It’s been 2 months since my last post and in that time I escaped to Bali at the end of September and just returned from Japan (post coming) at the beginning of November. Bali was both a much needed rest from work to recoup my sanity, and an adventure I got to share with D of food, volcanoes, new people, and oodles more delicious food.
An Airport to Myself
I may have been the first person at the airport on September 25th, the day of my departure from Jeju. I arrived to a ghost town, dreamily floated through customs (I’m not sure if the employees were even awake yet), and bought a couple of souvenirs before settling down to Skype family members in the empty boarding area. ‘Twas a perfect beginning.
Balinale Film Festival Connections
The flights were uneventful (the best kind of flight) and I was able to sleep a decent amount; a vacation on its own. Exiting the plane in the Denpasar airport, a friendly Japanese man asked if I’d been on the previous flight from Seoul to Kuala Lumpur. Through small talk we learnt that we were both staying in Bali, and on our lists of things to experience, the Balinale Film Festival was one in common. However, by some wacky coincidence, this man was the director of the only film D & I had talked about seeing! Our encounter’s Awesome Factor boosted to the next level. Masa and I chatted a bit more before parting ways, agreeing to meet at the film festival the next night at his screening.
As D and I were leaving the airport, we ran into Masa again. The two film buffs met, providing context for my excited chatter to D on our walk to grab a late night bite as I described the serendipitous plane encounter. We sat at an outdoor food spot where a group of local men were enjoying the night air and music beep-bopping from the speakers. D wasn’t convinced about attending the film festival in Kuta, even after meeting Masa. We wanted to spend as little time as possible in Bali’s party city. Fortunately, by the time we got to the hostel, he decided we should stay and check it out. I was thrilled. Here comes an Awesome Unexpected Travel Adventure, I thought.
Day 1: Breakdancing, Film Festivals, & Sunset Beaches
The next day, our first full one together, I took complete advantage of being able to sleep in. I was so tired from the lack of snooze time the first few months working in Jeju that I could have hibernated for days. BUT! Awesome Unexpected Travel Adventures awaited us and we seized the day…er, afternoon. We devoured a tasty lunch (non-caf food!), familiarized ourselves with the area, caught a random televised break dancing showdown in the mall, enjoyed a free dinner of Balinese delicacies at random festival, and watched the sun set on the beach. And then we went to Balinale, the Bali Film Festival!
There was an outdoor screen, complete with bean bags for some comfy cozy movie watching, where we caught the tail-end of a French film. No others followed and we realized we were in the wrong location. Luckily, Masa’s was in the adjacent mall’s basement theatre and was running late. His film, Cambodian Son, was eye opening and worth the watch. Cambodian relocated around the world face major issues, which we learned through a year in Kosal Khiev’s life. Kosal is a Cambodian-born refugee with little connection to his birthplace. He was deported from his home in the US and sent back to Cambodia.
The Cambodian genocide is a recent historical tragedy that I was embarrassed to know nothing of until I travelled there two summers ago. Like many education systems around the globe, ours is limited in time and resources. Without personal connections or an introduction through our education system, I was very clearly ignorant. I am constantly reminded of how much I have to learn, and am fortunate to do that through travel and living abroad, which is why I believe experience is truly the best educator. Unexpectedly meeting Masa, being in a new country, watching this film and partaking in the discussions that followed are perfect examples of that.
After the screening there was a Q&A and we learned more about the people in the documentary (unlike Hollywood, not all their stories “end” happily ever after). We waited while others spoke with him and then congratulated him on the night, before deciding to get a drink somewhere. For the next few hours I had the pleasure of sitting back, learning, and listening to two strangers exchange thoughts and ideas with such genuine enthusiasm that I felt my excitement match theirs. Absent were smartphones and technology; shared passions, interests, and open minds propelled the conversation. What a way to begin our trip!
Day 2: Ubud’s Monkey Sanctuary & Other Animal Sightings
The next day we travelled to Bali’s cultural centre, Ubud, where we savoured more delicious food, checked into a stunning AirBnB spot, and explored Monkey Forest. The Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary is a tourist destination, as well as a community hub for locals, and a research and conservation centre. Compared to the monkeys I met in Malaysia a few years ago, these furry guys were docile. Then again, we arrived after they had had their fill of tourists’ bananas and snacks for the day. The forest was peaceful and quiet to walk through, full of gentle trees and almost void of people. We talked about going back before we left Ubud, however there was too much to try once for a second visit to happen this trip!
That night we ate supper at a place called Bernadette’s. It was down a pretty side street with small Christmas lights decorating it and a warm glow coming from inside. We weren’t the only ones drawn to this place. As we were deciding whether to eat upstairs a big rat scuttled across the floorboards. We chose the ground floor. As crazy as it may sound to have stayed, at some point you realize that whatever you see (ie. our friend, the rat) is probably still present whether you see it or not, both back home and abroad.
Day 3: Mount Batur Volcano, Tampak Siring Holy Springs, Seafood in Seminyak
The next day we climbed an active volcano, bathed in the Tampak Siring holy springs, and revelled in the beauty and history of gigantic stone temples. We woke around 2 am to meet our driver who took us to the base of Mount Batur. People drive vehicles like race cars in Bali…that often meet live roadblocks such as dogs, people, and other racers sharing road. Despite how sleepy our driver was (we woke him to leave), I had faith we’d arrive in one piece.
Our guide was amazing. She was probably around my age and had given birth to twins this past year. Partway through the hike, the sole of her shoe broke and it didn’t seem to phase her at all. I would have found a leaf and crazy carpeted my way back down! She peppered our trek with information about the mountain and Balinese culture through the early morning hours. Her friends and family were the other guides, and it was fun to see them joke around together. Despite my historical lack of enthusiasm for any semblance of morning verbage, other than yawns and disgruntled groans, the experience was enjoyable.
Slippery volcanic ash areas near the top were tricky to maneuver. Lucky for me, D was a gentleman, always with an outstretched hand. Being a novice climber, I had zero expectations other than looking forward to a new experience and wanting to see D in his element (talk about a big kid – and that grin!). Luckily we were one of the first groups to the top and made it in time for the sunrise. No words folks, no words. On the hike down the sacred mountain we saw more monkeys, including a cute baby with hair reminiscent of boys’ hairstyles when I was in grade 5, a huge crater where they still hold animal sacrifices, and a holy cavern only select people can enter. We also “smoked” my second cigarette ever (sorry Mom!) out of steamy crevices.
Serendipity met us again, this time at the springs. It turned out to be a day of ceremony for Hindus because of the full moon. Men played instruments in large groups. Everyone wore vibrant clothes, carrying offerings of food and flowers, praying and eating together. We met two Balinese men (one of whom is in the first picture) who welcomed us and explained their rituals. There were many similarities to Catholic traditions I grew up with.
We enjoyed one of the freshest meals of the week in the seaside town of Seminyak. We selected our food from the fish tanks and took a seat. A Mariachi band roamed the sand and serenaded patrons, while a Balinese dancer entertained on the restaurant’s stage. Talk about fusion. After dinner we went down to the water to dip our toes. I ended up wearing half the ocean when a wave came crashing in, unable to see it in the dark. Luckily our taxi driver to and from Seminyak didn’t mind my soggy clothes.
Day 4: Friends & Turtles in Ubud
On the last day I souvenir shopped in Ubud like a pro for friends and family back home. One of the shopkeepers struck up a conversation with us. We learned about paper making, his family, the history of Bali’s royalty, castes and how the Balinese name their children. Again, it struck me how friendly and genuine everyone we met was. It was one of my favourite moments of the trip. Another “eee”-worthy moment was stumbling upon baby sea turtles making their maiden voyage to the ocean. I was even allowed to touch and help a few along the way! So incredibly awesome. I was more excited than a 5-year old at Christmas.
Thank you for hanging in there! This is an oversized post, and yet so much has been left out. I hope you felt as relaxed and refreshed reading this as I did while I was in Bali.