It felt so good to arrive in Bali. The warm, humid air enveloped me, and familiar smells greeted me – the unique smell of Balinese cooking, the smell of a particular laundry detergent, and other unidentifiable sweet fragrances that are uniquely Balinese. I relaxed into them, and it felt like I was coming home.
I arrived late in the evening, so I decided to spend the night in Kuta. I had consciously avoided Kuta the first time I was in Bali since it sounded like the sort of place I would hate. It’s filled with Western chains, package tourists, karaoke bars, surfers, discos, parties, and a million people trying to sell you something. It’s a strange blend of Bali and any other Western beach resort, and I found it just plain tacky. The beach is supposed to be the star attraction, so I thought I’d check it out before heading to Ubud. It was awful. The beach was littered with garbage – a million plastic bags – and desperate hawkers hounded me every 5 minutes.
So I quickly left and headed to Ubud, where I spent many happy days at the beginning of my journey in October/November. I expected it to feel like a kind of homecoming, but instead I was hit by a wall of sadness. I was exhausted after running through Cambodia – a week straight of near-constant bus and boat travel combined with the heat, dust, and heartbreak of Cambodia – and was nursing a very sore throat. But instead of relief, I felt sadness, and the peace and quiet of Ubud felt oppressive. All throughout Vietnam, I had dreamed of finding a quiet and green place to rest. Now I had it, and it felt so strange and almost too quiet. Accustomed to moving every 2 or 3 days, I felt disoriented and almost panicked to not have imminent onward travel plans. It is also the monsoon season in Bali, something I hadn’t quite planned on – and it was gray and very wet those first few days.
Throughout Vietnam and Cambodia, I often bumped into people I had met before, since most travelers follow the same North-South route with different variations. It was always nice to unexpectedly see familiar faces and share stories, and coming to Bali felt like I had jumped off the circuit and was suddenly all alone for the first time. I have traveled alone for almost five months and never felt this way before.
Eventually I figured out why I was feeling such sadness, panic, and discomfort: coming back to Bali means the end of my journey. I have already been to Bali, so it means there are no more new places to discover, explore, and absorb. It felt like a big let down, and I wondered if maybe I should have stayed in Malaysia.
I spent the first few days in Ubud in a strange state. I felt so full, but yet so empty. I felt like I had just gorged myself on the elaborate and delicious feast that has been this journey, and now, nearly five months later, I felt so full that I could not move. I was so full, but yet I couldn’t do anything with it. It was like it was all stuck inside me. All I could do was wait for the slow process of digestion to commence.
Slowly I got myself to yoga classes – now in the gorgeous new venue of the Yoga Barn. As I sat in class, gazing out at the incredibly green rice fields and palm trees, listening to the rain, the blessing of being in Bali slowly settled in. Bali is so green and luscious and gorgeous and peaceful right now. The Yoga Barn is an extraordinarily beautiful place to do yoga, with incredibly talented teachers. My body is so soft, creaky and tight after months on the road that I feel like I’m a beginner all over again (especially next to the lithe and supple bodies that populate these classes). But it feels so good to stretch and sweat and push myself. I’m starting to see my mind slow down – so accustomed to constantly thinking, planning, evaluating:
“How do I get there? When do I go? How much does it cost? Where should I stay? Will the room be too noisy/hot/smelly/uncomfortable? How far away is it? How much should a taxi cost? Is this guy going to rip me off? Should I really be walking down this street alone at this time of night? Where is the ATM and what is the exchange rate and do I have enough money in my account to cover that withdrawal? Do I trust this guy? What time does the bus leave? How bad is the bathroom? Where should I eat breakfast/lunch/dinner?”
Only now does it occur to me that traveling alone is very exhausting because you have to answer all these questions and solve all these problems pretty much on your own.
I stumbled upon a wonderful place to stay called Sensasi Bungalows, on Jl. Hanoman. It’s new so that means new linens, pillows that are not moldy or lumpy or hard, a proper mattress, and even the bathroom tiles are truly clean. It’s a nice change from the usual budget guesthouse, which I have to confess I’m getting tired of.
And I bumped into a Swedish girl I sat next to on the 6 hour bus ride from Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng back in Laos in January. In an incredibly small world moment, we discovered that my great-grandmother is from the same small town in Sweden as her mother, and she knows the area quite well. This was all the more amazing since I couldn't remember the name of the region and could only describe it as "a small town in Northern Sweden near a big lake where there is a bridge, but before there wasn't, and I know that because my great-great-grandfather operated the sailboat ferry about 150 years ago."
So Ubud is wonderful and I am feeling very happy to be here, at last. But I am not quite ready for the journey to be over, so tomorrow I leave for the Gili Islands, located off Lombok, the next island east in the Indonesian archipelago. I’ve been dreaming of them since last time I was here, and figured that if I don’t go now, I’ll never go, since it is so easy to get comfortable in Ubud. I started packing earlier, and am already feeling the excitement of leaving for a new place. I am imagining them as tropical island paradise, like the Corn Islands in Nicaragua. It’s also my last chance to get a tan. Contrary to popular belief, I’ve spent very little time in the sun, and even less time on the beach during this trip. I’m not sure how that happened, since I love being near the sea and on islands and beaches. So this is a small attempt to remedy this imbalance. Then, I’ll come back and spend my last week in Ubud.