Four years ago, I got a hold of the book that would change the way I look at happiness. It’s called Eat, Pray, Love by my most favorite author – Elizabeth Gilbert. But unlike Liz, I’m neither a divorce nor a confused 30-year old writer.
I’m single, 22, and currently enjoying the many advantages of being young.
But loneliness, confusion, and depression know no age. They land onto our palms, challenging the way we look at life. A lot of people I know are surprised when I tell them, “I don’t know where I’m going. Life’s leading me to a lot of different directions, and I’m getting more and more confused every day.” For goodness sake, I’m only 22.
Four months ago, I got lost in a myriad of opportunities. I had a job that required me to go from one place to another and deal with different people at the same time. I was, and still am, Director for Communications of a non-government organization. And I’m a writer – always will be. I was all over the place. I won’t go into all the details here anymore. The point is, in the middle of a thousand different happenings in my life, I got lost.
I quit that job and went back to the previous company with more flexible work hours, allowing me to continue my writing and peace advocacy still.
A month after I made that big decision, I was set to go on yet another on the journey. Where else but to one of the places featured in Eat, Pray, Love – Bali, Indonesia. I booked this flight back in February this year but had been planning to go to Bali since last year. It was a years-in-the-making kind of trip, and I’m glad that the trip was scheduled right when I needed it. I had a new book in tow called the “Happiness Project” by Gretchen have blown a Rubin. I was that desperate to find happiness.
September 8, 2015. My flight was scheduled at 4 AM, and we’re set to arrive in Bali, Indonesia at 8 AM. I had a fixed itinerary in mind to make the most out of this five-day getaway. I also had a fixed budget to make sure I don’t end up scratching my head when I finally go back to Manila.
Bali, or the so-called “Land of the Gods,” is an island in Indonesia known for its many beaches, its culture, and sacred temples. To say that Bali is a feast for the mind and the body is an understatement. It is also a feast for one’s soul.
I went to Bali with a friend and decided to stay in Kuta, the tourist hotspot in the island. Some people would suggest staying in Ubud, the center of the Balinese culture, but we decided to stay near the beaches and just devoted one whole day in Ubud.
First stop is the famous Kuta beach – a tourist haven in all of Bali. Surfers, both Indonesian and foreigners, thrive here. One of the things I love doing at the beach is the famous activity called “beach bumming” (Yup! You got that right.) I love observing people. I love looking at couples basking in the Balinese sun while holding a bottle of Binta a ng bee an road trip ( a famous brand of beer in Bali). I tried one myself while waiting for the famous Kuta sun to set. The truth was even though I knew that the sun that sets in Bali is the same as the sun that sets everywhere, I still had that feeling that no, it wasn’t at all the same. Right at that moment, I felt as though I was in a different place where no one I knew could follow me and remind me that there were things that need to be done back home. I was… Lost in the moment. It was just me, the sun, and the bottle of Bintang beer.
Get lost in the moment and once in a while, forget about home
We made sure to eat famous Balinese food, suggested by friends and by Google. Two of which are Babi Guling (almost comparable to our Lechon here) and Sate Campur, a dish of seasoned, skewered, and grilled meat served with different variants of sauce.
My most favorite though is the crispy duck we had from the famous Sawah Indah restaurant, located right in the middle of a luscious green field in Ubud. This was suggested by our very helpful driver, Made. Yes, you need to rent a car and a driver to go around Bali or you can rent a motorcycle or scooter if you’re feeling a more adventurous road trip to Ubud started with the song “Bed of Lies” by Nicki Minaj playing in the background. Not the most appropriate song, I know, but until now, it reminds me of that carefree day trip.
Here’s another interesting fact: In Bali, the majority of the children are named based on their birth order: Wayan (1st child), Made (2nd child), Nyoman (3rd child), and Ketut (4th child). To confirm this, I sent a Whatsapp message to Made and asked him about Sawah Indah as well. He replied an enthusiastic, “Yes! I’m the second child of my parents and the restaurant’s called Sawah Indah.”
When we arrived at the restaurant, we saw these little wooden sheds facing the Ubud green fields. It was a sight to behold with all the other tourists like us, sipping their fresh orange juice while listening to the chirping of the birds and the quiet whispers of the wind. I had to ask at that moment, so I left my friend and Made in our little shed and sat in a little corner with my orange juice. I must say, it was one of the best meals I had, and I kept saying to my friend, “I don’t wanna go back home.”
Ubud has a different vibe from the other parts of Bali. That’s when it dawned on me that Bali is a perfect mix of everything. If you want to stay in a place thriving with culture, you should stay in Ubud; but if you want to be drawn to its idyllic energy, you should stay near the beaches (and there are a lot, I’m telling you).
Everywhere I looked in Ubud, and I saw half-naked men riding a scooter, coffee shops and bookstores themed after Eat, Pray, Love, and little gelaterias meant to relieve tourists sweating under the sun.
We also paid a visit to Ubud Monkey Forest, a nature reserve, and sanctuary for, well, monkeys. But don’t be fooled, this tourist attraction is an important spiritual, educational, and conservation center. Inside the forest are three Hindu temples and if you think that you will have a walk in the park kind of experience here, you’re wrong. That is if you’re scared of monkeys like me. Roaming around the park would require you to be on guard and your best behavior. My sarong was almost stolen by a monkey, and I would usually look from left to right, front to back, hoping that there’s not a single monkey near me.
If there is one thing that I will never forget about Ubud, it’s when I visited the house of the famous Balinese healer and palm reader Ketut Liyer. Ketut was featured in Eat, Pray, Love when Liz went to Bali, and he made a prophecy that she will go back and live in Bali for three months. But no, I wasn’t expecting the same prophecy for me. My life is neither a moving film reel for a soon-to-be bestseller. It’s just a plain story waiting to unfold on my terms.
To find the balance you want, you must keep your feet grounded so firmly on the earth… But you must stop looking at the world through your head. You must look through your heart, instead. That way, you will know God,” said Ketut in the book.
When we arrived at Ketut’s house, I had butterflies in my stomach. What if he wasn’t there? What if visitors were not allowed that day? He was the real reason why I wanted to go to Ubud in the first place. Sadly, Ketut was still sleeping when we got to his house, and it would be impolite to wake him up. Now a hundred years old, it’s hard for him to sit on his porch and read palms. According to his son, Nyoman, his father is too weak to accept guests. I pictured him, smiling with his crooked teeth, just like in the movie. Nyoman was kind enough to offer his service, and I thought, it may be better and more accurate for him to do the palm reading.
I’m not going to detail everything Nyoman, and I talked about that day. All I can say is that he’s asking me to do one thing. Once I’ve done it, I need to go back to Bali, and he will bless me. I came to their house wanting to get a glimpse of what lies ahead albeit impossible. I don’t believe in palm readers and fortune tellers. But that day, Nyoman showed me the different side of it. He did not predict my future. But by asking me to do that one thing, he’s allowing me to shape and determine my own.
I left Ketut’s house, not with a heavy heart for not seeing him, but with a renewed hope that Nyoman’s challenge will lead me to what it is that I’m truly searching for. Sure, it will lead me to good days and even bad ones. It will frustrate me, depress me, or give me sheer joy and satisfaction. But one thing that Nyoman kept reiterating that day is this: “Be positive. Always. Keep that smile on your face and in your heart.” Not the most uncommon advice you can get, but one of the most sincere I’ve had in years.
Our last stop in Ubud was the famous Tegalalang Rice Terraces, a beautiful scene of rice paddies located in Tegalalang Village. It’s a great day to spend just taking in sight and the sound of nature. It was almost 2 PM when we got there and amidst the scorching heat of the sun and despite me wearing a beach dress, we managed to get to the top of the rice paddies. I haven’t had a good workout since I arrived in Bali so this one gave me a good sweaty session. We ended our Tegalalang experience by drinking coconut juice in this little shed overlooking the entire scene.
Before ending the day, we decided to drop by at the famous Tanah Lot Temple on our way back to Kuta. It was a good two-hour drive from Ubud, and by the time we arrived in Tanah Lot, the sun was almost setting which was perfect because Tanah Lot’s sunset was on my imaginary list of “World’s Most Beautiful.” And it did not disappoint.
Tanah Lot is located on the coast of West Bali and believed to be a holy place to worship the Balinese sea gods. The temple is said to be protected by a giant snake. Before you can go to the top of the temple, you have to be blessed which I did not experience because of the long line of expectant tourists.
I just waited for the sunset and lo and beheld, I witnessed the most beautiful sunset I have ever seen. With the waves crashing on the cliff and the perfect weaving of colors – pink, purple, orange, and blue – I have blown away.
I cannot remember a moment in Bali when I didn’t close my eyes and uttered a silent, “Thank you.” We went back to Kuta that day filled with nothing but gratitude. Seeing all these kites hovering in the air, not knowing who was flying them, I sensed freedom, realizing that there’s only one hand that holds us all. The hand just guides us and protects us from falling – from getting trapped – but with the wind directing our wings, we can go places.
Be grateful even for the littlest of things because gratitude cultivates happiness
I also paid a short visit to this coffee plantation where the renowned Luwak coffee is produced and spent forty-five minutes getting tanned in Padang-Padang beach in which they say the party scene in Eat, Pray, Love was shot. To get to the beach, you have to walk down this rock tunnel and be ready to be surprised with a crowd of tourists. Unlike the beaches in Kuta area, Seminyak and Legian included, Padang-Padang is a silent sanctuary with big, bold rocks surrounding it.
I also visited another famous temple in Bali – Pura Uluwatu. This sea temple is believed to be one of Bali’s spiritual pillars known for its magnificent location on top of a cliff. It also shares the bewitching sunset backdrop as that of Tanah Lot. But unlike Tanah Lot, hundreds of monkeys dwell in Uluwatu, so I had to keep my phone in my bag and take very limited photos.
Our afternoon in Uluwatu was made even more memorable when we watched the famous Balinese Kecak Fire Dance while waiting for the sun to set. Along with hundreds of tourists from different parts of the world, we laughed and watched in awe as Indonesian men went on an almost hypnotic, trance-like chant. It was a great moment of togetherness, hearing people laugh in unison under the same night sky with stars looming below us.
September 11, 2015 – my last full day in Bali. I decided to spend it by staying in Kuta, just relaxing at the beach. My day started when I met someone, and the rest is history. When he dropped me off at our hotel, my friend and I decided to go to Kuta Beach and just hang out, hoping that the Kuta sunset would put on a good show, for the last time. Unfortunately, it didn’t work because of the thick clouds that covered it. But it was okay. We’ve had enough of the beauty that Bali could offer us. Sad as it may sound, we had to be ready to go home.
Our flight the next day was set at 8 AM, and we’re bound to arrive in Manila at noon. I would admit that I was so sad to leave Bali. One couldn’t get enough of its tranquillity, its beauty, its warmth. But you know what they say about good things, right? They end even if you don’t want them to.
Happiness is elusive so live in the moment and hold on to it while it lasts
I went to Bali searching for happiness, but I realized that happiness shouldn’t be the end goal of life, thinking that you can work now and be happy later. It should be your everyday goal. And it can serve as your map – the one thing that guides you to find your true self. Happiness shouldn’t be made out of grand gestures because it dwells in every little thing that we do – in the ordinary, in the most overlooked places, in the familiar.
So the next time you ask yourself, “Are you happy?” Try to look around, smell the flowers, listen to the wind, walk on the sand. Wherever your physical body might be, your heart and soul should be there too. And know that you are exactly, precisely where you are meant to be.
About The Writer
Janessa Tek-ing is a twenty-something Filipina whose drive in life is to make a difference through her love for writing. She in search of the world’s best stories – stories inspired by the places she visits, the people she meets, and the things she experiences. She finds joy in reading a good book while basking in the sun. A life-seeker and a writer, Nessa believes in silver linings and happy endings.
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