Homestay Agung in Lovina, Bali was the original “homestay” on Anturan Beach. It was founded by an Englishman, Bill Pierce, in 1980. It changed hands briefly, but fell onto hard times and went into bankruptcy.
I, Sandy, purchased the hotel in 1997, with a Balinese partner, Nyoman. It was in a very sorry state, having been trashed and graffitied over the years. There were 2 thatched cottages, a ripped out kitchen, open latrine and a ghostly shell occupied by birds and mosquitoes! The original restaurant area was redesigned, reroofed with thatch, retiled and a beach front bar added. Upstairs above the restaurant is still a great place to relax and watch the waves and the goings-on on the beach. It retains its old charm, like your grandmother’s outside porch.
Bali, at the time, was suffering a financial crisis and the Indonesian rupiah skyrocketed against the US dollar. At the time of purchase, the Indonesian government restricted currency to no more than RP 10 000 or US$1. Thus, the transaction was sealed in a duffle bag with the equivalent of Us$1 bills! All this counted out on the floor of a money changer in Sanur! This was a nightmare.
It took about 18 months to renovate, which included much hand wringing and tears and swift enlightenment about doing business in Bali! There were many times I wanted to throw in the towel or the mop as the case maybe. I learned my pidgin Balinese very quickly. The tiles for the pool mysteriously disappeared, along with tools etc, but my faithful Balinese friends recovered the power drill and shaved the thief’s head before dunking him in the great and muddy pool area! I am still looking for an attractively tiled kitchen in the village.
Having no previous experience as a hotelier or chef, the learning curve was steep and swift. Maybe my background in mental health was a plus. The staff from the village had never had a fridge, a microwave or oven, vacuum cleaner or a very clean house. Their only lightbulb is 5 watts, consequently I swear they can see in the dark. There are also evil spirits which come out at night and any foray out of the kitchen for supplies takes two, huddled together for protection. As I lived in the village for a month, while building my house, I can attest to the fact that there’s lots of dust stirred up by all the “sweeping”, at which the Balinese excel, and keeping things clean is almost impossible. During the rainy season, a persistent mold creeps up the walls and with no money for paint, houses just remain in that sorry state. Old habits won’t be changed and the girls still do not like the vacuum, are afraid of electricity and absolutely refuse to use a deep fat fryer, cappuccino machine or a squeegy mop. Some things you just have to get over or you will go crazy. Hot water and cleaning dishes do not go together, no matter how hard you try, but they do like the dishwasher, thank goodness! After 15 years I have just gotten them to taste the food they are cooking and by now I actually think they like it.
Telling you there is something wrong, lost, brocken or finished is alien to the Balinese culture, in case you are upset. Consequently, the first time you find out the door handle is loose is when it comes off in the guest’s hand. There must be a law that says you cannot order something for the kitchen unless it is totally finished and this you only discover just before dinner. We ran out of chicken one night, so I sent my trusty driver to get more. It seemed to take for ever and when I went to find him, he was busy plucking the feathers. We do pride ourselves on “fresh” food.
The first night we opened, a big, burly Australian plonked himself down on the bed, after a few beers I might add, and the bed collapsed, forcing his wife to roll out of the bed. Talk about Fawlty Towers, there were so many disasters, now quite hilarious, but to a neophite hotelier not so funny at the time. We were so lacking in confidence that our rooms weere only US8 per night. We were full the first month we opened but it took another month before the bruises on my legs from the constant toing and froing began to disappear. Also helped by the bright idea of putting a gate in the wall from my house to the hotel. Duh!
As we are right on the beach, the salt water plays havoc with anything metal, like the fans, hinges, fridges, music systems etc and the termites and ants take care of the rest. They even ate my vacuum cleaner bags, carried all the way from the US. Your clothes and shoes, in fact everything, develop mold rashes and whites are never white for long.
The worst memory of that first year was a very bad storm, and Bali really has horrendous storms. I woke to find the front of the restaurant washed into the ocean and everything else with it. My garden wall totally disappeared. There was about 12″ of sand in the pool. The restaurant was built on sand with no reinforcements and each wave ate away at the foundations and I could swear that I could see it topple little by little. Needless to say, the rainy season is not my favorite time of the year and crashing waves make me nervous still. Out of respect for mother nature and the power of the ocean, we are now heavily reinforced.
The Bali bombing took its toll on everyone in Bali. We did not see a guest for 18 months up in the north. So, in order to keep our brains functioning at some meager pace, I taught the girls English and Gus, my partner taught maths and geography. We made clothes and bags and pillows and macrame and making mosaics and doing crossword puzzles. Interesting to see how someone who has never seen a puzzle approaches the task. I spent many hours pulling out forced in pieces. One of the girls had had to leave school at 12 as her parents could not afford to keep her in school, but her skill in maths was astonishing. The Balinese have incredible memories and will remember you and your name five years from now. One choice remark made by the staff at english class, when asked to go to the kitchen and tell the time, was “No matter what time it is, tell her it is 12 oclock”. Class ended at 12 oclock.
There are so many memories and so many great and a few not so great guests, that it would take a lot of paper to recount. In the end, I am proud of Villa Agung Beach Inn and my girls are wonderful most of the time and have been with me forever. My rebellious security guy has changed from being fired for fighting with his wife in the hotel in the middle of the night to being the best manager I could wish for. There are daily dramas but they don’t affect me quite so badly. Lovina is a little ” Peyton Place” in Bali and life is no different from anywhere else in the world. We have our scandals and gossip and family crises, but it all makes being a hotelier in Bali a pretty good life. Not to mention 7 months of constant sunshine, sea breezes and tranquil blue sea. Eat your heart out.