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.
Q. What do you most love about your work as a villa manager?
A. 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.
Q. Why should people come to Bali?
A. Bali is a beautiful tropical island to explore and it’s rich in culture.
Q. 3 words to describe Bali?
A. Spiritual, religious, and unique
Q. 3 ways to describe the people of Bali?
A. Easygoing, friendly and family oriented
Q. Top tips for visitors?
A. 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.
Q. Best souvenir from Bali?
A. A sarong with a traditional design — it’s very Balinese, very practical, and easy to carry.
Q. Must-do eating experiences?
A. 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.
Q. Essential things to know before coming to Bali?
A. 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.
Q. Most important phrases to learn in Balinese?
A. Terima kasih, which means ‘thank you’, and derapa, which is ‘how much?’ and is essential for bargaining!
Q. Any other advice?
A. 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.