We only left New Zealand for Bali on Wednesday, but it feels like ages ago.
I expected to be really sad to leave New Zealand. We spent 2 of our 3 months in a charming, small village where we had a pretty set morning routine which included going to the same places and seeing the same people every day. In the afternoons we got used to hiking, surfing, and wandering around the extended region. Whit went to a local school. We made friends we saw regularly. We developed a love for favorite local foods. Life was good.
But life was predictable.
The week before our departure I was itching for new experiences. As much as we loved New Zealand and could enjoy living in Matakana forever, we knew it was time to move on. This may be the first time I’ve actually felt that way.
We spent the two days before our flight on one last road trip, and it was pretty hard for Whit and I to stay excited. Ben tried hard to get us interested in the hikes and scenery around this new place, Tauranga, but it just felt so…. repetitive. And knowing something new was practically within reach made it even hard to focus on what was right in front of us.
Finally the day came and I felt like a kid at Christmas. Travel days are usually pretty stressful, as we all have different priorities and ideologies of what’s important that day. Wednesday, however, was just fun.
After a small hiccup with returning our rental car (much dirtier than anticipated) we headed to the airport full of enthusiasm. Checking in went well, the Auckland lounge had some of the best food we’ve ever been offered, and we were afraid Whit wouldn’t leave the plane because he was so enchanted with the freebies Emirates threw at him (as was I, to be honest.)
I was definitely more excited about the adventure ahead than the particular destination: Bali.
I know, I know… I’m an entitled jerk for not wanting to visit this place so many people dream of. I don’t appreciate the value of the gift of traveling by feeling forced onto this island. But I can’t help how I feel.
To be fair I’ve never been to Bali before so my reaction is purely based on second-hand information. Information from loads of people who love Bali, mind you. From what I’ve been able to glean Bali is a beautiful island rich with Hindu culture. People love the weather, good food, friendly people, ancient temples, and adventure opportunities. That’s all stuff I like, too. So it should be a match made in heaven, right? Well, the way I’ve come to understand it is that Bali was a natural beauty, but decades of heavy tourism have transformed at least half of the island into dirty streets lined with hotels. The people are friendly, but they know that many visitors are new to travel and crime and overcharging is prevalent in touristy areas. The prices are cheap by Western standards, but you pay a premium over othe southeast asian countries by being in a touristy location. And the fact that so many people are raving about it? The majority are novice travelers who don’t know any different (sorry not sorry). The amount of visitors are insane, and I just don’t like being around a lot of foreigners who don’t know they’re enjoying fake culture because the authentic culture has been stamped out.
But like I said, that’s just the opinion of someone who hasn’t actually been there.
We faced some challenges using the ATM and buying local SIM cards at the airport before meeting our driver in the throng of private drivers leaving the airport. It was already dark by the time we arrived, and we drove the 3 hours from Denpasar to the north coast in relative silence as we all slept (It was 2 am. NZ time)
I was ready to consider that my opinion on Bali was wrong when we woke up the next morning. The resort we chose has beautiful grounds, and seeing the early morning sun shine through the palm trees and reflect in the property’s multiple pools really did ease my soul.
Whit and I spent that first day never leaving the resort grounds. We’d been very active every day in New Zealand I’d pushed myself hard to finish as much work as possible before leaving our home base, so I felt like I deserved some down time.
Ben deserved the same downtime, but his version is to play as hard as possible while mine is to lay by the pool. He went scuba diving, paddleboarding, snorkeling, and swam with Whit all while I napped and tanned. My favorite (and most active) part of the day was a family sunset yoga session facing the ocean. I’m no yogi but I have taken classes before, as opposed to Ben and Whit. We all struggled a bit, but we had such a good time trying something new and laughing together. Yoga on the beach is one of the things visitors always rave about, and I have to admit: it was pretty great.
By day 2 I was back to being an active traveler, but we soon realized the only thing this little town had to offer was our resort. We rented a motorbike to make a day trip to the east coast, and the three of us riding that thing past villages and rice paddies felt like old times. Some of my favorite travel moments have been holding on to Ben so the day pack I wore dind’t pull me off the back of the narrow moto seat we all shared as fragrant air whips around my helmet and locals sweeping their sidewalks fly past. Those moments make me appreciate the unique opportunities we have the most, and I cherish them.
Our first stop was a Hindu temple recommended for being the only temple made out of white stone in Bali. When we arrived we realized it was the White Temple, the one which made Bali Insta-famous. I know that pictures hardly ever tell the whole story, so I shouldn’t have been surprised to see a covered stand with a line of tourists snaking around waiting for their chance at the iconic shot. It was 3 hours long. I do try to get good pictures when we travel, but we don’t go somewhere just to spend all day getting a misleading shot that doesn’t accurately reflect what we’re actually doing in that place. Not that I’m pointing fingers.
Instead we calmly walk through the famous site while others are puttering around and then edit it later:
Ben went for his second scuba dive on our third day, which was to the famous Liberty ship wreck. Liberty is often seen on Top 10 Scuba Sites in the World lists, which Ben is quickly making his way through (he’s been to 4, depending on which list you look at, but 3 for sure.)
He loved it so much that we rented another motorbike so we could go back and snorkel the site as a family.
Liberty was hit by a Japanese torpedo during WWII and washed ashore on the north coast of Bali. It rested there for 2 decades, until a volcano eruption shook it back into the water. Liberty now rests a mere 5-10 meteres under the water, which makes it perfect for snorkelers and free divers, too. While Scuba divers can explore the ins and outs of the ship, those staying on top of the water can still get a gret top-down view of it, the coral growing around, and the fish who call it home.
It was a really great experience to snorkel such an interesting site. Ben and I both practiced our free diving, and, though I’m not able to stay under for as long as Ben, I’m proud to say I spent around 30 seconds getting up-close-and-personal with Liberty. The downside to the day was that the mask I borrowed from our resort didn’t fit me very well (despite multiple attempts to adjust it), so water was almost constantly filling up near my nose. This made me feel like I was drowning, and caused quite a few freakouts. I am what I am.
Whit loves snorkeling, but his mask causes him trouble after a while, too. He starts to get a headache and gets tired from swimming. While at Liberty Ben told him to take off his mask and hold the straps while holidng on to Ben to swim against the tide. Well, you could probably guess that while keeping his head above that bobbing water Whit’s mask somehow dropped out of his hands. A scuba diver ended up finding the mask a while later, albeit sans snorkel. It was an expensive sucker so I’m keeping it, anyway! Anyone missing a mask but have the snorkel?
So far Bali is just above my expectations. It’s not any more interesting or beautiful than Vietnam or Thailand, it is more expensive (but we didn’t stay in a secluded resort in either of those countries), the crowds at the tourist places is as insane and selfie-hungry as I feared, but it’s still been fun to relax and explore.
The real downside to the trip, so far, has been work. Our resort has multiple wifi zones, but none are very fast. We’re really struggling to get enough internet to work after Whit goes to bed, which has been a huge issue for me since my website decided to experience multiple issues once we arrived. Sigh.
The other annoyance is that our accommodations at this resort are free-of-charge in exchange for promotional work from me. I’ve spent a fair amount of time taking pictures, experiencing as many services as possible, and analyzing our time here to discern how to express it to new people. A working vacation is never fully enjoyable for me, but it’s usually worth the stress for the payoff of being somewhere/ doing something we normally wouldn’t. While the resort has been beautiful, there are downsides. Like being in the middle of nowhere so we’re forced to pay resort prices for meals and services. Again, this is something I’m willing to do for the benefit of being somewhere nice.
Upon checkout, however, we were presented with the bill we’d wracked up which unexpectedly included a $20 charge for breakfast every day. This was unexpected because breakfast is advertised as free with each room. During negotiations I clearly listed the promotion rate I normally charge and that I wanted the equivalent in services. She replied back that we’d have free accomodations, which is advertised as including breakfast. While it’s my fault for not drawing up a contract to list the exact amenities I expected in exchange for my promotion work, I thought it was clear to expect free breakfast (which was amazing, by the way). Not only is it advertised as free, we were presented with a bill every day stating our balance as “$0”. We asked the receptionist about the charge at checkout, and she explained that the owner made a note on our account that we were offered a room ONLY. Again, my fault for not double checking, but I feel pretty misled.
This makes our monetary exchange much lower, and is now nowhere near my regular rate. What’s a bigger deal than the money, though, is feeling taken advantage of. This was a savvy businesswoman who had been burned by unprofessional bloggers in the past and wanted to hedge her bets against me not delivering. I don’t blame her, but, well, I guess I do kind of blame her. Professionalism and integrity goes both ways. She had plenty of opportunities to warn me that we’d be paying for breakfast.
I have to decide if I even want to accept sponsored work any more. There are two schools of thought with making money by blogging: either you work for a fee with the subtle influence of the person who hired you or you never disclose that you’re an influencer and make money on affiliate links after driving people to your website with honest reviews. So far I do both. While I prefer to work without the stress or influence from a brand, there’s no guarntee that anyone will actually read any particular article or buy anything you’ll get an affiliate income from and some form of payment for all your endless hard work is nice. My website doesn’t earn much organic income yet, so accepting promotional work helps me feel like it’s worthwhile.
But every once in a while I get burned when my work and time isn’t valued and I’m given less than promised, then made to feel guitly because I don’t want to be someone who only reviews if you show me the green.
My heart and brain both feel pretty overwhelmed right now. I need to gain better perspective so petty stuff doesn’t shake me so hard.
right now we’re on our way to the airport to fly to Labuan Bajo for a day trip around Komodo Island National Park tomorrow, which should ease my mind.