Last weekend, I went to Bali. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to say that ever again. It may be one of the only places I’ve visited (besides maybe Angkor Wat) that is on the radar of most “Westerners”. What I found in Bali was western food mixed with Indonesian and Indian varieties, lots of gelato, yoga, beaches, and gorgeous landscapes.
It’s not, of course, the sort of place where people ask to take pictures with you or to practice their English. I was asked a few times if I was Australian because Bali is a prime destination for Australian surfers, families, and friends. I enjoyed Bali, but I can’t say it was my favorite place I have been because it almost felt too much like home. I think I would adjust my itinerary quite a bit if I returned, because aside from visiting a monkey forest, nearly every thing I did in Bali could have been done in California or Hawaii.
But, I went to Bali: I enjoyed my time, learned to surf, did yoga in the middle of the jungle, and experienced one of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen.
The journey started a bit rough. We arrived at our bungalow in Ubud (central Bali) around midnight on Thursday and were greeted with darkness and silence as no one was working the front desk. Finally, we found the room where the owner slept (the door was cracked open) and asked if he could help us. We had already paid for our room and just wanted to go to bed. He said he was full and that we would have to stay with his “brother”. Note: in the U.S. this would have been very alarming, but in Asia these sorts of things are quite common, especially when you’re a budget traveller. So, we followed the owner’s “brother” to a very nice guesthouse that sat behind a rice field, just 100 meters or so from our intended place of stay. In the morning we were awakened by the sound of drums and music as the Balinese (primarily Hindu people) were preparing for their Day of Silence, Nyepi. We enjoyed delicious jaffles (essentially toast with fillings inside, in our case bananas, that is sealed at the edges), fruit, and tea for breakfast.
That morning, we explored the Ubud market and spent more than should ever be spent at a market, because, well, we were in Bali. Later, we enjoyed a delicious chicken curry with coconut rice, presented on a banana leaf. This was a delicious dish, and one of the first non-vegetarian meals I had had in a while! (I primarily eat Indian food at NUS and most of it is vegetarian).
We returned home just in time for the rain to begin. As usual, the rain was short. Upon it’s ceasing, we headed to “The Yoga Barn” a yoga studio and retreat center highly regarded and mentioned over and over on Trip Advisor, Lonely Planet, etc. There, we were greeted by yogis from all over the world. Our teacher was from San Francisco (note: California) and quite good. The class was difficult – it was a vinyasa class, but we were in the middle of an Indonesian island so it was more of a hot, humid vinyasa – but very refreshing and a fitting way to spend a day on an island. I sat across from a Balinese man in one of the poses. His skill will forever be an inspiration as I can hardly fathom the strength and flexibility required to master many of the poses that were suggested (and that he had mastered…probably a long time ago!). One day!
Next, we journeyed to the Sacred Monkey Forest which is exactly what it sounds like, a forest with monkeys. The monkeys were quite used to people and were not shy about interacting. One monkey stole my friend Miranda’s water bottle from a pocket in her purse, and then proceeded to open it with his nifty opposable thumbs and lay it sideways when open so that he and his friends could share. Monkeys are quite smart indeed. We got a bit lost exiting the monkey forest and had to walk back through in the dark in order to find our way back to central Ubud and yes, the screeching monkeys were a bit frightening.
The next morning, we awoke to more jaffles and drums and traveled with a taxi arranged by the hotel around the island. We first stopped at a rice terrace, which was quite beautiful but way too tourist friendly (there was an overlook for photo taking), a coffee plantation – where we learned how the famous Luwak coffee is made, Mount and Lake Batur, and Tampak Siring.
The highlight of these visits was certainly the coffee plantation (Which is strange because this is what I least wanted to do. Asia has taught me to go with the unexpected and unplanned and just say yes) and I think this is because we were allowed to do more than just get out, pay 50 cents, and take a photo. We learned how luwak coffee is made. The luwak is a nocturnal rodent-type animal that eats “only the best” coffee beans. It then digests the beans and the remains are collected (still in their shells) by farmers. The farmers then shell the beans, clean them with hot water, and roast them over a fire. What results is luwak coffee, the most expensive coffee in the world. We paid 5 USD for one cup. One cup in Asia is the size of a teacup, if that, in the U.S. It is a strong coffee and quite good, but maybe not worth all of the hype. We also had the opportunity to sample several other teas and coffees (for free!). Highlights of these included vanilla coffee, lemongrass tea, and mangosteen tea. All were delicious.
At the conclusion of our day of touring, we headed to Seminyak, which is along the southern coast of Bali. It is a beach popular for its beauty and sunsets. The beach was quite nice. The sand sparkled and the sunset really was amazing. It seemed to light everything pink. The beach itself was also quite nice and incredibly smooth. We enjoyed pizza on the beach – for only $2.50 each! You can’t get it that cheap in Singapore! – and marveled at the sunset. We later had milkshakes at the cheap-and-delicious Benny’s restaurant. These proved once again that Indonesia has a way with cold, fruity beverages. I have a real passion for “smoothies bananas” on Java, as well.
The next morning was certainly the highlight of our trip. We went surfing! We took a lesson, of course, because being from the Midwest we knew neither what a “rail” was nor a “deck”, or even the proper meaning of “rip”. After about a half hour of learning surfing safety and practicing the approach, we went in to the ocean and did not waste any time riding the waves. It wasn’t as hard as it looks! I promise the waves were bigger than the picture below shows. You catch a big wave then ride the smaller waves in to shore. Our instructor, Norman, was also quite funny and very helpful. The instructors weren’t able to say Kaylee, though, so my name was “Kyle” for the duration of the lesson, until Norman started to call me “baby face”, but I guess it’s better than Kyle?
Kyle or Kaylee, Bali was beautiful, different because it was Western (what a novel idea for an American!), and a nice getaway before the second round of midterms.