You can't help but relax at the Santi Mandala Villa and Spa.
You can't help but relax at the Santi Mandala Villa and Spa. Graham Reid

Bali magic relaxes resolve

BEING a travel writer - as I have sometimes grandly described myself - means never being able to say you're on holiday. Every destination, even the most mundane or local, may hold an experience, a story, or a character you feel compelled to explore and perhaps convey in print.

And so I have gone out of my way to see a bizarre museum dedicated to Elvis Presley in small-town Mississippi, followed my instincts to a tiny island off the coast of the bickering Koreas where the sole attractions were pumpkin candy and dried seaweed, and travelled up a river in Sarawak to spend the night with people who had shrunken skulls hanging on their longhouse's wall.

But this year, with encouragement from my wife, I took a holiday. There was a significant birthday to acknowledge, so we went to Bali.

We avoided the fleshpots of Kuta; my wife having found the comfortable, quiet Santi Mandala Villa and Spa in a pleasant valley just 20 minutes from Ubud. For a week I did a whole lot of nothing.

We spent hours by the pool drifting in and out of consciousness to the sound of ambient gamelan-styled music, watched colourful kites in the clear blue sky, sometimes went into Ubud to poke around the market and eat, and had a holiday just like other people do.

And then I fell off the wagon. I couldn't help myself. Curiosity got the better of me so we went into Ubud and I bought Indonesian rock and pop CDs to investigate (I'm listening to the punk band Superman is Dead singing Kuta Rock Cityright now).We slept deep and late, and ...

At night we attended traditional dance and gamelan concerts (one of steel gamelan in the famous Ubud palace, the other of bamboo in the nearby village of Bentuyung), I bought a book on gamelan and I started to ask questions.

We joined in a local festival then and, with a young couple from San Francisco, we hired a knowledgeable driver for a day who took us into traditional homes and ancient temples, down to the impoverished village of Kedisan beside Danau Batur (the lake) in the shadow of Ganung Batur (the mist-covered mountain). We tramped into chokingly claustrophobic jungle near the Elephant Cave. We took photos, I made notes ...

On our final day, with a late-night flight home, we decided to go to Kuta, then wiser and lazier thoughts prevailed. We stayed poolside. It was an utterly relaxing day. I felt I could get into this.

And so I had a holiday, and kept a promise to myself: I haven't written a thing about it.

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