Once upon a time this blog used to be called, “I Love Trouble”, and it was all about me getting myself into amusing misadventures on the go. So ready or not, here they come, my favorite ways to run amok in Bali, and a few things that I’d do differently next time.
I Climbed A Frigging Volcano In The Pitch Dark
I am one of those people who forgets she’s afraid of heights… until she gets to the top of something high and gets kicked in the pants by a mild panic attack. So naturally, I was totally gung ho about waking up at 2:30 in the morning to do a Mt. Batur sunrise hike until I was halfway up, sweating and hyperventilating in the dark, and holding on to the hand of a strange man whose only job it seemed was to peddle water and soft drinks to hikers. To add to my humiliation, the guy definitely made it clear that he expected a tip once we reached the top.
All the reviews I read of the Mt. Batur sunrise hike advertised it as a medium hike with some difficult bits. This is absolute Bullpuckey, it’s a difficult hike with some medium bits, as in straight up a volcano for two solid hours difficult. I was grateful for the dark though. Not only were the stars gorgeous, but not being able to see how steep it was and how close we were to the sheer cliff edges was probably the only thing that kept me from having a full blown panic attack.
Was it worth it? Flip yeah! As we got closer to the top the sun began to wash away the starts and we could hear the sounds of other hikers who’d already summited chatting and singing along to a strumming guitar. I’d never felt like I’d earned a breakfast more than the boiled eggs, soggy bread and hot tea I enjoyed sitting on a rough wood bench and feeling the steam from the volcano’s crater waft against my back. One the way down we took a more circuitous route that wound through the woods. It was way more my style and I got to check out some really sweet abandoned temples and some beautiful Balinese agriculture.
There are numerous hiking companies that run sunrise hikes up Mt. Batur, but Bali Sunrise Tours is the best of the best. The guides were phenomenal, they looked after us and encouraged us the whole way through and really knew the terrain. I’m in awe of anybody who scrambles up that volcano like a billy-goat multiple times a day!
I went to A Yoga Retreat
No really, hear me out. A yoga retreat is a fantastic way to run amok. You see, I have just about the most awesome muggle job a girl could ask for, being a teacher. My professional life is full of planning and supervising fun activities for hormone addled teenagers… then making sure said teenagers do not lose life and limb while enjoying those activities. So is it any wonder that I tend to go a bit AWOL when I travel? Just ask my Iceland travel buddies about how I swam out-of-bounds at the Blue Lagoon, fell through the ice near a waterfall and took a ridiculous header while hiking up a snow-covered volcano. (Don’t worry, mom! It was a dormant volcano!)
The super rad thing about going on retreat, is that for one amazing week, I get to be the crazed teenager in the equation. It’s a rare time in my adult life when somebody else plans my schedule and activities, cooks and cleans up my meals and my most pressing decision is whether to have a coconut or a fruit smoothie by the pool.
There are tons of yoga retreats in Bali and I came across some great ones in my research. Retreats that accept you based on your zodiac sign and time of birth, retreats on deserted islands, retreats that are totally silent…the list goes on and on. I ended up choosing Goddess Retreats and I’m so happy I did. They had the right mix of activities and chillaxing for me, and I met amazing people. People who understand me when I say I feel like my throat chakra is out of balance! The staff at Goddess made me feel completely safe and cared for from my very first emailed interaction with them to my final goodbye. They even helped me plan my forward travel after the retreat. For people in the “caring” professions, retreats are a time to receive, be nourished and allow yourself to be looked after that you won’t realize you need until you’re experiencing it!
I Stayed In A Balinese Homestay
The Balinese are renowned for their hospitality, and a traditional Balinese homestay is a chance to be made a part of a family for a few days. Here’s the question I never asked myself, was this a family I wanted to be a part of? My homestay had fabulous internet reviews. On the surface it had everything a girl could ask for. A pool, a rice paddy view, a an on site art gallery and family temple. What a cultural experience.
Not advertised? This place was definitely run by a family. As in, a troupe of adorable moppet teenage brothers and sisters who bickered their way throughout the day. I never saw another adult my entire time there. (And do I need to remind y’all what my day job is??) I definitely caught one of the boys watching a naughty video on the computer behind the front desk, any and all communication was a comedy of errors and I ended up getting a mild case of Bali-belly from the food.
This was the only place I ever felt shady staying at because the door lock on my room was flimsier than the one on my closet back home in Zürich. I ended up barricading it with just about everything I had on hand and yes that was the same night I looked up crime statistics in Indonesia and found you those lovely and reassuring stats from the Global Peace Index.
In the end, everything worked out fine. I wouldn’t even warn others away from Homestays. Just beware that although some of them boast many hotel like amenities (and hotel-like prices), they are not in fact professional hotels!
I Had Imposter Syndrome in the Holiest Part of a Hindu Temple
For an agnostic, I sure am interested in other people’s religions. So when the wonderful folks at Goddess Retreats offered me a chance to travel to the famous beachside Tana Lot Temple, in order receive instruction in meditation and be blessed by a Hindu priest, I leapt at it.
Let’s get this one out of the way, Tana Lot is as miserable a tourist trap as any place in Bali. It is a ravenous monster fed by a constant glut of tourists by the busload, many of whom actually pay locals to help them navigate the shin deep waves so they can toddle out to the base of the temple to take a duck-face selfie after halfheartedly splashing themselves with holy water. How very authentically spiritual!
I knew what I was in for when I signed up, yet I still felt like a fool wearing the Sarong my retreat leader had dressed me in and standing in line for a blessing. Somehow I thought that I would be different than everyone else there. After all, I’d been to yoga school! I’d studied the Yamas and Niyamas! I’d memorized so many Sanskrit words! Now I felt like just another idiotic foreigner playing dress-up with a culture that wasn’t actually her own, having the unbelievable audacity to think she was about to experience something authentic. Something she had the right to experience. At the very least it was embarrassing, possibly it was offensive.
After receiving the holy water and having my forehead anointed with rice, Made guided me up the slippery stone steps up to the sanctuary of Tana Lot. Now we were alone, as only folks in traditional dress were allowed to enter the sacred part of the temple. I glanced around, the only other people there were a few priests.
Made instructed me to sit for a moment and meditate. “Clear your mind”, he said, “Take a few moments to think about why you are here.” Think about why I’m here. Below me the ocean was the color of pewter, and the only sound was the waves crashing. I slowly allowed my exhales to match with the rhythm of the surf. The priest approached us and asked Made whose prayers were being offered today and where I was from. Made answered. “He has told the gods these prayers are from Alyssa from America”, he whispered to me. The priest began to chant. I recognized some of the Sanskrit words and immediately found my connection. There was a tension between wanting to lose myself in the moment, and wanting to remain alert and remember every detail because I knew I might never experience anything like this again. Suddenly, I knew what to ask these gods for, gods I’m never quite sure I believe in or not no matter what religion they come from. I asked the gods to wash away my ego and my self-doubt with the tide, and to keep my family safe. The priest doused me with holy water and it was done.
Why does an agnostic go to temples? Because the more I study about religions I’m unfamiliar with, the more I am reminded that we are all the same. And the more I feel connected to every human that is living or has ever lived. Forget about the dogma.
My Flights Got Upgraded… Three Freaking Times…
Look, let’s get this straight out of the way, I have absolutely no helpful advice about how to get yourself bumped up from Economy class for free. Every time it happened to me I was taken completely offguard. The first time I got upgraded was when I was about to board my Emirates flight out of Zurich airport. A beeping noise went off as the flight attendant scanned my boarding pass. I watched in horror as she ripped it up, thinking I was about to be kicked off of my flight. But she simply said, “You’ve been upgraded to business!”, and handed me my new boarding pass.
It was all my Eliza Doolittle and Little Orphan Annie in the Warbucks mansion for the first time fantasies rolled into one. I was plied with free drinks, handed a menu, an actual menu to order off of and once we were at cruising altitude I made for the slick business class bar where I was plied with more free drinks, petit fours and tiny sandwiches. Don’t even get me started on the free snacks and cosmetics bag, the lie flat bed, and the actual real duvet to snuggle up underneath.
I honestly thought nothing could get better than Emirates business, until my way back home. Whilst making my connection in Dubai the magic buzzer went off again and this time the boarding pass said first class. At this point I thought it was a joke. Or perhaps I, in my ratty H&M T-shirt and flip flops resembled a member of the Emerati Royal Family slumming it on a solo holiday? Who knew.
First class was honestly beyond my wildest dreams. The flight attendant could tell I wasn’t used to flying luxury. She sat me down, offered me Arabic coffee and dates, and explained to me in reassuring tones I’m sure she usually reserves for unacompannied minors how the dining on demand and my private cabin would work.
People. There is nothing like running amok when you aren’t the one paying for it. I ordered every course on the menu. Cheese plates, first course, second course, desserts, teas. I shoved my feet into those free first class slippers, crammed my purse full of the contents of an even posher snack basket, they even provided me with a stationary set, should I wish to write any letters! Once I shut the door to my luxurious cabin I was free to do what I wished. So I busted out some yoga poses on the lie flat bed, watched a couple of new release movies on my big screen TV and gawked at the view of the Red Sea as we cruised at altitude.
Six hours later I arrived back in Zurich with zero jet-lag ready to face my new day. And no, I honestly have no idea how I’m going to face my next Easy Jet Flight! All I do know is that the travel-gods seriously had my back from the beginning to the end of my Bali Journey.
How I’d Have Run Further Amok…
I’d have extended my trip to Bali in general and Ubud in particular at least a week longer.
Ubud was the location of my Bali-belly homestay and Mt. Batur mayhem, so I didn’t get as much time as I’d like to kick back and enjoy the whole organic cafe smothie bowl vibe as much as I’d like. I’d have stayed in Ubud at least two more nights. Also, had I known how easy Bali is to get around and how uncomplicated it is to score new accommodation even in high season, I’d have extended my entire trip to last at least three weeks.
I’d have learned to SCUBA
One of my amazing goddess recreational trips was a snorkel outing to Padangbai. I fell in love with those blue waters and thought my day couldn’t get any better after getting to swim above a real live coral reef checking out day-glo colored fish. But when we surfaced and asked the SCUBA folks on our boat what they saw, they added Turtles and Stingrays to the list! No fair, man! Even though I’m part Mermaid I’ve always been lazy about getting SCUBA certified. It’s just so damn expensive! But people who vacation in Southeast Asia often learn there as part of their trip. It’s much more affordable to do in Bali than it would be at home. Next time I’m building a SCUBA cert into my trip!
I’d Have Gone Further Afield to the Islands…
If I thought Padangbai is a marine lover’s paradise, apparently the Gili Islands and Lombok have it beat by a mile. Unfortunately, getting there involves a lengthy ferry ride and I just didn’t have the time in my schedule. I’d have also taken a detour to Flores or the Rinca Islands where there’s even better snorkeling and SCUBA, more volcanoes and Komodo dragons! Because nothing says running amok like attempting to get face-to-face with some large and aggressive land reptiles! (Hey, that’s what I got my rabies shot for, right?)
So what about you? What are your favorite ways to run amok abroad?