Instead of hitting Bali’s beaches and surf, we journeyed straight to Ubud, the artsy/cultural center of Bali. Our guesthouse – Dewa House Bisma – was very comfortable, with a lovely pool overlooking the rice fields, away from the noisy traffic. Trust me, you definitely need a place with a pool if you ever visit Ubud; between the traffic, humidity and heat, it was pleasant break to jump in the pool at the end of the day.
We visited the Monkey Forest with hundreds of the little fellows climbing all over the place. They are quite aggressive if you have bananas. We liked watching the babies with their monkey parents the most. There is lots of shopping and everything is soooo cheap compared to Australia! We ate super well at traditional Balinese/Indonesia restaurants as there is an abundance of places to eat in Ubud for all tastes. Our favorite was Cafe des Artistes so mark it down if you venture that way. We also saw a traditional Balinese show about the Ramayana. It was very entertaining and a good introduction on the hindu gods to the kids that ended with a fire walk; they light a big pile of coconut husks on fire and stomp through it. The audience was significantly female dominant and we saw mostly female tourists which can be accountable to the Elizabeth Gilbert Eat Pray Love factor; a lot of middle aged women looking for love in Ubud – go figure!
After 5 days of Ubud (2 more than planned because of school), we headed to Lombok by slow boat ferry (5 hours that Louisa did not enjoy). Then an hour taxi south before another short (10 minute ferry) to our next destination of Gili Gede (“Big Small Island” in Indonesian) in the south of Lombok. After a full day of traveling, we were rewarded with a nice welcome at Madak-Belo, the bungalows where we stayed in Gili Gede. There are only 4 places to stay in Gili Gede so it is very quiet and undeveloped compared to the other Gili islands in northern Lombok. You can go around the island in about 1/2 day. Madak-Belo is a very charming place run by a French guy, Henri. The staff is local and really wonderful loving people that provide great service.
Madak Belo is Indonesian for shell beach and the water is calm. We snorkeled right in front of the bungalows as well as took a few boat trips to even smaller island reefs nearby. While not as great as the Great Barrier Reef, we did see some awesome fish (small but really beautiful colors) and colorful corals. What we did not enjoy, and this is true for much of Indonesia, was the amount of garbage floating in the water.
We met some very interesting guests at Madak Belo. As the place is small (6 rooms), you easily mingle with the other guests. Fortunately for Sebastian and Louisa, there were other 2 boys around the same age and they had fun playing together. Our guests included a few French motorcyclists riding around SE Asia, a young Sweden guy working on a Malay farm north of Kuala Lumpur, a Lithuanian/Romanian couple living in Dublin, and an Aussie mom with her son who live in Alice Springs.
The kids built a sand castle Christmas tree which was ornamented with local shells collected on our beach. All guests celebrated together with a special Christmas Eve dinner which is special for the Gammills as we missed our family/friends reunion in California. Then the staff put together a Christmas Day dinner as well. All of it was delicious and while not at home with family, we did appreciate this special time together with new friends. The kids opened their presents that we had brought from Australia and Ubud – books and clothes this year!
After 8 days of pure relaxation (as I call it, “the vacation of the vacation”) and only salt-water showers we said our farewells to Henri and the crew at Madak Belo. It was nice to get to know more about Indonesia and their people/culture since we stayed in both hindu (Bali) and muslim (Gili Gede) islands. We learned a lot more Indonesian words and phrases which helped us as we headed for our volunteer week and New Year’s on the island of Nusa Penida.