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I’m flying Air Garuda – the Indonesian national airline. It’s good, because they actually process your visa in-flight, and at the other end you just walk out the airport. I treat myself to the upgrade ($500 – not too bad) and so once I’ve checked in and queued to pay for the visa my vacation starts in the Quantas lounge. I meet a woman there, who is an entrepreneur based mostly in China. We chat, and she tells me to go do what excites me, something of an inspirational pep talk. I’m grateful for it – my life can seem a bit mad.
This makes me seriously question my allegiance to Star Alliance – it’s so much nicer than the Air NZ lounge! I have the most delicious smoked salmon with cream cheese on sourdough. Mmm! Mostly I don’t eat fish for ethical reasons (over-fishing, it’s hard to know what’s sustainable and what is not) but smoked salmon is my weakness.
Business class is lovely, it starts with some amazing red juice – still to find out what kind of juice exactly – which I drink as much as possible of, and they have actual Earl Grey tea. And the food is pretty incredible too. I catch up on some sleep, and read a novel (in my opinion, key feature of vacation is reading a novel a day).
We land, walk straight through customs, and after a lengthy wait for my bag I’m in arrivals! I buy a sim card – data only – from simPati for 150,000 – I’m confused by the sheer amount on every bill, and discover that 1 = 1000 when talking cash here. My travel agent (the Amazing Mario at Out and About) has arranged for transfers for me, so it’s smooth – there’s a guy with a sign, and after a short wait for the van (the airport is only half built, and they are still using the other car park because the new one is too small and too full) we are on our way! He gave me a set of brochures – I can go quad biking (yes!), horseback riding (yes!) take cooking classes (no) and there are some half day and day tours, and cycling that I am undecided on. There is also lots of yoga in Ubud. Before he leaves I book in to quad bike tomorrow! I’m excited!
I’m staying at the Hotel Tjampuhan Bali in Ubud, about a 90 minute drive from the airport – it’s great to be back in Asia, I love the vibrancy. On the drive, I notice little statues and fountains in the middle of the highway. It’s so cute! The hotel is a lush tropical paradise set on a hill, and I have my own little hut with an outside balcony that mentally I mark as “place to write”. The hotel is lovely and they great me with more red juice – this time possibly alcoholic, but I’m not sure. I have to find out what this stuff is!
I book a 150 minute spa treatment, and head for a quick swim before. The pool is not great for laps, but I find myself chatting to a couple and another girl who is there alone – we decide to go to dinner at a restaurant recommended by the couple. Yay!
The spa is… interesting. I get a massage, facial, body treatment – which comprises of a scrub, but also being covered in yogurt and lying in a bath of flowers. It’s not your prudish western treatment, the woman is actually washing me. I’m not entirely comfortable with this, but opt to go along with things. The room only has three walls, so as I lie on my front, I can look out into lush jungle. And sometimes see passers by… thankfully they never make it up that far. I’m unsure how private the whole experience actually is.
For dinner, we head to Murnie’s Warung, where I discover my new friend is from a place in Canada near where I used to live! I order the duck (delish), followed by black rice pudding (bit sweet). We have a really nice evening, but I am exhausted.
Oh so tired. Time for bed!
I’m supposed to meet the guide at 8am, but he doesn’t show up until 9, at which point I find out I’m not quad-biking in the morning, but instead at 2pm – this does not work with my planned optimisation for my day, and I am Not Happy about that! That he multiple times pointed out that I’m by myself was also an unfortunate sales strategy – I know I’m by myself, thanks for that. Whist waiting for him, I amused myself by booking things with the hotel instead – I think it is a better deal, in all, although they do have a smaller selection. I plan to do a downhill cycle tour (and see a volcano!), white water rafting, and the ballet. I’m also trying to find out when/where I can take yoga classes, a place called the Yoga Barn comes recommended, but sadly they do not seem to answer their phone. I am directed to another a short walk away… only to discover I have just missed the start of their morning class. Urgh, if only the guy had told me… but I will be zen. This is Bali. I’m here to relax.
It is brutally hot, and this is why I need to get going early – as the heat builds I get more and more lethargic. I lie by the pool and read, then get an early lunch at Murnie’s – this time the sweet and sour pork (meh) followed by the jackfruit fritters and coconut ice-cream (tasty – although just in general too much deep fried there, mistake). I’m still on the quest to find this amazing red juice, and try a papaya juice. It’s mostly delicious but with a weird under taste that I can’t quite make out.
Quadbiking is nearly an hour away, and my driver is late (a theme emerges), but we get there in time. It’s more expensive than I thought – about $100 total. There’s a huge group of about 20, some couples and two big groups, and I am the only one flying solo. The bikes are not the best – only one brake (I’m sure they build in redundancy there for a reason) and mine twice stalls going up a hill. The second time I end up hauling it up the hill, whilst the dude behind me pushes it up with his. When we’re moving, it’s great – I love the thrill, and once I’ve managed to overtake everyone but the instructor I’m pretty happy. But we spend a lot of time sitting around waiting, heated from the sun above, the engine underneath the seat, and breathing in the gas fumes. I watch the clock tick by on a 15-20 minute pause, and as the numbers increase I watch my chances of making it to the 4pm yoga class disappear.
I get back to the hotel at 4:03. No yoga for Cate.
But – I can swim! The pool has kids playing in it though, so I nap whilst I wait for them to go away. Eventually they disappear, and I start swimming. I was so tired that I didn’t think I would make it to stay awake through dinner, but the exercise is energising.
Bump into the friendly Aussie couple again – they’ve had a lovely walk and some time at a spa, and she brought me back a leaflet – so sweet! I will have to go there.
Dinner at the hotel – surprise appetisers, something like a breadstick and something I would describe as like a tempura’d spinish leaf – odd, but tasty, then rendang curry with beef and a virgin pina colada. Delish.
I’m exhausted, so head for another early night. Tomorrow, I’m going horse riding!
I sleep… weirdly. Woken in the night by what sounds like a storm? And another thing that is maybe (hopefully) a gecko running around on the walls.
Anyway, I’m up in loads of time for riding, and I can linger over the hotel breakfast – which is great. A chef to cook eggs however you’d like them, fresh orange and pineapple juice, fruit, and banana crepes. (Also, something like congee, and noodles etc).
My driver picks me up and we head to the riding place, which is about an hour away. I’m given a horse named Jenny. She is much smaller than the horses I’ve ridden in Europe and Canada – and that makes it a somewhat different experience! I actually have to work to grip her sides with my legs. My instructor checks that I can stop, and turn right… and off we go.
We go down a small road, until we get to a beach – the sand is black, volcanic maybe? It’s very beautiful. I want to go faster, and Jenny goes straight into a canter – it surprises me and I find myself being thrown about! My instructor tells me to lean back, which helps, and asks me if I’m scared (of course I say no, there was a moment when I realised my centre of gravity was far forward than it should be…)
We stop at a beachside cafe after about 30 minutes, and I field the obligatory questions – where is my husband? Boyfriend? I don’t love this line of questioning. We move on to the extravagant compliments section – I have a lovely smile apparently, and I look so young! He thought I must be 20! Do men travelling alone get this? It’s not just here, or other Asian countries… a guy helping me with my luggage at Toronto Airport when I moved away from Canada wished me luck finding a husband in Sydney. Because, you know, I said I was going there for work.
Anyway, we ride back along the beach, and one again we “run” – this horse does not like to trot, apparently! Compare and contrast to the horse-shaped sofa I rode in Canada last time, that made it to a trot twice, for no more than 6 steps at a time. It’s fun, though, and I feel like I’m doing better. But we are back at the stables after an hour, and our time is over.
I’m fine travelling alone, but I’d like to be alone, not with some kind of spectre of the husband/boyfriend who isn’t with me. Maybe I would find it funny if I were happily single, or if I could claim a boyfriend back home, but in this uncomfortable nebulous area somewhere between best friends and a real relationship I just don’t know what to say. Maybe I should buy a fake wedding ring and make up stories.
Back at the hotel, I clean myself up a bit and head to the pool. It’s blissfully empty, but the sun is so hot my feet burn on the tiles. This time I’m trying the spring water pool, although I don’t notice much difference – other than the lack of shade. It’s deserted though, which suits me.
I go for lunch at Bridges – it’s supposedly more expensive but not by much, and the food is great. I get some kind of beef in a crepe, and a mushroom and asparagus soup, followed by some kind of balinese desert – I don’t know what it is made of, the waitress tells me “a leaf of a root”, it has a thin strip of chocolate in it, and comes with coconut sorbet. So lovely.
I chill out at the hotel for a while, and then drag myself out for the 4pm yoga class (I have a goal of 5 whilst I am here) only to discover that it is Saturday today, and there is no such class. Back to my cool sanctuary to finish my novel and relax.
It’s nice to take a trip of this length, but especially with the intermittent and terrible internet (maybe worse because of it?) I’m starting to get too much in my head about things. I’m conscious that there’s plenty of time to think and I need to keep myself occupied – not lying in bed half asleep when I wake up at 5am, but doing something until breakfast. I was hoping to recharge and feel more creative, but it’s heading towards angst instead. I feel like I should write… but I have nothing to say. Luckily I have a bunch of notes to type up… I’ll start with those and see.
I write for a while, and then go to bed early – I aim to stay awake until 8pm, but at 7pm I give up and sleep. Ha, what a glamorous and partying life I lead.
I wake up intermittently through the night and realise… I have a cold and sore throat. I try to tell myself that this is a sign I’m relaxed! But I was sick for about 3 weeks and that only ended a month ago – so not fair! Still, I am free to give in to it, so I push back my white water rafting trip, linger over breakfast drinking tea, and go back to bed with a throat lozenge, a box of tissues, and my kindle. I finish my novel, read a second one, and then force myself to go out for a bit.
I head into Ubud, meaning to try this highly rated BBQ place Foursquare has recommended, only to discover that is in the wrong direction. Instead, I go to Cafe Lotus. I have lamb skewers (OK), and lime and coconut tart (yummy!) and copious amounts of tea.
I wonder through Ubud for a while, heading for a pharmacy to buy anti-histamines. There are so many shops with cute dresses in, and locally made jewellry, but I’m not in the mood right now – I will come back before I leave, maybe later in the day when it is cooler. Everywhere there are men shouting “taxi taxi” at me – tourism is clearly the major industry here, which I don’t really like – I don’t recall when I was last somewhere like this. Maybe in Yangshuo, years ago?
Back in the cool of the hotel I have a virgin pina colada (not as good as the other day, too much ice) and more tea… then head back to my room to chill out (finish my 3rd novel of the day, write some more) and get an early night. I’m feeling better after a day doing nothing and I don’t want to miss out on cycling tomorrow!
Today, the only conversation I’ve had is goodbyes with the friendly Aussie couple at breakfast. I’m worried about 6 more days of this, will it be good for me as I thought it would? – I’m not feeling as inspired, or as peaceful as I hoped. My recent solo trips have been to cities, which are less stressful, and more intellectually stimulating. I’m not sure I know how to be here, just trying to hit some quotas of novels read, things written, and physical activity. On the up side, no-one has asked me where my husband is today.
Today I am going biking – about $40! So after the usual delicious breakfast I’m picked up and we drive for about an hour, stopping on the way to taste a variety of teas and coffees (no coffee for me though) and have the option to buy Luwak coffee – part of the process of which is the coffee being eaten by this small fluffy animal, passing through it’s digestive system whole, and then being extracted from it’s poo. Hmm! Also on the route, we drive past a cobra – eek! Then we stop for some lukewarm fried banana, and finally we are on our bikes and off we go.
It’s downhill pretty much all the way, and I get off to a wobbly start – I don’t remember the last time I was on a bike that wasn’t a spin bike. Probably the time I dislocated my kneecap, actually. Aiii! Our guide asks me where I live, and I explain that I’m currently of no fixed address, and he observes that I must not be married, as I am so free. Married women are less free, they have to mind their babies.
He’s very sweet though, and on the way we stop and see his family home, and his grandmother, sisters, wife, and baby (he is just 23!). It’s a traditional Balinese home, so there is the temple, the building for making offerings – where his grandmother sits making their offerings, possibly for the festival the following day (Galungan). Then there is the building for the most senior family members – in this case, his grandmother, and another building for everyone else. He tells us that property gets passed to the youngest here, and they want sons, as the sons will look after them when they are old. He is happy to have a son, as he doesn’t have to worry anymore!
After a shaky start, I overtake everyone and there is no way I will be gripping the brakes for hours, so I freewheel (ok, sometimes pedel) downhill, stopping at intersections of when I get really far ahead. Once I’ve got going, it’s kind of like skiing, you focus on the path ahead, things coming at you, and avoid obstacles. I had no idea downhill biking was so fun! I’m probably missing out on the view though – it’s one of those occasions when I really wish I had Google Glass. We go through the countryside, past houses, through the town, and even along a narrow path through a paddy field. Really lovely. Nice to see normal life along the way – including small children (one looked 10, if that) driving scooters. Apparently this is because there is no public transport here, and so they have to do this to get to school.
We do the 3 hour ride in 2, which might be my fault. And at the bottom we have delicious lunch – satay (no peanuts for me), rice and noodles.
Back at the hotel, I chill out for a bit and then try to make the 4pm Yoga class. Once again I am thwarted – this time it is randomly cancelled. I hang out at a cafe next door with virgin pina colada and mandarin juice instead.
I’m determined that today will be the day that I try a place called Naughty Nuri’s, which is a really highly rated restaurant nearby that FourSquare tells me one of my friends has already been to. However it’s not in central Ubud where the hotel shuttle drops guests. I’m told a cab just to go there will cost me $25 – no wonder there are men everywhere shouting “TAXI” if that’s the going rate for a mile or so up the road!
I decide to walk instead, but the location on maps is a little off and I walk past it, then think I’ve found it but I have in fact wondered into someone’s house (open plan living!) – thankfully there’s no dog, and the woman is kind and gives me directions! I follow them, and maps on my phone, only to realise that I’ve walked down the side of someone’s house, past their garden, and into and around a paddy field. Paddy fields are wet, with a ridge of grass around them, and it’s not been terribly easy making my way along. I edge towards the closest exit – something that looks like a stone gate, only it’s not, it’s a wall. In a fit of desperation, I climb over the wall, into someone else’s garden, and walk along the side of their house where a man and his sons (I assume) are assembling the “Penjor” – which all houses put up for the Galungan festival. Thankfully these people whose privacy I have invaded are also very kind, and give me directions, and I set off once again to find that the restaurant is just on the side of the road, and I had walked straight past it… about 30 minutes previously. However despite all my adventures getting there, as I’m not feeling very well, I decide that after all that I don’t want to eat dinner at all – and high-tail it back to the hotel and get an early night.
Today is The Day – I’m going to (finally) take a yoga class. After breakfast I drag myself away, and make it up the hill to the yoga studio just before it starts.
I had forgotten how much I hate doing yoga. The ground is so hard, and whilst most of the time my knee and shoulder injuries are fine, I really feel them when holding poses, or kneeling on the ground, or sitting cross legged. We chant “Om…” and also much longer, more complicated things, and there is a bunch of spiritual nonsense “mother earth” “father sky” etc etc. I’m hating every minute of it, but also recognising how good it is for me – if I could make yoga a habit, what might that change about things?
We do 30 minutes of chanting along with some talk of Galungan then one hour of yoga, and then 30 minutes of relaxation. I don’t know what happens during the relaxation – maybe I even fall asleep? But after the class I do feel more relaxed than I have felt in a long time, possibly ever if the use of prescription medication is discounted. It’s amazing. I feel amazing. I have to make yoga more of a habit.
I have lunch at Bridges which is again incredible – I opt for the tapas tasting (3 small portions of your choice of 3 dishes) and then the same for desert (only the desert choices are fixed – cointrau chocolate mouse, lemon pavlova, creme brûlée) and then linger with a pot of tea and many refills until I’m finally feeling rehydrated after the previous days exertions and not being well. Once lunch is settled, I have a long swim – well, for the tiny pool, and then go into town for the ballet.
I’m there a little early, I meant to get there sooner but my novel was gripping and I decided to swim for longer. But I’m distracted by a shop, and buy a cute dress in two colours, and two scarves. I pick up my ticket for the ballet, but as I’m short on time just have dinner across the road at Coco Bistro – food is a distinctly meh, and it takes forever for me to get the bill. So I’m one of the last people to get a seat in the hall, right at the back, with limited view.
Clearly the right order would have been – food (somewhere nicer), then ticket, then take seat 15 minutes before start. Shop another day.
I can see most of what’s going on, and whilst I do contemplate leaving early, the ticket was less than $10, after all (I say ticket, it is in fact a leaflet). For a while I’m convinced I’m at the wrong thing – this bears no resemblance to ballet (not that I can see anyone’s feet, but still), the main thing is elaborate hand movements. I come round to it though, I love the music, and also start to appreciate the dancing. I have no idea of the story line though, although it does seem quite violent at times, in the end the women seem to win – always good! The women are in beautiful traditional dress, and the men wear elaborate and crazy costumes, including one that reminds me of a super mario character. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t ballet though, but something else and the guy at the hotel had got the day wrong.
Show over, I get a cooled chocolate at Casa Luna whilst I wait for the hotel shuttle. They have comparatively fast wifi too, which is nice.
Back to the hotel, still with the post-yoga high. Wow!
Today is Galungan but I’m not wondering around watching the festivities… I’m headed white water rafting! I was picked up at 9:30, and returned at about 4:30, so it’s pretty long, and cost about $100 (another guy said he got it for $60, booking through different people. Huh.)
There are a ton of people there, and we all leave together in one go. Four people in each boat, plus a guide. It’s pretty easy going as the current is strong – good, since the others in my boat are not, I think, particularly sporty! The guide is doing most of the work, and sounds a little angry.
It’s amazing – the water is so clear, and everything is so beautiful. I wish I had a Go Pro (Amazon) to record it. We go down a 4m drop – I’m in the front, sat down in the base of the boat with my feet sticking out. It’s amazing! So fun1
There are some obnoxious Brits (could they be drunk at 11am? Or – more terrifying – are they always like this?) splashing people and pretending they are boarding the boat – they reach ours and pull at it, and one of them grabs me, and I say “don’t touch me” – which of course gets me critiqued for a sense of humour failure. Later one of them is telling me tol “have a good time, smile” etc – urgh, I am! I just don’t like being touched, yelled at, or splashed by random men. He asks the guy sitting next to me if he’s my husband – so this is not a Balinese thing. The guy tells them I’m not his wife, and that just don’t like them, which I find funny! He’s Korean, and some Australians had made a terrible impression on him, so as these guys are also obnoxious he thinks they must be Australian too. I tell him they are not Australian, but just “jerks” – he seems very taken with this word, and repeats it a bunch. I hope he doesn’t use it in the wrong place and get into trouble!
I also chat to two lovely girls from Beijing who I rode in the shuttle with. They are so cute and lovely! One of them is an entrepreneur, and the other a designer, and this is their first time out of China aside from Hong Kong.
So close to the end, their boat runs into ours, harder than I thought and taken my surprise I fall in! Our guide rushes to rescue me and everyone pulls me into the boat. They are all so sweet. I’m fine, just a little surprised – it was actually quite nice, falling in. The water is lovely! Cool, but not cold. I tip our guide well (about $10) for his hard work (our boat was a bit inept I think) and rapid rescue (I was fine, but if I hadn’t been I would have really appreciated it!) after which he is extremely happy, and keeps calling me “honey”.
All in all – white water rafting, most fun thing that I did. I wonder if I can go again, but especially with the long drive it eats up so much time. I love that kind of outdoors activity, I’ve not been doing enough of them of late – more cultural activities, less adventurous ones! I should rebalance that.
Aside – one of the girls from biking lives in Bali, and was explaining that the guides make very little money. So it’s nice to tip them!
The food at the end is welcome, but kind of cold, and so I don’t eat anything and I’m keen to get back to the hotel. It’s about an hours drive back, and so I have the driver drop me at Naughty Nuris – some exact calculations tell me that I can have some hot food, rehydrate, and get in the pool for 630 and then have an early night. Naughty Nuri’s is great – I get the highly recommended ribs, and a rice dish which I cover liberally with this sweet soy sauce that I was introduced to on the bike tour. Yummy! The deserts don’t really appeal though, so I head to Bridges for a full size pavlova (oohh so delish) and to rehydrate with virgin pina colada, more sprite, and tea.
It’s dark when I get back to the hotel, but the pool is theoretically still open. I go first to the spring water pool, but it’s too dark – and after one of the grounds people pointing out a tiny snake to me I’m somewhat freaked out by how deserted it is. So I go to the other one, only to find it’s been shut early and the guy is adding chlorine to it “only a little bit” – but it’s a bad idea to swim in it. Determined, I go back to the spring water one, saying I’ll just do a few laps… but on the way a frog jumps past me, I initially panic – snake! Thankful when I see it hopping and know it’s a frog… but that’s it, I’m not swimming in the dark with the local wildlife… I’m going to chill out in my cabin, write, and go to bed!
Morning Yoga! I don’t enjoy it whilst it is happening, but I look forward to the post-yoga high… which does not disappoint. I’m trying to explore a little more, and so I go to the top rated nearby restaurant on foursquare for lunch – Indus. I have some extremely spicy noodles, and a coconut panacotta for desert. It is really good.
After I’ve chilled out for a while, and been for a swim, I’m trying to go to the Karsa Spa the lovely Aussie couple recommended to me. It’s supposed to be a nice 30 minute walk away, and I’m keen for the exercise. However they don’t answer the phone, so instead the concierge recommends the nearby Sedona Spa where I get a pedi (with flowers!) and a massage, for less than $20 – bliss. Although during the massage it hits me that I’m really about to leave Sydney – and it’s really sad. There’s so much of my life there that is amazing, butI know it is the right decision. I’m glad I’ve had this time to relax and… maybe grieve is the right word? For everything I’ve loved about living there.
Afterwards I make the 30 minute walk into Ubud, to Cafe Wayan – apparently the same one as in Eat Pray Love (Amazon). Along the way I explore some of the shops and pick up a couple of scarves, belts, and bracelets. Cafe Wayan is beautiful, and I love the layout. I can see it being romantic, but the secluded corners also mean it’s a fine place to come alone. I have the Indonesian tasting plate, and death by chocolate – so delicious – I’m glad of the 30 minutes walk back to the hotel after that! It would be hard to sleep otherwise! Although it is scarier after dark, there are 6ft holes in the sidewalk, imperfectly covered.
My last full day in Bali, and I start with a yoga class. This one, I actually enjoy – I guess it is getting easier, and it helps that the teacher gives me a different position than the cross legged for sitting (too uncomfortable since I popped my kneecap). The 30 minute chanting and stillness at the start has been the hardest part for me, the discomfort, and also just… I’m not a very still person.
Figuring out what I want to do today, I’ve been tempted to run around trying to see things, maybe get in another activity (downhill biking?) but instead decide to do what I came to Bali to do – relax. So I have lunch at the amazing Bridges, and chill out and finish my novel, swim for a while, and then go back for a second class (relaxation yoga, so thankfully it’s not too hard!), and then back to Indus for dinner.
I’m so glad this is how I spent my last day in Bali. I do feel more relaxed, and recharged, and after worrying that I was feeling less rather than more creative – I’ve barely written anything bar this day-by-day journal whilst I’ve been here – it’s starting to come back, and I’m having some ideas for things to write and do. The lack of internet has bothered me less than I thought it would, but it’s still incredibly frustrating. I’ve been trying to request a points upgrade for my flight to London, and even aside from the terrible experience that is the Aeroplan website, the slowness of the connection (3G and Wifi) is making it even more difficult.
Start my day with a Yoga class – my last in beautiful Bali, this trip anyway. And then head to Bridges one last time – it’s far and away the best place I’ve eaten here.
I booked into the spa with the tour guide at the start of the week, thinking it was a good way to chill out in the afternoon before my flight. Actually, I would have had a better time at the simple one down the road instead. This one is massively overpriced – costs me well over $100, even after all the “discounts” – compare that to my $20 afternoon a few days previously. The experience starts with payment up-front, and forms asking if you have ever complained, and saying people who make trouble not welcome. It makes me uncomfortable. Because they were late and the admin time, I don’t get the full time and end up cutting the flower bath short, but that’s OK. The therapist is really sweet, but I wouldn’t go back there.
Check out and ride to airport. The guide who accompanies me tells me about Silence day (Nyepi) – no food, no going out, only meditating. Even the airport is closed. Tourists have to stay in their hotel. I bet some tourists here over that period get a shock!
He also tells me about the social structure in Bali, and dating – boys pay for everything. And that each village has 3 temples.
Airport is quite the experience. First I queue for security before check in, and then check in. Then pay exit tax. Then regular security. Then immigration! Finally through – although the lounge is temporary. At least the seat on the plane is comfortable.
Mario at Out and About Travel in Sydney organised this trip for me.