Bali is a place that had always been on my list of places to visit before I die, but it’s a place that also seemed so far away, so foreign, and somewhere that I didn’t think I was quite ready for… Not just yet. That is until, about a year ago now, I received an email from Go Light Our World Founder Kayla Nielsen that would change everything.
In the email she asked me if I would be willing to join her in Bali as a volunteer and co-leader for a GLOW Karma Yoga Retreat. Without hesitation I responded, “YES! No matter what, I am going to make this happen!” And by typing those words and hitting send, I made something that seemed like only just a dream into something that was actually possible. And not only was I going to Bali, my partner and the love of my life, Brian, was going to join me. Epic.
So Brian and I both spent all of last winter working and saving with the thought of Bali and perfect left-handers on our mind. Once we bought the plane tickets, about 6 months in advance, it felt even more real, and we were stoked to be spending 6 weeks abroad on the Island of the Gods. Little did we know, the trip was going to be even more life-changing than we ever could have imagined.
On September 5th we left our apartment in Rincon and headed to San Juan (thanks again, Chuck!) to begin our travels to the other side of the world. From San Juan we flew to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. And from Ft. Lauderdale we hopped over to LA. After a good night’s sleep in LA we began our international travel. Eleven hours to Tokyo. Six hours to Singapore. A nine hour layover in the Singapore Airport, by far the nicest airport I’ve ever experienced, and a 2½ hour flight to Denpasar. Flying in to Denpasar we could see waves breaking to our right and lush green mountains to our left. We were both itching to get off of that plane, partly because of the scenery, and partly because of a woman in the row next to us spewing her recently consumed “airplane breakfast” into the provided “airplane barf bag.” Gross.
Anyways, from Denpasar we took a van to our first destination, a little town called Canggu on the west coast of the island. We were told by friends that it was a good place to begin our trip since it was a fairly mellow spot that offered up some fun beach breaks to help us get our feet in the wax. We got lucky and through AirBnB we booked a super rad spot called Bed by the Sea that was walking distance to Echo Beach. It was a new place that had been built only a few months prior by an Italian gentleman named Mirko, a vision he and his wife had long shared for them and their two daughters. Mirko was incredibly helpful and took us on our very first scooter ride, helping us to get acquainted with the town and the multiple breaks that make up Echo Beach.
We spent 5 days in Canggu and our first full day offered up the most fun surf. A perfect little sandbar in front of the “Lifeguard” stand ushered in 3-to-5-foot, left-hand wedges that were as fun as they were fast. Aching to catch more waves before the wind picked up, we ran back to our place after that first session, scarfed down an incredible breakfast of fresh fruit, yogurt and granola (included with the room, by the way) and headed back down to the beach for round number two. By early afternoon the trade winds picked up, and by that time we were ready for a nap.
The next day a big SW swell filled in and the beach breaks of Canggu were massive and shutting down. We took a day trip to Kuta to catch a boat out to Airplane Rights, the wave we saw when we were flying in, a fun and fast right-hand, reef break that sits off of the end of the Denpasar Runway. It was pretty wild being so far out in the ocean with planes landing and taking off right over your head. We got pretty lucky and managed to catch it good for a few hours in between the crowds.
Our final days in Canggu we didn’t surf much since the beach breaks couldn’t really handle the pumping swell, but we took advantage of that time to get comfortable on the scooter, which Brian drove, and to explore our surroundings. The winding roads away from the beach led us through humble, bright green rice fields. The closer we got to the beach, the more energy we could feel, with plenty of shops and restaurants and people walking around. After talking to some locals we learned that Canggu has a big Australian influence and over the past few years had gotten pretty built up compared to what it once was. The main hangout spot is Old Man’s, where you can get healthy, fresh juices and delicious eats, and every sunset seemed to be a big party. Another popular place was Deus Ex Machina - The Temple of Enthusiasm, a restaurant/surf shop/motorcycle hub that featured a half pipe on the side. In my opinion, it was a little too trendy and a little over priced, but somewhere you gotta check out once. My favorite restaurant was a little further up the main road Batu Bolong, Cafe Veda, an espresso bar and organic cafe featuring incredible food and a super unique atmosphere - you gotta try the Canggu Cacao bowl!
By our fifth day we were ready to move on and see somewhere new. So we packed our bags and hired a driver to take us to the iconic Bukit peninsula. We were heading to a place I had always dreamed about seeing. We were going to Uluwatu.
It took us about 2½ hours to get to Uluwatu because of some traffic. Our driver dropped us at our new spot, Satria Bungalows, which came highly recommended by many of our friends. Although we got a little spoiled by the luxury of Bed by the Sea, Satria Bungalows was exactly what we pictured for our surf trip to Bali. Cute 1-bedroom bungalows nestled around a pool with sweet-smelling plumeria trees sprinkled throughout the property. We had a comfortable bed, AC, and hot water. Plus, the property manager, Jhony, and his assistant Gooday (sp?) were extremely pleasant and helpful and would clean the room for us, every single day. If we wanted to, we could walk to the beach and to a yoga class at Morning Light Yoga in Uluwatu Surf Villas. There were also two incredible restaurants within walking distance, Ulu Resto, Indonesian and European food for breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as Land’s End Cafe a little further up the road that served delicious local and organic breakfast and lunch.
And then there were the waves… Ah the waves! Like nothing I had experienced before! The giant cliffs of Uluwatu gave way to perfectly peeling lefts and corduroy lines dancing across the horizon of the turquoise-blue Indian Ocean. Southwest swells produced by storms off Antarctica marched hundreds of miles to meet the reefs of the Bukit, creating the most epic setup I have ever witnessed.
Way up top was Secrets, a spot that picked up the most swell, but because of its distance from where you paddle out it was never very crowded. Still up top, but a little more accessible, was Temples, the spot Brian and I surfed the most. Temples was followed by Upper Peak and Main Peak, with the Bombie on the outside, finally leading to the most crowded spot, Racetracks, which on a lower tide offered up fast, hollow waves with a crunching end section. The stairs to get down to the beach take you from uber-popular Single Fin Bar & Restaurant through a maze of warungs (restaurants) and shops, with a few ding repair setups and guys snapping and selling photos. What once was a makeshift bamboo ladder is now a block of cement steps leading you into the infamous Uluwatu cave, where you paddle out and come in. At low tide the beach and reef is much more exposed. At high tide waves are crashing up into the cave, which at times can be tricky, but allows for an easier paddle out over the reef.
The extreme tidal changes amazed me. Personally, I preferred the slightly slower, more open faces of the mid-hightide sessions over the fast, hollow waves during lowtide, especially since the fast, hollow waves were breaking in barely waist deep water. Something I’d like to eventually get more comfortable in, but to be honest that shit was scary! But either way, hightide or lowtide, the waves were insanely beautiful, humbling, and inspiring. Everyday felt like a dream.
And since it was so dreamy Brian and I decided to make Satria Bungalows our home base for the next 5 weeks. Uluwatu and the surrounding spots of Green Bowl, to the south, and Padang Padang, Impossibles, and Bingin Beach to the north were just that good, and we were ready to put in our time to really get to know these waves.
Two weeks of nonstop surfing and learning to get comfortable in those powerful, fast, left-hand reef breaks, along with a session at the open ocean, right-hander that is Green Bowl, a good place to go when Uluwatu is smaller. I watched Brian charge Padang Padang sucking below sea level. We got to surf a fun session with reeling A-frames down at Dreamland. Each evening we indulged in celebratory Bintangs and we ate like royalty for breakfast, lunch and dinner. By the way, Bukit Cafe is a MUST when in the area.
Two weeks flew by and then it was time for me to embark on my own journey, the whole reason why we had booked tickets to Bali in the first place. It was time to step forward into the unknown, to meet the 13 beautiful strangers I was going to be spending the next seven days with. It was time for the GLOW Bali Adventure Retreat!