I'll admit it. A big part of the reason I wanted to go to Bali for vacation was because the book Eat, Pray, Love. Indonesia has always fascinated me so after reading Eat, Pray, Love this winter I was determined to discover what it is about Bali that keeps tourists coming year after year. Unlike the Philippines, I had no preconceived notion of what Bali would be like. Nice beaches of course. Temples? Lots of delicious fruit. What else?
Shea and I arrived in the Jakarta airport around midnight to once again attempt to spend the night in the airport. After paying $25 for our colorful, crisp, new thirty day visa, we ventured out to find where we could stake a semi comfortable place in the airport to sleep for a few hours before our flight to Bali. After evading the rush of so called taxi drivers heckling us to take us to the domestic terminal (and discovering that we needed to somehow get to the domestic terminal), and figuring out the currency conversion and trying four atms before getting some cash, we finally found an empty bench to snuggle up on for a few hours sleep. Or so we thought.
August is the month of Ramadan (the holiest month of the year for Muslims) this year, so the airport was filled with people ready to start their pilgrimage to Mecca. Side fact: Indonesia actually has the largest population of Muslims in the world. Muslims are the majority in this country but it is actually rather religiously diverse: Christians, Hindus, and some Buddhists as well. Bali is mainly Hindu, making it very different from the rest of Indonesia. All this would have been okay if it was not for the little Indonesian child who was wearing "cute" (or so her parents thought) shoes that squeaked every time she stepped. Lucky for the child I did not have a weapon handy otherwise her squeaking would have ended very quickly. In spite of a lack of sleep Shea and I managed to meet a lovely Indonesian man who is an engineering professor and had traveled to Zimbabwe and South Africa, get on a cheap taxi for the five minute journey to the domestic terminal, and finally make the quick journey to Bali.
Unlike the Philippines where we were unable to find couchsurfing host and instead had to settle for $4 a night accommodations, Bali has a vibrant couchsurfing community that basically ensured the success of our visit. After a bit of a fiasco we were met at the airport by our host Ramon who willingly took off work to pick us up in the morning. Since he had to work the rest of the day he dropped us off with another couchsurfing for a day of parasailing, and eating (hence the title).
It's difficult to describe in words how wonderful Bali was. Between the people, the food, the scenery, the activities we did, and its "vibe" I can fully understand why people visit Bali and just stay. In our short week we encountered nearly every nationality possible: lots and lots of Europeans (particularly of the German and French varieties), boatloads of Australians (particularly of the surfer variety), Koreans, Chinese, a few Americans, Spanish... Bali is literally overrun with tourists. BUT, in spite of the hoards of tourists that keep the island's economy alive there is an inescapable beauty, culture, and atmosphere about Bali that makes it so tantalizing. Shea and I filled our days with beach time, surfing, hiking a volcano, eating amaaaazingly delicious and cheap food (I didn't think it could get cheaper than the Philippines but try $1 for a full plate of deliciousness), visiting a few beautiful temples, biking through rice terraces of the most vivid green I've seen, guarding our belongings from monkey thiefs, stuffing our faces with tropical fruit and most importantly hanging out with fun, friendly locals.
Our host Ramon, and the other couchsurfers we met along the way, went above and beyond any expectations I had. Ramon drove us all over the island in his free time, took us to nooks and crannies we never would have found on our own, and provided us with a much needed opportunity to joke around (something I've severely missed in Korea). The Balinese people are happy, content, and fun. Unlike many "developed" countries, in Bali every local we spoke with (even those who were well traveled) assertively said they will never settle anywhere but Bali. Leaving this relaxed, and open-minded culture to the competitive, fast, and non-stop culture of Korea was more than difficult. But as Ramon said best: "Bali is relaxed but the pay is also relaxed". But does money really ever bring one happiness...
Our trip ended with a fabulous night with a large group of Balinese couchsurfers: homemade dinner, traditional tea, then karoake. I will never forget the friends I made in Bali and while I didn't find the same kind of love that Elizabeth Gilbert did in Eat, Pray, Love, I am in love with the food, culture, and people of Bali. One more place to return to.
Photos stolen from Shea because I have not sifted through mine yet.