Five days in Bali-wood

It was the arsenic hour – 8am, the wife at work, three kids running amok in various states of undress – when the phone rang. Stu, a producer at Curious Films, told me I’d just been cast in a TV commercial. I did a triple take, then remembered an old audition I’d mentally binned. Could I play golf? I’d swung a club only a few times – but heck, I wasn’t going to tell him that! I was going to Bali!

I had two hours to shower, shave, pack, panic, trip down some stairs and organise emergency child-care. Thankfully my elderly Mama leapt into the breech. I left her a note outlining snack and activity options. Mum’s eyesight isn’t the best and she rang me to ask why my son needed a smack. She was game to give it a go, but I was able to put her straight in time.

At the check-in there was a happy surprise – my cousin and good buddy John Glass, acting in the same advertising campaign. Somewhere over the Tassy, three drinks down, it sunk in that we’d won the acting equivalent of a (small-ish) lotto win. We clinked plastic happily. Free Bundy had never tasted so good.

I’d packed in haste and once in paradise discovered a staggering litany of omissions: camera, cell phone charger, power adapter, sunglasses, insect repellent, sunblock, shaving cream and jandals. I’d also brought a leather jacket, jeans, converse shoes, multiple pairs of socks and one pair of thermal trackies, but none of those items were very handy in the 30 degree plus heat. So it was off to cut price Kuta for some emergency shopping. It was perhaps not the wisest introduction to Bali’s charms. Kuta had been confidently recommended by the hotel staff as THE place for cheap authentic Bali bargains – but turned out to hundreds of identical knock off shops. Hawkers tailed John and I chanting ‘special morning price! You make my luck! One cheap two cheaper!’ With not a price tag in sight it was surprisingly easy, in the throng of humidity and humanity, to drop a decimal point off your currency exchange rate calculations, increasing the cash offer ten-fold. The highlight was a tee-shirt sporting a logo with the hygienically dubious birth control advice: ‘Up the bum – no babies!’

Next up was our costume fitting where we met the rest of the cast. Kiwi actor Bernadette Brewer, just touched down, was still spinning from her Beach-haven to Bali-wood relocation. The party atmosphere was dented not a jot when a ferocious American producer fronted John and I, demanding could we ‘really play golf.’ Terrified I’d be hog-tied and bundled back onto a plane – and worse still have to pay back my per diems – I wasn’t going to tell him I couldn’t.

Saturday began with a swim at the local Jimbaran beach, the gentle massage of seaweed round my ankles reminding me of home – until closer inspection revealed them to be that planetary scourge, plastic bags. Then it was a lazy day at the hotel, drinking over-priced long island iced teas poolside.

The next day I was up at 4.00am though to catch the cast van to check out the sights and sounds on set. Today this was at a resort in Ubud, a cluster of villages inland, the location for the movie Eat Pray Love. We drove past rice paddies and picturesque countryside. A Hindu full moon Festival was on and we dodged rickety buses disgorging dozens of worshippers dressed in traditional Balinese costume into the many temples along the route. I thought our digs at Le Meridian Hotel were swank, but the resort Komaneka at Bisma, nestled above the Campuhan River valley, is the kind of safe haven the 1% will happily retreat to if the occupy movement ever shut down Wall Street. After scrounging a free breakfast I was off to the local markets. Here was a bit more to choose from than Kuta, and a lot more class: local dresses, crafts, and paintings.

Then I had to do some work – if you can call it that… John and I slummed it at Indonesia’s Leading Spa Resort, the Nirwana Bali Golf Club. I swung my eight iron with gusto, hacking enthusiastic chunks from the immaculate turf of the Greg Norman designed 18-hole golf course, the legendary coastal Tahah Lot temple in the background. There were a few angry frowns from the direction of the video village but I’m sure with cunning use of expensive special effects they’ll make me look like a pro. After three hours of this we were wrapped and sojourned to a richly undeserved five star breakfast at the Golfers Terrace. Job done. Filthy work, but someone has to do it.

On the flight home I chatted with Kiwi actress Julie Collis, who’d first visited Bali in 1980. She found the island a contradiction then and now: the people beautiful and generous, but at times frantic and aggressive; the landscape, beaches, architecture and temples picture postcard – alongside piles of rubbish. But like so many corners of the earth where people are less materially well off they also manage to be far less grumpy. And this is highly infectious. By my last day I was humming as I strolled down the road, happily grinning and being grinned at. The smirk was wiped off my face back in NZ as I burst through my front door – only to be knocked over by ankle biters demanding exotic goodies, and my wife why I’d bought so much duty free.

It was still worth it.

SOME FACTS

The island of Bali is the smallest and wealthiest province of Indonesia; it has about as many inhabitants as New Zealand and a population density 45 times greater.

Climate

The climate is tropical, with temperatures an average 31 degrees C all year round. The wet season (October to April) brings high humidity, with most rain falling December-February. June – August there’s usually a cool-ish breeze. Inland is typically a little cooler than the coast. Until December you can expect humidity, the odd spectacular thunderstorm, and not too much in the way of crowds. Traffic is a challenge at any time of day or year, so limit your vehicular trips to essentials.

Getting there

Plenty of budget airlines offer flights out of Melbourne or Sydney. Direct with Air New Zealand is the way to go, though that’s only an option from 1 June.

Where to stay

We Kiwi’s rather liked our Hotel Le Meridien in Jambaran, which gets a 4.5 star Tripadvisor/ Booking.com rating. You can swim from your room to the bar, it has great facilities (Wifi, kids supervised playroom and pool), LOVELY staff, a good breakfast and eclectic canned music playing 24/7 – the likes of JJ Cale, Marvin Gaye and Louis Armstrong. Jimbaran beach has many fine seafood restaurants – all sporting identical menus.

Shopping

This can be fun – but ask for a calculator to make the currency conversion, and don’t be rushed. Make your final offer and walk. They’ll meet your price. Make small purchases until you have your bargaining skills honed. Where to shop? Don’t worry, they’ll find YOU.

Things to do

Angela Hovey, our Kiwi producer and old Bali hand, recommended us the following:

  • Potato Head – the kewl bar du jour.
  • Waterbom Bali – waterslide heaven, a great day whether you have kids in tow or no. Rates 4.5 stars on Trip advisor.
  • A bike tour from Ubud, taking in quiet villages (and tourist traps), temples, galleries and gorgeous landscapes of rice paddies, limestone gorges and rivers.
  • A surf lesson at Seminyak then a massage on the beach.