The End (For Now): Bali Beaches & My 3 Day Journey Home…

THE END! Days 97-102 in Southeast Asia (May 1-6, 2016)

Motorbiking Seminyak & Beach Day

Sunday morning, Maddie, Michelle and myself decided to rent a couple of motorbikes for the day. We rented each for 50,000IDR from a place down the road, and filled up on gas for around 20,000IDR. We rode the bikes towards the beach area in Seminyak for a quick breakfast before heading to the beach. The beach was a bit hard to get to from where we were though, and once we got there it was really crowded and not particularly amazing.

We ended up farther down the beach towards Kuta, quite far from our hostel in the end, but lay in the sand and enjoyed the water nonetheless. The waves here are MASSIVE, and it’s not hard to see why people come to Bali to surf. The water is beautiful and the waves are perfect… and it’s cheap for both rentals and lessons. We swam a bit and laid in the sun reading and relaxing, but the wind started to pick up after not too long, and we were getting so much sand all over ourselves that it became more uncomfortable than anything, so we rinsed off in the water and went over to one of the beach restaurants for some lunch and shade.

Motorbiking South to Uluwatu Temple

After lunch, Maddie’s friend Lovi met up with us, an Indonesian girl from Jakarta who had moved to Bali a few months ago for work, and who Maddie met on a backpacker website a little while ago. She offered to guide us to Uluwatu temple in the South of Bali for the sunset, and to take us out for dinner after. After our introductions we hopped on our bikes and hit the road.

The drive took us close to an hour and a half, but there was only really traffic in a few spots, and we got to go on the highway which was pretty awesome…and fast. When we arrived at Pura Luhur Uluwatu, we paid the 30,000IDR entrance fee, and walked through swarms of monkeys (the temple is infamous for them), and down towards the walkway along the edge of the cliff. The entire cliffside is bordered by a retaining wall just low enough to peek over and see the crashing waves far below.

In one direction was the viewpoint overlooking the small temple on the farthest peak, and in the other direction was the temple (which you can’t really enter or get a good look at other things from across the cliff) and the performance area for the dance that takes place each night (if you pay). Every few feet in between the two ends are tons of monkeys ready to pick your pockets or snag your phone or water bottle if you’re not careful… In my experience though, as long as you keep your distance a bit and respect their space (and don’t have food or drinks with you) they’re pretty good and will leave you alone.

Eating Local With Lovi!

After the sunset (which unfortunately wasn’t much to see since it was cloudy all evening) the four of us returned to our motorbikes absolutely famished. Lovi said she’d be happy to take us somewhere cheap, delicious and local for dinner, so we followed her on our bikes and arrived at a little restaurant about 20 minutes or so later. It was somewhere that I probably wouldn’t have picked out on my own, and looked like every other small restaurant in Asia, nothing special. That’s the thing around here though, two restaurants side by side may look exactly the same to any tourist, though one might be the best spot in town and the other might be infamous for getting people sick.

Only the locals really know the difference, and without Lovi it surely would’ve felt like a gamble. The place was busy though, which is always a good sign, and we had faith that Lovi wouldn’t take us somewhere she wasn’t proud of. Once we opened the menu, it all made sense. Everything looked amazing and it was SO CHEAP. There wasn’t a single item over 30,000IDR ($3.00CAD), and most were closer to 10,000IDR ($1.00CAD). I ordered a soup with beef balls and noodles recommended by Lovi, while Maddie got the spicy tempe and tofu cakes with rice, and Michelle a fried rice dish with seafood.

Everything was delicious, so much in fact that we each ordered a second dinner, along with a homemade iced tea and a dessert, which was a fruit bowl sweetened with milk and sugar, and a frozen scoop of ice and frozen milk in the centre slowly melting, creating a sweet cold soup that I would never have tried or thought I’d enjoy had Lovi not been so insistent. She also insisted on helping us book a place in Kuta for the following two nights since she works for a booking agency, and got us a great deal on a hotel room right by the beach.

By the end of the meal I was stuffed, satisfied, and thrilled having spent a grand total of 37,000IDR ($3.70CAD) on the entire meal and drinks. We thanked Lovi for the amazing food experience and help finding us a hotel in Kuta, and got back on our bikes to head to our hostel, which was still about an hour away. When we arrived at our hostel, bellies full and hair a mess from our long day of beaching, temple-ing and motorbiking, we showered and went to bed, exhausted and ready to check out the famous Kuta beach the following day.

A Bitter Taste Leaving Seminyak

In the morning, we returned our motorbikes, grabbed breakfast, and checked out. Unfortunately I’ll have to say that I was not impressed with the customer service at the hostel (Capsule, New Seminyak). The day before I had woken up to find that my rental towel (which are 10,000IDR plus a 50,000IDR deposit) was not on the hook by my bed where I had left it… And after remembering that a really obnoxious girl had checked into the bed above mine the evening before (she left “personal” garbage everywhere and was so incredibly loud nobody could sleep), I noticed the corner of a towel hanging from her bunk and got curious… Sure enough, it was mine (they pin small tags on the towels with names on them so you know which is yours).

That day I went straight to the reception and explained what happened. They told me I had to pay another 10,000IDR for a fresh towel but after explaining again that I wouldn’t need a fresh towel had she not used mine, they said they’d charge the fee to her room key, and gave me a new towel. Now however, at check out, they were asking for the money saying that the girl checked out just before me and denied stealing my towel, so they did not charge her for my replacement. I told them that of course she would deny stealing it, but that I had no reason to lie and they already agreed to not charge me when I spoke with them the day before.

I asked if they really wanted to make a customer unhappy over the equivalent of one dollar, and the man at the desk was incredibly rude and told me either I paid or it would be deducted from his salary… so of course I paid, and got out of there as fast as possible. I also should mention that the girl had left her key card on my bed and I returned it to the front before all of this, which saved her from paying a 50,000IDR lost key fee… Karma messed this one up.

Kuta Beach, Please!

Anyways, I was annoyed but decided not to let it ruin my day, and we hopped in a taxi for about 30,000IDR to take us to Pop! Hotel on Kuta beach, the place Lovi had booked for us at dinner the night before, which was really nice and clean with aircon for only 9300IDR each per night ($9CAD),and we all would be sharing one big bed, but since we had good aircon we really didn’t mind. At 2pm, Maddie and Michelle’s friend Kara from Australia met up with us at the hotel and the 4 of us went to the beach for some relaxing time in the sun.

This time I opted for a chair, which kept me from being plastered in sand and made the perfect spot for an afternoon snooze.

Afterwards we went for dinner with Kara, and grabbed a few beers before heading back to our room to clean up and get ready to meet Lovi for drinks. The 5 of us went to Alleycat, a famous backpacker bar for a few cheap drinks before heading to another club in Kuta. It was fun, but a fairly quiet night in Kuta from what we had been told to expect.

On our way back towards the hotel at nearly 2am, we passed Sky Garden, one of the biggest and best clubs in Bali, but we knew it was expensive so hadn’t gone in earlier. When we went up now to see just how expensive, we were given free entry by a guy in front of us… I’m still not sure but I’m pretty confident that he worked there and heard us say that we weren’t going in when we found out it was 150,000IDR, ($15CAD). We went into the labyrinth of a club through several areas with different music and DJs before deciding that the rooftop seemed like the most fun. We danced and sang til 4am when the place started dying down, and eventually found our way back to the hotel.

My Final Beach Day & Surf Lessons!

The following morning I peeled myself out of bed early enough to get to the beach for a full day in the sun… Today would be my final day, not only in Bali, but of my entire trip before starting the journey home the next morning. Michelle joined me on the beach and we grabbed a couple of chairs and a couple of coconuts as we chatted with some local kids who were assigned to practice their English with tourists on the beach. They were so shy and far too sweet, we couldn’t say no. We talked, took photos with them and they thanked us for our time.

We also chatted for quite a bit with Jaya, or J as he prefers to be called, one of the young Balinese men running the surf lessons nearby. He made us promise to take lessons from him later on and we agreed since it was something we had planned on doing anyways. We also taught him how to speak Canadian… So now he knows the proper use of “eh?” in a sentence, as in “know what I mean?” or “right?” and we made him promise that the next time he met a Canadian in Bali he’d say, “It’s really hot today, eh?” We all laughed as he practised it with us.

After relaxing for most of the day in the sun, we met up with Maddie and grabbed lunch at the restaurant across from the beach before heading back to test the waves. The 3 of us agreed to pay 130,000IDR each ($13CAD) for an hour lesson, each with our own instructor and including rentals. J let me wear his shirt that said Let’s Go, and Maddie and Michelle suited up in bright yellow tops. We looked like superheroes… though we were all fairly confident we were about to make asses of ourselves.

We practised first on land getting up on the board and Mo, Amed and J laughed as they ordered us to do pushups on the boards until we got it right. Finally, we went out in the water. It was already around 4:30pm, and the waves were getting decently big for someone who has never surfed before. Maddie and Michelle had tried once before in Europe but claimed that they barely got up at all, and suspected that today would be no different. J reminded me of the steps as he helped push me out into the water, far more confident than I was in my abilities, but I figured I’d give it my best shot so at least I could say I tried…

I KILLED IT! J let go and said “UP!” and I stepped up on the board from my stomach into a low squat as the wave pushed me along. Maddie and Michelle cheered me on all the way to the beach until I stepped off of the board onto the sand, barely able to comprehend that I had ACTUALLY just surfed without injury. Not only that though, I was actually pretty good! It felt natural, and I swam back out on my board to J who told me how great I did… I told him it was only because I had such a good teacher.

I climbed back on and tried again, I stood up and made it once again the full way to the beach. Michelle and Maddie yelled a lot of “What the hell!?”s as I laughed, hardly believing it myself. Soon though, Maddie got up as well and by the end of our lesson Michelle was right there with us. I had only fallen 3 or 4 times (and taken one hard hit upside my chin after turning the board sideways in front of me accidentally) by the end of the lesson.

It actually lasted over an hour and a half even though we only paid for an hour, but the guys kept telling us “one more!” every time we fell, and as the sun began to set we made one last go, and called it quits, entirely exhausted. We thanked the guys, who invited us to come back to the beach for guitar, music and drinks later, but it was already getting late and I knew that I still had to pack for my flight and get some rest once we showered and had dinner.

We grabbed a bite nearby, shopped a bit, got some dessert to celebrate my last night in Bali and went back to the room. I packed, prepared and got some rest, knowing I had a long trip ahead of me.

Goodbye, (For Now)

In the morning I said my goodbyes to Michelle, who would be staying another 10 days or so in Bali before heading home, and Maddie, who I had spent the last 102 days with since Jan 23 when we left Toronto together. She would now be continuing her travels without me through some more of Asia and likely Australia, with an unknown return date as of yet.

It was a bittersweet goodbye as I tossed my luggage into the back of the taxi, though as sad as I was that my trip was over, I knew what I had waiting for me back home, and it was hard to feel anything but excitement for it. Besides, if there’s one thing I know for certain, it’s that this won’t be my last trip, and that going home was more of a refuelling period than an “end” to my travels. I think the goodbye might actually have been harder on Maddie than myself, only because she knew that once Michelle left, she’d be alone for real, but I told her she’d be okay, and to try not to lose or break anything without me around to look out for her. If there’s one thing she’s proven to me over our time together though, it is her independence, and I have the utmost confidence in her ability to survive, flourish even, as she continues on after we’re gone.

The taxi dropped me off at the airport some 30 minutes later (on the meter for only 30,000IDR) and I took a deep breath as I walked into the terminal, excited and terrified for the journey ahead of me. If you’re wondering what the terrified part is about, I can assure you I have no fear of flying, nor of being patted down at security (which is always very thorough after my insulin pump is brought into the mix).

My 63hr 55min Journey Home

I was terrified because once my flight left at 12pm, I would be beginning the 63 hour 55 minute journey to Toronto… Yes, that’s right. I would spend the next 3 full days almost between flights and airports… and no this has nothing to do with time changes, this is based on actual hours counted. Trust me, I checked three times. Of course I have no one to blame but myself for the madness ahead of me, since I alone made the decision to book a round trip ticket to Bangkok initially, and fly now from Bali to Bangkok the day before so that I’d make my flight with plenty of time to spare.

The strategy was purely because of money of course, and I would plan it the same way again in a heartbeat knowing that I saved nearly a thousand dollars by doing so. Still, 64 hours to Toronto is a damn long time for someone who has self diagnosed mild A.D.D. (I actually have been told by my mother that several teachers throughout my youth had mentioned that I seemed to have trouble paying attention, keeping focus and sitting still, but that there was no reason to seek help or medication since my grades never suffered… Which seemed to require hours and hours more than other students to complete the same tasks, possibly making me the hard worker I am today, and resulting in my task-oriented nature in art, photography and writing… You’ll never find me bored or truly relaxing. If i am, I’ll find a book.)

Anyways… Like I was saying, 64 hours.

First was my flight from Bali to Bangkok (DMK, the smaller airport in Bangkok, not the one I’d be leaving from the next day). The flight was only about 3 hours 15 minutes and I arrived at DMK at 2:15pm, Bangkok time (an hour behind Bali time). My next flight would leave the following morning at 8:55am, giving me  18hrs and 40mins to get to BKK airport and sleep. I ended up stuck in line at arrivals at DMK until nearly 5pm, and luckily had the company of Isabel, a girl around my age from Amsterdam who was heading home after 10 months of travel. Her company was the only thing stopping me from ripping my hair out in the time we spent in line.

Afterwards, we grabbed our bags and went to the shuttle bus, which leaves every 30 minutes-1 hour from DMK to BKK and is completely free with proof of another flight. The shuttle took almost 2 hours in traffic, and finally at nearly 8pm we found ourselves sitting in BKK eating some overpriced and much needed dinner. Afterwards, we slept in a quieter area of the first floor across some benches until Isabel left to check in for her flight at 11pm.

I said goodbye, thanked her for her company, and went back to sleep under my sarong until around 5:30am. When I got up, I waited in line for 2 hours, checked in,  went through security and border control and finally got into my gate, just in time for the first leg of my flight to Helsinki, Finland. The flight would be 10h 10min, followed by a 16h 55min layover overnight. Next would be my flight to London Heathrow Airport which would take only 3h 10mins, followed by a 4h 5min layover and a final flight to Toronto for 7h 40min… for a grand total of 63h 55min. I would then arrive at the airport in Toronto at 3:55pm, May 6 (I will have slept 3 nights basically but gained a day because of the 12hr difference from Bali).

Realistically, the flights were all nice and I don’t have much to complain about. I spent most of the time sleeping, reading, writing or watching movies, and a small portion getting excited to arrive in Toronto, but I tried to cut that off quickly so I didn’t make the flights feel even longer for myself. Call me Viktor Novorski, because I feel like my home is now between airports (that’s a reference to Tom Hanks’ role in The Terminal, one of my favourite movies, where a guy is stuck living in an airport for months… Watch it if you haven’t).

Home Sweet Home

Getting home was bittersweet. I have missed my family, my friends, my Alex and my dog Marley more than I can put into words, and I have even missed my Jobs, both as an artist as well as my part time gig at The Beer Store, where I have a boss whom I love like a big brother and awesome people I have the pleasure of calling both my coworkers and my friends. I’m sad to leave Asia, but I’ve definitely got unfinished business here and I know I’ll be back in no time. For now it’s time to recharge (mentally, physically and financially) before I hit the road on my next adventure.

Never Have I Ever…

So here I am, 104 days later after spending 101 days backpacking my way through Southeast Asia, looking back at how much I’ve seen, done and felt, so much of which I had never experienced before… Have you ever played the drinking game “Never Have I Ever”?… Here’s how it works: The verbal game is started with players getting into a circle. The first player says a simple statement starting with “Never have I ever”… anyone who HAS done what the first player stated they have not done, has a drink… My mission if you will, is to have to drink for just about everything… I want to have done it all! I used to live in a very small world, as most kids do, unaware of how much more there is to life than what we see on a day to day basis, and there were a lot of things I could say “never have I ever” about. Today, that list is shorter than ever, and still shrinking. Here it is, the good the bad and the ugly, every major new experience of my trip through Southeast Asia.

Today I can no longer say, “Never have I ever…”

Partied on the famous Khao San Road in Bangkok drinking booze from a bucket.
Eaten scorpions, crickets, entire fried fish (including the head and skeleton) and larvae.
Gotten a massage for $6.
Taken the sky train in Bangkok.
Seen the city of Bangkok from one of the highest points at a skybar.
Cliff jumped at the Grand Canyon in Chiang Mai.
Watched a Thai boxing match.
Played with elephants in a rescue centre.
Climbed a “Sticky Waterfall” with my bare hands.
Taken a Thai cooking class.
Swam in natural hot springs and played in the mud.
Watched the sunset from the Grand Canyon in Pai.
Had a friend smoke a cigarette out of my spacer (earring) hole on a bet.
Survived a two hour freezing cold bike ride in the mountains of Northern Thailand after dark.
Learned to ride a motorbike and driven hundreds upon hundreds of km by the end in almost every country we visited.
Spent the night in a Laos hospital after a nearly lethal food poisoning & low blood sugar combo.
Seen countless caves and waterfalls that were unlike anything back home.
Visited probably hundreds of Buddhist and Hindu temples boasting incredible architecture and artwork.
Taken a two day slow boat trip across a border.
Gone tubing down a winding river between the mountains in Vang Vieng.
Been in a hot air balloon in Vang Vieng above limestone karsts.
Dealt with the backpacker nightmare that is bedbugs.
Haggled my way through tons of markets and shops for the best deal.
Hiked for two days through rice terrace-covered mountains in Sa Pa.
Caught a peeping tom using a camera through a window in our bathroom.
Jumped off of the second story of a boat on the Castaways Tour in Halong Bay.
Gone tubing between the karsts in Halong Bay.
Helped several friends through awful food poisoning episodes.
Taken a paddle boat ride through Trang An Grottoes under low caves and between giant mountains.
Walked up thousands of stairs and rocks collectively to see the best temples, waterfalls, caves and viewpoints.
Walked through part of the longest dry cave in Asia and floated in the mud in one of the longest wet caves.
Went down the longest zipline in Vietnam.
Gotten clothes tailor made in Hoi An.
Trusted total strangers and new friends with my most valuable possessions (which never backfired).
Learned about the history of different countries from locals and tours.
Accepted free motorbike rides from strangers.
Went canyoning (waterfall repelling) in Da Lat.
Watched a movie at a cinema in Ho Chi Minh City.
Got my debit card swallowed by an ATM, and then got it back from a bank in Cambodia.
Educated myself on the tragic history of Cambodia at S-21 and The Killing Fields.
Suffered a sand fly attack in Koh Rong.
Driven a motorbike through an abandoned resort on a mountain.
Stood in awe before the Temples at Angkor in Siem Reap.
Watched the sunrise over Angkor Wat.
Slept in countless rooms with no air conditioning, flushing toilets, toilet paper or soap… And one with cockroackes.
Watched the sun rise and set over the karsts on Chiao Lan lake (Khao Sok National Park) from a boat.
Rock climbed on natural rocks/cliffs in Ton Sai.
Celebrated Thai New Year (Songkran) in a country-wide water fight.
Stood on Maya Beach from Leonardo DiCaprio’s “The Beach.”
Completed my PADI Open Water course, and went diving 6 times including 2 fun dives after the course.
Got a bamboo tattoo on Koh Tao.
Survived the Full Moon Party In Koh Phangan.
Celebrated Passover with a Jewish friend.
Learned to speak a bit of Thai, Lao, Vietnamese, Khmer, Indonesian and even Hebrew.
Climbed a mountain/volcano in Bali before breakfast.
Navigated my way alone by motorbike through Bali in the dark.
Successfully tried surfing the famous waves of Kuta, Bali.
Survived a 64 hour journey home to Toronto.
& made a ton of lifelong friends from all over the world who I hope to see again someday…

Looking Back

In the end, my most fond memories aren’t the ones you’d expect. Not watching the sunrise over Angkor Wat, the view from on top of the Mount Batur at sunrise, or the gorgeous beaches of Thailand, Cambodia and Bali… What I’ll remember the most from this trip are the people I’ve met, and the in-between moments in which I felt myself growing and changing into a smarter, stronger version of myself, trying something I hadn’t before or taking risks and putting my faith in the unknown.

To me, the trip meant a lot of things. It proved to me that after a year of saving and pinching pennies on a lower income than most of the people I know, even I was able to make this dream a reality, something that I knew was possible but had heard so many people say they could “never afford” that it seemed like it may be beyond my reach. It also proved to me that wherever you go in the world, you will never be truly alone, and that if you’re open to it, you’ll find that friends are all around you. I can say today that I have friends from all around the world… In Alaska, Israel, Texas, Germany, Scotland, England, Wales, Amsterdam, Australia, New Zealand, Austria, The Czech Republic, New York, Romania, Bali, and all over Canada… Each of whom I met while travelling, and has stolen a small piece of my heart… You all know who you are.

Some of my best days were spent playing cards or sitting in restaurants chatting with people I never would have met had we not all been travelling, learning not only about the country we were both travelling through, but also about their home country as well.

The trip also confirmed to me that even as a diabetic, long term travel is possible. I haven’t yet worked out the logistics for timeframes exceeding 3-4 months, but I now know that even with nothing but my backpack, I can make it happen for at least that long, which isn’t something many people would try to do with a preexisting condition that requires so many supplies and so much work. Lastly, it confirmed something that I had already learned in meditation back in India, and have continued to grow from since… The fact that once we accept impermanence in all things and work towards breaking down our egos, happiness will follow. Happiness is not a big mission, checklist, dollar amount or “thing,” it is predominantly a matter of the mind.

Outside The Palace

One of my friends whom I met in Thailand sat beside me one day and introduced me to a simple concept that changed the way I thought about travel. He looked at me and said “Would you rather live inside the Palace, or across from it?” At first I didn’t understand the question… And with a puzzled look on my face he elaborated (and I am paraphrasing), “The people inside the Palace never really get to appreciate the beauty of where they live, they’re stuck inside most of the time without any reason to leave, and when they look out the window they look down upon the other people of the city, from the middle class to those living in poverty… But the people across from the Palace would wake up every day with a million dollar view that cost them nothing. They are surrounded by other people, often unaware of the “poverty” around them from up close, living happy lives outside of the Palace walls.”

As I have travelled, I’ve heard the words repeating in my mind daily. I have stayed in places that cost me an average of $10 per night, some that felt like luxury suites, others with cockroaches.

In the end, I spent more time outside than anywhere else, especially when our rooms were “modest”… It’s easy to believe that the more we have, the happier we’ll be, but it’s simply not the case. I’ve seen kids running around with nothing but a few makeshift toy cars made of water bottles, caps and string, laughing and smiling far more than any kid I’ve seen with an ipad back home. I’ve seen people celebrate their faith in the most modest ways possible, having little more than a shrine of flowers and a small statue in place of a grand temple, happy as can be… and I’ve spent some of the best days of my trip in modest bungalows without air conditioning or flushing toilets, playing cards and talking to some of the best people I’ve ever known, truly as happy as I’ve ever been.

Once we remove the idea that MORE stuff will make us MORE happy, we realize that once you’ve got the essentials, the rest is gravy. Sure, some extra above what you need is nice, but you must always know when you’re crossing from need to want. Somehow, awareness alone of how much we have that we WANT vs. NEED is already something that changes one’s view of the world for the better. Suddenly the pressure for a better job, bigger house, nicer car, better clothes, bigger paychecks, fancier hotel… It fades away, and what is left is a life in which you are free to live without constant fear that NOT having these things will damage your reputation/status/ego, making others believe you to be less happy because of it, and also leading you to believe that you’re unhappy because of the things you lack that others have and believe you should want too.

Only once we remove our desire for the undefinable and never ending “more” from the equation, knowing that the only thing that matters is each present moment, can we find contentment and peace. No ego, no attachment to the past or future, just pure present joy… from outside of the Palace.

I can’t begin to explain how much I’ve learned in the past 104 days about myself and others, individuals and countries, old friends and new friends… but I have grown immensely, and this trip won’t be something I’ll ever forget. Even more importantly… It won’t be my last.

Where to next, you might ask?… I guess I’d better start dreaming!

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