Travel

Bali Wrap-up from the Hedonist and the Philosopher: The Stomach, the Soul and the Heart

In Bali we eat, pray and love.

Light Chaser read Eat, Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert in Jaipur, in December 2007 while traveling to Rajasthan. It was great to have the book for the long car ride from Delhi airport to Bikaner. (Antun has not read the book and has tried to watch the film twice, and fell asleep waiting for the Bali scene, each time.)

Gilbert did her Eat part in Italy, the Pray part of her memoirs in India, and the Love part in Bali, where the medicine man Ketut Liyer gave her what she needed for balance and where Gilbert also met a Brazillian man and fell in love.

Since the book and the movie in 2010, there’s been a correlation of an increase in tourist visits to the medicine man Ketut Liyer and a couple of people have written about their personal visits. According to a local guide, “Gilbert’s (2006) book certainly helped Bali tourism get back on track after the 2002 Bali bombings.” It also helped Ketut Liyer earn from the 20 or so tourists per day who consulted with him hoping to get a nugget like “eat, pray and love” to counter their discontent and bring back balance.

There’s plenty of spirituality in the daily life of the Balinese, which locals will readily share with island visitors who are here for one or two weeks.

For a hedonist or a philosopher, the medicine man’s advice can all be found in a visit to Bali.

Eat

The hedonist Antun went looking for the best duck in town and in his quest ate duck dishes at the Ubud restaurants Fuzion Café and Bebek Sungai, but he also ate at the Bebek Tepi Sawah, an established restaurant located at Jalan Goa Gajah, Ubud, close to the Goa Gajah elephant cave temple.

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Bebek Tepi Sawah on Jalan Goa Gajah has great atmosphere.

Although the restaurant’s ambiance is pleasant with the lotus ponds lining the dining huts and the rice fields in the middle of the property, the hedonist finds that the service needed an attitude upgrade and the grilled duck dish disappointed.

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Grilled duck dish at Bebek Tepi Sawah.

“The waitress took too long, more than 10 minutes, to take our order, even when there was a person assigned to each dining hut area,” Antun says, “and the order took 25 minutes to arrive. Since the bill took around 20 minutes to get to us, the total waiting time for us at Bebek Tepi Sawah was almost an hour.”

“The grilled duck was rubbery inside, dry like it was overdone,” says Antun. Gabi commented how the duck leg seemed skinnier than the previous restaurants’ duck leg in their dishes.

“The vegetables accompanying the duck were overdone and seasoning was off, making the vegetables taste bland. Only the sambal saved the dish, consisting of the shallots with chili oil, sweet soy sauce and chopped chili, and chili with oil.”

The hedonist says, “I wouldn’t go back for sambal and the view. Fuzion Café has a great view, and Bebek Sungai still wins with the best duck.”

Pray

Neither of us are religious, and instead we are both open to spirituality in many forms. Light Chaser believes that compassion, a crucial value in all religions, trumps ritual. Finding the openness to compassion requires the traveler to find balance between what was and what is.

Ubud is still the place where Balinese spirituality is witnessed on a daily basis as Balinese punctuate their day with offerings and take seriously the relationships individuals and villages have with their dieties.

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Woman making offering, Ubud.

“I stumbled on Nacivet’s work at their gallery in Jalan Camplung in Seminyak, and was inspired by the tones of his portraits in monochrome,” says Light Chaser.

Jean-Paul Nacivet  is a French photographer who learned photography on his own. His portraits have a sensuous simplicity, and the light is masterful. Coming across his work on New Year’s Day was easily the closest I could get to an epiphany of sorts.

“Shifts in our thinking happen when information nudges old mental structures to surface and become clear to us, and we realize we were lost in a loop of thought that made us stuck,” says Light Chaser the philosopher.

“That brief time spent looking at Nacivet’s work nudged my thinking so I was more open to seeing anew. I also realized I had so much to learn, and that a future of learning about light on a daily basis was a path I wanted to continue traveling.”

We have ways that each one of us reflects, and for some of us like Light Chaser, a spiritual conversation in Bali was to listen to the messages of days, to reconnect to identity and purpose.

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Message from the universe, Ubud.

Love

Bali for Antun and his wife was a time to be together after a separation, and a big dimension of that was to get to know each other outside of the parameters of usual life. “In Bali we had time to talk about very personal things like our fears and wishes,” says Antun. “We both believe good communication is essential for a relationship, and in the past few months we’d had constraints to communication. We were living in different time zones which made it difficult to talk on a daily basis. That was a challenge, because we both thrive on conversations.”

“Bali is significant for us because it is where we first promised to be each other’s best friend and found that we were each other’s favorite weirdo,” Antun explains. Gabi quips, “Still true.”

“When we sat for our complimentary (good) Balinese coffee at the ARMA Café on our last day in Bali, we talked about our search for conversations when we both were in our 20’s and traveled. Those conversations we’ve had with the people in our past were full of sounds. It seems to us now that we finally found the conversations we craved in our youth, when we both learned how to truly listen to each other.

Renewing our commitment to each other in Bali was special. In the last couple of days we spent in time in two museums in Ubud, the ARMA and the Neka Art Museum.

“The ARMA was recommended by our guide, and although it was impressive in size and housed sub-galleries with artists exhibiting current work, there was a sense of abandonment of the art that is in the museum. In many of the rooms there was a stale smell, like damp canvas that hadn’t been cared for, and Gabi spotted a lot of dust on the paintings.

But it was also where we were introduced to Walter Spies’ work. His work, which uses scale to portray perspective in rural Balinese scenes and uses contrast to create light, was compelling and beautiful.

We both enjoyed the Neka Art Museum more. Neka is really well designed as an experience. Following the organization of the exhibits, we found each work to be thoroughly labeled. The order of experiencing the art takes the visitor through a rich lesson in how the influences of Western painters took shape in Bali and transformed the Ubud artists’ body of work through the years.

Gabi says, “It was a very good choice to start and end our time in Bali in Ubud. The less frenetic commercialism of Ubud’s outskirts and art enclaves like Widya’s batik allowed us a quiet time to find joy in what we did and joy in each other.”

A path less travelled?

A mutual Balinese friend of both Light Chaser’s and Antun’s, who is a tour guide, says  “Some tourists come to Bali and say, ‘Bring us only to the places where tourists don’t go.'”

We think that finding the paths for your own experiences don’t depend on the exclusivity –that elusive ‘off the beaten path’ quality of the places you might visit. Instead, we agree that it is about how you use the time and opportunities you have to eat, pray and love in the places you find yourself, with or without the crowds. Finding your way to joy is a state of mind more than a geographic location.

As one of our favorite books says:

“What day is it?” asked Pooh.
“It’s today,” squeaked Piglet.
“My favorite day,” said Pooh.

-A. A. Milne

Keep traveling in peace and friendship,

Light Chaser (whom Antun calls The Philosopher) and Antun (whom Light Chaser calls The Hedonist)

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