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Published: December 10th 2010
Let me preface by reassuring my self-respecting heterosexual male friends out there: I HAVE NEVER READ THE BOOK NOR SEEN THE MOVIE “EAT PRAY LOVE” (well, at least not all the way through - I promise - though I admit to enjoying a good “rom. com” every once in a while!) I simply chose to tweak the popular title as I thought it seemed somewhat relevant in light of the movie’s culmination (“love”) taking place in Bali. As far as I’m concerned, this divine destination could very well be grounds for all three (eat, pray, love … and much more!) No offense to Julia Roberts, whom I’m sure delivered a stellar performance as she surmounted the perils of her middle age urban boredom by setting off on a existential discovery around the globe, I think the film’s budget could have been curtailed by a lot and she could have honed in on all three by simply going to Bali. But who am I to judge? In fact, I would highly recommend anyone contemplating such nomadic impulses to not think twice and go, go GO…
Contrary to my usual ways, let me be succinct here: Bali is paradise. I don’t care
how many photos you see, how many documentaries you watch or how many honeymoon stories you hear, you have to experience Bali to understand it.
When Daya and I started planning our South East Asian adventure, we only knew of two things that we wanted to accomplish: Discover and Relax. Vietnam would certainly take care of the “discovery” requirement with its fascinating history, incredibly rich culture and sublime food – and it far exceeded all expectations. So for the second half, we thought, why not head somewhere exotic where we could surf tropical waves, swim in clear waters, read in the sun, dine on spicy delicacies, drink cold libations and indulge in all notional concepts of “relaxation.” And that was it… It seemed like everywhere we researched, and after every conversation we had, we would go back to the uncontrived desire to head to this blissful island. It also seemed like the perfect place to celebrate my 30th birthday. If I HAD to let go of my ironclad grip on my beloved 20s, doing so in this paradisiacal place would be acceptable right? And to make matters even sweeter, my great friend Shane (“Shano!), whom I had the pleasure of
living with in Venice Beach for almost two years, and who has since moved to Singapore, would join us for the week… Unrestrained by convention, Shano is a joy to travel with - motivated enough to be perpetually attentive and constantly searching, yet very laid back and always going with the flow, wherever, whenever – the perfect traveling companion. So, the location was only surpassed by the company!
Fresh off after a blissful week in Vietnam, we stopped by Singapore to drop off our bags (which had tripled in size after our time at the tailors and with all the gifts we brought back – I mean, “nothing to declare Sir…”) With the ink still drying from the first chapter of this adventure, it was hard to imagine the trip getting any better – and somehow it did!
There is something about landing in Indonesia. I’ve always loved take offs and landings, no matter where and no matter the time of the day. But when you land in Bali, something else, something greater happens – attempting to put it into words would be futile. Now, I don’t claim to be a spiritual person by any stretch of the
imagination, so I won’t start writing about some unexplained, supernatural connection, but I will say this: landing in Bali feels damn good and all worries seem to dissipate as you make your way down the plane – maybe it’s the humidity. Whatever it is, I loved it and embraced every minute of it. Consider this elusive feeling to be a paradigm for the rest of the trip – pure euphoria. As mentioned, I had no expectations, nor any idea of how the week would shape up – all I knew was that I would spend it with two of my favorite people. What transpired was yet another remarkable few days which I will never forget.
The first part was a total surprise. Daya and Shano had been secretly conspiring for a few weeks and had booked a villa for the first few days, where we would celebrate my birthday. So when Daya and I arrived there, to meet with Shano, I was truly speechless – blown away. To put this villa into words is honestly impossible. Sitting right on a private beach, we had the entire 3 bedroom palace to ourselves, and a private butler, Gutsy (coolest dude ever).
This was definitely a different style of living/traveling that I was used to, but I would be blatantly lying if I said I didn’t enjoy this welcomed dose of luxury, not to mention complete care and attention! Gutsy politely ensured that not a second would go by without being fully attended to. I have a hard time describing the idiosyncrasies or comparing the nuances of luxury (for lack of proper reference points), but I’m pretty sure anyone with a pulse would agree that this set up was truly perfect.
The next day, for my birthday, Daya had organized a private boat ride to the most pristine spot (crystal bay) for some snorkeling, seafood feast by the water on this nearby island. And for dessert, how about a ride out to the reefs for some perfect, nearly empty offshore surf? I think I could get used to this “getting old” thing! By 5 pm, the day had been pure perfection - sunburned, arms like noodles from paddling so much, belly about to burst – and yet an iridescent smile from ear to ear. But wait… the celebration evidently hadn’t even started yet. We got back to the villa and after
a few beach side cocktails, “Sundowners” (a term which I’ve become a big fan of by the way), a private feast was waiting for us by the pool – a monumental Balinese BBQ, consisting of the freshest ribs, chicken, red snapper and calamari, supremely marinated and accompanied by all sorts of Indonesian delicacies cooked right in front of us and served gracefully to our candle-lit table by Gutsy. And for the cherry on the cake (a really tasty home-made, fresh apple cake), we had a private band and Balinese Indonesian Dancers to boot! Are you kidding me?! I was on top of the world – toasting to my thirties in paradise, surrounded by some of the greatest people. To quote one of such wonderful people, Shano – “if you have to live, this seems like a pretty good way to do it…”
The bar’s most certainly been set. I will never forget this birthday, EVER. Truth is, I won’t forget any of this trip, the rest of which was equally incredible, in its own way. We spent some time in Ubud, the spiritual center of Bali - a beautiful verdant area - tucked in the forest, inhabited by monkeys
and some of the friendliest people on Earth. It was only fitting that Daya would visit the famous fortune teller from Eat Pray Love, Ketut Liyer. Forget early retirement for this 95 year old Guru who performs over a dozen consultations a day (and makes a pretty good living doing so!) I don’t really care to know my fortune for the next few years, but if the past couple weeks have been any indication of what’s to come, then I feel pretty good about it. And speaking of feeling good, no visit to Ubud would be complete before a visit to the carnivorous Mecca that is Ibu Oka, an outdoor restaurant famously sought out for its delectable “suckling pig.” I had been salivating ever since seeing Anthony Bourdain devour the crispy skin and tender pork meat while washing it down with an ice cold “Bintang” on “No Reservations.”
From Ubud, we made our way to the South West tip of the island to spend a couple of days surfing the world class break of Uluwatu , a beautiful spot nestled by majestic water temples and surrounded by some of the clearest waters I have ever seen - yet again,
an abundance of great surf, and mind-blowing scenery – the perfect ending to a perfect trip…
At the risk of sounding pompous, I sometimes get tired of writing all this hyperbolic, positive stuff (and I’m sure you get even more tired reading it) but I assure you that none of it is sugar-coated nor is it exaggerated. I truly love traveling, discovering new places, cultures, people, food and everything which gets me to disconnect with the norm. Doing so with people I love only makes it sweeter. The rewards and subsequent emotions are never disappointing, but often evoke a certain moral uncertainty. Interestingly, I’m currently reading a book by David Eggers entitled “You Shall Know Our Velocity.” Through this whimsical account, the author recounts the story of two friends who spontaneously decide to travel around the world without any solid schedule or definitive direction. One particular quote has been in my head for a while. “Travel,” the author notes, is sometimes seen as a “distraction for the unimaginative.” Not sure how I feel about that, but I will say that it’s made me think a lot lately. I was speaking about this with a journalist I met in Indonesia,
who had been living in Jakarta for about a year. When asked whether or not she liked living there, she emphatically responded affirmatively and followed by: “I’m addicted to chaos.” I’ve often heard this very justification from a number of aid workers living in some of the most unfavorable places across the world, from South Sudan to Haiti to Afghanistan. People truly get addicted to the “rush” associated with instability and uncertainty, spending their lives impetuously bouncing around from war-torn zones to disaster-stricken areas without even thinking twice about the moral and physical hazards. It is, I’ll give you that, a rush – but one that should, I believe, warrant a certain acceptance and knowledge of repercussions – consequences on ourselves and others. Who am I to say anything though? I’m not even sure where I fit in on this spectrum – probably in the middle, addicted to traveling and vacillating somewhere in between the unimaginative and the chaotic.
The greatest thing about traveling, for me, is its amorphous quality – the fact that it can be anything you want it to be – a relaxing vacation sipping frozen drinks by the pool or a thrilling adventure fueled by
uncertainty. And this trip proved to be the perfect compromise between the two. We explored unchartered territories and also waited in line to visit the “must see” tourist spots; we stayed in basic guest houses and also slept in four star resorts, we ate unknown street food where no other foreigners went and devoured fresh lobsters at the fanciest restaurants. Did we see it all? Absolutely not, and that’s part of the beauty… that’s what the imagination is for. So, really, I don’t see travel as a “distraction for the unimaginative.” I see imagination, rather, as a distraction for the untraveled! I hope my 30s bring on as much welcomed distraction as my 20s have…TRAVEL ON!
Photo album of the trip here
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