Many people tried to describe Bali to me before I went. Mingled with the tips (“you have to try the coffee at Seniman”) was a sense of wonder (“it’s unlike any other place I’ve been”) that I didn’t really grasp until I opened my door to the Lombok Strait that first morning. There’s a heated magic that threads the island, from those acid-green terraced rice paddies to the kind people to the tiny plant-ribboned altars before every doorway. I stayed away from Kuta, and over the course of the week, made my way from the ultraluxe Amankila to a homestay near Lovina Beach (pictured) to a yoga retreat in Ubud. Here’s how it changed my world.
1. Nasi Goreng is now a part of my food vocabulary. Rice, of course, is a huge staple here. And this fried rice dish is the spicy, peanut-laced, egg-topped king. It’s even better when you learn how to make it yourself.
2. I can’t stop looking for rice paddies and temples everywhere I go. At times, it felt like Bali was just a land of lake temples and green fields, with a few homes and roads sandwiched in between. San Francisco paled in comparison (for about a week).
3. Fire-walking seems like a perfectly acceptable profession. Ceremonial dances are nearly as common as temples here, and many of them revolve around a huge bonfire. And while fire-walking elicits oohs and ahhs from those unaccustomed to the spectacle, it’s a cleansing ritual that draws healing spirits into the body, according to local lore.
4. I’m doling out spices like a fragrant Santa. You know how you go to the grocery store to buy spices and wonder, why are they so expensive? I got a first-hand glimpse at the painstaking process by which spices like vanilla are harvested by hand and will, forever more, happily fork over my $3 a bean. Well, once I run out of my arsenal that is. I highly recommend you leave a good chunk of space in your suitcase to fill with vanilla, saffron, palm sugar, kaffir lime leaves, and the dozens of other affordable aromatics you can load up on here.
5. I’m surprised to only see solo riders on a motorcycle. Three things to know about driving in Bali: Mopeds are the norm, you live and die by the horn, and yes, you will see 12-year-olds and families of four (including an infant and a toddler) zipping around, helmet-less. Just roll with it. And don’t tell your mom.
Photo by Aislyn Greene.