By Stephanie Carpenter | Photography by Jake Meyer
Many people dream of moving to a foreign country but few make those dreams a reality. Last year, my fiancé, Jake Meyer, and I threw caution to the winds, and headed “Down Under.” Jake had visited Australia several years ago, and I had always dreamed of doing so. Realizing that life is short and that we weren’t getting any younger, we figured, why not? As Jake’s thirtieth birthday was quickly approaching, this move seemed to be the only way to alleviate his pre-midlife crisis symptoms.
A talented and accomplished graphic designer, Jake started his own design company called I Will Design for Food (IWDFF) a couple of years ago. Banking on my background in sales and marketing at The St. Joe Company and Jake’s extensive experience in creative directing, we decided to combine our shared interests and abilities and expand IWDFF in Australia.
As fate would have it, a week before we left Florida, an architect with a real estate development company in Sydney stopped by The St. Joe offices to research some of the world-renowned planned communities for which our area is so famous. My former boss told him about our upcoming move and our desire to expand our clientele in Australia. Always in need of new talent, the architect passed along his contact information, asking us to give him a call when we arrived. One thing led to the next, and before we knew it, we had acquired our first Australian client, which allowed us to afford our new Aussie lifestyle.
Although we spent less than a year in Australia, we took full advantage of our home in the Southern Hemisphere, exploring untouched terrain, tasting rare cuisine, and discovering foreign culture. We had many adventures while there, but a trip to the nearby Indonesian island of Bali was one of our most memorable and inspiring escapades.
Wednesday, January 21
Our journey began with a six-hour flight from Sydney, and we arrived at the Ngurah Rai International Airport in Denpasar, Bali, at 9:30 p.m. Bali time. The airport was a fairly simple, no-frills kind of place with a surprisingly quick and painless customs procedure. It was exciting to have an Indonesian stamp added to our passports!
After securing our luggage, we were greeted by a gentleman holding a wooden sign that read “Mayer, Jacob.” (Most of the Balinese speak very little English, so seeing Jake’s last name misspelled did not surprise us.) He kindly welcomed us to his country, led us to our shuttle, and we began the hour-long haul to our resort. Within seconds of being on the narrow roads, we realized that driving in Bali was not an option for the fainthearted. Scooters, some carrying families of five, including children and babies, whizzed around us, turning two-lane highways into four- or even five-lane thoroughfares! No one wore a helmet, and the sound of angry horns filled our ears throughout the trip.
We safely arrived at the Ubud Village Resort & Spa in the modest town of Ubud, which is located in the central foothills of the Gianyar Regency. A source of medicinal herbs, Ubud received its name from the Balinese word ubad (medicine). As tourism increased over the years, many of Bali’s most skilled artists moved to Ubud to teach and train others in Balinese art, making it the cultural center of the country. Bali is one of the most favored tourist destinations in Indonesia, and we chose to stay in Ubud because of its authentic Balinese culture, fine arts, and ancient temples.
Upon our arrival, we were greeted with a refreshing tropical beverage and escorted to our very own private villa. The scenery, even at night, was quite magnificent, and before we even stepped foot into our oasis, we were awestruck. In a secluded area adorned with lush greenery, we enjoyed an outdoor private pool, a maze of goldfish ponds, a lounging area, and a marble shower and bathtub. Once inside, beneath a thirty-foot vaulted thatched roof, we were welcomed with traditional Balinese music, freshly scattered flower petals, burning incense, pastries, chocolates, and tea. Without a doubt, we both agreed this was one of the most luxurious, yet affordable, resorts we had ever visited.
At the entrance of the forest, we purchased some bananas and lychees, guaranteed to make any primate’s mouth water.
Thursday, January 22
We awoke refreshed and ready to start the day. Walking through the property, we felt as though we were living in a rainforest thousands of miles from civilization. The natural beauty was enhanced by tropical plants, lotus ponds, exotic birds, and terraced rice paddies. The only drawback was the numerous large insects that we encountered. The open-air restaurant offered a spectacular view of the property, and served Balinese coffee, freshly cut fruit, homemade pineapple and papaya jams, an assortment of pastries, and our choice of eggs or traditional Indonesian rice.
After breakfast, we took to the streets and headed towards the Sacred Monkey Forest, which holds three Hindu temples built in the 14th century, hand-carved statues and fountains, and, of course, monkeys. Balinese followers of Hinduism, the prominent Indonesian religion, credit monkeys occupying a holy temple site with the ability to guard against evil spirits and demons, and more than two hundred crab-eating macaque monkeys wander freely in these woods.
At the entrance of the forest, we purchased some bananas and lychees, guaranteed to make any primate’s mouth water, and we were warned to remove jewelry, glasses, and any other shiny objects before we entered the vast jungle because the monkeys can be rather mischievous. Due to the pouring rain, we were a bit skeptical about whether we would actually see any monkeys, but within five minutes we found ourselves surrounded by a large troop. A smaller member of the group took a liking to Jake and his banana and jumped right onto his arm. I quickly snapped some photos and then decided to try my luck feeding the monkey. When I sat with a lychee in my hand, the monkey leaped onto my leg. He seemed harmless enough, so I gave him more to eat. The rain had now slowed to a light drizzle, and when a warm liquid ran down my leg, I thought nothing of it. Then I realized it was not rain! At that point, we decided we’d had enough monkeying around!
Friday, January 23
In addition to the shuttles offered by the resort, we had the opportunity to hire a personal driver named Agung, and we highly recommend him. A native of the region with an extensive English vocabulary, Agung proved to be a superb tour guide, providing us with a local perspective and insights about many of the unique hidden treasures of Bali. Without him, our trip would have been far less enlightening.
Accompanied by Agung, our day began dark and early at 3:00 a.m. with an hour’s drive to the active volcano Gunung Batur, which last erupted in 1994. Standing 1,717 meters above sea level, Gunung Batur is considered to be one of Bali’s most sacred mountains. It serves as a source of holy water, which is collected from the volcano’s steaming core by locals and used in ceremonies in the nearby temples.
At the foot of the volcano, the sky was still a deep black, so we had plenty of time to arrive at the summit before sunrise. With our guide, two dim flashlights, and some light snacks, we eagerly began our excursion.
I would like to emphasize that we could not see further ahead of us than our flashlights allowed. In hindsight, we are almost certain we would not have attempted to hike this monumental volcano had we seen it in the light.
At first, the trek seemed fairly easy, though we occasionally stumbled on lava rock. Feeling confident, we moved quickly, anxious to make it to the top. About a quarter of the way to the summit, the incline drastically increased, sometimes reaching ninety degrees. We moved slower and slower, taking occasional breaks to catch our breath.
Finally, two hours later, covered in sweat, we made it to the top! The view was absolutely breathtaking and worth every step. Exhausted, we rested on a ledge, congratulating ourselves on our achievement, fueling up on coffee and pastries for the return hike down the mountain.
Saturday, January 24
After our very long day of climbing, we slept like rocks, and when we woke, we decided to spend our Saturday lounging by the pool and enjoying a massage. For a mere US$30, one can easily afford an hour-long Balinese massage complete with a shower, hot tea, and biscuits. Given the fact that the rainy season was in full effect, there were only a few other tenants at the resort, so we took full advantage of the unoccupied spa.
Sunday, January 25
Fully rested, we headed to the nearby Ayung River for some white-water rafting. Equipped with helmets and life vests, we followed our guide down a long flight of stairs leading to the deep river gorge. Never having rafted before, I was a little nervous at first, but once we were in the water, I found that I was mesmerized by the sheer beauty of the region. Feeling as though we had somehow landed in a National Geographic travelogue, we drifted along the river, winding our way past magnificent waterfalls, jagged cliffs, and intricately carved stone walls.
Following our full day of rafting, we returned to our villa to freshen up for our final night in Bali, during which we were to be entertained by ancestral Barong dancers. One of the more well-known Balinese dances, the Barong narrates a mythological fight between good (Barong) and evil (Rangda). The dancers begin learning the craft from their mothers as children, sometimes as early as age four. We found the multiple positions and gestures, musical ensembles, fire, and colorful costumes to be a perfect ending to our Indonesian expedition.
We traveled to the other side of the world, experiencing the adventure of a lifetime, and we are now back home in Northwest Florida, thankful that we followed our dreams. Still working with our overseas client and expanding locally, IWDFF has become an international design firm, allowing us the ability to one day pursue another life-changing journey. Traveling has always been and will always be one of the greatest sources of joy in our lives, and we plan to continuously fulfill our desire to learn more about this little planet we call home.
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