The porter escorted me to my hotel room at the Artini Cottages in Ubud at the beginning of my 9-day Beautiful Bali tour with Intrepid. The hotel was gorgeous, the room was cozy, and the beds were plush, but I couldn’t help feeling nervous.
Who would my roommate be, and would I like her? Did she snore? Would I get along with my other tour mates? And most importantly, would I even have a good time? The second I saw my roommate’s welcoming face, however, my anxiety melted away. She was here, she was smiling, and it would be fine. She had no idea how much I needed her and the rest of the group for those next few days.
I had been travelling in Indonesia on my own for two months before I joined the Intrepid tour, and to put it frankly, I was starving for quality human interaction. I enjoy solo travel, but my time in Indonesia had been characterized by several periods of loneliness. The day before my group tour was Christmas Day, and I had eaten my dinner alone on the beach that night, watching the cresting waves as people around me celebrated with their loved ones. I convinced myself that the gaping hole I felt in my belly was hunger rather than loneliness, and filled it with two plates of pasta and a large glass of wine.
So the next day when my smiling roommate walked into the room, I was practically bursting with things to say to her! Together we walked through the hotel grounds to the restaurant, where we would be meeting our tour guide and travel mates. That night, my group mates and I laughed, ate, and bonded; it was the first of many wonderful days we would all spend together.
You’re never alone, in the best way
During my two months of solo travel I had seen and done many amazing things; I scaled waterfalls, watched sunsets that looked too beautiful to be real, and had a monkey pee all down my back (true story). But doing all these things alone had a price. There was no one to take a picture of me in front of that beautiful sunset, there was no one to scream with me while jumping into the cool waters of the waterfall, and there was no one to laugh at me as the monkey emptied its bladder all down my tank top.
On my tour I was rarely alone, which meant I could share all the memories I made with my tour mates, and oh, do I have memories! There was the moment when my roommate tried to pose for a photo on the top of Mount Batur and we ended up in a laughing heap on the floor. Then there was the moment when we took a group picture of all of us trying (and very much failing) to jump in sync at the base of Munduk Waterfall.
Even our most relaxing moments were memorable, like floating in the sulfur-filled waters of the Banjar Hot Springs and laughing as the local kids splashed and jumped around in their bathing suits and in some instances, their underwear.
Experiencing things the first time, for the second time
Although I will be the first one to say that my first love is travelling, sometimes being a tourist can get old. I like to compare it to experiencing Christmas as an adult; you still enjoy it thoroughly, but the magic dulls ever so slightly over the years. Travelling with my other tour mates, some who had never been to Asia before, was like being around kids on Christmas; their excitement was intoxicating, and I enjoyed being able to re-experience Asia through them!
One day we travelled to Menjangan Island to snorkel (a little island off the northwest coast of mainland Bali that sits in the midst of a National Park and is home to hundreds of deer) and one of my tour mates had never snorkeled before. I had snorkeled many times since being in Asia, but I had so much fun just watching how happy she looked as we paddled through the coral garden, watching clown and parrot fish swim curiously around us. It’s possible that her exuberance was good luck, as I was able to safely observe a jellyfish close up for the first time!
Another way in which I was able to relive Asia through my tour mates was through bartering, which is an important part of the culture and a must when purchasing almost anything in Bali. Many of my group mates had never shopped in Asia nor bartered before, and at first they found it to be an overwhelming experience. After I shared a few of my simple bartering tricks, my friends put them to the test at the shops. It was great to see my friends and the store owners complete the purchase with smiles on both their faces!
Seeing the real Bali
Surprisingly, some of the most memorable experiences of my trip didn’t happen on an outing; they were because of getting to know our local guide, Deni. As the days went on the whole group became good friends with him. He would tease us at every dinner when giving us our plan for the next day, by saying that each hotel served breakfast until 10am (letting us think we could sleep in) only to tell us that we were leaving at 9am. Everyone would chuckle and groan when he said this. By the last few days of the trip, every group member would repeat this same sentence back to him as he laughed.
However, it was not only our daily rapport with Deni that was memorable, it was getting to learn about him and his life in Lombok, where he was from. He told us about his love for his wife and daughter, and about how much he missed them when he was away. Halfway through our tour he tearfully announced that his wife told him she was pregnant with their second child!
At the end of our tour Deni told our group that we were the best tour he’d ever had, and we unanimously responded that our tour had been great because of him. For the entire 9 days he was always right beside us, whether it was making sure we were safe, sharing information about the next leg of the tour, telling us little bits of Balinese history, sharing an Indonesian fried treat around the minibus, or showing us a native Balinese plant by the side of the road.
We not only got to see Bali with our own eyes, but also through Deni’s, and it was a unique experience I’ll never forget.
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(All images c/o Ali Frustaglio, taken on Intrepid’s Beautiful Bali tour.)