My own “Eat, Pray, Love”, but not really

When I read Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Eat, Pray, Love” a couple months before leaving on this trip, it wasn’t hard for me to find some parallels between her adventures and what mine were hopefully going to become. Some of the more obvious ones include that we both would go to Indonesia and Italy, and I planned to meditate at a monastery. And I do not doubt that by the time I complete my journey, there will probably be other similarities I could draw.

Unfortunately and fortunately, our starting points were a little different. My trip would have probably been a bit different if I had been given a substantial publisher’s advance. I feel that this is almost like cheating because I feel that the budgeting that took place to make my trip a reality began well before I ever started planning and will continue after the trip is past. Budgeting was one of my bigger challenges because with enough money, the possibilities become almost endless. The part where I feel fortunate in our differences is that I am not divorced nor have ever been married, and I am not unhealthily off and on with someone as she describes her David.

Some similarities that I’m hoping for include having the opportunity to gorge on delicious food in Italy. I want to find that pizza that even though it falls apart when barely picked up, it doesn’t matter because it is so delicious when you finally get it to your mouth. I want to eat some meals overflowing with seafood and others that include so much pasta that I don’t even have room for dessert, which when the time comes I’m sure I can find a little left over space. After all, that’s why I’ve been told we have two stomachs—one big one for dinner and another even bigger one for dessert.

When I meditate, I wouldn’t mind experiencing some sort of similar meditative transcendence that Liz does, but I would happy with just being able to sit still for several hours without moving. This alone will be a great feat. And although I plan to go to a monastery where talking is against the rules, I hope to at some point in the trip meet my own Richard from Texas. I want to meet someone who makes me feel despite all that might be going on that everything is going to end up okay, someone who always has something positive to say even if it might feel a little backhanded, and someone who will listen to my stories and offer his two cents. I do need to make sure, though, not to end up with a nickname as bad as “Groceries”.

For the “Love” part of the book, the part that took place in Indonesia, where Liz finds her Brazilian lover, I feel I have to keep my mind open and see what happens. When I was talking to my grandma a couple months ago and we were discussing my plans for this trip, she had two tokens of advice that remain clearly in mind. First is to be safe and second is to find a nice Jewish girl. Both are very grandma-like things to say, and I’m not sure which of the two is more grandma-like. And I know that she will be happy with any girl that I’m happy with because of my many cousins (her grandchildren), several have married other Jews and several have not, and she loves all of her grandchildren-in-laws dearly.

So I guess in terms of this trip being my own version of “Eat, Pray, Love”, only time can tell. And in terms of me endorsing this book, I do admit to enjoying it, but only to the extent that I would visiting similar places and doing similar activities. I feel I may have liked it more knowing that I was about to embark on my own tale, and had the book not included so much about Liz’s inability to move on from her divorce and bouts with depression, I may have really enjoyed this book. I’m probably just jealous that I didn’t get a substantial advance on my own travel journal.

Hindu Temple Ceremony

Street traffic is heavier than usual and people are cleanly dressed in their sarongs all heading in the same direction. I ask the obvious question and learn there is a Hindu ceremony taking place at a nearby temple. I ask the next obvious question and they said it was worth a try. I follow the masses towards the temple and when I get there, I am greeted more than warmly as I am wrapped in a sarong, given something to wear on my head, and allowed to enter the temple. After asking another obvious question, I am excited to learn that I can photograph anything and everything.

I meander around the temple often with several eyes following me as I am one of two foreigners among hundreds of Balinese. When my eyes meet theirs, I smile, they smile back, I nod, and they nod. Although this seems like an almost impossible scenario in which to feel comfortable, that is exactly what I feel. I had the opportunity to observe this authentic ritual that included people of all ages, all levels of faith, and all classes. The smells were of incense, the atmosphere comfortable because of both the friendliness of the people and the slight drizzle that dropped the humidity, and the importance of the event obvious from the numbers of people who attended.

The pictures tell a story better than I can describe in words.

hindu prayer

hindu ceremony music

baskets at hindu ceremony

Agro-Tourism Haikus

Farming in Bali

Learning about many crops

Coffee, tea and fruit


Taste teas and coffee

Ginseng, ginger, and lemon,

Coco, coffee too.

Luwah coffee nice

Costly, rare and delicate

From poop of Luwah.

Lemon grass oil

A bottle I did purchase

No more mosquitoes

Monkeys and Elephants

Bali is not short on wildlife as I’ve now had a chance to witness it in water and on land. In a country so focused on growing its tourism industry and so rich in animal life, I sometimes worry how one affects the other. Two stops I made while staying in Ubud were the Monkey Forest in the middle of town and the Elephant Safari Park just 30 minutes away. Both were spectacular in the sense of how close I could get to the animals and how relatively unrestrained the animals were as far as cages and enclosures are concerned.


I took issue with how the tourists treated the monkeys occasionally trying to excite them in various ways. Then, people are surprised when the monkeys act aggressively in return. More than aggressive, the monkeys behavior can best be described in this scenario as protective. For example, we should not be handing monkeys a water bottle to see what they do with it. That all said, the monkeys were completely unrestrained and were roaming around every path and in every tree.

elephant ride

Elephant hug

In the Elephant Safari Park, the elephant caretakers and trainers all treated the elephants with complete respect; however, training a creature with the intelligence to dunk a basketball, paint, and raise a flag up a flag pole to do exactly those things feels like taking advantage of the animal. I loved watching an elephant use his trunk to slam home a basketball, especially as I am currently going through March Madness withdrawal, but I also recognized if the elephant can do those activities, what is the elephant thinking when asked for example to carry us on its back. I loved feeding the elephant, being hugged by the elephant, and shaking hands with its trunk, but all the while I felt a twinge of guilt. The Safari Park said that it rescued these elephants, and that knowledge taken at face value makes me feel better about the operation.

Experiencing these animals so intimately was a rare and fun opportunity, and I believe it raises awareness of their intelligence and grace.

Schvitzing and Shivering

2:00am. I wake up, jump in the shower because I went to bed shvitzing the night before from the humidity, pack my camera, some water, and a snack, and go outside to wait for the shuttle.

3:00am. The shuttle leaves Sania’s Bungalows in Ubud and is en route to Batur Volcano.

4:15am. Arrive at Batur Volcano, have a cold fried banana and some tea, meet my trekking team consisting of a guide, three young travelers from Germany and myself, and start hiking up the mountain.

5:00am. I really start to shvitz.

5:45am. Dawn has broken and my flashlight is no longer as necessary.

6:00am. Nearing the top of the mountain, shvitzing like crazy, and starting to bond with my hiking team.

6:15am. We made it to the highest point along Batur Volcano’s crater.

6:30am. We enjoy the sunrise!

Batur sunrise

6:45am. Body temperature drops quickly, and I start to slightly shiver as I am still drenched in shvitz. Breakfast consists of eggs hardboiled using the Volcano’s escaping steam, a banana sandwich, and hot tea.

7:00am. Find a hot steam vent from the Volcano and try to prevent further shivering.

7:30am. We start our way around the rim of the crater occasionally quickening my heart rate because of the steep slope to both my left and right as I walk.

8:00am. The sun is now out and the shvitz is back.

batur volcano friends
My team at the top of the Batur Volcano

9:00am. Finish walking around the entire crater and head back down the mountain.

10:00am. Part ways with my new found friends, jump in the shuttle, and prepare for my next adventure.

Culture in Ubud

I came to Ubud because it is touted as a Balinese cultural hub, and not just because it received such positive reviews from Elizabeth Gilbert. Bali is such a culture-filled destination because as the Hindu states fell all around Bali, many of the intelligentsia fled here along with artists, dancers, musicians, and actors. As the only surviving Hindu island, the Balinese show intense pride for the culture and enjoy sharing it with the outside world. Having so many tourists leave their homes for theirs must reinforce their confidence in their unique and creative culture. In addition, throughout this Hindu rice-farming society, I saw daily offerings made using Banana leaves outside of homes, hotels, shops, and as far reaching as the top of the Batur Volcano.

rice field Ubud
A rice field just outside Ubud, Bali
more rice field
Another rice field near Ubud

Ubud is full of live music and dance performances both modern and traditional. I enjoyed sitting in cafes in the evening listening to drum-heavy music as well as attending two traditional Balinese dance performances. The Legong Dance, performed at the Ubud Palace, included gamelan music and ritual dance. The Legong Dance also included a mask dance, contemporary dance, and sacred dance. Another evening, I attended the Kecak Fire and Trance Dance where I will never forget the last scene of a dancer kicking flaming coconuts around the stage from what used to be a coconut bonfire.

balinese dancer
A dancer from the Legong Dance in Ubud
Kecak Fire and Trance Dance
The Kecak Fire and Trance Dance

Ubud is home to many shops, but unlike most other places I’ve visited, there were less knock-off sunglasses and the like, and instead, many shops sold artwork and other cultural handmade Balinese craft. Window shopping became an enjoyable experience when simply walking through the store taught me about Balinese art. Unfortunately, Ubud is swarming with tourists who can make it hard to find an authentic Balinese experience, but I did meet some great people. Lauren from England and I went to one of the evening dances together, three German friends joined me on the sunrise volcano hike, Bruce and Carol from Vancouver who I had also sat next to on the plane bumped into me and we recapped our Bali adventures together, and Made, the driver to the sunrise volcano trek. His English was far from perfect, but his energy was high and he exuded such an optimistic vibe, that while helping him improve his English, I continued to learn about Balinese culture through his stories. Ubud, the people I met while staying there, and the places I visited in its surrounding areas are the ingredients that made for the hard-to-leave feeling I now have.

The Balinese Calendar

I still remember on several of my family trips when breakfast conversation would include my dad’s explanation why that day was a lucky day—maybe the numbers made a palindrome, or summing the numbers in the date equaled someone’s age, or one number was overrepresented like on September 9, 1999. In a slightly more rigorous fashion, the Balinese calendar also includes good days (dewasa luwung) and bad days (dewasa jelek), and certain tasks, no matter how seemingly mundane, can only be done when the day so suits them.

Luckily, for my trip planning purposes, Indonesia standardizes itself around the standard Gregorian calendar; however, Bali also uses the 210-day Pawukon calendar and the Saka lunar calendar. As I’ve heard that understanding these calendar systems can be difficult for Westerners, I took such warnings as a challenge, and I then needed to study them.

Because of it’s association or lack there of with the Gregorian Calendar, the Pawukon calendar feels more like a cycle than a calendar. The simplest correlation I can draw is the 7 day week that we have become so accustomed to. The 7 day week does not fit neatly into a 365 day year, and as a result, if my birthday was on a Friday one year, it would be on a Saturday the next year, unless of course it was a leap year. That all said, I agree it is much easier to conceptualize a 7 day cycle rather than a 210 day cycle that has come to be filled with many internal cycles as well. The 210-day Pawukon calendar can be broken up into weeks, and these weeks have lengths of 1 day, 2 days, 3 days, 4 days, up to 10 days. Even more confusing is that these weeks overlap. In other words, because every day of each of the ten possible weeks has its own name (just like we use Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, etc), some days can have up to 10 names in the Pawukon calendar.

I will spare all of the details of this calendar system that Balinese expert Fred Eiseman describes in his book “Bali: Sekala and Niskala”, but to get a sense of how this system might get a bit confusing, I will share this one fact that I quote from Eiseman:

Determining the day name of the Dasawara, the ten-day week, is a bit more complex: add the urip [day value] of the Pancawara [5-day week] to that of the Saptawara [7-day week]. Then add 1, and divide the total by 10. The day of the ten-day week is determined by the remainder of this division.

Just the fact that days of the week have values that don’t correspond to the order they fall in a particular week and then all of these operations need to be applied to those values to determine the day of another week is no small task. Luckily, for the 5 and 7 day weeks, the days repeat in a 5 or 7 day pattern respectively.

Back to the real point of all this calendar talk, I want to figure out if the days that I’m in Bali are good days! Generally, the most important days in the Pawukon cycle occur when important days of multiple week systems intersect– sort of like our Friday the 13th. Important days occur when the last days of the 3 and 5 day week cycles overlap, which when we figure out their lowest common dominator, this can be calculated to occur every 15 days. These two days, called Kajeng and Keliwon, are good for prayers and ceremonies, but also days when evil spirits are around. It does not look like the days I am in Bali will overlap with these days, but the day I entered Bali was three, double-two, double-one, which must be a lucky day.

Balinese Road Etiquette

After a week in Bali, I’ve both ridden in a car and on the back of a motorbike. (The down payment on one of these motorbikes is about $30 USD.) Most roads have one lane going in each direction, and sometimes not even that. Everyone drives at whatever speed they feel most comfortable, and therefore, there is usually a lot of passing and being passed. And although we usually stayed between 40 and 80 km/hr, going around 60 km/hr on a small motorbike is an exhilarating experience. I was wearing a helmet, although I’m not sure how much that would actually help if there was a serious accident. More important was that my driver, Dive Master Ketut, was a husband and father of four and needed to provide for his family, so I knew that he would drive safely. That said, the weave of bikes , cars, trucks, and pedestrians had more elements of chaos than order, and I was happy that I was not driving. And finally, to add another variable, the potholes scattered throughout the roads are avoided by all travelers adding an extra bend to the already complicated weave.

driving in the rain

chicken crossing
I forgot to mention the occasional chicken crossings.


After 1 pool dive, 6 ocean dives, 4 quizzes, 1 exam, and numerous breaths underwater, I received my PADI Open Water Scuba Certification, and was ready for my next adventure. I wasn’t expecting the next adventure to come in the afternoon following my last dive. This was the afternoon that I hopped on the back of the motorbike with Dive Master Ketut and took off towards Amlapura. As soon as we exited Tulamben, the atmosphere surrounding the road and the vibe from the people felt more natural and more authentically Balinese. During our trip we stopped for a late lunch at a place run by some of Ketut’s friends and I tried some Balinese cuisine along with an Avocado smoothie. I was skeptical about a savory smoothie at first, but Ketut had one, and I was very pleasantly surprised.

Katut and I on his motorbike
Motorbike view
The view from Ketut's motorbike

As if riding on the back of Ketut’s bike wasn’t adventure enough, soon after we started, it started to rain. Luckily, because of the humidity and warmth, I was never cold, but little rain droplets hitting my arms and legs at 40 km/hr is not a completely painless experience. When we got to our first destination, the Water Palace, where the last king of Karangasem used to vacation, the rain had stopped and I explored the grounds of this Palace, which had ornate water ponds where most palaces might have gardens. After lunch, we continued on to the Water Garden, the spot where the king and his family would venture for day trips, and I jumped in one of the pools that was said to contain the equivalent of holy water and should bring me good luck.

water palace
The Water Palace in Amlapura, Bali

Before heading back, I purchased a durian, a type of fruit native to Indonesia that looks almost like a spiky pineapple. The edible part is the fleshy area around the seeds. I had heard that the durian can give off a very strong smell, and I later had the opportunity to experience said strength for myself when I left the durian in my room for a while. When I returned, the smell in the room was overwhelmingly strong. I then learned that in some cities, the taxi drivers will not allow passengers to carry a durian because of its strong smell. It had the texture and taste of a slightly sour banana. After realizing the smell was coming from the durian, I promptly placed it directly outside my room for safe-keeping.

The infamous durian fruit

Tulamben and the USAT Liberty

Tulamben is a small town in Bali built around a “major” highway, and the town extends about one kilometer. The air is quiet and still and yet there is still an excitement in the town for scuba diving. People come here from all over, and especially Australia, to dive. While in Tulamben, I learned to dive with an Australian family, I had breakfast every day with a nice couple from Sweden, and I bumped into the same German group of girls a couple times on the town’s only street. Although only there for five days, maybe because of the smallness of the town and maybe because of the friendliness of the people, I truly felt at home. I met a local named Gada from a restaurant called Sandya that had free wifi, so I usually ended my days here, whether for dinner, dessert, or just a drink. I made friends with one of the dive masters, Ketut, from Tulamben Wreck Diving and we spent an afternoon together touring around the local area on his motorbike.

big fish

Side Note: Birth order in Bali determines one’s first name. Wayan is the name of the firstborn child, Made for the second, Nyomar for the third, Ketut for the fourth, and then start back at Wayan or at least a derivative of Wayan. This, predictably, can make things a bit complicated because it means that more than 1 out of 4 Balinese will be named Wayan. The first person I met at Tulamben Wreck Divers was Big Made (pronounced “Ma-day”), then there was Boss Wayan, Dive Instructor Wayan, Dive Master Made, Ubud hotel Staffer Made, Ubud Hotel Manager Wayan, and so on. Adding adjectives before and after their names becomes critical.

a-ok diving
Swimming with the fishes

Back to the town of Tulamben, it became a Scuba divers destination because of the sunken ship, the USAT Liberty. Although USAT might sound like some standardized admissions test or aptitude test, it actually stands for United States Army Transport. The ship was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine during World War II in 1942. Later, in 1963, a volcanic eruption moved the ship off the beach and into the water where it is now a popular dive site. Although I didn’t find any treasure, diving in and around the wreckage is awe-inspiring as coral and sea life has attached itself to almost every available surface. Big fish, small fish, red fish, blue fish, and more. I’d be more specific with the fish names and less like Dr. Seuss, but I honestly don’t know which fish is which.