Taking the bad out of Bali

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 When one thinks ‘Bali’ it’s hard to detach the stigma Aussies have created for themselves- motorbike accidents, tragic tattoos and one too many Bintangs on a night out…also known as the Kooks of Kuta. I’m glad to say I’m back in one piece and ready to return in a heart beat. My Bali experience was thanks to strategic planning, good company and a few old friends to help along the way. It wasn’t until I was back and hit with Sydney’s chill, and looking back in hindsight that I realised just how good it was.

The moment I booked my ticket I began researching the things we wanted to see, places we wanted to stay and which temple offered the best monkeys (definitely Ubud!). Beginning in Ubud, it was like being thrown into a crystal ball of healthy humans, raw food and people in search of that ‘Bali zen’. While admittedly I wasn’t there to ‘find myself’ and embark on a quest of Eat-Pray-Love, I think it’s hard not to appreciate all it had to offer. Staying at the Uma by Como resort, it had everything yogi, fruit to feed a nation, and enough rain to sink a ship.

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 Slowly easing into the Bali madness, Uluwatu was the next step. Famous for it’s vertical cliffs, and the surf break every man and their dog dreams about- the atmosphere up at the tip of the island never fails to impress. Climbing down the shanti-town like stairs, I couldn’t help but pick out the new developments, flagship surf stores and the constant reminder that ‘Yes- we have free wifi’- a contrast to the Ulu’s Dad talked of thirty years ago. Regardless of this change, once you hit the grotto at the bottom, it’s time to find a spot on the tiny bit of sand and set up camp until the afternoon forces the tide to change. I always find it grounding, stepping into somewhere so centred around the surfing culture, where the biggest worry is who caught the best wave, and the biggest regret is why his mate didn’t go it, as they huddle around a grainy computer screen to look over the photos from that day.

From Uluwatu it was down to Canguu, where we stayed with an old friend in a traditional Balinese village, rid of anything commercial, and boasting the calmness of a local lifestyle where chickens, dogs and kids dawdle on the side of the road while farmers in the rice paddies actually smile and chatter, morning, noon and night. We saw a side of Bali that is easily forgotten, one that I hope won’t slide under the mat completely in the years to come. Stopping at Old Man’s for a drink, or checking the surf at Echo Beach- literally all roads lead onto the oceans doorstep as surfers, barters and backpackers want to get a glimpse of the famous surf break Canguu.

The change from Canguu to Seminyak was welcomed with open arms, as I admit my guilty pleasure (shopping) was ready to be fed. Like all Vogues and Luxe Guides utter, Seminyak is literally bursting at the seams with fashion boutiques, the token Mexican bar and everything is tweaked just that little bit to appeal specifically to us Australian (hipsters). From Ohlsen to the Koncep store outside the notorious Potato Head, I could have collected trinkets for days, rummaging through antique blankets, crocheted bikinis and Magali Pascal’s museum of lace!

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My last day was spent visiting my Balinese friend’s house, humbling sitting in the centre of Tanah Lot village (famous for the snake temple protruding out from the rocks) where I was welcomed with Balinese smiles and treated like royalty. Sitting in the quadrangle of their house, under a temple which had taken them more than a lifetime to build, Katut told me of each room, the wood carvings and the meaning behind each as I sipped on Balinese coffee and marvelled at their generosity.

It is these moments that epitomise the authentic Balinese lifestyle and what the island truly has to offers, too often masked by the media, unfortunate events and, for some, our own ridiculous culture. If you’re thinking of heading over anytime soon, please, leave the arrogance at home, put a shirt on and embrace the island as if you’re just discovering it for the first time.

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Tavarua

 In this world of constant chaos and civilisation, bringing with it the beeps, flashes and noise pollution, the tiny heart-shaped island Tavarua, epitomises island life in all it’s simplicity. Part of the archipelago of Fiji’s hundreds of islands, the natural beauty of Tavarua’s 120,000 squared metres of sand, palms and coral reef has thankfully, been perfectly preserved. With less than thirty wooden, thatched-roof bures, an open-air eating hall, and a cobbled path created from washed up shells and coral- it’s far from the cries of anyone’s reality. Famous for it’s surf break Cloudbreak, (and her little sister ‘Restaurants’) which form perfect waves over the surrounding coral reef, the shores constantly home professional surfers and their families alike. As the island wakes at 6am, surf checks are in place, and if the wind prevails those keen for some waves don’t appear until after lunch. Jumping into the famous ‘tavarua’ boats, dropping off adults as keen as kids one mile offshore to where the waves peel around the notorious Cloudbreak reef. While admittedly not good enough to jump into the line-up myself, the sheer energy of the waves is felt from the small wooden boat, as I parked myself next to Tom Servais the legendary surfing photographer-trying to get the perfect shot of the kings themselves- Slater and Parko. A bomb set comes through, while dangerously washing up all who are too eager, there is something radically beautiful about the wall of glass forming, crystallising what lies beneath- coral, sea turtles, the occasional reef shark and yes- Nemo fish. 

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It’s the crunch of the whitewash, the smell of the wax and the evaporated salt film left on my skin that encapsulates that unique feeling, one a camera can’t do justice. With the hopes no island make-over has been in the works- and the result, a number 10 bure exactly how we left it the year before- this rawness is what attracts the familiar faces. Some comes and go weekly, while others call this sand bank home for three months at a time, only just coping with the fairy floss sunsets blanketing the sky each night. It’s a time to replace diamonds with the crystal like water, and one’s city-girl attitude with a crocheted bikini and Penguin classic. The simplicity of a Tavarua holiday makes you appreciate the natural beauty of a place- discouraging other locations to be centred around the quest to find the best hotel room or the finest dining, because these luxuries of civilisation do not encourage a good time. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. A chance to spend time with the family, read dust-accumulated books and meet people half filled with stories and half empty waiting to hear yours.

My family has been lucky enough to visit this dot in the ocean for over twenty years, where white bodies are turned to bronze by the week’s end, and the goodbye is not forever but only until next time.

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Hola, Señorita!

holasenorita

Crunch, crackle, splat and more crunch. That sound of Mexican flavours leaving the plate to be dispersed amongst mouths, floors and hipster-drinking jugs alike. One only wonders when this Mexican trend swept Sydney by storm, establishing itself as one of the most popular cuisines the city has to offer. Like a Mexican wave itself, it’s a never ending cooking-pot where Australians are finally telling their chimichangas from their quesadilla, and the fact tacos are traditionally served in soft shells rather than those Americanised hardened food pouches. As taquerias are popping up faster than you can say tequila, the past year has seen tattooed locals, bearded chefs, and candy skulls take over anything trend-driven and ‘cool’. Mexican street-food delivers the delightful dose of edgy and traditional, where we are learning more about the ancient cuisine as each store establishes itself as a ‘hide away’ only recently discovered.

On Saturday I transformed my living room into a Mexican fiesta for my sister’s birthday, where fleurpoms hung from the ceiling, crocheted rug pillows sat on each chair, and hundreds of flowers spilled their petals across the length of the table. While there’s a fine line between tastefully decorated Mexican and the Taco-Bell-esque that often prevails, I tried to keep it classic and classy. While not shy of a handled drinking glass, stripy straws and flower trim to top each off, all 22 fifteen-year-olds (I hope) were taken to the streets of Mexico for at least a few hours of authentic goodness.

Food enthusiast and amateur chef, Nutorious (Instagram- @Nutorious_) (inspired by Jonas Cramby’s book Tex-Mex From Scratch) cooked up a Mexican storm, where chilli, avocado, corn and chocolate filled the kitchen all coming together to epitomise the classic flavours once dinner was served. I’m not talking about that ready-made American football crap, instead, the table was graced with chunky guacamole, naco de nachos and watermelon margaritas cocktails.

Coleslaw

  • 1/4 Cabbage core removed finely sliced
  • 1/2 a lemon juiced
  • 3 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 2 large green apples shredded
  • mayo
  • sour cream

Chicken Quesadillas

  • 1kg chicken thighs
  • 1/2 onion diced
  • 2 teaspoons chilli paste
  • 6 crushed tomatoes
  • vegetable oil
  • paprika

+cheese, coriander, capsicum, guacamole between two tortillas

Mince Beef

  • 1 onion diced
  • x2 taco spices
  • refried beans
  • 1kg minced beef
  • beef stock
  • salsa

Guacamole

  • x10 avocados
  • x8 cored and diced tomatoes
  • two hand-fulls of coriander
  • whole red onion
  • lime juice
  • lemon juice
  • tabasco
  • chilli
  • black pepper and sea salt

I admit it took me longer than most to jump onto this foodie band-wagon, sceptical of it’s potential and put-off by bad experiences in the past. But i’m pleased to predict the Mexican wave is here to stay, bringing more tequila, more street-food pop-up bars and more candy skull tattoos to Sydney’s hipster scene.

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