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Thursday, January 14, 2016

Choose Your Adventure: Bali and the Gili Islands, Indonesia

You arrive in Bali with a bag and absolutely no plan for your two week holiday besides a plane ticket home.  From there, you choose your adventure.

You hire a car and 45 minutes towards Ubud checking each roadside ATM to see if it has any money left and pull into the drive of the first hotel that looks good as you near town (Sri Raith Cottages for one).  The hotel is just far enough away to feel remote but close enough to wander Jalan Monkey Forest and the other roads in the main town.  The roads are named for where they lead so beware the crazy forest monkeys at the end of that street!  You enjoy morning coffee on the balcony of your cottage or late afternoon coffee at Maha Bar in town.  You taste Nasi Goreng for the first time and revel in the flavors of Indonesia.

One of the days you get picked up at 2:30am for the hour drive to Mt. Batur.  You pack snacks and warm clothes. The icy grip of night leaves its frozen fingertips on your limbs but the hot chocolate and companionship warm you as the first brilliant rays of sunrise crest the horizon.  You take goofy pics of your shadows in the sun and steal tomatoes from the farmers on your walk back down.  It's rocky in places so you remember to bring sturdy shoes to wear.  

You leave the cold of the mountain for the blissful warm and sinful innocence of the Gili Islands.  The drive from Ubud to Pandongg becomes a blur of striking green rice paddies and the 1.5 hour high-speed boat is filled with beer guzzling boys, their shoulders red from the afternoon sun.

In Gili T, you feel like Goldie Locks selecting your accommodation.  You find the fancy hotels too big, the backpacker hostels too small and Gili Amor Boutique Hotel to be just right.  You're greeted by a refreshing, minty mojito and a swim in the room-side pool.  Luckily, you're just in time for the night market where you pick your dinner from a tray of fresh fish, watch it sizzle on a grill served straight to your plate.  You keep running out of the delicious lemongrass sauce they serve on the side.

You spend the rest of your week wearing a tiny thong for your mid afternoon massage, narrowly avoiding horse carts as you lazily bike through the streets and watching naughty female tourists consort with young locals at late night bars.  By day you rush to eat your ice cream before it melts down your wrist and by night you fight for your fair share of over-salted, under-bacon'd crepes.

During your morning snorkel, you catch your breath at the myriad of flashy fish, treacherous jellies and the keen sense of a world you don't belong in but can't help diving into.  You emerge terrified... and triumphant.  You return to land famished and spend the entire day laughing over pizza with new friends at Egoiste Bar commenting on the "chicken trees."  You laugh so hard you run out of tissues.

Entire nights are devoted to "practicing" with milkshake magicians, evening forest adventures and possibly even pulling up with a flat tire on your way to Surf Bar club at 4am.  The sun sets to a literal drum roll, the final rays reflecting off the tide as it goes back out to sea.


After you barely make your 8:30am boat back to Bali, holiday luck brings you to the mainland where you check into the Bracha Villas in Seminyak.  The room won't be ready so for dinner you book a car to Uluwatu.  On the way, you stop at Uluwatu Temple, a cliffside temple shrouded in gold, penetrated by curious travelers in purple skirts and guarded by precocious monkeys.

The frost drips down your icy beer as you watch the sky painted with millions of vibrant sunset colors from the top deck of the infamous Single Fin bar.  The fisherman bring in their days catch from the ocean below.  You jostle for the best position at the bar and then realize the sky is so big, everyone has a view.

Your first night you wander the streets looking for the shadiest bar in Kuta because it'll have the best music (Eirons Bar). You dance until the sweat pours, the dance floor empties and you're left with permanent wrinkles in your sundress from tying it above the knees.  You stick to beers because the liquor might make you blind... and not in the good way.

You wake up in a secluded villa you couldn't afford at home and refuse to leave your giant bed until the private pool seduces your hangover with its soothing cool water. The next few days are a blur: lunches at Sister Fields, French dinners at Le Bistrot, ocean-view sushi and sunsets at Ku De Ta and dirty dancing at La Favela.  

You earn a full day at the famous Prana Spa in Seminyak.  A hundred US dollars gets you three hours of Balinese oil massage, an aromatic Lulur body scrub, yogurt skin conditioning and a final soak in a rose petal and Frangipani flower bath.  The tea there is INCREDIBLE.

And finally, on your last beach walk, you gift a piece of your soul to drift in and out with the tide until it becomes one grain among many.  You leave your mark on Bali, just as it has left a mark on you.

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