Monday, June 22, 2009
Life in Lovely Lovina
Lovina and Candi Dasa has proven to be our very own version of the motorcycle diaries in Southeast Asia. Despite our last unfortunate run-in with the police, we have finally embraced the motorcycle culture as our main mode of exploration and adventure. Our experience has also been greatly enhanced by the addition of two travelers, who have also subjected themselves to the hardships and joys of the backpacker lifestyle- cheap accommodation, small eats, and a tight budget- limiting the scope of activities to those that grant the biggest bang for your buck.
Lovina is a town on the northern coast of Bali. People make the difficult and uncomfortable journey through the mountains to this small destination for its famous volcanic, black sand beaches and no other than nature's most intelligent and unlikely creature, the dolphins, which are known to flock to the shores of Lovina in the wee hours of the morning.
The town of Lovina consists of two short streets radiating from the beach and connected to a main road that runs through the neighboring villages. After a day of walking the streets and taking in the views and sunset at one of the beachside cafes, we were ready to try our luck at motorbiking in order to allow us greater access to the surrounding sights. First stop- the holy hot springs. Climbing double onto the bike, we attempted the road leading up the mountain to the hot springs, which turned out to be more of a potholed path and quite difficult to navigate while balancing double on the back of a motorbike. The hot springs consisted of numerous pools of various temperatures carved out of the mountain side. Hot water poured from the mouths of giant dragon statues and was said to contain traditional healing properties. It was the closest we found in Bali to a public swimming pool, filled with tourists lounging by the side and Balinese kids playing their own version of marco-polo in the water.
On our way back to town, we stopped off at one of the many./…, basically a roadside grill displaying the fisherman's daily catch. We were shown to a bin filled with colorful tropical fish, taught the different characteristics of each fish, and presented with two whole fish that matched our taste and appetites. The fish were lathered in sambul spice sauce, slapped on the grill and only removed when blackened and crunchy. The meal was served to an open, thatched raised hut, and included rice and a sample of four sauces, ranging in spiciness. After our meal, and a couple of Bintang beers for digestion, we sat and chatted about our travels as the sky darkened and the fishermen gathered their poles and nets and waded into the water for a couple of hours of night fishing, appearing only from the shore as a dark shadow highlighted by the sphere of light radiating from the lanterns strung to long poles above their heads.
The following day was marked by an epic Balinese cooking class. We fell in love with the food of a small, family-owned and managed warung in Lovina named Baracuda, serving a wide variety of traditional Balinese food. After researching cooking classes available in the town, our disappointment motivated us to try our luck at convincing our newfound Balinese friends to share their secrets of Balinese cuisine. Beaming with success, the four of us packed into the small kitchen located in the back of the restaurant and equipped with two gas stove tops and a hodgepodge of mismatched dish sets. The father brought out ingredients and proceeded to show us measurements and orders, as he juggled pots and pans between stove tops and the kitchen filled with the rich scent of Balinese spices. We scrambled to take notes and keep up as he continuously adjusted amounts, adding a bit more spice there and a little more chili here based only on his innate sense of taste, forgetting that his eager pupils were left wondering "wait, what was that, how much, where?!?" We immediately discovered that Balinese cooking is a simple derivative of a couple main ingredients, namely chili, ginger, shrimp paste, garlic, salt, and sugar. For those of you who are unaware or would like to try your skills at Balinese cooking, let me share the recipe for one of our favorite dishes, called Gado-Gado, a simple meal of vegetables smothered in a spicy, creamy peanut sauce. Although many of the dishes I’ve learned to cook will not become a daily staple back home, given the difficulty finding proper ingredients, I am convinced that the Indonesian version of peanut sauce will definitely make it on the menu of much of my home-cooking.
Indonesian Peanut Sauce
2 garlic cloves
1 t shrimp paste
1 t salt
1 t sugar
6 T dry peanuts
dried, fried shallots
1 T soya sauce
3 T lime juice
Chop first 5 ingredients and grind. Add dried peanuts. Blend. Add water, tablespoon by tablespoon, and blend after each addition. Add dried onion and soya sauce. Adjust flavor with sugar/salt/soya sauce. Finally squeeze lime juice. Voila- the best peanut sauce in the world!
Boil vegetables, such as potato, carrots, green beans, soy beans, watercress. Remove from water and strain. Plate vegetables. Fry tofu and tempeh. Add to plate. Pour peanut sauce over the top and enjoy a traditional Balinese dish.
Anyways, back to the story…
Three hours later, we sat down to enjoy our feast. We had made a total of twelve dishes, ranging from the light and crunchy, to the soft and saucy, and even some sweet. Between the four of us, we barely made a dent before our stomachs began to groan in protest despite the amazing flavors. Our family was even so “kind” as to bring us an additional dessert that we could not refuse, freshly made from glutinous rice flour, to supplement the fried banana and black rice pudding waiting for us at the end of our meal. After dinner, we were too full to move and an hour passed before we were finally able to awaken from our food-induced coma and make it back to our hotel at a sloth’s pace. Sleep came easy and early, an added benefit considering we were scheduled to get up at the break of dawn to partake in one of Lovina’s famous dolphin tours.
The alarm was painful in the silence of the morning hours and I think we were all wondering what we were thinking, getting up at such an unfriendly hour. Our morning meeting place- the giant dolphin statue that marks the center of Lovina. Quite fitting actually. First step-5 AM bartering with the local fishermen to find someone to take us on their boat into the heart of the dolphin chase for a reasonable price. Balinese fish boats are unusually narrow and supported by extending arms attached to thick, bamboo poles that help keep the boat afloat and stabilized in the water. We sat in a row inside the boat, draping both legs over the side and dipping our toes in the water. The cold rush helped to keep us upright and awake as we sat rubbing the lingering remainders of sleep out of our eyes. As the sun rose over the water, boats emerged from the darkness and we found ourselves one among a group of boats in a large pod. Our first dolphin sighting happens so fast we find ourselves staring after the quick, sleek arch of two dolphins jumping out of the water in unison. The nature of the dolphin game becomes immediately apparent- to be the first boat arriving on the scene in order to snag the best view of the dolphins. Once a dolphin makes it appearance, it becomes a rat race between boats. Engines flare and boats try to push in edgewise in order to get their nose ahead of the pack. The pod of fishing boats move from one side of the harbor to the other, inland and then away from the shore in short bursts of activity. May I remind you that given the intelligence of these creatures, I am sure they have made a game of their morning exercise by showing themselves briefly at one end of the harbor, only to reemerge at the other and then laugh at the scramble that follows and the ruckus they caused. Our boat guide, following his natural instinct, would say “I think the dolphins come here,” and breaking away from the crowd, would motor us towards some empty patch of ocean. Other guides would spot our movement and follow in jealous pursuit. Whether his efforts were made only for a good laugh at the domino effect he caused, we’ll never know, but he seemed to have uncanny luck in predicting where the next dolphin would emerge and we got to hoot and holler at those unfortunate enough to be left behind. At that point, however, the dolphins were far from mind, as we were more concerned with watching the bizarre behavior of the humans… Hey, I think the next dolphin-fanatic human might come from that boat over there… Another human sighting anyone?