Category Archives: Bali

A Wedding in Bali

“Every night, I would spend 30 minutes bending the fingers on each of my hands backwards,” Wayan continued as we drove through the mountains on our way to Ubud. “It was the only way to train my hands for dancing.”

A few nights before, we had been mesmerized by the shifty-eyed, gold, yellow, and red laden Balinese dancers performing at Drew and Ursula’s rehearsal dinner in Pemuteran, Bali. The movement of their eyes was hypnotizing enough, but their hands were truly mystifying. Fingers moved almost impossibly independent from the rest of each dancer’s body. Wayan, our taxi driver and a former dancer, told us he could bend his fingers all the way back until they were parallel with the back of his hand, a detail he then confirmed from the driver’s seat as I silently willed him to put his hands back on the wheel.

This incredible attention to detail is one of the reasons we, and many we know, keep coming back to Bali. The island has received a lot of attention over the years, winning various “top destination” awards, and rightfully so. The whole culture is just as mesmerizing as the dancers’ fingers, especially in Pemuteran, a costal town 4 hours north and away from the island’s most popular tourist destinations.

A few days before the rehearsal dinner, Daniel and I de-boarded at the Denpasar airport and made our way to the Ponduk Sari Resort for our dear friends Drew + Ursula’s wedding. We couldn’t wait to spend the week celebrating a couple that has come to mean so much to us, two people we have grown to love through a rickshaw run across India, bike rides through Venice Beach, and champagne soaked dinners. And of course, they had planned the perfect celebration. Bali is stupid beautiful, but Drew and Ursula together surpassed even the island’s most gorgeous sunset drenched beaches, especially on their wedding day.

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Pemuteran may be quite a ways from the airport, but the villagers are the example of charm and kindness that the Balinese are famous for. We were able to spend a dreamy week with an exceptionally fun group of wedding guests that was made even more magical by those Pemuteran locals who took us snorkeling, joined in on the dancing and volleyball playing, cooked us delicious meals, and hosted us with their characteristic generosity and full-faced smiles. We were truly welcomed, and never wanted to leave.

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*Some of these photos are courtesy of Drew + Ursula and their fabulous wedding photographer.

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It Was Probably Inevitable

The blinker was accidentally switched on during its decent and the flickering orange light was the only thing visible in a field full of darkness. They tried to catch their breath, stale from the slight stench of Balinese Arak, in between bouts of laughter. The familiar narrow path was never a problem, until tonight. That last drink was probably unnecessary. How in the world were they going to get their rented motorbike out of this field of rice paddies?

Coming Home

Coming home isn’t going to to be easy. It will be welcomed, seeing familiar faces after 5 months will be one of the greatest joys; sleeping in my bed after months of hostel ‘mattresses’ will be divine; eating my favorite meals I’ve missed will be delicious. But adapting to a life I put on the back burner for so long will be a challenge. Many go on a trip around the world hoping questions will be answered, searching for truths and looking for inspiration. While I left 5 months ago with these thoughts in my head, I return with a completely different bank of knowledge.

I didn’t ‘find’ myself while backpacking. Questions that I left home with are still unanswered. But what I did learn was a deep appreciation for what I have at home, and a greater longing for exploring and searching for things within my own city’s walls.

I have spent a great deal of time on trains, planes and buses, scooting from one city to the next in anticipation for the great sites that lie in front of me. I have seen the Taj Mahal in all it’s glory, and it’s just as stunning in person as they say it is. The beaches of Thailand, albeit overruled by tourism, are just as vivid as the pictures show. The hillsides of Laos are smokey and dry, and the winding roads have made me question whether or not I’ll make it to the next destination. I’ve learned how to navigate through hundreds of motorbikes in the streets of Hanoi, mastering the craft of crossing the street in Vietnam. I have seen the temples of Angkor Wat in Cambodia, and pondered the age of trees growing through the great stone ruins. And I have lived in a house on the rice paddies of Bali, sipping hot Balinese coffee while watching the workers under the sun in their conical hats.

Everyday was a constant search for activities, excitement and newfound stimulation while traveling Asia. I am determined to take that sense of adventure home and introduce it to my daily lifestyle. Work will be work, and I will strive to find uncertainty in the routine I must keep to make money, but I won’t let the seemingly mundane keep me from exploration. Everyone I’ve met while traveling had a funny story to share, a favorite activity to try, a delicious restaurant to suggest. And so do my friends at home. I want to open my eyes to the possibilities that lie just beyond my backyard.

I never want to let the idea of happiness through exploration and the power of creating lasting relationships go. Getting out and seeing something new, or reliving something old with a great friend by your side is the cherry on top. We are fortunate enough to live in a world that is constantly evolving and always thriving, and I want to know my city better than anywhere else.

So for now, I say goodbye to the backpacking lifestyle. It is time to go home and watch the world around me in the same way I do while traveling. I don’t want to take for granted the coastline of the Pacific Ocean, the beautiful sunsets that wash over the Manhattan Beach sky. I want to drive through traffic into LA and revel at the street side graffiti as I make my way up the hills of Hollywood, hoping to catch a view of the downtown skyline all lit up.

Sure, I’ll be saying hello to a life of rent checks and routine, but I’ll welcome it with open arms, as I know the adventure never ends. I have the best of friends awaiting and the whole of California at my fingertips, and I couldn’t be more excited to head home.

[Be sure to check out the blog in the next coming weeks. Daniel is heading to Mongolia to film a documentary and will surely have many stories and photos to share!]

Sunken Treasures

The USAT Liberty, a US Army transport ship, was beached on the shores of Bali after being torpedoed by a Japanese submarine in 1942. There she sat until 1963 when Mount Agung, the island’s great stratovolcano, erupted, pushing the ship off the shore and into the ocean. Today, the shipwreck is one of the most popular dive sites in Bali. And it is worth every dollar spent getting there.

The wreck lies off the shores of Tulamben, a quaint beach town with more dive shops than restaurants. Daniel and I hopped on our motorbike and spent 3 hours driving through Bali. The drive itself, around and past the great Mount Agung, was reason enough to take the journey. But when we dove into the waters off the northeast side of the island, we quickly realized what all the fuss was about.

We were fortunate enough to rent a camera and capture some shots from our dive around the shipwreck. The visibility was pretty limited on our first four dives in Vietnam, we could only see up to 5 meters. The waters of Tulamben were crystal clear, with a visibility of 25 meters, and provided the most breathtaking assortment of vibrant sea life…plus, a shipwreck!

We were able to swim through the USAT Liberty, observing the life that has made it their home, through the ship’s cargo room, past the anchor and around the engine room. The sand below the ship was unique in itself; the volcanic sand was jet black and made everything around it pop just a little bit more. Needless to say, it was the diving experience of a lifetime.

A Walk Through Sayan

After a lazy day at home Daniel and I decided to take a walk through our neighborhood just as the sun was setting. Pale blues and faded yellows painted the sky behind a mix of light and dark clouds as we walked down narrow lanes though the rice paddies. The familiar path seemed endless. For as far as the eye can reach, acres of green fields laid still amongst the roads of Sayan. Save for a few workers finishing up the day, there appeared to be little movement. But on closer inspection, we found the many creatures of the paddies, flittering and fluttering around like kids on a playground.

It’s hard to believe that all of this beauty lies only a few minutes outside the bustling city of Ubud. They call Ubud the cultural epicenter of the Island of Bali, and it is. There are wood-carving shops, art galleries and book stores lining every street, and you can see a traditional Balinese dance show any night of the week. It’s a charming town full of warm people, delicious restaurants and plenty of places to shop and sleep. But staying in the city robs you of the true beauty that is central Bali. If you take that short motorbike ride up to the towns just outside, there is more to see than any art gallery could ever provide.

As twilight fell, Daniel and I hopped over grass and stepped aside for passing bicyclists as we strolled through the fields. The rice paddies have changed a lot since we arrived in Sayan just over two weeks ago. When we first moved in, the paddies were barren and muddy. Over the next few days, workers cultivated the land, readying it for a new crops to be planted. In just a few weeks, new colors of the land have emerged. As we walk, bright green leaves sprout from the ground amid fields of water, looking almost as if they’re floating. Daniel and I watch as curious little bugs hop across the reflection of the clouds on the water. When we look up, swarms of small, black birds that could be mistaken for bats fly every which way, trying their best to avoid our heads. In an instant, two white herons fly by and are lost in a tree before we know it. Crickets chirp and the familiar sounds of roosters crowing filled our ears, per usual. We’re used to the roosters by now, and we’ve come to learn that it doesn’t matter what time of day it is, they’re always crowing.

What seems tranquil from afar is really a vibrant and lively place for the many inhabitants of the paddies. Yet amongst all of the sounds and movement, there is an overwhelming peacefulness. One that I’m certain is only found in Sayan.

A House on the Rice Paddies

[Photos of our house are below!]

Two days of searching in shirt-sticking sweat was getting the best of Daniel and I. We knew finding a house to rent for one month in Bali wasn’t going to be easy, considering our last-minute searching and price constraints, but we didn’t factor in the heat. After looking at yet another house that didn’t quite fit the bill, we were ready to give up for the day.

As we started our descent down one of the many steep staircases we’d walked up, we were approached by a man who asked if we were looking for a house. We were, in fact, and he happened to have one to show us. His smile, like many of the Balinese people we had met, was warm and inviting and his enthusiasm, expressed in broken English, was too charming to deny. Daniel and I looked at each other and decided, ‘okay, one more.’

The man walked us down multiple long, winding lanes before stepping through a large stone gate into a compound with a few houses. A woman inside, the elderly man’s daughter, showed us to one of the houses just down the path. On first glance, it was a pleasant and peaceful space, quite nice for for the price. Daniel and I immediately realized this house had potential…until we asked to see the kitchen. And herein was the problem with many of the other bungalow’s we’d looked at in the past two days: No kitchen. All this house had was a small refrigerator for storing a few items.

We came to Bali not only to cruise through the island’s beauty on a motorbike and jump into the ocean every chance we got, but to rent a house for one month to relax, read, write and cook after 4 months of constant movement. Having a kitchen was one of our biggest excitements. We wanted to walk through the local markets and haggle with shop-keepers for the best priced veggies and fruit to fill our fridge. We wanted to cook up our own dinner each night, trying to recreate the meals we’d eaten throughout Southeast Asia. A kitchen was a necessity.

So we thanked the father and daughter duo and walked out of the complex back into the heat, eager to sit in front of our rooms fan for a few minutes (or hours). But we were followed out by the man who said he had one more house to show us, his other daughter’s property. We were reluctant at first, and really didn’t feel like seeing another house. However, Daniel and I eventually looked at each other, shrugged, and followed the man down another path.

We were told that this house was a little further away in the town of Sayan, just outside of Ubud, so we would need to ride our motorbike over, and could he have a ride? I told Daniel to drive himself and the elderly man over to the house while I waited for him to come back and swoop me up. After 15 minutes, I began to get anxious. How far away was this house, and was it even worth the wait?

Finally, Daniel showed up with a beaming smile on his face, told me to hop on and whisked me away down a path that would lead to the beautiful Balinese villa I’m currently sitting in.

Daniel told me right away that I was going to love this house as we sped down narrow paths; it was charming and spacious and, best of all, had a great kitchen. When I walked through the stone gates and saw the house for the first time, I knew it was perfect. We met the old man’s other daughter, Wayan, and she told me to follow her inside.

Light flooded in through the giant glass front doors as we stepped into the house. A daybed sat to our left next to a wood dining room table with 4 chairs. To the right was the kitchen, closed in by a long, clay-colored tile bar, filled with every amenity we’d ever need to cook up some fancy concoctions. Next to the kitchen was a door that lead to the bathroom, an open air space with a large stone-lined shower, bathtub and a few geckos hanging out.

Up the staircase lead us to the bright and airy master bedroom. An elegant dark wood bed with sheer white curtains hanging from the bedposts sat in front of two windows that looked out onto the lush gardens that lined the front of the house. A matching dark wood vanity sat in front of another set of windows to the side of the bed, as well as a giant wardrobe, waiting for me to fill it with my (meager assortment of) things.

A welcomed gust of wind entered the room as Wayan turned around and opened two large wooden doors, showing us the view from the balcony. Countless green rice paddy fields stretched from the edge of the house and on for miles. And just beyond them, on the horizon, was the ocean. It was breathtaking.

Daniel and I picked our jaws up off the floor, walked back in and told Wayan we’d love to rent the house. We were floored by how inexpensive the price for one month was and asked her if we could move in the next day.  With a yes, some handshakes and big smiles from Wayan and her father, we hoped on our bike, headed to our guesthouse and began packing up our backpacks. The next day we moved into our dream-like villa in the town of Sayan on the island of Bali.