Now that I’ve been on the road for a few years, I find that I rarely share travel stories with friends unless they ask. But there are times when travel memories sneak right into the conversation because some misadventure leads to another and I find myself out to dinner with friends saying,”Hah! That reminds me of this one time when I got totally lost, but found something really cool!”
Most stories start with this refrain, and it’s mostly because I get widely, unequivocally lost in every place I visit. I’ve been lost right in the middle of a new city. I feared I’d never return to civilization when I was lost hiking in the Blue Mountains of Sydney and the cow pastures of England’s Lake District. Even with a clear map and detailed instructions, I still get lost.The other day, I found myself sharing a misadventure that I hadn’t shared on the site. This little anecdote and unexpected side trip was one of my favorite parts visiting Bali. One day, I was riding a motorbike ride through a dusty Balinese town outside of Ubud. My friend navigated the bike while I rubber necked from the back. And though I’d certainly rubberneck for the chance to see the beautiful terraced rice paddies, I was actually searching for signs indicating that we were en route to Gunung Kawi. Gunung Kawi is a gorgeous temple complex carved out from the rock walls. At least, that’s what the guide book said. I never made it that far.
My friend and I searched for an hour for the correct turn-off. We stopped and asked for directions. We conferred with our map and scratched our heads. Then, instead of Gunung Kawi, we slowed down at a nondescript temple smack dab in the middle of this sun-bleached town. The temple wasn’t on our map. And it definitely wasn’t Gunung Kawi. But we heard the call to adventure and followed the steady line of worshipers filing into the temple. On the other side of the doors, Balinese women in the center courtyard delicately balanced large bowls of fruit on their heads.
We had gotten hopelessly lost, but we found a celebration anyhow. I was happy to stretch my legs and even more willing to deviate from our plan. We parked the scooter and joined the snaking line of Balinese locals climbing the temple steps. Inside, the festival ceremony was in full swing. Traditional dancers, music, children, food, and dogs intermingled haphazardly in the inner courtyard. Long tables lined the adjacent courtyard, they held the exquisite, intricate devotional offerings like the one above. After just a week in Bali, I had come to love the Balinese superstitions, beliefs, and spiritual practices. They have a complex set of beliefs that are hard to grasp as a foreigner, but beautiful to take part in and learn about.
I never did make it to Gunung Kawi, not that day nor any other since I left Bali a mere two days later, because I instead found a shady spot in the corner and spent a solid two hours as the sole tourist quietly observing a Balinese ceremony and enjoying the curious smiles from locals.