For Australians, Bali has become a destination where the young go to party, drink and basically throw up everywhere. For most of these travellers, it is their first foray out of the country. Students who have newly graduated from high school, or those enjoying a break from university, will often go to Bali as a kind of rite of passage, their first taste of freedom and time with friends without the constraints of parents or school.
I didn’t go to Bali straight out of school or even while I was in University. I went later, when I was already bored of spending my nights drinking and my days hungover near the toilet. When I went to Bali I wanted different things, and I was a little concerned that I would dislike the country. Unfortunately, because it is seen as a party destination for Australians, the other attractions of the country tend to be downplayed. In fact, I don’t think I’d even heard of places outside of bars until that book came out and Bali became known as a destination for yoga addicts and those seeking personal enlightenment.
I am not one of those people either.
I tend to expect my enlightenments to come on their own time, the idea of forcing them or waiting in one place for them doesn’t appeal, and so I went to Bali for the same reasons that most people go to a foreign country; to eat interesting food and have a look around.
What I found was a revelation. I stayed in Ubud. I had thought about staying in Kuta, which is the main destination for travellers, but one look at the number of bars and night spots put me off. When we approached Kuta, it was in the back of a car I’d hired for the journey. Ubud is at least an hour and a half from the airport, and the approach was a study of narrow, barely paved roads and jungle. When we arrived, it was almost dark, and I was terrified. The hotel was surrounded by lush jungle, there were monkeys in the trees above the restaurant and mosquitos ate us alive as we sat and ate dinner.
To be honest, I wanted to turn around and go home. I’ve never been the type who enjoyed roughing it or spending time in the wild. Give me a city any day.
But the hotel was beautiful, set on a hill with two little huts and a private pool in-between them. We’d gone in the shoulder season so we expected a bit of rain, which we got, but we also got an Ubud that was almost completely empty of tourists and half the price that it was during the peak season. A couple of warm rain showers was a great price to pay for all of that. And there were lots of little features that I was initially scared of but eventually loved. The shower was set into the side of the little huts and was open to the sky, something that was fun but a little embarrassing when the construction guys came around in the early morning and apologised profusely for climbing the tree next to my hut.
The food was amazing at the hotel, Ayurveda inspired and full of spices and tastes I’d never encountered before. The breakfast was a feast of rice dishes and fruit dishes and juices and teas and it was enough to keep me full until dinner time. The town was a short walk amongst twisting paths and steps, all of it hemmed in by the heat and wet of the jungle, and by the time we made it down to there we were soaked with sweat though it was only about thirty degrees.
I loved it. I loved the people, who were friendly and stubborn and pushy and insisted on hugging me when I bought things and were unfailingly kind and good tempered. I loved the ancient temples with their fallen stones and tangled vines. I loved sitting on clifftops and watching the sun set over the water in some of the quiet towns near the ocean, eating fresh seafood and trying to avoid the buzzing clouds of mosquitos. I loved sitting on the street waiting for a vendor to return from lunch, she’d left her shop completely open with all the wares out while she ducked home for a snack.
I loved everything. And the lessons I learned from this trip? I learned that every destination is created by the traveller. I learned not to judge a new place by the people who had been there before, but to experience it for myself and find out what it has that I might enjoy. And I learned that, in small doses, I can handle a bit of jungle.