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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