The Guest Book

Wallowing in the cocoon of Villa Tiga Wasa (VTW), perusing the guest book has been a source of immense fascination and pleasure. Engrossed in the many thoughtful comments from previous guests, I find myself identifying with every single one of them.

The first log entries dated February 2012 are made by the owners themselves, Chris and Kim; noting relevant info like suggestions for restaurants in the area, villa road repair completion and internet upgrades. Beyond that, it is quite an eclectic global guest list. I note with interest that most of the previous guests have been from parts of the world other than America, with stays ranging from just a few days to three full months! Average stays lasting around 2-3 weeks. Visits by Canadians top the list; maybe not surprising since Chris and Kim are Canadian. Then I would say in order, Australians (my maternal ancestry), Scandinavians, Germans, French and an Austrian family from Tyrol. Even a family from my paternal ancestry, Finland!

Noting the length of stay of the many international guests, my very first thought revolves around the incredibly ludicrous concept in America of the one week vacation. My second thought is disbelief at the complete lack of negative commentary. Reviews of VTW are nothing short of stellar from every single guest, even when the road was out, or the internet wasn’t working (Germans who recognized that most don’t come to VTW to work). The most common comment being that everyone loves Sumi’s banana pancakes. Except for Belang apparently! One guest commented, “…he didn’t seem to like Sumi’s banana pancakes – it is his problem – they were absolutely delicious!”

So, as Americans, I am very much aware of the fact that Cliff and I are in the minority of International Guest nationalities. Including two self-described “white chicks chasing a terrified mouse in the villa bedroom” from our hometown Denver, who made a five-night stop-over at Tiga Wasa after a “grueling business trip in Indonesia.”  And the Pfeiffers from North Carolina, who also took the prize for most return visits to Villa Tiga Wasa – a total of four times, citing the summers (which is really winter in Bali) as much better than in the South! I can believe that! Unfortunately, the Canadian couple that stayed from October through most of December, didn’t mention anything about the weather during their stay which included at least part of the rainy season.

One guest remarked, “We never even left the Villa.” I get this ~ it’s kinda like rehab. Everything is taken care of for you while you work on relaxation, a tan or a good novel. No need to dress up, put on makeup, or even take a daily shower (we don’t – always!). No stress! Need a new tank of water? Kadek will install. Forgot to turn the outside lights on at night ~ Ketut will handle. Don’t feel like laundry? Sumi will wash, hang on the drying rack and fold with a cheery smile. Drain is plugged? Kadek will take care of it. Need a driver? It is a phone call or email away. Yep, I could get used to this!

I turn another white-lined page and find myself reacting sentimentally to a heartfelt message written by a French family from the Bordeaux region; they had spent three weeks in August at VTW. I instantly recognize the distinctive French hand writing style; the upright lettering, and the cursive “t’s” that look like American “v’s” and the lower case “f’s” with reverse bottom loops. I feel a spontaneous smile bloom on my face. It just looks like luscious poetry, even if you can’t say “bonjour!” I am touched when I translate the words from this French family from the Bordeaux Region, “Time had stopped while here in Bali. We will surely return! We will never forget any of you.” (translated from French) The French sense of passion and sincerity escapes so many Americans.

So, I spend a few minutes pondering this reaction and ask myself why the writing tugs at my heart strings? I go back decades, to when I first started college and decided to enroll in all the mandatory degree requirement classes first to get them out of the way! Little did I know just how much I would fall in love with the French language. I never really liked the mechanical part of learning my own native tongue. And it was only through learning a foreign language that the whole technical construction of the English language then made sense to me.

Annie Baudiment, straight from Paris, was one very patient and persistent French Assistant! After Annie’s year at Hope College, she went off to teach in Asia. Annie encouraged me to continue studying French. We corresponded for some time while I was still in College. Our many letters, written on very thin blue parchment-like Airmail / Par Avion foldable and sealable stationary, a combination of French and English, are now stored away in a file box in our 10×15 foot storage locker! Clearly still a treasure of mine. Unfortunately, I have been unable to locate her on the web.

I digress! However, for us, this is what experiencing other cultures and places is all about. Connecting the cultural dots from point-to-point on the planet has been unbelievably rewarding. And Villa Tiga Wasa and Bali have proved to be magical places that have imbedded in our souls. Relaxing, peaceful, amazing! A jewel and a tropical paradise! I echo the words and expressions of many fellow travelers in the VTW guestbook. In the end, I agree with the guests from France & Morocco who made this insightful comment about VTW: “This place is hard to find, but difficult to leave.” In good humor, they also stated they had made peace with the lizards! Personally, I find them a source of endless entertainment.

Cliff and I feel fortunate to have enjoyed VTW during a time when the internet has mostly worked, the road has already been re-paved and the weather near perfect! Sometimes I am surprised by how quickly a place comes to feel like home as we explore the world, and VTW has been one of those places. As Kadek pulls up to VTW and we board the vehicle, headed to Ubud, we recount our many blessings! 

Early Morning Jaunt in the Hills!

The morning sun is up in North Bali; warm moist air is already invading the villa and it is just past 7am. Cliff and I decide to explore the neighborhood. We appreciate the sporadic shade as we trudge up and down the steep hillside. The narrow, just over a lane wide road, appears newly paved. We later learn from our driver Kadek that the road is in fact only a few years old. Prior to being paved, Kadek explains it was a hard-packed dirt road, difficult to navigate. The heavy tone in Kadek’s voice emphasizes “difficult.” I imagine traversing the steep, narrow unpaved road, especially the grinding buzz of tires churning and sputtering in the tropical mud, and empathize with his declaration.

EVERYONE is up and about! No sense waiting to enjoy the day! Many families are settled around long wooden tables outside their homes. Some are just relaxing and others are savoring a simple breakfast of rice cakes and Bali coffee. All wave to us! They enthusiastically shout out to us from a distance, from behind banana ferns and hibiscus bushes, tossing out the one or two English words they know, quickly followed by good morning in Balinese. Young children are especially excited by the novelty of seeing the white foreigners and trying out their English skills.

Locals zip by us on their scooters, or occasionally a car. One mid-30ish Balinese man on a scooter stops and asks us where we are staying. Cliff replies Villa Tiga Wasa. “Ahh.” Followed by a nod and a broad smile. No sense of indignation or resentment. The villa would be considered palatial in contrast to the modest homes of most locals. He wishes us a good holiday and takes off with a quick smile and a wave. Even the teenagers smile and wave.

Cliff and I continue our stroll. It’s a nature wonderland. We come upon wild red poinsettias and a lush bamboo forest. Long strands of colorful laundry decorate the yards like flags in a used car parking lot, along with simple bamboo fencing constructed to demarcate property lines. At one point, we cross under some jerry-rigged bamboo conduit, running above the street, resting on neatly constructed home-made bamboo poles, and disappearing into the forest. Most every home appears to be raising a cow. Not for their own consumption, but for fertilizer and the sale of the meat. We are somewhat surprised to see a macaque monkey chained to a tree, apparently as a pet. This wiry little guy seems quite excited as he performs stunts to capture our attention and maybe just to entertain us. The chain does not allow him to go very far. Happily, I think we made his day too.

We head up the hill where a couple dogs in the distance are barking assertively, and as we climb further we see the dogs venture out into the center of the road. The territorial dogs help us decide we’re ready to head back. As we walk up the long drive of the villa property, there is a view directly below of the neighbor’s property which is a series of shanties, most likely some of the buildings have dirt floors. There is an outside cooking area with pots and what appears to be a grandmother holding and singing to a baby. On the road side of the property the neighbors operate a small stall with a few prepackaged drinks and other goods. We make a point of purchasing some drinks later that afternoon.

Upon return to the villa, we can’t help comparing this walking experience to the frequent neighborhood strolls in our previous home in Westminster (suburb of Denver), Colorado. It had become somewhat of a game for us to see how many people would just walk by without saying a word, making eye contact, or even giving a nod of acknowledgement. Almost always, we would have to be the ones to initiate contact in order to evoke a response. Yet, these Balinese strangers initiated contact, eagerly greeted us and even made friendly gestures and hand motions from afar. Why the dramatic cultural differences when these people don’t even speak our language?

This causes me to ponder the meaning of happiness. I google it and the definition is simpler than I even imagined it might be: Someone who experiences frequent positive emotions – overall appreciation of life. Judged through Western eyes, the Balinese might appear poor, yet they are happy, rich in spirit and are generous in sharing that feeling! They seem to embrace the essence of contentment and satisfaction. I do believe this attitude is connected to their daily spiritual expressions of gratitude.

Just outside the front door is the villa’s offering temple and Kadek and Sumi attend to it daily. I asked Kadek about the offerings he provides and he explains it is to “keep the gods happy!” Overall it seems that the whole concept of being happy is acknowledged the Balinese culture. They know it’s important to be happy and they strive to keep their God happy! Daily offerings to their Hindu God and his many manifestations, keeps them happy.

Deciding to go off the beaten track and take an outing to the Temple of the Dead could not be timelier, or more enlightening.

Selamat Pagi Sumi! (Good Morning Sumi!)

Sumi is the Cook and Housekeeper at Villa Tiga Wasa. Quiet, soft-spoken, shy, diligent and hardworking. As I observe a barefooted Sumi scurry about the kitchen, I realize just how petite she is. Since I am not a particularly big person myself, and am not use to looking down on people to make eye contact, I say “Sumi you are very small!” I try to keep my voice lowered as I have learned from the French that Americans have a world-wide reputation of being loud. I think this is of even more importance to note now, interacting with the especially soft spoken and gentle Balinese culture. “Yes,” she says with a giggle. “Sumi small.” About a week later, I come across a tape measure in the drawer and ask Sumi if I may measure her to see how tall she is. She laughs agreeably. The Balinese are a very accommodating people and I don’t want to offend her, so I am careful to ensure that her body language agrees with her words. Sumi, it turns out, is only 4 feet 7-1/2” tall!

Every morning I greet Sumi with the biggest smiling “Good Morning Sumi!” I can muster. She always smiles back in the same manner. Sumi doesn’t speak much English. I speak no Balinese. Despite this, we have managed to communicate well enough with her. So far, no major disconnects. Except for the time I saw a coach roach in the empty beer bottle box in the kitchen. Okay, I was looking for it, since previously in Bora Bora we had a problem with roaches in empty beer bottles, even though they had been rinsed. I moved the beer bottles around and there he is! I put a bottle directly over him and ask Sumi if we can move the box outside, showing her the violating pest. She has a bit of a confused look on her face. Later I noticed the box is still in the kitchen, but Sumi has removed the offending bug. I decide to simply move the box outside. It’s the only time I’ve seen a cockroach in the house, so far. We’ve used some sign language and made some physical demonstrations with our hands and apparently, they’ve all been mostly understood. This is important, since Sumi does the majority of the grocery shopping which is especially helpful to me.

I start meal planning in my head for Sunday, the day staff is off, and notice that we do not have any fruit left. I want to communicate this in a way that gives Sumi options on what to purchase, without being overly specific. It’s difficult. She knows we like watermelon, pineapple, oranges and apples. I try to convey that I like ALL fruit – and I do. But, we end up with watermelon, pineapple, oranges and bananas. Not a big deal. Americans are spoiled by the amazing amount of variety at the supermarket (like berries of all kinds). The Balinese banana is a staple. They are small and sweet with a much softer texture than ones in the US. I prefer them over US bananas and can use them in a breakfast smoothie with yogurt; they are perfectly sized – handy. I remind myself how grateful I am that the Villa has a blender! A toaster too! Not kitchen standards in all parts of the world!

The Villa is located at an elevation of just over a thousand feet and about 15 minutes down a winding, narrow road from Lovina which sits directly on the Java Sea. There are no major food chains in Lovina, just lots of small Warungs (like cafes and / or convenience type grocery stores) and open air food and veggies markets in many different locations. This means you really need to know where to go for what, and make multiple stops along the way. Fresh produce must be purchased very early in the morning as most of the just picked produce sits in the open air. It is also extremely useful that Sumi is familiar with the local produce varieties. For example, I pull a couple rather large oranges out of the fridge the other day. They were quite hard. Fortunately, when peeled and sectioned out, they are sweet and tasty! And while I liked them better than say even a Florida orange, I would have passed them up at the market due to their rock hard feel.

Did I mention Sumi is a good cook too? On most days, we now ask that Sumi only prepares either lunch or dinner. Three good sized meals a day is too much for us, it gives Sumi a break and provides more personal time in the Villa for us. On occasion we do request breakfast, because the banana pancakes are a nice treat.

We have asked Sumi to prepare meals in the same way in which she typically cooks for her own family.  This means that there is rice at every meal, eggs either boiled or cooked like an omelet with veggies inside (like bean sprouts and spicy red peppers), and slices of cucumber are always served on the side of the dish. Meat is chopped into very small pieces, or dishes are vegetarian. It has been interesting to learn that Balinese cooking involves using all of one’s taste buds! Every meal includes all six flavors: sweet, sour, tangy, salty, spicy, and astringent. I assume the “astringent” is why cucumber slices come with every meal. Salt and pepper are never on the table.

So far, our favorite dishes have been Nasi Goreng (fried rice), Lumpia (Indonesian Spring Rolls) and Banana Pancakes! While the Balinese appear to like many things sweet, like tea, desserts are not a major consideration. And our villa kitchen, like most tropical homes, does not have an oven. So, baking is virtually impossible. Not enough of the right kinds of cookware to even attempt it in the microwave.

Due to Sumi’s shyness and the fact we do not share a common language, we have missed the opportunity to get to know Sumi on a more personal level. We have surmised that Sumi is single, lives at home with her extended family and appears not to drive, as we notice she is always dropped off and picked up, and perhaps walks at times. We enjoy watching her scamper about, bare-footed and smiling, and we have so appreciated the many wonderful meals she has prepared for us.

I take a break from writing this to step into the kitchen and think about a light meal I might prepare tonight, only to discover that Sumi has left rice warming in the slow cooker. Great! Fried rice for dinner. We’ll make it a little saltier than Sumi by adding a lot of soy sauce and make our egg scrambled, instead of boiled. I might try adding some of the date honey molasses like concoction I purchased at the Carrefour in Singaraja as well; originally thinking it might work well on banana pancakes in place of maple syrup.

I step outside to get a feel for the temperature which is dropping. Yes, doable to sit on the deck and do some editing. It’s been a hot and humid day – high 80’s with a “feels like” factor of almost 100. Then I see the hand of Sumi again…a couple throw rugs drying on the railing. Excellent! I appreciate not having to think much about housework and laundry. Life is good. I think I’ll sit by the pool and have a glass of that “expensive” wine we purchased at Carrefour! 😊


Carrefour Excursion

On the way to the Immigration Office to extend our visas, Cliff and I discover there is a Carrefour in Singaraja. We are familiar with this international brand and have shopped at Carrefour while in other countries. “Great news!” We’ve hired Kadek, our driver, for the morning and want to make the best use of him.

Carrefour, a large supermarket chain based in Paris, means “cross roads” in French. It’s about ten minutes further down the road from the Immigration Office, which is already a good 30 minutes drive from the Villa. We are greeted at the door by an attractive young Balinese woman saying “Welcome!” and then bowing in the traditional Balinese way with hands folded in prayer-like fashion. Apparently AMERICAN is stamped invisibly on our foreheads somewhere. Or maybe it’s our shoes. Fortunately, people everywhere in Bali have been friendly and welcoming to us, especially in the Northern regions outside the large cities.

The store is very clean, well-lit and seems to have a one-stop-shop approach, including small appliances like rice cookers and several racks of traditional looking Balinese clothing. We immediately stumble onto a well-organized display of East Bali Cashew product. A BIG find! We had accidentally purchased East Bali granola at a Warung when we first arrived in South Kuta, Bali, even though it was quite pricey. Well worth it. Loaded with all kinds of goodies, full-size cashew chunks, rolled oats, puffed red rice and sun-dried rosella with cinnamon. Crispy – the way I like it. Something Cliff and I can both enjoy. We get a bag each of the granola and the muesli. And then we see the complete line of snack packages, so we choose four different ones. Coconut cashew with rosella, salted cashews, cacao and chili crunch (less than 3 oz. per bag). I can eat a pack of these for a meal.

I had hoped to find some maple syrup at the Carrefour, to grace our banana pancakes, no luck. However, there is a huge area dedicated to every variety of honey one could imagine. The different varieties appear to be from various regions in Bali. One small bottle that is quite dark catches my attention. I decide to go for it. Judging from the picture on the label, it looks like a blend of dates and honey. The only English on the label – Royal Jelly.

There are lots of clerks mulling about the Carrefour. It is fairly early in the morning and the store is not busy. After searching extensively, I ask about floss picks. I make the appropriate flossing motions while standing in the toothpaste aisle and the store clerk nods affirmatively, but returns in a few minutes saying, “Sorry. No have.” “Okay,” I acknowledge. “Thank you!” I have not found double floss picks (my fav) anywhere outside the US, and have gladly taken the single strand whenever I can get them. I have learned to live without my fav floss picks, but it is difficult having several dental implants and numerous gaps that trap every imaginable trace of food. It is the one item I would stock up on before leaving the US, if I had the opportunity again. Cliff and I continue shopping, and five minutes later a smiling clerk approaches us with a package of single strand floss picks in hand. Thirty total in the package. How sweet! I am impressed by their efforts to keep trying to find what I need. I buy them – even though they are not the quality and strength of floss I need.

We pick up some other stuff we’ve been craving like pasta and pesto, lettuce and feta cheese for salad, along with black olives, and the more typical staples like coffee, milk, yogurt, butter and toothpaste and head to the checkout where I notice the wine and beer rack. Wine is expensive on this Island, and we read that before coming to Bali. Beer is reasonable, but I have never been a beer drinker and I haven’t had any wine in over a month. Minimal choices, but I see a bottle of Two Islands Pinot Noir, Australian grapes bottled in Indonesia. Perfect. It is expensive for us, about $15 USD. Pinot Noir is the one grape that no matter where I buy it, never fails me. I decide it is time to splurge! We check out and the total bill comes to over 558,000 IDR (Indonesian Rupiah). We always get a chuckle out of the numbers which convert to about $42 USD. Our trusty driver Kadek is standing outside the Carrefour, waiting to help us with the bags.

When we arrive back at the villa, I check out East Bali Cashews on-line and learn it is a sustainable company that has been around less than five years. They are established in a previously impoverished area nested between two volcanoes in East Bali of course. In only a few years this company has created hundreds of jobs and positively impacted the economy and the community in significant ways. It sounds like they are marketing to the US as I write this post. Stumbling on this kind of stuff is one of the many things I love about nomadic travel. It’s been an interesting and pleasant excursion!

Belang ~ a skittish little soul!

Belang is starting to warm up to us – a little! I’ve been reading the Tiga Wasa Guest Book and there are lots of comments about Belang. Other guests have experienced the same issues we have – if you get too close, Belang will step back or snap! Another guest mentioned the very sad look in his eyes. I would add to that saying a look of fear and distrust is evident. Obviously, he has suffered human abuse, or maybe he has just not been domesticated. Since Cliff and I are here for a full month, I am hoping to build more trust with him. Just yesterday, while we were having pesto pasta (say that three times quickly!) on the lanai, I noticed he was laying comfortably beneath me, quite near my leg, but not touching.  After dinner Belang did seem to enjoy the pasta left-overs!

Today I decided to take a heel from a loaf of bread and see if I could coax Belang into taking it directly from my outstretched hand, still allowing for some distance between us. He did. But later, when I tried to give him a much smaller biscuit (kind of a cross between a buttery cracker and a small flat cookie with coconut flavoring), he wasn’t as willing. Apparently, the biscuit was not large enough to provide a sufficient barrier between us. When I dropped it on the small rug where he lays outside, he readily enjoyed the snack and grabbed it between his paws to gnaw on it like a typical Westernized dog would do with a bone or treat.

Cliff has tried to break through to Belang as well. We have learned to make very slow and expected movements. Being sure that Belang is aware of us before we approach him, calling out his name quietly. Sumi feeds something to Belang every day. Typically, a mushy, wet bowl of rice. I watched Sumi feed Belang today and he began eating before she even finished filling his bowl; he usually waits for me to back away when I put food in his bowl before he digs in.

In Bali, as well as Bora Bora, dogs are treated much differently than in America, and other Westernized parts of the world. Dogs are seen more as either just another creature of nature, or a security asset. Dogs are not petted, cuddled and pampered in the way we treat pets in America. They are also not cleaned and groomed and live their lives strictly outdoors. Kind of like how we might treat birds. We might buy bird seed, but don’t necessarily feel responsible to feed the birds daily. Cliff and I did purchase a large and expensive (everything is shipped in from Papeete) bag of dog food when we were house sitting in Bora Bora since there were five dogs to feed, all belonging to one neighbor directly next door. So, left-overs would not suffice. We watched the dogs there eat everything from mango peel scraps (a favorite) and watermelon scrapped right down to the white rind, to raw live crabs that infested the entire yard. We had great laughs over the dogs having crab for dinner!

Bali is a much larger island than Bora Bora, and by population there is no comparison. However, the density of semi-feral dogs seems less on Bali than on Bora Bora. In part because of a rabies outbreak on Bali over five years ago where hundreds of thousands of dogs were destroyed. I use the term semi-feral because the dogs still mostly rely on humans for food, and the Balinese would consider this an important distinction separating the semi-feral dogs from completely wild dogs. Semi-feral dogs are quite a problem in Bora Bora, and there is a big sterilization program underway that is showing signs of success. Also, the dogs in Bali are not as large as Bora Bora overall. So, it’s not as intimidating to take a walk in Bali! Mostly the dogs will not bother you if you don’t enter their territory.

Coming from a land where it is the law that a dog must be on a leash (…or “lead” to my Aussie friends), it’s hard to comprehend dogs running about freely. At one point on Bora Bora, we were debating on renting (hiring) a vehicle.  I was recounting the list of pros and cons of renting a car versus a scooter to Automne, a young fellow world traveler we met on Bora Bora, originally from Belgium, when she wisely added, “You don’t want a scooter because of the dogs. They might bite your leg!” Something we hadn’t considered. With only a $300 difference to rent two scooters over the course of a month versus a car, and the ability to easily haul groceries every few days, we had already decided on a car. This new piece of information just confirmed it. Oh yeah, there was air conditioning too! I did later meet a fellow tourist on a Bora Bora lagoon tour who had a bandage on her lower leg, calf region, from being bit by a dog in Papeete. It didn’t stop her continuing her tour, but it was surely an inconvenience.

I think the key points to keep in mind if visiting Bali, and other non-westernized islands, is that dogs should not be treated as pets. Don’t try to befriend the dogs meandering about; think of them like wild monkeys. Both can carry rabies and if bitten, you must get treated. Also note that Bali can run out of the rabies vaccine, so this could require a trip to Singapore. If treatment is not begun within 7 days, it will be fatal. We learned a lot of this info while getting immunizations in Denver before our trip where we received the first rabies shot in the series, which does have some value. The rabies vaccine process can be started before you leave, but it is somewhat futile because if you get bitten by a rabid dog or monkey, you still need to go through the whole process again. So far, I have never met anyone who has gotten rabies.

The history of dogs on Bali is truly fascinating and scientifically very significant. Prior to 2004, outside dogs were not allowed into Bali. The DNA of the original Balinese dog prior to 2004 consisted of a combination of Australian Dingo, Chow Chow and Akita. In fact, the original Balinese dogs are considered the “protodog,” with huge scientific evolutionary genetic data concealed in their gene pool. Recent major conferences have been held in Bali to review the implications of new breeds entering the island. Additionally, Bali dogs have spiritual value, even though they often eat the offerings left for the gods, apparently this is not an issue. Helps keep vermin away too!

In case some of you are wondering, as I was, I looked up what Belang’s name means in Indonesian. Quite interesting! As you can see from the photos, he has white and black markings all over his small-to-medium sized body. Sure enough, Belang means “Striped.” Like we might name a dog “Spot.” Visually, Belang looks very similar to one of the original Balinese dogs. We may never be able to pet Belang, however we are pleased to be part of his life for a time and help him come to know humans as his best friend.


A Nomad’s Life on a Rainy Day in Bali or “Mom! It’s raining in the shower!””

I awake to a flat gray sky. No matter. Cliff is still asleep. I try to unlock the double turn master bedroom door lock as quietly as is humanly possible, and then tip-toe half a dozen feet across a damp open breezeway to the main living area of the villa where I unlock door number two. While checking about for geckos and other creatures, I note it’s a bit stuffy. As water boils for coffee, I open the front door, opposite the sliders to the lanai in the back of the villa, which has an immediate cross ventilation effect and instantly refreshes the room. Typically, the house remains open most of the day. It serves as a convenient way to welcome guests, allow for quick check-ins with Kadek (the Gardener), and random visits from our beloved scavenger dog Belang. Interestingly, other stray dogs do not enter. Nor has the chicken or the rooster so far! We noticed the same kind of canine behavior pattern on a six week house-sit in Bora Bora. Despite the huge number of feral dogs on Bora Bora, they never entered the home, even with the doors wide open. Belang has obviously received permission from the owners to enter the villa and has marked his territory; he growls fiercely when other dogs attempt to encroach. As I am plunging the coffee press, Cliff saunters in and joins me on the lanai.

Outside, the air is perfectly comfortable. We both marvel at the effects of the daylight from the flat bluish sky that creates strong contrast, popping the detail of the surrounding flora. The silhouetted landscape is crystal-clear. It is kind of surreal. Tall variegated evergreen shrubs with shiny, thick leaves, in colors of magenta and chartreuse are scattered about the yard. They are up to ten feet tall with a texture that reminds me of burnished leather. Yellowish-green banana ferns stand out brightly.  With exception to a few large trees on the property, the banana ferns are second in height only to the palm trees and they dominate the area surrounding the pool. The rain has kept the birds fairly sedate. I miss their sweet chirps. Unlike Australia where the birds seem pterodactyl in size, Bali’s birds are typically dainty with gentle, chirpy songs. The roosters are just getting started with their incessant crowing. Kadek’s uncle’s pregnant cow is mooing just below us down the hillside. Occasional raindrops dance on the pool in ringlets.

It’s easy to get some on-line work accomplished on a day like today. Not too hot and little glare. Cliff enjoys sitting on the lanai while he is working. Even in a downpour, the roof extends out far enough that he, and his prized twelve-inch-wide x ¾” thick Dell laptop, can stay dry. Sometimes it’s a bit hot for me, or too sunny. I move into the villa and start reading handwritten posts in the villa guest book while Cliff prepares for a Skype call with a client. The layout of the villa is a perfect environment for rest, relaxation and work when we must! Cliff will use the second bedroom to make his Skype call and has already turned on the a/c to cool it before he closes it off.

I find myself thinking about how I so appreciate the pace of our new lifestyle this past year. Our mornings rarely start in any kind of hectic way. We hardly ever set an alarm; which is usually reserved for important stuff like catching a plane. Waking up naturally as the room fills with light is never taken for granted. There is no stressful freeway commute to fret about; used to be a good 50 minute drive on I-25 in Denver for Cliff. Me? I drove all over Denver all day long to visit Architects and Designers, however my schedule was flexible and I could usually return to my home office before the evening rush hour. Distant memories now!

Also, first thing in the mornings, Cliff and I connect on our plans for the day, if any, and talk about upcoming needs; like scheduling flights or deciding where we might want to be six months from now. Or investigating Visa requirements for another country we will be visiting. It’s nice to be able to ease into work now, and first appreciate the glory of nature and a cup of rich Balinese coffee.

I retreat to the master bedroom to check email, Facebook and work on some blog posts. But first, since it is has started raining again, I curiously open the door to the Red Shower Room, attached to the master bath. As I peek inside I think to myself with a chuckle, “I’ve not taken a shower in the rain before. I might have to give a go!”  As I open the shower room door it is obviously quite wet inside. Rain is sheeting down the walls. Planters either side of the shower are filling with water and some muddy water is spilling over.  The floor has large black strips that are very porous (could be a volcanic material), however with care one could certainly walk about. At moments like these I miss having young children around. I can imagine what my own kids might have said, having discovered this critical event prior to my knowing about it, and proudly being the messenger of this important news, “Mom, it’s raining in the shower!”

Unless you’ve visited a typical home in a tropical area like Hawaii, most of us aren’t accustomed to open-air showers and toilets. At our last Airbnb in South Kuta, Bali, the toilet was in the shower area as well. Fortunately, here in Bali at Villa Tiga Wasa, the toilet area is separately enclosed. So, no worries about toileting in the rain! 😊


Meet the locals!

Last night we were lulled to sleep by the sound of torrential rain rapidly channeling off the tiled roof, down the galvanized flashing, plunging onto the hillside. Simultaneous crackling and pinging of the rain drops harmonized in the background.

Residual caffeine from a late afternoon cup of coffee was still working its way through my system. In my past life, I would be watching the clock and counting the potential sleeping hours left. Now I focus on the rhythms of the rain and the sounds of my own breath. I’ll fall asleep soon enough. I reflect on the incredible day we’ve had; meeting Kadek’s (The Gardener) family who live just minutes from the villa and watching Kadek shinny up a palm tree to pluck a fresh young coconut for us, bursting with numerous cups of coconut water.

Kadek lead us down a grassy path straight out the back of our villa, past his Uncle’s pregnant cow grazing on the villa property, who looked skeptically at us, moos bravely and then backs up. We pass a neighboring Balinese family before we reach Kadek’s home. It’s a five-minute walk. “Short-cut,” says Kadek gaily. It’s apparent that he is excited to have guests!

It feels like an honor to be welcomed into the humble home of a native Balinese family, including a grandmother, aunt, uncle and Kadek’s wife and three children all sharing a cluster of small buildings on a spacious piece of land. Kadek’s property is very clean, tidy and organized. There is a pile of tinder wood artfully arranged in a triangular shape, leaning against a tree. Nearby is a singular pig; shaded and protected in a well-constructed thatch hut. Also, a large area for hanging laundry. And a cow which Kadek informs us they will sell for the meat.

On the back side of the property, directly across from Kadek’s home, his wife weaves decorative baskets in-between caring for the baby and the other children aged 5 and 10, and of course cleaning and food preparation. I am lucky that Kadek’s six-month-old son allows me to hold him. As I return the baby to Kadek, I feel blessed to see the face of a contented Dad proudly smiling at his son as I snap a photo. I think to myself, “People really are more alike than different.”  I am further touched by Kadek’s efforts to sweep off an already clean bench before Cliff and I sit down to watch his wife weave. Her vast experience shows as she rapidly brings a basket to life in front of our curious eyes. Unfortunately, we do not share the same language, so conversation is mostly hand symbols or with much translation assistance from Kadek.

All three children are shy. The almost five-year-old is dressed in yellow and black Transformer pajamas and pokes at the dirt with a long stick, trying to avoid contact with me. The ten-year older daughter is also a traditional Balinese dancer. Her father is very proud of this fact, and that she gets “special” (tutored) English lessons. She can converse with us, but is still somewhat shy. I ask Kadek if that is a typical characteristic of Balinese people and he confirms “Yes!” along with a quick giggle and several nods. I concur that learning English is very important and remind myself how grateful I feel to be able to natively speak the “linqua franca” on this planet.

We order two custom baskets. Available colors are natural, brown, green and pink. We request one for us in natural and brown with Villa Tiga Wasa weaved in, and one for a friend in Toulouse that loves everything pink! We had been looking for the right gift for her since last summer when we stayed in their cozy Airbnb, and this is it! A custom handmade, all pink, Balinese basket with lid. Easy and lightweight to ship too!

On the way out, we pass the elderly grandmother and aunt who appear virtually blind. Kadek informs us “they have a problem with the eyes.” There are many smiles and much waving as we leave to return to the villa. As we start down the path, Kadek’s uncle whizzes by us with a quick wave from his scooter.

We take a slightly different route back so that Kadek can show us the spring from which he retrieves water for his family and our villa. Huge bamboo trees line the foot trodden path we take to reach the water station. Several men and one young woman are bathing when we arrive. One man waves excitedly towards us ~ hey it’s Kadek’s uncle. The (clothed) bathers are busy soaping, scrubbing feet, washing body parts and brushing teeth. I ask for permission to take a few photographs and they all happily shake their heads in agreement. I am now convinced that the Balinese embody the true meaning of the phrase “laid-back!” They all wave goodbye to us as we leave. We take the asphalt road back to the Villa. It is a bit steep and we immediately become aware of the 85 % humidity.

Upon return to the villa, Kadek adeptly scales a tall Palm tree next to the pool to retrieve a coconut. He quickly slices the top off and voila ~ tons of juice; more than Cliff and I can drink. It is pure, sweet and delicious! We get busy back at the villa as Cliff catches up on some work and I make notes and update my blog. I am so appreciative of the fact that I have no concern over “what’s for dinner!” I dig into writing just as the rain starts.

Hours later Sumi arrives, wet, bare footed and smiling; we are still not sure how she gets here, but it appears she walks. She prepares a wonderful dish with small fried prawns, and bits of chicken, pork and vegetables. A heap of rice is stacked in the center of the plate, which we have now become accustomed to having with our meals twice a day. I light a couple of tea-light candles. It is a beautiful night. We are serenaded by the ceremonious chants of the neighbors below us. Even a female voice which is new. We are told the neighbor below is Hindu and the neighbor on our left is Muslim. We know this is the season of Ramadan. But, both neighbors are chanting and praising for what seems like most of the day and often most of the night.

After dinner Cliff and I spend hours trying to figure out logistical plans for a writing conference in Sydney in August. We will be flying from a house sit in Darwin to Sydney. Our air miles won’t work with the available carriers.  The airfare turns out to be considerably higher than we had experienced flying to other parts of Australia, like Sydney to Melbourne or Adelaide to Perth. So, after slicing and dicing the options in every possible configuration, hours later we decide on just a 3-day visit via an Expedia package that offers airfare and a very cheap, very modest hotel. It’ll work! We will be about 45 minutes from the conference venue, however we are quite familiar with Sydney’s excellent public transportation system and have no worries, except that we spent far more than anticipated.

The rain continues. I decide I am ready to get back to reading the novel, “MY NAME IS RED” and 16th century Istanbul. The ever-patient gecko has been frozen in place with just his head peaking over the canvas painting in the kitchen for at least an hour now. Apparently on night duty. I decide to do him a favor and retreat to the bedroom. Lights out. Cliff is still outside on the lanai finishing our booking. All is well!

Coffee and Tale of a Gecko Murder!

The day greets us innocently enough. Predictably, we are up by dawn. A mostly cloudy sky masks the sunrise which appears unremarkable at best. Happily, there are many more to come. I start counting the days. Mornings for us begin like every morning has since we embarked on the crazy wild journey of our relationship; conceived over six years ago via an internet dating website. Which brings us back to coffee. Specifically, since Istanbul, French press coffee – dark roast. Does this not sound noteworthy?

Over our travels this past year, I have learned a lot about the many interesting and different ways to brew coffee around the world. Including a large unusual manual espresso press we used in a little Airbnb in New Zealand, which worked similarly to a geared, double lever wine opener. We had not seen one like it before nor since. And then there is the infamous petite, hexagonally shaped aluminum Moka pot, designed to be placed directly on a gas burner. It operates like a percolator and boils the coffee, resulting in a thick, sludgy, acrid brew that rests at the bottom of an undersized cup. Apparently, Americans super-size their coffee as well. At a few different Airbnb’s, the aluminum Moka pots had been poorly cared for and harbored thick mineral crusts at the bottom. I used this in Italy and other parts of Europe, and finally in Istanbul. It became the bane of my morning. I can see why Italians might be willing to handover a euro several times a day to slam down an espresso shot while leaning with crossed-ankles, hip jutting out, sloped against a narrow elbow-high counter in a cramped espresso bar!

So, we have sparingly added a French-style coffee press to our mobile possessions. I finally broke down and purchased it at a Starbucks in Istanbul; overriding Cliff’s concerns over more stuff to lug and possible breakage. For nomads, this seemingly simple decision equates to purchasing a major appliance. I tell him not to worry. The plastic casing looks sturdy enough to prevent breakage and the size is just right for us. I had firmly decided I could no longer deal with the ubiquitous Moka pots, or the continual surprise of pots that didn’t work, or have filters, yada, yada, as we moved to different accommodations.  I resolve that adding a coffee pot to our baggage is worth the hassle. Later I confirm it fits easily into my Osprey backpack. Many months further into the trip while in Australia, I also purchase mugs decorated with Aboriginal Art. I like my coffee hot. So, I select mugs that are trim and narrow at the opening, minimizing heat escape. Consistent coffee measuring. Right-sized mugs. One less thing to think about in the wee hours of the morning while the cobwebs are being cleared from my brain or we discover there are no mugs in the cabinet (Yes, it happened! And drinking coffee from a glass does not work well!). Such is the life of a nomad!

Since we also house-sit, weeks after the French press purchase, while scanning a house-sit blog post on “must-haves” of things that house-sitters take with them to a sit, I learn that other house sitters are doing exactly the same thing; carting their pots and mugs around. Many sitters point out it provides a touch of home and a whisper of routine in a lifestyle that is otherwise devoid of such luxuries. Although most of the sitters are located in the US and doing domestic sits via automobile which makes it a lot easier to tote around their goods, I feel vindicated.

It has been a lazy slow start to the day at Tiga Wasa for sure! We’ve savored our coffee and a piece of well buttered sweet wheat toast out on the lanai while basking in the serenity and studying the patterns of the clouds on the mountains to our east. Sumi will be arriving around 9 to prepare a light breakfast of fresh fruit and fried bananas. Meanwhile, Cliff wastes no time donning his swimsuit and stretching out on a lounger by the pool with his Kindle. He’s been trying to finish reading Madame Bovary, a choice that sprang from us both reading and thoroughly enjoying The French Perfumer. Penned about a hundred and fifty years ago, it’s a slow historical read; Madame Bovary is certainly not everyone’s cup of tea.

The entire villa is laid out facing north towards the sea. It is situated on a hillside which affords a perfect view for sunrises, while sunsets are eclipsed by the trees. Shaped in a long rectangle with almost continuous decking, the villa layout takes advantage of every possible view. I prop myself up on the porch just outside our bedroom and start thumbing through a white three-ring binder designed to be a comprehensive guide for guests; labeled Information Package (IP). It is thorough and well done covering everything from internet setup, driver trip rates, village restaurants, septic tank operation, and water conservation to typical Balinese phrases and dishes. Under electricity the commentary reads: “Sometimes the electricity just doesn’t work. This is Bali.” This reminds me of a house-sit we did for almost six weeks in Bora Bora where another common phrase that expresses coping with typical remote island issues is, “That’s island life!” or “This is an island car!” which translates in English to “it’s a beater!”

Since all of the documents in the IP are professionally typed, a hand-written note in Bic blue ink from the owners, Chris and Kim, stands out. There is a hand-drawn sketch of a Tokay Gecko as well, imploring guests to be kind to the resident geckos and not kill them! “Please remember this is a tropical country. You may encounter fascinating reptiles, insects and other creatures on the property and sometimes even in the house. Please ask the staff for assistance if you are unsure about what to do about any particular unfamiliar beast. We have asked the creatures to remain outside, but there is a bit of a language issue and not all species have been willing to comply.”

One of our gecko housemates hangs behind an enormous colorful canvas painting in the kitchen of a fish market worker holding a rather large fish (see photo!). Mr. Gecko has been getting our attention by sending out incredibly loud mating calls which sound oddly like the word “gecko.” Geh-Koo! Geh-Koo! The calls echo playfully against the glossy hard-stoned floors throughout the villa. We have not seen him yet, but I look forward to seeing our Tokay’s beautiful colors! Apparently, geckos are chameleon in the sense that they do change colors according to their surroundings. (…guess who just stuck his head out right before I posted this?!?)

As we had experienced first-hand in Bora Bora, geckos will inhabit your home, without your permission. In the words of Tiga Wasa owners: “They are harmless, beautiful and interesting creatures.” All so true. But, no mention of the fact that they do leave a messy “poop trail.”  Fortunately, Sumi sweeps and washes floors daily and they are beautifully clean and shiny, especially since it is custom for everyone to remove their shoes before entering a home. Bare feet are part of island life. It’s fun to walk up to a house, and sometimes a business as well, and see a pile of assorted flip-flops. It’s almost like a welcome mat! There is a note in our IP asking guests to wash their feet at night before bedding down to save on laundry. Makes sense.

For those of you that don’t know, geckos are nocturnal in nature. However, we have seen plenty of the “generic house variety” geckos outside and inside during daylight.  Since Geckos have large pads on their feet, it allows them to easily and quickly scale completely smooth surfaces, including walls of course. Our first night here, Cliff heard some strange noises on the roof. We now know it was a gecko but of the still larger outdoor variety – about eight inches long. If I had a pet gecko, I would probably call him Spiderman.

Sadly, we learned there had been a recent murder of a gecko in the Red Shower Room, by an obviously terrified and uniformed guest of the villa! We don’t have many details about his death. Mr. Tokay was just going about his business in his home, The Red Shower Room, when a giant with a large canister began spraying him repeatedly. Turns out the unsuspecting gecko was “sprayed to death” with a can of bug killer. I have terminated many a spider, including one in a Paris shower and one in Australia. But a gecko? How very unfortunate.

As you can see, part of living in a tropical paradise is sharing it with the surrounding habitat. I do admit to leaving flip-flops bedside for nighttime emergency trips to the toilet in case of unsuspecting visitors. And we have “at the ready,” a handy headlamp on the nightstand to be able to see clearly while stumbling to the toilet. And, yes, I do check around the toilet and under the lid for random creepy crawly creatures. Just in case.

The clouds are coming and going today; looks like it could rain. Warm – mid 80’s with humidity about to match. In fact, looks like this is the exact daily forecast for the rest of the week. Perhaps the rest of the month. If you think there has been too much talk in this post about coffee and geckos…then maybe Bali is not for you!

Kadek has moved the lounge cushions up under the lanai to keep them out of the rain. I am going to take a nap. No need to worry about what’s for dinner. Lovely!

Post script ~ this is like the post of the dream that won’t end, because something else keeps happening! As I am trying to complete my final edit, Cliff bursts into the bedroom saying there was a gecko in the freezer as he was trying to retrieve some ice for a glass of water. His only guess is that the gecko fell into the freezer when Cliff initially opened the door. Cliff then had quite a time trying to get the gecko out of the freezer. He finally flipped him onto the floor where the poor little gecko, about three inches in length, lay stunned. Cliff was not sure if he was just chilled or dead (remember ~ cold blooded creatures). After a minute or two the gecko started moving and appears to have recovered. He ran off under the frig. Maybe I should rename this post “Day of the gecko!!”



Villa Tiga Wasa ~ North Bali

We are ready when our driver Kadek arrives at 10am sharp in South Kuta, Bali; he is bright-eyed, professionally dressed, and cheery. More impressive than it sounds when you realize he has already been driving for well over three hours, just to pick us up. We will now be heading back to Lovina Beach from where Kadek began his journey at dawn this morning.

It takes some time to escape Denpasar as we dodge hundreds of flip-flopped scooter riders that pass on the right, or the left, or just hang like a parasite alongside our SUV. There are mothers with babies and toddlers in tow, some bound to their chests by a simple cloth sling. Helmets are optional. Kadek calmly negotiates around the scooters and careless pedestrians who are often balancing a strangely eclectic collection of goods on their heads and shoulders. I am sometimes surprised by the speed at which we “over-take” vehicles (a much more sinister process than simply “passing” another vehicle) and careen over the double white lines while facing head-on traffic as if a casual occurrence. Endless toots come from every direction signifying “I’m coming around this corner, but maybe I can’t see you and / or you can’t see me,” or “I am over-taking you,” or maybe just a simple “Thank you for letting me in, or out.” Or, all the previous combined. Kadek himself is a skillful “tooter.”

We pass a mish mash line-up of foreigners and tourists (white people) on scooters in front of a police station near Denpasar – apparently, a cash cow operation as we witnessed frequently in South Kuta. The irony is that they are checking to see if the foreigners are carrying an International Driver’s License which is merely a language translation of basic license information that can be easily arranged through AAA outlets in the US. We have one, but learned it expired after one year. When Cliff rented our scooter, no one even asked to see a driver’s license, they just requested a passport number. After the police pull you over and find you are not carrying an International Driver’s License, they demand cash as a fine and you are on your way. We were instructed by the scooter rental company not to give the police cash. It’s a racket. We quit driving our scooter.

Soon the chaos of the city is behind us and rice fields and verdant terracing graces the landscape. Weaving and rolling like a sailboat traversing large swells, we begin an ascent up a small mountain (we’re from Colorado) on a lane and a half wide winding road. Before long it looks like a scene from Jurassic Park and I am feeling like we are on The Road to Hana in Maui. Monkeys are munching an assortment of partially consumed treats along the roadside. Luwak coffee signs appear like road markers and countless hindu temples, large to small, line the roadways. Amused by the chaotic driving, Cliff asks, “Remind you of Italy?” Of course it does. In fact, the journey today has unexpectedly evoked a plethora of bittersweet memories of our travels this past year. I am grateful for the interesting and wondrous places and things we have been able to experience. Yet, one thing stands out above all else. It’s the people we’ve encountered along the way. The joyous faces and the pleasures of shared company – new friends. Friends brought together by circumstance where bonds form quickly. I wonder how our lives would be different if we had never met Dominique at a small museum in the countryside east of Paris, or had dinner with Serge and Sylvie in the lush courtyard of their cozy guesthouse in Toulouse. Our month in Croatia has especially fond memories – as we lived side-by-side with a family on a hill above the Adriatic Sea – KAH-tay (phonetic spelling), the humble fisherwoman who had also been a top-level pastry chef for forty years. Or sipping tea in Istanbul with Julie in one of her Airbnb listings; who thirty years prior moved from England after meeting her husband. And enjoying a seaside lunch in Cornwall with Mike and Suzanne, whom we met while working out at a hotel gym. And could I ever forget Taxi Tony who took us on a wild ride around London, in his Black Cab Taxi one wet and gray Friday afternoon. The young seven-year-old face of a high-energy rascal that I first came to know as a teenager myself, when I stumbled upon a social class documentary series, just starting back then and updated every seven years, called Seven Up. There are MANY others, including wonderful people whose homes we were blessed to care for in Australia. Like Mandy’s and her three loving furkids in Adelaide, and Kirsty’s and Rick’s home with their beloved 90 pound hound “Oscar” in Perth. I miss these people – they have become part of the fabric of our lives. Will we ever see them again?

The final journey today ended up taking well over four hours, including a couple spontaneous stops. Cliff purchased a dive computer after googling dive shops while we were on the road, and we stopped for an early afternoon cup of Kopi Luwak at a touristy roadside Coffee Plantation. Oh yeah….Turkish toilets – I almost forgot about these.  First at the dive shop where I decide I can wait, and then again at the coffee plantation where I decide I can’t wait. Most often these toilets are the cleanest, just tricky to use, depending on what you wear that day. We also stopped to pick up some basic groceries and snacks at a convenience store, and a SIM card for Cliff’s phone. Just in case our Google Project fi phones fail us. It’s rare. But it’s happened. They are good for about 130 countries.

As we arrive at Villa Tiga Wasa, we are greeted by staff, Sumi the Cook and Housekeeper and Kadek (again), the Gardener and General Repair Guy. They are warm and friendly with huge smiles! The gentle nature of these people is quickly evident. We drudge up the steps to our villa, like the vagabonds we are, with numerous sacks in hand, back packs mounted to our backs, and walk directly up the center of the villa and straight out onto the wide-open lanai. The view is captivating! Muted dusty blues and hazy grays in the distant sky obscure it, but I know the Java Sea is concealed below. I am instantly struck by the extreme sense of peace.

We settle in and start unpacking. Cliff takes a dip in the pool. I am tired and somewhat dehydrated; by intention to avoid unnecessary pit stops. I need a break. I drink some bottled water from a 5-gallon container situated on the kitchen counter. I start perusing the help-yourself bookshelf adjacent to the counter and discover “MY NAME IS RED,” by Orphan Pamuk and set in 16th Century Istanbul. I am hooked by the moment I come to the period at the end of the third sentence.  I lay down in our spacious bedroom that opens to a balcony with that same amazing view I spoke of earlier.  Feels great to stretch out and relax.

After about 45 minutes, Sumi asks, “What would you like for dinner?” I am immediately stumped. This is the question I usually ask! She also wants me to make a list of what we like and what grocery items she should pick up while shopping. I quickly slip into empathy mode. I don’t want to put her out. There is a definite language barrier. This feels strange. Stranger than I expected. I am used to being the one in charge in the kitchen!

I return to the bedroom and excitedly continue reading the intriguing, bizarre novel that will surely bring much intellectual stimulation over the coming weeks – I don’t usually read 400 page novels. Soon I hear subtle clinking sounds in the kitchen. I wonder what Sumi is whipping up for us! It’s different to be on this side of the process. I feel like I should be offering help. I am interested in learning more about Balinese cooking. My need to rest wins out over my curiosity and empathy. It’s a good thing.

“Ready!” Sumi shyly calls out. There it is again! I am usually the one declaring this message. Maybe not so shyly.  I respond promptly, “Coming!” I don’t want to keep her waiting or show a hint of disrespect for the meal she has prepared. On my way to the table I notice a rather mangy smallish black and white dog on the porch. He appears somewhat skittish.  I try to make eye contact, but he resists. I am not overly surprised by this having experienced island living in Bora Bora where feral dogs are everywhere. I assume he is Sumi’s. She says his name is Belang.

Two servings of tasty Nasi Goreng – chopped chicken, yellow and red peppers, onions, sweet and sour tamarind and chili spices, and rice all blended together and neatly plated on the lanai. Al fresco dining in the kind of setting we have previously paid dearly for, gazing over the tops of palm trees and banana ferns – it’s a feeling like floating above the clouds. In a treehouse. I could get used to this!

I dish Belang some left-overs in his bowl out back, while Sumi states “Chris’s dog. Owner.” We later learn that Belang is really a neighbor’s dog that Chris and his wife have come to foster. I notice he has a bad leg.

Before Sumi leaves, she asks “What would you like for breakfast?” That’s my line again, what shall I say?? I feel guilty asking someone to make my breakfast. “Just yogurt… and fruit… and toast.”

“What time?” she queries again. “Uh…” Why is this so difficult I ask myself. “Nine o’clock,” Sumi offers. “Okay, sounds great!” I say slightly tongue-tied. Ridiculous. I know.

The sun has begun its descent. The sky washed in a misty grayness with streaks of pinkish color poking through; remnants of a sunset. We can still see an outline of the curvaceous coastline below. Mystical Hindu chants and song like praising fill the darkness. Cliff checks out back the Villa around 8:30 PM and sees that Ketut, the property’s security guard, has arrived. He is in his bamboo, open air hut and gives a friendly wave – a shy, gentle man, English not so good. Ketut will remain there all night, performing occasional searches around the property with his trusted “torch,” as my Aussie and British friends would say! 😊 “Flashlight” as we call it in America.

The night comes early. It is dark and balmy. Below, a bank of twinkling lights remind us of the small village that exists along the sea. There is a cacophony of sounds emitting from the inky darkness; crickets and geckos and roosters, and a sundry of other nameless creatures. The windows are wide open. The breeze is cool and gentle. The smell is earthy and honest. I am recalling the feeling of summer from my childhood. Life is abundant and good.


At first I thought it might be a case of Mother’s Day appeasement as all five of us trotted off to the movie theater to see an early showing of “Woman In Gold.” However, the emotions evoked by this well-done true historical drama of one woman’s journey to recover a treasured piece of family artwork stolen by the Nazis, proved otherwise. Weeks after seeing this impactful film, I still find myself reflecting on numerous scenes and empathizing with Maria Altmann (played by Helen Mirren), a Jewish woman from Vienna who was forced to leave her family, her friends, and her country and begin life anew with her young husband in an unfamiliar land called America. I have started over again in my life many times. It is not easy. It is not pleasurable. It is a lot of work, effort and perseverance. Somehow my own experiences now pale in comparison.

“Woman in Gold” changed me in some way. Shortly after seeing the film I thought to myself, “I might even wish to see it again in the near future.” This is the hallmark of a great movie to me. I am not easily entertained. For anyone that knows me, it is common knowledge that I am a critical movie reviewer and it takes the promise of an extraordinary film to even get my attention. It is a topic of amusement for my husband and kids. “Woman in Gold” has been the second movie in the last six months that piqued my interest. The first being “Unbroken” directed by Angelina Jolie. Sitting in the theatre for “Unbroken” is when I first saw the movie preview for “Woman In Gold.” Being a fan of the great Artist Gustav Klimt, who is the creator of this portrait that would later become known as “The Woman in Gold,” I knew immediately that I wanted to see this film. I did not know the story and I did not read any reviews prior to seeing this film and that turned out to be a good thing! After seeing the film I was curious what the critics were saying. The reviews I read baffled me! In each critique the commentary was incredibly unenthusiastic, including everything from the poor casting of Ryan Reynolds as Attorney Randy Schoenberg, the film being slow-in-parts, to the film being just a simplistic retelling of the true story. Really? That’s not the film I experienced!

So let’s address the mechanics for a moment and then get back to the personal take away of the film:

First point being the casting of Ryan Reynolds as Randy, a character referred to as a “school boy” at one point in the film, an understandable comment given his age and lack of experience. Reynolds plays this character well. It seems the expectation is Randy will be a Perry Mason – but he’s not. Randy is young, inexperienced and nervous as he appears in the US Supreme Court for the very first time. Randy is a bit bumbling in other scenes as well and at one point drops papers across the floor in front of the Austrian Review Committee. Why is Reynolds expected to play the character as something he is not? Would a different actor have changed Randy’s personality?

The second point is “that the film is slow-moving-in-parts.” I did not find this to be the case at all. Hmmm…succinctly and creatively communicating the emotions of a scene is key to great directing. The emotions of Maria and Randy include boredom and frustration as obstacles sprout up and the tedium of the legal process becomes wearying. However, communicating boredom doesn’t mean the story is boring. Humor was injected brilliantly throughout the film. Such lines as “Randy, can you drive faster? The chocolate on your donut is melting!” were wittily delivered by Mirren. Additionally, the use of flashbacks intertwined the past with the present in a clever and interesting way that kept the film moving and provided the necessary detail of the back story. There was a rise and fall to the film’s flow as intense scenes of the past gave way to the current day frustrating and tedious realities. The story was the story. Sometimes life is mundane and communicating these relevant details effectively to the audience can help them appreciate the events in process. No wonder Hollywood is pressured to embellish even the most interesting and entertaining true stories!

Lastly – “that the film is just a simplistic retelling of the true story.” Some of the most moving scenes included the Nazis forcing the Jews to scrub disparaging remarks from the streets on their knees, flashbacks to Maria’s earlier life unfolding her relationship with her aunt (literally the Woman in Gold) and the smashing ending as Maria tours the home of her youth as she envisions greeting all of her family members one-by-one. The clenching ending delivers as Maria’s striking Aunt Adele Bloch-Bauer turns to face the audience with Klimt’s portrait behind her – it is simply breathtaking!

So all of the negative reviews make me question the criteria that many reviewers use today. Are we concerned merely with the mechanics of casting, directing and the formula of what constitutes a good movie? Or have we ignored perhaps the greatest consideration of all in understanding how the viewer’s heart and soul might be transformed by the film? Is the viewer moved or inspired to think and act differently? Has the viewer’s perspective been challenged is some way?

In the end, if a film sticks and causes you to rethink something, is that not part of what defines it as a success? A couple of my favorite lines from the movie were when Maria’s mother lovingly stated “Learn to be happy again Maria (…in America),” and “Keep the memories alive!” Perhaps these are things that are best understood and appreciated by a veteran of life. And so I wondered what my sons thought. One said “Never give up!” and the other “Sometimes it’s worth fighting for what’s right and getting justice.” So, our lives were enriched by “A Woman In Gold.” Is that not worth a 5-star rating?