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Honeymoon—and Secret Wedding—in Bali

Diablo' s senior editor and an East Bay entrepreneur elope in Indonesian paradise

The warm night sky above Bali's northeast coast

The church door opened and I saw Tamara standing under its large arch, literally radiant in her wedding dress. The midday sun illuminated the ruffled white fabric of her dress and veil and the yellow Frangipani flowers in her hair and bouquet, and I realized that the clichés about weddings were true. My cynicism washed away, and was replaced by a combo platter of out-of-body surrealism and corny, hopelessly romantic love. (Upon writing these words, I owe a sincere apology to a few chick-flick loving friends of mine, for the acerbic remarks I have made about You’ve Got Mail, Love Actually, and Notting Hill over the past decade.)

Sunset on Bali's northeast shoreOur wedding was held in a church on a hill on the Indonesian isle of Bali. We said our vows to a protestant priest, repeated them in a civil ceremony to Indonesian government officials, and kissed to make it official. Our witnesses—four wonderful employees of the Westin Resort at Nusa Dua—applauded and drove us back to our honeymoon suite with its private pool and sushi-shaped chocolates and chilled sparkling wine.

It was a dream wedding for both of us, but before I get to the trip details, here’s a quick recap on how we got here: Our wedding took place one month shy of the three year anniversary of our initial blind date in March, 2006. Waterfall near MundukAfter writing a story for Diablo magazine about Tamara’s pet product business, I invited her to attend the San Francisco SPCA’s Bark and Whine Ball. We were escorted by her black-and-tan coonhound Henry, who, thankfully, approved of my company. Over several months, we courted, dated, and fell in love. Early in the relationship, Tamara surprised me with some information I was thrilled to discover.

“I don’t want a fancy wedding,” she said, confidently. “I want to go to a beautiful island somewhere, and elope.” She had no idea, but that had always been my dream wedding as well, something romantic and official, but quiet and private. Weddings I had attended both as a child and adult had been memorable, but often awkward and sometimes uncomfortable experiences. I was excited to have made a connection with someone who also saw the elopement route as romantic and exciting, with hopes that our families would understand.

I popped the question last August, during the dessert course of a dinner-and-Lucinda Williams concert date at the Mountain Winery in Saratoga. She accepted, and we immediately started planning our trip to Bali. Online searches told us what was required for an Indonesian wedding for foreign travelers: official birth certificate and passport copies, six four by six cm identification photographs, and a certified letter of intent to marry from the US consulate. Then we had to find a church and a priest (faith-based weddings are required by the Indonesian government) and two witnesses.

A young boy surfs at Kuta BeachWe arrived in Bali the afternoon of February 17 and checked into a room at the simple, fan-conditioned Lili Garden Cottages in the Kuta Beach area. (Cost: about $7.50 US per night.) We hit the ground running the first morning and visited the US consulate in the capital city of Denpasar. We really should have had an appointment, as is customary, but after an electric wanding and the temporary confiscation of my iPod, we were allowed to enter the consulate and swear that we had never married (or that any previous marriages had been legally absolved).

We took our certified letters of intent to marry (fee: $75 US) to the next round, the Indonesian registrar office, where we received the marriage application and list of suggested places of worship suitable to weddings. We chose the protestant church in Nusa Dua, which was close to the Westin Resort Nusa Dua, where we would stay the final two nights of the trip. We then came to the Westin, where the director of marketing, Rainata Tjoa, helped us contact the church, make a reservation for March 3, and get the mobile number of church’s priest. (Profound thanks to Rainata, who was an absolute saint.) The next day, we met with the priest who agreed to marry us on the 3rd. Then we took a duffel bag, stuffed with Tamara’s wedding dress (purchased at Concord’s Gesinee's Bridal) and my suit (a steal at one of those Macy’s One-Day Sales), and checked it at the Westin concierge. Then we returned to the registrar office to pay a $62 US processing fee for government officials to attend and certify our wedding.P&T with Indonesian government officials

In hindsight, spending three days dealing with these logistics was quite expedient in the timeline of wedding plans, but we were ready to start traveling and see Bali.

We hopped in a taxi and went to Ubud, a charming town about one hour from Kuta and Denpasar. Located in the forested foothills, Ubud is the creative epicenter of Bali. Balinese stonecarvingArt galleries, jewelry shops, and chic clothing boutiques sprawl around small cafes and upscale eateries. We checked into the Kajeng Bungalows, a guest house that charged about $15 US per night, breakfast included. We took a dip in the hotel’s beautiful swimming pool overlooking a green jungle valley, then went shopping for wedding rings. I found a silver ring decorated with a BarongPete's wedding band—a mythical lion-dog creature who protects the temple, and Tamara found a silver and gold pinky ring and a sparkly cocktail ring to serve as her wedding ring (we left our permanent rings in the East Bay). We also had dinner at a new restaurant called Siam Sally (delicious) with Janet Molloy, a fascinating Australian ex-pat who founded Jani Silver. This environmentally and socially conscious jewelry designer works with Lori Bonn Designs out of Oakland (look for a mention in the upcoming April issue of Diablo.)

After two nights in Ubud, we hired a driver ($20 US) to take us on a two hour car ride to the harbor town of Padang Bai, where we caught a Gili Cat speedboat to the Gili Islands. Gili Air, Gili Meno, and Gili Trawangan are small islands, off the coast of Lombok, are a great place to lie on the beach, SCUBA dive, and party. Gili Trawangan has by far the most to do in terms of accommodations, food, and nightlife, but is still so small that it takes about an hour to walk around the entire island.Gili Islands taxi service (In high season, we would have considered staying on the smaller, quieter Air or Meno. )Another nice touch: there are no cars or motorcycles on any of these islands. The only transports are bicycles and horse-drawn carriages.

We checked into the Blue Beach Cottages for about $20 US per night. Charming accommodations included a huge bed, and outdoor private bathroom shower with hot water. And a nice breakfast every morning.

I loved the SCUBA scene on Trawangan. The diving options are abundant, and really easy. Dives cost $35 each, and some killer dive sites are less than 10 minutes boat ride from the beach. The coral reefs were alive, though not intensely colorful, but the sea life was awesome. I saw two big reef sharks on one dive, and at least a dozen giant turtles on another.

On the beach, Tamara and I were amused by the enthusiasm of Lombok’s pearl salesmen who would offer us special “morning prices for good luck.” We stimulated the economy a little by buying our mothers some very nice pearl necklaces for about $30.

Blue Beach BungalowsAt night, Trawangan has a bunch of bars and dining options. Our favorite was a beachside restaurant called the Beach House. Fantastic fresh seafood and a romantic view across the water at Lombok, really reasonable prices. We also ate at a restaurant called Scallywags Organic Seafood, right next to the Beach House. The food was fantastic, particularly my swordfish steak—but the service so comically inept that I spoke with the manager. (I’m officially middle-aged!)

One of my favorite spots on Trawangan was the Outdoor Cinema, a tented movie theater that showed bootleg dvds on a projected screen and served some of the best popcorn I’ve ever had.

A dive boat heads out for undersea adventuresWe had five nights in Gili Trawangan, and I’d like to say it was the perfect honeymoon destination, but the truth is that it’s really more of a party island for dive nuts and drunken Aussies. (Several dinners featured an interruption of a drunken mob throwing one of their own into one of the many swimming pools in front of a dive shop). But we did see the most spectacular sunset of the entire trip on the west shore of Trawangan, watching a bright golden sun sink beneath the volcanic mountains of Bali, and shooting colors across cotton-puff clouds and the tranquil sea. Doesn’t get any more romantic than that.

The Gili Cat took us back to Bali, and we hired a driver to take us to the north east shore, where we had a two-night reservation for the Spa Village resort at Tembok Bali. The pool at Spa Village Tembok BaliThis sublime resort is so subtle that we drove past its entrance two times before finding it. But once inside, ooh la la. We were greeted with a footbath and shoulder massage and things only got better from there.

T&P in fisherman's pantsWe checked into a beautifully decorated suite, and changed into the cotton Balinese fisherman’s clothing provided in the closet. The Spa Village is all about providing an escape from the rat race in every way, and I have to say that wearing loose fitting Balinese fisherman’s pants are a great way to forget about traffic bottlenecks on I-80, even if they do kind of look like you're in a cult. Also recommended: swimming in an infinity pool with a view of the ocean, drinking fresh juice smoothies and café lattes with a healthy breakfast, taking cooking classes, drawing classes, yoga classes, and balance walks, all offered at the Spa Village.Fountains at Spa Village Tembok Bali

Seriously, this place is amazing. The staff could not have been more gracious and friendly, the food in the resort’s one restaurant more delicious, and the spa treatments more relaxing. We were treated to a special Balinese wedding preparation treatment—which included a foot massage, followed by a treatment involving heated sand, lemongrass tea and a footbath, and then a 100-minute couples massage.

Since we were visiting during low season and the resort was quiet, the staff upgraded us to one of the property’s two villas for our second night. This private cabin had its own pool, a beach view and a giant, sunken tub in the bathroom. Upon returning to the villa one night, we were surprised to find that the staff had prepared a flower petal bath in said tub—one of countless gracious touches extended to us during our two-night stay. The Spa Village received Pete and Tamara’s highest honeymoon rating, and we thoroughly recommend this destination to anyone looking for the trip of a lifetime (for a wedding, anniversary) or in crucial need of a chill-pill.

Upon departing Tembok, we were just two days away from our wedding day. Something about that 100-minute massage at Spa Village meant that we had zero butterflies, however. Everything was blissful in Bali, which was a nice way to enter marriage. We had a driver take us around the north tip of the island and into the mountains of Munduk (which is visually as Tolkien-esque as it sounds). This small town offers stunning views of rice fields and three of the four lakes on the island, and is the epicenter of Bali’s coffee and spice production. We stayed at a charming guest house, which lacked the luxury of our previous night’s accommodations, but was more than adequate as sleeping quarters. After a lunch of Indonesian cuisine, we took a hike to a killer waterfall, with a raging stream roaring into two rivers and trickling off through the jungle. It was like something out of an Indiana Jones movie.

Ulun Danu Beratan templeThe next morning, a driver took us back to Ubud, a two-hour drive that included stops along the road to feed fruit to wild monkeys and to see a beautiful Ulun Danu Beratan temple beside a lake. A Balinese orchestra was playing music during our visit. Spectacular.Roadside monkeys

In Ubud, we checked back into the Kajeng cottages for one night, and had one more romantic treat before the wedding. The street that hosts this guest house, and maybe a dozen others, sells personalized cement blocks for about $15 US. The money goes toward civic programs in Ubud. We designed a square that mentioned our East Bay neighborhood and our wedding date in Nusa Dua. That night we enjoyed a leisurely dinner after watching an interesting Balinese fire dance.

We woke up on our wedding day with a feeling of excitement and no butterflies whatsoever. Realizing that, for many people, the entire point of a wedding is to have your family and friends witness the event—for those who dread the pressure of such a wedding, eloping is a great way to go. It keeps the experience very intimate and romantic, and keeps the distraction and stress factor to a minimum.Our wedding date, set in cement, in Ubud

Our driver shuttled us from Ubud to Nusa Dua, a beautiful spot in the south of Bali. Though it is located close to the bustling capital city of Denpasar and the tourist-heavy Kuta Beach, Nusa Dua is quiet and serene—largely because visitors have to pass through a number of security checkpoints to get in. The area is heavier on high-end resorts than guesthouses, so if you’re looking for the high-end only getaway, Nusa Dua is a good way to go.

Westin Nusa Dua's fresh water poolWe had two nights booked at the Westin Resort Nusa Dua, a beautiful complex that features a massive air-conditioned lobby with impressive high wood ceilings. We checked into the Royal Beach Club wing of the hotel, and were greeted with delicious pamperings, one after another. Our Ocean View suite was honeymoon heaven, with a private yard and pool that looked out on the ocean (hence the name), a feathery king-size bed, a small kitchen, and an entertainment room with flat screen and DVD library. (We watched the wedding rom-com 27 Dresses, though I chased that with Watchmen as quickly as possible).

We checked out our wedding duffel from the concierge and sent Tamara’s dress and my suit off for a quick steam-and-press. I took a swim, and ate some of the sushi-shaped chocolates, which were waiting on a dinner table upon our arrival. When our clothes returned from pressing, I quickly changed into my suit, attached a Frangipani boutonnière, and went to the lobby, where a friendly Westin employee named Andry Kurniawan was waiting to escort me to the protestant church. (Andry was an amazing help during the entire stay, so I want to extend another thank you while writing this). Arriving at the church, I was pleased to see that the priest and government officials had arrived—my one concern was that after all the planning, something outside our control would topple the house of cards. Thankfully, everything went smoothly and any nervousness I had turned to excitement

The priest shook my hand warmly and walked me into the sanctuary. Tamara and I were thrilled when we first saw this church, two weeks prior to our wedding day—a beautiful, Balinese structure with high wooden ceilings and open walls. I set up a little iPod sound system and waited for the big moment.

Protestant church in Nusa DuaOur other witnesses—three more Westin employees—entered the church. They had escorted Tamara, who was waiting outside. (One of our guests, Desiria Wright, had worked at the Westin St. Francis and lived in Walnut Creek, before moving back to Bali). With everyone ready, I hit play on the iPod and the opening chords of John Prine’s “She Is My Everything” filled the church. The doors opened. There was Tamara. She was a vision. (See intro.)

The ceremony was concise and quite religious (I think we prayed four times.) After the religious ceremony, the Indonesian government officials performed the civil ceremony and we were married. It was actually kind of fun to have two ceremonies in a row, since the first was such a surreal blur.

After a lengthy photoshoot, we returned to the Westin to officially begin our honeymoon. We swam in our private pleasure pool, Ocean View suite's private poolwalked on the beach, and enjoyed a lobster dinner in one of the Westin’s beachside restaurants. The next day we lingered over breakfast, soaked up some of the hot Balinese sun, and had lunch with our new friends Rainata and Andry. That night, we enjoyed a mammothly pleasurable 2.5 hour couples treatment in the Westin Spa. Tamara had the “Marine” ritual, while I opted for the “Magic” with its lemon-ginseng creme bath and skull massage. Complete bliss. (Note to newlyweds: Couples treatments just before and after the wedding are the way to go. Remember that!) Like Spa Village, the Westin at Nusa Dua receives Pete and Tamara's highest honeymoon rating. They also offer weddings at the resort, if you're planning to do the Bali wedding thing without all the backpacking. Just FYI.

Master bedroom in the Ocean View suiteThe next day, we were certainly not happy to have to leave the Westin Nusa Dua, but we were excited to be starting this next step of our life together. We shuttled out of Bali at 2 p.m., hung around the Taipei airport for a few hours, and then slept through the 11-hour flight to San Francisco. Tamara's mom picked us up at the airport and we shared the big news. To our delight, she was thrilled for us. The newlywedsThe rest of our family had the same reaction, so eloping worked out very well. I'm with the woman that I love and I couldn't be happier. Our trip to Bali might be over, but we're looking forward to the beginning of our life together.