When one thinks ‘Bali’ it’s hard to detach the stigma Aussies have created for themselves- motorbike accidents, tragic tattoos and one too many Bintangs on a night out…also known as the Kooks of Kuta. I’m glad to say I’m back in one piece and ready to return in a heart beat. My Bali experience was thanks to strategic planning, good company and a few old friends to help along the way. It wasn’t until I was back and hit with Sydney’s chill, and looking back in hindsight that I realised just how good it was.
The moment I booked my ticket I began researching the things we wanted to see, places we wanted to stay and which temple offered the best monkeys (definitely Ubud!). Beginning in Ubud, it was like being thrown into a crystal ball of healthy humans, raw food and people in search of that ‘Bali zen’. While admittedly I wasn’t there to ‘find myself’ and embark on a quest of Eat-Pray-Love, I think it’s hard not to appreciate all it had to offer. Staying at the Uma by Como resort, it had everything yogi, fruit to feed a nation, and enough rain to sink a ship.
Slowly easing into the Bali madness, Uluwatu was the next step. Famous for it’s vertical cliffs, and the surf break every man and their dog dreams about- the atmosphere up at the tip of the island never fails to impress. Climbing down the shanti-town like stairs, I couldn’t help but pick out the new developments, flagship surf stores and the constant reminder that ‘Yes- we have free wifi’- a contrast to the Ulu’s Dad talked of thirty years ago. Regardless of this change, once you hit the grotto at the bottom, it’s time to find a spot on the tiny bit of sand and set up camp until the afternoon forces the tide to change. I always find it grounding, stepping into somewhere so centred around the surfing culture, where the biggest worry is who caught the best wave, and the biggest regret is why his mate didn’t go it, as they huddle around a grainy computer screen to look over the photos from that day.
From Uluwatu it was down to Canguu, where we stayed with an old friend in a traditional Balinese village, rid of anything commercial, and boasting the calmness of a local lifestyle where chickens, dogs and kids dawdle on the side of the road while farmers in the rice paddies actually smile and chatter, morning, noon and night. We saw a side of Bali that is easily forgotten, one that I hope won’t slide under the mat completely in the years to come. Stopping at Old Man’s for a drink, or checking the surf at Echo Beach- literally all roads lead onto the oceans doorstep as surfers, barters and backpackers want to get a glimpse of the famous surf break Canguu.
The change from Canguu to Seminyak was welcomed with open arms, as I admit my guilty pleasure (shopping) was ready to be fed. Like all Vogues and Luxe Guides utter, Seminyak is literally bursting at the seams with fashion boutiques, the token Mexican bar and everything is tweaked just that little bit to appeal specifically to us Australian (hipsters). From Ohlsen to the Koncep store outside the notorious Potato Head, I could have collected trinkets for days, rummaging through antique blankets, crocheted bikinis and Magali Pascal’s museum of lace!
My last day was spent visiting my Balinese friend’s house, humbling sitting in the centre of Tanah Lot village (famous for the snake temple protruding out from the rocks) where I was welcomed with Balinese smiles and treated like royalty. Sitting in the quadrangle of their house, under a temple which had taken them more than a lifetime to build, Katut told me of each room, the wood carvings and the meaning behind each as I sipped on Balinese coffee and marvelled at their generosity.
It is these moments that epitomise the authentic Balinese lifestyle and what the island truly has to offers, too often masked by the media, unfortunate events and, for some, our own ridiculous culture. If you’re thinking of heading over anytime soon, please, leave the arrogance at home, put a shirt on and embrace the island as if you’re just discovering it for the first time.