Bali, Indonesia: 8 Can’t Miss Experiences for the Traveling Yogi

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As originally published on YogaTravelTree.com.

People from all over the world flock to Bali for its lush landscape, crystal blue waters and to connect with its long history as a healing and spiritual center. It is a soft, safe place to land for the spiritual seeker and offers many opportunities for the international yogi and yogini.

Find Your Center in Ubud

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Rich in art and culture with a long history as a hub for natural medicine and healing, Ubud is the spiritual center of Bali. It is the perfect place to restore from long hours of travel, begin your journey, find your footing and ground back into your uprooted center of self. Gamelan music performances, cultural dances and leisurely strolls along the avenues watching the grinning Balinese working on their art and crafts are perfect ways to get into the spirit of the island and begin to understand its rich culture. With the excitement and energy you bring to the beginning of a trip, you’ll enjoy wandering through Monkey Forest, hiking around the area and visiting local artists in working studios. Make sure to spend some time sipping coffee or a smoothie at one of the many cafés backing up to the lush and peaceful rice paddies. There are also a wide variety of yoga classes available in Ubud and Yoga Barn is a notorious stop for yoga inspired travelers.

Get quiet and go Within at Balian Beach

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This rich, black sand beach is off the beaten path and offers its low key travelers majestic waves, long beaches, sacred waters, lush tropical forests and a peace perfect for meditation and self reflection. There is a drastic separation here from the commercialism and tourists you’ll find in other parts of the island. Come here when you’re ready to go deep within and have some peaceful alone time. Yoga classes, healthful meals and retreats are close by at Shankari’s Bali Retreat.

Take in a Spiritual Sunset at Tanah Lot Temple

One of seven sea temples around the island of Bali and one of the most important temples for the Balinese, Tanah Lot brings in a large number of tourists in the high season. As one of the most recommended places to go, you’ll want to make sure to bring a little cash and a lot of patience for the local vendors and their wares. There are many opportunities from the surrounding areas to go for a day trip and take in a stunning sunset. Wear your water shoes, you’ll have to get your feet wet to get to the little rock/island temple, but the excursion is well worth it.

Let Your Spirit Soar Atop Mount Agung

When you’re ready to take your spirit to the next level, book a guide and hike up this ancient but active volcano. It is the highest mountain on the island and the place with the most spiritual significance for the Balinese. The Besakih temple on Mount Agung miraculously survived the devastating eruption in 1963 reinforcing its spiritual substance for the island population. Begin your climb in the lush forest at the base and make your way up through the barren volcanic rock at the top giving way to spectacular views. There are three intermediate to advanced climbing routes, guides should be organized in advance.

Choose Your Own Adventure in Padangbai

This port town is the perfect point to intersect with other travelers on their way out to the exterior islands. This small backpackers spot is a high energy and transient place to go when you’re ready to get moving and need direction; come to Padangbai and let it launch you into your next adventure. Spend the day at Blue Lagoon Beach then charter a small boat out to the Gili Islands or Nusa Lembongan. Make sure to negotiate a snorkel as part of the ride.

Return to Civilization by way of Kuta & Seminyak

Kuta is a bustling city with the best nightlife in Bali. When you’ve been secluded on a quiet island for weeks, it’s just the ticket to get you back into the swing of civilization and get socialized and ready to re-integrate into the world. There are many interesting spots where you can spend your remaining rupiah on a hot shower, some fresh seafood and a live show during dinner on Jimbaran Beach.

Spend a Day at the Beach in Sanur

When you’re ready for a break from adventuring, this upscale resort town offers one of the biggest and best beaches in Bali. You can sit in a lounge chair on the beach or swing in a hammock, frozen cocktail in hand. There is a long stretch of oceanfront boardwalk, ideal for gift shopping or a romantic stroll. The sand in Sanur is white and soft, not rocky underfoot like most other beaches on the island. There are lots of places in town for healthy eats and a beautiful spot for yoga on the beachfront at Power of Now Oasis.

Get Back to Basics on the Island of Nusa Lembongan

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Escape the main island and ferry or charter a boat out to Nusa Lembongan to experience the simplicity of island life on this speck of map. You’ll spend easy days napping, diving, doing yoga, sipping smoothies and watching beautiful sunsets. Rent a bicycle and cruise through the mangroves to the Beach Club at Sandy Bay for lunch, a cocktail and a swim overlooking a stunning ocean view. On Lembongan you’ll witness the simple life of locals who work as seaweed farmers in this small working town. If you’re a diver, spoil yourself in the crystal waters with instructors and masters at Big Fish Diving and get to a yoga class with Yoga Travel Tree writer Caroline Layzell at Yoga Shack.

When traveling in Bali, it’s important to take advantage of the balanced experience the island allows for. Spend some quiet, healing moments in reflection, meditation and yoga and then explore her many opportunities for adventure, diving, climbing, snorkeling and surfing. Bali is a special place. Enjoy your exploration of her countless treasures.

Off the Beaten Path: A Bali Yoga Retreat

bali retreatAs originally published on YogaTravelTree.com

315704_10150425029770086_1095314045_nI left the bustling art town of Ubud and rode for 2 exhausting hours in a non-airconditioned van in sticky hot temperatures. I was on my way to Shankari’s Bali Retreat in Suraberata, a place so off the beaten track, not even my local driver knew quite where we were headed. Exhausted as I was, I arrived at the retreat and felt immediately at peace. The sprawling compound sat in the middle of a tropical jungle, a short walk to a rushing river that opens into the sea over a wide black sand beach. This place held a sort of spiritual magic and presence; it felt sacred and I was anxious to get settled and regroup after my travel across the island.

The Balinese are always smiling and a helpful staff member with a familiar broad grin showed me to my Ganesha Yin Yang bungalow. The room was decadent compared to the backpacker accommodations in Ubud and still affordable on my budget, although only for a couple of nights at the $30 off-season special rate.

My bed was draped in white mosquito netting and I had a private patio overlooking the jungle below. I unloaded my heavy pack onto the wood floor and went to sit out there, letting the ringing in my head soften with the jungle’s heavy sense of peace and quiet stillness. It was the first peace I’d had since my journey began.

Balian Beach

I headed down to the beach and held up my loose pant-legs as the water rushed across my shins and my heels sunk into the heavy black sand. An ancient part of me wondered at the audacity of wearing white pants to a black sand beach on a rainy day, but the new part, the free part, laughed and her heart pounded with happiness and liberation. I’d never seen the river meet the sea before, though I’ve seen it many times since. It felt so indicative of my life at the time, like a metaphor. It felt as if the current were trying to take me to a bigger and broader set of experience and I was in awe that I’d never seen the expanse of opportunity laid out before me this way.

Here in this quiet retreat, off the beaten tourist path, Bali was beginning to heal me. It was working to shape this new version of myself and I was letting the rapid current soften the hard stones around my soul and erode the walls built up to protect my heart. I felt the place working on me like a masseuse and I knew, standing there in the river, looking out at the Balian Sea, that I would never be the same and that was exactly why I came; to be changed.

Finding Freedom and Flow in Bali

There is freedom in the simple act of making time for yourself. It doesn’t matter what you carve out time for exactly, just that you use those moments to listen to your heart and follow its yearnings. 317401_10150425030320086_799755270_n

In 2011 I spent three months in Morocco and returned to my home in Los Angeles feeling like my wings had been cut off. I’d found my sense of wanderlust during those months embedded in such a rich and unique place and was going stir crazy being back in the box of my old life. A severe case of culture shock left me feeling like I needed to flee the country…again. So I bought a ticket, a Lonely Planet, packed my backpack and set off for a month in Bali with a loose itinerary and without an agenda of any kind.

Traveling around Bali, I found a gap for magic in the time without bookends. It’s true, I may have found that sense of freedom anywhere, but in Bali that time was soft, lush, beautiful and barefoot. It was an easy country to navigate and everywhere I went was a soft place to land. I traveled from Ubud, rich in art, craft, culture and music to a meditative place where the river meets the sea on the black beach of Suraberata. I learned to scuba dive on a whim with a handsome Aussie in the crystal waters of a seaweed farming island called Nusa Lembongan. I took in the pristine beaches of Sanur from a hammock on a quiet stretch of sand.

In each place, I found that when I was able to put everything down, stand still and clear my mind, I could allow myself to be carried from place to place and from experience to experience.  Once I began to go with the flow and let the right moments nudge me forward from my resting state, I understood my own capacity for freedom.

I spent a month this way, letting each day, each hour, each minute, carry me to the next. I saw and experienced things I couldn’t possibly have planned for before I left for my trip because my mind was smaller before I began the experience. Travel has this capacity to break open your perspective of the world, but you have to allow it space and time.

Especially in our Western day to day lives, we force ourselves into tight work and life schedules that leave little room for flow or spontaneity. It’s difficult to let the universe have its way with you and naturally guide you to the people and places you are meant to encounter when all of your time is committed or obligated. I learned in Bali, that real freedom is a gift we can only give to ourselves.  We become our own captors in the prisons we create with schedules and attachments and it can be tough to find the key to freedom which is hidden in our own pocket.

Life Inspired by Travel

Travel blows apart my routine and suspends my everyday reality. Travel creates space for inspiration and the destinations I visit provide fodder for my creativity. When I arrive in a new place, my senses are shocked and often overwhelmed by new sights, smells and sounds that entice my taste for adventure. When I travel, I escape the distractions of home and get the distance and freedom I need to download new thoughts, answers and ideas, which become inspiration for reacquainting with myself.

314952_10150447425750086_900955566_nThe people I meet, the thoughts I have and the things I experience while traveling inspire many things in me. Sometimes they inspire me to write, take photographs or draw. Other times to learn new languages and try new food. What travel always inspires me to do, is live differently.

I strive to incorporate the cultures of the places I visit into my everyday life. Not with the things I buy, but in the way I live. I have been inspired to downsize, relocate and develop better relationships because of things I’ve learned and how I’ve grown through travel. I return with new and better ideas about my ideal experience from every adventure.  I return from each place with a new perspective and better understanding of the world.

Because I have seen such happiness in the faces of Moroccans and Balinese who spend their days in the market crafting beautiful art, I have been inspired to adopt a less is more approach to my life. I have chosen to develop and nurture my own craft and live in a way that allows me to follow my dreams and passions.

Because I have been graciously invited into meager homes and nomad tents for hot tea, conversation and hospitality, I have been inspired to develop deeper connections with others. As people in other cultures have taught me to do, I start conversations asking people about their families, homes and children instead of asking them how they earn their living. I make the choice to connect rather than to pass through.

Because I have seen places in this world that take my breath away, I refuse to be locked into a home that is uninspiring. I choose, instead, to surround myself with nature and beauty.

Travel has awakened in me a desire to transform. When I experience a new culture or become a participant in something I never expected to witness, my understanding of the world is cracked wide open. There are few experiences as valuable as being out there living life. There are few experiences as inspiring as seeing what this world has to offer and gaining the wisdom of its people. These experiences are humbling and help me realize I am more like a grain of sand than the sun.

inspired by travel picGetting lost, asking myself hard questions and setting intention for my travel are ways I challenge myself and my notions through travel. I know I must remain open minded and adaptable and take risks and chances in order to experience something unexpected and wonderful. There is no way of knowing where I will end up at the end of a journey like this. When I travel, it’s as if the universe picks me up, shakes up my entire life’s worth of experiences, and then spits me back onto the ground with an entirely new perspective and trajectory. This new line of sight provides me a higher vantage point from which to see the world.

With each trip, I get the unique opportunity to figure out what in my life is working and what I want to come back to; also what isn’t working and what I need to eliminate. In this way, travel also motivates me to takes steps to change my present situation and re-visualize my future.

Human beings are all artists and require inspiration to thrive and develop individual authenticity. Every choice brings about creative action. Whether it’s choosing words or wall paint, what to wear or what canvas to transform, we have the option to think outside the box or choose from within our current patterns. Inspiration is the magic that leads us to make choices that identify our individuality and showcase our unique creativity.

As published in the May 2013 issue of Soulwoman eMagazine, which can be found at:  www.soulwomansanctuary.com.

No Place Like True Home

I crested a hill coming into the town of Wanaka and had a beautiful view of the lake and alpine mountain tops.  In November, it was spring in New Zealand and I walked down to the edge of the lake to take in the serenity of the of crystal water.  The lapping waves soothed my tired mind and the water was so clear and cool it was all I could do to keep from scooping a handful and putting it to my lips to drink.  Lake Wanaka

After a slow stroll along the rocky beach, I found a comfortable café on a bustling corner.  I’d been working and traveling for months and this was my first respite since a free afternoon in Melbourne a few weeks before.  I sat there sipping a flat white, listening to the conversations around me.  The New Zealand accent is a cross between the English and Aussie accents.  It’s more elegant than an Aussie accent and more rough around the edges than proper English.  I sat listening, losing myself in reflection.

For a small town, there was a very diverse stream of people flowing through.  An hour sitting in the café saw European backpackers, families traveling together from Asia, yuppies, hippies, hitchhikers.  The locals were also a melting pot and, from their accents, sounded to be from all over the world.

The food I’d had in New Zealand was fresh and local.  We’d had roasted pig on a spit from the farm next door.  The eggs were bright orange and actually tasted like eggs should and would fresh from the neighbor’s chicken.  The food here consistently blasted my dulled American taste buds.  I was enjoying healthful Manuka honey, gluten free pizza with locally grown and organic meats and veggies, tender legs of lamb, crisp, locally brewed sparkling cider, wine, cheese, and prosciutto I’d bought at the market from local farms.  I was in food heaven.

The locals I met in New Zealand were proud to call it home.  Chris, a server in the resort where I stayed, was from Germany and had been living in Wanaka for 7 years.  His tone was affectionate as he told me how it had become more of a home to him than Germany, or any place, ever had.  He was renting a small house on a nearby farm and talked excitedly about growing his own herbs and vegetables.  Though he pretended annoyance, he secretly loved that his landlord’s children from the big house would come and play near his little cottage and laugh at him working happily in his garden.  He loved the mountains and the skiing and felt so passionately for this country that he had relinquished his passport (a scary commitment for avid travelers and expats) in order to get his residency here.

Wanaka

Chris was so passionate and inspired by his home in New Zealand that he made me crave the experience of  finding my own true home.  I imagine a true home as a place you arrive in and never want to leave.  I’ve been searching for that place with several false alarms over the years.  I envied him for having found it.  I admired him for taking on the challenge of gaining citizenship there.  Something worth having is worth fighting for and he knew that.  I know it too.  I’m ready to fight for it…I just need to find it.

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My Beloved Sahara

This was not the fancy tourist bus station.  There was nothing fancy or even civilized about this bus station in Marrakech and mine was the lightest, blondest head in the place.  Even with my shesh wrapped around my painfully distinct features, I could feel every eye in the place on me as soon as I negotiated my fare and stepped out of the dirty yellow cab.  I slung my small, bright yellow pack over my shoulders and confidently made my way through the masses to the interior of the station.  My peripherals and sight line were attuned, not only to the signage that would lead me to the right counter, but also very aware of any potential trouble around me.  I was not afraid of or intimidated by the Moroccans, I had been in Morocco for 3 months and had come to see them as one of the most gentle and hospitable people I’d ever had the pleasure of encountering on my travels.  But any smart and travel-savvy woman alone in a foreign country is constantly on her guard and ready to dodge and weave her way out of trouble or confrontation.

After approaching three ticket counters and being pointed to yet a fourth, I managed to haggle for my ticket in terrible bits and pieces of French and Arabic.  I guessed they figured that if this petite blond girl with the bright yellow backpack had the wherewithal to try and get to Ouarzazate with the local traffic, she deserved a break.  It’s also possible they felt guilty about their game of pointing me back and forth from the ticket counters like a pinball.  Regardless, I was pleased with the price at a fraction of the tourist ticket and made my way out to the line of buses, none of which seemed to be headed for Ouarzazate; either that, or all of them were headed for Ouarzazate.  Again, feeling like an abused pinball, two of the six bus drivers I asked actually pointed to the same bus, so that’s the one I picked to board.  I grabbed a window seat and sent out a little prayer and some hope that in a few hours I’d actually make it to my destination.

Atlas Mountains over Marrakech

Weeks prior, I had been on this same, breathtaking route up through the narrow winding roads of the Atlas in an SUV on a work related road trip and witnessed the most stunning views I’d ever seen.  This time I was in large, uncomfortable bus, but I was on my own time and able to train the entirety of my focus on the desert around me.  The narrow, winding road led up to impossible heights inside the snow capped peaks .  I had been captivated for months by those peaks that hung over the city of Marrakech in a surreal way, almost like a royal city or castle in the sky.  The country of Morocco is incredibly beautiful and diverse in its landscape.  It provides layer after layer of natural beauty and architectural surprises the farther you carve into her, and this trek was just as thrilling as the one I’d taken over the same terrain weeks before. I was thrilled because I knew that on the other side of the flat desert and snow capped layers of the Atlas Mountains, the great Sahara Desert lay in wait.

My first experience of the Sahara Desert weeks before had taken me completely by surprise.  I had never been in a place that made me feel as small and humble.  The rolling dunes of soft, fine sand mesmerized me and I traversed among them feeling like the only person on Earth.  The place was peaceful and serene and seemed to hold some kind of tangible power.  I’d run up the dunes, fallen into the sand, and just sat there grinning, letting the powdered granules fall through my fingers, the texture seeming to me a cross between powdered sugar and silk.

Gateway to the Sahara

I loved every second of my experiences in this country.  I loved the grizzled but playful cab drivers and how the price of everything from a toothbrush to a hotel room had to be scrupulously negotiated.  I loved the vibrant colors of the textiles and crafts in the medina.  I loved the taste of the sweet mint tea and the pungent flavors and spices in the tagine.  But I especially loved the land and I was so excited to be going back into the powerful Sahara to bask it its expansive beauty.

Six hours later I did, fortunately, arrive in Ouarzazate, the Gateway to the Sahara.  I climbed into a diesel SUV alongside 4 new travel companions and we set off for my beloved desert where I would begin one of the greatest adventures of my life.