TRAVEL | NATURE
April 2019 brought me (Ani) to beautiful Indonesia. This is the farthest I have been geographically since the summer I spent in Japan ten years ago - a combined 24-hour flight from NYC! My 3-week experience fully convinced me in the magic of this place, so much so that I might commit to undertaking this odyssey of a trip again someday.
My stay began in Canggu, a surf town on the west coast of Bali, abuzz with motorbikes and filled with everything related to surf culture. The balmy ocean water made this a pleasant place to learn surfing, even if the waves were not ideally suited to a nervous beginner like myself. Two hours of battling waves made the afternoons spent lounging in beach clubs that much more rewarding. And beach clubs this area of Bali has plenty: hip Potato Head in Seminyak (best pool and beach in front), more relaxed The Lawn (best music), and reminiscent-of-Miami Finns (most rowdy), among others.
Aussies have left a noticeable mark on Canggu as seen in the rich café culture and well-designed stores. You can’t miss Crate Café with its endless list of breakfast options, gorgeous outdoor setup surrounded by lush green fields, and adjacent concept store. Another excellent breakfast choice was the stunning boutique hotel The Slow, as well as the spacious and airy Milk & Madu Café. All of these offer an array of egg-based dishes, toasts, and other concoctions familiar from the Australian cafés that have taken over NYC. For dinner, try the buttery fish at Fishbone Local and the Japanese fare at Indigo.
Next on the itinerary was Ubud, considered the cultural center of Bali with its many temples, spiritual practices, and, as I was told by a local, best yoga classes on the island. Unfortunately, I arrived there sporting a high fever and a serious headache, courtesy of Bali belly (make sure to read up on this before you go!). Luckily, I happened to be staying at what seemed like the ideal hotel for getting over a traveller’s ailment - Bisma Eight. Hospitality everywhere I went in Indonesia was fantastic, but this was an experience to write about. At 1am, when I fully expected the kitchen to be closed, the staff brought toasted bread with butter and jam, chamomile tea with lemon, and a thermometer. I was up and running the very next morning!
Half a day spent in bed aside, I managed to hit the Monkey Forest and the Tegalalang Rice Terrace, two of the main attractions in the area. Still not back to my normal level of energy, I took the opportunity to relax by Bisma Eight’s spectacular infinity pool overlooking the rainforest. Ubud is where I focused on more traditional Indonesian food, i.e., fried or steamed rice with various proteins, which the restaurant at my hotel prepared marvelously.
While I enjoyed the greener and more mystical vibe of Ubud, I did miss being by the water, and that’s where the third leg of my trip took me. Lombok is an island east of Bali, which is a lot less developed and much quieter in comparison to its famous neighbor. If you are looking for calmer beaches more reminiscent of the Caribbean, rather than surfing, and much fewer tourists, this is the place for you. You would be somewhat confined to your resort, as I was to the Katamaran Resort where I stayed, as the island doesn’t cater to tourists with a vibrant restaurant, shopping, and design scene. Still, the leisurely afternoons spent in the multiple pools at the resort watching the sun set were more than worthwhile. As was the day spent boating around three little islands off the coast of Lombok, snorkeling, and luxuriating in the turquoise water.
West of Lombok lie three small islands called Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno, and Gili Air. They sparkle with white sand, turquoise water, colorful boats, and plentiful snorkeling and diving opportunities. They are so small that no vehicles are allowed or needed, other than bicycles and horse-drawn carriages. I stayed at Gili T, the largest one known as “the party island”, and booked a low-key, charming hotel (Jali Resort), which turned out to have the most coveted restaurant on the island. The breakfast options included buttery American-style banana pancakes with lime, which I confess to ordering more than once. The lunch / dinner menu was a medley of mouth-watering Asian dishes - the green curry was my favorite even if I failed to notice the 3 peppers denoting the maximum level of spiciness…
The west side of the island was dotted with beach bars where tourists settle to watch the sunset every evening. My personal routine included early rising, yoga, bike ride around the island, catching up on news and messages from friends and family at Kayu Café (great coffee), and afternoons spent behind a book on the beach or by the pool of the Pondok Sandi resort, which kindly allowed me to pretend like I was staying there during the day (definitely will next time I’m in Gili T!).
What do I miss the most from my Indonesian adventures? The sunshine, my being in water 50% of the time, the mango juice, the locally caught fish, and the sweet, hospitable Indonesians. I will be back!