Traveling The World

Eat, Pray, What? Why Bali Wasn’t Exactly What I Expected It To Be

August 31, 2016
I thought Bali would be yoga on the beach, walking barefoot, medicine men, futures told, self-awakening, and spiritual discoveries. Instead, I could summarize Bali as two things: sunsets and Bintang.

Don’t get me wrong – I absolutely loved Bali, but it was for every reason that I wasn’t expecting. Maybe it’s an American’s misconception or maybe it’s the “Eat, Pray, Love” effect – but it’s definitely was not what I had originally envisioned.

I arrived after over 20 hours of flying and an 18-hour layover in Dubai. The breeze rushing in from the lush arrivals section of the Ngurah Rai International Airport airport was warmly welcoming, and you immediately felt transported into another world. In it, I marveled at the passing scenes (and a crazy number of scooters) from the car window on the way to my hotel.

My first few days in Bali were atypical from traditional travelers. I was actually there for work and my accommodations were at the Ritz Carlton in Nusa Dua. This, I was told, was the more quiet and residential part of the island. But to me? It was simply paradise.

Aside from the resort being a 3-tiered heaven, it was the sunrise that I woke up for five days in a row that filled my heart with light.

Seeing the mixture of colors that erupted between the clouds felt sinful, but they’re what made the day inspiring from the start. Those first few days were spent working, but I had breaks for meals where I got to taste the resort’s well-prepared cuisine and typical Indonesian dishes.

At the end of each day, I’d walk on the beach forgetting about Wi-Fi or responsibilities and watched the day come to a peaceful end on the edge of the sunset. I watched God paint the sky and I marveled at how lucky I was to watch the sun set in this part of the world. Each night this became a ritual before retreating back to my dream-like suite.

On the second to last day in Nusa Dua, I had free time to hop in a cab to Uluwatu Temple where I was blown away by the water temple situated on a cliff against the Indian Ocean. I spent a minimum of 30 minutes frozen in time admiring the view until other tourists brought me back to reality with their selfie sticks.

I walked up and down the cliff, while avoiding the thieving monkeys, and took in the serene scene.

My work engagements ended with a bang when we attended a Balinese dining experience. We were greeted with a joyful and musical welcome party and immediately placed in a wonderland of sound and tastes. I gladly accepted the plumeria flower that my hair styles had grown attached to; we then watched the opening Balinese dance performers in their colorful costumes.

The evening continued with four courses of typical Balinese delicacies – each too spicy yet still delicious to my novice tongue. I indulged in all the flavors and tried everything, including the things I had never even heard of. It was a night to remember, but I was ready for what was coming next.

A friend from the states had now met me, and we were off to Seminyak the following morning. It turned out to be nothing like Nusa Dua. Here, along Jalan Legian, there were bustling Western shops, spas galore, unique food options, and life littering the streets.

We got dropped off at our hostel, Capsule New Seminyak, and we immediately set off to find food before making our way to Potato Head Beach Bar.

The bar is right on Seminyak beach with an awestriking view (especially at sunset). I’d advise you to wear your bathing suit to take advantage of the swim-up bar. Since we were unaware at the time, we happily sat at the one on land and ordered smoky drinks in coconuts.

Soon after, we were graced with the company of some Australians from Perth whose pick-up lines were not as good as their jokes. But given that their jokes were so good we partook in a full night of adventure that led to us to La Favela – which quickly turned into our favorite bar.

The following day we had a World Pacific driver pick us up to take us to Ubud for the day at 7am. This was absolutely my favorite part of the entire trip. Just the drive from the hostel to Ubud was a site to see as you pass temples, unique homes, and Balinese architecture.

Our first stop was white water rafting along the Ayung River. I personally had never been before so I carried a Bintang in with me to ease my anxiety, which made me a crowd favorite amongst the jovial employees. We hopped into our raft with two other people and our guide after climbing down a million stairs. After he gave us our instructions we were off into the rapids in the middle of the jungle.

The weather wasn’t blue and sunny, but that didn’t stop the view from being any less glorious. I mean, I was white water rafting in the jungle in Bali!

The sheer thought of it made every turn and every dive down more exciting. The photos of me by the waterfall are so ridiculous I wish I could look that happy on any given day. Alas, after seven miles it was time to continue the adventure elsewhere.

We showered and enjoyed a great Balinese buffet at the adventure center. After that, we met our driver and set off to Ubud Market. Sadly, we missed the entrance to the market until our way back to the car (look out for the signs). Once we finally found it, we quickly perused and practiced our bargaining skills. (Bargaining here is key, as you can get an item for less than half of the initial ask.)

We then continued on to the Tegalalang Rice Terrace – which I would call nature’s version of a fairytale – for a quick photo opp. Rolling along through Ubud you simply could not look away from the window with something unique to see the whole way.

Our last stop that day would be at the Sacred Monkey Forest. We were immediately thrown off by all of the monkeys just naturally chilling around but chose to embrace it. We perused through the forest and admired the entwining trees throughout.

I was still feeling alive after the rafting so I decided to buy some bananas for the monkeys.

I regretted it literally two seconds after when a monkey was on my head (yes, on my head) faster than I could actually say the word “banana”. At this point, a crowd had developed around me to watch my hysterics, and I’m sure I was more entertaining than the monkey eat fruit on my shoulder.

After a few more banana tricks we were wiped. We climbed back into our car and started heading back to Seminyak. The sun was starting to set on our way home and it was absolutely breathtaking to see the sun fade into the fields of baby rice as it cast its light on the glistening water. I was overjoyed but desperately needed a nap.

Once we were refreshed, our night had a few missteps (Mirror Lounge is not open on Tuesdays) but we wound up back at La Favela to dance the night away. We danced, took a scooter to the beach, splashed happily in the ocean, picked up some paprika chips on the way home, and put a day of adventure to rest.

The following day we thought we owed ourselves some relaxation. After an organic breakfast at Earth Cafe, we went to Well Being Spa and splurged (a whopping $14) on a 1.5-hour aromatherapy massage. The massage was absolutely divine and left us blissful. We then made our way to Char Char Bar & Grill, which is a cute restaurant along the road we had quickly gotten accustomed to and enjoyed a $5 champagne special.

The low prices here made us feel like royalty, so we decided to get another bottle. And then we decided to go to the spa, again, to get our nails done. It was only $5.

After a full day of champagne and pampering, we did what we do best – went to La Favela. Of course, we tried leaving our happy street and enjoyed a really fun scooter ride to Motel Mexicola, but the vibes just weren’t the same and we were drawn to the playlist that forced your feet to dance.

We woke up the next day, our last day, forlorn and not ready to leave this magical place. We had a great breakfast at The Bistrot and… went to the spa again. This time, we got a reflexology massage which I had read a lot about before coming to Bali. It was another $12 well spent. From there we hopped in a cab to go to Seminyak Beach.

We walked along the beach, with Bintang of course, and took in the view. The waves were really rough but they were beautiful. You couldn’t deny yourself the joy of running into them and fiercely running out as they powered higher than you expected. I grew up by the beach, but this?

This was something else.

We walked at least a mile down the beach, with some friendly dogs in tow, until we decided on a colorful little beach bar to relax in. We chatted up friendly Norwegian tourists (everyone here was friendly) inside as we got a quick snack.

The bar had been setting up colorful beanbags and umbrellas while we were indoors, and we weren’t ready to leave the view. After going our separate ways, we scooped two up and ordered (you guessed it) another round of Bintang.

It’s here we sat reviewing the entire trip as we watched the waves come in against a sea of colorful umbrellas. Once the sun started to set – it was game over. I was so overcome with emotion I couldn’t believe we were leaving. There was so much left on my bucket list to see, but every moment seemed so good while we were in it that we never wanted to leave it for something else.

There were a handful of temples I wish a saw, a cocktail at Rock Bar I wish I drank, a wave I could’ve surfed, a camel back at Nusa Dua that was calling my name, and bars and restaurants off of our street (that became our home) to try. There were a lot of things, true; but what may not seem like we did a lot to some was everything to me.

I’m a big planner, truthfully. But something about Bali didn’t make me want to plan. I didn’t want to have an agenda or an itinerary. I wanted to live in the moment – and go to the spa as many times as I wanted. Yes, my favorite day of the trip happened to be the one I planned, but the rest of it came so easily.

Being there helped me live a little more without picking a time to live.

It helped me decide left or right on the spot instead of the day before. It helped me just enjoy the simple fact that I was in Bali with one of my best friends and about how I was so lucky to be there.

So I left Bali with a mild case of depression because I had never felt so free and without a worry in my life. I had never wanted to wake up for a sunrise, never so badly wanted to stalk every sunset, and never allowed serendipity to rule me like this before.

It wasn’t about yoga, meditation, or self-awakening like I thought (although I’m sure it’s somewhere out there). It wasn’t what I thought it was going to be. It was Bintang and sunsets (and a lot of attractive Australians). But I think it had the same result I was expecting.

I didn’t do as much as I thought I would do. And weirdly enough, I saw more in myself than in the city. I saw, finally, that it was okay to let yourself relax and just be in the moment. And I didn’t need a medicine man to tell me that.

My experience in Bali may not be like everyone else’s, but the experience was mine to treasure. And I’ll keep that stored in my heart every time I forget to slow down. I’ll think of the waves that stopped time, and maybe it’ll remind me to breathe.

In the end, I think it was Bali that reminded me, quite simply, how to live again.


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  • Reply Sopurkha August 31, 2016 at 10:32 am

    Ahhhh, life’s lessons – the most important of which – come when we relax and allow them in. While “comparison is the thief of joy,” in my opinion, this travel seems your most valuable to date. Keep up the goodness girl—I always enjoy reading your descriptive adventures.

    • Reply Sonya Matejko September 1, 2016 at 12:11 pm

      I hope you’re doing well Sopurkha! You would absolutely LOVE Bali I’m sure – especially Ubud. Thanks as always 🙂

  • Reply Septa Mellina September 8, 2016 at 3:51 pm

    Hi Sonya, welcome to Indonesia! I am happy that you visited my country and I am much happier to know that Bali, the Island of Goddess, has taught you to live again. I am hoping to see you, my favorite blogger, one day when you re-visit Indonesia or somewhere else. Again, thank you for dropping by! Cheers ^^

    • Reply Sonya Matejko September 8, 2016 at 5:29 pm

      eeek at “favorite blogger” you are SO sweet! I absolutely loved your beautiful country and all of the people I met there. I’ll definitely be back one day 🙂

  • Reply Maria Giovanna September 12, 2016 at 3:36 am

    Hi Sonya, I come from Italy and I have just come across your blog by chance. Guess what? I have just visited Bali too for 14 days. Maybe we happened to be in the same place at the same time 😊
    I definitely came back home with the same feeling of enjoying moment by moment, the feeling of being right here right now you have described so well…
    Thanks for sharing!

    • Reply Sonya Matejko September 12, 2016 at 10:31 am

      Hi Maria! That’s crazy – we might’ve passed each other on the street for all we know!! I’m glad you can relate. It was definitely a different vibe than all other vacations I’ve been on. Thank YOU for stopping by 🙂

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