sixty) through Immigration, and that recent changes allowed Australians to enter Indonesia without any visa. Others battled kilometre-long queues for their Visas-on-arrival, but just one hour after landing I was through, had collected my luggage and was scanning the massed ranks of hotel drivers waving placards:
- Four Seasons welcomes Mr Tanaka
- Hotel Nikko: Mr and Mrs Smithers
- Anantara Uluwatu Bali Resort welcomes the Weatherburn Family
But no one welcomed me.
Keep smiling. Go up and down the four-deep line of sign-waving drivers again … and again … Tell taxi drivers that you do not need their wonderful services … Keep smiling and keep looking and –
- There it is! My man from my hotel was there after all!
My luggage and my Panama hat and my body were in his car in moments and off to the lovely Patra Jasa hotel on the beach just moments from the airport for one night, a swim or two, a walk along the beach into town, and early to bed after a 0400 departure that morning from Chiang Mai.
The wonderful Mr Wayan Dino from Bali Nusa Car Rental (www.balinusarentcar.com) brought my car to the hotel in the morning and a day or two later drove three hours up to Bali au Naturel to give me an upgraded car. He was also brilliant when I could not find the drop-off place three weeks later – he jogged across to the airport from the hotel to collect his car. Great stuff! Great service!
Driving in Bali
Noël Coward once wrote
- In tropical climes there are certain times of day
When all the citizens retire
To tear their clothes off and perspire
But mad dogs and Englishmen
Go out in the midday sun
In Bali I love to tear my clothes off and perspire but like those mad dogs and those mad Englishmen I go out in the midday sun, hire a car, and drive through the
- Bolyboly bolyboly bolyboly baa
Bolyboly bolyboly bolyboly baa
Habaninny habaninny habaninny haa
Habaninny habaninny habaninny haa
… which is, as far as I can tell … Noël Coward language for the squillions of motor bikes, scooters, cars, pick-up trucks, buses, trucks, taxis, bicycles, vans and pedestrians who seem determined to make any twenty-kilometre journey a three-day marathon event.
Clothes? Who needs them?
Bali au Naturel is a place owned by a Belgian and Indonesian couple that welcome naturists of all sorts: gay, non-gay, singles, couples and left-footed Lithuanians. While I was there other guests included two teachers from Belgium, a Mechanical Engineer and his wife from Australia, other couples from The Netherlands, France and Tunisia, and a few single men and women from Australia, Malaysia and the UK. Just about the only thing we all had in common was a love of naturism.
The whole resort is clothing optional – but in and by the swimming pools naked is the rule – so we were able to enjoy naked swims, naked breakfasts, naked gym sessions and naked walks in the lovely gardens.
Emen, the (naked) manager told me:
- Some guests arrive with no luggage. They strip off when they arrive, give their clothes to the staff for laundering – and when they leave they get dressed again to fly home
Clothes? Fig leaves? Who needs ‘em?
Well – if you go out the garden gate onto the beach, you need clothes or a swimsuit to go swimming or snorkelling on the reef, or walking along the beach to the fishing villages that lie either side of the resort.
A beach life
The beaches in this part of Bali are not endless sandy kilometres with sun beds, parasols, and women offering massages or cornrow hair braiding. Instead, they link a few isolated resorts and working fishing villages.
Tidal currents in the Bali Sea drop all sorts of litter onto the beaches: hundreds of folded palm leaf baskets used to make temple offerings, scores of single shoes and flip flops (I could open a shop for all those left-footed Lithuanians I mentioned), occasional broken bottles, fish tails, children’s underwear, sea shells, two corsets like the ones my old mum used to wear … and even what looked like a brand new dress.
I wonder what goes on out at sea in this region? How does so much clothing and underwear end up here? Perhaps The Love Boat sails these waters …
One morning I walked west along the beach and found fishermen arriving with their overnight haul of yellow fin tuna. I ran back to the resort for my camera, ran back to the fishing village … and everyone had gone away.
- In photography it is not so much a question of Location Location Location! … but Timing Timing Timing!
Next day my alarm dragged me out of dreams of hot coconut-oil full-body massages into a pre-dawn gloom … shoes on … clothes on … camera charged and at the ready … and off again to watch the fishing catamarans come in after their night out on the far oceans hauling in the tuna.
One man and one ever-smiling woman seemed to have the duty of unloading these boats, piling the fish into plastic buckets balanced on their shoulder or head, clambering up the rocky foreshore to a weigh station.
Two men I spoke to owned between them about seven boats, each of which brought in about 200 kg of tuna each day. The fish was priced at about $3.00 per kilo … so it was no wonder they were smiling.
I wonder how much the individual fishermen were paid for their night’s work?
After weighing, each fisherman’s load was meticulously recorded in pencil in a scruff-eared note book, and the fish were loaded into polystyrene boxes roped to the back of motor scooters, or piled into twin buckets either side of the scooter driver, and off they went, fish tails wagging happily, to markets in nearby Bondalem, or further afield to Singaraja, Kintamani or down to Denpasar.
Actually, I guess the fish tails were not so happy in their waving, as they were soon to be sushi or fish steaks … or just fish ‘n’ chips.
A fish dinner
One morning I went back and bought a fish.
I wish I could say I had fought and won a gallant battle of man against animal, or that I had toiled over a smoking net for long and thirsty hours through the night.
But no – I asked if I could buy THAT fish.
The man I had met the day before quoted a price double of what he had told me he would get at market. I quibbled and argued … and agreed to be skinned … and paid $5.00 a kilo for a seven kilo fresh tuna: $35.00 for a fish I could hardly lift up, (see featured image, left) and one that would go on to feed a dozen or more people at the resort.
Bali au Naturel is a lovely small place.
It has three villas around one swimming pool, and another three villas beside a second, slightly larger swimming pool. In a hidden secret garden are six little bungalows, and behind tall and very private walls is The Glass House that can also be booked. In total, and if all rooms are full, there is a maximum of twenty-four guests. There are twenty-two staff to look after guests: gardeners, housekeepers, massage therapists, Guest Relations Manager, General Manager, restaurant staff.
Some of the staff are multi-taskers.
Aria, a family man from the nearby village, is a gardener, a fisherman, one of two on-site masseurs, a man who washes his cow in the Bali Sea in the morning, and a man who scurries up lofty coconut trees as if climbing the stairs up to the upstairs loo … if the upstairs loo had a hefty crop of coconut to be harvested …
Mock’s Kitchen offers great meals. While the menu is limited, everything I had there was yummo. Just twenty minutes along the beach is BBC – no, not the UK radio station – but the Bondalem Beach Club – which has a wider menu and drinks that are served just metres from the ocean.
Days are passed easily with numerous swims, a glass of wine or two, more swims, a walk on the beach, a trip to the gym for the more energetic, a deep-tissue massage, hand-feeding the fluffy-footed white dove that visits the restaurant each morning, a hot-foot shuffle over the sun-heated crazy paving by the pool, a relaxed chat or two with other guests, a slow cooling dip in the pool, lunch and dinner, or a walk or cycle or drive to nearby attractions.
Escaping the resort?
One German couple I met were very keen divers and spent almost every day driving to different dive sites along the north coast – as well as diving on the reef in front of the resort. One day I was snorkelling looking at starfish and Nemo and found the couple about thirty feet below me, with their escaped air bubbles rising up to say hello to me, as I floated along the surface.
About eight kilometres west from the resort is the amazing Bali Art Zoo.
A creation of the US artist Symon, one of whose paintings I bought a couple of years ago, Art Zoo is a collection of tumble-down buildings packed with new and old canvases, homoerotic sculptures and paintings, crumpled bedrooms where various other Balinese artists or artists’ models live, and a sense of urgency and vibrancy and life not to be found anywhere else on the north coast. It is a wonderful place to visit – and perhaps to buy a vivid original work of art.
With just 80,500 people, Singaraja is Bali’s second largest city after the 800,000 crazed motor scooters drivers of Denpasar in the south, and is about twenty-five kilometres west of Bali au Naturel. There is an interesting market with wet and dry produce offered, a goldsmith repairing bracelets, and huge baskets of bright red chillies. Bali’s multi-cultural life is very evident in Singaraja with Hindu temples, Chinese pagodas and even Buddhist temples nearby. On the waterfront are several restaurants built on tall stilts in the sea, with kids diving for dollars – or rupiah – tossed by diners or bemused passers-by.
East of the resort is the small village of Tejakula – just a twenty minute walk from the gardens of Bali au Naturel – which has the wonderful and recently restored “Horse Baths”. Crisp mountain streams cascade down into retaining pools that originally were used to wash horses and cattle, but which now pour refreshingly cold waters through spouts into separate men’s and women’s bathing enclosures.
One of the other guests who walked to the baths, an electrician from a tiny town in Western Australia, found the water too cold for comfort but for me it was a refreshing tonic (without the gin). The sight of three naked Western men was a source of great delight for the handful of local kids also taking their afternoon showers there.
A man who was visiting the showers with his daughter and son told me that the whole complex had been restored and redecorated just eight months ago.
Aling Aling Waterfall is a wonderful escape, too. Although I have visited this area many times I learned of this place only this year. Winding roads twist and turn up the mountains, and eventually arrive at the starting point for several mountain treks or mountain waterfall experiences – sliding down twenty-metre slopes, leaping into mid-air and hoping that the pool sixteen metres below you is deep enough to welcome you – before going to the lovely Shanti Natural Resort (www.shanti-northbali.com) for lunch.
There and Away
Bali au Naturel is a wonderful escape – and like all “wonderful escapes” you have to pay for it. It is just over one hundred kilometres from Denpasar, but traffic and road conditions make this a three-hour journey or more.
Over the super expressway from the airport to Sanur (make sure you have a tollway pass! I didn’t … and caused all sorts of traffic hold-ups), up through Gianyar to Kintamani, down through lichen-clad forests and cold misty foggy afternoons, by-passing villages celebrating elaborate Hindu festivals with guards in traditional costumes and fearsome-looking kris daggers in their waist bands, up and down and round and round …
And then there was granny in a little car.
Madam drove at a speed of twenty kmh down the switchback roads leading to the north coast. I could almost have walked faster. She then stopped in the middle of the road to place fresh fruit and to light incense sticks at a small shrine … I waited … she smiled … I smiled …
My return journey to the south was also fun. I took a wrong turning at the top of the volcano (there are five or six ways of heading south) – and drove through wonderful fields of marigolds and corn to Ubud and its horrible traffic congestion … and on to Seminyak … and its even more horrible traffic congestion and its drains with open manholes as they tried to unclog the city’s arteries from plastic bags, polystyrene boxes, Coke bottles and coconut leaf offering boxes all tossed into the streets and thus into the drains.
And so …
Bali is many things and offers many experiences. I had wanted to revisit the wonderful temple at Tanah Lot on this journey but the thought of having to battle traffic made me stay at my hotel and sip a calming G&T instead. The vibrancy of the south is invigorating if a little challenging. The mountain drives up and down the sides of not-so-quiet volcanoes is a twisted delight. The quiet and soft relaxation of the north is superb.
And I have booked my room at Bali au Naturel for 2019 already.
Text and photographs © Christopher Hall 2018
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If a man ascended into heaven and gazed upon the whole workings of the universe and the beauty of the stars, the marvellous sight would give him no joy if he had to keep it to himself. And yet, if only there had been someone to describe the spectacle to, it would have filled him with delight.
Attributed to Marcus Tullius Cicero – On Friendship