Bali Beaches and an Un-Planned Christmas

I’m sold on the un-planned Christmas.

I told people I wasn’t doing anything. Wasn’t going anywhere. Would stay home and think happy thoughts and that was absolutely my intention. Then a get-together scheduled for December 21st had to be moved. How about the morning of the 24th? Christmas Eve Day? Does that work?

Well..I wasnt’ going to…but…sure. That works.

It turned into a psuedo white-elephant-gift-exchange, great coffee, and lots of laughs. Santa appeared out of nowhere, and carols played non-stop.

Warm and fuzzy inside I walked home with a gentle breeze cooling my face – one of Bali’s stellar-weather days – glad that I’d had Christmas Eve morning with good friends.

I’d barely gotten inside the house when my phone beeped a Whatsapp message. It was my neighbor next door inviting me to an impromptu lunch – if I didn’t already have plans for Christmas tomorrow. The complexion of my solitary holiday was changing fast.

I’d love to!

The high-octane energy of a family with a young child is a whole different ball game from the gray-haired gatherings I’m used to. But who can resist a five-year-old dynamo on pink roller skates?

We were well entertained and the meal of four-hour Balinese green beans, chicken betutu, cream-cheese mashed potatoes, and homemade frosted Christmas cookies was magnificent. The wine didn’t hurt either.

All that and a mystery guest. I finally got to meet a person I’ve been hearing about for years and if anything, the glowing reports were too humble. He’s one of those down-to-earth, funny, sincere, fascinating VIPs that you just wouldn’t expect to run into at your neighbor’s spur-of-the-moment Christmas lunch.

After two celebratory days I didn’t want the fun to end. I suggested to Ketut that it was time for another motorbike adventure. My back took weeks to recover from the marathon ordeal I put it through three months ago, but a visit to the beaches south of Ubud wouldn’t be a taxing trip. I wanted to check out the rumors that there are actually people down there – visitors – domestic tourists – because in Ubud they’re rare as unicorns.

As with most outings, eating figures in at some point. For this trip I wanted to stop at Cantina Warung. It’s on a dirt road that dead-ends somewhere between Seminyak and Canggu, and it’s so close to the ocean you almost feel the salt-spray on your skin. We’d check out Sanur and Kuta beaches on the way and easily be back in Ubud before the predicted afternoon downpour.

There was no traffic as we approached Sanur. The bodies standing in the water were fishermen, not tourists. Ketut thought he saw one family that probably came from another part of Indonesia but the few people enjoying the sun and sand were local. I’d expected that. Sanur isn’t the hotspot for vacationing party-ers who want a nightlife.

We hopped back on the bike and continued our search. Traffic by the Mall Galleria was almost non-existent.

In Kuta and Seminyak the story was the same with a slightly different twist. Here there were no locals, just a smattering of visitors and miles of empty lounge chairs on the deserted beach. Were we too early? Were the partying people still in bed nursing hangovers? It was getting on toward noon – surely they’d be up by now – if indeed they were here at all.

On the bike again I hollered through my mask at the back of Ketut’s helmet. “This adventure’s making me hungry. Let’s get lunch.”

There are several restaurants in Bali that are so enchanting I just want to keep eating so I can sit there for hours guilt-free. Cantina Warung is one of those. A constant ocean breeze, the rumble of breakers rolling in, comfortable chairs…don’t ever underestimate the importance of cushy seating – it’s huge…and today there were people sunbathing. People swimming. People walking dogs. We’d finally found PEOPLE!

We settled in and ordered lunch. Ketut is predictible – fried chicken and coca-cola. I had the BBQ chicken burrito with fries and a mojito. Not sure why the french fries came garnished with herby greens. They were easy to remove. But I have to say, that chicken burrito with chunks of avocado, crunchy lettuce, a sweet-and-spicy barbecue sauce on the melt-in-your-mouth grilled poultry – oh my! I’m drooling just remembering.

We’d whiled away about an hour and a half when Ketut pointed to a sign that I’d ignored and said, “Look. Our table is reserved for eight people at four o’clock. We can stay three more hours.”

That’s when I ordered two cups with a scoop of vanilla ice cream in each, and a pot of coffee to pour over it. We stretched that out until about two o’clock when all of a sudden Ketut said, “Mungkin hujan di Ubud sekarang.” Whoops! In my idyllic reverie I’d completely forgotten about the afternoon rain I’d been hoping to avoid.

The ride home took us through Canggu. There was a lot more traffic there than we’d seen anywhere else. Shops and cafes were open. Perhaps what I’d heard was true, that Canggu is the hot spot right now. Hot may be too optimistic a word. A warm spot.

As we approached Ubud the road was wet. “Maybe rain is already finished,” Ketut said. Three minutes later we were pelted with huge sloppy drops.

“Do you have your plastic, Ketut?”

“Ya. You?”


“You want to stop?”


“Good.” He laughed.

How precious, memorable, and unexpectedly rich this holiday has been. I could have sat home and survived. I would have called it a fitting end for a year during which many of us have done little other than sit at home and survive. So I’m going to see my unplanned Christmas as a positive energetic shift, a vital lurch propelling us toward a brighter 2021.

May it be so.

Blowin’ in the wind…the Sanur Kite Festival

When I say kite, what comes to mind? Something diamond shaped with a ribboned tail? I can count on one finger the number of times I saw a kite in the sky where I grew up.  The marshy bog of northern Minnesota wasn’t a kite culture. Maybe that’s why they hold such a fascination for me.

Then I came to Bali and watched graceful shapes dip and swoop in the sky, sometimes fifteen or twenty at a time during the windy months of winter. It was magical! And when I heard that the oceanside town of Sanur had an annual kite festival, I vowed to go.

But I could never quite pinpoint the when of that event. It’s like most things here. Somebody tells somebody else and when word finally gets to me it’s happening in ten minutes, or it just happened ten minutes ago.

So when a friend sent a message to my phone yesterday that the kite festival would be at Mertasari Beach in Sanur today, I was thrilled to have that much advance notice.

This morning we set out. I put my visiting friend on the back of Ketut’s motorbike because I wanted her to remain alive, and I rode with Wayan since I can handle a little more speed and a lot more near death trauma. As we approached Sanur, traffic came to a dead stop for no apparent reason.  There was speculation in the crowd, maybe Obama is passing through, maybe the British soccer team…logical assumptions like that. After a pause of about seven minutes, a whistle blew from somewhere and off we went.

P1100008There were the usual interesting t-shirts. I snapped this one and didn’t notice the uniformed Polisi behind him until I downloaded the photo at home. Lucky accident.

P1100010Today, as always, our motorbike excursion was a visual feast. The entrance to an elegant, upscale jewelry showroom dazzled with the intricately sculpted figures at the entrance.

P1100011And the assortment of statues that grace the major intersections, continue to amaze me. This grand scale example was finished earlier this year.

P1100013Never to be excluded are the edibles being transported from point A to point B by motorbike.

P1100103After about forty minutes on the road, we reached our destination, parked, and stepped through the looking glass, or the wardrobe, or fell down the rabbit hole…into a different world.

We arrived in the middle of a kite competition. Kites so large they required whole teams of men to carry them were advancing toward an open area. Judging officials were housed in covered canopies announcing the events over booming loudspeakers. And when the long-tails leapt into the sky it was just about the most exciting thing I’ve ever seen.

P1100057The glorious, undulating ribbons hung in the air, operated by teams of five, six, seven, or more men, all straining to hold their prize in place against the strong ocean breezes. When the judges called the winner, the teams efficiently pulled the great birds out of the air to make room for the next category.

Overhead was empty blue, then, as though someone opened Pandora’s Box, it was full!

The skill to keep all those kites airborne, aloft in one place without tangling with the strings of the others surrounding them, is an expertise practiced from the time these guys are toddlers. They look like specks in the sky but don’t be fooled. They’re massive.P1100075Some had heads, ornate, crowned beasts with flowing scarves and fangs worthy of a child’s worst nightmare.

When our senses had been stimulated to overload and sunstroke was an impending threat, we left the extravaganza behind and started home. We’d made it about half a block and once again traffic came to a standstill. Nancy stood up on the motorbike to get a better view. What is Ketut thinking?! I wondered as I captured the moment digitally.P1100089After a generous length of time, someone thought of a shortcut. Engines roared into action and a teeming throng of motorbikes turned as one entity into a parking area that wound around the obstruction and spit us out on the other side of it.

P1100104Then it was clear sailing…P1100110past the blue Visnu….

P1100114down the frightfully narrow path…

and home again, home again, to Ubud, jiggety-jig. How nice to get a timely tip. It was a spectacular day!

%d bloggers like this: