Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Tropical Island Holiday

I never really thought tropical islands were my thing. Beach babe I am not. Pale skin that goes to freckles, never worn a bikini in my life – a one piece at least saves one more area of delicate skin from sunburn. But still there is something about the idea of palm trees swaying in the breezes, warm seas and constant T-shirt weather that is especially attractive from the depths of a Cape Town winter. The kids of course had been excited for months – a plane journey, the first in four years, an exotic holiday, the first ever and meeting up with my brother’s family and two small cousins that we hadn’t seen in four years.

The excitement about the plane journey faded somewhere over the Indian Ocean, after a movie or two and when they discovered that sleep deprivation isn’t much fun. By Singapore, when the clock told us it was breakfast time and our bodies told us we should still be tucked up in bed, it was only the excitement of meeting up with Granny that was keeping us all going. By the time we reached Bali we were all finished and the interminable queues at passport control didn’t help.

But eventually after two hours of mad Bali traffic we reached our villa and the holiday began. Abandoning luggage after the merest glimpse at our rooms, we headed for the infinity pool at the end of the garden overlooking the beach and lay looking up at palm trees, starting to believe we were really there.

The villa itself was beautiful. 150 year old carved wood panels from an original Javanese house made up two sides of it, a heavy intricately carved wood ceiling a major feature. Smooth stone floors underfoot and beautiful carved couches and beds.

It’s so soothing to the eye to have so much detail to feast on, especially when you are sick, as both I and my husband managed to be two days into the holiday (flu probably caught on the plane). My brother had his work cut out keeping our kids entertained in the pool, on the beach and on the tennis court, as well as his own two younger ones, while we languished on the day beds and ran through all our homeopathic remedies.

I recovered after a couple of days and was finally able to try snorkelling. The villa had its own little stretch of beach on a reef edged lagoon. The coral had all been blasted from around here back in the Eighties to make cement for new resorts in Candidasa, so an artificial reef had been put in place and all the coral was busy reforming itself. We were able to swim a short distance off the beach straight over endless coral beds full of little fish and it was quite magical. It was safe enough for the kids too and they all got enthusiastic, getting to know where the angel fish hung out. I ended up being a salt-encrusted beach babe after all, even managing to fit in a last snorkel on the last morning in between packing.

One thing that surprised me about Bali, was quite how hectic the traffic is everywhere in the south of the island. All the locals ride scooters, often whole families on one scooter, dressed in their best for a ceremony and loaded up with bags and boxes too. Tourists all ride in cars with drivers and then trucks take up the rest of the space on the road. Everyone weaves in and out of each other in perpetual motion. Admittedly we didn’t get properly off the beaten track at all, but all the bustle was a far cry from my image of laid back island living. So the peace and quiet of the villa and the little village near it was a welcome balm.

We ate out most nights, finding a favourite little warung in the local village within walking distance. Strolling in the late afternoon light along the narrow road through the palm plantations, passing the odd pretty brown cow tethered among the trees, a few pigs, lots of free range chickens, then into the village street, where people were hanging out outside the little shops, young men playing volleyball, roosters in reed cages flanking the road, we got a small insight into real life on Bali. In a place where tourism is the main business it was reassuring to see that the local communities were still rooted in their traditions and tightly knit.

One thing we loved was the tradition of daily offerings: every home, shop and villa has its own temple or shrine, ours had three, and every day little woven baskets of palm or banana leaves are filled with flowers, morsels of food and a little stick of incense as offerings. Other offerings are left on the ground at the main house door. Each day fresh offerings are left – this is so much part of life, that if you are a modern career woman with no time to weave your own baskets and make offerings, rather than neglecting the tradition you pay someone to do it for you. There are women who make a business out of making and placing the offerings for others. Even at the airport the shops had offerings outside their doors. My six year old niece was thoroughly inspired and made plenty of little leaf and flower offerings herself.

One thing I totally failed to do was to keep a foodie record of all our meals in order to blog them later. This I attribute to a combination of jet lag, flu lag and holiday laid-backness. We had a good mixture of Balinese food and western-inspired food. Our picky eater son was able to survive on things like grilled chicken and the odd burger and the girls discovered a new favourite: fish fillet with garlic sauce. I did no cooking whatsoever and even though we were longing for fresh home-baked bread by the end of the holiday it was good to have a break from the kitchen.

We are finally getting over the jet lag now and the Cape winter rain is making the tropical climate a dim and distant memory, but we will treasure memories of the time spent together as a family, getting to know my nieces, my mother having all her children and grandchildren together in one place. And of course my transformation into snorkelling diva!

Cousins getting to know each other

Edited to add: My review of Villa Citakara Sari on Just the Planet. 
Disclosure: My lovely and generous mother paid for our family holiday, but we were given a special rate on our accommodation in return for our reviews here and on Just the Planet. All opinions are my own.


  1. Sounds like an amazing holiday to me. The closest I have been to this sort of thing is Mauritius which I loved. Diane

  2. Mauritius sounds lovely too, Diane. We looked at that too for our family get together, but Bali was much easier for my brother and family to get to from Australia and was also more affordable. Would love to go there too some day - now I'm hooked on snorkeling!

  3. My daughter and her husband just honeymooned (after saving up for a year after their marriage!) in The Maldives and said it was heaven on earth. Some of thje coral reef there is unspoiled.

    Sorry about the flu and jet lag but otherwise sounds to have been a marvellous experience.

  4. Oh, Kit! What a great vacation! So glad you were able to go, and take your family. That place looks AMAZING. I feel more relaxed just reading about it, it must have been heavenly in person. Looking forward to more pix!


Thanks for your comments - I appreciate every one!