9 Adventures in Bali and What I Learned
Updated: Nov 15
Aaaahh, Lucious rice paddies, ancient temples, and scenic waterfalls…
Isn't that what first comes to mind when someone says Bali?
While that is certainly some of what the "Island of the Gods "offers, it is much more than paradise. My journey started with an intention to Eat, Pray, Love. Still, after each sunset and every successful escape from a monkey, yes, an actual monkey, stealing my sunglasses, it felt like it was teaching me something new about myself. Bali became an affirmation.
With each adventure, I started with the singular, yet very crucial, goal of avoiding my own demise, whether it was holding on tight to my seat during the very twisty, bumpy, fast, compressed, motion sickness induced, okay, you get my drift, congested, okay ill stop, car rides,
Or triumphantly avoiding the loss of all my pearly whites by knocking myself out with a surfboard? Does my travel insurance even cover this? All while staying hydrated despite swallowing much of the Bali Sea during my surfing adventure. Big ups to the surfing community; respect emojis!
I soon realized that I was not in Kansas anymore, and Toto, or Jack and Frodo, my Yorkies, was nowhere to be found. Oh, wait, hey Jackkk!!! Nope, that's a monkey, and so I took in my surroundings and decided to embrace this tropic jungle circus and said a big HELL YEAH to the adventures to come, and here are my takeaways:
Or, as we say in the US of A: Thank you! Out of all of the words we learned on day 2 during our language lesson while visiting Uluwatu Temple, for some reason, this one resonated with me the most. Yes, it rolls off the tongue, and it's catchy to say. Seriously, try it; I dare you to say it back-to-back 5 times ter-ri-ma-ka-sih… Terima means to "receive," and Kasih means "care"; it is an extension of gratitude, and the Balinese couldn't have taken better care of us! During our Temple tour, as I stared out into the Bali Sea from a scenic, breathtaking cliff, the waves roaring as they crashed against the 11th-century walls of the temple, I was overwhelmed by a feeling of gratitude for this present moment.
My hopes to travel to Bali were merely a mustard seed days before, and I had manifested the trip of a lifetime. Terima Kasih, indeed, if only these damn mosquitoes would stop eating me alive! I am also grateful at this very moment for anti-malaria meds and Western medicine! Now, onto the next...!
2- GET COMFORTABLE WITH BEING UNCOMFORTABLE (yes, even on vacay!)
Part of the thrill of being in a new place and being away from home is to try new things by stepping outside of your comfort zone and taking advantage of the fact that you are surrounded by strangers who cannot run back home and tell everyone how ridiculous you looked on, or under, a surfboard, or can they hmmm?! I digress... So we hopped on the death trap, I mean minivan, and took our scary asses down to the beach to catch some rays and waves and partake in surfing lessons! This has been a bucket list adventure for me for quite some time, and I was excited to tackle some surfing! Though I tend to be risk averse when I'm 10,000 miles away from home on the other side of the world, I knew this would be a fun yet humbling experience requiring me to laugh at myself and put my ego aside. Not only did I give it the old college try, but I stood 1 whole time for an entire 5 seconds!!! Even though the only witnesses I had to my successful singular attempt were the surf instructor, the sea life I befriended during my time under the sea, queue Sebastian in the Little Mermaid song, each time I fell off the board, I could finally cross this one off and believe it or not, It has awakened a desire to continue surfing. I'm currently looking at surf schools in Bali! This was one of the highlights of my trip! I hadn't felt this juvenile and carefree in years! Surfs up, dude! No risk, no reward, my friends, so get out there and make a complete fool of yourself, and in turn, your comfort zone will expand!
3-Know Thyself! - 9 Adventures in Bali and What I Learned
You should always remember to pack an open mind with your sunblock when making your way in a foreign land; it is equally as important to know thyself! As our quest in the Gili Islands began, I was excited to see Bali from a new angle, bringing me to scuba diving!
As we began to try on our gear and listen to our lovely instructor, I began to feel unsettled throughout our lesson. My inner Zen man, who is about 100 years wiser than present me, with a kick-ass white beard and long whiskers for a mustache in a full lotus position, was telling me to sit this one out. Truth be told, I was suffering from the one too many beers syndrome from the night before, a bad case of homesickness, a mean case of Bali Belly, google Bali belly, and significant brain fog, and I couldn't follow a thought to save my life let alone instructions on how to operate heavy oxygen tanks on my back, my back is the adult equivalent of a 5-year-olds strength these days, but hey no regrets!
The story's moral here is to know yourself enough to know your limits and how much safety clearance you need to feel comfortable. Do you need to feel Secret Service security, or are you good with just a Mall Cop-level security? Are you okay with being a novice at something that requires you to breathe 30 feet deep in the ocean? Totally safe, btw! So I hung up the fins on this sea quest and instead said yes to a beach day, followed by some window shopping, feeding of some cute stray cats, no dogs AT ALL on Gili Island btw, google it!, and had a delicious Poke bowl, followed by my new favorite beer Bintang! As cliché as it is, everything happens for a reason: I finally felt like myself after a day of minimal activity and solitude. The point is: know thyself!
4-Social media is a romantic lie
Que the Coldplay epic song…. Ah yes, once again, the Lucious rice paddies, magical ancient temples, monkeys and sea turtles, turquoise waters, sacred baths, and a private villa just for you! Paradise, or what I like to call Bali Bliss!
Instagram has become an incredible resource for travel planning and inspiration (sorry, travel agents). I even recommend you search Instagram for ideas on your next trip. With that being said, be wise, fellow travelers, nomads, influencers, eww dirty word, and fellow creatives! Some realities get left out on the highlight reels!
As we made our way to the stunning rice fields in Lovina, I was in awe of the beauty of these fields and what mother nature can give us if we nurture her. These rice farmers have mastered the art form of rice farming, and most times, with very little monetary return, but their love for the land is evident.
Like so many of us, I spent years drooling over photos of rice fields in Southeast Asia, and here I was right in front of them. Pictures do them no justice! This was another moment of gratitude. But with the good comes the…... not so good.
There’s the rubbish pollution, structural decay, and aggressive street vendors, which include drug dealers; yikes! They really do mean well, and the homeless dog crisis on the Island, which for me as an animal lover was the most difficult to witness, including this portion of my experience while on the Island, is by no means a form of insult to Bali and its beautiful people and their country, which are some of the kindest humans I have ever encountered. Educating yourself on the country where you choose to be a guest is also essential. Listen peeps, every nation in the world has its issues, including the USA, which I am proud to call home, but we Westerners need to have a sobering conversation with ourselves, preferably before you book the trip, about the cultural differences and the advancements we are fortunate to have in the West that perhaps other nations on the other side of the globe may not. Social media only shows you one piece of the puzzle, not the entire puzzle!
And on that note, I need to lighten up this mushy yet essential portion of our program with a stunning photo of a rice paddy; enjoy!
5-Home Sweet Home
By day 5 of the grand tour, I had found my footing, though every now and then, I thought of home, its comfort, and my loved ones. Luckily, we had the pleasure of spending some time with a local family and experiencing a day in the life of a Balinese family. This really helped me connect with the familiar in an unfamiliar place. This kind and generous family opened their doors to us. They gave us a tour of their garden, the art of basket weaving with bamboo; no future in basket weaving here, btw. They served us a delicious garden-to-table home-cooked meal, and I even got a coffee facial! Fun fact sidebar: Wild Luwak Coffee is made of coffee cherries eaten and defecated by this cute little nugget omnivore called the Asian palm civet. That’s right, poop coffee! Bet you didn't wake up this morning thinking you would read about poop coffee, did ya?! I hope you aren’t sipping on your cup of joe right now. This has me wondering, was that a poop facial that I had on my face?! Welp, I digress!
It was a familiar and comforting feeling to see this gentleman interact with his sweet daughter, his sweet dog, my favorite part of that day, and his talented wife, who can weave a basket in 5 minutes! She whipped one up for me with my name on it and everything in the blink of an eye! She went full-on Edward Scissorhands on that bamboo! This reminded me of home. It was a warm reminder of the universal connectedness of humanity:
Love, family, and food.
Pro tip: when homesick while traveling, look for the similar and the familiar, and you will feel less of that longing for home.
Terima Kashi to that awesome family for their hospitality and my neat basket!
6- “Youth is wasted on the young” – George Bernard Shaw
We spent our early years wishing we were grown-ups, only to soon realize that the joke was on us kids, and as adults, we wish we were kids again! I implore you to reconnect with your inner 5-year-old and honor that kid by splashing your sorrows and worries away during your next bath or under Gitgit Waterfall as I did!
All I needed was rubber duckies, and my bubble bath, and I’m back in 1989. Yikes, I'm dating myself; I can feel you doing the math now. Nothing makes you giggle like a young schoolgirl more than when seeing monkeys doing the deed, you know what deed I’m referring to, or witnessing a momma monkey with their cute baby monkey while she feeds them, or a tourist crying for their sunglasses and their cellphone because a monkey snatched it right out of their hands!!
The inner child in us is not just a distant memory but truly an energy that lives inside us. If we nurture it properly, it can help us heal or even fuel our present with joy. So, on that next vacation, remember the most essential part of your itinerary: HAVE FUN!
"Caring for your inner child has a powerful and surprisingly quick result: Do it, and the child heals." ~Martha Beck
7-Compassion and Empathy is always the right way to go
Ah, the Gili Islands, the turquoise sea, white sands, sky-high palm trees, and fresh coconuts! You've worked hard all year to treat yourself to this exotic escape. You deserve it. Please take it in. Out of the 12 days spent with my all-star group with Intro Travel, this was undoubtedly a highlight of my experience!
The slower pace of island life in Gili Trawangan, about two hours off the mainland, gives you a much-needed break from congested city streets full of cars and motorcycles. Hey, is that a toddler on a bike with no helmet? Oh, and zero street dogs, yep, zero! Listen to this….
A few hours in, as we peddled our sweaty little butts off on a bike, such a fantastic bike ride btw, you can bike through the entire Island in under 2 hours, I noticed zillions of cute pussies but not a single, and I mean not one, dog on site! This was a significant departure from mainland Bali, which has the opposite problem. Like the good ol' dog whisperer that I am, I had to find out this oddity. It turns out that Gili Trawangan has a dominant Islamic population, which sees dogs as impure, for better lack of words. It has also been a way of avoiding overpopulation on the Island, which I can get behind. Still, poor pups lose out on life in paradise! While we’re on the faith talk, it’s worth mentioning that there is a call to prayer about every half hour heard throughout the Island, so don’t be alarmed by the alarm, faith alarm in this case.
As previously mentioned, it is a tiny island and can be traveled on a bike in under 2 hours. For this reason, motorized cars are not allowed, and in their place, you'll see many horse carts or, as the locals call it, a Cidomo.
You know it’s coming. Animal advocacy rant in 3,2, 1…
As the animal advocate in the bunch, I couldn't help but be distraught after seeing so many of what I consider to be PONIES, as they are way too small to be called horses, carrying more than 3 people sometimes, along with multiple pieces of luggage all day and night in 85+ degrees of scorching heat and humidity.
One semi-drunken night after a night out on the town, great live music and so much musical talent in Gili btw, my fellow Intro Traveler and friend Amy and I, hey Ames, miss you!, decided to have a chat with one of the Cidomo Horses owner to question the quality of his horse's life. We asked why horses were used instead of alternative forms of transportation. His response was that he loved his horse very much and lived a great life, that he only put him to work if he wasn’t tired, and he had many breaks, among other justifications. We shook hands and thanked him for his time. As we walked away to continue our night, I knew in my gut these horses were not okay. Still, I was pleased with my response despite my anger and horror from witnessing horses being whipped, some working from 7 am - to 11 pm; trust me, I knew it was the same horse because, sadly, they’re marked/ initialed, and other things I will refrain from mentioning for now.
Cultural differences and economic pressures, and perhaps a simple lack of knowledge, may play a significant role in the treatment of ponies on the Island, but "the highest form of knowledge is empathy," so instead, I got to work at my leisure and found the Horses of Gili, a group of volunteers who do remarkable work by "Improving the welfare of the working horses of the Gili Islands." Please look at their socials and website and donate anything you can; they are a haven for these horses.
8- “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” -Mister Rogers.
You can quickly go down a rabbit hole of looking for the suffering, and it can become self-serving, and there goes your holiday! Let's be honest: not all of vacation is puppies and rainbows, or in this case, healthy puppies, because you will see many puppies just not thriving puppies. But with some digging and research, you will always find people with big hearts helping those in need, including animals. You will find your people, you know, the people that goo goo ga ga over a dog or cat, the same way the Swifties, the Beyhive, and BTS fans find each other, full of compassion in their hearts who volunteer their time, rescue those in need, and exhaust their resources to save innocent animals. The positives greatly outweigh the negatives.
I often found myself in Bali looking for a homeless dog who needed help, and it began to take its toll on me. I needed to do something to shake the helplessness off. As I sipped on my Bintang one scorching hot afternoon by my infinity pool, aahh Bali Bliss, I stumbled upon a Mister Rogers interview video clip. The one phrase that stood out to me was, "Look for the helpers. "You will always find people that are helping."
With all the tourism, specifically people from the West, there's got to be other people lending their help.
A few Google searches later, I came across BAWA, the Bali Animal Welfare Association, started in 2005 by American expat Janice Girardi, who opened the first clinic in Ubud. It's got a one-of-a-kind 24/7 Hotline and Ambulance service in Bali for those animals in need of emergency care and so many more services; they solely depend on donations.
Please look at their socials and website; I implore you to donate any amount. It goes a long way, providing life-saving care for the animals of Bali.
“The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members” Mahatma Gandhi or former US President Hubert Humphrey?)
"No one has ever become poor by giving"-Anne Frank.
9- “It’s not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves” -Sir Edmund Hillary
As I approached my final hours on the Island, I reflected on the lessons and wisdom I’d take home, along with many mosquito bites. It had shifted my mind on what we can take for granted, from our job to running water; I knew this day would ask me to muster some courage.
About five sleepless hours later, our Mount Batur trek adventure began at 1:30 am. Off to the mountain, I went! It was evident that this trip had changed me. I was up at 1:30 am with practically no sleep, perky enough to dress myself and climb a volcano?! Brooo!?!
The volcano last erupted in 2000, and legend has it that Bali is located in the Ring of Fire, no big deal! See, this was no ordinary hike for me, and little did anyone know I was conquering my immense fear of heights. Ever since I can remember, I have had a severely strong physical and emotional reaction to heights, from sweaty palms to shaky knees to straight-up panic!! I thought to myself, what better time to do this, and in what better location to conquer myself than in a UNESCO World Heritage Site? If it’s good enough for UNESCO, it is good enough for me! Plus, we had our fearless leader Ollie and a competent and knowledgeable local guide who treks up this volcano multiple times daily. Wow!
Thirty minutes in, pitch black with minimal lighting; this was not bad at all, Miggie! I was never worried about the fitness portion; tell that to your back and right knee, Miguel! I had bigger fish to fry here, like the fear of plunging to my premature death. Fear can be a crippling feeling, and at many moments during the trek, I had to keep asking myself why I was doing this? How did I end up here? If I look down, will vertigo kick in, and will It all succumb to a fall halfway up a volcano trek?
As my sweaty thermal stuck to my torso while I wiped the sweat off my upper lip, glamorous site for this city boy, I tell you, after each climb and step, I realized that I was doin' the damn thang'! The altitude suddenly felt bearable, and the fear of feeling small in such a grand space faded and about two hours with some breaks in between later, it was everything I expected:
Steep but not life-threatening, calf killer for sure, swollen feet for sure, but not as physically daunting as deadlifting, but the most important thing that grew in size…
It was my BRAVERY!!
This may have been a piece of pie for some of my peers, and it may be an insignificant, mindless task of climbing up to some rocks over dirt with a lovely sunrise at the end. Let's face it: there are more straightforward ways to chase sunrises, but the mountain was the last thing I conquered! First, I had to beat myself, no pun intended, and quite literally pushed myself up, and with some help from our fantastic tour guides and fellow hikers, I kept going! My biggest takeaway from this trip to Bali is that you can only accomplish grand, daunting things step by step. We are all capable of hard things and possess everything necessary to get there!
“There is only one way to eat an elephant: a bite at a time." -Desmond Tutu.
I was utterly inspired by the impact this trek had on me and the beauty of the sunrise at Mount Batur. It's impossible to get it all in a few paragraphs, so please come back for my next piece, in which I go into more depth on my sunrise adventure!
And one more thing, I’d love to hear from you! What are some adventures you have tried and learned from? What are your biggest lessons so far this year? Just curious… I’d love to hear from you. Your feedback and ideas will be much appreciated and will be instrumental in the growth of this space!
I aim to create an interactive space for us creative and eternal wanderlusters and talk about the exciting, adventurous, life-changing things we learn during our travels!
*Your boy, Miggie