After initially sharing my journal notes when we first returned, it’s now taken me a full week to allow the spirit of Bali to absorb into my everyday life.
After having travelled mainly to Europe and America, I’d never visited anywhere as geographically far away as Indonesia before. As my mum and stepdad’s favourite place in the entire world, somewhere she lived briefly and somewhere they return to together time and time again, I felt that this corner of the earth had significance in our family (and had had an influence on my mum’s spirituality) so couldn’t wait to see what all the fuss was about.
Within hours of arriving, it was clear why Bali was referred to as ‘The Island of The Gods’. There are over 20,000 temples there – everywhere you look, through the thick fog of incense, there are ubiquitous shrines at which the Balinese people pray – from breathtaking larger temples to tiny monuments outside businesses that are decorated daily with offerings. Every morning, locals walk to their nearest statue, with fellow workers or family members, to take gifts to the gods. We were also lucky to be in Bali at the time of Galungan Festival – beautifully-constructed bamboo pole decorations lined the streets and the people of the island visit temples with stacks of gifts for the gods, baskets balancing on the heads of women as they rode through busy streets on their motorcycles. It was such an amazing time to visit Bali, to witness the love and spirit of Balinese Hinduism in full bloom.
We met up with a friend of my mum’s who gave us some great tips for exploring the island. A picture-perfect paradise understandably famous with today’s vloggers and influencers, there are many tourist hot-spots at which getting the best pic for your social media profile is the intention of most who frequent them. Commercialised photo attractions like ‘The Bali Swing’ are built and ran with the sole aim of giving you a good Instagram-able shot. We were keen to seek out some much quieter memories, so our new friend Tommy gave us some excellent advice.
As per his recommendation, we ventured to the very North of the Island, avoiding Kuta and Ubud which are popular areas for travellers. The most visited attractions around Ubud include the Monkey Forest, the Bali Swing, the Tegalalang Rice Terrace and the Tegenungan Waterfall, but in an attempt to enjoy the less-visited, we decided to drive 3.5 hours North of our hotel in Nusa Dua, and visit the lesser-known Gitgit Waterfall, Jatiluwih Rice Terrace and Ulun Danu Temple on Lake Baratan. They weren’t too busy at all (we saw just a handful of people at Jatiluwih and just a couple at Gitgit, having the entire waterfall to ourselves for an hour).
Getting around Bali is easy – not many visitors hire cars and instead utilise the brilliant taxi services, or hire motorbikes if they’re feeling confident. Our driver took us out for the entire day for just £30, stopping with us at each area and giving us information and tips. The entrance to terraces, waterfalls, temples and other spots is often subject to a very small fee, but it’s definitely worth it.
My favourite day of the entire trip was visiting the sacred temple Tirta Empul which is about an hour North of Ubud (note – don’t rely entirely on what Google Maps says when working out the journey times in Bali – the traffic is always quite bad and you can expect to double whatever duration the map-planner tells you, maybe more at peak times). We arrived at Tirta Empul for opening at 9am, were amongst the first there, enjoying a bathe in the holy water with just another couple of locals. Getting up super early to enjoy Bali before most of the tourists rock up is a brilliant strategy.
With more time (and funds!), there are so many more things that we would have liked to have done. Next time we return I’d love to island-hop, trek up Mount Batur, visit Tanah Lot Temple and Uluwatu Temple, also take on the physical challenge of getting to temples that sit at the top of a lot of stairs like Besakih Temple and Lempuyang.
My reflections on Bali are amplified by my recent thoughts on digital detoxing. The juxtaposition of spirituality and technology was a constant conversation in my mind during my visit. Amongst millions of people praying, meditating and celebrating phone-free, was a constant flow of tech-obsessed Westerners – there’s something about a selfie-stick in a sacred temple that just doesn’t sit right with me. I tried to take just a few analogue photos at each place we visited and would aim to have my camera out for no longer than 30 seconds or so. Watching those who filmed entire temple rituals and sacred street processions, often against the plea of various signs, I thought was hugely disrespectful. During this holiday, I once again found myself contemplating our addiction to sharing and how this could be effecting enjoyment of such a special place on earth. One woman next to me on the beach one day spent five solid hours (not an exaggeration) taking and sharing selfies and scrolling her smartphone, whilst her little toddler continuously pulled on her leg, begging her to go play in the sea with her. From reading my previous blogs, you’ll know that I’m prone to question our behaviour in the 21st century and this visit to such a magical and peaceful island gave me so much to take away and practice myself, more questions but ultimately more peace, love, acceptance and appreciation. Despite getting annoyed with the constant glare of iPhones, I left my visit with vivid memories of the positive experiences, the strong sensations I had absorbed myself in. This really has been a life-changing trip.
Since returning from Bali I haven’t stopped talking about it to people I know – I’ve never been anywhere before that has left such a strong taste in my mouth. From the sweet smell of the frangipani flowers, to the sharpness of the kaffir leaf taste in every dish, the sense of Bali was so overpowering and it has most certainly followed me home. My words here and photos below do not even really do it justice. I close my eyes and can still hear Balinese bamboo and flute music echoing in every street, I can still see the pink full moon rising out of the sea, I can still remember the smiles of families praying together.
When these sounds, smells and flavours eventually fade from my energy, one thing won’t – the true spirit of Bali, one that values family and faith over all else, one that worships the earth, admires the surroundings, lives in the moment and ultimately looks within for the answers.