Fortune and Flops in Bali

The next day we found our companion to be in better spirits so the three of us walked one minute to the beautiful Jimbaran Beach, where we spent the morning soaking up the sun. Well actually I avoided the sun while Maggie and Matthew slowly baked into a beautiful bronze color.

Boats on the beach near Jimbaran Bay.  

Boats on the beach near Jimbaran Bay.  


Eventually we got so hot that we had to go for a dip. The waves here were not near as big as the ones at Surfer's Paradise on the Gold Coast, but they were still a good size for fun. Pretty soon Matthew had the three of us body surfing on the waves. We ran and jumped into the waves at just the right time, allowing our bodies to float the waves into shore. I had so much fun that I lost myself in the body surfing. I ran and I jumped and—felt something course scratch across my stomach, briefly knocking the wind out of me. I wiped the water out of my eyes and put my hands beneath me, only to realize I had ran and jumped straight on to the shore. I turned around and joined Maggie and Matthew as they laughed and laughed at my mistake. I hadn't realized I was already on shore. Luckily all I got for my stupidity was a good laugh and a scratched up belly.


Perhaps the best part about this particular day was that it was a monument for me. I almost missed it, had I not been thumbing through an old notebook. It was on this very day one year ago that Matthew, Jacob and I sat around a table in Oklahoma City and talked seriously about the opportunity of working and living in Australia. In my journal I wrote about my goal to live and work in Australia by August 2016. I wanted to be somewhere exotic, working seriously on my writing and doing casual work in the meantime. And now, a year later, here I was, so close to living out my dream. Only a few days and one job stood between me and my goal and I was hopefully that these things would fall into place effortlessly.


Later that night I was pushed out of my self satisfaction when Matthew gave me a harsh reality check. Our time in Bali was coming to an end in just three days and yet we had no real plan for Australia. We had a few almost-plans that seemed to be falling through on us. Maggie didn't really have a plan either, but she was staying in Bali an extra week and she also owned a car.  Matthew and I weren't so prepared.

The severity hit when Matthew said Oklahoma was our last resort. I had never thought as drastically as this, but he was right. If we ran out of money and didn’t find work, home was the answer. I missed home but I wasn't ready to end my trip yet. Matthew's sister and our friend Jacob were coming to visit in September. They had bought their plane tickets last week. What would happen if Matthew and I weren't here in September to greet them?

With this realization, Matthew and I decided to cut the selective crap and open up our minds to anything. Instead of only targeting Darwin and the Northern Territory, we started applying for jobs, house-sitting positions and volunteer opportunities all over the country. We were willing to fly three to five hours in order to make something work.  

Still, I chose to remain positive and hopeful. Having both prayed enormously on the subject, we were sure whatever would happen would be all part of God’s plan. I messaged 17 people on on a work website. I had messaged 13 a few days earlier and I would message 15 more before actually finding something. So after multiple emails, applications and a $50 membership fee to a house-sitting website, we decided all we could do was sit and wait for responses.


With only waiting left to do, Maggie and I of course decided we needed to pass the time wisely. We talked Matthew into driving to Kuta for dinner and one drink. The night went so well that we stayed out until two in the morning.  This was our first big outing as a trio and I'd say we nailed it. 


In the morning the three of us would share a cab ride to the airport where we would say our brief goodbyes. Previous conversations had prepared us for the inevitable. This could very well be the last time the three of us were together. The uncertainty of the future told us that we may never see Maggie again. Of course, her and I were planning on traveling together in a few months. We also planned on giving her car back to her in a week. But with the lack of plans anything was possible. It was a reality we all had to face. 

Monkey Business in Bali

After taking a quick swim, we wandered up the street in search of breakfast. After several failed attempts, we gave up on breakfast and settled, instead, for authentic Indonesian food at a local's restaurant. The place was dark and empty, aside from a few workers who were sitting casually near the food, swatting flies and keeping watch. We looked around and saw no menu, only a buffet-type area with five hot pans of soup-like meat and a huge window display of a dozen other items.


“Food?” Several of the workers said this word as they each tried to hand us a plate. I was unsure as to weather I should take the plate and fill it myself or if I should point to what I want and have them fill it. Being the adventurous one, it seemed as though I usually dove in obliviously while Matthew and Maggie watched and figured out a system to go by. The problem was, I couldn't figure out where to dive in. Fortunately, a small motherly woman appeared and took the plate out of one of the young staffer's hands. She gave me a stern but welcoming look, as if to make sure I was serious about wanting food. I nodded my head and watched with approval as she began putting things on my plate as she named them with words I didn't understand. She pointed to something and then looked at me. I shrugged and nodded my head. We did this a few times before I realized my plate was overflowing. I laughed when I saw how much food I had ordered and thanked her with the Balinese, “Tremagassi” before finding a table. Behind me, Matthew and Maggie were filling their own plates with much more care. They asked what things were and took time to decide what looked tasty.


When they joined me at the table we all three dug in. My first bite was big and bold and surprisingly crunchy. It wasn't a potato chip crunch, but a bone crunch. I swallowed hard before looking at the concoction I had just ate. There staring back at me on my plate, were a dozen tiny minnows, fried and crispy and full of bones. I laughed and showed Maggie and Matthew before deciding to skip that portion of my plate. The rest of my entree was full of spicy rice, something that tasted like sweet and sour chicken, fried egg and sauteed veggies. I got very full and still had food left on my plate. The whole thing was about two Australian dollars. The three of us left feeling very pleased.

Minnows at twelve o'clock! 

Minnows at twelve o'clock! 


Our next stop would be a town just north of Seminyak. It wasn't far in distance, but the crowded streets and a wrong turn cost us over two hours of driving time. While in the car, we fortunately had a polite English-speaking driver. Formerly, he was an engineer for Toshiba electronics. As an engineer he made 14 million rupiah per month. He explained that the average minimum wage was only 2 million rupiah (roughly $200 AUD or $175 USD), so he had been one of the lucky ones. The Toshiba plant closed shortly after his move to Bali and soon he would travel to Australia to scope out engineering work near Melbourne. 


After an hour of barely moving, our car came to a complete stop. We were in a full-out traffic jam. Just as we began to get frustrated, the driver pointed out that the traffic was due to a local ceremony. It was a traditional Balinese funeral, though it looked more like a parade. All up and down the street we watched as hundreds of individuals walked together in traditional Balinese dress. We watched in awe as we saw a huge cow exhibit being carried by a dozen young men stop and spin slowly before entering into the gates of a park. The driver explained that the spinning was to release the spirit, so it wouldn't stay on earth haunting people. He explained that the Balinese believe that death releases you from sickness and disease. The deceased are in a better place so there is no need for tears.

A traditional Balinese funeral.

A traditional Balinese funeral.


Eventually we made our way to Ubud, where we tipped the driver generously and wished him luck on his Australian adventure.

Our first stop in Ubud was the Monkey Forrest, which is exactly what it sounds like. A forrest full of monkeys. The three of us walked on a dozen different trails and temples, watching in fascination as monkeys picked bugs out of their siblings hair, ate bananas from tourists, and stared unenthusiastically at all of the people. Though many people thought they were cute, I found them to resemble homeless people. The monkeys sat on their bums all day, waiting for someone to give them a banana. When they received food, they peeled it with their hands while holding it with their feet. They'd sit and watch us walk by while they chewed obnoxiously and occasionally scratched their armpit.


A Monkey Bum.

A Monkey Bum.

After we had our fill on monkey watching, we walked up the road and found the first juice joint we could find. When we sat down and ordered, I was delighted to discover the name of the place was, “Monkey Coffee.” I decided it fit the theme of the day.


We ended our time in Ubud by visiting the traditional Balinese market. This market was full of clothes, jewelry, shoes and sarongs. Tent after tent after tent was full of beautiful fabrics and kindly begging people. Here we did some real bargaining. I was glad my parents had taught me the art of it while vacationing in Mexico as young teenager. I found lots of styles and patterns I liked, but I refused to pay more than half price for any of them. 

Ubud Marketplace 

Ubud Marketplace 


As we drove out of the city I couldn't help but think that Ubud was the Bali I was waiting for. It was less western and more Balinese. It was still very touristy but with authentic shops. It is the artistic and spiritual center of the island, making it somewhere I'd like to explore. There were many temples and waterfalls, and the most beautiful green rice fields I had ever seen. This was what I had been after. 


Monkey Business Cafe, Seminyak

Monkey Business Cafe, Seminyak


That night we walked a few minutes up the road from our hotel and found a very cool place for dinner. Monkey Business. (I was the only one who saw the cheekiness.) The place was a chain-link fence decorated with hip cafe style. The only wall was a brick one that belonged to another building on the other side. Still, I loved the atmosphere and the handmade wood furniture. The food was pleasantly surprising and just what we needed after a long day of monkey business. 

The Beatles in Bali

Sometime in the night, Maggie slipped in our hotel room after a midnight flight and a long taxi ride. The next morning the three of us sat up in our beds, greeting one another as if it had been a coincidence. The three of us ordered breakfast from our exquisite hotel menu then waited effortlessly by the pool.


I watched as a young Balinese woman, dressed in traditional ceremonious clothing walked slowly throughout the courtyard. She carried a small square box made from dried up leaves or bark. Inside the box were fresh flowers and an incense stick. As she walked she wafted the incense in a reverent fashion. As if to answer my thoughts, Maggie explained that this was their morning ritual to ward off the evil spirits and it had to be done before the cooks could start on our breakfast. I would soon find out that every building in the city went through this morning routine, and all the small boxes were left in front as offerings to the gods. Tourists sometimes stepped on the boxes by accident, but these didn't seem to be too big of an offense.



We spent the day wandering through the busy streets of Seminyak. Every inch seemed to be full of boutique shops, interesting cuisine and fun cocktails. In and out we walked, looking but not buying, as we had to stay strictly on our budget. What we did end up buying was a night of fun. We had seen a restaurant and bar advertising a Beatles tribute band that very night. We all loved the Beatles (who doesn't?) and so made our arrangements to be there.


Not only were the Beatles great, but so was the warm-up band that included a tiny local girl who belted out Adele with amazing gusto. Everyone in the restaurant seemed to be impressed and surprised at the bold sound. Even if the Beatles had been a bust, I would have been pleased to listen to the cover band all night. They were great.

The indonesian Beatles!

The indonesian Beatles!


When the Beatles joined the stage we screamed and sang just as our parents probably did forty years ago. Maggie and I even joined in and danced wildly with a middle-aged woman who made “the twist” look hip again.


I think that was our most expensive night in Bali. We ate and drank and had a great time. I even found myself enjoying a local rice liqueor called Arak. I had it mixed with lime and honey and it was really tasty and quite affordable. 

Bali: Why I Took a Vacation from my Vacation

Just off of the north coast of Darwin, which is about as far north as Australia goes, you can find a trail of over one thousand islands, making up the country of Indonesia. Perhaps the most popular island in this archipelago, is one made famous by the New York Times Best Seller: Eat Pray Love. In the book that later became a Julie Roberts film, a divorced and middle aged woman finds herself and a new lover on the small island of Bali, Indonesia. Since the success of both the book and the movie, Bali has become a tourist destination for people all over the world, though Australians are particularly popular because of proximity. You may wonder why three backpackers chose to take a holiday from their working holiday, and I will tell you, the answer is simple. Vacations in Bali are cheap. While we could easily stay in Darwin, spending $30 a night on accommodation and an average of $15 per meal and another $10 if we want to enjoy a drink, we could also stay a few kilometers north and enjoy the view of an ocean at half the cost. So that's exactly what we did, because, well, it was just good sense.


Our flights to Bali cost under $300 for a round trip. We were flying at the end of the tourism season where things were cheaper but not at their cheapest yet either (I heard rumors of flights going as low as $30 in the off season). Our meals in Bali ranged from $2-10 and our accommodation was less than what we spent at most hostels but much nicer in style and location. It was nice to be pampered and spoiled and even nicer to relax by the ocean.


Our plan for Bali was simple. We'd spend 33% of our time laying in the sun doing absolutely nothing, another 33% using the wifi to look for jobs in Darwin, and the final 33% would be for exploring and enjoying the sites of the island. We stuck to our plan well. When we were relaxing we were looking for jobs and when we weren't looking for jobs we were experiencing a beautiful and strange land.


Bali is a beautiful island full of green plant life and lush rice fields. Of course, the island is surrounded by a beautiful ocean that is famous for surfing and swimming. In the heart of the island you have a few main cities that have become very westernized by years of tourist visits. Many savvy businesses have made storefronts here because of the lax regulations and building codes. Kuta and Seminyak are the most touristy. We stayed a week in Seminyak and enjoyed walking up and down the streets full of shops of all kinds. Some brands like Polo, RipCurl and Billabong were priced and stocked similar to their western counterparts. Other stores were trendy and fashionable with heavily discounted prices. Even still, there were dozens of local shops mixed in between with brand-name rejects which were gladly sold for under ten Australian dollars. Outside of shops and in vacant spaces there seemed to always be a mural to give a trendy and artistic charm to the area. In fact, there was quite a blossoming art scene on the island as well. I found lots of paintings that I would have gladly taken home with me if it weren't for my limited space. The art was unique, bold and affordable. I particularly like an artist from Thailand with bright colors and loose acrylic scribbles. He was my favorite.

One of the many wall murals in Bali.

One of the many wall murals in Bali.


The entire island seems to smell like incense. The climate is mostly tropical and sunny and so swimming pools are always within walking distance. Aside from shopping there are many beautiful Hindu temples to visit and the food here is more eclectic than anything I've experienced in Australia. One night we had excellent Mexican cuisine, the next an authentic Indonesian meal, and yet another we had fresh seafood on the beach. Even the burgers were good! While in Australia I had struggled to find a decent Margarita, much less under $20. Here they were quite common and for half the cost.


Another popular activity in Bali is going to the spa. Maggie and I enjoyed a half day of pampering, receiving an hour long massage and a pedicure for about twenty dollars all together. The women who work at the spa are sweet and caring.


Driving in Bali there are no rules. The right and left lanes are only important when they are full. Otherwise you can drive a ways on either side of the road. Scooters can drive in and out of wherever they fit. It's common to pass them on the sidewalk as often as pedestrians. I guess it's okay because they aren't much bigger than your person. Maggie and I rented a scooter a couple of different times. For only $7 a day, you can drive all over the island at your own leisure. The traffic was intimidating at first, but before the end of our first day, Maggie was handling it like a pro!


All this to say, Bali is an amazing place. I am glad I took the opportunity to see and do things around an island such as this. Many people enjoy Bali so much that they come back again and again. Now, I can see why. Bali is to Australians what Cancun is to Americans. A beautiful beach of culture; perfect for relaxing.  I took this vacation because I worked really hard at a really monotonous job for three months, I was beyond froogle while traveling through the outback, and now I am enjoying two weeks by the beach while I look for my next job position.  Bali is my holiday from a working holiday.