After 6 months of endless island bliss in Thailand, I realized I was curious for what was beyond the ocean’s horizon. Both on and under the surface… after researching some of the best diving in my vicinity I decided it was time to make my way to Bali for a month of the great unknown. The journey from Koh Tao to Bangkok Airport took a total of 11-12 hours via ferry and bus, relief came when I plopped into seat 32C and finally could relax.
Watching the sunrise from the plane, excitement and nervousness began to bubble in my stomach, as my heart started to flutter staring down onto the islands of Bali.
Arriving at the airport currency exchange it was a shock seeing the denominations go into the millions. From Denpasar Airport to my guesthouse costed me 500,000 rupiah (which I knew was an absolute mark up unfortunately when you first arrive in a new country with no official plans, you wing everything, especially from the airport).
**Travel tip: booking a car service through your hotel or Uber prior to your arrival will greatly alleviate the stress and cost compared to the Airport**
I picked my hotel Grandpa Guesthouse in the southern region of Canggu nearby Kuta, Echo Beach and the main surfers hub of Bali.I flopped onto the duvet covers in the air conditioned room and breathed a sigh of relief, I’m actually here… Bali has always been a dream destination for me, but I guess I never really knew why aside from it’s pristine jungle, beaches, waterfalls, and reefs. Flipping through an “EAT PRAY LOVE BALI TOUR” strategically placed on my bed stand, there were about 60 different tourist packages all claiming to be the ‘authentic Bali experience” however, I wasn’t convinced so I tossed them in the drawer and put on my Nike’s. It was time to explore and experience my own version of the authentic Balinese way of life, cultures, and traditions. Right outside my room were acres of rice fields with locals laboriously hacking and planting grains, knee deep in water and mud under the beating sun. All I could hear was the sound of the leaves rustling in the wind, and the occasional motor bike passing on the road ahead- it is absolutely peaceful and serene in Canggu away from the main streets. I thought the rice fields were only in Ubud, but no…everywhere- there were rice fields.
Once I made a few laps around my surrounding area in the humidity and craziness of the busy streets, I decided I wasn’t going to get anywhere worthwhile by foot, it was time to get a motorbike.
**Scooter Rentals: The single ride from the airport to my guest house costed me 500,000 rupiah but to rent a brand new 125cc motor bike for two whole weeks is the exact same price. Prices can vary anywhere from 40,000IDR-80,000IDR per day so do your research. Remember to take photos of any damages prior to renting, check the oil stick, and make sure to test drive and check the brakes to be in good working condition. The police tend to target and bank on tourists especially for driving without an international license which is required as well as wearing a helmet. Most of the time they’re just looking to charge you a fine for a little pocket cash and don’t want to actually issue a ticket, because then it’s all legitimate through the police station. They’ll try to fine you upwards of 300,000IDR but if you get pulled over, start with the offer of 70,000IDR and try not to show any other cash, if they don’t bite then ask for an official ticket and most likely they’ll comply. Most of the time the simple $5USD or 70,000IDR is enough to keep them happy, don’t be so quick to be fooled even if they are the police-a bribe is a bribe, the price is always negotiable.
**Navigating: Google Maps is pretty reliable everywhere I’ve gone in the world but of course when cell service dips in and out from the remote areas, navigating can be a bit of a challenge. You can download MAPS.ME which is a data free navigator you can pre-download countries you are in, prior to leaving your Wifi areas and use without any data**
Driving down the road, cell phone in one hand trying to navigate turn after turn was not easy. But as I was driving along the road surrounded by rice fields the locals smiled and turned around to say hello and everywhere was such a welcoming feel. As I followed my navigation in hopes of reaching my destination, a man on a green bike with an American flag tied to the back pulled up next to me,
“Hello my friend! Where are you from?”
“California but I live in Thailand!” I shouted back as the traffic zoomed their way around us.
“Wow California, COOL! Where you going?”
“Echo Beach my friend!” I said.
Bug eyed and laughing hysterically, just by his reaction I already know I’m going in the wrong direction.
Embarrassed I asked, “Wrong way?”
He smiles and points behind us…I must’ve missed the main turn.
“Thank you so much! Have a good one! ” as I made a U-Turn towards the direction I should be headed. As I pulled off onto the turn out to wait for traffic to pass and calibrate my navigation, my new mysterious friend pulled up next to me and asks
“What’s your name!”
“Carolyn, and you?” I reply smiling.
“They call me RASTA” he says with a grin from ear to ear.
“You follow me, I will guide you there.”
Baffled by his genuine kindness, obviously the American girl in me begins to process those fear-based thoughts and wonder if he’s trustworthy, what his ulterior motives could be, and if he was a serial-killer or rapist trying to take a new victim for ransom. Screw it, I think to myself and follow anyway because let’s face it I had no better chance of finding it on my own. 20 Minutes later we arrived at Echo Beach, he paid my parking fare as we pulled into the lot and hopped off the bikes. I gave him a big hug to thank him thinking he would be off on his way but he walked me over to the beach front bar as we took a seat. I ordered a fresh coconut, and a cold Bintang beer to thank my new friend for his help, we talked and watched the surfers on the break.
His English was surprisingly impressive, and enough to hold up a conversation for an hour. We educate each other on our home countries, customs, cost of living, life goals and dreams, and both agree on one belief…the more money and status people stressed on making the less happier they seemed to be. He’s made many friends over the years from all different countries just from situations like the one we had, where I was lost on the road. But for him, leaving Bali and traveling abroad is something he says he can only dream about.
As he finished his beer he turned to me and says,“My friend, you have good karma. I feel very good energy when you smiley face. I want to help you experience real Bali. You come with me okay?”
A little nervous and skeptical at first but curious what this authentic experience could be, I agree and paid our bill. We drive for over an hour through the backroads of rice fields and native villages, stopping by a Warung(small restaurant) for some traditional Balinese food called Nasi Goreng and a fresh dragon fruit smoothie- Rasta’s treat.
In this area of Kerobokan they stick to the customs and by tradition in the Hindu religion, for every house their must be equally one temple. Rasta seems to know everyone by name on this drive through the village. Finally we descended a steep hill onto this black sand beach, with about 50 local kids and families riding around, playing in the water, fishing, and basically living an ordinary day. I got a few strange looks and felt a bit like an intruder but Rasta greeted his friends as they smiled at me in curiosity. We drove full speed on our scooters down the empty stretch away from the crowd. The wind, the waves, sun setting in the background, pulling the throttle all the way back …it was exhilarating.
We sat in the sand as we watched the sky change from orange, pink, and purples fading into the horizon as the sunset. Went for a swim and joked about as the tide came in I accidentally tipped the bike over and landed flat on my butt. We both laughed hysterically for about 5 minutes.
It was time to get going as darkness came, we make our way back through the winding roads and dense forest into a small village about an hour away. At this point I really have no idea where we were on the map, its dark, and I’m following a stranger I met just a few hours before. For some reason, I felt safe and comfortable around him so I went with it. He slowed down and pulled over to what was a traditional Balinese house, designed like a temple with statues guarding the front gate, meant to ward of evil spirits.
“This my house, you make yourself at home,” he says as he made his way to go make us some coffee.
Okay I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have any doubts… my brain was starting to work up a whirlwind of thoughts, was he going to Roofie me? Was this all part of the plan to get me back to his house at nightfall? I pull out my phone and put a star on my location in the case I go missing or get chopped into pieces, at least they’ll know where my last where a bouts were.
We sat outside and his neighbors started making their way over with fried rice crackers, chicken cracklings, and Bali Arak which is a traditional rum made from Coconut water, lime, and honey. Rasta’s mom came out with full plates of food in hand and said something in Balinese which I assume she’s telling me to eat. There were about 10 neighbors and friends over for hours, eating traditional foods, drinking, talking to me through google translate, and jamming out to the reggae music blaring from my phone. It was exhilarating, welcoming, and so refreshing to just be with people who were happy to just be living in the present moment.
The minute I got back to my hotel, I wanted to share my amazing day with some friends from back home. Their response was disappointing.
It was amazing how many people were frowning upon this “dangerous” day I embarked on, and how I shouldn’t be going alone with strangers, going to their house, “putting myself in danger”. Which made me realize why these places thrive on tourists, because they all want to think they’re having the experience that’s “off the beaten path” …that being in Bali automatically means you’re embarking on an adventure. If you stick to the same road everyone has traveled what different experience will you get out of it? Everyday on the news you see murder, kidnap, rape, and we’ve been brainwashed to stay in the “safe-zone” but it got me thinking how many experiences we really miss out on because of this fear and close-minded way of thinking. Hollywood glamorized Bali and that’s the experience people wanted- hipster chic elegance surrounded by vegan cafes & artsy yoga studios and souvenir shops. “This is not Real Bali.” In the wise words of my new friend.
The next day Rasta messaged me to meet him in Echo Beach for another day of adventure. I encountered my first motorbike accident but managed to walk away with some banged up fingers, luckily I had gotten plenty of practice dodging reckless drivers in Koh Tao but I highly recommend this NOT being the first place you learn how to drive a scooter- if so, WEAR YOUR HELMET. Trust me you’re a lot cooler alive than dead.
We drove through the jungle on unpaved roads in mud and rocks for an hour and a half, stopping to wait for the rain to pass at a small shack where we had Mi-Goreng noodles and some coffee chatting under the bungalow till the rain cleared. Once it was safe to keep driving we arrived at the most beautiful, private waterfall that isn’t even shown on any tourist map. We picked tobacco leaves, and climbed raw cacao trees, and walked through rice fields where red and black grains we’re grown as opposed to the more commonly seen white rice.
On the way back down my motorcycle bogged out and completely broke down, and apparently there was not a single drop of oil left in my engine which made it over heat, ruining all the mechanics.
In my panicked and worried state Rasta reassured me, “Dont worry, don’t worry”.
He pushed my bike 2 miles down the road to a small mechanic on the side of the road which happened to be his good friend. In half an hour they took apart the whole bike and reassembled it and with many attempts the bike came back to life. As I jumped for joy hugging Rasta, I couldn’t help but feel so grateful for my new friend. My hotel was a two hour drive away and there was no way I knew how to get back, so even though his house was ten minutes away he guided me all the way home, and even stopped to grab me a jacket for the ride. What would I have done without this angel there to help?
Sometimes it’s hard to distinguish how adventurous is too much, or when you’re crossing the line between having fun and just being wreck less. Being smart and evaluating situations accordingly you can still take chances and try to have faith in people. Not everyone wants money from you, wants to have sex with you, or expects anything in return but this is the mindset we all live in today. Especially a single girl traveler. Thanks to Rasta and his hospitality and pure good heart, my first four days in Bali were some of most impacting days of my life. There are no words to appreciate my experience with a real Balinese local, no tour buses, or scheduled temples, just on the open road taking whatever turns life brought us. If you always live in fear, and think the worst of people you may miss the chance to experience the most beautiful moments of your life. Thank you so much Maderasta and family for your love, compassion, and taking the time to share your beautiful country and home with me. Traveling the rest of Bali relying on these commercial tours, and planned routes will never be able to make up for the real Balinese experience you’ve given me.
My advice for you? Put the tour guide down, get outside, speak to the locals, try the food, feel the culture, and stay away from the animal exhibitions that bank on the thousands of tourists that fund the inhumane conditions. The best experiences are the ones that happen when you least expect them.
If you are planning a trip to Bali and want an experience unlike any other, please feel free to contact my great friend Maderasta. You will never experience adventure, hospitality, culture, and enthusiasm anywhere else like this on the island. No giant tour groups, no typical monuments, just REAL LIFE in BALI through the eyes of a true local.
To learn more about what me move abroad, what changed my perspective and for the whole back story read more @ Chasing Paradise.
I hope you found my story inspiring, & useful for your future trips. Please feel free to like, subscribe & share for more adventures! Thanks for reading =)