Beaches. That’s usually what people imagine when a person puts her two lips together to form the word, “Bali.” Their eyes glaze over as the mind drifts away to a utopia of white-sand beaches, waves crashing, cool breezes blowing, and a drink (preferably alcoholic) in their hand as they imagine themselves sprawled out on a towel, half naked – and half baked by the sun.
Me? I didn’t have any preconceived notions, but somehow, I knew Bali would be something wonderful: It was my first time to Bali, and I decided to go with a travel group of Americans, who lived State side and abroad, for New Year’s Eve! One too many wild cards? Perhaps, but let me explain.
The short story: I wasn’t ready.
The long story: It’s hard to put into words. I was excited, nervous and anxious about traveling. But would traveling with a bunch of strangers with MY hard-earned money, on MY long-awaited vacation be a good idea? Would they muck up my vacation? Would I meet some amazing people and have cherished moments?
As a planner, I hesitantly relinquished the comfort of being in control that I find in planning. Because of this, circumstances were less than ideal when scheduling went awry, and I had to jump on someone else’s bandwagon. Many people had met before (Facebook buddies meeting in person at last or former acquaintances who needed only to communicate silently with their eyes). Naturally, they self-separated into groups of familiarity per their convenience, while I was left to pick up scraps of others’ plans and co-sign quickly before being left behind (which happened, at least once). Not exactly a recipe for the best vacation ever.
On the other hand, many days and nights were filled with good vibes. Predominantly young, professional African-Americans, we were an entourage of wander-lusters, ranging in age from 20- to 50-something. The villa, that housed the 30 of us, we had all to ourselves. It was beautiful to see so many brown and black people, all more or less seasoned world travelers, get together to celebrate life, a new year, and do what we love – travel!
The vacation was checkered with gains and losses more than any international trip I’d been on.Though I secretly snarled at those who already bonded on previous trips, I know now that I could’ve been more open to chumming it up with people. It wasn’t until mid-trip that I wanted to get to know some people on a deeper level, and by then, the trip was almost over.
Nevertheless, our intent was to have a good time: friends were made and good times were had. We came to shed ourselves of the past, and invite 2014, another 365 days of hope, inspiration and possibilities. Practically every night, the “turn-up” crew refused to let the rolling good times cease; they stayed up till 4 a.m. drinking, talking and playing music – I slept right through it all, each night. Being 34 and “aging” has its peculiarities, and opting for sleep over shit-talking and loud music is one of them! [*Shrug* Don’t judge me! I slept, well-rested, through drunken people’s roaring laughter all night long. “Turn up for what? Goodnight.”]
In addition to the turn-up crew, there were the beach babes. That’s what they came for, that’s where they wanted to be, and sunbathing was the desired past-time. We got a little taste of that. Our crew made it to Potato Head Beach Club for ‘maxing and relaxing’ and the Rock Bar for sunset ogling; some also made it to Patong Beach (popularized by the book, Eat, Pray, Love) and Karma Beach, a white-sand, clear-water beach with a $25 entrance fee – I was left behind for both of them.
I’m a budget-traveling gal whose intent is to optimize each and every travel experience – the money I save for travel doesn’t come easy, so having the best time on my trips are almost always taken very seriously. When it comes to Bali, I try to forget that instead of high-posting on one of its most coveted beaches on New Year’s Eve, I was stuck at the villa (with a few others), in the rain, never to leave again until morning, and retired to bed early, while hearing New Year’s Eve fireworks exploding in the night like bombs over Baghdad as three-fourths of the Bali crew were celebrating at the Sky Bar in Seminyak. Yes, I could lament profusely at how Bali went from indifferent to WTF, but instead, I prefer to remember the good times: $8-an-hour massages rendered at a moment’s notice (I had at least three), the serene scenes of sprawling green rice fields, the unique juxtaposition of distinct cultural traditions tangled in a fast-growing, tourism-stunned society, and the motley posse of beautiful strangers with whom I shared in pleasure-seeking, laughter, adventure and wanderlust.
In the end, I think the two lessons learned here were:
1) Get on board, more enthusiastically and much faster. It was my trip, and up to me to make the best of it. I did, eventually, but having an open mind even when in doubt or worrying can make the journey much easier.
2) Solo traveling may be my travel style of choice. My post on Thailand will be about my first solo travel trip.
How about you – do you prefer group or solo travel?