For the past two months I have been traveling throughout Indonesia, exploring Bali, and immersing myself in the culture, the sunshine, the food, the traditional balinese ceremonies and the yoga. I wanted to write a blog post about my trip to share with you all. Unfortunately, It took me way longer to write this post than I would’ve imagined. Here goes.
I am currently sitting at one of my favorite vegetarian warungs (restaurants) on a pillow on the floor here in Ubud with an Aloe Vera, Turmeric, Lemon, Ginger + Spinach Juice accompanied by a massive slice of raw vegan chocolate - chai pie (All about balance I guess, yeah?) I am surrounded by backpackers from different latitudes and longitudes along the globe, wild geckos, Balinese women working the cafe, and the most incredible breeze that is blowing through the palm trees into this open space that I have been positioned in for the past few hours.
Let me start by stating the obvious (if you follow me on Instagram that is) that I have never, ever, ever eaten this many desserts in my entire life. I am surrounded by so much goodness in this incredible country.
I was trying to plan out this blog post earlier this morning, and I decided that the easiest way for me to share as much as possible with you all in the most clear and organized manner, would be to split this post up into little categories. So try to stick with me here.
First, Why and how am I here?
For some reason, Bali has always had a special place in my heart (Even though this is my first time here.) It may have been the hundreds of photos and videos that I’ve found on the web during late night “wanderlust” fits. It may have been the dozens of Instagram pictures posted by many of my friends in Hawai’i who have come here to surf, or it may (let's be real here, this is the actual reason) be the fact that two years ago I stumbled across "Alchemy Cafe" online and realized that there was no other place on the planet that I’d rather spend an afternoon. My best friend Lacey and I had been throwing the idea of becoming certified yoga instructors around for a few months. We spent so many nights sitting on the carpet floor in my bedroom with our computers googling teacher trainings that we could attend. We searched and searched, but Lacey and I were only able to find a few in Costa Rica and Bahamas that worked with our time frame. As incredible as those two destinations sound, I wasn't nearly as excited. Bali felt too right. I knew we were meant to spend our summer in Indonesia. One night we came across “Routes of Yoga Teacher Training in Ubud.” We emailed the coordinator, heard back from her almost immediately and paid our security deposits that week (I think I paid mine before even informing my family what my plans were.. I’m quite good at doing that. Whoops)
That was basically it. Everything else fell together from there. We scraped and saved, completely wiped our savings accounts clean, pleaded our parents for some spending money, booked tickets and began to pack (and then overpack, and then pack some more.)
The Journey from Honolulu, Hawai'i to Denpasar, Indonesia
1 stop over in Taiwan, 1/4 a bottle of melatonin, 3 movies, 2 TV shows, 15 homemade bliss balls (recipe HERE,) a dozen drops of essential oil along the way and we finally arrived in Denpasar. We actually ended up meeting two girls in the Taiwan airport who followed us on Instagram and were on their way to Bali as well. Small world, yeah?
We arrived just two short days before our yoga teacher training course was scheduled to begin. We loved Ubud at first site. We were surrounded by fruit vendors, spas, wild monkeys, vegan cafes and yoga studios in every corner we looked. Ubud become “home” for us very quickly. Ubud is basically heaven on earth for all foodies, yogis, shopaholics and massage-addicts alike. Ubud is incredibly up beat and affordable. It is overflowing with so unique people, and makes the perfect backdrop for an afternoon spent people watching and listening in to conversations at funky cafes. Seriously, those australians have some crazy stories.
Our 200 hr. yoga teacher training (YTT) course was 6 days a week, from 7am-6pm. Lacey and I made up two out of a group of 16, including our two instructors. Our course was held at a near-by wellness spa, yoga studio and restaurant called "Taksu." We were able to walk there and back within a few minutes from our home-stay. We had two one hour breaks for lunch and breakfast, and spent the remainder of our day practicing yoga, learning about traditional yogi beliefs, meditating, studying philosophy and learning about skeletal anatomy, sequencing, yogi life and asanas (poses.) Days were long. So so long. I was not (and still am not in any means) an experienced yogi. I remember during our first morning practice at YTT on day 1 looking back at Lacey on her mat behind me and wondering if she could see the sweat physically pouring off of my body. The yoga practices were intense and frequent. We were constantly moving, and if we weren't, I was trying my absolute hardest to stay awake and sit up straight. My body was sore within hours - I wish I was joking. I have never been exceptionally flexible or strong. By the beginning of the second week I was already counting down the days until the program ended and was brainstorming every possible excuse as to why I absolutely could not make it to practice the next morning. My mind, body and spirit were so over-worked. It became habit to sleep on my yoga mat while everyone else left the studio for an afternoon lunch break. We would finish around 6:15 pm and while the other yogis headed home to shower and change before strolling out for a late dinner, Lacey and I would find the nearest restaurant possible, sit down to eat as fast as possible (in our sweaty yoga clothes) and then debate over who was more excited to go to sleep.
In the latter weeks of our 26 day course we began to create our own sequences and practice teaching mock classes to our group members. During this time I was reminded what an incredible experience it is to feel nervous. To physically feel your heart rate rise, watch your hands shake and your knees buckle, as the sweat begins to dump out of the pores on my forehead. Teaching classes was such a nerve racking, thrilling, anxiety inducing and enjoyable experience all at once. Lacey and I were the only Americans in the entire group. We were surrounded by Balinese, Korean, Japanese, German and Brazilian yogis who were teaching their sequences in a language different than the one they grew up speaking in their homes. I was constantly inspired by these women.
After 26 days, 200 hours of yoga, countless 10 minute power naps, hundreds of cups of ginger tea, a few too many early morning speed-walks to morning practice and one final examination day, I passed! I am officially a certified yoga teacher! I am more flexible than I have ever been in my entire life and have been introduced to such a gorgeous, pure and traditional way of living. I have learned about my breath, my body, my connective tissue, my bones, my concentration and my divine chakras. I have become a better listener and am an absolute champ when it comes to falling asleep in Savasana.
Finished yoga. Now what?
After our yoga certification came to an end, my vacation mode kicked in quickly. There was so much of Bali that I had not yet seen and I was eager to experience as much of it as possible. I had grown very familiar with Ubud and loved spending slow days in town eating yummy vegan food from local warungs (local restaurants,) treating myself to daily hour long massages (which cost me about $7 USD at any nearby spa) and finding every and any infinity pool in my nearby vicinity. We spent a little too much money shopping at the local street markets for treats and presents to bring back to the Islands, and many afternoons spent exploring the near by rice fields with vegan coconut ice-cream cones in hand.
If you've never been to Indonesia before, you probably weigh 15 pounds less than I currently do and think that a $5 fresh green juice in whatever city you're located in now is an absolute bargain.
Bali is heaven for my belly. And my heart. And my wallet. I was expecting cheap and relatively healthy food options in Indonesia. My exceptions were met, and then left in the dust. Every cafe/warung/restaurant/vendor you pass on the streets of Bali offers vegan and vegetarian food for ridiculously cheap prices. Seriously. I'm talking large meals for 25,000 Balinese Rupiah (or $1.90 USD) Coconuts are abundant and plentiful. You can buy them as they are, fresh off the tree or cut open with a straw and wedge of lime for $1.25. We have eaten at so many incredible raw vegan, vegan, vegetarian, balinese and Indonesian restaurants. I have eaten handmade tofu, vegan fried rice, vegetables steamed in banana leaves, fresh green juices, turmeric tonics, raw cheese cake and gluten free pizzas. I have eaten all of that, and so much more.
Alchemy Cafe has been by far my absolute favorite spot to grab a bite to eat (usually a massive salad from their 12 foot long salad bar and a slice of their raw vegan Bannofee pie.) I have cracked jokes about getting married at Alchemy Cafe, but in all actuality, I wasn't really kidding.
I have also had cooked foods for breakfast here, which is something I had not had in over two years (seriously. Not once! I LOVE my smoothies!) There is a local dish called Bubur Injin which is basically local black rice cooked in coconut milk sweetened with fresh palm syrup and topped with coconut cream. It is so incredible. And made the perfect post morning yoga breakfast here a few mornings of the week.
Adventures in Uluwatu, Nusa Lembongan and Canguu
I was fortunate enough to spend time on the south side of the island, when the largest swell in Bali history rolled in (both in the first month of my trip, with Lacey, and then again during the last month of my stay with my mom.)
In Uluwatu, Lacey and I spent our time under the sun enjoying the ocean and tandem surfing with friends. We’d spend the day long-boarding at Padang-Padang beach and then cruised to Single Fin Bar on the back of scooters to catch the sunset and watch the waves double overhead. We loved Uluwatu and connected with new friends under the full moon at local beach parties and reggae concerts. I even met up with a few friends from Hawai’i who had flown in to catch the swell. It was so special to share time and high vibe energy with so many individuals - all who happened to find themselves spending their summer in Bali, one way or another. When my mother and I traveled back to Uluwatu we enjoyed the most tranquil and relaxing few days at the Uluwatu cottages (which was a total splurge at approx. $42 a night.) We read books, did yoga flows together on the cliffs overlooking the ocean (her first time ever!) and spent mornings sipping fruit smoothies by the pool. I felt so privileged to have time that wasn't "planned," "scheduled" or "booked." We slept, ran, read, swam, walked, ate and laughed. More often than not, the beauty of "vacation" can be quickly lost when the stress of planning day-trips and family activities kicks in. We spent Gulungang, a traditional Balinese Holiday, at the Uluwatu temple, where I was aggressively attached by a large monkey (who was trying to steal my camera off of my shoulder,) and proceeded to screamed a loud like a small child while trying to fight this beast off.
Island Get-A-Way to Nusa Lembongan
Nusa Lembongan is a small island off the southeastern coast of Bali. You arrive by crowded, rocky and potentially hazardous ferry, and are greeted by crystal blue water and white sandy beaches scattered with local dive and surf boats. Our first morning on Nusa was so special. A group of my friends and I hired a captain (and his local boat) to bring us to all of the best kept dive and snorkel spots around the island.
We arrived at the first drop point and were immediately greeted by the most gorgeous mantra ray cruising along the surface. I barely remember getting in the water. One second I was hanging off the side of the boat, and the next, I was 20 feet beneath the surface swimming with a handful of these giants. Six-Seven foot wingspans made these rays larger than me, and more incredible than anything else I had seen before. How magical it was to feel so alive and present in that moment as we danced with these gentle monster’s above the ocean’s floor. It was an out of body experience - I felt so high on life and full of love for the wonders that nature can share with us if we’re living with eyes and hearts wide open.
I enjoyed hours spent on boats searching for the next reef to snorkel on, and even more laying out on the bow keeping a watchful eye on the Australian, South African and Balinese boys catching the waves that surrounded me. Just supervising for safety purposes, ya know?
The Balinese Culture and the Balinese People
Other than the gorgeous men, gorgeous food and even more beautiful beaches, Bali is home to some of the most mindful, spiritually connected and religious men and women in the world. I have taken advantage of the many Ayurvedic doctors, chakra healers and holistic practitioners that Indonesia has so graciously offered me.
Currently, I am in a serious business relationship with Mr. Bigs and his wife, the couple who sells me fruit and vegetables (at local price) from a little side street shop they own down the road from my home-stay in Ubud (Dewi Antara Home Stay - Tell Maddi I sent you.) Mr. Bigs sells fruit, drives taxis and offers day tours around the island. The woman who makes my smoothies at Dayu’s Vegetarian Warung down the street and I are on a first name basis. She adds extra ice to my drinks and always makes sure to tell me when there is a new flavor of vegan pie on special that day. I may be in love with her.
In Bali, there is nothing more sacred than daily offerings to the gods. Bali is a little anomaly in the middle of the Indonesian Islands, and the daily nature-based worship of Balinese Hinduism is top priority to this mostly Muslim country. These small offerings, known as “canang sari” are placed outside, in front of places of work, school and homes each and every morning. They usually consists of fresh flowers, fruit, crackers, rice, sweets and fragrances, either dried potpourri or burning incense. Most families will distribute dozens of these offerings each and every morning - every last one of them handmade by members of the family. These offerings are basically a ritual of giving back what has been given to you. It is an act of sharing that is not based upon fear, but on gratitude to the richness of life.
During the day, sidewalks, seats of mopeds, dashboards of taxis, counter tops, patios, statues and temples are scattered with them. In the early mornings, however, the streets of Bali are spotless. Sidewalks, steps, statues, and temples are cleaned and now ready for the daily gift of offerings meant to appease and please the various gods and demons of Balinese Hinduism.
Cangguu and the Bethel’s Christian Home for Children
For the last three weeks of my stay in Bali, I was fortunate enough to have my mother come and join me. She flew all the way from New York and spent almost 24 hours in the air to come see her favorite daughter in Indonesia. I hadn’t seen my mom in over six months, and the visit was well overdue.
Fortunately for me, my mother and I are exceptionally close. We are both passionate travelers who enjoy good food, good music, beautiful beaches, local art, shopping and lots of “down-time.” My mother and I were able to revisit Uluwatu and Ubud, travel to Nusa Dua, Seminyak and finally, Cangguu, where we met up with friends from NY. During our stay in Canguu we were introduced to the Bethel’s home for children, an orphanage located in KlungKung that houses over 170 children from Bali. We quickly learned that many of the children who reside at Bethel’s aren't orphans, but rather children who’s families are unable to support them financially. Many of these boys and girls come not only from Bali, the Hindu enclave of Indonesia, but also from the neighboring islands where work and fair pay are scarce and few. With the help from my mother’s friends and their driver Wayan, we were able to stock up on necessities to hand deliver at the children’s home. At a near-by superstore in Cangguu, we purchased over 170 toothbrushes, 60 tubes of toothpaste, dozens of soaps, detergents, cookies, crackers and rice (I of course only purchased vegan food :) )
We spent our day exploring the children's home, touring the property with staff members, spending time with these children, and passing out previously-owned clothes to be shared amongst the group. Obviously, my time spent at Bethel’s was both wonderful and upsetting. Walking through their bathroom facilitates, kitchen, dining area and bedrooms was uncomfortable and disappointing. Each bunk bed sleeps a minimum of four children, with some as old as 15 or 16 years of age. One blanket is shared between the children in a bed, and small termite ridden lockers are used as “closets,” for these boys and girls to secure their possessions and belongings ( I plan on sharing more on the Bethel's home for children once I have received permission from the home due to privacy policies and safety procedures for the children.)
Termina Kasih (Thank You)
I feel so privileged to have spent my summer in Bali. I feel more alive and rejuvenated than ever before and look so forward to returning back to Indonesia in the near future. This country has brought so much goodness and energy into my life and has inspired me to live each day with gratitude and acceptance for others - other people, other traditions, other beliefs and other practices. One of my favorite works that I learned whilst traveling was "Cantika," which means the divine inner beauty that each and everyone of us posses. The Balinese cherish this beauty and acknowledge it constantly throughout their lives. They believe that all beings have cantika, (both natural and man made,) including those in which we cannot see on a physical basis. A habit that I myself have been working to incorporate in my everyday mindset since returning home to Hawai'i.
Terima Kasih Bali