I’ve come to believe that winter vacations will be a lifetime essential for me. Even though I already had a Hawaiian escape, January and February were doing a familiar number on me. You know how New Year’s comes and you’re full of hope and then you plunge into a pattern of darkness and working too late and not eating enough healthy food and general unexplainable loneliness? You too? It seemed to be going around, as contagious as a Facebook status about Mercury in retrograde.
My trip to Indonesia marked my third trip in Southeast Asia. I’ll be truthful – my only preconceptions were formed by the section of Eat, Pray, Love that I skimmed (was only in it for Italy, mostly) and an episode of No Reservations. I expected rain, statues of Hindu gods, curry, satay, tame jungle and overtanned Australians.
We were in Bali a short time before going to the Gilis. My nighttime ride from the airport did remind me a lot of the same trip I took from the Bangkok airport. After the humidity hits you and you get inside a taxi, you ride past giant billboards advertising face creams, Nike, and the like, and then suddenly you ride past enormous shrines and temples, ornate and lit up.
Coffee was one of my favorite things during my short trip to a tiny slice of Indonesia. In Bali, my partner and I tried Kopi Luwak – the coffee made from berries digested by the palm civet (a raccoon-looking animal). It’s a bit overpriced, but it is delicious.
We drank it in the sweltering heat of Ubud, where Elizabeth Gilbert found love in her post-yoga glow, across from now-decrepit colonial buildings. When my friend Vickie arrived from New York, we returned to that area after dark, and entered a large Hindu shrine we did not learn the name of, and stared up at the night sky. This was a luxury for all three of us dwellers of mega-cities. How nice it is to reconnect with nature after several weeks of resentment and avoidance.
The Gili islands were beautiful and secluded and offered the other best part of the trip – beaches. They are worth the unpleasant 2.5 hour boat ride from Bali. The islands are carless, although the roosters and reggae bars almost make up for it with their ruckus. Here we did, well, not much. Sought sunshine, massages (nicer than a Thai massage, in my opinion), walks on the beach, fruit juices and cheap, tasty curries, plates of fried rice and cold Bintang beer.
I’m noticing that the more I travel, the tougher it becomes for me to really, deeply fall for a place. It didn’t happen for me in Indonesia, but I’m not finished or fatigued with exploring Southeast Asia, not at all.