Today I caught glimpses of my reflection in the windows of shops as I sped by on the back of a scooter, with my arms around the waist of a Dutch man and thought, “I should really be writing this down.” So after a 10-day absence from writing, I’m back on the grind and ready to start documenting the dream of living off the grid here in Bali.
More than once I’ve thought to myself, “This is too good. It’s almost too much to handle.” But it wasn’t exactly love at first sight. My original idea of Bali was that of a small, quiet, sleepy island that I could scoot around on easily from village to village. The reality is that Bali (or parts of it) can be a bustling tourist destination with many large, spread out towns/cities (I wouldn’t call them villages), often overrun with Australians and Dutch. It can also be loud, dirty, difficult to navigate and much hotter than even I’m comfortable with (and I LOVE to be hot).
This was the impression I got at first when I arrived in Seminyak, located just north of the absolutely ridiculous party town of Kuta. The morning after arriving I thought I’d walk around, head to the beach and get my bearings. The walk turned out to be a hot, sweaty 25-minute journey to a beach that was deserted because the water was so rough and not good at all for swimming. Humph. Ok, back to the hostel. I was still adjusting to the time change so had a nap, thinking things would be better when I woke up (because they normally are).
I was just opening my eyes when I overheard a guy I’d met at breakfast say that he and some others were Ubering to another beach that they heard was good. I shot up, throw stuff in my bag and jumped at the chance to start meeting people and get out of my slump.
Delvin was 34 and from Kansas City – thus very trustworthy. He’d attached himself to another group, which would eventually form my crew here in Bali. Rose, Rachel and Izzy were all English, Vince, Erwin and 17 (called such because no one could pronounce his real name and he was, you guessed it, 17 years old) were all Dutch, and Patrick and Delvin were my fellow Americans.
We took two separate Ubers to Canggu, which had a great beach for surfing, wading in the water, lounging, etc. The restaurant/bar located right on the beach was called Old Man’s and it had a laid back environment for hanging out (food, drinks, ping pong, etc.). We spent the afternoon drinking Bintang (the beer of choice in Bali) and embarrassing ourselves by attempting to surf. The sunset provided the backdrop for silhouetted surfers, sitting cooly on their boards.
The next day the Brits invited me to join them at a pool. I figured they had a friend at a different hostel with a shitty pool that we’d be crashing, but thought it’d be worth it to hangout and dip in the water when the heat became too much. Ummmm no. It was not some shitty hostel pool, it happened to be the absolutely sprawling pool and outdoor bar at the very glamorous W Retreat and Spa. As we drove up the bamboo-lined drive we started to squirm, and when we saw the beachfront pool with floating beanbags, surround by plush couches and lounge chairs we LOST OUR FREAKING MINDS. As non-guests there were a few restrictions (the beds nearest the pool were off limits, and we could pay more for the lounge chairs if we wanted them), but the couches were free game and there was no cost whatsoever for us to live like the other half for the day so long as we bought a drink – and we bought many drinks. The staff waited on us hand and foot as if we were VIP guests, pouring our beers into plastic cups for us and delivering them to us poolside so that we could lounge on the beanbags in the water as we tied on a nice little buzz.
We switched between sunning ourselves on the couches and sunning ourselves in the pool for the afternoon. At happy hour from 4-6pm, cocktails were half-priced and individual pizzas were served to us. We felt…. rich. It was a 180 from the life of “less” we’d all been living in hostels to suddenly indulge in a life of luxury. But that evening we resumed our backpacker lives…
We raced back to the hostel for a quick shower and all met downstairs before heading out to the now infamous Sky Garden in Kuta. Kuta is dirty, busy, dangerous, crawling with drunk Australians and the best spot for a cheap, wild night out. We each paid 100,000 rupiah (about $8) for an all-you-can-eat buffet and drinks. We ate tacos (it was Mexican night) and drank Bintang until it was time to head into the labyrinth of rooms, each pumping different varieties of house music. As you can imagine, it solidified some relationships – both friendly and romantic.
The next day, after dragging ourselves out of the amazingly cold, dark, impossibly cozy beds of Capsule Hostel, we opted for another afternoon at the beach. That evening, before adventuring down to Uluwatu to catch the sunset from Single Fin, we grabbed some cheap eats from a warung just down the street from the hostel. For less than $2, a woman will pile rice, noodles, beans, corn and potato fritters, fish, chicken, spicy peanut sauce – anything you can imagine – into a stiff piece of paper that she wraps up as your carry out box. And it’s taaaaasty.
Uluwatu is about an hour drive from Seminyak, but driving sixty minutes to watch a sunset is not something that’s out of the question when you have nothing but time and Ubers are dirt cheap. Our driver didn’t have GPS and we weren’t exactly sure where we were going, so our drive to Single Fin was a bit interesting, winding us up and down dirt paths that I would only call “roads” if I were being really generous. “The woodsy way” as my grandmother would call it. We arrived just in time to miss the sunset, but didn’t feel so defeated about it since everyone said it was too cloudy to see.
We sat around the bar for a bit, but the real action happens at Single Fin on Sundays, so we headed off to the hostel were Patrick, Erwin and Rose had just checked in down the road. After some drinking games that ended in Rose and I being tossed in the pool, it was time to go home since everyone was going their separate ways the next day (Patrick, Erwin and Rose already in Uluwatu, 17 home to Holland, Vince to Gili T, and Rachel, Izzy and I to Ubud). The only problem? No Ubers and no cabs. Luckily the owner of the hostel graciously agreed to drive us home to Seminyak (for 250,000 rupiah). So we climbed into his car, me looking ridiculous (but happily carefree) in a borrowed, oversized T shirt with my soaking wet dress in hand. I was finally starting to appreciate Bali for what it was instead of cursing it for not being exactly as I had imagined…
Pro tip: whenever possible get an Uber in Bali (unless of course you’re savvy enough to drive a scooter in the heinous traffic, which I am not). Ubers are waaaaay cheaper than taxis, much more reliable and are generally nicer/larger vehicles. Some areas of the island have banned Ubers (like Ubud), but they’re everywhere in the southern part. For instance, me and three friends shared an Uber from Seminyak to Ubud (about 1.5 to 2 hours away, depending on traffic) and it was 130,000 rupiah. That’s less than $10. Divided by four. WINNING!