Confounding Expectations: The Moose Espresso Bar Redefines What It Means To Be A Cafe

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It’s easy to poke fun at Batu Belig, just as it is to lampoon Seminyak, Kuta, Ubud and just about anywhere else in Bali. At the present time, BB is the demarcation between the upscale tourist enclave of Seminyak (think Bali’s Double Bay or South Yarra) and the still largely untouristy areas further north, most notably Canggu and Umalas.

While expat families stake out the Canggu Club like a local version of White Mischief except with water slides and bowling alleys, the northern expanses is also a favoured location of European mid-life Peter Pans with surfboards, abounding in man buns, ironic facial hair and skinny jeans, and the greyhound-sleek Francoise Hardy lookalikes they pillion.

It’s all part of the rich tapestry of life in Bali, from which they dangle like a colourful thread. I love them all and wish the boundless gifts of the Universe to settle on their well-sculpted shoulders. They whip along Jl Batu Belig as fleeting blurs, on their way to a gallery opening, live music at Deus or sunset drinks at Old Man’s, and I swear that, next incarnation around, I will know their pleasures and pain.

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I’ve been staking out Batu Belig for almost two weeks now, trying out restaurants and cafes and enjoying the beachfront bars; I may one day penetrate the deep north but, for the moment, this area largely cruises at my speed. Of course, I have my favourites as well as my weaknesses, the places I really really want to love and figure if I support them enough (and try enough menu items) they will fulfill my expectations.

So to The Moose Espresso Bar. At the eastern extremity of Jl Batu Belig, I’ve been expecting the EuroModernes to frequent The Moose but maybe they already have and moved on or it’s too far out of their happy hunting grounds or maybe (though extremely unlikely) that they’re yet to discover it; the EuroModernes can discern a new café by fluctuations in the harmonic balance of the Universe.

The Moose should certainly be on their radar. Billed as an “Eco-Industrial Coffee House”, it has a sustainability-skewed manifesto and a specialist coffee menu you have to see to believe.

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If that was all The Moose encompassed, you could easily write it off as faddish. It was the breakfast menu that intrigued me most. Breakfast is one of my three favourite meals of the day. If there’s a couple of things on a breakfast menu that appeals to me, I consider myself lucky. Three and I’m infatuated. Four or more and I’ll marry the barista.

On my inaugural visit, I decided on The Naughty Moosey (of which more later) but they were short of some key ingredients so it was back to the menu. I figured they’d also be out of Waldofs, so I ordered the Overnight Oats, described on the menu as “oats, shredded coconut, seeds and raisins, soaked overnight with grated apple and coconut milk, served with natural yoghurt, fresh honeycomb and berries”.

The copywriters had pretty much summed up the spirit if not the intent of bircher muesli and it modestly emerged from the kitchen on a large black dinner plate. But the first spoonful was enough to prove the presentation a cruel tease and the intense contrast of creamily sweet oats and tart berries, with the mid-notes of fresh yoghurt, was an unexpected winner.

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And the coffee? The strong latte was creamy and smooth and certainly lived up to its promise. The double macchiato on the first visit was a little bitter; later examples were considerably better.

I could see what The Moose was setting out to do but was it all promise and no delivery? On a follow-up visit, I was finally able to order The Naughty Moosie. Again, I’ll quote the menu: “stacked sourdough French toast filled with grilled bananas, whipped cream and coconut sugar, topped with crushed pistachio nuts, a salted caramel injection and a tart raspberry compote”.

And again, it emerged from the kitchen, framed by the now-familiar black dinner plate, unpresuming in appearance. This time, though, I knew what to expect. I looked at the Naughty Moosey through EuroModerne eyes and it dawned on me that this low-rise arrangement had a sapid simplicity that echoed Le Corbusier and my estimation of both them and The Moose rose even further.

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The taste? Sensational, not so much for what it should have been but for the audacity of what it was. No conventional French toast here; the two slices of sourdough were toasted rather than dipped in an egg mixture and pan fried, the bananas layered between. Below and above was the cream and coconut sugar, with the consistency and addictive richness of Cinnabon icing. Bold and subversive with a touch of danger; feed this to a toddler and he’ll be bouncing off the walls well into puberty. A breakfast that challenges what it means to have breakfast.

I’m getting the hang of The Moose. And rather protective. I worry whether enough people will really “get” it. The Moose manifesto merely hints at its own ambitions to be more than an ordinary café.

Next up, I’ll try the Big Moose or the Lazy Moose Roll. Maybe the Moose Benedict. Or the Corn Board if I’m feeling particularly healthy. There’s multiple options left to explore. And I’m most curious about by Hash Slab.

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And I’ll watch the café racers speed by with their precious (and precocious) cargos, and resist the urge to block Batu Belig and herd them inside. Maybe I’ll just keep The Moose for myself.

Words and photos copyright David Latta 2015.

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Breakfast At Petitenget: French Toast and Marigold Brightness Colours Bali’s Most Popular Holiday Festival

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This year, Bali celebrated Galungan on 15 July. The beginning of a 10-day holiday festival, one of the most important on the Balinese Hindu calendar, it is the time when the spirits of the departed visit their relatives and the places they knew and loved. It concludes on 25 July, when, having been feted with food and colourful offerings, they return to heaven for another year.

Symbolically, Galungan marks the victory of Good, known as Dharma (not the one with Greg, the other one) and Evil, known as Adharma. If it’s at all possible, Balinese travel back to their villages; businesses close as do many shops, bars, cafes and restaurants, even in the tourist areas.

Needless to say, the few cafes opening to a hungry clientele on Galungan morning were besieged. There wasn’t much happening at Batu Belig, aside from one place I’d already tried and wasn’t wildly impressed by, so I continued south towards Oberoi and Seminyak Square.

On the way, I passed Petitenget, a long-time favourite of mine; it was the first eatery I fell in love with upon arriving in Bali early last year. Somewhat of an expat hangout (definitely a better class of expat), Petitenget has a compelling menu, very reasonable prices, excellent wines that don’t cost the Earth and the bar staff can even be relied upon for a seamless martini, should the whim take you.

When I want to show visiting friends some of my favourite Seminyak things, Petitenget (along with the nearby Motel Mexicana and Merah Putih) are top of my list. And while I call the menu compelling, I really should qualify that by saying that, despite my best efforts and a determination each time to order the slow-braised lamb shoulder or pork belly or even the Black Angus striploin, overwhelmingly I end up with the risotto of Balinese duck, irresistibly rich with wild mushrooms, spinach, shaved pecorino and truffle oil, a vast bowl that seems to be at least half duck. It’s that good.

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Petitenget’s website promotes the “farm-to-fork” philosophy of Executive Chef Simon Blaby, who previously worked at such resorts as Karma Kandara and Semara. The restaurant’s organic farm at Kintamani, in Bali’s north, produces about 80 per cent of the produce used in the kitchen.

Anyway, long story slightly less long is that it took me until that morning, well over a year since my arrival, to discover that Petitenget serves breakfast. The Universe was delivering me to that door (or the steps from the street that I always seem to trip up) so it would be ungrateful not to go inside.

Despite the place being packed, the Universe also provided the last unoccupied table, which I immediately commandeered. The breakfast menu was extensive and certainly had enough choices to provoke a certain consternation but I eventually chose the French toast with caramelised banana and a generous side of bacon.

Figuring the crowd of diners would slow the kitchen down a bit, I settled in with a strong latte and a newspaper. But far quicker than anticipated, my order arrived. And every bit as memorable as the duck risotto, I’m pleased to report.

Then, as I usually do with new breakfast locations, I ordered a macchiato. It was a little over-milked but tasty, with no trace of bitterness.

The boxes just keep being ticked at Petitenget.

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On the way out, I popped into the men’s room where the counter top was wreathed in bright marigolds. I’m not sure whether this was a nod to Galungan but the marigold, known locally as gemitir, is commonly used in offerings. Every day, countless thousands of canang sari can be seen throughout Bali. The canang is a tray made from a palm leaf. The sari may include rice, incense, money and always a flower of a particular colour; the burnished yellow of the marigold, aligned towards the west, symbolises the Hindi deity Mahadeva.

Just like dinner, breakfast at Petitenget is not an everyday choice. But for those times when you want something very special, it’s certainly a worthy option. And, unlike Galungan, it doesn’t have to be once a year.
Petitenget, Jl Petitenget No. 40X, Seminyak. Tel: (62 361) 4733 054.

Words and photos copyright David Latta 2015.

Mind Games at Michi: A Place Of Tropical Noir Dreams In Ubud, Bali

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NOTE: This originally appeared on my main blog – http://www.davidlatta.org

Sometimes the mystery is enough.

Over the span of more than 35 years as a journalist, mostly writing about the tourism industry, I’ve experienced some truly remarkable hotels and resorts. Those forever lodged in my memory have a consistent thread. They’re not the usual, cookie-cutter mass-market properties of bed, bathroom and balcony, marble vanities, 1000-thread counts, pillow menus and duck down duvets.

The truly special have a blatant disregard for the ordinary. They’re flights of fancy, balancing whimsy and imagination with an occasional nod towards function.

The wow factor (to use that hollow phrase so beloved of marketers) is, to me, something that tilts expectations off the axis and spins them far out into the Twilight Zone. They’re usually the pet projects of truly inspired individuals, people who can only function in what the rest of us call the real world by taking their own dreams and ideals and fashioning them in bricks and mortar, stone and glass.

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Some work, many don’t, for the simple reason that, all too often, that which the mind can envisage can never be satisfactorily realised in the real world. The visionary mind is an abstract; trying to fit it together like Lego compromises its very essence. Luckily, that doesn’t stop people from trying; we mere mortals can do little more than pick our jaws up from the floor upon experiencing the truly transcending.

As I did at the Michi Retreat in Ubud, Bali. I’m not sure I’d ever want to stay there but I’m sure I’ll go back, time after time, just to marvel at the audaciousness of the place, wonder at what could have been and hope it never goes away.

The Balinese town of Ubud is said to have magical properties, a place of healing and spiritualism, and it has long attracted those seeking a different path than the rest of humanity. It’s no surprise, then, that in a place where alternative therapies, past lives regression, crystal healing, kinesiology, transformational breathing, reiki, aura cleansing, chakra realignment and dozens of different kinds of yoga are considered normal avenues for the attainment of enlightenment, that there are places to stay that complements such beliefs.

Ubud accommodation veers across the spectrum. There’s the Four Seasons Resort Bali At Sayan, which is a monstrosity or a stroke of genius, depending on your point of view. The Four Seasons spills down a deeply rainforested ravine with the Ayung River at the base, anchored by an ultra-modern tower that looks either like a spaceship or an airport terminal, again depending on your mood, inclination and generosity of spirit.

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Further along that same ravine and river is the Royal Pita Maha, encompassing a selection of private pool villas. Owned by the royal family of Ubud, it is much more a traditional villa resort except for the long entrance driveway with some startlingly explicit statues of animals – elephants, pigs, frogs – with generously proportioned human genitalia.

Traditional guesthouses, modern resorts, private villas surrounded by Ubud’s impossibly green rice paddies, there’s something for every budget and level of consciousness.

And then there’s the Michi Retreat.

The official website tells the story of a retired Japanese-American professor of history and sociology who built his dream some fifteen years ago. On the edge of yet another steep ravine, this time tumbling into the Wos River, the sacred river of Ubud, at the village of Jukut Paku, and opposite a rural vista of palm trees and rice terraces, he drew on a lifetime of influences to craft a rambling hotel complex where no one part is the same as any other and surprises await at every turn.

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Standing in the midst of Michi, as we did on a hot cloudless spring day, was a very different experience. There was an eerie, deserted atmosphere. The doors were open to the rooms and we wandered from one to the other, checking out the studios that evoke an ancient hillside Berber village as envisioned by Hundertwasser and the upstairs suites including one with subcontinental Indian and elephant motifs.

And the bathrooms! In every room, it was hard to tear our attention away from the bathrooms, each wildly different and supremely exotic confections.

Mosaics, stone, pebbles, mismatched ceramics, mirror fragments of all sizes; on the pool terrace, undulating concrete benches studded with jig-sawed tile pieces evoked the Parc Guell. The adjoining restaurant area postulated a fantastic pop-cultural meeting of the minds, its shabby post-apocalyptic opulence like a Eurotrash 70s disco designed by Gaudi.

Aside from the restaurant, there were few signs of life. There were areas, dusty with neglect, that must have been, not that long ago, shops, a beauty parlour, a spa. The jacuzzi is dry, the swimming pool not quite sparkling. There’s no reception at Reception except for leaflets announcing houses and apartments for rent within the complex on a daily and monthly basis. Amongst the facilities are listed “Kafe – Restorant”.

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Where is everybody? A clue may be on the website with the bizarrely honest admission that Michi’s “management is journeying through a paradigm shift” although there doesn’t seem to have been an update since 2011.

Michi is a hotel you’d expect to find on the edge of the American desert, perhaps envisioned by Sam Shepard and directed jointly by Antonioni, Jodorowsky and Ralph Bakshi with Tarantino relegated to second unit, run by a guy who looks disturbingly like Harry Dean Stanton.

It’s a familiar theme. You don’t want to stay there, it doesn’t feel right but your car has broken down, there’s a suitcase full of cash in the trunk and the cute little blonde at your side, the one with the elongated vowels and even more elongated limbs whose humid gaze can melt metal, is the mistress of a Texas cattle rancher with no sense of humour whatsoever.

You know the movie. You’ve seen it dozens of times under a variety of titles. And Michi seems like the perfect setting, even with the rice terraces and palm trees and the slim sleek tabby with high-stepping elegance who guides us around like a new best friend.

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As the fantasy fades, so the realisation dawns that, quite possibly, despite the air of neglect, Michi may be as magical as Ubud is meant to be.

I’ll come back to Michi. I’ll eat in the Kafe, swim in the pool, maybe even stay a night or two. Hopefully, I’ll meet the Professor. In a 2009 magazine article republished on the website, it mentions he’s 79 years old, which would now put him in his mid-80s. He’s had an amazing life, wandered the world, made fantastic friends, appreciated the arts and turned his dreams into a potent reality. I’d really like to hear his story.

There aren’t many opportunities to understand the genesis of a place as special as the Michi. If the Universe allows, I’ll get that chance. If not, then the mystery will have to do. I just hope the Michi endures.

http://www.michiretreat.com

© words and photos David Latta 2014

Update: 8 March 2017.

The mystery will forever remain just that.

In early March 2017, the founder of Michi, David S. Kung, otherwise known as The Professor, passed away. He was 86 years old. He was in Japan, where he’d travelled as part of a continuing book project that, as of this time, no further details are known. He will be cremated in a traditional Balinese ceremony quite near his beloved Michi on Friday 10 March.

Safe travels, Professor.

The Tail Of Bob Fosse: A Dancer’s Dark Path From Bali To Broadway

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ACT I – OVERTURE

Bob Fosse knew, from a very early age, that he was different. While his friends were happy spending their days playing in the forest, carefully combing each other for fleas and flinging their own excrement around with wild abandon, Bob wanted more. Much more.

He knew he wasn’t cut out for a country life but just couldn’t put his dissatisfaction into words. That didn’t change as he grew up. No matter how hard he tried, the words just wouldn’t come.

“Give up,” his uncle Cheetah (who was so named not because of any striking resemblance to Tarzan’s sidekick but for his inability to play poker without cheating) snapped irritably at him one day. “You can’t talk. You’re a monkey. What do you think this is, Planet Of The Apes?”

Bob just looked forlorn and flicked his tail in that way monkeys do when they’re left without a snappy aside.

It was yet another example of the mysteries in his life, of which there were many. His reaction, or lack of, to his own kind, for example.

Girl monkeys just didn’t do it for him. Neither did boy monkeys, not that there’s anything wrong with that. Instead, what really knocked him sideways were the tourist girls who wandered the Monkey Forest. But only a certain type of tourist girl – tall, lean, willowy. Who moved with an effortless grace and fluidity. He found them incredibly sensual although he had no idea why.

He wanted to get to know them, talk to them, find out their names, their hopes and dreams and aspirations. Then he wanted to work them relentlessly, from morning to night, treat them harshly until their spirits broke, then rebuild them as efficient, highly-disciplined dancers until they looked at him with respect and a strange kind of dependent, twisted love.

Again, he had no idea why. It just seemed like a good idea.

Then, one day, he had an epiphany. While wandering the city, he stole through an open window into a hotel room. It took his breath away. It was sumptuous, not a word he’d been able to use with much frequency in the Monkey Forest. The curtains, throw pillows and other soft furnishings were of the finest brocade,, Magazines and coffee table books were all over the room, not just on the coffee table, an effect he found bold and ever so slightly rebellious.

Bob Fosse with his lawyer, Dr Gonzo
Bob Fosse with his lawyer, Dr Gonzo

On one wall was a large screen television. Below, a DVD player. He waved a remote around, pressing buttons until the room was flooded with sound.

The screen leapt to life. Song, dance, bentwood chairs dragged across highly-polished floors, hip rolls, finger snaps. Jazz hands, oh how he loved jazz hands. He tried out the moves, tentatively at first then with increasing confidence and found them strangely familiar. The music bumped and grinded, the songs were sexy and provocative. But, most of all, the cast were dressed exactly as he envisaged those tall, willowy tourist girls in his imagination. It was like this movie was plugged directly into his subconscious, beaming his imagination onto the hotel room wall.

The effect was staggering. He knew not just how to do the stuff on the screen. He could improve on it, make it better. Maybe a few more crescent jumps, for a start. But he could work on the details later.

Bob Fosse recognised there and then that he had to get out of Ubud. The stifling provincial atmosphere was holding him back, smothering his creativity.

If he had to see one more production of Oklahoma or Carousel, he’d screech. And bare his incisors. And don’t even mention Michael Bennett. Bob had ventured to the other side of the Monkey Forest to catch Bennett’s latest production and was, quite frankly, bored. Who wants to see a bunch a dancers standing around talking?

Dance was so much more. Dance was sex. You sweated and groaned, contorted your body into strange positions, opened yourself up in every sense of the word. It was a marathon effort and, when you reached the end, when the excitement and applause reached its peak, it exploded in your head and heart. And you slumped exhausted and thought about doing it all over again. But better.

In a moment of clarity, Bob Fosse knew his future lay far from the Monkey Forest and Ubud. The Big City beckoned. He had the name and it was time he did something with it. It was no coincidence, he thought, that the Monkey Forest Road was one-way and it led straight out of town (if you turned left at Starbucks).

At the local markets, he rummaged around until he found black pants and a shirt, which fit his lean frame perfectly. In the mirror, the combination looked OK but it needed more. Bob was already prematurely bald, though barely out of adolescence; a bowler hat would help but, even in cosmopolitan Ubud, it was too tall an order.

He had to settle for a ratty fez he unearthed in the bargain bin of a thrift store, which gives a pretty good idea of exactly how ratty it was. It was made of brocade like the furnishings in the hotel room, which he took as a good omen. A matching brocade vest completed the look.

Bob examined himself in a full length mirror. He tipped his fez rakishly forward on his forehead and lit a cigarette; Bob habitually chain-smoked which, for a simian covered in body hair, had its pitfalls. The brocade wouldn’t be so flammable.

It was just right. He rolled his hips and snapped his fingers. Applause thundered in his head. He was ready.

Bob Fosse recounts his tumultuous live to his Boswell
Bob Fosse recounts his tumultuous life to his Boswell

So Bob Fosse left Ubud, hitching a ride towards his fame and fortune. In his hometown, he was a very small monkey in a very big forest but, once he reached Kuta, well, he soon released that being different had its advantages.

Chicks dug him, they hung on his every word and, on Ladies Nights, when the 50,000 Rupiah arak cocktails flowed like the brackish brown sludge that passed for water in the garbage-choked rivers (which is to say, not very well), they loved him even more. He was a monkey, sure, but a naughty monkey and chicks went crazy for that sort of thing.

He woke the next morning in a small, hot hotel room, with an agonising headache akin to a slim-bladed knife relentlessly probing his eyeballs. His mouth felt like the bottom of an Asian palm civet’s cage. It couldn’t get any worse than this, could it?

Then he noticed he was almost squashed between two naked Finnish backpackers. Memories of the previous night, a procession of crowded noisy nightclubs, raucous laughter, flirting, smouldering gazes, and how he’d drunkenly acted out every last dance move from the “Cell Block Tango” while improvising his own improvements.

As drunk as he was, he recognised he didn’t have blood in his veins so much as glitter.

Bob Fosse grinned a thin, humourless grin and slapped the closest sinuous rump within reach. They didn’t have tails but he could get used to that.

“Wake up, sweet cheeks. There’s lots of work to do,” he growled and lit the first cigarette of the day. The amphetamines could wait till later.

One of the twins, he couldn’t remember which one, woke slowly and favoured him with a lazy smile. She scratched Bob behind the ear. He could get used to that as well.

TO BE CONTINUED

As told to David Latta. © words and photos David Latta 2014

 

Get Your Motor Running: Taking Stock of Bali’s Motoring Catalogue of Weird and Wonderful Delights

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After a while, you get accustomed to the unusual. Or at least it doesn’t seem as strange as it once would. Something that may have you doing a double-take anywhere else in the world  becomes “forget it, Jake, it’s Bali”.

Like the back section of an aircraft perched on the roof of a building along Jl Kerobokan and which, I’m informed by the brains trust of Bali expats on Facebook, is a new bar (I’ll report back on that one). That definitely had me doing a double-take, hastily pulling up at the side of the road to snap a photo.

Otherwise, the best WTF moments come from the weird and wonderful cars and motorbikes that can be found here. Bali traffic seriously does your head in. Compressed into the southern end of the island are far too many cars and motorbikes on far too few roads. Simple as that. And, with motorbike rentals starting at less than $AU5.00 a day, petrol at around 70 cents a litre, and the absence of a formal licence and/or previous driving experience being no legal hindrance at all, it appears that every second tourist is piloting their two-stroke alongside every other local in a huge motorised love-in.

1951 Plymouth
1951 Plymouth
Classic Kombi Van tucked away In the  back streets of Kuta
Classic Kombi Van tucked away In the back streets of Kuta
Australian 1961 EK Holden
Australian 1961 EK Holden

The extremely high incidence of road fatalities aside, the heavy traffic and rather haphazard nature of local driving culture doesn’t seem to make Bali the sort of place you’d want to drive expensive or rare vehicles. Yet, I’ve seen quite a few Porsches and Ferraris; I’m not sure how the owners cope with the inevitable nicks, dings and scrapes that every other vehicle on the road seem to accumulate like fleas on a dog. Antidepressants may help.

Night-time is when the truly interesting cars come out to play. Classics, that would have a challenging time maneuvering during the day, take advantage of the lighter traffic. Just as there’s a hard-core band of vintage Vespa fans out there, some surprising classic cars also turn up when you least expect them.

Like the beautiful two-tone 1961 Australian EK Holden that I spied late one night on Jl Petitenget nearly opposite the entrance to the W Hotel. Although brightly-painted and highly-polished, its bodywork showed the heavy toll of the roads.

The garden of mechanical delights that is known as Sanur’s Man Shed has a number of classic Holdens from Australia, along with a 1951 US Plymouth four-door and some whimsical indeterminate curiosities amongst its extensive holdings of cars and motorbikes. It was at a recent Vespa gathering there that I saw a super-cute Heinkel Tourist scooter with matching custom trailer. From the looks of it, it’s a late 1950s 103A-1.

Heinkel scooter with matching trailer
Heinkel scooter with matching trailer
Matching trailer of late 1950s Heinkel 103A-1
Matching trailer of late 1950s Heinkel 103A-1

Scooters with matching sidecars are also a reasonably common sight in Bali. There’s a wonderful candy-striped Vespa and sidecar often parked in Gang Mangga in Seminyak, not far from Café Moka. And the Red Carpet Champagne Bar, nearby in Jl Oberoi, has a scooter with a sidecar fashioned like a bottle of champagne.

Throughout Bali, there’s also a surprising number of vintage Volkswagon Kombie vans. Beautifully restored with gleaming chrome and bright paintwork, they inevitably bear the scars of traversing the traffic.

My Holy Grail, my Moby Dick, is the classic Cadillac rumoured to ply the streets of Ubud late at night. From descriptions I’ve received, it may well be the vaunted 1959 model. I’ll let you know when, and if, I find it.

Vintage scooters and matching sidecars are popular amongst motoring fans
Vintage scooters and matching sidecars are popular amongst motoring fans
A candy-striped vintage Vespa with matching sidecar
A candy-striped vintage Vespa with matching sidecar

© words and photos David Latta 2014

Sun, Sand And Seriously Good Times: The Komune Beach Club Blitzes The Competition

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Beach clubs. Unless you’re a twenty-something with a serious gym addiction, you’ll have a love-hate relationship with beach clubs. In my previous life, my opinion would be “never”. Maybe with “ever, ever” added for emphasis. But since coming to Bali, I’ve been trying a lot of new stuff, some of which has severely confused long-time friends and associates.

Into this category I would put visiting Ubud, ground zero for all things weird and wonderful, and spending any amount of time in vegetarian cafes, especially if it involved eating and/or drinking. Yet I’ve done both several times recently; Ubud I still rank as weird but also most definitely wonderful along with fascinating and endlessly compelling. That it has some great museums and restaurants certainly helps.

As for the vegetarian side of things, I’ve had some truly tasty vegetarian meals and even been gradually getting my palate (and nether regions) accustomed to juicing. Not that vegetables will ever supplant bacon as my favourite food group but, after a couple of heart attacks, I suppose I should exercise some caution.

This has engendered much consternation and concern amongst my friends; when I’ve made such announcements on Facebook, several immediately assumed my account had been hacked.

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Never say never. Approach each new experience with an open mind. And trust people will have your interests at heart when they share their own loves and interests with you. Am I getting a little too New Age?

Then I won’t mention the recent shopping expedition to get a yoga mat. Wait, don’t call psychiatric services just yet. I’m not planning on yoga. Some things really are never, ever, ever (note to self: check back in a few months’ time to see if this still holds). I merely needed some cushioning for the hard tile floors of my room while I do general toning work (push-ups, planks, etc) between gym visits.

There was a close call during the shopping expedition when the only likely candidate I could find was a Hello Kitty yoga mat. I did consider it, however briefly, but irony can be an exhausting concept to justify, especially in a foreign country. What might have flown in the inner city of Sydney was definitely not going to soar too high in Indonesia.

Creep old guy on a yoga mat? Maybe. Creepy old guy on a Hello Kitty yoga mat? I could already hear the sirens in the distance.

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Luckily I persevered and found another mat, much thicker, much better quality, in a fetching battleship grey. Crisis averted.

Anyway, back to beach clubs. There are a few in the Seminyak area, notably Ku De Ta and Potato Head. The former I’ve visited enough times to know I’m just not cut out to socialise with the young, buff and beautiful. At Potato Head, I initially couldn’t even get beyond the style enforcer on the door. And that was when I was wearing clothes. Undressed, I just wouldn’t want to be responsible for the mass panic, the collective fear and loathing that would surely manifest.

Then a friend suggested visiting the Komune Beach Club at Keramas Beach on the East Coast, not far short of Candidasa. In the spirit of opening myself up to new experiences, I reached for my spiritual Magic 8-Ball (which, admittedly, is generally stuck on hell, yeah) and it immediately came up with hell, yeah (what did I tell you?)

It was just a matter of getting there. I’d been quoted Rp400,000 (around $AU37.00) each way for a car and driver from Seminyak to Keramas. But I also knew this could be a worthy introduction to exploring the more distant parts of Bali, so I determined that, without any previous experience, I would hire a motor scooter and ride there myself.

And that, my friends, will be the subject of another post.

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So long story short, I booked a room at Komune, charted my journey via Google Maps (a total of 35 kilometres, I was informed, about 40 minutes) and set off. The route was pretty much idiot-proof as I took the Sunset Road then the Ngurah Rai by-pass towards Sanur.  It was just a matter of following my nose until I was roughly east of Denpasar. This road was a direct route to Ubud but, taking notice of the unusually assistive signage, I branched off onto (deep breathe) Jl Professor Doktor Ida Bagus Mantra towards Candidasa.

In all, and taking into account over-shooting the Keramas Beach turn-off, I arrived in the parking lot of Komune about 90 minutes later. So much for Google Maps (and that will definitely be another post).

It’s billed as a four-star resort with 66 guestrooms and suites. The rack rate for rooms is $AU150 but on-line booking sites go as far down as $AU75. For suites, rack is $AU192, with discounts as low as $AU113. A number of package deals are also available. Eat, Play, Surf includes room, daily breakfast, five massages, two night surfing lessons or two yoga sessions, two sunset cocktails and one dinner. Packages are for a minimum of five or seven nights.

The guestrooms are air-conditioned with comfortable beds and large bathrooms. There is a well-stocked mini-bar, enough power points, loads of natural light, and the only drawback I could really note was an unusual design flaw that allowed neighbours to be heard quite distinctly, even if they weren’t particularly noisy. And it stands to reason that if you can hear them, they can most certainly hear you. You’ve been warned.

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The beach club aspect is a real winner. Walk through reception and the vast tropical gardens and you’re a grassy field overlooking Keramas Beach. A large swimming pool, bracketed with wide plush day beds, looks out on the surfers attempting to dodge the rocks and master the breaks.

At one end is an elevated two-level beach shack with a shabby-chic-meets-Ralph-Lauren vibe. Spotlights directed at the beach are used for night surfing. At the other end is an ultra-modern dining area nestled under the sloping angle of what appears to be a tropical interpretation of a 1950s Hollywood flying saucer (very The Day The Earth Stood Still, the Michael Rennie version not the atrocious Keanu Reeves remake). Just beyond that is an outdoor cinema; if there are no thrill-seekers ingracious enough not to provide night surfing entertainment, at least there’s a fall-back.

After the pricing of Seminyak’s Potato Head or Cocoon, which is much more in line with an upmarket Sydney bar, food and beverage at Komune is a delight. The Big Barrel Burger, with egg, cheese, bacon and beetroot, costs Rp80,000 ($AU7.37), the same price as the Chorizo and Calamari Salad and the Komune Roast Vegetable Salad.

Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served in the flying saucer, while lunch and snacks are always available around the pool area. Weekdays are the time to visit; on the weekends, especially Sundays, families take control of the pool.

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Komune is especially proud of their green credentials. Their solar farm provides much of the electricity, the organic garden many of the vegetables, they have a dedicated team for cleaning the beach and adjoining river, they treat their own waste water and use it to water plants and garden, and they also make their own bottled water.

Located far enough away from the tourist hordes to deter those who would frequent Potato Head and Ku De Ta, Komune is a very special experience. Did it reshape my view of beach clubs? It did. Will I return? Most definitely; I’ll be there again in a few days. Despite the distance, it’s still close enough to home (and Ubud, should I feel like a side serving of weird with my burger) to merit a day trip.

It’s in a beautiful part of the world, with Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Penida in one direction and the looming presence of the semi-retired volcano, Mount Agung, in the other, a dark sand beach and cold eager surf that carries a taste of salt to the day beds. Basking in the sun, cocktail at hand, music prickling your consciousness, there seems no better way to celebrate yet another perfect day in Bali. And, with the right company, there probably isn’t.

© words and photos David Latta 2014

A Close Shave: Strange Days and The Doors of Perception Opened at Bali’s Only Traditional Barber Shop

A  close shave at the barber of Bali
A close shave at the barber of Bali

Ah, male pattern baldness. It runs in the family, both sides, so I really didn’t stand a chance. In my late teens, I had long hair, half-way down my back, centre-parted, very David Cassidy. And a widow’s peak.

In my 20s, what I remember most is the eternal search for a good hairdresser which, as any woman will tell you, can be extremely frustrating. The late 1970s was the early days of “product”, otherwise known as gel, and a large chunk of the mornings spent blow-waving my raven locks to generate just the right degree of tousled insouciance. That was the Bryan Ferry period, mixed with a healthy dose of how Ian Fleming would characterise the dark comma of hair falling across James Bond’s right eye.

That continued into the mid-80s, and luckily I avoided the worst instances of that decade’s hair crimes; I can only imagine what could have transpired had my tastes in music veered more towards A Flock Of Seagulls than Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet.

By the 90s, when it was apparent I was being denuded by the follicular equivalent of continental drift, acceptance came fairly peaceably (although there was one ill-advised flirtation with a perm; luckily, photographic evidence no longer exists following the sad events surrounding the mineshaft explosion).

Portrait of an artist as a prat: hair in 1978
Portrait of an artist as a prat: hair in 1978

My father had a comb-over, so I wasn’t going there, while an uncle was overly attached (if you’ll pardon my pun) to a budget hairpiece that, increasingly, began to resemble a small, malnourished woodland creature that had crawled onto his head to die (he still wears it, God bless him).

No, in a sterling example of clear thinking, I decided I’d face baldness head-on (oops, sorry, another pun). Like Bruce Willis, whose own capillose complications paralleled my own, I went for the buzz cut and, eventually, shaving my head.

In Sydney, I’d have my head shaved once a week; I lived in an area that would once have been described as “edgy” back before an average tumbledown cottage fetched upwards of a million dollars and there was no shortage of traditional barbers, born clutching straight razors in their pudgy fingers.

In Bali, however, it’s another matter. I’ll rarely shave my own head. The front and sides aren’t the problem, it’s the back and neck, impossible to do with any degree of accuracy. For the time I’ve been here, I’ve used a pair of clippers for a permanent buzz cut.

Still searching for the 70s hairdressing nirvana
Still searching for the 70s hairdressing nirvana

However, necessity calls and I’m pleased to say I’ve found the solution.

The Barber of Bali bills itself as the “only gentleman’s barber” on the island. It’s located just off the extreme northern end of Jalan Seminyak. It’s the brainchild of Shierley Koval, who filled me in on the concept at a recent InterNations function. I’d like to say I made an immediate beeline for the place but it ain’t so; I stumbled across it by chance a few weeks later.

The Barber is on the first floor, Jl Basangkasa 8X, up a spiral staircase from the Rumba Bar. Koval’s Shampoo Lounge, billed as Bali’s premier salon, is on the ground floor.

The Barber offers haircuts, shaves, manicures, facials and massages in air-conditioned comfort. It’s also a bar; a cold Bintang, Russian vodka or espresso coffee goes down awfully well while the stylists are doing their work.

In 1978 with the "dark comma"
In 1978 with the “dark comma”

Walk-ins are welcome and, on the day I was there, the place was consistently busy. The music couldn’t be faulted; Beach Boys and Doors and some of the more notable corners of my music collection were in high rotation. Staff were friendly and plentiful and seemed so effortlessly familiar with cutting implements that I had no hesitation in leaving my skull in their hands.

Once seated with a strong black coffee within reach, the barber solemnly presented a new razor blade and inserted it into the straight razor. Now I should mention how nervous I am with sharp implements in close proximity to my head and there have been times (notably some years back in Durban, South Africa, where a rusty pair of electric clippers occasioned considerable blood-letting and a subsequent period of extended angst) when necessity overrode my natural hesitation.

This time, I had no such fears. The shave was expert and relaxing. I’ll be back. Not every week, mind you, but when I need a clean-up, I know exactly where to come.

The Barber of Bali
Jl Basangkasa 8X, Seminyak
Tel: 0361 843 9867 (walk-ins welcome)
http://www.xisle.me/barber

© words and photos David Latta 2014