Candidasa Bali: Growing Old, Gracefully

In the sleepy village of Candidasa, 2 hours drive from Bali Ngurah Rai Airport, things seems to roll slowly. Slow enough that, maybe one doesn’t realize that things is getting old. The question is, if you suddenly realize, does it grow old gracefully, or grotesquely?

We first stop by at Candidasa on our way to Tulamben. Incidentally, we bump into Fajar Candidasa, the Hotel we are going to stay on our way back. Considering that we still have enough time to catch the sunset in time, why not stop by and check the room?  We are greeted by Pak Siade, front office staff who happen to be taking our booking as well. We tool a short tour to a room, happy with it, reconfirm our booking, and continue our drive to Tulamben.

The next day, we return to this Hotel for to check in. Coming back to the front office, we feel how word out the Hotel is. There are a map of Bali on the wall to the left, the color is blunt, battered by the humid weather of the beach. To the right is a rack of old books mostly written in German and French. The books, left by previous patrons, trace back to the old glory of the Hotel.

Candidasa, where the Hotel is located, consist of a strip of main road, connecting Kuta to the west and Amlapura to the north. In its glory time, visitors flicking to Candidasa for its pristine beach, where you can go diving or simply reading books and sunbathing by day, enjoy a fine dining far from the crowd at night, and sleep under the sound of surf, cricket and frog. Then people start exploiting the nature, which destroys the reef, and subsequently the beach. What is left now is the a strip of main road deserted from visitor, several new buildings, and mostly old buildings such as Fajar Candidasa, which witness of those glory days. Candidasa now has more become a palace that you pass by on the way further east to Tulamben-Amed, instead of place you stay.

Across Fajar Candidasa is a bar, which lose our interest. It is very similar to what you can find in Kuta, with a lot more crowd. Desperate businessman tries to attract people from Kuta to Candidasa, in which they fail. It is simply not the heart of Candidasa.

Quite many people walking from the east, so that way we went. There are quite good facility such as laundry, minimarket and bookstore. Cafe and restaurant lined up along the road, nicely decorated and lighted. Only one thing lacking for those place: patrons. Seems that this time of year is not a high day for them.

“They are all flying back to Europe. Those Germans and French go home to celebrate the White Christmas with their family”, the lady in the used bookstore explain to us. “Most of them will cone around June-July, which is the high season for Candidasa.”

Not far from the bookstore, right in the middle of village, standing the Candidasa Beach Hotel. Its massive Balinese Structure really stand out among the neighborhood, another landmark of Candidasa’s glory day. “Balinese structure is not normally constructed in massive scale. It looks creepy”, I said to my wife. Later I found out that the Hotel is indeed almost deserted, with only maybe 2-3 of its 100 rooms being occupied.

Vincent’s Bar/Lounge/Restaurang, some 5 minutes walk from the lake probably the only one that still carries out the old reason of what people visiting Candidasa for: A fine dining. Others try to convert itself into more Kuta-like Bar and Restaurant, which is not why people come to Candidasa. Painted in red, furnished with dark brown furniture, Vincent’s entertain the soul of the patrons by playing what they call as lazy jazz music. The wall is also lined up with paintings, and also bottles of wine for you to order.

We are served by an attentive waitress. Food is combination of international and Indonesian food, which already been customized for foreigner. When we ask about it, the waitress happily serve additional chilly, which makes the whole food taste different. So much we love this place that, we order a cocktail martini to close the night. It come perfect, not dry, with olive oil dipped to neutralize the strong alcohol.

“Are you staying around Candidasa? We offer free transport back to hotel in Candidasa”, the announcement made by our friendly waitress when handing our bill come into surprise. We indeed think of the long walk back, and being offered free transport, we gladly accept it. “Yes, Fajar Candidasa, please”

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Our sleep has been uncomfortable. Me due to the bed, which is too soft from overuse, and my wife due to a problem with cockroach. These two give us a conclusion that, despite of its glory past, it is time for a renovation at Fajar Candidasa. “Yes, the hotel has a new owner, and will be closed for renovation sometime in April next year”, Pak Siade tell us in the morning. “As you can see, the bungalow across your room can’t be used anymore. Its roof leaks, and beyond repair”, he continues.

We sit at the restaurant for breakfast. It face the ocean, and Nusa Penida is visible in the distance. Nearby, at the shore, some fisherman stand by the boat waiting for passenger. “Nusa Penida?” one of them ask while waving, to which we kindly reject. As we eat our toast, we remembered about the foreigner staying in a room next to us.

“He is a regular visitor”, Pak Siade said to us before we left. “Sometime he stayed here for months before returning home, then after 6 months, he will be back here”. That man probably part of the past glory of Candidasa, which has now grow old, weary by the time. Fortunately for him, there are still future. When Fajar Candidasa has renovated, and when more restaurant like Vincent’s open for business, instead of Kuta-like bar and restaurant. Then Candidasa will surely back to its heyday.

Until then, people will pass it by, to see if Candidasa grows old gracefully and reborn, or simply being left behind.

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