Jul 11

Local Knowledge: Kiki from Bali

For travellers who need some handholding, the only thing they’d probably miss from a holiday rental is a concierge. Being travel writers, we’re not the types to depend on one other than to score us a hard-to-get restaurant table, although we can certainly appreciate a good concierge.

Occasionally we’ve been surprised to find a holiday rental that has had a manager or owner who plays a role similar to that of concierge, and plays it superbly – the all-knowing Carl in Perpignan is one, also Jamilla in Marrakech, and Kiki, the villa manager of our ‘home away from home’ in Bali, is another.

Balinese-born Kiki was having her day off when we arrived, however, she called to welcome us and sent her assistant to greet us. When we met Kiki in person the following day, she was full of ideas as to things we should do and how she could help us get the most out of our stay. Kiki was a walking guidebook-cum-concierge, only better – because her tips were as local as they come.

“Ignore all the guidebooks,” she said, “They’re useless!”

“Now, you can go to the rice fields with Pak Novi (the villa’s night watchman and dogwalker who works his own rice farm by day),” she suggested, “Desak (the villa chef) is happy to give you cooking lessons, and Kuman (the maid) or Desak will let you know when there’s a ceremony on.”

In Bali, an island with a rich traditional culture and spiritual life, there seems to be a ceremony of some kind on in villages everyday. More on those in another post.

Kiki didn’t suggest that we go to Kuta or Seminyak. The most touristy thing she suggested was visiting the temple at Uluwatu for the sunset performance, which was dramatic.

“And let me know if you want me to organize a driver or a massage – whatever you want, I’m here,” Kiki said. And she was. Calling a couple of times during our stay, and dropping in to make sure everything was fine.

A tourism and hospitality graduate born in Pemuteran in the northwest of Bali, Kiki’s education was made possible by a generous German family who she met while working as a villa maid. Recognizing that Kiki, who was taking care of her mother and siblings following her father’s death, was bright, the Germans offered to finance her further education and support her family throughout her studies, so she could get ahead.

When Kiki graduated just before the Bali bombing, the local tourism industry temporarily collapsed. Kiki’s kind German friends, by this time like her second family, offered to finance further hospitality training in Switzerland and help her find work in property management in Bali, which led her to her current job managing a handful of private villas with aplomb – and offering guests a warm welcome more akin to a friend than a concierge.

What do you most love about your work as a villa manager?
I love meeting different kinds of people and helping them to experience Bali and our culture. I’m not the kind of person who can sit at a desk in an office all day, so I like that I can get out and about. I like the colour of my job.

Why should people come to Bali?
Bali is a beautiful tropical island to explore and it’s rich in culture.

3 words to describe Bali?
Spiritual, religious, and unique

3 ways to describe the people of Bali?
Easygoing, friendly and family oriented

Top tips for visitors?
Take a walk through a village early in the morning and meet the local people; go shopping at a local market; and visit a temple to see a ceremony with traditional dancing, if you can, because these things are very special in Bali.

Best souvenir from Bali?
A sarong with a traditional design – it’s very Balinese, very practical, and easy to carry.

Must-do eating experiences?
There is so much great local food to enjoy! Specialties include duck steamed in banana leaves (bebek betutu), suckling pig (baby guling), and the seafood from Jimbaran.

Essential things to know before coming to Bali?
Never drink water from the tap because it’s not clean and is bad for your stomach, and always use sun cream even when it’s cloudy to avoid sunburn.

Most important phrases to learn in Balinese?
Terima kasih, which means ‘thank you’, and derapa, which is ‘how much?’ and is essential for bargaining!

Any other advice?
Check the Balinese calendar for ceremonies or get the villa staff to – every home in Bali has one – so you can try to see a local ceremony. These are much better than a performance staged for tourists at a hotel.

Take a look at more of our Local Knowledge interviews, with people who have helped us get beneath the skin of a destination, here.

Jul 07

A Stroll Around Our Balinese Villa Gardens

The gardens of our Balinese villa are so gorgeous, we decided to devote a whole photo gallery to them instead of including them in our ‘Home Away from Home in…’ post as we usually would.

The place is so beautiful and the gardens so tranquil that even when we had to work it was a joy to sit at the dining table on the veranda and take in the beauty of our surroundings as we listened to the wind, the birds, and the other animals around us.

At times we could hear the sound of workers chatting in the rice paddies, and the hollow tins of their mechanical ‘scarecrow’ devices rattling in the wind. At other times, especially at night, we would hear the haunting sound of singing and drums from ceremonies at the nearby temples carried on the breeze of the windy season, or ‘kite season’ as the locals call it. Magic.

Jul 07

Our Home Away From Home in Bali, Indonesia

Bali is to Australians what Mallorca is to the British and Cancun is to Americans, a cheap beach holiday destination. But one person’s popular vacation spot is another’s exotic off-the-beaten-track escape. Our Bali is altogether different again and, somewhat surprisingly we’re besotted with it.

We must have been the only two Australians who didn’t have Indonesian stamps in their passports when we recently touched down in Denpasar. Despite Terence being a dedicated surfer in his misspent youth and Bali being a world-class surfing destination, we’d avoided Bali like the plague because of its colossal popularity with Australians.

Not that we have anything against our fellow country-people, we just didn’t want to go to a place where every accent was an Australian one, so when we first started travelling together we ventured to places like Mexico, the USA, and Cuba instead.

When Bali was suggested to us as a destination for our 2010 grand tour, we initially grimaced. But when Sarah, our project partner at HomeAway said she thought it would be good to include an off-the-beaten-track destination like Bali, we gave it some thought. If Bali was exotic to some travellers – something we’d never considered it could be – then maybe it was worth discovering. Maybe there was more to Australia’s answer to Benidorm after all.

As it turned out, Bali would be both all we’d dreaded and hoped for, and more. Kuta is our idea of hell, with its McDonalds and Pizza Huts, and Legian and Seminyak, which the guidebooks call “chic” and “upmarket” in actual fact aren’t that much better. Ubud, in the hills, is much more attractive, with its abundance of art and craft galleries and countless opportunities for experiencing Bali’s rich culture.

But the location of our latest ‘home away from home’ in Bali on the edge of a small rural village called Tumbak Bayuh, more than a 30-minute drive to Kuta, is something altogether different again. The only way our experience of living in Bali could be more local would be if we were to couchsurf on a neighbor’s sofa.

Located on a narrow lane that leads in one direction over a skinny bridge and river to a football oval and vivid green rice fields, and in the other to our laidback little village that’s surrounded by even more lush green rice paddies, our gorgeous villa feels isolated in good way.

If we were to mix a villa soundtrack it would be layered with the sounds of roosters, chickens and pigs, frogs, gekkos and cicadas, beautiful birdsong, and the occasional barking dog. This is Bali at its most bucolic. (We’ll take you on a walk through the village in another post.)

The villa itself is simply beautiful. Set in lush tropical gardens, there are ponds of crimson water lilies and Japanese koi, stone statues of Gods and trickling fountains, and an inviting green swimming pool. (The gardens are so beautiful we’ve created a photo gallery of them here.)

Inside, the living rooms (one upstairs that can sleep extra people and one down), bedrooms (there are two in the main building and a guesthouse behind the villa), and bathrooms are equally lovely, decorated with Indonesian puppets, carved wooden statues, heavy teak furniture, traditional textiles, and more stone Gods. It’s like something out of a glossy house and garden magazine.

Owned by a university professor who lives in Hong Kong but escapes here to write, there’s a handy office with computer and fax, bookshelves of fiction, non-fiction, guidebooks and maps, a DVD collection, and wireless Internet access (although it’s unfortunately a tad expensive).

And as we’ve come to expect from properties the owners also stay in, there are lots of little touches that make the place special – fresh flowers, plenty of big towels for the bathroom and pool, and homemade soaps and shampoo. The only thing missing was a hairdryer. There are even pets! A dog called Dinah who we’ve become smitten with, and two not-so-friendly cats.

In the mornings after making the beds, the housekeeper scatters fragrant frangipanis on the fresh sheets and places them in little nooks, while in the evening the night watchman comes to fix the mosquito nets, shut the windows, and light mosquito coils. You heard right. There are even staff!

The idea of staff was the only thing we were uncomfortable with, being egalitarian Aussies who like to look after ourselves. Indeed, staff won’t suit everyone, such as honeymooners after privacy and ‘romance’. But for families looking for a complete escape, the housekeeper Kuman can also babysit, and, best of all, the villa also has an excellent cook, Desak.

As food is such an important part of our Grantourismo project this year – the convenience of a kitchen and the opportunity to cook local produce being a major reason that many people choose a holiday rental over a hotel – and Terence being such a brilliant cook, we initially didn’t like the idea of having a villa chef. However, we decided to give it a shot – in the name of research of course. It turned out to be a wonderful thing.

While we felt terribly spoiled having our breakfast laid out for us each day – platters of fresh fruit and pots of hot coffee, and, if we wanted it, eggs, toast, pancakes, and so on – what we most enjoyed was trying all the different Balinese dishes. In Indonesia, like many countries, they say the best food isn’t found in the restaurants but is in the homes. Well, that’s what we got to eat every day!

Having staff also gave us access to Balinese culture in ways that wouldn’t be possible staying in a hotel. Each day, the boys – either our gardener-cum-pool cleaner or the night watchman – would come and make offerings in the garden. Staff would regularly check the Balinese calendars found in every home for ceremonies (and in Bali, it seems, there is one every day!) and tell us if there was a cremation or temple birthday on.

In the villa information book, the owner had written “please treat the staff well – they are our family”. Well, they quickly became our family too, as you’re about to find out…

Jul 06

Grantourismo Travel Blogging Competition: July

We’re excited to be announcing the fifth contest in our yearlong series of monthly Grantourismo travel blogging competitions. This month, we’re inviting you to produce an inspiring blog post comprised of one (1) stunning photograph* that captures the spirit and colour of a local festival and 250 words* that describe the event and why it affected you.

Your local festival could be cultural or social, exuberant or somber, celebratory or serious, religious or spiritual, gay or straight, an art or music event… you name it, anything festive should fit the category. In your 250 words try to communicate what your image doesn’t show us: what it is, why and where it’s held, when it’s on, why you were there, and how you felt.

If your post also touches on some of our other themes, and motivates people to explore more authentic and enriching ways to travel, get beneath the skin of a place when they travel, learn to live like locals, and travel more slowly and more sustainably, then that’s great too.

It’s important that your story and photograph must be your own, they must be original, they should derive from a firsthand travel experience you’ve had, and they should not have been published elsewhere. *Make sure you do not submit more than 250 words and you only post one (1) photograph, otherwise your entry will be disqualified.

FIRST PRIZES A stay at a HomeAway Holiday-Rentals property of your choice anywhere in the world valued at UK£500/US$750, a Context tour voucher worth US$100, and an Olympus FE-4040 compact camera worth £125/US$190.

SECOND PRIZE a Viator tour voucher worth £100/US$150 and a private half-day tour with a local guide in a destination of your choice anywhere in the world from Our Explorer.

THIRD PRIZE an annual subscription to AFAR magazine.

The winning entry will be featured on GrantourismoHomeAway UK’s Facebook page, and weHomeAwayUKViator and Context will tweet your success on Twitter.

To be eligible to enter
Entry submission is by posting and linking, and communication is through the Comments below and by Twitter, which means:
1. You must have your own blog/site, contribute to a group blogging site, or post to travel sites like www.matadortravel.comwww.bootsnall.com,
www.travellerspoint.comwww.travelpod.com
2. You need to subscribe to Grantourismo via email/RSS, join our community on Google Friend Connect (sign up from http://grantourismotravels.com/ not from this post’s URL as it will not work); and join HomeAway Holiday Rental’s Facebook page to enter.
3. You need to follow @Gran_tourismo and @HomeAwayUK on Twitter, then alert us on Twitter that you’re following us for the #GrantourismoComp and we will follow you back.

How to enter
1. Upload your original entry to your blog before end of 31 July. The sooner you do it the better it is for you, because we’ll visit your site to read your post, tweet about the entries, and other entrants will also visit your blog for inspiration.
2. Identify at the beginning or end of your post that “This post has been entered into the Grantourismo and HomeAway Holiday-Rentals travel blogging competition” and link to this post (so your entry appears in the Trackbacks below) and www.homeaway.co.uk. Tag the post with ‘Grantourismo’ and ‘HomeAway Holiday-Rentals’ so we and others can easily search for it.
3. Leave your name and link to your post in the Comments below – this serves as your submission. If there is no obvious way for us to contact you to notify you if you’ve won, then please leave your Twitter address below.
4. Tweet us on Twitter @Gran_tourismo and @HomeAwayUK to tell us your post is up, using#GrantourismoComp in your tweet, which makes it easy for others to find your entry also.
5. Encourage your blog readers and followers on Twitter to engage and re-tweet your entry post. We’re keen to hear their thoughts.

Winning Entries
1.We will notify winners by Twitter or email by 3 August.
2.Winners will be required to email us their photograph and blog post for publishing.
3.The winning entry will be posted soon after 4 August.

For more details, read the fine print below. If you have any questions, pop them in the Comments below.

The Fine Print – Terms and Conditions
1. Grantourismo monthly competitions are open to anyone aged 18 years or over except anyone professionally associated with this competition or the sponsors.
2. All information detailing how to enter the competitions forms part of these terms and conditions. It is a condition of entry that all rules are accepted as final and that the competitor agrees to abide by these rules. Submission of an entry will be taken to mean acceptance of these terms and conditions.
3. Submissions must be original, should not have been published before, should not appear on other blogs or websites, and should not infringe any copyrights.
4. Winners will be chosen by a judging panel consisting of HomeAway Holiday-Rentals staff; Scott McNeeley, Editor of the Viator blog; Context Travel staff; and Lara Dunston and Terence Carter. Judges decisions are final. The criteria used will include creativity, originality and quality of writing and photography, ability to engage an audience, and ability to inspire.
5. HomeAway Holiday-Rentals is offering a prize of £500/US$750 towards a stay in one of their properties listed on the HomeAway Holiday-Rentals website. The stay must be a minimum of 2 nights, although can be longer. The winner must use http://www.homeaway.co.uk/ to book the property. HomeAway Holiday-Rentals will release the funds to the property owner and transfer the remainder to the winner to be used toward the trip.
6. Winners will be required to write about their prizes on their blogs, link back to Grantourismo, HomeAway Holiday-Rentals, and the prize sponsor(s) above, and tweet about the post, using #GrantourismoComp.
7.Property stays and tours must be used within 12 months of notification.
8. While copyright of all submissions to the Competition remains with the entrants, winning entrant grants worldwide, irrevocable, perpetual licence to Grantourismo, HomeAway Holiday-Rentals and the sponsors to feature the winning entries on their websites, blogs, or in any publications or promotional materials connected to this Competition.

Jul 06

Grantourismo Travel Blogging Competition: June Winners

Our June Grantourismo Travel Blogging Competition required that you submit a shot of your Perfect Vista and some 250 words describing it. We’re excited to announce this month’s winners… (drum roll)

FIRST PRIZE goes to Stephen Chapman who has won a stay at a HomeAway Holiday-Rentals property of his choice anywhere in the world valued at UK£500/US$750, a Context tour voucher worth US$100, and an Olympus FE-4040 compact camera worth £125/US$190 for his stunning view of the Sunrise at Cathedral Cove on New Zealand’s North Island.

SECOND PRIZE goes to Akila of The Road Forks for another spectacular New Zealand vista. Akila has won a Viator tour voucher worth £100/US$150 and a private half-day tour with a local guide in a destination of her choice anywhere in the world from Our Explorer. (Akila was also the non-UK winner of our April Grantourismo Travel Blogging Competition!)

THIRD PRIZE goes to Lauren for her sublime vista of the sandy beach and turquoise water at Tulum, Mexico. Lauren wins an annual subscription to AFAR magazine.

Thank you to everyone who entered and thanks again to all of our generous sponsors HomeAway Holiday-Rentals, Viator, Context, Our Explorer, and AFAR magazine for such fantastic prizes.

My Perfect Vista, Friday 25 June 2010: Sunrise at Cathedral Cove on New Zealand’s North Island.

By Stephen Chapman

Feelings of independence and isolation, yet also of being together and connected is why this scene stirred my emotions.  Early encounters like this with the day are rare, despite being such a predictable and accessible occurrence.  It was the beginning of a six-month trip away from home for us.

A cool 45-minute walk through the darkness, bleary eyed, and excited – the novelty of being up so early, ahead of the world in such a special place on your travels,always kickstarts the system.  It’s like being let in on a secret by Mother Nature.

The sandy path meandered loosely through a forest of native pohutukawa trees, easing gently down to the deserted sandstone cove.  The soothing sound of water lapped against the shore, patiently respecting the tranquillity and half-light of dawn.  These are the moments I live for.

Travelling has a way of creating space for these experiences.  Unshackled from daily commitments, we settle into a slower pace and surrender to the beat of a different drum.  It’s a pleasant feeling. Whilst awaiting the majesty of the sun there’s always a period of true serenity where no words are needed, and those that are spoken are gently whispered.

This was a trip that had been so long in the dreaming and the making, it was now unfolding and boy was it all worth it.  We’d each seen so many sunrises apart, living on separate sides of the Atlantic, now sharing a moment like this far from the crowds, and together was always going to be special.

You can find links to all the June entries in the Trackbacks and Comments at the end of the June Grantourismo Competition post. Details for the July competition coming next…

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