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Travels In Bali - Part Two

Week Three - Earthquake

Having cancelled our much-anticipated trip to Gili Air, off the coast of Lombok, we checked into a new hotel in the Jimbaran hills, and once settled in, headed out to a nearby restaurant. It was while tucking into the main course that I suddenly felt a strange sensation – a weird kind of vertigo, as if my head was swaying. It reminded me of standing on the deck of a boat – your feet feel in contact with the ground but your middle ear is telling you that the firm ground, is, in fact, moving from side to side. All the diners stood up almost at once,  and rushed outside. By the time we hit the pavement, the earthquake was over. Staff and customers looked around in confusion, as if no one really knew what to do. After a couple of minutes we returned to our seats, and resumed eating. It was all pretty surreal. For a few hours all was normal again, but later that evening another quake hit. Sitting in our 3rd floor hotel room, I was suddenly aware of a rapid squeaky rattling sound. It took a few seconds to register that the window frames were shaking violently. This time, I felt nervous. It could be a more powerful tremor. We rushed down the stairs and gathered with other guests in the relative safety of the open plan lobby (no glass, no windows). As I looked up at the grand chandelier which was the centrepiece of the hotel lobby’s vaulted ceiling, I realised why it was secured by diagonal ropes threaded through the base of the chain – to stop the huge light fitting from swinging wildly from side to side. Reassuringly, the hotel staff seemed pretty nonplussed by the whole thing. As we waited, news stories began filtering through on our social media describing the level of devastation in neighbouring Lombok. A magnitude 7 earthquake confirmed. Multiple fatalities. Total devastation to many buildings, roads and homes. A Tsunami warning issued. We went to bed that evening in a sombre mood. The next morning, the news reports were even worse. The death toll had reached 100. On the Gili Isles, where we should have been that evening, 50% of buildings had been destroyed. Reports spoke of chaos as travellers attempted to get off the islands en mass. It’s a strange feeling to know that you have narrowly escaped disaster, but that many people weren’t that lucky. We fleetingly discussed whether to try and get a flight home, but both of us instinctively wanted to stay. We experienced a few aftershocks in the following days, but the worst was over.

Week Four – Silver Factories & Discovering Canggu

We spent our final week in a small villa in Canggu, a modest town on Bali’s East coast. Popular with ex-pats, ten years ago Canggu was a largely undeveloped area with a large stretch of uninterrupted beach. Development in the area has been intense in the past few years and now Berawa boasts a heaving string of beach bars, and the newly developed and hip Finn’s Beach Club.

Clasp London at Berawa Beach

Berawa beach

There are some great restaurants offering a range of fresh and healthy options for breakfast and dinner, including a couple of vegan restaurants, so it was a refreshing change from the typical tourist fodder on offer in Seminyak. During this week, I had arranged meetings with some Balinese silver factories to discuss the development of samples for our new range. For the first meeting, I was collected by the driver early one morning and driven over an hour into the Balinese countryside. We’d spent a little time driving around the island on our way to excursions and days out with the kids, but I never tired of watching the towns and countryside unfold before me as we chugged along the narrow winding roads. I really enjoyed getting a taste of the real Bali, as we left the tourist areas behind us and travelled through small villages and farmland. We passed simple shops selling all sorts of goods, including exotic fruits, mobile phones, traditional clothing, petrol (often lined up on homemade stands in 1 litre vodka bottles, bizarrely), furniture, and crafts. Bali is well known for its handicrafts and all sorts of handmade pieces ranging from painted birdcages, woven baskets, wooden carvings, paintings, driftwood sculptures to macramé plant holders could be seen along the roadside. Every few hundred metres, even in the countryside, I’d see a temple, often with people crowded inside at many different times of the day.

Balinese Countryside     Lisa, owner of Clasp London
Scenic views along the route

The terrain soon changed into lush countryside, dense in places with towering coconut trees and deep green vegetation. At one point we passed a bridge over a deep ravine, with a wide river rushing through below us. Along the way people went about their daily lives – school children riding bicycles, an elderly woman dressed traditionally carrying a large scythe, women carrying infants in bright fabric slings. We passed farmland with terraced patches of saturated rice paddy fields, bright strips of fabric on bamboo stakes fluttering in the breeze to scare away the birds.

Balinese countryside

Balinese Countryside

On arriving at the factory, I was shown into a central courtyard, surrounded by a series of rooms. The courtyard was divided into a mature garden at one end, and a children’s creche at the other - a few toddlers played with toys on a carpeted platform. Long workbenches lined the outside edges with men and women sat bent over their work. It was later explained to me that members of staff were encouraged to bring their children to the factory and keep an eye on them as they worked. I thought it was a fantastic concept (the more dangerous work was restricted to other rooms). I was given a tour of the premises and was able to see the manufacturing process first hand. Each piece was handmade by artisan craftsmen from start to finish. It really was a joy to see, and about as far away from my pre-conceived notion of a factory as it is possible to get. Having discussed my plans for the collection and reviewed the initial samples they had produced for me, I said my goodbyes and returned to the villa.

Silver Factory

The next day, I set off in a taxi to the nearby city of Denpasar for another appointment. Denpasar (where Bali’s airport is located) is a small but thriving city with a population of around 900,000. It was a drizzly day and it took the taxi driver and I several laps of the neighbourhood to find the factory, a large building set back from the main road and tucked behind a restaurant. This operation was much larger - our meeting took place in a vast boardroom, lined on every wall with shelves full of examples of their silverwork. I asked for a tour and was shown around the expansive factory – each area focused on a different speciality, from wax carving, casting, plating, hand-finishing, packaging, photography and many more. It was an entirely different experience from the previous days meeting, and I decided to give it some time before deciding which one would be the right partner for Clasp.

We spent our final few days exploring Canggu, swimming, and relaxing – we’d had a spell of rainy weather so we were pleased to see the return of sunny days! We had a day in the crafty town of Ubud and met the wild monkeys in the famous Monkey Forest. Before we knew it, we were packing our bags for the flight home. Would I recommend Bali? Absolutely. There’s something really special about this beautiful tropical island and its people. Bali, you have my heart.

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