Bali & Gili Air | 14-201116

About.

Mornings. Waking up in my dashing four-poster bed, thinking: what is vacation? To people in general? To me? Do I really need a vacation now – as defined by a break from daily life? I love my daily life and think I’ve reached a stage where there are none too stressful or dreary factors in it. That said, I do have a dreamy vision of a week fully and solely dedicated to reading, exercising and taking in new sights and impressions, and the mental as well as physical benefits of that. The difference between needing a vacation, a piece of time cut out of the calendar, for being able to wake up and follow your immediate impulses – to do whatever or nothing – or to do great things that you don’t normally have the luxury of prioritising. This week, which I planned more than six months ago, is about spending time with old friends, being in Bali and doing some freelance work. Trying to reduce the need to organise all of my thoughts and actions. Reset. I wake up, roll onto my side, read Josh Spector’s slightly generic, easily digestible and highly resourceful newsletter before getting up to do a bit of pilates and skipping (new robe from the Yoga Barn!) in my room. After a quick, refreshing morning swim in the 30-160 cm deep (!) pool, we gather at the large wooden dining table in the airy, spacious lounge to enjoy a delicious breakfast prepared by our sweet staff  – crisp, thin veggie omelettes, a bowl of fresh fruit for each (papaya, yellow watermelon, dragonfruit, pineapple) and strong fresh coffee – and chat loosely about what we want to do this week. General pattern: chilling by the pool in the morning, taking a trip in the afternoon and letting the evening revolve around a great meal and games (a German bean-themed card game and Cards Against Humanity). Before we can start chilling by the pool, though, we all have to seek shelter in my room under the roof while the villa manager sprays large clouds of toxic mozzy spray in the garden.

Pool. Playing with the happy baby who is dressed in a tiny blue wetsuit. Doing lazy laps among his inflatible plastic toys and floating frangipani flowers fallen from the canopies above. Cheerful voices from the sun loungers, discussing holiday reading material – Danish gossip magazine features and historical drama novel plots. Watching the super moon and drinking gin & tonics before bedtime on Monday. Poolside soundtrack: Jack Johnson tropical summer holiday classics and Wham’s Last Christmas on repeat.

Creative. Seeking shade under a poolside umbrella to provide my edits for, translations of and/or ideas on friends’ various business ventures spanning from micro-brewed beer to blissful retreats to green thumbs.

Balinese Body Bliss. Spreading out on the lounge floor, all five adults in a row, for a thorough 1-hour Balinese massage, while the baby is being entertained by the sweet manager, rocking him on his arm, carrying him on a tour of the garden, placing a frangipani flower behind his ear.

Seminyak. The thrill of shopping for house stuff at Fern and My Cup of Love, seeking shelter from sudden pouring rain with some iced coffee and iced spicy chai at Grocer and Grind, snapping sunny shots of durian trees, cool kids on scooters and ornamental architectural features in meandering alleys, indulging in pretty smoothie bowls fetched from Nalu Bowl with our feet dancing around in the shallow end of the pool, tucking into colourful brunch dishes under neon green ferns and other lush plants hanging from the bamboo ceiling of Shelter Cafe – and the idea of popping down the street for some rejuvenating yin yoga at Yoga 108 (a nasty cold prevents me from actually doing it this time; too bad, but I’ll go another time!).

Kilo. Divinely tasty, hearty and healthy lunch at the pearl of a restaurant next door to our villa – straight lines, earthy colour scheme, minimalistic play of concrete, glass and wood features, panorama windows inviting the lush greenery of the surrounding garden to serve as natural canvasses on the walls, open kitchen, soulful music, light feel; elements nodding to the phonetic name of the blue-yellow nautical flag for ‘K’, signalling, ‘We wish to communicate with you.’ We don’t talk much – but our content smiles and eye contact definitely communicate a lot of positivity.

Sardine. The vibeyiest of places, this seafood restaurant turns out to be! Buzzing street main entrance – tranquil rice paddy backdrop. Open bamboo construction, bold local art pieces, fine-dining magic dust layer upon casual summery setting, scrumptious grilled whole fish ‘Jimbaran style’, rubbed in sambal matah, and delicious wine, romantic, fun… We’re all ecstatic, the youngest member of our party included.

Uluwatu Trip. A stroll of the extensive green and gorgeous grounds of Uluwatu Temple atop the cliffs on the southern tip of the island, a poke bowl at surfer hip Single Fin, a climb down the cliff to the tiny, pristine Uluwatu Beach, a late afternoon stop at the lavish Ayana resort for sunset drinks at Rock Bar – however, alas, as the day draws to an end, the blue skies turn black and open up for a torrential thunderous shower, which has the special bar close and forces us to seek shelter at one of the pavilion restaurants in the luxurious garden. The view is gone and we’re almost freezing, but it’s all right: we can’t enjoy the sunset, but we had a beautiful active day in the sun, we love each other’s company and it’s kind of cosy cuddling up with freshly baked bread and gin & tonics while staring out at the crazy tropical storm.

Rainy Eves. Coming home from a homeware shopping spree in Seminyak one day and from the Uluwatu trip another day, we gather around the large wooden dining table with our games and some authentic local street food from a stall down the road or vegan wraps from the Earth Cafe. Jack Johnson, Wham.

Canggu Trip. Colourful breakfast in Milk and Madu‘s wonderful garden, buying ornamented cow skulls, blankets, cushions, coconut bowls and tropical Christmas ornaments at Bungalow Living, driving alongside rice paddy fields, sipping iced coffee at Old Man’s, walking along the beach back home in the magic golden hour light, chatting about everything and nothing while snapping shots of corn roasting on the cob and the construction of an elaborate sand castle.

Barbacoa. Right across from Sardine lies this large warehouse space, dramatically dedicated to Latin American BBQ, woodfire, charcoal, smoke and luscious flower arrangements. Perfect spot for our leaving dinner on Thursday, and for any occasion, really… the others share various pig-dominated dishes, while I have a whole bowl of tender smoked octopus mostly to myself. Yum!

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Gili Chill. On Friday, the staff prepare fruit and coffee already at 6:30am before hugging us warmly, when half of the party departs for the airport and Denmark, and the other half for the small bounty island off Lombok, Gili Air. Driving straight across Bali to catch the ferry from Padang Bai on the east coast, we’re marvelling at the sights that meet us on either side of the road – palm tree plantations, green mountains, picture perfect natural beauty. Waiting at the ferry terminal among swarms of hippie happy backpackers, we admit to ourselves that we’re about a decade older than everyone around us, at least. When I was a teenager I was more keen on formal education and short holidays than long-term backpacking, and now, here I am, taking a classic teenager gab year trip ten years later than most. Oh well, I don’t want to ever be too old to enjoy a tropical beach holiday with close friends. And I do feel quite young and carefree, arriving at the tiny island, the sandy perimeter road of which is just 5 km long. It’s all cute straw cottages and bungalows, small seafood restaurants and fruit stalls, massage parlors, yoga studios and diving gear rental shops, pony carriages, a few scooters and brightly coloured bicycles (no cars), open-air beach bars and pristine beaches. We live in a quaint pastel-coloured place on the eastern side, from which you have a wonderful vista of  Mount Rinjani on Lombok, which I climbed a few months ago. We spend all of Friday afternoon by the beach, snoozing, reading, swimming in the clear water, sipping espresso martinis, relaxing completely. At dusk, we stroll to the opposite side of the island to watch the changing colours of the skies as the pink sun disappears below Agung on Bali, a fresh mango daiquiri in hand, feet buried in the warm sand. Walking back, we stop at Scallywags for a some freshly grilled prawns, squid and mahi mahi with heaps of brown rice and burning sambal matah. As the others turn in, I curl up in a lounge chair in the charming front yard lounge of our home for the weekend to read, edit photos and soak in the present, the smells of incense, the light from beach bonfires, the incredible cover medley of ’90s classics blasting from the bar speakers – Emilia’s Big Big World, Natalie Imbruglia’s Torn, The Cardigans’ Love Fool, Sixpence None the Richer’s Kiss Me, Rosette’s It Must Have Been Love.

Gili Air. Between the night life and fashion boutiques of Trawangan and the relaxing spirituality and honeymoon vibe of Meno you’ll find the island of water (‘air’ means water in Indonesian; it’s the only island to have natural underground fresh water wells), bringing charm and balance to residents and visitors, right where the Indian and Pacific Oceans converge. A great place for water sports, yoga, seafood and losing/finding yourself surrounded by sparkling turquoise water. The water and the abundance of fish were the reasons why settlers arrived 200 years ago (Makassar, Bugis and Mandar ethnicities), planting tapioca, corn, peanuts, mango, banana and papaya, which they sold along with their fish and the indigenous coconuts at Lombok markets. The simple paradise saw its first Western tourist in 1984, and in the ’90s, when Bali experienced a tourist boom, the Gilis became an off-the-beaten-track favourite. Air is the most locally populated of the islands, and its 1500 inhabitants are said to possess a special pride because of the awe their home inspires in guests all year round, in summer as well as in the rainy season (we’re well into the latter now, yet it only pours once a day, a heavy air-cleansing shower).

Sunrise Gili Air. Our home for the weekend is a cute little bungalow resort, all straw, bamboo and white-painted wood, with a Bungalow Living outlet in the reception, roofs thatched with the coarsest horse hair and bright red hibiscus flowers strewn upon beds and towels. Stunning ocean view and wave soundboard from the hammocks on our private rooftop terrace.

Gili Air Morning Bliss. Saturday morning I wake up as the sun hits the window. Run along the perimeter of the island, all alone on the path, passing idyllic beach bars on the ocean-side of the path and idyllic bungalows or patches of palm trees and gardens on the island side. Now and then a pony-drawn carriage passes by, and I’m pleased to see that the pom pom decorated animals seem to be thriving – they all look fresh and shiny. Other things to note – the pale yellow sun’s reflection upon the ocean, the spidery light blue wooden boats anchored up in the shallow waves, the dramatic grey-green mountain contours on Lombok. Coming back, changing into a swimsuit, doing a bit of yoga on the beach, swimming to cool down, meeting my friends for breakfast in the lounge, where some calming instrumental hindu music has replaced the pop tracks of last night – freshly cut papaya, sugar free coconut granola, sweet smelling jasmine tea.

Snorkelling. Sea turtles, neon blue fish, striped sea snakes. Holding hands and finning out and in together when it’s getting a bit too dangerous.

Shopping in the Sand. To me, collecting shells is the most calming activity, and I love having a few treasures from all of the different beaches I’ve been to, from the ones outside my parents’ homes in Denmark and Spain to all of the Southeast Asian ones I’ve been to this autumn. Such different sizes, shapes, colours and characteristics.

Sunset Chasing. On Saturday evening, we’re out to watch the setting sun again. This time, on a stroll along the beach all the way around the island after an afternoon spent on the balcony with gin & tonics.

Beauty Is a Wound. My holiday read is by an Indonesian writer, Eka Kurniawan. Combining history, satire, family tragedy, legend, humor and romance, the spellbinding masterpiece has got several elements of the magical realism I love so much in Latin American classics by Gabriel García Márquez and Isabel Allende. The beautiful Indo prostitute Dewi Ayu and her daughters are beset by rape, murder, insanity, monstrosity and revengeful ghosts. Kurniawan’s grotesque hyperbole functions as a cheeky critique of his nation’s troubled past: the greed of colonialism; the chaotic struggle for independence; the 30 years of Suharto’s despotic rule. Drawing on local sources (epic folk tales and bawdy shadow puppet plays) and nodding to Melville, Kurniawan’s voice is luscious and sharp. Great pageturner!

Morning Flow Yoga. Sunday morning I enjoy the most beautifully soothing and satisfying 90 minutes’ hatha flow session right by the water, with a lovely Australian teacher, Sammy, while divers are wading out to the wooden boats right in front of the open-air studio through glittery morning light reflected in the clear water, and the occasional sounds of buggies, chickens and crickets in the background, which aren’t disturbing at all, just adding to the good energy of the class.

Coffee and Thyme. Completing the idyll, there’s of course also a cool outdoor hipster coffee place on the island, conveniently located right by the ferry pier. Shaded by palm trees, it’s the liveliest hangout around, and I try the best of two worlds as we wait for the ferry to take us back to Bali around noon on Sunday: almond matcha latte with an espresso shot. Woah!

Party Boat. Going via Gili T, our return ride is a true party boat. I sit on the upper deck, right at the front, by two huge duck-tape-fastened speakers, from which covers of all of the top hits from Avicii, Bastille, Bob Marley, Beyonce and Rihanna are blasting out across the speedy white vehicle, the calm ocean and even the mountains of the surrounding islands. ‘Don’t worry about a thing’ – I definitely don’t. I’ve got wind and salt in my face and hair, the sun is burning, and I feel completely happy.

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Ubud. Before catching a flight back to Singapore, I get to spend Sunday afternoon with my friends in Ubud, where they are staying for another few days. Their home, The Rice Joglo, set among the rice paddy fields about 20 minutes outside of town, is the most idyllic, fairytale-like place I’ve ever seen in my life. The carefully carved wooden furniture and art pieces of the cottages, the verandahs overlooking the greenery, the organic garden full of happy ducks (the eggs of which are the stars of the organic breakfast menu), the sweet hosts (who chops off the tops of coconuts from the garden for us to have a sip) and the complete silence. Ahh! Walking up the narrow path that winds its way from Ubud Palace to the Joglo, we stop to have a late lunch at Sari Organik, which is another rice paddy view enriched bamboo bungalow style epitome of organic Balinese charm. After that, my friends walk me through the sunset back to town, where our driver from the morning is waiting to take me to the airport.

Digital Pause. Rather than strict so-called Internet cleanses and digital detoxes, I think for me, it’s just good occasionally to have a small pause from electronic devices with access to social media and news. In the beginning of this week, my aging phone gives up completely after having been declining in health for a while. One of the last steps in its deterioration is jumping wildly in and out of apps at a crazy pace and sending emails and finding pages totally autonomously. Fascinating if scary to watch it culminates in a total blackout, which leaves me to do work on my laptop in the mornings and evenings and connect with my present surroundings when I’m out and about in the day, which isn’t such a bad consequence really.

The Company. Good old loving friends sharing affectionate laughs, comfortable silences, great conversations, shallow jokes, open observations and ideas, laughing, laughing, laughing, laughing.

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