I am sitting stark naked on the ledge of my private plunge pool, enjoying eggs benedict and strawberries with cream served on a tray that floats on water. In front of me are lush tropical plants, a profusion of orange hibiscus and fuchsia bougainvillea. In the distance are the blue waters of Jimbaran Bay, and, far away on the horizon, the crest of Mount Agung, Bali's tallest peak.
Bali has always beckoned. The enchantment no doubt began upon hearing the haunting melody "Bali Hai" from the musical "South Pacific." Decades later, the ubiquitous "Eat, Pray, Love", book and film, reignited the desire. Bali beckoned with its promise of serenity, beauty and balmy tropical climate. After this year's winter of record snowfalls and arctic blasts, it was finally time to answer Bali (Hai's) call: "here I am, your special island, come to me, come to me." I'm there!
Unlike the image I had of a palm fringed island with a cluster of thatch roof huts, I was surprised to see that Bali is big and built-up, more than 2000 square miles with more than 4 million inhabitants enjoying its golden beaches, bamboo forests, rice paddies, and looming volcano. I stayed in Jimbaran, which offers the benefit of being a few minute's rather than a few hour's drive from Denpasar airport, a smart move considering the looooong trip to get to Bali (whether you fly east or west, with layovers the travel time is at least 20 to 30 hours, or more.)
Jimbaran had a lot to offer: a coastal location and a town with a market and shopping and temples to explore. And it boasted a major resort, Ayana, which used to be a Ritz-Carlton. The top-rated Ayana sounded like a destination in itself, providing something for everyone--290 rooms, 78 private villas with pools, 15 restaurants and bars including the world famous Rock Bar, built into a cliff overlooking the ocean, 11 swimming pools, a private beach and a spa with a therapeutic aquatonic pool. And if that weren't enough, there's a little trolley that shuttles back and forth between Ayana and its new sister resort, Rimba, so guests can enjoy even more restaurants and bars.
I had been told the aquatonic pool was a good way to get over jet-lag, so I started my Balinese experience there. The series of pools of blue mosaics are crowned with a dome and columns, like something out of ancient Rome; it's the largest of its kind in the world. The pool has different stations where you sit in front of jets of seawater from the Indian Ocean focused on pummeling different parts of the body. The pressure ranges from pounding to punishing, and most stations have grab bars to hold onto so you don't get swept away. You're not supposed to spend more than 2 minutes at any one station, and the entire circuit takes 2 hours to complete. I quit after about an hour, certain I would have nightmares of running down the corridors of the Titanic with Leonardo di Caprio and Kate Winslet, desperately trying to escape the unrelenting flow of water.
One of the advantages of a huge resort like Ayana is, if something isn't working for you, there are a gazillion other options that might. So I took a cooking class, eager to learn how to make some delicious Indonesian dishes. Chef Surya ("my name means sunshine" he said with, yes, a sunny smile) teaches the class in an open pavilion surrounded by gardens and pools of water, a serene setting for pulverizing peanuts with a mortar and pestle to make gado gado, and stir frying rice in a wok for nasi goreng. The best part: you get to enjoy what you (well, really, what Chef Surya) make for an al fresco lunch.
One day I took a trip into town, eager to see the farmer's market, a must anywhere I go. This one certainly held its own with markets in Africa and Asia in the quotient of flies per square inch of raw meat, in this case mostly chicken parts. Fruit stalls offered a mix of the familiar (oranges) and unknown, like snakeskin fruit, an orb the size of a baseball, covered in brown textured skin that looks like it could be turned into a pair of Jimmy Choos. Inside is ivory colored fruit that looks like 3 big cloves of garlic, and tastes kind of like apples, only milder.
The town was surprisingly, well, a little grim, with grey concrete buildings, dirty crumbling sidewalks, and hundreds--thousands--of motor scooters buzzing like gnats. The gates of a nearby temple offered a reprieve. Inside the walls were all manner of altars on which people left their offerings--some rice, a piece of fruit, anything to appease the gods and promise another day of sunshine and warm breezes. Or, in my case, maybe more eggs benedict, served in my pool, overlooking a tropical paradise.
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