I survived my first week of travelling! And I’m so pleased to say I’m completely in love with Bali – specifically Canguu, where I have been staying all week.
Over the past seven days, I have had moments of total contentment – like dancing and chanting with abandon during a tantric meditation class as the sun set across the temples in the distance. I have also had moments of stomach churning anxiety – like every time someone mentions the volcano, or on the back of a scooter taxi, when the driver point blank refused to give me a helmet and sped around every corner (cue me manically shouting MORE SLOW MORE SLOW).
I’ve had moments of being sure I have done the right thing and moments of wanting my Mum and seriously considering offering to pay to fly her out here. I have had moments of thinking dorm life isn’t so bad and moments of hating it with every fibre of my being. They put me on a top bunk for the WHOLE WEEK guys, and for anyone who has had the misfortune of seeing me try and get in and out of a top bunk with zero grace OR knows how many times I need the loo in the night you will understand why this is a problem for me. I’ve had the highs of feeling the sun on my face and the lows of thinking I had lost my bank card, cancelling my bank card then finding it in my safe place.
It’s a real adjustment getting used to being on your own for much more time than you are used to, being bitten by mosquitos on your FACE and sweating your whole body’s water contents every time you move. But the fact I am in Bali – specifically Canggu, where I have spent my first week – has made it all worth it. I was meant to stay here for three nights, and by the time I leave on Sunday it will have been nine – simply because I have loved it so much where I’m staying that I extended my stay twice.
By the time I arrived in Canggu last Friday late at night after 24 hours of travelling, I was exhausted, jetlagged and emotional. I chatted about life and love and smoked dodgy Indonesian cigarettes with my friendly taxi driver Putu the whole way here – my no smoking on holiday policy is going so well – and had a friendly reception from my guesthouse. Yet I felt disorientated and barely slept that night, anxious and unsettled.
But when I woke up on Saturday morning, ventured outside and saw my surroundings, these feelings instantly melted away.
Serenity Eco Guesthouse and Yoga is a real haven from the busy streets of Canggu and the surrounds. It’s an eco-friendly guesthouse, run totally sustainably with a vegan/raw, alcohol and smoke free ethos which, surprisingly to some perhaps, hasn’t bothered me at all. People come here to unwind, do yoga and find peace, and alcohol simply doesn’t have to be a part of that (though that’s not to say I haven’t enjoyed plenty of Bintangs on the beach at sunset).
It’s full of beautiful tropical flowers and plants and has super chilled common areas, including a pool that is total bliss for a post yoga dip – I have spent many an afternoon here lounging in the sun with a fresh coconut. All around the guesthouse you hear the rippling of water, local wildlife (namely the rooster next door) and a resounding ‘ommmmm’ from the yoga shales, while the smell of incense from the Hindu offerings fills the air.
The whole place is a little rough around the edges but that’s part of the charm for me – the dorms are clean and the beds are comfortable (yep, even the top bunks) which is the main thing you want for £8 a night. The staff are beyond friendly – I have honestly never met such a sweet, good-natured, more obliging group of people and I miss them already! They have made my week here all the more special and relaxed.
The restaurant Alkaline serves delicious, healthy raw/vegan food and kombuchi/kefir and jamu drinks that 100% helped clear up my stomach issues during my first week. There is also a spa on site offering blissful treatments. I had a Balinese massage here for 100,000 IDR (£5-ish) and two lots of reflexology for 50,000 (£2.85) a time, where my highly intuitive therapist told me things about my body that I had not even let on to her!
I came here to start my trip partly for a really blissed out holiday by the sea, but also to do lots of yoga somewhere chilled that wasn’t a luxe retreat charging thousands. Serenity has a schedule of 10-12 yoga classes a day all led by the most amazing, intuitive tutors.
They last 90 minutes each and take place in yoga shalas at the top of the guesthouse with stunning views over the local landscape. A week’s unlimited pass costs 900K IDR (£55). I couldn’t have managed all the classes I wanted to take but took 2-3 a day, and have had the most wonderful yoga and meditative experience here. Classes I’ve taken include Hatha/Mindful Hatha, Ashtanga, Gentle Vinyasa Flow, Restorative (utterly dreamy, I didn’t make it through one of these without falling asleep) and Yin, as well as Mindful, Tantric and Chakra meditations.
I’ve practiced yoga on and off over the years but – unlike my Mum and sister Nina who are true inspirations and practice yoga every single day – I have never consistently dedicated myself to learning or practicing yoga and still see myself as a beginner.
The beauty of yoga at Serenity is that not once have I felt out of place among some people who are clearly seasoned yogis with years or decades of experience. I’m understanding more about the practice and its principles, my strengths and weaknesses (I am now deeply determined to master a shoulder-stand by the end of my time in Bali in which the tutor doesn’t have to hold my legs up and I’m not slowly suffocated by my own boobs) and, perhaps most importantly, how my body, mind and spirit work. For example, I find it ridiculously hard to quieten my mind, and haven’t yet managed to make it through a yoga or meditation without my brain going into overdrive. I was beating myself up for this at the start of the week, but slowly I’m learning to focus on my breath and the moment I’m in and, in the space of a few short days, this has had a huge benefit for how I’m feeling. As well as my mind, my body is starting to feel stronger and in just a week my balance and core have improved. It has taken some seriously uncomfortable hip openers to make me realise how much tension, anxiety and grief I am storing in my body – London life, I’m mainly looking at you.
I have always enjoyed yoga but I have Serenity to thank for making me fall completely in love with it and I now want to stay as dedicated as possible to the practice for the rest of my trip (and when I get home).
Canggu, with its postcard perfect sunsets, funky graffiti walls, bamboo roofs and palm tree lined roads, has been the ideal place for me to start my trip. It is not as touristy as Seminyak and has none of the seediness of Kuta – rather it is a chilled, hippie, vegan, yogi surfer paradise. I’m not denying it is largely geared up towards westerners – there is an abundance of Aussie cafes serving up avocado on toast and coconut lattes and tourists zipping around on scooters everywhere. This didn’t bother me.
The Balinese culture is present in the air everywhere you go – or indeed at your feet, in the form of the offerings to the Gods, a Hindu tradition that the Balinese practice daily. I’d like to write more about this tradition, which I already adore. They might take the form of single frangipani flowers, baskets of flowers and food, burning incense or a simple green banana leaf. In essence, they represent thankfulness and abundance, and even in a short time in Bali I have come to realise that this is what Balinese culture is all about.
As well as these daily reminders of the culture of this country, warungs (Indonesian eateries serving up huge plates of Indonesian food like Nasi Goreng and Sate for the equivalent of £1.50 a pop) are only ever a few steps away. A German guy in my dorm introduced me to a roadside shack where locals eat at the end of my road and here you can get a huge noodle soup for 50p!
There’s a real sense of community in Canggu; a community of intuitive, soulful people who find immense happiness from the life they live here. There are tons of events, including a Sunday market, lovely shops, some great nightlife spots (I only made it to Old Man’s but hear Deux is also worth a visit) and dreamy palm tree fringed beach shacks that stretch from Echo Beach down to Canggu Beach, where you can grab a coconut or Bintang to watch the sun go down and the surfers do their thing (insert heart-eyed emoji here).
With the people I’ve met at Serenity, I’ve experienced an array of different food and it’s all been great, varied and reasonably priced. I have mostly been eating veggie or vegan here, as it’s easier, cheaper and seems to agree with my stomach more. I’ve also eaten at places mostly in walking distance on the Main Street to Batu Balong, by Canggu and it’s eateries stretch far further.
- Alkaline Café – Serenity Guesthouse – ££ / I had breakfast here before or after yoga as it was Serenity’s restaurant. The offer was no-frills but hearty and consisted of a brown rice porridge with banana and coconut milk, papaya and pineapple, fresh watermelon juice and black coffee. It’s free for people staying at the guesthouse; also, their vegan lasagne and raw nut pie/vegan tiramisu ice creams are some of the best things I have ever eaten! I will never knock vegan desserts again.
- Betelnut – Jl Batu Balong 60 – ££ / When in Bali, SMOOTHIE BOWL. I had the pleasure of having my first smoothie bowl at Betelnut and it was ridiculosuly good and ridiculously pretty. That day I wasn’t feeling too great health-wise so drank one of Betelnut’s health tonic teas (turmeric, ginger, lemongrass, galangal, raw honey) and I felt instantly better! I’m learning on this trip that turmeric is actually magic. The restaurant also does amazing Mexican burrito bowls.
- Eden Cafe – Jl Pantai Batu Balong 8 – ££ / I had a simple Canggu special of smashed avocado and Tempe on toast with ginger and turmeric juice (do you see a pattern emerging) but the menu offers a wide range of Aussie-inspired fusion brunches, all vegan.
- Warung Ithaka – Jl Pantai Batu Balong 96A – £ / Huge portions of Nasi Goreng and Mie Goreng (fried rice or noodles with veg, chicken or pork, egg and sambal – Balinese spicy sauce) in cute wooden roadside surrounds. This offers table service, but we also ate at more traditional warungs on the road which offered a buffet style selection.
- Moanas Fish Eatery – jl raya Batu Balong 26 – ££ / one of the handful of times I digressed from vegan eating was at this Polynesian restaurant and the grilled red snapper with a buttery almond sauce and brown rice was so worth it. The Poke and sashimi looked ridiculous too!
- La Calita Bar Y Cocina – Jl Pantu Balong 98 – ££ / when you fancy a break from Indonesian dinner, this place is buzzing, beautiful and serves up fairly reasonably priced Mexican fare. I ate courgette quesadillas, grilled corn and chips and guacaomole and lusted after the frozen margaritas but sadly didn’t try one.
Alcohol wise, I’ve not drank much in Canggu but have enjoyed the odd Bintang (Indonesian beer) with dinner. I nearly digressed to wine at Moana’s as I was craving a good dry white to accompany my seafood – but for five times the price of beer on a backpacker’s budget decided to exercise restraint on the wine front (for once in my life).
Last Saturday night, I watched slightly woefully as groups of friends/travellers gathered at Old Man’s for sunset beers. I felt extremely alone in that moment and, despite it being Day one, told myself I wasn’t cut out for being alone.
As soon as I was back at my dorm, a girl called Tara from Ireland invited me to dinner with a group from the guesthouse and I swiftly ate my words. We had a great evening eating Indonesian food and, funnily enough, returning to Old Man’s to drink and dance.
Since that moment, I have ended up speaking to and meeting so many interesting people – some of whom have become friends of sorts here at Serenity (shout out to Jen, Lou, Vici and Valerie if you’re reading this and thanks for being bloody lovely company/yoga buddies). We have spoken about everything and anything, shared yoga moves and travel tips – and I’ve been so glad to have their company. I am no longer shy about striking up conversation wth anyone who walks past and feel extremely grateful that I was able to meet people so quickly and get into the swing of things.
I miss “my people” every day and have had many moments of wishing I could share this with all of you. I thank my lucky stars that I have the relationships I have and that I will see you all again in a few months. Technology is so different from the last time I travelled – Whatsapp is keeping me connected and Instagram/my blog are enabling me to share this with everyone at home – and I am eternally grateful for that!
On Sunday I’m leaving on a boat for Nusa Lembongan where I’ve booked into a beachfront inn (in a room of my own WOOHOO) for three days and plan to do some snorkelling and beach exploring. after that i’m travelling to Lombok, then the Gili islands. There is a strong likelihood that Mt Agung in North East Bali will erupt while I’m away so I’m not sure what that means for travel back to Bali and entirely when I’ll be back but I’m just going with it and trying not to panic – most of Bali aren’t! Evacuated people in the Mt Agung area desperately need donations for food and shelter, sadly there isn’t an easy way to donate online but my guesthouse have a donation pot set up so if anyone would like to donate let me know and I can figure it out!
To summarise, I couldn’t have asked for a better start to my time in Bali. The sunsets I have seen on Batu Balong beach will never leave my memory and neither will the things I’ve learned during my yoga and meditation. Thank you to Serenity and Canggu, I know I’ll be seeing you again.