Sometimes good things just happen.
It’s our life force. It happens unconsciously. Our ingeniously engineered bodies breathe for us, even while we sleep. But I felt short of breath. It was end-November, and 2019 had dragged me through a bush backward. My dream business venture had been pulled from beneath my feet by a conman whose conniving character belonged on the pages of a Hollywood script. I had a lot to reassess but not much mojo to do it with.
No one is afforded the right to get away from it all simply because they feel the need, right? I’m not unique – we’re all bobbing along, periodically seasick when the boat of life with all its responsibilities heads due South. It’s the one that picks you up at the harbour just as the schooling system finally lifts its anchor. We’re conditioned to get up, get dressed, and be positive. Face our responsibilities, regardless. We learned this from our parents, and we teach it to our children. To face it. Whatever ‘it’ maybe. Not to escape. To be brave. To march gallantly on.
Then it happened. A spontaneous opportunity to head to Bali for two weeks. And wait for it. It just gets better. I was going with two of my best friends. This trip for us coddiwompling trio, was a gift from the heavens to reconnect with our magic. Robert R. McCammon poignantly sums up the thievery of our ‘magic,’ and this snippet is my favourite: “we get the magic educated right out of our souls. We get it churched out, spanked out, washed out, and combed out. We get put on the straight and narrow and told to be responsible. Told to act our age. Told to grow up, For God’s sake”. Bali was the chance to reclaim our magic. To not “act our age.” To not grow “up,” but to grow spiritually instead. We would also discover very little “combing” of hair is required in Bali.
The day before departure, I was at our local shopping centre buying last-minute things. An unprecedented number of people threw smiles my way. Hands down, it wasn’t because I was looking good. In fact, I was looking like one invariably does when bumping into an ex-boyfriend. I was devoid of makeup, with scraped back hair and a shirt that may or may not have been part of a pyjama set. Granted, they may have been pity smiles, but I don’t think so. I think it was a reflex response to my unwitting, subconscious smile. I had decided to embrace this Bali opportunity with the same unbridled joy my Great Dane Ed shows every time I return home (or reappear from a short stint down the passage). Joy was already beginning to showcase its ability to radiate from the inside out. I owed the full embracing of this experience to my family, and I owed it to myself. I wasn’t going to let either of us down.
If you haven’t read Jordan Peterson’s 12 rules for life, please treat yourself. In Rule 2 (Treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping) of his book, this inspirational professor of psychology at the University of Toronto says: “We deserve some respect. You deserve some respect. You are important to other people, as much as to yourself. You have some vital role to play in the unfolding destiny of the world. You are, therefore, morally obliged to take care of yourself”. This is both physically and emotionally.
I was determined, so grateful, and so freaking excited to do exactly that. Here are a few basic tips that will make your trip to this soul-hugging destination there even more perfect:
1. Plan ahead: it’s a long flight.
Most people visit Bali more than once. Many return annually. This speaks volumes because, from South Africa, Bali is a hefty chunk of travel time. From Durban, we spent roughly 20 hours in an airtight-flying-capsule, and the layover times were brutal. Our trip home was over 32 hours from when we left our hotel until the final touch-down. The Bali faithful don’t care about the travel time. Bali is that amazing. In fact, even double the travel time wouldn’t deter me. Bit of advice, however, for when you DO go to Bali – book well in advance because you’ll source the shortest, cheapest flights. Flights are the most expensive part. Bali itself is affordable.
I’m not a good flyer. I can’t achieve sleep any deeper than that delirious twilight stage, and even that is torturously intermittent. Instead, I pass the time by directing evil glares in the direction of those fellow-flyers that effortlessly nod off. I mean, come on? Really? You fall asleep before the plane has even taken off. Then you wake up to eat and sip on a double gin and tonic complete with sliced lemon. You even smile a little. You can, because you’re feeling so fresh after sleeping for a thousand hours. You then unwrap the refresher towel, wipe your fingers, and dab the corners of your mouth before re-nuzzling into your neck pillow. Deep slumber resumed. That’s just not right, I just can’t be happy for those people. If I have a double Gin and Tonic, the effect is the polar opposite. Instead of sleeping, I would have been dancing in the aisle to the 80’s tracks I discovered on the in-flight entertainment system.
Not to exaggerate, but at one point, it was just every baby and me on the plane fighting sleep. The only thing scarier than Snakes on a Plane (not that I’ve actually watched the movie), is Babies on a Plane. It has all the makings of multi-billion-dollar horror blockbuster. I was so desperate to sleep that when some significant turbulence arrived, I considered unclicking my seatbelt. Perhaps if I was ejected upwards with some force, I’d hit my head on the luggage compartment and rewarded with knocked-out-cold-rest.
Long and short. You’re in the air for a long time, so give some thought to how to sleep on a plane, or how you can best pass the time. Consider downloading a sleep meditation APP; even tranquil music will do the trick to better drown out the noise. Perhaps splash out on a best-you-can-find memory-foam sleep cushion – there were some super fancy ones I spotted on-board. Or go old-school and take along one of these 11 boring books to battle insomnia. Or find an on-repeat recording of Derek Watt’s voice – yes, that’ll do it.
2. Keep your boarding pass for Bali border control.
Finally, we arrived. ‘We’re in Bali, baby!’ I proclaimed to my friends, who must have been sick of this statement by the end of my trip. Admittedly, I did declare this often during our stay (usually when dancing and after a local Bintang beer).
‘Please could we see your boarding pass?’. Perfunctory passport control voice directed at me.
Oh, lord. Body begins to quake.
Now let me explain something about myself. I develop a particular brand of OCD when it comes to travel documents. I check that my passport is in pocket-3 of my sling bag. I do this at roughly 5-minute intervals when in any airport queue just in case this inanimate object has unzipped the pocket and slipped off for some sightseeing. Yes, I become a little irrational. My boarding pass, however, I take great joy in scrunching into the plane’s backseat pocket – one less bit of paper to obsess over. I have never been asked for my boarding pass when entering another country. My friend also couldn’t find hers. I must have looked like that cat from Shrek because she just gave us a mild scolding and then ushered us through. So, remember, when travelling to Bali – keep your boarding pass safe!
3. 100% Pack and then unpack 80%
I started out packing lightly. Envisioning myself as so utterly carefree, that all I’d need is underwear, a sarong, slops, and a bikini. Makeup…pffft. Only natural and whimsical I’d be. But it’s hard to take the city out of the girl, and I wasn’t yet ‘Bali-fied.’ So, I added another dress. Then I added another in case that dress was too short (nothing is too short for Bali). What if I needed these 2 extra pairs of shorts, in case the other 3 pairs of shorts clashed with the 5 strappy tops? I added extra shirts too. Including a long-sleeved collared shirt that would prove about as necessary as closed shoes (yes, I packed 2 pairs of those). And surely 2 bikinis wouldn’t be enough? Yup, in went another. Ever prudent, I threw in my denim jacket and jeans for those cold days. There are no cold days in Bali.
But that’s not all. I felt it important to take along a camera tripod. Yes, the metal ones. No, I’m not a photographer. Perhaps the energy of Bali, however, would uncover my until-now undiscovered photographic genius. It didn’t. If you’re not a photographer, your phone will more than suffice.
Let’s talk makeup. It’s impractical to wear during the day. Your mascara will smudge because you are either in the sea or a pool. Your concealer will rub off. No one wears lipstick. However, when we headed out in the evenings, it felt good to add a touch of makeup. But base – never – it’ll just melt. Take very few basic cosmetics and pack them in your main luggage. If you do need some on hand for airport showers, remember to follow the regulations with regards to liquids in your hand luggage to avoid confiscation.
In short, pack light, then pack lighter. By day two, you will surrender to the laid-back Bali life. You will need less and you will care less about how you look. Road-side shopping in Bali is exceptional and cheap. I ended up wearing what I bought there – light skirts, bare-backed short jumpsuits, and cool, breezy dresses. I reckon I wore a fifth of what I packed. You don’t even need to pack a towel.
The most important thing to pack? Sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hat. And yes, boys, that includes you.
4. Have some dollars on hand BEFORE arriving in Bali.
All three of our cards in all three of the airport ATMs didn’t work. There we stood, three perplexed penniless blondes suddenly feeling very far from home. It was no longer just me looking like the cat from Shrek.
‘Let’s just get to the hotel. I know we can’t pay them, but I’m sure they won’t chuck us out,’ I said in a pretend-positive way. Very fortunately, the most astute of us three (not me) had pre-paid for a hotel shuttle. We would have been a bit stuffed otherwise. ‘We’re looking for a guy with my name written on a board,’ she announced. ‘He says he’ll be just outside the exit holding a board with my name on it.’
Picture a soccer stadium where every spectator is holding up a handwritten board hoping to be spotted on the TV cameras. There were roughly that many taxi drivers, each clutching a name board. It was also at least five-thousand degrees with humidity levels that scoff at Durban’s. I was wearing a jersey, leggings, sneakers, and an insanely heavy backpack (again – don’t pack the tripod). Awesome.
It took a good 30 minutes of CrossFit pacing before we found our driver. He was ever so sweet, with the trademark beaming Balinese smile. He also had aircon and Wi-Fi, which elevated him to god-like status in our eyes. He nodded when we said ‘ATM,’ he nodded when we explained that ‘we need to draw money,’ he also nodded when we said, ‘it’s freezing cold in Bali today.’ He didn’t speak a word of English, so there would be no ATM on route and no money. There was nothing more we could do, so instead, we stopped the panicking and took in our vibrant surroundings. We were headed to the hotel via Kuta.
5. Just relax and embrace the crazy.
Kuta is exceptionally busy and there’s plenty to do. It’s next level bustle, and your senses are instantly woken. Side-street cook-ups bubble away, little shops brim over with goods and the sounds of traffic merge with loud chatter. We chose to stay in less manic Legian which was a good decision, but I instantly loved the Kuta vibe. Kuta is where the clubs are, and we did venture back one evening for some late-into-the-night dancing (which I’ll elaborate on in my next blog).
Traffic rolls along, but the pedestrians move significantly faster. Scooters weave through the gridlocked traffic with remarkable skill. Some sporting families of four. It’s commonplace to see mom and dad on the seat, a broadly-grinning toddler standing upfront and a younger child clutching to its mother’s back. Some wore helmets, others not. You quickly learn that ‘toot-toot’ is the unofficial Balinese language. It’s not considered rude to hoot; instead, it’s a masterful communication between drivers. It works. Well, most of the time. During our stay, we witnessed a few collisions, but everyone just jumps back on their scooters, and off they go! No hard feelings. When you’re a hair-width distance from fellow commuters, it’s part of life on the roads. Traffic lights are seen as a suggestion rather than a requirement. Instead, they have perfected a kind-of skillful merging that after a few days you get into too.
The good news? When we arrived at the Ibis Style Legian Hotel, our cards worked at the front desk. Seems we had somewhere to sleep after all. If there’s something you quickly realise in Bali, is that accommodation is insanely inexpensive. This 3-star hotel had all the attributes of a 5-star, and at just R750 a room the value was as surprising as it was welcome. The large, crisp, clean air-conditioned rooms were serviced daily, and a gorgeous pool area beckoned us to cool off after our weary travels. Plus, it’s so central. No beach views, but it’s a quick 8-minute walk away to dip your toes in the sea. You won’t be hiding out in your hotel anyway, so who cares about the sea view.
I looked at my friends, ‘We’re officially in Bali, baby!’
Smiles all round. Swim. Unpack. Change. Head out. Let the exploring begin.
Next week’s blog will explore where we stayed and what we got up to while living the life in Bali. I look forward to sharing the stories and info with you.
Let’s just coddiwomple