There are few places in the world where you can still go visit and feel like you have stepped back in time. Bali to me, despite its popularity and rapidly growing tourism, is one of those places.
What I love about Bali is that it always feels like home every time I land here. There is something nostalgic and romantic about being here and I think it has to do with how all of your senses go into sensory overload from the mixture of frangipanis and incense that fills your nostrils, to the gamelan music in your ears, and the visions of colorful flowers and traditional sarongs that people wear. It’s like how a certain smell or song can bring you right back in the moment you were as a child and make you smile. Bali has that effect on you.
Despite the creature comforts that we all are used to like cars and the internet, people still live simply here and spirituality is just part of their everyday life. As you walk around every morning, you see women weaving prayer offerings out of palm fronds and men placing them with incense, rice and flowers at the feet of intricately carved statues. People still come to Bali to experience a lost world of temples and rice paddies and although many of the famous rice terraces have been replaced by luxury hotels, it still has maintained that old world charm.
Sarah and I met Ketut and his brother at the airport and they became our drivers for the rest of the trip. They took us on a 5-hour drive through mountains and rice paddy fields, lunch underneath the volcano, stopping at a Hindu Temples, visiting a forest of monkeys and finally arriving at this sleepy, picturesque destination on the northwestern beach of Bali. The little town was called Pemuteran and we stayed at a small bungalow resort called Taman Sari with only 15 bungalows.
Sarah and I accidentally enjoyed a couples massage and a romantic candlelight dinner since they didn’t understand that we were not a couple when we said we wanted to get massaged at the same time. Afterward, we found ourselves in a gorgeous thatched-roof bungalow with a huge canopy of mosquito netting surrounding us and tropical frogs croaking in our bathroom that has no ceiling so you can shower underneath the stars. It was such a romantic evening to not have my boyfriend with me to share it!
In Pemuteran we basically just relaxed and ate, read, went snorkeling and diving and had spa treatments every day. We had zero internet and we felt like we were on the moon because it was so remote. It was amazing. We spent more money on diving and spa treatments than food and lodging combined.
There are no words to describe the experience I had in Pemuteran.
We took a boat to Menjangan Island and saw the most beautiful reef I have ever seen!
Underwater it looked like a field of wildflowers of all different colors, bright yellow and blue and purple coral. I saw a sea turtle and grabbed onto its shell while it was swimming, which I think was a life DREAM of mine! It was pure zen and I finally felt comfortable and relaxed underwater.
Afterward, we played soccer with our drivers and then stayed up late drinking beers and learning about their culture and laughing all night long at the funny quotes that only a language barrier can create. It was SUCH a wonderful day and night and the drive from Pemuteran to Ubud was EQUALLY as stunning as the first drive from the airport.
Day 4 in Bali and we made it to Ubud and stayed at the Gayatri Bungalows. It was a full moon that night and we luckily were there during that time of the month. The nearby village had a huge full moon ceremony and our drivers, who were locals, took us even though we foreigners weren’t really allowed to go. They dressed us in their traditional sarong outfits and let us be blessed by their priests with rice and water...We were in the middle of the jungle at a temple with a few thousand other people and drums and other ceremonial instruments...It was like we were back in time in some tribe...a well-dressed tribe. They made all of these food offerings to the gods on these tall golden fruit covered platters that the women balanced on their heads. It was a very special thing to be a part of.
After reading “Eat, Pray, Love” we decided to go on an odyssey to find the very same medicine man, Ketut Liyer, from the book. Success! He was a very spiritual man and he told me I was very lucky and had strong karma. Apparently I have been reincarnated 5 times already and that I am spiritually more advanced than most. He said that I tend to be impatient, that people tend to follow me and that I am an artist. He also said that I would live to 110 years old have great health in my life, have two children and that the man I am with is “a very good man!” I agreed. Oh, and he said I had a good nose!
Ubud is SUCH an amazing, spiritual place. I have never experienced anything like it. It’s not just for the tourists either, it is just ingrained in their existence. Every morning women and children sit on their porches weaving little baskets out of palm fronds so they can put little rice and flower offerings to the gods. Everywhere you walk there are little baskets with incense and offering even in fine restaurants, shops, sidewalks and back alleyways. There are temples from thousands of years ago mixed in with more modern structures and people have shrines in all of their houses.
The town is divided into art districts like the painting district, woodcarving district, silver, egg painting, batik…you name it. There are artist colonies in each section where artists live and just create art all day long. There is so much art being generated on a daily basis that it is just overwhelming. I want to fill a shipping container someday to bring it all home with me!
I splurged and bought a painting of Pura Tanah Lot, the sea temple painted on banana leaves and canvas. I have never spent hundreds of dollars on art, but it was so beautiful I could not refuse. They definitely were right when they said, “Shop till you drop in UBUD." Since we have been here we have gone to lunch over-looking the mountains and rice paddies, visited the artists, done yoga, walked through the Sacred Monkey Forest, wrestled with a baby komodo dragon, and played with the parrots at the Bali Bird Park, visited numerous temples, but and my favorite was watching the famous traditional Kecak Dance. It happens every night and it was so beautiful. It is named for the sound “KEH-CHAK” that the men chant the whole time while the women danced.
Balinesian dancing is SO graceful, complicated and difficult. They had two young girls like 7 years old dancing in a trance for 20 minutes. They were completely in unison with their eyes closed the entire time….SO incredible! Then another man, in a trance as well, danced with his eyes closed barefoot in a fire of coconut shell cinders!
We have had our “bodyguards,” our drivers Ketut and his brother Wayan, with us everywhere. Here in Bali, your drivers don’t just drive you everywhere, they wait for you like a loyal servant night and day and come along with you until you retire at night to your hotel room. At first, it was very strange to us. We would walk outside of the restaurant from dinner hours later and there they are waiting for you. Or every morning when we left our hotel, there they were waiting for you. For a couple of girls, it was actually quite nice to have an entourage. They would even guard our purses while we were dancing. I could get used to this kind of treatment!
On our last day in Ubud, we girls declared it a “Pampering Day” (not like this ENTIRE trip hasn’t already been a “Pampering Day”). We started the day off with the morning traditional dance ceremony called the Barong Dance, then we went to the Mango Tree Spa for a 4-hour package of massage and scrubs in the middle of a jungle up in a tree! This is one of the things I have been looking forward to for months!
After our scrub down, we had dinner at the famed restaurant, MOZAIC, which is like a 6 star French Restaurant, rumored to be one of the best restaurants in the world. It’s expensive for Bali standards, which means like $50 per person! Again, I can get used to the prices here and the $15 massages. I think it was the perfect way to end our Ubud experience. The best part is that we still have Munduk (in the mountains) and then Jimbaran Bay (by the beach) left to enjoy on this trip. It’s like having multiple vacations in one!
Munduk was an awesome escape from the hustle of Ubud. It took us two hours through windy mountainous rods to get there. When we did, we ended up at a tiny resort called Puri Lumbung Cottages. The resort only hosts 14 cottages and they are like little 2 story huts overlooking the terraced rice paddy fields and just so tranquil. At night, the sounds of the frogs and bats were so deafening, that it actually lulled me to sleep and I had two of my most relaxed nights of sleep there. Perhaps the cooler mountain air had something to do with it. We basically chilled out, ordered food and 40’s of beer to our hut and took advantage of the local culture. We were staying at an eco-resort, so they offered classes like Indonesian instruments or dancing, weaving, trekking, spiritual discussion hour or cooking classes.
There were about 20 different trekking trails with guides. Some took you through an ancient village to the holy hot springs (since Munduk is on a volcano), others took you to waterfalls, and some through rice paddies. It truly was a place to relax and enjoy the Indonesian way of life. So we decided to first go to the holy volcanic hot springs. We were practically the only women there. The water was SO refreshing and healing. Sarah swears that her shoulder knots finally were healed by the water.
Afterward, we drove back, had a lazy dinner and then I learned how to play the Indonesian Gamelan (Xylophone) with the traditional Balinese band that was playing. I finally got the hang of it after 30 minutes. It almost mesmerizes you, because it is such an eerie, repetitive melody since the instrument only has like 5 notes you can play.
We woke early the next day to have breakfast and go into the nearby village to see the cremation ceremony that was happening before our morning trek. We were invited to it because their cremations are a unifying event almost like a wedding. The entire town stops everything to join the funeral procession and to watch the body be burned. They have this beautiful, ornate huge casket made out of colorful papier-mâché that takes like a dozen men to carry and then they play very traditional gamelans that are specifically made for cremations. These ones sounded tinny and even more creepy than the other instruments. I have come to learn that this sound signifies death.
In Bali,they believe in reincarnation and the cycle of life. So after the body is publicly burned, they take the ashes and put them in the river. So completes the cycle, earth, fire, wind, and water. Again, we felt like aliens had landed, showing up with cameras to this public event. Though I didn’t see sadness there. It’s like people here understand death as a cycle of life and embrace is much more than us Westerners.
Afterward, we went and joined our guide for our trek through the jungle to a few beautiful waterfalls. We saw so much in the wild, huge spiders, every type of plant you could imagine, avocados, pineapples, bananas, cacao, nutmeg. Most of these foods I never knew how they looked out in the wild. What was also amazing was how many people lived so far out in the mountains, that it was like a 30-minute trail uphill to get to their little shack and no roads connecting the houses to civilization.
After our trek, we had a little old lady from the village come teach us how to weave banana leaves to make things, like the little baskets they use to make their daily offerings to the gods, or decorations for the house, or a purse. It’s amazing that you can make just about anything out of bamboo, banana leaves or palm fronds. The Balinese people are so creative and resourceful with what they have. The rest of the afternoon passed in lazy amusement. I, of course, got the urge to go fishing, so our drivers helped me whittle a fishing pole out of bamboo, then jumped knee-deep in the muddy rice paddy to catch me some worms to fish with. What service!
On our last day, we left Munduk to drive to Jimbaran Bay in the south which is famous for their seafood dinners on the beach. There in Jimbaran Bay you can witness the most AMAZING sunsets that Bali is known for and see the entire beach light up with thousands of candles from all of the restaurants during twilight.
It was REALLY beautiful. The restaurant itself was unusual, because there is no set menu. Literally, you watch the fisherman come in with their traditional colorful wooden boats and unload their nets, then when you go to “order” in the restaurant you have to get up out of your seat, walk over to see what they have just caught, point out what you want and weigh it, and then determine what you get and how much your dinner is. It doesn’t get any fresher than that!
On that last night while watching the local women and children on the beach waiting for their fisherman husbands to come back to shore, (and ultimately our dinner to arrive), we realized that we don’t need to live as complicated lives as we do. Everything doesn’t have to come quickly and be on the go, the “American Way.” I didn’t think about my cell phone once and I didn’t miss it. Instead, life can slow down and be a lot more simplistic. I feel like every time I travel I “reset” myself, my life, and my priorities. Bali is one of the few places on Earth where the people still live this way and are a reminder to the rest of us how precious, simple, and beautiful life really can be.