This past January, we took a side trip from Brisbane to Bali and the Gili Islands. Our Australian Electronic Travel Authority (ETA) visas were valid for 12 months, of which we planned on staying for six, but were only allowed a stay of three months at a time. So we used this opportunity to go to a part of the world we’d never been: Indonesia. Conjures up all sorts of mental images, doesn’t it? Beaches, rice fields, traditional dancers, scooters, yoga...
As usual, I didn’t spend a lot of time researching or planning our trip to Bali. But I knew we wanted to have an authentic experience, and somehow I stumbled upon homestays, which were a great fit for us. An authentic homestay involves staying with a host, sometimes in a separate building or suite, where you can really get a feel for what it’s like to live in that particular locale. Our homestay in Ubud definitely met that expectation. We had a beautiful three bedroom villa within a traditional Balinese family compound. Our host and 30+ members of his family lived in their own dwellings on the property. We were totally immersed in their culture and way of life. From watching the women put out the daily offerings around the property, to chatting with the family, to waking up to the roosters in the morning -- it was an unforgettable experience and I’d highly recommend it for the traveller who is curious and hungry for knowledge. A review of our stay was featured on the Homestay.com blog, you can read it here.
Three personal experiences caught my attention, and I’d like to share what I learned from them. The first was the traffic. It’s overwhelming, seemingly chaotic, and unlike anything we’d ever seen! You have to see it to believe it. But what I found most interesting was that nobody gets upset about any of it. Everybody just sort of merges, beeps their horns, and goes with the flow. Instead of cursing, their reaction would be a chuckle, a smile, and a nonchalant “crazy driver” comment. Isn’t it fascinating, observing how people in different cultures can react so differently to similar events?
I was also slightly concerned about the food handling and risk of Bali Belly, also known as travellers’ diarrhea. For the first few days, we ate at the more “western” cafes. They served Indonesian food, which we loved, but typically cost more money and were “classier” than the local mom and pop operations, called “warungs.” As we became more comfortable with our surroundings we soon found ourselves buying fried bananas from roadside vendors and feasting on Nasi Goreng at family-owned warungs. The people are truly grateful for supporting their businesses, it’s evident in their smiles and their body language. I think we have to let go of our concerns sometimes and surrender to the moment. It’s no fun travelling when you have stuff gnawing away at your mind, it takes away from the experience. But we had also brought our regular nutrition and supplements with us and continued to eat those for lunch everyday, which I believe promote a strong immune system and a healthy gut. I'm happy to say we had no lost days from stomach issues while we were there!
The last experience I have to share is about the intense crossing of the Bali Sea from Gili Air to Padang Bai. Even though we chose one of the larger ferries with a closed, air conditioned cabin, it was a tough sailing. Jaime and Reese sat on the upper deck outside while Claire and I stayed in the cabin. Passengers were getting seasick all around us as the boat plowed through swell after swell. The sounds and smells almost seemed magnified. Drawing from my years of meditation, I started experimenting with the power of focus: I found that by staring at a spot on the wall, and concentrating on my breathing, I was able to lessen the feeling of seasickness. On top of that, I suddenly had a remarkable a-ha moment, where I shifted my thinking from “I need to get off this boat!” to “I’m in Indonesia, crossing the Bali Sea, on one of the biggest adventures of my life!” That thought gave me such a rush, and as I continued focussing on it, the seasickness passed, and I just felt stoked to be there!
We’re definitely looking forward to another trip in South East Asia. It’s completely different from what we know in the western world, and that’s part of what makes it so exciting. And by the way, we were gone for three weeks, and had no problems re-entering Australia with our ETA visas.