Breathtaking Bali

Bali is one of those places that I’ve always been drawn to visit.  In the most recent Jason Bourne novels (which are great books, especially the originals by Robert Ludlum) Jason Bourne always travels to Bali to escape his tormented past.  He ventures up mountainsides to reach secluded temples and listen to the therapeutic crashing of waves.  Many superlatives are thrown about in describing the island, and they are most definitely appropriate.  The landscape in Bali is diverse and breath taking.  Large stretches of sandy beaches line the coast, with surfers silhouetted in an orange glow during the magnificent sunset.  Palms trees line the winding streets that give way to tiered rice patties near the spiritual city of Ubud.  The holy volcano Mt. Batur stands proudly above the cloud line, creating an inspiring view when surfacing from an amazing dive in crystalline waters.  And among all the natural beauty are the beaming faces of the laughing, singing, carefree Balinese people.

I never want to surface from diving, but the view of Mt. Batur makes it alright.

I never want to surface from diving, but the view of Mt. Batur makes it alright.

My first day in Bali was spent in the overly touristic city of Kuta, overflowing with rowdy Australians hopping on the piss.  The waves in Kuta are consistent and forgiving, perfect for a very novice surfer like myself.  I spent the day with the sun beating down on my face, and the waves beating me up.  It felt good to catch and ride a couple of waves in to shore.  It didn’t feel so good to face plant into the water multiple times.  It’s very humbling when small Balinese children weave around your wrecked board and pull off gnarly rip curls.  A friendly local named ‘Popeye’ (he had a tattoo of Popeye the Sailor bent over so his belly button was effectively the Sailorman’s asshole) gave me some surfing tips and we shared Bin Tangs and talked about American football.

Surfers on Kuta Beach.

Surfers on Kuta Beach waiting to catch a sunset wave.

Later that night I headed to Alleycats, a very popular bar offering ridiculously cheap drinks.  Their ‘double doubles’, double shots of local spirits and mixers, are only $2.50 and will get you ready for the night.  I became good mates with two Aussies and we threw down a few rounds.  With all the booze flowing, you might have to put up with some really dumb conversations.  Such as the 20 year old Aussie girl who asked my name four times and then proceeded to ask me, “Do you know you have curly hair?”  Only when I look in the mirror, but thanks for asking.  At about that point my new mates and I decided to hit up the Skygarden, a multi-storied bar in the center of Kuta, where we spent the rest of the night.

I was eager to get out of Kuta and head up to the spiritual town of Ubud, featured in the ‘love’ portion of the book and movie Eat, Pray, Love.  In Ubud I met up with my friends Seyda and Bouquet from Koh Tao who were staying with their friend Andy.  We went to a class of ecstatic dance at the famous Yoga Barn, a beautiful area dedicated to yoga and related healings that attracts some of the most famous teachers from around the world.  Around 30 people gathered on the top floor of a massive open aired structure resembling an enormous tree house.  As the dj pumped great music through the soundsystem, everyone danced freely upon the hardwood floors.  The only rules are no talking and no judgement, allowing you to dance without trying to show off and lose yourself in the flow of the present moment.  At one point in the night, I let my hair out of my headband and sent sweat flying in all directions, unintentionally creating a buffer zone.  Through a skylight shone the full moon, causing myself and many others to stop and stare at it’s beauty.  After two hours, we laid down and meditated, feeling overwhelmed with a sense of free expression and joy.

"They're breakdance fighting!"

“They’re breakdance fighting!”

We couldn’t let the feeling go to waste and headed out for a night on the town.  Our first stop was a shisha lounge where Andy performed a few songs with the local band.  Andy was part of a boy band that made it big on the Greek equivalent of America’s Got Talent, where they went on to have a few number one hits in Greece.  We then went to CJ’s bar for some more dancing.  We ended up there the next night as well where we became friends with a South African named Angelique and her Mexican counterpart.  The time passed along with the shots and we all wound up eating traditional Balinese food at the early morning market, riding home well after the sunrise.

Chilling at CJ's.

Chilling at CJ’s.

While in Ubud we also checked out some of the local rice patties lined with palm trees.

A friendly man selling palm leaf hats.

A friendly man selling palm leaf hats.

At one point I went on a short trek around the fields and befriended a local woman working in the patties.  When she offered me a coconut I graciously accepted, and climbed a nearby palm tree to replace the coconut and enjoy the view, harnessing my inner monkey.

Coconut sticky rice anyone?

Coconut sticky rice anyone?

Speaking of monkeys, we visited the Sacred Monkey Forest just outside of Ubud.  As soon as we entered, monkeys of all sizes examined us.  Just as I mentioned to Jo it’d be sweet if we could touch the monkeys, one climbed onto me and started playing with my hair, trying to steal my hair tie.  At one point a super friendly juvenile monkey climbed onto my shoulder and stayed there for the next ten minutes.  One of his mates decided to join him on my other shoulder, where he pissed all down my arm.  Cheeky, dirty bastards.

Forget kids, I'd rather have a monkey.

Forget kids, I’d rather have a monkey.

One monkey was perched atop a statue, looking off into the distance as if meditating.  Until we noticed his hands furiously pumping his monkey bits.  Who still doesn’t believe in evolution?  The forest is a proper jungle filled with monkey hooligans.  I burst out laughing as a portly Chinese man ran in terror from a rather large monkey that he had managed to rub the wrong way.  Those monkeys sure know how to amuse themselves, and certainly amused me.

I doubt that's where you left your keys.

I doubt that’s where you left your keys.

At this point in the journey we headed back down south to meet our friend Jo.  Jo arrived just in time for the full moon.  We forewent the traditional full moon debauchery and headed to the W hotel, a 5 star resort where Andy has connections.  The entrance is lined with well manicured bushes forming a lush tunnel that opens to an amazing garden.  Here red lights shine underneath pools with trees growing out of them, all highlighted by the moonlight.  We made the short walk to the beach and watched the waves crash on the shore, swelling with the power of the full moon.  As each wave broke, the silver moonlight shimmered along the crests, captivating us.  The stars seemed especially brilliant that night, seeming to create a living planetarium.

The W hotel.  Photo courtesy of samyroad.com.

The W hotel. Photo courtesy of samyroad.com.

The next stop in our journey was Padangbai and Gili Tarwangan for some seriously sick diving.

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