First week 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.

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.