‘Travelling. It leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller’ – Unknown.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have spent the last 10 days visiting various parts of Indonesia, South East Asia. Now the decision to take up such an act came on one cold January day, whereby my sister – the travel agent – mentioned a travel company called Contiki. Despite having been around for years, I had never actually heard of Contiki. Hannah proceeded to explain to me the premise of a Contiki tour – you are with a group of people aged between 18 and 35, mainly solo travellers, whereby with an assigned tour manager, you are taken to various different places depending on what is offered on a particular tour. With this in mind, I was sold. A chance to see the world and meet new people, who wouldn’t be? So we booked the Bali Island Hopper Tour… And waited…
The day for us to travel to Bali had finally arrived. After a rather long 17-hour flight, with a stopover in Doha, we touched down in Bali. Immediately i was in love. There are few places that have resonated with me as much as Indonesia has. Aberystwyth and Seville are the only other places that have… which probably explains while i lived there for so long, but that’s a story for another time.
After a day to ourselves, where Hannah and I were taken by a private tour guide – Newman – around to different temples in 3 different regions of Bali, we were lucky enough to meet the other people we would be spending the subsequent 8 days of our Contiki trip with. After a night of fabulous Mexican food, jugs of Sangria, Margaritas and even a cheeky Piña Colada or two, lifelong friendships were formed. Friendships that only strengthened as the days went on.
With a grand total of 33 of us on this one tour, no two people were the same. Take Hannah and I for example, we are both sisters and friends, but with two very different personalities. Hannah is loud, outgoing and extremely infectious from the first moment you meet her. People instantly gravitate towards her and it’s both exciting and fascinating to watch. I on the other hand am far quieter and naturally slightly more reserved. However, with a little music, good food and perhaps a Lychee Martini or two, you’ll definitely be able to find me dancing on a few tables, (La Mexicola, you were a dream!) Each person unique and with their own personal story to tell, and wise words of wisdom to impart on one another, clicked and gelled in ways only a Contiki family can.
With each and every one of us wishing to experience something different, whether it be snorkelling, scuba diving, surfing or just winding down with a four hand massage… (in my case, three out of four ain’t bad – and by this i mean that i took to the water like a fish… not that i received a three hand massage?!) it’s fair to say that despite being altogether, we each had the great fortune of experiencing this little slice of paradise in a way best suited to us. Two of the three water activities were new to me. Surfing and Scuba Diving. While surfing was such a fun experience, and one I would definitely like to try again, the activity which truly captured my soul, and that I found to be both wondrous and liberating was diving.
On the morning of this little adventure, awoken with a cold and the nerves of an A level student at exam time, I was gifted with some wise words of wisdom to calm me down. ‘It’ll be fine’, and it was. In fact, despite panicking while practicing in the pool prior to being taken out to sea, it was one of the most incredible experiences I’ve been fortunate enough to take part in. For first time divers, we were under water at 12 feet deep for 45 minutes. That’s a long time for those that have never done it before. It was fascinating. In crystal blue waters, we befriended sea turtles, sea slugs, electric blue fish, sea snakes and even Nemo! I can understand why so many people are utterly enthralled with this pastime, and make no mistake, you will definitely be hearing more of my diving adventures. Perhaps the Galapagos or Hawaii next…
While the activities offered to us as part of Contiki’s ‘Me Time’ optionals were incredible, what i think i loved most about this little adventure, was the Indonesian way of life. I revelled in being able to wander around and bear witness to a way of life so utterly different and unique to the Western one that i am so accustomed to. Spirituality, religion and family are at the crux of the Indonesian way of life. Life centres around food, (basically my life-long dream and calling). Eating together, cooking together and spending what time they have with one another are all essential to their daily routine.
When talking to Newman, a typical day in Bali for example is for the woman of the house to rise at 4am, wonder down to the fresh food market, whereby fresh fruits, veg and meat are bought to pair with rice for their three main meals throughout the day. Early morning cooking takes place in the home, and before a morsel of food can cross the mouths of those living there, an offering to the Hindu gods is made. This is called a Canang Sari, and this is made up of flowers, rice, coins and incense as a presentation of thanks for all that they have and have been blessed with. An act so simple, yet so meaningful only accentuates how grateful the people of this beautiful country are of the things that perhaps we may so frequently take for granted.
Simplicity is also something that so vividly caught my attention, specifically on the Gili Islands. Their beauty, tranquility and sizes of these Islands bears reason to the fact that no motorised transport can be found here. While on Gili Trawangan, in order to get around the Island, we were given three options, by foot – so walking, and you can walk around the Island in about two hours without stopping, by Cidomo – a horse and carriage, or by bicycle. While the vast majority of us opted for the latter, for me in particular this was an achievement. I was probably about 8 years old, the last time i properly rode a bike, so with that being almost 20 years ago, remembering how to was a challenge in itself.
As it turns out in fact, what they say is true, you never actually forget how to ride a bike. What you can forget however, is how to balance… Despite my continual obsession with the gym and exercise, i was not blessed with the talent of being able to balance with ease. Nevertheless, what I adopted was Helen’s mantra. Helen – one of the dear friends made on the trip, while riding her bike, would loudly, consistently and clearly repeat a mantra that gave her focus and clarity for this challenge. It went a little something like this… ‘Balance Helen, Balance Helen’. With each repetition she improved. Turns out, that adopting this and changing ‘Helen’ to ‘Selina’ also works… eventually… until a horse comes charging towards you…
From living life wearing very little makeup, to not straightening my hair, and walking around entirely barefoot, I think I’ve found my paradise. With each new experience and with time spent with each new person, whether it be the girl who overcame her fear of the sea to snorkel. The three best friends who ventured together out into the unknown for 4 months prior to joining us in Bali. The delightful dermatologist who’s first venture abroad was this trip. Or perhaps even the tour manager whose knowledge, experience and zest for life, travel and the world around him greatly exceeds his years; each and every person has inspired in their own gloriously personal way.
‘You will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart always will be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place’ – Miriam Adeney.