Bali Part Three: Nyepi Day, Island Livin’, and More Surfing

The last and final installment of Bali Part Three comes a little late. This week I’ve been working on moving back to the gorge for the summer, catching up with friends, and enjoying the warm spring outside.

When I left off last time, we were headed to Lembongan. This island is an hour or so ferry ride from Bali. As we got near it in the wooden ferry, bouncing on the waves, I saw a few breath taking things. The edge of the island was lined with steep cliffs, and the water crashing against them was picture perfect blue. It looked like the kind of water you see in travel magazines. Not too far out from a little beach tucked in between the cliffs was a smooth, glassy surf break. Coming from the crowded beaches on Bali, the half a dozen people waiting for a wave looked more than manageable.

Ferry Ride to Lembongan
Ferry Ride to Lembongan

We scrambled off the ferry onto the beach with our bags and went in search of our hostel and a scooter. The hostel was simple, a large bungalow with two beds and an outdoor bathroom. Luckily it had a pool and a yoga pavilion we had access to. Once we got the scooter, we took to the narrow, dirt streets to explore.

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The island of Lembongan is a sudden contrast to where we had been staying. The main island is touristy and busy, full of hotels, fast food restaurants, and traffic. On Lembongan, people were still living in rough shacks with chickens out front. They had the traditional platforms in the front yards to sit on in the heat of the day. They spoke very little English, and there weren’t any cars. The roads were narrow and would charge up the side of a steep hill. Picture a golf cart road made will really crappy pavement ten years ago and then left to erode on a wild island. Even with boots on I don’t think I would have walked up some of them, but our little scooter charged up them.

Downtown Lembongan
Downtown Lembongan

We drove around looking at the rustic way of living, and suddenly popped out from a bunch of trees on a beach. Seaweed grew in squares in the shallow water and dried on the beach. The seaweed they grow here they export for use in things like cosmetics. It’s the second main industry on the island, next to tourism. Tourists come here for the remoteness of the island, and the diving.

Anyway, back to our beach on the scooter. Another island was visible on the other side of the small channel, and a long, narrow, yellow hanging bridge lay in between. The bridge was only wide enough for one scooter, so we checked carefully then charged across it. A dog followed us across, and I couldn’t help but laugh at how funny the dogs are in Bali. They are all so independent. Its as if he was thinking, “And today I’ll go to Ceningan and see what’s going on there.”

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On the smaller island of Ceningan, we kept bouncing along on the unkempt “roads” until Andrew took a sharp right and we passed between an abandoned building and a brick wall. On the other side was a small warung (local word for family owned business, most often a restaurant, usually in their home). It was closed, but Andrew told me it had a cliff on one end of the porch you could jump off. Sadly, it never opened while we were there.

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We found a restaurant that was open and while I stuffed my face with French fries and avocado (its amazing what you crave when you’re traveling), Andrew paddled out to a surf break off the cliff. It wasn’t the one we’d seen when we arrived. This surf break was gigantic and dangerous. The current was strong and the waves were mammoth. It was definitely not beginner friendly, so I was content to simply watch. My time would come.

And it did. The next day, after a long, hot night after the power for the island ran out (this actually happens) and the fan in our room didn’t work, we found the beginner surf break. I paddled out on my board, marveling at the crystal clear water and the beautiful reef and fish below.

The waves are calmer, smoother, and not as strong as I’m used to. The first few waves I miss, but then I start to get the hang of it. Finally, as Andrew paddles over to tell me he’s ready to go in, I caught a wave. This wave was perfect: It was smooth, glassy, and beautiful. I popped up on my board and rode it until the crumbling waves started pouring over my feet, then I kept my balance and rode it until it petered out. As I sunk down on my board, I turned to Andrew who was grinning.

“Best ride I’ve had yet!” I was so happy, floating on air to be exact. We paddle back in to the tiny beach and I return my board. If I had been hooked on surfing before, the glassy waves over the reef had certainly reeled me in even more. The next few days we spent on the tiny break, and I had some of the best rides of the trip out there.

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It turns out we were in town for one of the biggest celebrations of the year: Nyepi day, the Balinese New Year. Luckily we found out the tradition in time to make sufficient plans. Basically what they do (and we heard several stories) is spend a week working on building these giant floats with evil spirits on them. Then they spend a night making noise, carrying them through the streets, reenacting a play with them, and then burn them. The next day the entire island shuts down. I mean, the airport is closed, the electricity in some places is turned off, and you can get arrested if you leave your house. The idea is they will wake up all the evil spirits the night before, then be as quiet as possible to convince them the island is uninhabited and the spirits will then leave.

We didn’t want to be stuck somewhere without a fan for the whole day, so we splurged a little bit and booked a nicer room in Ubud. After our four-night stay on the island, we caught a ferry back to the mainland then a bus to Ubud. Ubud is the city Asheville wishes it could be. Amazing vegan food (affordable as well), yoga everywhere, and an alternative, independent vibe makes this city one of the tourist capitals of Bali. We flew down narrow, crooked streets flanked with colorful stalls on our scooter and found an amazing raw food café on a side street.

Raw Pancakes!
Raw Pancakes!

I’ve always been skeptical of raw food. In Asheville, its always twice as expensive (making dinner out not just unreasonable, but a treat only a millionaire could afford) and most of the time dry, tasteless, and uninteresting (with the exception of Plant in Asheville). Andrew wanted raw so he dragged me into this small café where I was expecting to over pay for a salad and a pile of dull, cardboard- like crackers made from flax seeds and leftover tomato pulp. Instead, I ordered a slice of pizza and carrot cake (and obligatory salad). The slightly moist crust on the pizza was made from seeds and zucchini and the topping was a delicious fresh pesto and avocado. The tiny slice they gave me was packed with flavor and so many living nutrients, it was all I could do to finish the meal and still pack away the amazing carrot cake. I love carrot cake; it’s my favorite kind of cake. Not being able to eat cream cheese icing and not being interested in the over processed, greasy vegan alternative, I never get to enjoy a slice. But this slice… oh my my! To be honest, I ate a second slice that afternoon!

Clearly this café was one of the highlights of my trip. After days of mostly rice, tempeh, and sautéed veggies on the island, my body was craving real, living food. The nutrient dense raw food filled me instantly, and packed an energy punch. I ate there for most of our stay in Ubud, feasting on banana chocolate pancakes with raw coconut ice cream, more pizza, and a “burger”. It was delicious everytime.

Flowers for offerings
Flowers for offerings

But, there is more to do in Ubud then sit at the raw food café. The shopping in Ubud is the best. The touristy souvenirs there are geared towards more hippie travelers, so I was able to get a few things for myself and my friends. We also made a stop at he Monkey Forest where I got to hold a monkey! I’ve never held one before, and spent most of the first half hour squealing every time one got near me. Andrew finally convinced me to let one eat a banana out of my hand… but first it climbed on my head.

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The best were the tiny baby monkeys, clinging to their mother’s bellies as they raced around the treetops. There was a small pool the monkeys were playing in. They would climb trees around the edge and then catapult themselves into the water, aiming for each other. It was an amazing thing to watch, and hilarious.

We were in Ubud for the rest of the weekend. The Nyepi day festival started on Friday night and we went down to watch the show. To be honest, it wasn’t as exciting as we had anticipated. The monsters were amazing and the show they put on was fantastic, but they don’t burn them anymore! So we watched the show downtown and then headed home. We spent the next day inside, completely quiet. We did yoga, read, and enjoyed the forced downtime.

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We spent the last two days of our trip back in Kuta, surfing and eating at our favorite restaurants. The day before we left we got a morning surf session in, ate a fantastic lunch, and headed to Canggu for massages. Not a bad way to end an amazing trip.

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