Life Stories

Why Bali?

Chapter 1: The Journey

To be completely honest, I have no idea how, why or when Bali became a destination on my bucket list. It definitely wasn’t because of the Eat, Pray, Love movie or because I was seeking a spiritual experience …

My best guess would be that after seeing a whole lot of Instagram posts of Bali’s most “Instagramable” places … I too, wanted to swing on a giant swing over the jungle with my red dress flowing in the wind, bathe in holy water at one of the many temples and trek through the jungle chasing waterfalls. 

I was looking for an adventure far away from home … and Bali was calling my name. 

Randomly, in September sometime … I reached out to an acquittanance, Milan, who lives in Bulgaria with a friendly FB message to ask him about his travels. He mentioned he was going to Bali in November and asked if I wanted to go. 

Bali. You don’t say … 

“If you’re serious about inviting me, then yes, I’d like to go,” I tell him. 

He said he needed to check with the guy organizing this trip, Angel, and he would get back to me. To shorten the story … 

… I had no idea what I was signing up for, who I was going with, the dynamics of the group, or if any of the Bulgarians would be able to converse in English. 

But Bali. I was in. 

Booked my flight. Got assigned a roommate — who looked like a SUPER fun girl from her FB photos. Spent HOURS researching (needed a plan B and C incase I needed to break away from the group) … and then it was time to go.

… Fast forward through all the boring travel, which was LONG (Phx to LA (layover), LA to Taiwan – 13 hours (layover), Taiwan to Bali – 5 hours) … 30 some hours later, I landed in Paradise.

Angel and a few people from the group greeted me at the airport, including my awesome roomie, Daniela, and we were on our way to the hotel. They were all so nice and greeted me so warmly … a great start to my great adventure.

Before I go on to tell you about the rest of the trip, this seems like a really good time to tell you about Bali driving and Bali traffic: it’s FUCKING INSANE

Most of the roads are super narrow with non-stop oncoming traffic, no lane division, traffic lights or really any kind of recognizable infrastructure. This said road is shared with cars, scooters (which is the main mode of transportation there), people walking and dogs lounging. And I’m probably downplaying it a bit.

I have never seen such madness in my life. 

But what’s incredible about all of this is that there are barely any accidents. And most of the accidents are caused by tourists, lol. Not shocking. 

Everyone here drives a scooter, young, old, men, women … and it’s extremely common to see babies, kids and up to a 4-person family on ONE scooter. 

Do you see the baby??

Seriously, I couldn’t get over it. 

Ok, ok … so back to my story … 

Chapter 2: Getting to know my roommate

We got back to the hotel, and Daniela says to me … in her very conversational English with a Bulgarian accent: … “Don’t check in right now, drop your things off quickly so we can go to the beach.” 

OMG, I’m in love with her already. Because if you know me … when there is a beach nearby, nothing else matters … a girl after my own heart 🙂 

“How long will it take you to get ready?” she asks … “Few minutes,” I tell her, as I proceed to tell her that I know we’re going to get a long just fine. She laughed. 

We made it to the beach with a few others from the group, I had my first Bingtang (the official Bali beer), dinner, conversation, laughter and memories. 

Back at the hotel, Daniela and I talked late into the night. So much in common, so much to share and so much to look forward to. 

The following day … 

Angel is very much into energy and works with a particular guru in Bali. He’s been going there the last 10 years, and he was taking us on a guided tour today. 

Our first stop was a bat shit cave. Ok, ok … that’s not really what it’s called, but in all honesty, I don’t know the name of this temple. It’s not a tourist attraction and the only reason we were there is because Angel has friends and connections.

This temple is located on the most southern tip of Bali and sits on the edge of a cliff with breathtaking views …

… and is home to a lot bats. Before we were able to walk in for our purification ceremony, we had to climb up stairs covered in bat shit (no shoes), with the bats squealing at the top. It was crazy. Batshit crazy – haha. 

Inside, we partook in a really cool authentic ceremony …

… And while I didn’t make it to the famous Monkey Forest in Bali, I did have my own monkey encounter. Probably not a good idea to blow kisses at a monkey :-/  

Lucky that this monkey didn’t attack me. Bad idea, Gelie.

We went on a few more stops that day and I quickly realized how challenging it is to get around. I read about this during my research, but didn’t quite understand that all the adventurous things I’d want to do would be a full day trip all day every day. Read: HOURS in the car, daily.

For example, from our hotel to any destination (waterfalls, jungle, Canggu – beach town, Seminyak – night life would be minimum an hour away, but usually even more). Eek!

Oh, and another thing to know about Bali, it is NOT a beach destination. 

Their beaches are not very pretty or easy to get to. The first exotic beach we went to was a 30+ min treacherous hike down a cliff … all to come back up that insane cliff. The rest of the group proceeded, but I’m prone to getting hurt when I travel (sad but true, lol) and was wearing flip flops, so I opted to stay at the top with Daniela. 

The amazing beaches in this area can be found on some of the islands near by, which require a ferry or a fast boat. We went to one of the islands, Nusa Penida, but didn’t make it to any of the Gilli islands (maybe next time).

As the next two days went on, it was pretty obvious that Daniela and I were very much alike and wanted to do very similar things; we moved at a bit of a different pace than the rest of the group. 

If you all think I’m resourceful, which I am, Daniela is a whole other level. 

This woman is extremely well traveled, has friends all over the world, and was able to put together a stellar agenda for us for the rest of her stay (I had 3 extra days with out her). 

Together, her and I pretty much covered it all … from finding a secret white sand beach (Padangbai) that many of the locals don’t even frequent often or know about …

… to lounging on a black sand beach – Echo Beach – (from the volcano)…

… to going on a snorkeling island adventure (Nusa Penida)

… to getting a hook up at the W in Seminyak

… to salsa dancing, to incredible photo shoots

… to goofing around

… and probably other things I can’t think of at the moment. 

This woman made my trip. 

And just like that, thousands of miles away from home, I know that I made a lifelong friend. The people that we journey with make the experience … whether it’s a vacation, or people by our side as we go through the life. It’s so cliche … but so true.

Daniela lives on the other side of the world. English is not her language. She didn’t know anyone in the group when she booked this trip – just like me. Traveling solo doesn’t bother her. She makes friends everywhere she goes – just like me. She LOVES taking photos in beautiful places – LOL, just like me. 

I took a complete chance going to other side of the world with complete strangers that may, or may not, speak English and ended up making a new friend.

Daniela is my people … the Paris to my Kim, as I dubbed us 🙂

Chapter 3: All the Touristy Things

After seeing countless of images of girls in red dresses swinging on giant swings over the jungle with their hair in the wind and dress floating behind them … I too, wanted to experience that (and grab an Instagramable photo – duh!)

I was beyond stoked when I found out that we were going to visit the giant swings on my 3rd day in Bali. With my sundresses in tow (my pink backpack was filled to the max, daily, with outfit changes for any and all possible picture opps) and full make up, I was ready to do this!!

Once I got there, I realized that they had the red dresses for rent. NICE! I suppose I could have left all mine back at the hotel room, but it made for a fun photoshoot with my new friends, Margarita and Daniela.

After spending hours on the swings and inside birds nests, it was time to purify our Body and Soul at the Sebatu Holy Waterfall.

“Reaching Sebatu waterfall is quite challenging with a walk down hundreds of stone steps heading to the slippery site. Dozens of locals, and even foreign visitors, are seen bathing under the rushing, cold water.”

This was honestly one of my favorite parts and I could have stayed there for hours and hours and done this daily. OMG … so refreshing, so purifying and just such an incredible feeling … especially, after hours of photo taking on the swings.

When I put my face to the rock under the waterfall, I could actually breathe … so you can literally stay under the water as long as you want to.

After this incredible experience, we went to visit another beautiful temple: Gunung Kawi Sebatu Temple …

… and after that, hung out at the vary famous Tegallalang rice terrace in Ubud.

Followed by dinner at a restaurant where we dined on “floating” tables. Incredible day.

By this point in the trip, Daniela and I broke away from the big group and kept on moving at a faster pace to see as much as we could.

A few more touristy things on the agenda:

Nusa Penida island: Angel Billabong

Nusa Penida island: Broken Beach

Nusa Penida island: Kelingking Beach

Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to hike down to the beach. I would have loved to do that.

Garuda Wisnu Kencana statue

It took twenty-eight years and around $100 million to build the statue. The statue is about 30 m (98 ft) higher than the Statue of Liberty, but Liberty is tall and thin, while Garuda is almost as wide as it is high — its wingspan is 64 m (210 ft). I saw this when I flew into Bali – hard to miss from the air.

Melasti Beach Ungusun

Quick drop by the Omnia … one of the top beach clubs in Bali (and possibly the world?)

Padangbai, the secret white sand beach, that Daniela and I went to was beyond gorgeous. We had so much fun playing in the BIG waves and getting massages on the beach (for $6).

Unfortunately, I got knocked down by one of the waves and sprained my right hand, bleh. Nothing major, but not fun …

As if the beach wasn’t heavenly enough for one day … after the beach, we decided to visit Tibumana waterfall.

On another day, we visited another one of my favorite spots, La Brisa in Canggu

Unfortunately, Daniela lost her phone here 😦

Echo Beach, in front of La Brisa at sunset

Chapter 4: No Mas Touristy things …

On Daniela’s last day in Bali, we did a few more touristy things, but half way through the day … I needed a break. I was craving alone time, a social scene at a beach club (think Vegas pool parties but by the beach) and a DRINK … or a few 😉

Walking through Finn’s Beach Club (city of Canggu) alone, truly alone, I knew I would find more adventures …

Taking in the breathtaking views of the beach, the pools, the bars and, of course, the people, I needed a change of pace from being a tourist. 

“Who are you looking for,” he asked looking up at me from his daybed. 

“Not looking for anyone,” I tell him. “I’m here alone.” 

“You’re welcome to hang out with me and my friends and leave your stuff here if you want (referring to my overly stuffed pink backpack) … want a French Frye?”  

I was starving. I was thirsty. I so badly just wanted to put my stuff down and get in the pool. But most of all, I wanted to socialize and get lost in “stranger” conversation. After all, I’m the networking girl still 🙂

“Yes, please!!” As I began to chow down on the French Fries, quickly asked for a menu and asked him about his friends …

“Oh, we all know each other from work … we all work out of the same co-working space.” 

WTF – out of all the people in the beach club that day, I somehow walked over right to the group of people I was hoping to meet during my trip. These were my people. I couldn’t wait to talk to all of them, ask them their stories and find out … 

… why Bali? 

Every single one had a different reason.

… Yocham, the 31-year-old surfer Dutch guy (that looks like a total surfer dude, lol) had just returned to Bali and his friends were throwing him a “welcome back” party (the reason they were all at Finn’s that day). He lives in Holland, but every so-often has a 6-month sabbatical so he comes here to surf and live the island life. 

I asked him what he’s passionate about and what he wants to do. “Change the education system.” He tells me all about his plan and how he’s hired a business coach to help him put together a business plan.

The sun started to set as we were chatting and I couldn’t help but take a ridiculous amount of photos. 

“This sunset is going to be amazing,” he tells me. “It’s a bit cloudy, so watch when then sun actually goes down, the sky will be filled with colors.” 

I take photos and scroll through them on my phone; a typical habit. “Stop looking at your phone, you’re going to miss the actual sunset,” he gently nudges me.  

I can see why he’s in Bali. He knows the skyline intimately. He surfs daily. But it’s just a pitstop on his way …

… Ewin (I think??), was from Finland. He and his daughter’s mother decided to move to Bali and send her to school here, in the middle of the jungle. However, about a month before moving to Bali, they split up. Now, living together in Bali, both are trying to find their way separately. 

That’s a heavy one … I share a bit of my story with him, and ask him what he does for a living to be able to co-work out of Bali. 

“I own a software company that I’ve had for a while.”

“Do you actually write the code?” I ask … “Not anymore,” he says. “I just manage the projects that come in and my contractors do the coding.” 

… The digital company life that can be executed from any part of the world. Easy to manage. His reason for being in Bali is so unique too.

The school in the middle of the jungle that he’s referring to is called the Green School, which has been voted “the Greenest school on earth,” and with tuition between $6K – $13K a year, attracts students and teachers from all over the world.

His daughter is only 8. He plans on staying for a while …

… Mariann, from Spain, a yoga instructor has been living abroad for a while, though she came to Bali not too long ago. She had a pretty thick accent, but spoke English fluently (which made me feel silly for not knowing Spanish. Hello, I live in AZ!) We talked a lot. But mainly about her ex-boyfriend that showed up to the beach club and put her in a sad mood.

“Pendejo,” I called him, lol. The only Spanish word I could think of at the moment to get her to smile. It worked 🙂

These were my people … expats traveling and living in different places. Their lives so interesting. Their reason so interesting. I could have talked and listened to their stories all night.

Sunset vibes – no filter

… And then there was Santiago. 

Originally from Columbia, he officially lives in the U.S. … but not really. He can work remotely from anywhere in the world, and he does just that. 

Currently, he’s living in Bali in a villa that he pays about $450/mo for – with daily room service. He just loves the island life and there’s not much more to as to why he’s there … #islandlife

“I love sunsets. That’s one of the main reasons I love Bali so much. I don’t get tired of those sunsets.”

He likes to travel. His Passport has more stamps than the bible’s got psalms, lol.

I find myself scrolling through his Instagram looking at all the beautiful photos of the places he’s visited. “Are you stalking my Instagram in front of me? I’m standing right next to you!” We laugh.

“Let’s go to Lola’s,” he says.

I hop on the back of his scooter as he hands me an airpod, turns up the tunes and the group migrates for some late night Tacos.

More adventures …

My last full day in Bali was spent hanging out with Santiago as he took me to all his favorite local spots in Canggu (beach town).

Satu Satu

Two Fingers for more Tacos (SO GOOD)

The Hidden Beach

… and my favorite, Potato Head.

“Where do you want to go next, tourista?” He would ask me …

Didn’t matter to me. I was in paradise anywhere we went. “Vamonos,” I said.

Chapter 5:  Why Bali?

“Why not,” I answered when my friend Michelle asked.

It’s been a while since I’ve traveled internationally and I was way overdue for seeing my life from a different perspective.

I was looking for an adventure and Bali was on my list …

I didn’t go to Bali to …

… run away from anything

… heal a broken heart

… search for anything

It’s a beautiful thing to be able to check in with myself and know that I’m through all the heartache and all the pain I’ve experienced over the last decade of my life.

It’s over 🙂

And I’m proud of myself. Proud of making this trip happen. Proud of taking the opportunity (so many reasons not to go!). Did I happen to mention I’m in the middle of re-launching NetworkingPhoenix? Oh yea … that’s happening right now too.

If I overthought it, I probably wouldn’t have gone. But I knew this wasn’t the time to process and analyze.

This was a time to lean into my heart and ask what it wants …

“Adventure.”

Lessons learned …

  1. Bali is not a place for nice beaches. You can find them, but it’s kind of a pain.
  2. There are approx. 17K islands in Indonesia. Many of them, I hear, are more beautiful, less crowded and have amazing beaches.
  3. Bali is the Australian “Mexico.”
  4. Getting around Bali is not too difficult, but takes forever, unless you’re staying in one particular area of town and only trying to get around in that area (you’ll still encounter crazy traffic). They do have a local “uber” service.
  5. Easiest way to get around for day trips is to hire a driver for the day. We were paying about $35 per day and split that by however many people were in the car (SO CHEAP). Money is not the issue, it’s time. Everything takes forever to get to.
  6. It’s pretty freaking touristy if you go see all the “popular Instagram” spots. Oh, and it’s HOT and HUMID.
  7. I really should know how to speak Spanish. The fact that I only speak 2 languages put me in the minority overseas.
  8. If Bali is on your bucket list, as many of you have expressed, I would highly recommend asking yourself why. Your itinerary will matter depending on your answer. Do you want to stay in the jungle? Do you want to have a spiritual experience? (Ubud) Do you want to stay at a fancy resort (Seminyak). Do you want to hang out in a cool beach town and drink coconuts on the beach? (Canggu)
  9. I most certainly didn’t need my hair dryer. Beach waves all day every day.
  10. So lucky that my mom gave me a z-pack (antibiotics) to take with me. My throat started to hurt badly on my 3rd day there and the z-pack (along with the small pharmacy that I and Daniela brought with us, I was back to 100% quickly).
  11. Get your suitcase saran wrapped when traveling international (so things don’t get put in your suitcase or stolen) … this isn’t Southwest people, lol.

All in all, I pretty much accomplished everything on my list and had the adventure I was seeking … but I was SO ready to come home.

I missed my life.

And while it’s not “island life,” with coconuts and breathtaking sunsets on the daily … it’s my own version of island life that I built for myself, and I really love my life 🙂 #grateful

Bali marked a significant time in my life. A HUGE thank you to Angel for organizing this trip, for Milan to extending an invite and the rest of the group for being so welcoming (even though I’m sure it was a pain for them to keep translating from Bulgarian to English).

Bali, and all the people I met there will always be in my heart.

Until my next adventure …

p.s. More photos and videos can be found on my FB public album

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