I knew my answer right off the bat—go to Bali!
Since getting serious about yoga, I’d heard a lot about the island—most especially about Ubud and the tens of hundreds of yoga classes you could take there, bike tours you could do amidst the rice paddies, and cheap, pretty finds you could get at the local market. Bali was also the setting for the last chapters of Eat, Pray, Love, where writer Elizabeth Gilbert finally comes into her own (and meets Brazilian Felipe!).
As soon as I talked about my 2014 goal, the FLOW girls told me they were already planning to do their first international retreat in Bali and neighboring province Lombok. Serendipity was at work! I was immediately on it and had about six months to save up for the trip.
One of the big draws for me, aside from the traveling was that Monica, Noelle and Denise of FLOW had everything arranged. My yoga teacher training friend Adi had moved to Indonesia a year ago and would be our resident tour guide.
It was a definite pull for me—being able to rest easy, knowing that we’d be scoring the best deals, having just the right mix of culture + food + partying, and getting the most out of the Bali and Lombok experience. It’s always fun to create your own off-the-beaten-track agenda, but I wanted to enjoy the sights without having to worry about searching for a good hotel or a restaurant that wouldn’t rip me off. Because I was on my third retreat with the FLOW girls, I knew I was in good hands!
Flying PAL had us leaving in the evening (Manila to Denpasar), reaching Bali just in time to get a good night’s rest to prep us for four days’ worth of sun salutes, surf and samba.
We were booked at Echoland Bed & Breakfast in Canggu—far away from the droves of tourists but just a 20-minute leisurely walk to Echo Beach and other charming restaurants that range from French Patisseries to Italian gelaterias, to inexpensive, local warungs (restaurants). The rooms were spacious, bathrooms were clean and had an outdoor rainshower feel (with pretty bamboo fixtures!), and came with free Indonesian, French or Continental breakfast every morning at the rooftop.
Our first day had us taking a quick look at the waves at Echo Beach—they were HUGE! Because we were beginning surfers, we were too chicken to get on our boards and into the water and decided to watch seasoned surfers from all over the globe tackle the water instead.
We had a delicious lunch (duck salad was great!) at Old Man’s, fronting the beach. The colorful restaurant offers hefty servings that are perfect to replenish you post-surf. I loved the quirky interiors—not exactly a traditional Balinese spot, but perfectly foreigner-friendly and enough to keep you wanting to immerse yourself in the surf culture so prevalent in the area.
After lunch, we did some exploration in popular surf spot, Uluwatu. I’d gotten a lot of comments from people who’d visited Bali before that their beaches don’t compare to ours. I did miss the wide expanse of empty shore and clear blue waters that I experienced last summer in El Nido, but if you’re out to surf, then Bali’s beaches are just the thing for you. The tremendous waves and the people brave enough to get on them were awe-inspiring! Single Fin, a cute shop, is also situated right by the parking lot and offers your requisite surf threads.
Just a word of warning: exploring Uluwatu’s coves and secret nooks takes a bit of balance. You need to head down some pretty steep steps just to get to the sand, which was a little terrifying for me because I’ve got a bad knee. If you’re scared of heights or have issues with your legs, make sure to take a breather or just go down a few flights and park yourself at one of the cafes overlooking the cliffs.
We trooped on over to the temple at Uluwatu—famous, not only for its cultural significance but also for the many monkeys traipsing around, sitting on the pillars and scampering all over the stone paths (best to be on guard because they can pickpocket!). Walking past the temple takes you to an amphitheater, which surrounds the stage for the traditional Kecak Dance.
A group of men chant for an hour while dancers perform the story of Hanuman (The Monkey King), Rama and Sita. Oddly hypnotic and kind of mesmerizing, we watched them sing and dance for an hour while the sun began to set over Bali’s waters. Even if you aren’t familiar with the Ramayana, watching the Kecak Dance at sunset is mystical and breathtakingly magical.
We had a lovely seafood dinner on the beach at Jimbaran after. Pretty expensive (expect tourist prices!) at 250,000++ Rupiah (PhP 930) each for a big platter along with what seemed like a bottomless supply of rice (take note that a meal at a local warung can be ¼ the cost of this meal!).
We kicked off Day 2 with a much-needed vinyasa yoga session led by Monica, the resident yogi. Moving through sun salutations at Echoland’s rooftop, watching the rice paddies while we flowed through our warriors was so wonderful! A long-time yoga practitioner, teacher, and new mom, Monica told us about how her first-ever teacher, Dada Surya, now lived in Bali and worked as a tour guide—I loved how she incorporated her personal experiences into our sequence, and how the postures we moved through were the perfect antidote to the fatigue from our traveling. Post-class, we had a delicious breakfast to prep us for the day.
Our first beach visit was Dreamland, a huge complex owned by the son of Indonesia’s ex-president. Driving through the expansive estate reminded me of going through a private development like an unfinished Anvaya Cove—roads are empty, huge lots are sectioned off for future residences, hotels or clubs, and again, a beach ready for surfing was a quick shuttle away.
Dreamland’s waters during high tide were a little scary—they had us scuttling to any high points we could find so we wouldn’t be washed away by the pull. They made for postcard-ready photos though and were perfect for some quiet time just looking out at the horizon.
Now here’s where things get a little sticky for me. I’ve always had a pretty tough tummy, but lately (starting with a summer trip to Sagada) my stomach has become a tad more sensitive to unfamiliar food.
Despite us all sharing in the Jimbaran feast from the night before, I suffered from an extreme bout of upset-tummy Day 2, which meant I needed to stay away from any spicy or oily local cuisine, plus be extra careful about the ice cubes in any drink I ordered.
I had some plain chicken satay with plain rice and a hard-boiled egg (boo) while the others raved about the rice cooked in coconut milk, and vegetable curry.
My situation was also a true test of Bali’s restrooms—which I’m happy to report scores 8/10. Every stall had an accompanying bidet and a roll of toilet paper (even at the beaches!). Those who are fussy about bathroom breaks won’t really have much to complain about—they’re all pretty clean and get the job done!
There was a surf comp going on in Padang-Padang beach, which we decided to check out. A pretty touristy area, expect to bump elbows with people when looking for a spot to lay your beach blanket on the sand. There were people from all over—Australian surfers, Italian beach babes, and even a Korean crew doing a guerilla photo shoot plus a couple doing pre-wedding photos (complete in wedding gown).
Be prepared to walk down (and up) about 180++ steps (yes, I counted) to get from street level down to the actual shore.
Our last beach stop for the day was Balangan, which had (again!) majestic sunset views and enough space for us to take a crash course in dance courtesy of Denise, FLOW’s resident samba guru. It was fun to see little pockets of people all over the beach—there were a few people just lying out on the sand, another group doing a sunset yoga class, and there was us, trying not to disturb the yogis while practicing our samba no pé and our cuadros.
Stay tuned for the next instalment of my FLOW Bali and Lombok travel diary!
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Special thanks to FLOW for some of the photos