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Leaving Lovina

Our last day in Lovina, and the first day of our return journey home.

After breakfast we finished the last of our packing, which went pretty smoothly. Our rucksacks are packed ready for the flights tomorrow and Friday; i.e. any liquids or sharp objects are packed into the hold luggage as opposed to hand luggage and spare clothes are at the ready.

Shortly before 11am we made our way to reception and right on cue a member of staff turned up at our door to help us with our luggage. Our driver had already arrived so we were able to load up the car straight away and drive off south to Sanur.

The first third of our journey was identical to the first half of our day trip a couple of days ago, but this time we carried on further along windy roads. At one point the driver slowed down and asked if we wanted to stop for a snack. I murmured to Tim that I wasn’t actually feeling very hungry and was really baffled when he explained to Made, our driver, that we had already seen many snakes on our travels. We had stopped outside some sort of mini-zoo and I misheard!

Apart from this one “stop”, Made carried on driving, not once trying to persuade us to have lunch at an expensive restaurant or visit some temples. This meant that we arrived in Sanur a little after 1.30pm.

Harrads Hotel is on the same bypass road as our first hotel, but could we find it? We kept on driving, and driving and suddenly after nearly 15 minutes Tim spotted it on the other side of the road. It looked extremely posh, with a huge white limousine outside. I joked to the girls that we would be taken to the airport tomorrow by limousine – only Hannah thought I was serious!

We asked the driver to wait with our luggage as we wanted to check out that this was the right hotel. Outside the main entrance we were asked to put our shoulder bags, Ellen’s Zen and Tim’s wallet on the table while we took turns walking through a metal detector!

Once inside it looked even posher and I was convinced this was the wrong place. No, it seemed correct, except they could only find a booking for one room. In the end they did find the right booking in both Tim and my name, but we could not have interconnecting rooms. Our rooms were situated on different floors! At Tim’s suggestion they moved other guests (who had not checked in yet) in order for us to have two rooms almost opposite but at least on the same floor.

Tim and Hannah’s room is at the back and they look out on a field with beautiful light brown cows grazing, chickens pecking and puppies being silly.

Locus iste.
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Ellen and my room, on the other hand, is near the front and looks out on the beautiful round swimming pool and… building works! Oh well, it’s only for one night and hopefully they won’t start work too early tomorrow morning.

As soon as we left our bags in one of the rooms (the other room was still being cleaned) we headed back down to the hotel’s restaurant for lunch. It was well after 2pm by now and we were all getting slightly hungry. We entered the restaurant, only to find all tables and chairs pushed to one side and a member of staff cleaning the tiled floor with one of those special machines to make the tiles look shiny and slippery.

A table and chairs were put out just for us and we chose two dishes to share. The girls had an American Bistro (burger with french fries to you and me) and Tim and I shared a portion of very lukewarm lasagna. First impressions of the food were not particularly positive…

We retired to our rooms and left the girls in one room watching their last dose of Disney Channel whilst Tim relaxed reading “House Rules” by Jodi Picoult and I started the blog.

Tim popped out to explore the neighbourhood and returned with drinks for the girls, milk for our coffee/tea and biscuits for our afternoon snack and tomorrow’s breakfast (we’ll have a proper breakfast at the airport).

Shortly before 7pm we returned to the restaurant where Ellen had a large hot dog, Hannah chose a club sandwich (shared with the grown-ups) and I shared some tough, greasy nachos with Tim. When my empty plate was collected, the waitress asked how I liked the food. I hesitated, but eventually did comment that the cheese was really tough – hope they’ll take it on board. [Incidentally, one other guest refused to eat his pasta dish as it was cold and did not want to have it reheated – sounded similar to our lasagna dish at lunchtime.]

We booked a taxi for 9am tomorrow for our transfer to the airport. Not having breakfast at the hotel means that we’ll be able to have a bit of a lie-in we can take our time having something to eat at the airport (and it might be cheaper than the hotel!).

Shower and/or television for the girls before bedtime. Hopefully the other guests won’t be too noisy (or the cows in the field…).

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School’s nearly out

We’ve been on a few one- or two-week holidays in the past, whether a damp sojourn in Wales or a package deal to the Canaries, and you normally come home slightly disappointed that it’s all over so soon. Well, I suppose that we’ve just been carrying out the ultimate experiment to discover when the right time to come home would be, and for us it’s somewhere around 40 weeks. Indeed, now that we’re approaching 44 weeks away there’s a distinct end-of-term atmosphere; we’re not doing much in class just now, idly whiling away the hours, looking forward to having no more blog homework and waiting for the bell to signal that Alice Cooper moment.

At breakfast we chatted with the owner, Richard (born in Somerset, emigrated to Australia when he was 12), who has been running this place for 21 years with his Balinese wife and two daughters. They employ 30 staff – who don’t seem to have too busy a time of it during this off-peak season; we’ve heard them having a merry old time while the place is nearly empty during the day.

I did more filming with Ellen, and today it was her turn to talk about our travels for an hour (she was more relaxed without an audience). Hannah made a start (unprompted) on writing about the first portion of our trip; although she began her diary in New Zealand, her desire for completeness is pushing her to fill in the first four months of our trip as well. Her visual memory is remarkable and she produced a detailed description of the first house we stayed in (ten months after the event).

Our bungalow was yellow. When you first come in you have the kitchen on your left and a sink on your right. If you go round the counter (which has the sink on it) there was the living room. It had a coffee table in the middle with a bowl of seashells and starfish, a sofa on the left, the window at the back, a TV on the right and a rocking chair. Also, there was a very short corridor with a bathroom on the left, a bedroom with 2 single beds and a bunk bed, and at the very end of the corridor was a bedroom with a double bed and a TV. There were 2 films we watched, one was called Milo and Otis and the other was 101 Dalmatians.
And we worried that the girls might not remember much about this trip…

We collected our delayed laundry, swapped ten books for one battered Jodi Picoult, booked our transport for tomorrow (sure enough, the office price was less than that quoted by our driver the other day) and withdrew another wad of cash to see us through to the airport.

Otherwise we stayed at the hotel, enjoyed a final swim in the pool, relaxed in the cool of our triple air-conditioned villa and treated ourselves to coffee and cake for tea in the restaurant. For supper we returned to nearby Barclona [sic] and Ellen admitted to feeling ‘chipped out’, whereupon she voluntarily switched over to Hannah’s unfinished rice dish. (The girls are becoming adept at recognising and admitting their own limits, e.g. when they are ready to go to bed or when the balance of their diet needs redressing.)

Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and the beginning of Saturday are travel days with lots of hanging around. We should have internet access but don’t expect too much in the way of thrills or beautiful scenery from now on. To compensate for this lack of action, we’ll be drip-feeding our concluding thoughts as well as putting together a few lists of ‘well I never’ facts and figures to round things off. In other words, it’s time to roll the credits. You have been watching…

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The dreaded question

My greatest fear about reaching the end of our journey is having to face the question “So, how was your trip?”, or even “We’ve really enjoyed following your blog every day; now tell us all about it.” You might as well ask “So, give me a brief overview of the history of Western philosophy from Socrates through to the present day.” It’s just that we’ve written well over a quarter of a million words about our travels and experiences, or somewhere between four and five small novels, and I really don’t know how to convey the epic scope and remarkable variety of the past ten months in any meaningful way within a socially acceptable timescale.

Let me demonstrate the problem. Today I filmed Hannah talking about our travels country by country; she had made notes beforehand to prompt her, and these focused on just one or two key points per location, merely skimming the surface. She ended up speaking to the camera for a whole hour…

So please forgive me if I don’t plunge straight into a detailed narrative; I may just chicken out with a tame “Very nice, thanks.” On the other hand, if you want to get specific about collision probabilities of Bolivian taxi drivers or the musical abilities of the New Zealand tui, then I’m your man.

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Wet, wet, wet

We had imagined just lounging around the pool soaking up the sun and then cooling off in the water during our last two days here, but so far no such luck.

After breakfast I walked down the road in search of a different laundrette to hand in our final load of washing before returning home. Two of the three laundrettes were still closed, so by default I dropped our small bag off at the last shop/laundrette.

I wasn’t quite sure that I was in the right place, so went over to the two ladies at the table. Yes, they could do the washing, but couldn’t promise me to have it ready by the end of the day. It wasn’t as if I had interrupted them being extremely busy as all they seemed to be doing was gossip whilst filling their lungs (and the clean air) with smoke. Even when I pointed out that I would really like our four t-shirts and four bits of underwear back by tomorrow morning, they seemed very hesitant. Why? Only when I suggested taking the bag somewhere else, did one of the ladies agree to wash it “now”. The other lady kept talking about the weather, but at that moment it was still sunny and already very hot, so I couldn’t really see any problem.

Slightly worried about whether or not I would get our clothes back, I returned to our villa to find both girls hard at work.

We had asked them to write down keywords relating to their memories of our trip and then spent a lot of the day finalising this list and interviewing each of them separately.

Hannah definitely rose to the challenge, mentally taking herself back in time and recalling even the most minute of details. Things Tim and I had pushed to the back of our minds or even simply forgotten.

Ellen, too, enjoyed being seated on the bench and interviewed by Dr Price. Her contribution was brilliant, but we might do a second take and put the camera closer to her (just for volume purposes).

We were keen to find Lovina Bakery for lunch, but had to settle for a different eatery where they offered some Dutch food. Hannah chose a large meatball & chips, Ellen & Tim shared a baguette with “rookworst” (smoked sausage) and I had some bruschetta with tomato & mozzarella.

Afterwards we walked back via the beach road which had even more shops and restaurants and were pleasantly surprised that it took us back to Rambutan Hotel much quicker. We had a look around the hotel shop where Hannah chose a beautiful turquoise necklace.

we spent the afternoon in our villa filming the girls during downpour number four (now I could understand why the ladies were hesitant about the washing being ready for tonight!), watching television, reading and playing card games.

For supper we dashed next door for pizza, tagliatelle and chicken breast with roast sweet potatoes.

We’re nearly ready to fly back home. We were busy sorting out our bags and put aside all items of clothing we won’t take with us. These items are either faded, out of shape or missing buttons. we also have a stack of eleven (11!) books to leave behind. Tomorrow we’ll try and take them to one of the few shops that sell secondhand books and attempt to swap them for the latest Jodi Picoult book…

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Fields of Bali

After a daring attempt to stay up past 11pm last night, I slept through to 5.30 in the morning but Kirsten didn’t have such luck. Nevertheless we rose and breakfasted in time to collect our laundry from down the road (they were still ironing it) and get ready for our tour.

The driver was supposed to turn up at 8.45 but he appeared just after nine o’clock with “sorry, huh?” I checked that his receipt matched ours and then we piled into his air-conditioned Toyota. We asked if we could change the usual programme slightly, i.e. visit the Giant Tree instead of the gold and silver market, but he hadn’t heard of the Giant Tree. Oh well…

We outlined our Bali itinerary so far and he told us he had been at Pura Taman Pule in Mas (his family’s home temple) the day after Kuningan to offer a roast pig; we had missed him by just one day.

We first drove to Gitgit waterfall and were surprised that things were still quiet there; we were ahead of the tourist rush, and the inevitable stalls were still in the middle of opening up. We followed a track past picturesque rice terraces and coffee plantations and we could soon hear the thunder of cascading water. Ellen and I got as close as we could to get the benefit of the cooling spray without suffering a total drenching.
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On the return walk we dabbled with haggling. You have only to enquire the price of something for them to assume that you will buy it, come what may. The initial ridiculous figure of 100,000 Rupiah for a chain of little polythene bags of local spices prompted us to walk away immediately, and as we disappeared into the distance the stallholder progressively crumbled to a final price of only Rp10,000 (still a respectable 70 pence). A tenfold deflation was enough to grab our attention and we returned to purchase two such assortments.

At a later stall my opening bid of Rp10,000 each for a small packet of vanilla pods and one of cinnamon sticks was rejected out of hand as ridiculous – “100,000; okay, 70,000” – but sure enough, just as we were nearly out of earshot, she came running after us to accept our original offer.

Back in the car and a long, twisty uphill climb towards Lake Beratan, pausing to buy bananas to give to the monkeys that hang around and get fat by the side of the road. (You’re not really given the option not to buy bananas; it’s a prerequisite for being allowed to park there.) It’s a self-fulfilling tourist attraction; the monkeys wouldn’t be there but for the busloads and vanloads of people stopping off to feed them.
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A little further on we descended to the lake with Ulun Danu temple on its shore. By now it was overcast and drizzly; the girls complained of feeling cold – a first for Bali. We did a quick walk through the grounds (this was by far the busiest site we visited today), bought some fake Pringles to keep us going and moved on.
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The fruit and flower market just up the road looked miserable in the rain so we gave it a miss and asked to sit out the bad weather while we had lunch. Surprise, surprise, we were dropped off at an overpriced tourist buffet conveyor-belt place. We took one look inside (Rp60,000 per head, plus tax) and escaped this particular prandial pitcher-plant just in time. (Okay, so we’re flies today. I am large. I contain multitudes.) We explained to our driver Eka (aka Nyoman, the third) that we usually pay Rp80,000 to Rp100,000 in total for a light meal out. To be fair he didn’t try it on again but drove us to a pleasant budget Warung (Puncak Bagus Coffee Shop) overlooking two lakes where we spent a reasonable Rp84,000 on sandwiches, a salad, chips and a fruit juice.
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Then on towards the village of Munduk, nestled among more rice terraces and coffee plantations. We stopped a few times for the views, but it was too cloudy or the terraces were too distant or there was a TV aerial or a banana tree in the way. Just as we were explaining that we didn’t have our swimming stuff with us and were happy to give the Hot Springs a miss, Kirsten spotted a sign to the Giant Tree! Right on cue we had a substitute destination, and Eka was happy to give it a try as he had never been there before.

What a felicitous find; our side road ran right alongside photogenic flooded terraces complete with a couple of posing chickens.
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Furthermore, when we reached the big buttressed banyan we had a bonus attraction – most of the village was assembled around a rectangular arena intently watching something. A dance performance? Cock-fighting? No, it turned out to be a spinning top contest. Men wielded whips and heavy-duty turned chunks of wood on spindles and took turns to launch their tops onto the pitted earth floor of this building. Two tops per quadrant, and the second top was aimed at the first as if to knock it off balance. Clearly a competitive event, but we couldn’t deduce the rules. The tops could continue spinning for up to five minutes, such was their density, but the round was over once just three of the eight tops remained rotating. Here we had stumbled on something that is purely for the locals’ enjoyment (apparently they do this all day on Sundays and Tuesdays) and it is so rare to come across anything without any tourist angle to it in Bali. Authenticity at last!
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The tree was impressive, too; a great-girthed tangle of supporting roots dwarfing the girls.
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Our final stop was the only Buddhist temple in Bali, and it took a surprisingly long time to reach it from our ‘top spot’ although the distance looks short on the map. We were allowed in sans sarongs (as we were at Ulun Danu) and this temple had far fewer visitors – or else we had beaten them to it with our modified itinerary. Not quite the splendour of some Malaysian temples, but a peaceful haven full of hidden buddhas in its restful gardens.
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It was then but a short journey back to our hotel, during which our driver quoted us a higher price for our upcoming transfer to Sanur than I had been given at the office where I booked today’s tour. (This despite cutting out the middleman.) We held back – last time the driver’s quote was inflated – and I’ll double-check at the office before making a decision.

We returned a good two hours earlier than scheduled (thanks to missing the market and not loitering in the hot springs) so Eka got some free time and the girls could catch Hannah Montana for the final time this trip. We’ll probably have two quiet days before starting the long haul home. From now on our journeys will be bringing things to a close, rather than being the gateway to the next exciting port of call on our adventure. So in three days’ time it’s going to be taxi, Sanur hotel, taxi, flight to Singapore, taxi, Singapore hotel, taxi, overnight flight to London Heathrow, Grandad’s taxi, home. And we’re ready for it.

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Hassle

I felt so much more comfortable in the night knowing that the girls were just at the other side of the building with no locked doors in between our bedrooms. They could easily come and see us should there be a problem. This meant I had a much better sleep and only woke up briefly twice before falling into a deep sleep again.

Tim on the other hand was awake for a couple of hours and both girls were up and playing “brides” well before 7am!

When we arrived yesterday I found a copy of the restaurant’s menu in our room and was slightly disappointed and baffled to see the breakfast page mentioning several dishes at a price. We know breakfast is included, but does that mean we can only choose one item? I was keen to find out…

As soon as we sat down the waiter handed us a different breakfast menu. In all there were three different options; all of which included fresh fruit, fresh juice, coffee/tea and a pancake. On top of that we could choose eggs (your own choice) with bacon, toast with butter and jam/peanut butter/honey or an Indonesian dish (fried rice/noodles).

We all opted for the toast with jam or honey, but were disappointed with the bread which tasted bland and slightly stale. Apart from that we were happy with the huge choice, but we’ll order slightly less tomorrow as now we have a much better idea of portion sizes and we don’t like food to go to waste.

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After breakfast we collected our laundry from the room and headed down the road in search of a laundrette. Although our bag only just weighed over 1 kilo, the lady charged us for 1.5 kilos. It was still under £2, though, but next time we might try somewhere else. This road is littered with laundrettes, restaurants and resorts. There are also lots of locals telling us we do want to buy some pearl necklaces for our daughters, or book a trip to see dolphins…

We walked down to the beach and popped into a couple of shops in search of replacement flip flops for me as my so-called Birkenstocks are falling to pieces with several cracks in the cork sole. We were pleasantly surprised to find several shops selling second-hand books. Our guidebook advised us to bring our own books as we wouldn’t be able to buy any here…

When we reached the bottom of the road, the beach seemed blocked off to let fresh cement dry. Tim, though, easily climbed over the wooden barrier and walked across the nearly dry floor. One of the locals on a motorbike advised us to walk through the restaurant instead if we wanted to get to the beach.

We had only just set foot on the beach or we were hassled by some local women. Did we want the girls’ hair braided? No, thanks. [I had read on someone else’s blog that a) the braiding takes forever; b) the girls’ hair would be difficult to wash and c) the combs used don’t get cleaned properly.] Do we want sarong or skirt? No, thank you. [The girls and I have sarongs already.] Do we want to go snorkelling? No, thanks. We’ve already done that. Where? Just up the coast. Oh, but here the water is clean and you can hire snorkelling gear… And so on, and so on. Eventually Tim got straight to the point and told them several times that we weren’t going to buy anything.

One lady asked (once she had established that we live in England) whether we live in London? Manchester? Cambridge? and then added knowingly “I think when you are speaking with your family you are speaking Cockney.”

As we weren’t going to get any peace and quiet on the beach we decided to turn around and walk up the road again. The girls were desperate to get into the pool, and so was I. It was still early, but the sun was already very hot.

I took the girls back whilst Tim carried on down the road in search of a tour for tomorrow. He managed to book a trip at a much better price than the one offered at the hotel and half an hour later joined at the poolside.

Tim spent time catching up on yesterday’s blog before it was time for lunch. After our huge breakfast we only felt like a bowl of cereal and spent the rest of the afternoon inside resting. We need to stay up later so that we won’t fall asleep at midday and wake up at midnight once we’re back in the UK (next week). We only briefly popped out to buy some snacks for afternoon tea before letting the girls watch two of their favourite Disney channel programmes: Wizards of Waverley Place and Hannah Montana.

For supper we decided to try out another restaurant mentioned in the Lonely Planet. This one is right next to our resort and is called Barclona (not sure whether it’s meant to be BarcElona). The girls grudgingly agreed not to have any dishes with french fries, fried potatoes or chips and we settled for two portions of delicious fried rice. Both girls managed to finish their plates as we had bribed them with dessert. We shared a large portion of vanilla ice-cream and a Banana Split.

Back in our rooms the girls watched the film “George of the Jungle” in an attempt to keep them up longer – it worked. Now I’m hoping they’ll be able to get up tomorrow morning in time for our 9am pick up…

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Black rice pudding

It was a dark and stormy night. Rain lashed our cliffside villa while the thunder rolled ever closer and the wind huffed and puffed; we were glad to have the house built from bricks rather than the bamboo cabins at Eka Purnama next door.

The weather had subsided by the morning and we filled up on breakfast downstairs – it’s probably the heartiest breakfast we’ve been offered anywhere on our trip, not counting those ‘all you can eat’ buffets. We gave the ‘black rice pudding’ a try today, overcoming any squeamishness at the inevitable thoughts of black pudding to discover a hugely filling dessert made from layered coconut cream and cooked black rice topped with a sprinkling of brown palm sugar. In addition to this we tackled more delicious slabs of toasted home-baked bread with cinnamon or local strawberry jam as well as one big bowl of chunked fruit to share. I suppose this feast is designed to set up guests for a full day’s diving or snorkelling around the Japanese wreck that’s located just off the shore here.

Cinnamon toast.
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Black rice pudding.
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We had a couple of hours to spare after breakfast so Ellen watched a Korean animated film called ‘The Reef’ in which a nasty shark is lured into a swarm of Portuguese Men o’War with agonising results. Only the jellyfish were the wrong colour – pinkish instead of blue – as any six-year-old round here will tell you. Meanwhile Hannah doodled in her sketch book, working on her latest fashion creations.

We lugged our luggage down the steps to be ready for our 10.30 taxi and were surprised to be met by a different driver rather than Ketut again. Something to do with a trip to hospital and a sick relative. Or did Ketut just subcontract the job? There’s a board across the road advertising our journey for 20% less than we arranged with him the other day. [It’s a real shame when you end up questioning just about every story you hear.]

We had been on the road for two minutes when I realised that I still had the room keys in my pocket. A quick trip back to Baliku to drop them off and then we were on our way, with a brief shopping stop in Amed for water and snacks to get us through the journey.

Amed silversmith – souvenirs!
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Anyway, our new driver got us to our destination safely and comfortably via the coastal road that loops north and then west from Amed, even though the road itself deteriorates for the second half of the journey. It’s all pretty untouristy along this stretch, barring the diving outfits in Tulamben (where there’s another wreck), until you get to Singaraja – which means ‘Lion King’ – and immediately beyond to Lovina where we shall be staying for five nights.

We found our boutique hotel and were shown to our villa. Yes! At last we have two bedrooms connected internally! Though the advertised ‘kitchenette’ turns out to be a kettle and a toaster. It’s the nearest we’ve had to a proper apartment since we left Australia, thanks to the separate living area that joins the bedrooms. There’s even Disney Channel (much to the delight of the girls) although today they seemed to be broadcasting in Indonesian and English simultaneously.

We crossed the pool to the restaurant to claim our Welcome Drinks (banana and pineapple this time) and to get a late snack lunch. It’s another overpriced outfit, but this one doesn’t have Baliku’s redeeming feature of really good food. The sandwich was unappealing (dry lettuce and fatty ham) while the ‘trio of dips’ was reduced to a duo thanks to an avocado shortage putting paid to the guacamole. Was the price reduced accordingly? Course not.

Then it was swim time. The pool separating us from the restaurant is uniformly deep in the main section; I can just about stand up there but the rest of the family can’t. The girls found a woggle each to help them float, and I chaperoned them every time they left the safety of the shallow crescent at the far end.

This hotel is relatively busy (i.e. compared to Baliku where we were the sole remaining guests); there are many Western couples as well as a German family with one boy (a bit older than the girls) who snorkelled around the pool.

We came out of the water to dry off and have a biscuit; we then walked the noisy main street in search of an ATM. We found three, but the first two refused to communicate in English – even after selecting the desired language – so we had to make do with one that dispensed only large-denomination 100,000 Rupiah notes. (Lonely Planet claims that this equates to a week’s wages, while also stating that the average family has a disposable income of 40,000 Rupiah per day – some mistake, surely?)

By now it was time for supper, and we chose an ‘Italian’ restaurant (well, the Balinese husband and wife owners have worked as chefs in Italian eateries in the south of the island). The carbonara was a darn sight better than the other spaghetti dishes we have tried in Bali while the pizza was nicely crisp. Hannah loved the (non-packet) tomato soup, despite the fact that she won’t touch an uncooked tomato. Astonishingly, there was no ice cream on the dessert menu, but when I enquired the husband offered “I can get some for you”. The girls were presented with tall glasses each with the emptied contents of two tubs of the cold stuff, presumably from the family freezer (they have a young son).

We returned to our Permai Suri villa in the dark, did diaries and flopped out early. Even the adults are struggling to stay awake past 9pm, and this does not augur well for our readjustment to European time (7 or 8 hours behind). We should be trying to stay up as late as possible so that a midnight bedtime here translates to an early night back home; at this rate we’ll be keeling over just after lunchtime once we return…

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