40 Years in Bali (Part 1) : First Contact

Explore Bali | Written By, Alistair G. Speirs |

Ten Years of NOW! Bali but Forty Years of Memories Part I (this is extracted from the speech given by NOW! Bali Founder, Alistair Speirs to the assembled tourism industry at the NOW! Tenth Anniversary Dinner on 13th February 2019 at The Renaissance Bali Uluwatu Resort and Spa)

NOW! Bali has survived and thrived for ten years against a tidal wave of digital offerings which promise the tourism industry simple, easy, cheap marketing solutions. Why? Well I like to think because we offer elegant, quality, crafted and relevant solutions which reflect the quality of our customers. In 2018 we defined those offerings in a “Manifesto” which clearly stated who we are and what we do so everyone can really understand us. And I think most of our partners do, which is a real delight, and we are very happy with our partnerships and with our customers which have developed strongly over the last ten years.

But my history in Bali goes much further back, forty years in fact, and I would like to tell you about my first week in Bali in 1979 which came to define what I believe is best about Bali and which has served me as my benchmark of what magical Balinese tourism is really based on.

I stayed all those years ago in Poppies Cottages, an amazing little oasis of hand-crafted villas in a beautiful garden, which thanks to owners John and Zenik, remain as beautiful today as they did then.

Poppies Cottages Bali
Poppies cottages, Kuta. Retaining the same charm decades later.

In those days hiring a motorcycle was as easy as walking out onto the street: no licence required, no helmet, no experience – no problem! So off I set to discover Bali, stopping in little village squares, sitting under banyan trees, watching village life go by, no idea where I was. It was idyllic. Eventually I arrived in Ubud and by luck parked outside Warung Murni, a café that hung over a river gorge right by the bridge. Murni’s went down three stories from ground level and immediately grabbed my attention. I went inside and met Murni, then a young “start up”. She fed me Mango Smoothies and Cheese Jaffles, hippy food for Ubud. “Where should I go” I asked her,  “walk over the bridge, go to Antonio Blanco’s studio”, she said.  I think he’s there”.

So I did, and minutes later was guided into his actual painting studio where the Spanish maestro was actually painting.

My heart stopped. His model was an incredibly beautiful Balinese girl, naked to the waist, her breasts bare for all to see. I had never seen anything like this. “Sit down” said Blanco. I did. My gaze never leaving the girl. When he finished he took me for tea in his kitchen, where we talked about his favourite subject “Blanco”, and I played a tune on his keyboard to prove that I too had some “artist” in me. I wasn’t good.

Morning Prayer at Murni’s Warung

I went back to Murni’s in a trance. She saw I had fallen in love. “Careful how you drive” she said. I made it back to Poppies in a dream and went to the bar. Jeffri the barman and sidekick Rico saw I needed help and fed me Henry Wallbangers which I drink there till this day, still served by them. After a delicious sate dinner in the garden restaurant. I walked up the lane to Made’s Warung for Irish Coffee. Made, now a legend like Murni, spoke to me from behind the till, her place full of people there to “see and be seen”. It was the place to be. Still is.

The Poppies Restaurant Bali

So in just one week I experienced Poppies, met Blanco, Made, Murni, Jeffri, Rico, John & Zenik and an unknown Balinese model, and forever embedded the core of Balinese hospitality in my soul. There is nothing like it. That’s why we have to preserve and protect it. Simple, genuine, honest, from the heart. 

Next issue Part II, “How good came out of the tragedy of the Bali Bombings”.  

About Author :

Alistair G. Speirs

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