October 24, 2013


As promised, I thought I’d share a reflection on our trip to Bali last month.  I can’t believe it’s almost been four weeks since we returned- so much has happened since then, but looking at the pictures it feels just like yesterday.  I guess that’s why we take pictures isn’t it?  To transport us back to a different time.  Preferably, and in this case, one that involves swimming with sea turtles.

Since Tom and I only had one week to explore, we greedily tried to squeeze as much as we could into that time frame.  We stayed for two nights in Seminyak, two nights in Ubud, two nights in Gili Trawangen, and a final night in Sanur.

I’ll admit we spent a lot of time checking in, checking out, and en route to this that and the other place, which caused some unnecessary stress.  But if I were to pick just one place to have spent the whole time, there’s no clear answer as to where.  There was so much to see and such a distinct vibe in each setting so we really appreciated the variety.  It was a bit painful though to miss out on some beautiful temples, road trips and – I’ll admit it – shopping because of our time constraints.  The same trip in two weeks would have been splendid.

Our first two nights we stayed at Tony’s Villas in the heart of Seminyak and immediately felt like royalty.  Not only was the place beautiful- a traditionally built villa with an outdoor spa bathroom- but in a prime location next to some cool bars and restaurants.   

The most ballin' bathroom ever. Note the lack of ceiling above the shower.

Tom had the brilliant idea of renting a motorbike and after a few hours moments  of fretting for my life we were unstoppable!  We took in the sights, made a visit to the renowned Kuta beach, wove between trucks, bicycles and roosters, and drank a vacation worthy amount of Bintang.   

Best of all, we stumbled upon an absurdly luxurious restaurant where we enjoyed a gourmet early birthday dinner for Tom.  A nightcap at the world famous Potatohead bar completed our brilliant day.

Awkward blue lines ruining all my photos... I'll have to re-upload them at some point which is most definitely not now

The next day we headed inland to Ubud. Ubud is known to have a bit of a hippy expat vibe, which is apparent in the numerous organic fresh squeezed juice bars, yoga apparel shops, and day spas we passed on each street.  I wanted to hate it, with all the western commoditization of spirituality… but I loved it.  So much.   

I spent my first morning sweating through a yoga class and gulping down an Aryuvedic smoothie before hoping on a motorbike with Tom and taking a few hours to get lost in the mountain villages north of the city.  The scenery was simply incredible – this was the Bali you would see in National Geographic, and we were the only tourists in miles.   

Unfortunately, after finally pulling over to enjoy the view with a coffee and leisurely lunch, we realized we were essentially out of cash [the rest was in our villa’s safe].  Irritably we scrounged up enough change to buy a bag of chips and headed back.  The quickly darkening sky meant we arrived back just too late to properly explore the monkey forest or it’s temple – one of Ubud’s biggest attractions.  I whined a bit, but a swim and a Bintang (and a calming and wonderful boyfriend) were enough to help me get over myself.  The hour long massage treatment didn’t hurt either.  We finished the night watching a traditional Balinese dance troupe at the former Royal Palace.

The next day we woke bright and early to make our way to Gili Trawangen.  This is one of the three Gili Islands, situated just off the coast of Lombok.  Tom and I had heard great things from several of our travel happy friends about the Gilis and were really looking forward to white beaches, tropical cocktails, snorkeling, and doing nothing else.  Before we could enjoy those luxuries, however, we had to endure a three-hour boat ride crossing the straits of hell.  I won’t go into detail, but Tom gets quite seasick and choppy seas + cramped tiny boat + diesel fumes = lots of puke.  We were very happy to touch solid ground.

Gili Trawangen turned out to be exactly what we had hoped and more.  Our only full day spent there was Tom’s 26th birthday, which we began with a morning snorkel.  About fifteen minutes later, already astounded by the beauty of the reefs, we encountered our first sea turtle.

Tom pretty much peed his pants [I mean, we were swimming so I wouldn’t have even known] and when we retreated to lounge on the beach we both felt overwhelmed by all the beauty and just so absurdly happy to be alive.   

The day only got better with great seafood, more snorkeling, and beachside tapas while watching the sun set over Lombok’s volcanoes.

We reversed the class shortly after and watched a bootleg version of This is the End for $3 at Gili T’s only “movie theatre” and thoroughly enjoyed the idiotic humour.

The boat ride back was harsh but manageable – Tom sat on the roof to avoid a repeat of previous events.  We arrived for our last night in Sanur, mostly just a place to rest our heads before an early flight.  Pleasantly, we discovered our room came with a private pool, HBO, and affordable room service. BOOM.

I was sad to leave, but it would definitely take a few weeks for me to digest the whirlwind trip and appreciate all we saw, witnessed, and learned.  There was a certain poignancy in seeing such a beautiful country with such beautiful people slowly losing its identity to accommodate tourism.  Temple flowers shared with hotel visitors and cultural dance performances before seas of white faces have exposed throngs of Westerners to “Balinese Culture” while the art of cultivating rice and creating batik fabrics has been neglected.  It’s understandable that anyone would seize an opportunity to earn a better income without performing backbreaking labor.  But as I passed so many plastic wrappers, broken thongs, and shredded “I <3 BALI” t-shirts in the street gutters I couldn’t help but wonder: is this income really buying the Balinese a better life?  As a resident of a industrialized country with its priorities supremely backwards, I can’t be one to judge.  But I can be one to warn: Don’t follow in our footsteps.  Shoes for those who have none can change lives, but Nike swooshes won’t bring you happiness.  Your mother’s Nasi Goreng will always taste better than anything prepackaged in a supermarket.  And spending time with your community will provide more fulfillment than any transient exchanges with tourists, albeit without the tip.

I would love to go back one day and see what has become of Bali.  Better yet, I’d love to visit Bali twenty years ago and see what it once was.  Either way, until then, I have my pictures to transport me.

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