Bali: The Island of Life

The sounds of Bali are what give the island its magic. If you listen, there is never a moment not graced by the song of a bird, the croaking of a frog, or the chirp of an insect. You are always surrounded by the sounds of life and by the lusciousness that is the trees and the flowers of Bali. You are enveloped by nature, soothed by the peaceful rustling of trees, and entranced by the calls of the locals for taxis, clothing and the like. In a yoga class in Ubud, my teacher was telling the class about the first class she had taken there. She said she remembered not the teacher or the postures or the studio, but the sounds of Bali. This has become what I remember most too.

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Our first destination in Bali was Ubud. Known for its relaxed vibes and yoga culture, it was an easy choice for me. We arrived in Denpasar, at the Southern tip of Bali, at the only airport on the island. We were picked up by a taxi from our hotel, and one of the staff members named Herry accompanied us on the hour long ride. His sweet smile, kindness and helpfulness have stuck with me, and as we drove into Ubud he pointed out places to eat, drink and explore. Our room was luxurious, with the biggest bathroom and bed we had seen on the trip, and a patio right beside the pool. We felt like queens in our own little Balinese paradise. Our hotel was down a quiet, bumpy back road that offered the most peace and quiet on the trip so far. Locals worked and lived along the road, and always greeted us with gentle smiles and kind words.

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On our first morning we walked up to the main road, where cars, scooters and pedestrians filled the busy street, lined with cafes and shops. There were a lot of tourists here, and they seemed to outnumber the locals who sold food, clothing and souvenirs on the street. Everyone there seemed to be a taxi driver, and you couldn’t walk more than a hundred meters without being yelled at for a ride. We walked so much in Ubud, exhausted at the end of the day from the hours of walking to cafes and shops around the town.

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I was lucky enough to get to fulfill my yogi dream of practicing at the famous Yoga Barn in Ubud. The studio is right in the heart of the city, but offers its own tranquil, quiet oasis surrounded by jungle. It houses 5 different studios, and includes a cafe, juice bar and shop. Walking to class in the mornings allowed me to experience the streets of Ubud in the peace and quiet, where I would walk down empty roads surrounded by rivers, jungle and monkeys hanging out on the road. The classes at Yoga Barn are in open air studios, so you get to practice in the jungle air and accompanied by jungle sounds. One of the studios was surrounded by glass, and with the doors open you could hear the life outside; you felt part of the natural world around you. Another studio was up a set of stairs, and completely outside except for the covering over the roof. Feeling the breeze and the hum of life around you adds a whole other dimension to your practice. Birds and insects and the rustling of trees take you further into the moment.

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One of the best parts of Ubud was the abundance of vegan cafes, and I aimed to try as many as I could in the time I had. From tempe scrambles to raw vegan cheesecakes to smoothies and milkshakes, I was in a constant food coma. Each place was so unique and beautiful- it was overwhelming how many different places there were to experience.

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Ubud is home to the famous Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary, where hundreds of Balinese long-tailed monkeys live in an area spanning 10 hectares. The park is dense with trees, and has a ravine running through the grounds that turns into a rocky stream at the bottom.

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The monkeys are free to leave to park grounds, and there are often a bunch of them on the street outside the park looking for food. They walk along the paths, sleep in the trees, and hold and protect their babies much like humans. You can feed them and get them to jump up on your shoulders by offering them food. They are relatively harmless, but will do anything for food, including jumping on you and trying to open up your backpack, biting you when you run out of food, or stealing your baguette right out of your bag as you try to walk down the street (yes, these all happened to me). I thought the monkeys were really cool until I actually had a few encounters with them, and I’m not so convinced anymore.

 

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One morning I got up at 1:30am to hike up Mount Batur, a semi-active volcano in north-east Bali. I was picked up by a car filled with other people crazy enough to trek up a volcano in the middle of the night, and we drove for an hour or so in the dark. We were given breakfast at about 3 in the morning, where local women cooked crepes under a tent in the night air. After breakfast we drove to the base of the volcano, with lake Batur glistening beside us and the stars incredibly bright in the sky. We got put into groups and given flashlights. The hike started relatively flat, and we set out at a good pace. I was thinking this was going to be a nice relaxing hike and that it wouldn’t be too strenuous. As we continued, we could see groups of glittering lights ahead of us: the other groups making their way up the side of the mountain. Dots of lights danced up what looked like an impossibly steep mountainside, as if floating in the air, and the climb began to get steeper. After an hour or so we were into rocky terrain, where we had to push ourselves up the steep incline, all of us wondering what we had gotten ourselves into. About 2 hours after we had started, just as the sun was beginning to cast a pale magenta over the horizon, we arrived at the first platform on top of the volcano.

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There was a higher point, and I asked if we could go all the way up. Eventually our whole group started the ascent, and the loose sand and steep path made for a hard, slow climb. We got to the peak just as the sun was breaking through the horizon, orange and yellow light expanding in all directions, and for the first time we were able to see our surroundings. Dozens of other hikers sat sipping tea and coffee on the ridge, taking in the incredible sight. In front of us were mountains, with the lake underneath, and the sun rising steadily behind the mountain tops, the world becoming brighter. Behind us the mountain dove into a deep canyon, with another peak rising up beyond. The clouds below us swirled to look like water, and the sky changed continuously, oranges and pinks dancing like brush strokes, the sun finally breaking free from the clouds and emerging a golden orb. Sitting on top of the mountain surrounded by people but also alone, I felt a bit lonely, but also incredibly grateful and absolutely astonished at the world we live in.

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The way down seemed somehow even steeper than the way up, and the hundreds of us on the mountain made our way down slowly over the sliding rocks, a thread of humans serpentining our way down the cliffside. I met a girl from Sweden who had been studying in Australia for the last few months, and we had both come on the trek alone. Monkeys ran around on one of the flatter areas, and one jumped up on my shoulder, which I thought was pretty cute, until it decided to freak out and try to bite my finger off. We walked down into the canyon and saw the slits in the rock where steam poured out, proving the volcano was still somewhat active. By the time we made our way down the mountain my legs were toast, and felt like jelly underneath me. We drove back to the city, and I got back to my room and took a long nap.

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That evening I met up with the girl I had met on the hike, Josephine, and we got a late dinner at a cafe. I walked the long walk through the quiet streets back to our hotel, the air still hot and humid even at night, and I heard something behind me and then a scream. Turning around, I saw a scooter lying on its side on the road, and a  car stopped in the middle of an intersection. In typical Balinese fashion, everyone rushed to the scene to make sure everyone was okay, and within a minute everyone was on their way again, unharmed. I thought how it was probably just as well we hadn’t ended up renting scooters in Ubud.

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On our last full day in Ubud, we explored some temples, including Ubud Palace. The temples in Bali were much different than the ones in Thailand, and I found them so much more beautiful.  They are made mainly of stone, and filled with the most stunning statues of dragons, elephants and other sacred animals. Even the Starbucks looked out onto a temple, in front of which was a huge pond filled with lotus flowers, vibrant pink and deep green.

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We visited the Art Market, where there was apparently a famous Eat Pray Love scene filmed. The market was huge, with shops indoors and out, kind of like a huge complex. We bought rings, shorts, and I got to practice my bartering skills. I bought a hat from an older Balinese woman, and after agreeing on a price I told her how sweet she was. She kept kissing my cheeks and hugging me, and even gave me some of the bananas she was selling. I couldn’t help but feel sad for our culture, for the lack of love in our everyday encounters. People won’t even look each other in the eye, let alone show total, unashamed compassion for another person. We took advantage of the cheap Balinese massages, and went for a 2 hour massage and body scrub that only cost us $20. They are pretty amazing, and I went multiple times while we were in Bali. We left Ubud the next day, and had to say goodbye to both the beautiful city and our beautiful hotel room. We flew to Perth, and after 4 nights there we returned to Bali, this time to Tulamben.

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Tulamben beach is on the north-east coast of Bali, and is known for its diving. After completing my Open Water Certification in Thailand, all I wanted to do was keep diving. I was told the diving in Bali is even better, and that there is a shipwreck off Tulamben beach from World War II called the USAT Liberty. Torpedoed by a Japanese submarine in 1942, it begins only 15 meters off shore, stretching the length of 150 meters. I had my mind set on diving it before we went home, and so we decided to spend our last few days in Bali in Tulamben at a dive resort. Arriving back to the Bali airport felt like coming home. The familiar humidity and the loud, busy streets comforted me; it was so nice to be back. We drove about 3 hours through the bustling streets filled with cars and people and the relentless honking of horns. Finally arriving at our resort, we were grateful for beds and an air conditioner. The resort overlooks the ocean, with a beach of smooth, black stones formed from volcanic rock. The water looks dark because of the dark rocks below, despite it being so clear. I signed up for an early morning dive the next morning, and went for another massage in the evening.

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In the morning I woke up at 6 and walked down to the water to the dive shop. I got my wetsuit on, checked my gear, and then walked down with 4 other divers and our 2 guides to the truck where we sat with our gear in the back. Local women with coiled towels on their heads carried two air tanks at a time on their heads, to and from the truck, and up and down the beach. I was nervous to dive for the first time without an instructor, and to be doing it alone, but also so excited to finally see the famous wreck. We did a shore dive, so we walked into the water from the beach, over the large rocks, and swam out into water.  The ocean floor sloped downward, and dropped off sharply at a ridge. The water was a brilliant blue, and fish of all colours surrounded me. The wreck started only a short distance off the shore, and huge pieces of the ship were scattered down the ocean floor. The grey of the ship was contrasted by the vibrant plants, fish and other life that had made the surface of the wreck their home. Beams and other pieces of the wreckage covered the ocean floor. We went through one of the windows, into what would have been the interior of the ship, but was now mostly open with chunks of wreckage falling in different directions. I got to hold on to the steering wheel, covered in green algae and crumbling on the edges. The history was incredibly powerful, and it was almost impossible to imagine this boat sailing the ocean 70 some years ago. I took in the colours and the underwater word around me, knowing I wouldn’t see it again for some time.

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(I don’t have any photos so I stole this one from the internet- sorry!)

Our last few days in Bali were hard for me, knowing that I had to leave this beautiful paradise soon. It was gloomy and storming, lightning awakening the night sky in bursts of light over the ocean. We went for one last ocean swim, into the warm waves that envelop you like a big blanket on a cold night. I used the goggles we had found on one of our dives in Thailand, and looked down at the plants and fish that lived below. The water was a dark turquoise, foggy in the distance where the visibility ended, and blue, purple, striped and rainbow fish swam just below me. Diving through the water, swimming with the fish and taking in the unbelievable underwater world, I had no doubt that I’ll dive for the rest of my life.

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When we finally had to say goodbye to Bali, we got in our cab for the 3 hour journey back to the airport. Along the way we drove through villages where people sold food on the street, and kids ran home from school in uniforms. Rice fields stretched out into the distance, fields of vibrant green, mountains on the horizon. We flew to Bangkok where we stayed for 2 nights in preparation for our long trip home. I became more and more ready to come home- it started to feel real that I would get to hug my family and sleep in my own bed again.

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Now back home and slowing settling into my old routines (and a 16 hour difference in time zones) I’m struggling to sum up 6 weeks of incredible adventure and learning experiences. I don’t think you really can. I don’t think you can ever explain in totality the awesomeness of travelling the world to somebody else- you just have to do it yourself. So get out there and see the world! Just book the ticket and show up- experiences you could never imagine are waiting. New ways to see the world and most importantly to see people. We all need a reminder of just how connected we all are in this world of disconnect. How could you possibly grow to your full potential and never see how other people live? I believe understanding is key to any sort of substantial change, and by living in another culture, surrounded by different people, customs and languages, you are forced to open up your eyes and burst the comfortable bubble we so often live in. I know I’m not the same person I was when I stepped on the plane to Bangkok 7 weeks ago, and that’s pretty damn awesome.

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Thank you SO much for taking the time to read my posts. If you followed along with my entire journey, I feel so grateful (and kind of surprised) that you would want to listen to my ramblings- but I really appreciate it. Love and light to all of you.

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Perth: The City That Never Sleeps

Flying above Australia, you first see the endless, reddish, rocky landscape of the desert below. You can almost feel the dust and the heat that must live in that kind of environment. Then, as if you blinked and missed something, the water of the Indian Ocean comes into view, and the sprawling city of Perth sits between the deep blue water and the desert. The roofs of the houses are almost all a red-brown colour, just like the desert, spreading out for miles. Already things feel different from the Asian countries we had visited so far. The buildings are taller, there is more glass, less crumbling concrete and tin roofs. The trees look more like the trees at home, though there are still palm trees which seem so out of place to me. The city delivers this stark contrast with its immaculate cleanliness, cars staying in their own lanes, and the relative quiet that seems almost eery after one month in Asia.

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On our way out of the airport, we met two other backpackers who were looking for a hostel. We all took a bus into the city centre, from which we tried to make our way to the place we had booked. One of them was actually a youtuber that makes travel videos, one of which I had watched before coming on our trip! Driving on the bus through the suburbs and industrial areas I couldn’t help but feel out of place- I missed the calm chaos of the streets I had walked only a day before. Once in the city, we found ourselves turned around in the metropolis of the two-storey downtown. High-end shops and restaurants and businesswomen and men dressed in perfect clothing surrounded us as the four of us sweaty backpackers trudged through the foreign work day routine. Multiple people asked us if we needed directions, and in their friendly Australian way they directed us toward our hostel. One man pointed us the right way, then called after us a minute later. “Follow me”he said, “I have a treat for you”. Of course we were a little unsure, but the four of us followed him into a huge glass building, where he scanned a key card and we waited for an elevator. We got on, and he told us we were in for a surprise. We got off the elevator into an entire floor that was completely empty and lined with windows. We were on the 50th floor of the tallest building in Perth. Below us lay the entire city, stretching out in all directions- the ocean one way, royal blue, and the city sprawl the other. Ferries came to and from the main land, and people walked like ants on the streets below. The man who had brought us up there ended up being the maintenance guy for the building, and he gave us a bird’s eye overview of the city and tips on what to do during our time in Perth.

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Once we had found our hostel, we walked to King’s Park- a huge park in the middle of the city taking up 20 hectors. We met up with a friend from work who is currently travelling Australia, and two of her friends. We began buy walking through the botanical gardens- the flowers of Australia lining the gravel path as we meandered through the forest. The path followed the curve of the ocean, and as we walked we were given different views of the sea and the city. We walked for hours- through gravel, sand, grass and cement sidewalks. The park was stunningly well kept, and we hardly saw anyone else on our journey through the greenery. Finally we looped back to where we had started, and we got a bus back into the city centre to buy groceries from Cole’s. Realizing all we could afford in the city would be to make our own food, we took full advantage of the hostel kitchen and the free breakfast while we were there. I have never eaten so many peanut butter sandwiches on white bread in my life.

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On our first full day we went to visit Penguin Island- a small island just off the coast of Perth that thousands of “little penguins”- the world’s smallest breed of penguin- call home. We took a train- much like the metro- out of the city, with the ocean and skyline behind us. We transferred to a bus that took us to Penguin Road- a quiet street lined with summer homes. We walked to the ticket centre and got 2 ferry tickets for the 5 minute ride to Penguin Island. We paid more to go see the rescue penguin feeding, as the penguins spend most of their days out at sea looking for food, and its not likely that you’ll see them in the wild. The water was a crystal clear turquoise, the sun reflecting the different layers of the water- light, medium and dark blue. On the island we went in to a small building with a pool in the centre, where a dozen tiny, adorable penguins slept, waddled and swam around. During the feeding they dove through the water, incredibly quick to get to their fish.

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Afterward we walked around the island, realizing that is was much more a bird island than it was penguin. The boardwalk was covered in bird crap, and we were surrounded on all sides and above by birds of all kinds, mainly seagulls. You could say birds aren’t my favourite animal. The island was covered in dense grass and bushes, where the penguins supposedly make lay their eggs into borrows. We found a stretch of beach with the biggest waves, and made our way into the water. It was as cold as it was clear, and the temperature was quite a shock from the previous warm Thailand ocean. I swam out into the waves and did some snorkelling, a reef below with different coloured plants and fish swirling around. The cool water felt magical as I floated and swam through it, letting it cool me off and remind me just how lucky I was to be there. We continued walking around the island and saw pelicans, their beaks bellowing on the bottom, float majestically through the air above. We took the crowded ferry back to the main land, and made our way back to our hostel.

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That evening, after it got dark, we took a bus to King’s Park. We got off to late, and ended up walking back along the highway bordering the the park to get to the entrance. Once inside, we walked along the main road. On our left the city centre stood, towering above the ocean that stretched out from the buildings. The city sparkled with the stars against the black backdrop, casting golden light onto the dark water below. The walk home led us past hundreds of people out on a Friday night; dressed up for events, stumbling down the road, enjoying the beautiful weather the evening offered. I missed the city then, and the luxuries of home. Though I wouldn’t give up any pat of this trip, I had forgotten how much I love city life.

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On our second day we had a beach day. We took another train out to Leighton beach, where we had to walk down the highway in the blistering heat trying to find the beach. Once we got to the water we ran straight in- icy and refreshing, we floated in its ebbing support until we had cooled off. The beach was full of people of all ages, and the bright blue water gleamed in the sunshine. The waves were pretty big, and kids rode them to the shore on boogey boards. We attempted this without boards or much luck, and after getting pummelled into the sand on the ocean floor by a big one, we called it a day. We got back on the train, heading back the way we came, and I got off at Cottesloe, where I walked down a long residential street to the end where Cottesloe beach stood. It was even more packed here, and I was getting exhausted from the heat of the day. The water was intensely refreshing once again, and so cold I even began shivering in the 35C heat outside. Young people swam and played in the waves, and after a little while longer in the searing sun, we were happy to take our sunburnt bodies back to the city.

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That evening, we headed out into the setting sun, casting golden shadows over the city. The buildings took on the colour of the sunset, and I smiled in the beauty of this faraway city. Bars and restaurants lined the streets, lighting it up and pumping out music, and the seemingly out of place Christmas lights glittered above the streets. We went for dinner, which was so expensive we tried not to think about it, and I desperately missed the prices of Southeast Asia.

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On our third day, we decided to explore the city at our own pace, starting in the area our hostel was in called Northbridge. It was a Sunday and the streets were quiet, most shops closed for they or opening later. The buildings offered some shade on another impossibly hot, cloudless day. A jazz band played outside a cafe, and we walked until we came to a courtyard that led up to a bridge over the highway below. Something was happening everywhere- a rooftop party one way, a carnival on the street below. The city centre has multiple roads for pedestrians only, wide walkways lined with high-end, two-story shops. The mix of buildings struck me the most. European-looking brick churches sit next to dark glass skyscrapers, while old fashioned taxi cars drive by.

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In the evening we walked down to Elizabeth Quay, on the water, where people were gathering for a concert that night and to watch the sun set over the water. A bridge arced across the water, and we walked across, taking in the skyline glistening in golden anticipation of the setting sun. Once over the bridge, I found a vegetarian restaurant that served East Indian food buffet style by donation. Finally a price that matched our budget. A huge line formed outside, and we were greeted by a kind man who handed up huge metal plates for food. I ate more rice and dahl than I should have, and we ate out on the balcony watching the sun fade beyond the water. It was dark when we left, and the bridge was now lit up- different colours continuously fading into one another. We walked back across, this time the skyline sparkling with city lights, the sky dark but still sprinkled with stars.

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On our last day, I woke up early and walked into the city for groceries for the day of travel ahead of us. It was Monday morning and I was enveloped by the work rush. Coffee stands with lines of people, the train station bustling with people coming into the city, people walking with purpose with their headphones in. I inhaled the hustle and bustle, knowing that it would be a very different kind of busy back in Bali. The city made home seem all that much closer, and I couldn’t help feeling excited to go back. I’ve been through so many waves on this trip- one day missing home, the next never wanting to leave. There is a feeling that is unique to travel- completely ungrounded from the life you left behind, but still and centred in a completely different way, a deeper way. Closer to truth.

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Walking through the crowds of people on their way to work, I realized how insane life can make us be. How we can get up in the morning and do the same thing every single day, and follow the exact same paths as everyone else, just because this is what we are told to do, told to be. To me, travelling to Australia isn’t like travelling to Asia, or another place with such a different culture and style of life. What Australia taught me wasn’t patience or kindness or the capacity of love, but exactly this- you can’t learn anything within your comfort one. So often we say we don’t like something or don’t feel completely comfortable somewhere, and therefore we shouldn’t be doing that thing or be in that place. In reality, there is nowhere else we should be. When things are easy nothing changes. We don’t evolve, we don’t become. I can’t wait to return to Australia, and hopefully get to see much more of it. But nothing can compare to the lessons and the beauty of a place that stretches you and tests you. I am far more grateful for the days I felt helpless and alone and had to dig within myself to keep going, than for the days when things felt easy. Those are the rewards we reap for continuing even when we aren’t sure what we are moving toward. For just getting up and continuing to live against the grain because something in our hearts is whispering for us to go there, to keep moving, to trust in the fact that whatever is happening will be something we can get through. I’m not going to say I believe that everything happens for a reason- as tempting as that belief may be- but I do believe that we are given situations that we can choose to handle with grace and trust, and take lessons from them, not negativity or self pity. All we can do is show up and be open to grow.

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