Mama E comes to Bali

The gang all dressed up for the cremation ceremony.

The gang all dressed up for the cremation ceremony.

My mother and her friend Tracy came to visit us in Bali for the month of June. It was truly a delight to play tour guide to a captive audience for a whole month. Zev and I have been in Bali since January volunteering at a chocolate factory and completing our divemaster internship, so we feel pretty confident that we know all the local spots and could really show them the best of our temporary island home.

Part of the cremation ceremony involved a procession of a dozen of these massive structures which they spun in a circle to confuse the evil spirits.

Part of the cremation ceremony included a procession of a dozen of these massive floats which they spun in a circle to confuse the evil spirits.

Rafting the Ayung, in awe of the jungle wilderness.

Rafting the Ayung, in awe of the jungle wilderness.

Flexing with our rafting guide.

Flexing with our rafting guide.

We spent the lion’s share of the time in Bali, using Ubud as our home base and taking day trips around the island. In Ubud we went on the Eco Bali bike tour, witnessed a mass cremation in our neighborhood, wandered through the rice paddies, took two cooking classes (the first one was terrible, the second one was the smoked duck cooking class at Casa Luna and a huge hit),  went whitewater rafting in the Ayung river, and snorkeled at Blue Lagoon in Padang Bai. My mother really got into the pace of island life. She adopted a love of the cheap and relaxing spas that seem to proliferate around Bali, was totally taken by the coconut beverages that are a staple of any Bali expat’s diet, and generally learned to slow down to Bali-time.

A couple of coconut fiends.

A couple of coconut fiends.

Beach resort in Lombok!

Beach resort in Lombok!

Local kids playing in the surf.

Local kids playing in the surf.

Goofing around at Kuta Beach, Lombok

Goofing around at Kuta Beach, Lombok

Mom and Tracy at Kuta Beach, Lombok.

Mom and Tracy at Kuta Beach, Lombok.

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One week we escaped the crowds and headed to Lombok, the less crowded and less touristy island to the east of Bali. While the beaches on Lombok were not as snorkel-tastic as those on Gili Air, we stayed at a recently opened beach resort and went into full beach mode. Breakfast on the beach was complemented by an excellent view of surfers trying to ride the local break. Some days we hired a boat to take us on snorkeling excursions to Gili Air, which morphed into pizza gorging afternoons with a few moments spent in the water. One afternoon we headed to the south of Lombok, which is known for perfect white sand beaches and traditional Sasak villages. It certainly didn’t disappoint and we ended the day playing in the surf with some of the local kids. Lombok felt very different from Bali. The 5am call to prayer was one of the most obvious differences, but it was also the more low-key style of tourism on Lombok that didn’t feel as claustrophobic as certain parts of Bali can be.

Our trusty boat, the JustIn.

Our trusty boat, the JustIn.

So many turtles on Gili Air.

So many turtles on Gili Air.

It was a fun filled month of non-stop activity. After a teary goodbye over a fresh coconut, we reluctantly put my mother on the plane to America. It was hard to say goodbye knowing the next time we’ll meet will be back in American once this great big adventure has come to an end.

Purification ritual at Tirta Empul natural springs.

Purification ritual at Tirta Empul natural springs.

I would be lying if I said Zev and I didn’t collapse for a solid 48 hours after my mother’s departure. We were beat. Playing guide for a whole month kept us active nonstop. We were also a bit daunted at the prospect of traveling again and had no clue where we were headed next. As usual, the universe gave us a hint as to our next stop in the form of Zev’s cousin who happened to be a few islands over doing fieldwork and wanted to meet up for a few days. A short 2 days after we bid our sad goodbyes, Zev and I boarded a 33 hour ferry headed from Bali to the island of Flores. We were in search of Komodo dragons – stay tuned for that adventure in our next post!

Getting lost in the rice paddies on mom's last day in Bali.

Getting lost in the rice paddies on mom’s last day in Bali.

Smoked Duck Cooking Class in Ubud

Balinese massage...on a duck.

Balinese massage…on a duck.

The beautiful lobby of Honeymoon Guesthouse 2, where we took our cooking class.

The beautiful lobby of Honeymoon Guesthouse 2, where we took our cooking class.

Last week in Ubud, Bali we decided to take a cooking class at Casa Luna, one of the best restaurants in Ubud. The owner, Janet DeNeefe, has been in Bali for over 25 years and wrote a gorgeous cookbook called ‘Bali: The Food of My Island Home,’ which sadly didn’t fit our budget or our backpacks. They have the most delightful bakery in town and are well known for running a fantastic cooking school. You know we can’t resist a good cooking class.

A traditional rice steamer.

A traditional rice steamer.

The Sunday Twilight Smoked Duck course didn’t disappoint. This style of smoked duck, known as Bebek Betutu in Balinese, is a very traditional dish prepared for ceremonies and important events. We have sampled this dish a handful of times at various restaurants around town and were dying to learn how it’s made.

Some of the spices used in Balinese cooking.

Some of the spices used in Balinese cooking, it gets a bit complicated.

The course started off with a thorough introduction to the numerous spices that make Balinese food so unique. There are 3 different types of ginger that are integral to Balinese cuisine, one of which I had never even heard of before. Does anyone know what the heck “White tumeric” is?  Neither do we, but the moment we smelled it, a light went off in both of our heads; Kencur, as the Balinese call it, is the common thread in all Balinese Food. It smells earthy and somewhere between mild ginger and tumeric. Let’s hope we can find it at home.

Our duck, waiting to be smothered with spices and wrapped up.

Our duck, waiting to be smothered with spices.

We ground up these spices with a mortar and pestle. My lovely mother hauled home a miniature version for our kitchen. :)

We ground up these spices with a mortar and pestle. My lovely mother hauled home a miniature version for our kitchen. 🙂

It eventually became clear that to recreate this dish at home would require a few creative substitutions. However, massaging the little duck carcass with the spices, wrapping it up in a Betel tree bark, and smoking it under a burning pile of rice husks made for a highly entertaining cooking class. The photos are not exactly ideal, given the class began at Sunset – but our trusty iPhones delivered some decent low-light shots.

All ready to be wrapped up and smoked overnight.

All ready to be wrapped up and smoked overnight.

The duck, all wrapped up, is covered with a clay pot and buried beneath rice husks.

The package is covered with a clay pot and buried beneath rice husks.

The rice husks are lit with kerosene doused coconut shells. Once lit, the rice husks burn all night.

The fire is started with kerosene doused coconut shells. Once lit, the rice husks burn all night.

Celebrating Galungan in Bali, Snorkeling in Padang Bai

Last week was Galungan, an important holiday in Bali celebrating the victory of good (dharma) over evil (adharma). We went to a friend’s family home for the celebration. His family played dress-up with us to excellent effect.

Apparently my hair needed some intervention.

Apparently my hair needed some intervention.

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We tried durian for the first time. It was, um, interesting.

We tried durian for the first time. It was, um, interesting.

After making offerings.

After making offerings.

 

After making the rounds to the village temples and making offerings of incense and flowers, we headed to White Sand Beach for a swim and a long nap. 😀

A surreal full moon rising over White Sand Beach, Candidasa.

A surreal full moon rising over White Sand Beach, Candidasa.

A few days later, we headed to Blue Lagoon at Padang Bai, one of our favorite snorkeling spots. We found the same group of gregarious clownfish from our previous snorkeling trip. This time I had my new underwater camera, a wonderful birthday gift from Zev. Admittedly, my photos are not great, but trying to photograph a flitting fish while holding your breath 4 meters beneath the surface and swimming against the current is challenging to say the least.

This is the second time I've found this adorable family of clown fish.

This is the second time I’ve found this adorable family of clown fish.

Zev got the best photograph of the day, the family of clown fish was practically mugging for the camera. His ability to dangle upside down over the reef while photographing the creatures left me green with envy.

 

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Another family of clown fish, these guys were in such a beautiful purple anemone.

Another family of clown fish, these guys were in such a beautiful purple anemone.

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Happy Galungan, Easter, Passover!