Back to Bali: The River Bridge and Murni’s Warung

The rest of the day in Ubud was spent relaxing and walking around aimlessly. We went to the bridge area of Ubud, just to poke around and admire a steel bridge going across the Campuhan River.

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DC fiddled about with his camera settings while I played his hapless subject.

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But we both agreed that the river really was quite scenic – and we decided to have dinner at one of the places overlooking the river.

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Here’s us going across the bridge to Murni’s Warung.

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It’s a beautiful place built into the cliff carved out by the river, with four or five floors cleverly making use of the space and scenery to create a warm, convivial atmosphere. We explored a bit of the shop on the ground and upper floor, and then proceeded past the ground floor dining area…

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… down to just above the river level to have a lovely dinner enjoying the sounds of the river while sipping our drinks. I had a young coconut with lime juice, and DC had a yummy strawberry tamarind drink.

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Our dinner was sumptuous and very delicious.

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DC had the bebek betutu, a traditional Balinese dish of smoked duck. It came with urap, a firm favourite, and yellow rice. The duck was flavourful and nicely spicy though not chilli hot at all.

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I much preferred my grilled snapper. I don’t know how they grilled it so perfectly, but unlike most grilled fish, this was insanely tender, I don’t even know how they managed to achieve it. I especially liked how it was charred outside so the fish had a yummy smoky flavour. The bacon and onion potatoes and side salad? Gilding the lily.

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After being stuffed to the gills yet again, we headed to another intermediate floor…

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… where we lounged with our post-dinner drinks. Life is good.

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Bali has a special place in my heart – it’s got good food, laidback resorts and lots to do and not do. It’s one of the places that somehow pulls me back even though there’s so much of the rest of the world to explore.

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Back to Bali: Babi Guling at Ibu Oka

Pretty much THE reason for going to Ubud was to eat at Ibu Oka’s, made famous by an Anthony Bourdain feature. I’d tried babi guling in a previous trip to Bali but only had a rather slapdash version. This time, I was determined to make it work. Online accounts told me that babi guling must be had early. There was a rather sketchy description online about a market in Gianyar that had the most awesome babi guling evah! The catch was that it was available only from 6.30am to 9am. Inquiries on this famed market babi guling at the front desk of our resort drew a blank, so that went out of the window. Ibu Oka it was!

I was so obsessive about the babi guling that I dreamt that I’d missed it and they were out of pig by the time I got there. I woke with a start at 6am and was pleased to realise that I was awake bright and early for my dose of pig – even for the market version if I only knew where it was. Sadly, DC didn’t share my enthusiasm to chase down a mythical market babi guling for breakfast and then have lunch at Ibu Oka. We settled for just going to Ibu Oka early to try our luck.

Here it is in Ubud Central, taking up one of the corners where the tourist information centre, Ubud market and Ubud palace meet. The sign is unmistakable.

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Sadly, at 9am it had yet to open.

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DC and I took a detour to do our other business in town – poking around at the various woodcraft workshops in the area slightly out of Ubud central. To our surprise, there was another branch of Ibu Oka out here. Likewise, it wasn’t open yet. I contented myself with a picture, wondering which branch (later I found out there are three branches sprinkled in the area) was the best.

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We made it back to Ubud central at the late timing of 10.30am. By then I was getting antsy, convinced that there’d be a mob of babi guling lovers forming such a formidable line ahead that I’d have to turn back in defeat. But no, it was open and there wasn’t a queue! We perused the menu in leisurely fashion and ordered the babi guling pisah, i.e. suckling pig with different parts. Sadly, our request for more skin was turned down. I was shocked that they’d run out of skin even before official opening hours!

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While waiting, we admired the portrait of Ibu Oka, taking pride of place in the shop.

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Then the moment of reckoning came. There was only one shard of skin, which DC and I divided up clinically, eyeing the pieces to ensure that we had judicious portions. There were thick slices of lean meat, fattier slice of rib meat, deep fried intestine, soup and urap, a salad made from toasted coconut, long beans and cabbage. I tried a piece of skin, and while it was crispy from the roasting on its subcutaneous fat, it wasn’t crispy enough. Chinese-style roast suckling pig achieves the shattering crispness much better. I was starting to feel let down already. Then I tried a meat slice and became a believer. You see, the thing about babi guling is that the skin is but a sideshow. The star of the show is really the juicy meat and the marinade and the urap and how all the textures and flavours marry together in a harmonious symphony. I loved how the mellow chilli and various spices like ginger, onion and possibly turmeric and galangal melded beautifully into the rich meaty flavour of the pork. The crunchy vegetables and toasted coconut in the urap added more flavour and bite.

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DC was very enamoured of the blood sausage. Since we were thwarted in our skin bid, we went for more blood sausage and more fried intestines. The blood sausage had a slightly mealy texture from the congealed blood, but the flavouring was robust and I liked the bursty texture of the sausage casing (presumably made from pig intestine lining).

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The deep fried intestine was crispy and yummy, a bit like a bar snack. The soup was surprisingly good. In Singapore, most local places pay scant attention to the soup, often merely thinning out any stock and adding msg to make up for the lack of flavour. Here, the soup was done like soto ayam, just a richer porky version. It was so excellent I’d come here just for its soto babi.

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And what tied the whole meal together was the preserved chilli sauce. It looks innocuous enough with the green chillis, but beware – those are green chilli padi and there are also red chilli padi bits in the mix. It’s not quite a sauce as in the liquid was mainly oil (presumably coconut oil). It was more salted chillis and shallot shards in oil. But what a wonderfully spicy, deeply aromatic hit of chilli that was. We dosed it quite liberally on our babi guling and I was soon gasping for breath, but it was so good I kept going until there wasn’t anymore babi guling left.

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As we left the joint, we realised that a crowd had formed and a fresh pig had been delivered. Now we know that the pig comes from a central kitchen, so not to worry which branch is good. It was quite a spectacle to see the pig being carved up. First, the head was cut off neatly, then the chef slid her knife under the skin…

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… lifted up a corner and pulled off all the skin in a sheet, steam rising voluminously from the meat.

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Then it was time to process the meat into the various parts for the hungry hordes. If we knew that this was the system, we’d have stayed and ordered another serving of pig skin just to see if it was any better. It was just as well that we didn’t – it’s always best to eat your fill and move on. Having more than we could comfortably eat would have compromised our enjoyment.

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There’s always our next visit to Ubud!

Back to Bali: Ubud

Ubud – the famed cultural centre of Bali.

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And instead of exploring the museum, art galleries and temples in the area, we did a cursory walk pace the palace…

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… and ducked into the market, where the action truly is. I was especially sad that we’d already had breakfast at the villa, because there was so much to try in the area. Turn up early so you get a good opening price. The shopkeepers here are very superstitious and tend to give good prices for their first customers. Choose from local herbs and spices (vanilla pods are very cheap, but are far inferior to the Madagascan versions), or little handicraft and spa souvenirs, or basketry. Then haggle, keep smiling and agree on a price. Watch bemusedly as the shopkeeper flicks the your newly handed over bank notes over the rest of the wares for luck. Go past the souvenir shops into the maze and find your way to the basement. That’s where the colour is, where you can wander around marvelling at the vast variety of local fruit and vegetables on offer. Pull up a stool at a food stand if you arrive early enough, otherwise risk trying the colourful iced drinks and coconut-based kueh (local desserts) that have been sitting around for a while.

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After a day wandering around in town, what better is there to do than go for a hearty dinner?

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We’d heard good things about Naughty Nuri’s. A friend who’d just been ate there twice in the trip, the second time because dinner elsewhere was disappointing and they needed something to make up for the poor show. We didn’t try the cocktails, apparently the place does really mean martinis. What we did have was the coldest Bintang beer in Bali. It went so well with the ribs.

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The famous ribs are grilled by the roadside on a surprisingly small grill for a place so jam packed with hungry diners. The ribs were very good – the meat was the right intermediate between tender and chewy, and marinade a straightforward kicap manis (dark sweet soy sauce) base. I liked it, but not enough to like the satay (essentially pork cubes dunked in the same sauce) too. This place seemed a bit one-dimensional to me, but I’d go back for the impossibly cold beers.

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Naughty Nuri’s Warung Ubud
Jalan Raya Sanggingan, Ubud
Bali, Indonesia
Tel: +62 0361 977 547

Back to Bali: Nefatari and the Bad Bugs

After Wakatobi, we stopped over in Bali for a few days to check out the delights of Ubud. A friend recommended us Nefatari Exclusive Villas, a short drive from Ubud proper. As with most Bali resorts, there was a complimentary pick up from the airport and we got there in slightly over an hour. They gave us Villa Pacak, which we got to after being led down a winding corridor that felt like we were in a maze. Check out the rustic finishes and the pretty garden.

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Villa Pacak is actually a two-room villa, but they closed up the second room. That was an unexpected because the pool was huge for a pool villa!

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The room itself was lovely, spacious with a canopy bed right smack in the middle of the room with a long makeup table with mirror to the back of the bed (which you can’t see in the picture)…

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… the locked adjoining door to the right (not in picture), and a huge bathroom to the left of the room. It was really quite massive and I clean forgot to take photos of it. You’ll have to take my word for it that it was very clean, despite my misgivings from seeing the slightly mouldy exterior walls adding to the atmosphere of the villa. There was a corner bathtub, that was strangely not in a corner, a semi-outdoor shower that let in splashes of rain and a WC area separated by the sink and mirror.

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A lovely touch was this little alcove where we could sit and read or simply chill out and look out into the pool.

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The view was a bit like this.

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In the evenings we admired the silhouette of the coconut palms while enjoying cold drinks from the fridge. It was modestly stocked with mineral water and soft drinks. That was a great touch, especially since there aren’t really shops in the surrounding area, just paddy fields.

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And in the morning, we had the choice of having breakfast at the villa at the little outdoor dining table or at the main dining area. They had a special romantic table set between two ponds. We chose the upstairs dining area instead and contented ourselves with just a pretty picture.

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Their bubur ayam is pretty good for breakfast. It’s a huge bowl of rice porridge with chicken bits, vegetables and boiled egg. A yummy start to the day with fresh juice and cut fruit!

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Nefatari was a lovely place with lots of great touches. The dropoff and pickup service was wonderful: you tell reception what time you want to leave if you can, otherwise you rock up to the reception and tell them where in Ubud you want to go to, then they’ll find someone to drive you out in their van. When you want to be picked up, you don’t even need to use your own mobile phone to call, they advise to get the restaurant or shop to call, or if in Ubud Central, just go to Tourist Information and ask them to help call. It can occasionally be a bit of a wait, but no more than 30 minutes. What really impressed us was when we asked for a driver with car for a day, fully expecting them to charge us for exclusive use of the vehicle. Instead, they checked what exactly we wanted to do and where to go, and worked out some pickups for us that got us where we wanted at the times we wanted at no extra cost even though it was further out of Ubud proper.

They also had a decent, but not fantastic massage. It’s very atmospheric as the massage rooms are beside a stream, but I found the room too cold (Ubud can get slightly chilly when it rains) and the massage mediocre. Plus I had a mystery bite on my chest that became very itchy. But with such low prices, lower than the flyers in Ubud town, there wasn’t anything really to complain about.

I woke up after our second night a bit sad to leave this great resort, until I started scratching. Thinking that it was just mosquitoes in the bathroom and that the mosquito coils they burn at night had lost effect, I unthinkingly started to scratch, and then found that I had more and more bites appearing all over my body, but particularly on my limbs and around my waist. It was intensely itchy and certainly not mosquito bites. On check out, I showed them a few on my wrist and forearm and was sympathetically clucked over. The reception desk said that they’d check the room and sanitise it for bed bugs.

And so we made our way homeward. On the plane, DC started scratching too. Little red bites started to appear on his body too! Both of us scratched for about one incredibly uncomfortable week. We were scared stiff that we’d brought back bed bugs. Whether they were bed bugs, fleas or something else (definitely not mosquitoes as I get mosquito bites far too often to recognise them easily), we can’t tell. There was no blood or evidence of bugs on the bed (I checked), and no groups of bites either in a breakfast, lunch, dinner line or clear clusters, but there were a lot, and all over the body, indicating that it definitely happened while in bed rather than out walking.

I emailed Nefatari thus:

Thank you for the nice stay at the villa. We enjoyed it all until the morning of check out when we find that we had multiple bites all over the body. Both my husband and I gradually had more and more bites, which only occurred on the morning of check out and thereafter. I alerted your front desk and the person in charge mentioned something about bed bugs. We do not know whether the bites are due to bed bugs or fleas, but would like to let you know so that you thoroughly sanitise the villa and all its furnishings.

And got the reply:

 Dear Madam,

Thank you for your patronage and we glad that your enjoyed your stay at Nefatari Villas.
And we are very sorry about the bites you mentioned, thank you for the information.
Around lobby area there are a lot of vegetation, may be you got bites from gnats or mosquitos

There are no bad bugs or fleas in the villa.
We just do general fogging, sanitise all over the property, villas, inside, out side once a week.

Our staff mentioned about bad bugs ( this is not bed bugs ).
They mean about the bugs ( bad = not good )

We are very sorry that happen on your last day.

Should you have any further input, please feel free to inform us again.

With warmest regards,
made

Bottomline? I don’t know if I could recommend this place. It was really lovely until the morning we checked out. I’d love for friends to experience the great stay, but not the horrible, intense itching for the week after. It was a terribly unpleasant souvenir. What we’re thankful for is that no bugs spread to our home, so all is well.

Nefatari Exclusive Villas
Banjar Katiklantang-Desa singekerta
Ubud – Bali 80571
E-mail: stay@nefatari-bali.com

Wakatobi: Getting There

Wakatobi made sure that we were very well taken care of from the get-go. When we arrived in Bali, there was someone waiting to escort us out through the VIP channel and make sure that we make a smooth transfer to our hotel in Bali. It was really good to whizz past the long immigration line and have porters push our big heavy bags out to meet our hotel rep. I’m surprised that they had this service from our flight into Bali as it technically wasn’t yet part of the trip. I’m definitely not complaining about it though. They provided the same helpful reception the next morning with complimentary porterage services and the use of the VIP lounge in the domestic terminal. After a short delay because SBY had been flying past the area that morning and they needed to clear the air space (!), we took off in a little 40-seater propeller plane! We flew past blue sea and beautiful islets and coral atolls, hoping that Wakatobi would be just like that.

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Of the four islands that make up Wakatobi National Park – Wangi Wangi, Kaledupa, Tomia and Binongko – we landed at the airstrip on Tomia. This was the only town on the island, it was that remote.

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There’s actually a small airport on Wangi Wangi, presumably a larger island, but transfers between Bali and the resort take longer because the flights connect through Makassar and the boat ride to the resort is longer. The resort simply built its own airstrip on Tomia and run chartered flights direct from Bali.

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This suited us just fine because having your own airstrip means that your fleet of SUVs comes right up so your guests can saunter straight from plane to car. What a great idea!

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Before we had a chance to break a proper sweat in the hot sun, we were whisked off past the welcome sign…

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… with our luggage and all the supplies for our week at the resort following closely behind.

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The next stop was the jetty, where we piled onto one of the Wakatobi dive boats and enjoyed iced ginger soda on the short 15-minute ride while the friendly staff briefed us on our stay. We could already see that the water was going to be amazing as it was a beautiful clear turquoise at Tomia jetty already.

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At Wakatobi jetty, it was even better. The water was clear blue…

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… and the white sand was perfect against the backdrop of lush vegetation.

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More beautiful pictures to come!

Bali and Beyond: A Quick Stop-Over at Kuta

It was time for a dive trip after staying dry for so long. We wanted to tick off our bucket list and chose Wakatobi, a resort in South Sulawesi. Getting there involved taking a chartered plane from Bali, so we were more than happy to spend the night before somewhere near the airport. I chose Quest Hotel Tuban, just 5 minutes away from the airport and newly opened in Mar 2012. Its opening offer was USD57 (S$75) for a standard double room. I thought we might as well take a chance on it since we’d only be spending one night there.

We were pleasantly surprised when we got there because they gave us a free upgrade to a deluxe room. It was nicely furnished with modern though rather flimsy furniture, but at that price, I’m not complaining.

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The service at the hotel was great, from the friendly faces at the complimentary hotel pickup to reception and masseuses. We ordered an in-room massage at no extra cost over the in-house spa price and paid about IDR 150,000 (S$21) for a 45 minute full body massage while DC had his foot reflexology (IDR 100,000 or S$14) while watching TV.

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The room had plenty of space for all our dive junk to quite easily spread out, plus several cable channels on TV.

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The toilet was decent, just don’t expect a bathtub. One problem with the shower was that it tended to get really hot, it had a cycle of being cool and then getting hotter and hotter and then back to cool again. So you have to set it so the hottest point is about manageable. It takes some getting used to. Also, the finishings really are quite flimsy and the place is already starting to show signs of wear. The doors, in particular, are rather thin, so bring earplugs and hope that your neighbours don’t talk too loudly at night. We were there just two months after opening and the door stopper in the bathroom was starting to show signs of rust. A lot of the finishings were rather poor, for example plastering not done flush to the ceiling or to the floor skirting (we’ve been noticing these things since we’re in the midst of renovation work for our own place at the moment). I suggest going now when the hotel is still new and definitely not a year later.

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And the rest of the hotel? It’s small but decent. The pool looks quite big. It may be cold though, because it’s in the shade much of the day. There’s also a buffet breakfast with the room charge with a decent enough selection of Indonesian and western selections, from American-style items complete with egg station to chicken porridge with local toppings. Unfortunately, the chicken porridge had so much msg that it gave me a headache. I suggest taking more from the fruit selection instead.

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Quest Hotel Tuban
Jl. Kediri No. 9
Tuban 80361, Bali, Indonesia
Tel: +62 361 764009
Email: TubanInfo@Quest-Hotels.Com

We took the complimentary hotel shuttle to the beach to have a walk and look around. Kuta beach is the same as it’s always been – plenty of folks sitting around on the dull brown sand. Maybe it was because we went at dusk, but there was a slightly depressing atmosphere about the place, especially as the street vendors half-heartedly pushed trinkets and hawked cold Bintang beers in our general direction.

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Maybe it was the omnipresent MacDonald’s sign that reminded me what Kuta represented – mass market consumption – that made it that way.

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So we ducked in a mall to look for some reprieve. (Yeah right, we were just hungry, that’s all.) The most promising place was a rustically decorated restaurant overlooking the beach, Segara Seafood. Seeing that the area was so touristy, we were worried that it would have awful food, but it was surprisingly good! DC had a decent rendition of sop buntut (oxtail soup) with very tender oxtail in a generous portion together with carrot and potato. It was nicely flavoured with a touch of spice and there was a reasonably spicy chilli paste to go along.

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I went for the gurame goreng (deep-fried whole freshwater fish) that came with awesome chilli sauce. It’s not as hot as the one for ayam penyet, but was along the same lines of flavour – lightly cooked chilli paste with belacan and tomato. The deep-fried fish itself was excellently done – crispy enough to eat the tail and the fins, yet tender and juicy inside. I liked the side of plenty of raw vegetables as they lent themselves well to mopping up the yummy sambal. In the background is a generous side of pelecing kangkung, essentially boiled “water spinach” topped with more of the excellent chilli-tomato-belacan sambal.

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Overall, it was a great choice. The food was good and generally priced at about IDR 70,000 (S$10) onwards for the Indonesian dishes. Drinks were reasonably priced too, and my coconut was massive. We enjoyed watching the sky darken over Kuta beach from our little perch. It was a nice place to chill out and go back for an early night to catch an early flight out.

Segara Restaurant
Discovery Shopping Mall (Beach Front)
Jl. Kartika Plaza (80361), Kuta
Bali, Indonesia
Tel: +62 361 769613

Back to Tulamben: Nudibranchs

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And we conclude this series on Tulamben with a tribute to the nudibranch. There was no shortage of them at Tulamben, we even saw their ribbon-like masses of eggs occasionally.

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They came in all sorts of colours, from the usual white with coloured trimmings, such this one…

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… to those that looked like bits of bubblegum.

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There were a few that came in pairs, exhibiting the trailing behaviour of one hanging on to the tail of the other in making contact.

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There were others that made head-to-head contact, so I wonder whether it was a precursor to any mating action. In any case, these fellas move so slowly I’ll probably have run out of air before anything happened, so it was just as well that I moved on.

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We were pleased to have spotted a nudibranch that Wayan had never seen before. This warty fellow seems rather well placed to camouflage itself amongst the coral and sand, it’s no surprise it’d not been seen before. I’m sure Wayan will start looking out for it more from now on, and perhaps it could end up being a new species named after him!

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Other nudibranchs were more quotidian, like this yellow, white and black one, looking quite like most of the ones we see while diving in waters nearer to home.

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Some were unusual for me, like this red one. I’ve not seen a red nudibranch before, I don’t think.

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And others, like this, made me torn between liking them for their delicate contours and cute colouring, and turning away in disgust because the yellow splotches made me think it had a skin disease.

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Whatever the case, nudibranchs reminded me that slowing down helps you to get good shots on the camera, and that slowly but surely does it, just like how this one ended up where it was.

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And that was the end of our sojourn to Tulamben in Bali.