Dreaming of palm readings and terrace bike rides since even before “Eat, Pray, Love,” I knew from the moment I stepped off the plane in Jakarta that Indonesia would be nothing like anything I had ever experienced before. From the drastic heat wave, to the language, to even the detail of the tile on the walls of the airport terminal, Bali was a land of nostalgia before I even made it out of the Denpasar airport.
As I switched out my London raincoat for Triangl swimsuit, my first stop in Bali was the tourist hot spot of Seminyak. Fighting through taxi drivers persuading me to stand up my über for a ride with them, I eventually arrived in a city crowded with street food, local markets, and conceriege palm readers.
Home to the Instagram famous Cafe Organic, I spent my first morning in Bali drooling over my Acai Coco bowl, walking along the Indian Ocean, and spending a million (literally) rupiah at a local shop before grabbing my duffle and heading to Ubud. As I waited for my shuttle and my first Balinese friend Sujati read my palm, I began to realize that the magic of Bali really wasn’t a hoax.
Where Seminyak met my expectations as a tourist ridden Indonesian city, I had no idea what to expect as I übered to Ubud (45 minutes for only $3). As the landscape began to speckle with rice patties, I knew by the time I drove up to Alila Ubud that it would be bittersweet to ever leave.
Beginning by spending way too many rupiah at the Ubud market and drinking one of many Indonesian smoothies, I trekked down Jalan Dewi Sita for my five course tasting dinner at Locavore. From rice porridge escargot to roasted barramundi to Javan lamb, I had never tasted such infatuating food before in my life (& still to this day can’t really describe how any of it tasted).
Stretching from the Jatiluwih Rice Terraces to Tanah Lot temple, and every kupi luwak coffee plantation in between, day two in Ubud consisted of a full day tour through the rural parts of the island. Learning about the fad of petroleum filled vodka bottles and visiting a small family coffee plantation (taking home fresh beans and meeting the little coffee making Toddy Cat himself), I learned more about the culture of Balinese life than I had ever imagined.
& then there were the elephants…
Waking up way before my alarm the next morning, I hopped in a shuttle and rode to the secluded Taro Elephant Safari park. Turning the corner of the ticket bungalow, I was suddenly standing in front of dozens of elephants. After scrubbing several elephants clean and swimming with them in the safari’s pond, I climbed on elephant Pati with his trainer Sumatra, and began my half hour elephant trek through the mountains of Bali.
Learning about how handlers stay with only one elephant for their whole life and how some of these relationships span more than fifteen years, I spent my last two hours in Taro feeding elephants and having a mini photoshoot until I was eventually torn away from baby Malia and headed back to central Ubud.
Feeling a little Dolittle(y), I taxied straight to the Sacred Monkey Forrest in hopes of finding equally friendly baby monkeys. Unfortunately, that’s not really what happened.
Stepping out of the cab, still yards from the entrance, monkeys were already swinging on the trees above my head and rummaging around my feet for something to nibble on. Buying a few bananas once I entered, I soon learned the importance of never letting a monkey know you have a banana. While one baby monkey reached inside my pocket and stole 100,000 rupiah, the other leaped into my bag grabbing the whole bushel of bananas. Once the alpha monkey (which really more resembled an ape) started screeching, and another pair tried to wrestle my backpack away, I decided it was time to escape down Jalan Monkey Forrest towards Ubud Palace.
Spending the rest of the night sampling appetizers from Cafe Wayan and watching Barong dance at the palace, I finally experienced the real meaning of Bali’s “rainy season.” Braving a rainstorm to head back to Alila, my last night in Ubud was spent chatting with my cab driver as Balinese parades flooded the streets with dancing and music, and I sadly said goodbye to Ubud.
While it was bittersweet leaving behind the baby elephants and psychopathic monkeys, I headed to the eastern coast of Bali the next morning to catch the fast boat to Gili T. Known for it’s crystal blue waters and white sand, my last day in Indonesia was spent eating the freshest seafood I’ve ever had and swimming with a panoramic mountain view in the distance.
While there are countries you visit and still crave the paella or chianti or gouda, Indonesia is the first place I’ve traveled to that lingers with a real sense of nostalgia. In only a week of traveling through Bali, I met some of the nicest and giving people I have ever known. Their overwhelming happiness is so different than what I’ve known growing up in the West, and the words of inspiration I heard in my week there are things I will remember forever. As my taxi driver in Ubud told me on a drive to Alila one night: