In 2005, I was living in Calgary. I was not happy. I was depressed, I had been grossly overweight for most of my life, and I worked long hours for a company doing work that did not inspire me– in fact, it felt as if any remaining life was being slowly sucked out of me. I knew I was going nowhere fast, but I didn’t know what to do about it, so I just kept rolling along... work, eat, sleep, rinse and repeat, day after day.
I had a friend at work, David, who had spent time in Bali each winter for a few years. He told me all sorts of stories about the friendliness of the Balinese people, and pulled out photos of Bali to show me. Bali looked lush and green– absolutely saturated with colour, contrasting dramatically with the grey winter scene outside my window. David spoke of the homestay (a bed & breakfast-type place) where he lived while he was in Bali, and described its cool white marble floors, stone tile walls, and friendly staff. He often spoke about the differences between Bali and Canada in an attempt to persuade me to go to Bali with him. He could see that I needed a change of pace, to say the least.
I had typically spent my sparse vacation time visiting family, as I lived several hours away from them. I was extremely hesitant about going somewhere like Bali, and was convinced I should travel around Canada first before seeing other countries. To be honest, I wasn’t even sure I knew where Bali was located.
David started nagging me about going to Bali with him in earnest. Finally, decision time arrived. He was booking his flight soon and wanted me to with him and his friends.
I knew I needed to do something out of my normal routine. I also had the time, financial means, and I would even have someone to hold my hand on the first of what turned out to be many flights to Bali, so I was out of excuses. I booked my flight for January 2006.
It was a very long journey. We flew from Calgary, to Vancouver, to Los Angeles, to Tokyo, and on to Singapore where we had an overnight stay at a hotel and then on to Bali in the morning. At the time, I didn’t realize there were more direct routes.
I had never felt humidity like I experienced in Singapore. Prior to leaving Calgary, I had painstakingly straightened my curly hair. We walked to a nearby convenience store to purchase water, and OMG, I could literally feel each hair spring back into a curl. By the time I was back in my room, my hair was bigger than any afro I wore in the '70s.
It was late morning when we arrived in Bali. We were welcomed at the airport by a driver named Wayan (more about Balinese names in another blog) whom my friends had used in past trips to Bali. (Who knew that so many years later, Wayan and his family would be a big part of my life in Bali?)
Once we left the airport, I noticed the heat and humidity in a big way. I had never enjoyed hot weather, so I was concerned about how I would cope with it. At first I thought the traffic seemed typical, until we stopped at a traffic light. There weren’t a lot of cars, but there were a huge number of motorbikes. These bikes squeezed into the spaces between the cars and took up every available space on the shoulder.
The trip from the airport to Ubud was interesting, and not what I expected. Driving through the city and villages wasn’t all charm and beauty. The style of the buildings ranged from simplistic block buildings to buildings that had elaborately carved windows and door frames. Everything was lush greenness, and nature seemed to be taking over and growing over and into everything. Even the buildings looked like they were growing, with their blanket of vines and flowers. Plants had anchored themselves in every viable nook and cranny. There were palm and coconut trees, banana trees, and plants I had never seen before and I still don’t know the name of.
Once in Ubud, we dropped our bags at the homestay and spent the afternoon wandering around the streets of Ubud, eating, shopping, browsing, and eating. As darkness comes early, we headed back to our rooms at 7pm.
Finally alone in the silence of my room, I began to feel anxious. The experience was different than I had expected, and I was getting overwhelmed by the sights, sounds, and unfamiliar smells. I felt very far from home and completely out of my comfort zone, but I knew I couldn't run away.
It’s only three weeks, I thought to myself. Surely, I can deal with anything for that long. This helped settle my spiralling thoughts. I climbed into my canopied bed, made of antique carved wood, and slept.
In the morning, I felt like a different person. I was refreshed and ready for the new adventure that was waiting outside in the green. Sitting in the morning sun, on the large balcony, I could see over the rooftops of the surrounding homes. In the distance, volcanic mountains rose against the incredibly blue sky. My heart felt full and excited, and at peace for the first time. For the next few days I settled into a relaxed pace of wandering the streets, tasting different foods, taking in the varied architecture of the area, and talking with local people.
I was introduced to a fellow Canadian, Maxine, who was also from Calgary. For the last few years she had been splitting her time between Bali and Canada, living in Bali during the winter for six months at a time. Maxine was always excited to share her love of Bali with others, and we hit it off.
We set out each day to see different sites on the island, travelling through the lush terraced hills that contained the rice paddies, blooming with young rice plants.
The temple on the lake near Ubud was spectacular. With the striking scenery and cooler air of this area, the mountains create a scenic backdrop for the temple sitting on the edge of the lake. When the water of the lake rises, it creates the illusion that the temple is adrift on the water. There is often a mist that rises from the lake and hangs in the air, creating a surreal atmosphere. There is an abundance of fruit grown in this area - delicious. Being in this place was indescribably peaceful.
We also travelled to a beach area that is popular with snorkellers. I love water but I am also intimidated by it, so this trip was a lot of firsts for me! I had never been in an ocean before, and this was the perfect place for my first experience. Our small bamboo bungalow was on the beach, tucked away in a small cove. The sand was black, and in the sun it sparkled as if it contained diamonds.
Depending on the day, the water had gentle rolling waves or it was very calm... perfect for an amateur snorkeler like me! I didn’t know that treasures are hidden under the ocean. The coral ranged between shades of pink, green, purple, and red. The textures varied from smooth stone, to lace, to grass, to flat-topped mushrooms. Then there were the fish. Who knew fish came in so many colours? Yellows, blues, reds, iridescent purple and green. I even saw a giant indigo blue starfish.
We visited natural hot water springs, natural swimming pools, and ancient temples (one of my favourites is a temple on the ocean). I often refer to these days as having Bali experiences, because so much of what happened would only happen in Bali! Life in Canada is so different. By the time I was leaving, those three weeks had flown by. I was in love with this place, and desperately sad to leave.
On my last day in Bali, I went for a long walk through the streets of Ubud, speaking with the different shop owners who I had come to know. When I first arrived, I thought the Balinese were intrusive. They struck up conversations constantly and always asked “Where are you going?” I came to realize that it was the equivalent to asking, “How are you?”. The Balinese are a caring and kind people with beautiful welcoming smiles.
Back in my room where I was gathering my things to leave, I was struck by a sudden realization: At home, I was anonymous. I lived in a large apartment complex in Calgary, and after meeting and visiting with so many outgoing and wonderful Balinese strangers, it seemed so obvious now. At home, if I saw someone in the parking area of my complex, I would have no idea if they were my neighbor or not. It made me concerned about where my life was going and what I valued. Was there a way to bring that feeling of belonging that I felt in Bali home with me?
I was very happy that I had my new friend Wayan driving me to the airport. He knew I was having a difficult time leaving, and kept me laughing all the way to the airport. When we said goodbye, I knew it wasn’t a forever goodbye. I would be back to my beautiful Bali.
Bali has made such a huge impact in my life. I now live here for part of the year and run Discover Your Bali Tours for women like myself who want to travel but feel like travelling to a distant country by themselves is a bit of a tall order! Learn more my about my tour and start planning your Bali adventure today!