Our next country in Southeast Asia was Indonesia. Now if island life appeals to you, you will be happy to know that Indonesia is a country made up of islands, around 17,500 islands. There is no official island count, although various authorities put the number anywhere between 17,000 and 18,500. Either way, we’d never be able to hit up all these little islands in one trip, let alone one lifetime, so we narrowed down our stay to a handful of islands. Our first stop was the most well known island of Bali. Bali has been that long anticipated dream destination that Lauren has been looking forward to since autumn in Europe so when she requested, we stay on the island for at least month I gave her my loving support. In truth we were both getting a little travel weary and wanted to spend more than a week in one location to give ourselves a little break. Our longest stay in one place over a whole year has been two weeks which we have only done twice.
With how cheap Southeast Asia is we also decided a little pampering was in order when we booked our first week at a retreat in Canggu. Lauren first pitched a week long yoga retreat to me which sounded like torture. It’s not that I dislike yoga, I have enjoyed some yoga sessions, but a week straight would drive me crazy and I would be bored out of my mind by day two. Compromise is an important part of marriage. She did some more research and found the perfect balance of our yin and yang! A surf and yoga retreat! The best part was it could be customized while we were there to pick and choose the balance between surfing and yoga.
Lauren has been hesitant to get back on a surfboard ever since our first lesson on our honeymoon and I have been pushing her to try it again, so I was elated when she was up for surfing on Bali. Although she disagrees, I think she did great during our first surf less on in Hawaii. Our goal was just to be able to stand up at least once and she ended up riding a few waves that day. I think it was the surf conditions that spooked her. Our teacher in Hawaii gave us the run down before we got in the water telling us to be careful of the strong rip current, the rocky shore on the left, and the shallow reef when we fall. I admit it was intimidating and I did graze the shallow reef once or twice when I fell, but luckily came out unscathed.
We arrived a couple hours before dark at our retreat, the Pineapple House, and immediately felt like we were on a normal vacation from work with our semiprivate pool, fancy room, and outdoor shower (it’s kind of a thing in Bali). The lovely lady running the retreat, Era and her absolutely adorable puppy Dora, welcomed us and after giving the intro speech told us we would be surfing at 7AM the next morning. I hope that water is warm! We loved our stay there, which on top of all the surfing, yoga, and fancy accommodations, we also got a great daily breakfast cooked for us by Putu. Lauren loved talking to Putu and Era and other retreat guests in the mornings over our breakfast.
Era also told us to be careful walking around at night after giving us a nearby restaurant recommendation. We thought this was peculiar and wondered if there was crime here which we did not expect and had not heard anything about. We figured out what she meant about 20 feet down the road when there was no sidewalk and the cars and motorbikes were zipping by, tickling the hairs on my arm they were so close. A visit to Bali pretty much mandates a motorbike rental to get around “safely” so we rented one for the rest of our first week after one night of walking around.
I was both excited and nervous for our first day of surfing wondering what to expect. We were picked up by Mosah who ended up being my instructor for the day. On our way to the beach I hoped that we would be surfing in an area with a sand bottom. This was my third time surfing and Lauren’s second so when he offered us the option for a quick refresher on the beach before getting in the water, we took it. Looking out at the waves I could see two different break points at they rolled in. The further break was where the bigger waves started and where the experienced surfers lined up. Lauren and I started out at the closer and smaller break each with our own instructor. I had forgotten how exhausting surfing is as we paddled out. I tried to keep up with my instructor, Mosah, but it was like a machine paddling out. Lauren and I both caught a good number of waves that morning. It was like riding a bike for me after the first couple of waves I felt very comfortable and natural on the soft board. We didn’t even make it an hour into our two-hour lesson before we were both exhausted. I had a lot of fun riding several waves, but it came back so quickly that it didn’t feel like much of a challenge, and I wondered if I would get bored with five days of surfing this week. Although Lauren rode several waves too, she didn’t have as much fun as I did. She decided to give it one more day. The rest of the day we were both so beat that we didn’t do much the rest of the day. We were scheduled to surf three days in a row, so we prepared for another early morning.
As we waited on our ride to the beach, we were joined by woman from Germany also staying at the retreat. She told us how she has done one or two surfing retreats before, and she hoped that this week she would ride a wave. See Lauren you are better than you think! I admired the woman’s dedication to riding a wave as I don’t think I would have the patience to spend more than a few days surfing if I could not ride a wave. When we arrived at the beach Mosah told me that because I was the expert of the group it was time for me to move up to the hard board today. I was tentative but I wanted to become a better surfer this week, so I agreed to give it a shot today. Even paddling out I felt so much less stable on the hard board than I did on the soft board. I got pummeled by an endless onslaught of waves paddling out to the far break. When I would finally make it out Mosah would immediately turn me around and tell me to paddle hard to catch the next wave. Riding the hard board, it felt like my first day of surfing again. I crashed and burned more times than I can count and the couple of times I did manage to stand up it was a wild ride to stay on the board. I think I just love a challenge and pushing my limits because even though it was a rough day I wanted more. Lauren stayed out the longest that day and caught more waves than me and certainly more than our poor German friend, but when we were done, she decided that surfing just was not for her. Even though she could catch waves and ride them all the way into shore it was just not that fun to her. Boogie boarding is more fun for her than surfing which confuses the heck out of me, but I promised to never push her again about it because she gave it an honest try. We were both exhausted again after about an hour of surfing and even decided we needed a break for a day before any more to let our tired and sore muscles recoup. Lauren decided to trade in the rest of her surfing lessons for a private yoga session and more yoga classes. I strongly considered trading in a surf lesson for a massage because I was not sure I could make it all five days.
On our “day off” I used one of my three yoga class vouchers on an afternoon session of Yin yoga. I googled the different types and picked this one because it sounded like more of a stretching session which would be good for sore muscles. What I did not expect was that the class would be 90 minutes long. With Yin yoga each position is also held for a long time with slow steady breathing, I almost fell asleep twice. It was not my favorite yoga class, mostly because of the length, but there were a few good positions I learned that stretched some tight muscles well so I am glad I did it. Lauren enjoyed her morning yoga classes and especially enjoyed the class where she got to practice handstands.
I was on my own for the third day of surfing with Lauren dropping out and the German woman taking a break. The sets looked more predictable this morning making the bigger waves at the further break appear attainable to me. While paddling out my arms felt stronger today from the break and I was feeling much more comfortable on the hard board. This was the day that caught me hook line and sinker on surfing. I had so much fun on this day riding 5-foot waves for 30 seconds all the way into the shallows of the beach. Mosah even stopped giving me a push on this day and only told me when to start paddling. I loved the control that the hard board gave over the soft board, I could actually try to start carving on the waves to stay on the face of the wave and not just in the white water after it crashed behind me. I knew when walking out of the water I would be surfing all five days and already wanted to ride bigger waves.
The next couple of days surfing I felt almost invincible on the hard board, rarely falling off. On the last day Mosah took me out to the main break and after riding a couple waves in, I exhausted myself trying to fight back out through a never-ending set rolling in. I took a short break on the beach to catch my breath and told him I only had a couple more waves in me for the day after only 45 minutes of surfing. He took me back out to alt main break because there was a nice channel to paddle out in so I would not have to fight the waves on the way out. After riding my second wave on the alt main to shore, Mosah gave me a funny look when he saw me paddling back out. When I got out to the break, he questioned me saying this is wave number three. I said, “I know” and continued to surprise him when I kept paddling back out for more. Finally, he had to tell me that the time was up for the lesson and he had to head back in. After getting hooked on surfing at the retreat I vowed to surf at least a few more times on Bali especially after realizing it is a world-renowned location for surfing!
We also explored Canggu a bit during our week there. Lauren was excited that we had a kitchen again to cook in as the last month and a half we had not been able to stay anywhere with a kitchen in Thailand and Cambodia (except Suzie’s place in Bangkok). The nearest grocery store however was surprisingly expensive! We asked Era about it, and she said that only the tourists shop at the grocery stores. Locals always go to the local outdoor markets for their daily groceries. She showed us where it was located and told us it was not open in the middle of the day. We figured this was because of the heat but didn’t ask. We went a few times and tried our best at bartering, but the Balinese people would not budge on most things! This was one of the first of many frustrating experiences of standing out as a tourist. We automatically are charged twice or three times as much as a local. We bought many fruits and veggies and tempeh and even some fresh young green jackfruit (perfect for jackfruit curry)! Indonesia’s tempeh is the best in the world, as it originated there, so Lauren was excited to eat as much tempeh as possible while in Indonesia.
We also ate out a few times to try some local Balinese dishes. Our favorite place was Give Cafe, a nonprofit cafe that gives profits to charity. Three charities are chosen each month to give to and the consumer is given a coin they can then choose which charity they would like the profit from their purchase to go towards. The cafe is also 100% vegan and they have a very tempting buffet set up each day of veganized Balinese dishes. Another fun thing we did was go to an organic farmers and artisan market held every Sunday by Samadi Yoga Center. Upon arrival, we were immediately given plenty a fruit samples from a Balinese woman happy to tell us about her produce. Everyone running the stands were very helpful when Lauren asked about something she needed. If they didn’t have it they would point her in the direction of another stand that may have what she was looking for. In the back there was an Artisans market that had locally made jewelry, clothes & accessories, and beauty products. We bought a handful of items for a certain friend’s wedding present.
If you’ve followed us for some time, you may know that we’ve become obsessed with finding the best coffee for our V60 coffee dripper we carry around with us. I’m not a fan of espresso as most of the rest of the world is, and we both agree that pourover coffee is the superior way to enjoy your morning cup o’ joe. After some googling, we found Hungry Bird Coffee and were impressed by the fact they sell local beans and even roast their own coffee. Also, for those into espresso based drinks, they have a barista who does some impressive latte art!
During our stay there was a day when the beach was closed for a religious holiday so I could not go surfing. Our retreat host Era told us the beaches closed so the villages could prepare for Nyepi day by bringing the shrine from their village temples down to the beach to be cleansed. We learned there are many different types of temples in Bali and each has a different purpose. There is the family temple which is typically the size of a doghouse put up on a post in the yard. This temple is used for remembrance and offerings for loved ones lost. Each village also has a temple which is typically an open air, walled in structure with many decorations. This is where the shrine is kept and where the village gathers for ceremonies. There are also activity temples for each village which is commonly an open-air structure like a pavilion and provides a space for community activities like dancing. Lastly, there are public temples which are the largest of all and located around the island in spiritual locations where the population of the island will visit once or twice a year for their big holidays like Nyepi day.
Era was nice enough to offer us to tag along to see the celebration at the nearby beach when she took her daughter to see it for the first time. We hopped on our motorbike to follow them on theirs and tore off because we were running late, I think it was my fault. We thought they drove like maniacs in Thailand, but Indonesians make the Thai’s look docile. I was still new to having Lauren riding on the back of the bike and I am glad I had a couple days of practice when Era started hopping curbs to race down the sidewalk at times when traffic stopped. I white knuckled it the whole way and have no idea how Lauren stayed so calm on the back. The multiple daily offerings are starting to make sense with how these people live on the edge, you never know how your day might end!
Walking up to the beach we saw what looked like a parade with people walking around their temple shrine and playing music on their way to the beach. Some villages walked many miles to bring their temple shrine to the beach. The beach was chaotic with masses of people following the temple shrines coming and going from the water. Every time a shrine would make it to the water’s edge, several people from that village would become possessed by evil spirits as they held daggers up to their hearts and screamed to be released. The purpose of this ceremony is to cleanse the people and temples of their sins and evil spirits a couple days before the arrival of Nyepi day which is their new year celebration. We experienced some powerful moments when we saw women break down crying hysterically on their way to the ocean only to collapse halfway to the water. Their family or friends would pick them up and carry them to the water to release them from the torment of evil spirits. The next day after surfing we moved to our long-anticipated month-long Airbnb a few minutes outside of Ubud. After witnessing the ceremony on the beach, we were unsure what to expect next from the big celebration in Ubud the night before Nyepi day. All we knew was we were excited to see some Ogoh Ogoh’s!