A month in Bali: Paradise or Purgatory?

We first came to Bali last year and spent two months. I enjoyed it, my wife didn’t. That was mostly my fault, for booking hotel rooms instead of villas so she could have a kitchen and her own space (living on a bed kind of sucks for weeks on end).

I convinced her to come back. So far it’s not going well. We arrived the day before Nyepi – a day of silence and reflection. I picked out a cool looking traditional house on Airbnb, and we got in just before midnight.

But the misadventures started earlier… my wife (who is a pedantic packer) carefully weighed everything and said we were overweight, but I didn’t want to throw anything out, so we tried anyway, got stuck at the airport, had to shift some gear to a box we checked in and also throw out our carry-on luggage. We put all our heaviest stuff in our pockets.

Our AirBnb in Bali came with two pets, a wobbly little wiener dog and a cross-eyed, annoyingly affectionate cat. Also, there were no windows, just big holes in the walls, and an outdoor bathroom. No hot water, very little food, everything was close for the next 36 hours. But we mostly slept all day anyway.

I set up my whole “office space” which includes a 24″ monitor and got a little bit of work done, and managed to electrocute myself slightly with the shoddy taped-together stack of extension cords. Also it rained nonstop, but that was fine since we couldn’t go anywhere.

The next day when my wife decided to try and brave the house, despite the slugs (which she’s personally terrified by) and centipedes (mostly harmless but creepy anyway), she was doing fine until the clingy cat followed her into the bathroom while she was taking a cold shower.

A small meltdown later, we’d booked a new AirBnb and moved out. This new one is ALSO completely open-aired with an outdoor bathroom (Bali style) but at least it’s clean and modern. Unfortunately, the Internet didn’t work.

I went out to withdraw cash, and the bank machine, which was on the fritz, ate my card before shutting down completely. The bank employee opened it up but couldn’t get the card back and said to come back later. I came back 3 times that day… and by the way, my real debit card was hacked a few weeks ago when someone tried to buy a laptop, so we cancelled it and don’t have a replacement.

The next day I got my card back and we were able to take out some cash. We’re staying in the more touristy Seminyak, rather than Canggu which is more of the digital nomad hub. We explored a bit, the weather is hot and muggy, there are lots of cute shops but the taxi drivers all honk as they pass to see if you need a ride, and scooter drivers are always stopping to yell at you too (you can jump on the back of a scooter here).

Meanwhile, by the way, my brand new Razer laptop is already blue-screening randomly, which is frustrating since it was expensive and I hate it when a computer crashes when you’re trying to work on something. I brought my old laptop just in case, but I’m hoping this one settles down.

Today they finally fixed our internet, after working on it all day, which meant I was stuck at home. I really wanted to go to a presentation by the founder of Thrive Themes on sales pages at a coworking space, so we jumped on the scooter – which I’d managed to rent earlier – but got stopped by the police halfway there.

I expected to just pay a small fine/bribe and be on our way, but my finessing of the situation was off, and he wrote an actual ticket and took our paperwork, so apparently I have to go to some courtroom somewhere at 8am in 2 weeks, which I probably will not do (I’ll find out how to pay and get it squared away).

Also, the thing I was rushing to wasn’t even today, it’s tomorrow. Meanwhile… I finished a novel last month and set it free, but emailed my list the wrong dates; then sent the correction out too late so I got hundreds of replies saying the book wasn’t free. I set it free again, wrote the third email this week promising a free book (really!) and then somehow managed not to send the email, so I’ve been watching my sales rank and not seeing any results, and finally figured out why.

Luckily it’s nothing serious or life-threatening, and personally I still love it here – so many amazing cafes with full, healthy breakfasts, juices, tacos, and a community of digital nomads to hang out with. My wife, who doesn’t like western food all that much anyway, doesn’t love sun or nature, can’t see the appeal, but next month we’ll go to Japan and I think we’ll both like Osaka a lot.

Despite everything, I’ve been inspired to finally finish a book on creative confidence and started the outline and organization; I also just began writing the final chapter to a novel I’ve been stuck on for months. I see a lot of people anxious about releasing their books, promoting their books, publishing – worried that they have to get it all right or that they’ll screw up.

But life is messy. Mistakes happen. Sometimes life is just a series of unexpected mishaps. I could argue that this week of purgatory was necessary to finish this stubborn book; that everything had to go wrong for me to be able to get this final chapter just right.

I could also argue that challenging misadventures are the necessary result of trying to do new things; of striving, growing, questing. Nothing new is easy; nothing valuable is given without cost.

The difficulties on the path are not accidental or incidental barriers in the journey towards your goals; they ARE the journey. The goals you set are not suddenly realized at the end of your fable, they are not given as a prize for completing the expedition. They are claimed, by the person you will have become, after the difficulties you face have strengthened you into someone who is capable of achieving them.

The rewards of the journey are not external, they are internal, and as such the challenges are not to be avoided, but embraced. So, while on the one hand, making stupid, risky decisions is dangerous, allowing yourself to confront unplanned circumstances allows this transformation to happen faster.

 

Updates (a week later)

The Internet at our villa is still not fixed, and today the power is out as well. So I’m sitting in the dark with no power and drained devices without Internet, and it’s raining. So I drive through the rain in the traffic with the streets flooded to get to Starbucks, for a caramel macchiato because I’m losing my mind and need comfort food, but of course they get the order wrong and give me a latte, and the table is wobbly.

And I didn’t bring an adapter for the plugs here, so I need to go back into the rain and negotiate with the stores selling tourist junk and guys who call me “boss” until I get price gouged a little less.

 

Earlier today I needed to fill up my scooter. They don’t really have gas stations here, just guys on the side of the road selling petrol from empty Vodka bottles, and I was forced to pay 10X the going rate for a fill-up ($30, for what should have cost three).

Also – not Bali’s fault – my new Razer laptop had the bluetooth disappear entirely, so I tried a system restore that got stuck and spent a couple hours sitting on my thumb. (I need my noise-cancelling bluetooth headphones so I can work over the sounds of Australian tourists singing Karaoke from the bar across the street).

This could just be a very shitty month, but my productivity has been so deeply challenged for the last couple weeks that I’m running on stress and overwhelm. We do get to the beach sometimes, which isn’t far away, and the food is still good – but I’m paying downtown Portland prices ($30 for breakfast for 2, etc).

Also, we’re in Seminyak, tourist central, which was also a mistake – we should have stayed somewhere a little less crowded. Next week we’ll move to this cozy beach apartment and it’s going to be awesome.

 

UPDATE 1: Paradise

I was talking with my friend Tina who organizes luxury bali tours – and she was frustrated about the little things she needs to deal with. Bali can be beautiful and there are some amazing places, but the getting there and the small details can be a hassle.

Here’s a video tour of where we’re staying this week.

We took tons of amazing sunset pictures.

Personally, I love this house – we’ve seen all kinds of creatures, a large crab, lizard, rat, spider – but hey we’re living in the jungle. We also got terrorized by an aggressive horde of monkey, which tear open the porch pillows to eat the Styrofoam, and are cute until they try to scare you off.

 

These are my two favorite pictures.

I spoke at a conference and toured a few of the most amazing beach clubs; it’s really beautiful here, and I was starting to calm down and appreciate everything. Until…

 

UPDATE 2: Worst place on earth

Last day of the conference there was a tour and I was late to get on the bus; I stubbed my toe, hard enough to bleed on an uneven pavement, so I was distracted already. Then we drove around a tight corner on a scooter and suddenly there was another guy on a scooter with a huge wooden panel (it’s not uncommon, we saw someone transporting a mattress on a scooter earlier.

But, I didn’t quite have enough time or room to avoid him, went an inch onto the wet grass on the side of the road, and lost control. Luckily it wasn’t THAT bad, but my wife tore up here knee – she sat in shock for a few minutes, others stopped to help, someone went to get a car, someone drove us to the nearest doctor (not for free, but I still appreciate the help).

The doctor did an OK job of stitching her up, though I noticed they used the same dirty utensils on me a minute later (just some scrapes, nothing serious). I’d already been talking with a friend about how everything takes forever to heal here; and another friend who also got stitches in her knee from a Bali scooter accident and almost died from the later infection.

So we booked the nicest 5-star hotel we could find to recuperate in peace and comfort. Which was a mistake. The Wyndham Dreamland resort in Bali is one of the worst places I’ve ever stayed. It started with little things. The room was fine but didn’t have a removable shower head; so my wife can’t bathe because she can’t get the stitches wet. They offered to upgrade us to a Suite; that never happened. I booked a suite for the next night and was promised we could move in first thing – they’d make up our bed first so my wife could move and rest. Instead we waited three hours, I missed an important meeting, I had to physically stand at the desk and demand they give us ANY room so she could lie down.

They moved us to one room finally, then moved us into the Suite I’d paid for 10 minutes later (at 2:30pm, checkin is at 3pm – at 11pm they said “just wait the housekeeping is working on your room right now” – then the woman I’d been speaking too all night disappeared and nobody else knew who I was).

But whatever, we finally had a semi-decent room… except, the soap dish was drilled into the wall too far away from the bathtub so you couldn’t reach it; the refrigerator was barely colder than room temperature, the internet was slow.

Good enough (another conversation I had recently – was that everything was “good enough” and even that you had to fight for).

I went out and had a nice day at the beach – even took a swim. Sure, Bingin beach is full of trash and I was bathing in garbage. Sure, I got 4 tiny cuts on my feet, probably from broken glass, which I didn’t noticed until they swelled up with infection this morning. But whatever.

Our upgraded Suite room came with breakfast, so we made ourselves get downstairs for a very disappointing breakfast, with my wife hobbling up the stairs because nothing is handicap accessible; they forgot the eggs I ordered entirely. When I re-ordered and waited until they handed me my plate, he’d overcooked my eggs, and not by a little.

I barely finished my food, which was objectively bad. We’re not usually picky travelers. I’m usually pretty relaxed and easy going. But we’re injured, and I’m sick of fighting Bali for anything decent or good enough (especially in what was supposed to be a 5-star hotel).

We’re going back to change the bandages today; we may stay until Lanna gets her stitches out; maybe things will be OK and we’ll stay a few more weeks in the AirBnB we’ve already booked – but if it’s not worth the risk and we aren’t healing quickly, we’ll just abandon ship and go back to Taiwan or a more civilized country with basic amenities and a sterile environment (I know I sound like a colonialist asshole, reeking of white privilege, or the worst kind of resort guest when I write that – but my wife’s health and security is important to me.)

Update: the Wyndham said they had a doctor/nurse on staff or medical center so we thought we could just change the bandage here – but it was a young woman with no supplies or training, she had no idea what to do, didn’t wash her hands – there wasn’t even a sink in the “medical” center, so we said no thanks and went back to Green Code clinic and they did a decent job of changing the bandage.

Then I drove back to turn the scooter in – I knew they’d charge for the damage. She asked how much I wanted to pay and then cleaned out my wallet (about 1.5 million, or roughly $120 usd I think – not terrible – and they even gave me a ride back to the hotel because I had no cash).

I also picked up food, on one of my functioning credit cards, at the Cashew Tree – which has very good food… but they screwed up my order and instead of the awesome chicken teriyaki, we got spicy tofu cashew curry, which was very disappointing for both of us (it was good, but I don’t like spice and my wife doesn’t like nuts or seeds).

We just can’t catch a break. Everything goes wrong, every day, for weeks and weeks. My right hand aches because I smashed my knuckle; my left hand just got a mosquito bite that itches like crazy (did I mention the mosquitos?)

Bali is an exotic adventure, and it’s probably still one of my favorite places – and I’ve been to a lot of places. Even so, I’m slowly growing to hate it.

There are good and bad things.

Earlier I was trying to get my wife to see the most beautiful sunset. We were eating dinner on the beach and I wanted her to appreciate the experience. She was focused on the storm and lightning clouds in the other direction; it was going to rain soon; we’d have to walk up the cliff steps to our cabin, in the rain, in the dark.

Typical glass half empty, glass half full debate.

Both are try at the same time.

But what if the water is dirty, fetid, rotting – does it still matter how much is left in the glass? My argument is: bad things will happen, enjoy the moment. Her argument: bad things won’t happen with proper preparation and enough carefulness and preparation.

AND YET… (another week later)

We’ve moved into a much nice AirBnb – honestly it’s beautiful. But it’s still Bali. The internet keeps disconnecting and is kind of slow. Not a big deal. There are also a lot of ants so we can’t leave food out. Also not a big deal… at least it wasn’t until just now when I took a shower, grabbed my towel to dry off, then started feeling burning all over.

Fire ants had gotten into my towel for some reason and I wiped them all over me. I’m fine, just burning and itching all over my body. It’ll be a funny story someday.

 

About Derek Murphy

Derek Murphy is a book editor turned book designer with a Ph.D. in Literature. He's been featured on CNN and spoken at dozens of writing conferences around the world. These days he mostly writes young adult fantasy and science fiction, while helping authors write and publish bestselling books. FREE GUIDE: Sell your work without selling out.