EVERY now and then I am overcome by the notion that I just need to disappear off the face of the planet for a week or so. And I generally pick a destination or activity that is way beyond my comfort zone and/or level of ability (which, if you’ve been following my blog for a while, is somewhat limited to drinking New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc on my back deck while pondering the parlous state of the world). As is often the case when I make any major life decisions, my choices are based purely on how a place name sounds. Yes, you’ll find me in crazy Kazakhstan or yummy Yemen any day now. Iraq sounds quite harsh to the ear but Kabul itself somewhat intriguing. I’m the same when it comes to cooking or eating out. I’ll order Baba Ghanoush while imagining I’m in an exotic Arabian land, or buy all the ingredients to cook a big pot of Jambayla just for one, because I’m convinced someone has made a huge mistake and I’m actually a sexy Spaniard. Woy Woy – well I’ve toy toyed with a trip there too. And it was only last week when I found myself downward dog facing the jungles of Ubud at a yoga retreat that I realised just how out of sync my imagination is with my body.
Lured by this particular retreat’s name “Escape the World” I flew myself to Bali and trekked up to Ubud (by trekking, I mean being picked up in an air-conditioned vehicle by my own driver), and threw myself into this concept with gusto. What could be so hard about a total of 20 hours of yoga, a 22km bike ride, wanderings through the rice paddies, and, most interestingly, 24 hours of silence where it would just me and my mischievous monkey mind?
And I didn’t know it at the time of booking, but French Canadian Claude Chouinard runs Oneworld Retreats in partnership with two Ubud princes who happen to have their regal residences also on site. Unfortunately for me, both princes were also getting married the very day I arrived, but I remain convinced had they just waited another 24 hours, at least one of them would have fallen in love with me at first sight. I mean, what’s not to love about a bedraggled Brisbane girl, hair frizzing in the Indonesian humidity, coming off the effects of her usual red wine and Xanax flying combination, clutching her duty free stash of secret wine and gin in one hand, and a yoga mat in the other? There may also be that teeny tiny issue that I am not Balinese royalty, into which both boys also married, in what is said to be a bid to preserve the culture. And I’m not sure mentioning I’m The Global Goddess and practically Brisbane royalty has the same effect, but I was prepared to give it a shot.
On our first night, Claude reminds us that despite everyone around us seemingly being able to travel, we are only a small percentage of the world who is wealthy enough to do so. He encourages us to embrace our 24 hours of silence and see it for the gift that it is.
“For just one day you can consider this silence a form of torture or one of the greatest gifts you’ll ever give yourself,” he says.
“What we know as time is in fact an illusion. For human beings, time is limited to the moment we are born, to the moment we leave this planet, a very short journey considering the age of the universe.
“Live every day by the minute and enjoy as much as you possibly can…the illusion goes by quickly.”
At first I am afraid, I am Gloria Gaynor petrified. But then I discover while I’m not allowed to read, and am discouraged from making eye contact with my fellow retreat participants even when we are in yoga classes together, I am allowed to write. And if there’s anything I love more than talking, it’s writing. But it must be mindful, and we are encouraged to pen the things we really want out of this life, and those we wish to rid, which will be burned later in the week in a sacred Balinese ceremony. After yoga and breakfast on my private balcony, I scribble and scribble until my pen runs out of ink. Before I know it, it’s lunchtime, and the food (like everything else at this retreat) is no hardship. I lunch long and languidly on the typical Indonesian salad Gado Gado (again, savouring how the words swirl around my tongue) and there’s the delicious Dadar Gulung – an Indonesian coconut crepe – for dessert.
I have a massage after lunch, and determined not to sleep but remain “mindful” to my silence, I spend the afternoon painting. I end up finishing 6 paintings (3 of which are all words) and have almost convinced myself I have captured the spirit of the talented Ubud artists who inhabit this lovely land, before I realise my ego again, is outrunning my actual talent. A swim, another yoga session, and it’s dinner on my deck, the highlight of which is steamed prawns in banana leaf. I contemplate cracking open my duty free wine but a combination of wishing to remain mindful and the fact I have a sore throat prevents this digression. My yoga teacher later tells me my throat chakra is blocked because of my fear of the silence. A less enlightened version of myself would argue it’s because of his incessant incense burning.
Each day passes in a similar dreamy rhythm. Yoga in the morning with the affable Iyan Yaspriyana while the jungle around us awakens and the cicadas chant a chorus of encouragement from the forest. Iyan encourages us every day to “go deeper”, reminding us that the mind can sometimes trick the body that it can’t go further, when it can. Daily affirmations are left in our room (and in my case, a harmless tree snake which I embrace as a good sign), there’s a dawn yoga class at volcano Batur, an evening water purification ceremony at Tirta Empul, a Balinese offering class, lunch in the rice paddies, and a closing ceremony at the retreat’s temple in which we pause to give gratitude for our lives. And most of all, I learn to sit with myself, observe the demons, laugh at the monkey, and love myself just that little bit more. According to Baby Ram Das: “The quieter you become, the more you can hear.” I can already hear the next exotic-sounding destination whispering my name.
The Global Goddess paid for her own flights to Bali and her Escape the World retreat with Oneworld in Ubud. To book your own escape, go to http://www.oneworldretreats.com
THE seductive scent of clove cigarettes hangs in the air like an unfinished sentence on this heady evening, which is already punctuated with sweat and music. It’s all Japanese and jazz at Bali’s Ryoshi bar on this mellifluous Monday and Rio Sidik is one cool cat with his trumpet and a voice which is part Dean Martin, part Louis Armstrong. Randomly, Rio’s sister Marina joins The Rio Sidik Quartet up on stage and unleashes Indonesia’s own Tina Turner with a pinch of Pink tossed in for good measure. I’m in Bali on an Eat Pray Live tour and this part is definitely what I’d call living.
Sydney’s Nicole Long, who runs Eat Pray Live, advises her guests to “be careful what you wish for” because in Bali, it might just come true. That is certainly the case for this 41-year-old former Brit who moved to Australia after a neglectful upbringing and has had quite the ride since. In the past six years she divorced her husband, started her Bali business, and in an incredible twist, celebrated the resurrection of her marriage with which she credits Eat Pray Live.
As part of this bespoke Balinese experience, Eat Pray Live guests partake in a cleansing ceremony and visit with a respected healer, which proved to be the pivotal moment for Nicole, who escaped to Bali for a holiday in 2011 when she thought she had run out of options back in Australia.
“I had this moment in the water and I thought ‘I can do this business’. If only I had somewhere to go after I got divorced. Where do you go when you just want to be blah?” she says.
“I went for a session with a reputed medicine man and at the end of my session he took my hand and said ‘you are going to use your experience to help many women.’
“There is no way he could have known what I was planning to do with Eat Pray Live. I went back to Australia and said to myself ‘Ok, it’s now or never’. I didn’t have any money to do this but I just had this fire.”
While it would be tempting to describe Eat Pray Live as a Balinese retreat and focus on the spirituality the Indonesian Island of the Gods exudes, this experience is so much more than that. Nicole has designed a bespoke holiday which focuses on all aspects of eating, praying and living in her villa she describes as a “home away from home” for guests. The concept eschews the typical tourist traps and takes guests to local and new restaurants such as Warung Talun for a delicious Indonesian feast overlooking the rice paddies, or to the hip and happening Potato Head to lounge and drink cocktails at this cool beach club. There’s plenty of pampering and even in-villa spa treatments, shopping in local markets and high-end stores and lots of secrets and surprises all designed to connected like-minded women who are drawn to this escape.
Despite numerous obstacles since her day of revelation, Nicole persevered and welcomed her first client in October 2012, initially operating Eat Pray Live from a hotel in Seminyak. Mid last year she stumbled across Villa Griya Asih in charming Canggu while taking her first horse ride since her Australian horse and soul mate Surge died. Eat Pray Live now operates from this beautiful Balinese villa which comes complete with six bedrooms and copious living spaces around which to lounge including a gorgeous day bed around the private pool. There’s a lovely third floor meditation deck overlooking typical Balinese fields and even a resident dog Blackie – a stray who wandered into Nicole’s life not long after Surge died. Curiously, Blackie even has a print of a white horse on his coat, which might seem pure coincidence in Australia, but in Bali, Nicole believes anything can happen.
Incredibly, Nicole reunited with her husband David after they reconnected for the first time in six years, following the suicide of his best friend.
“He came over for dinner and as I opened the door I thought ‘this is my man’ and everything, all the past evaporated and he was standing in front of me and I didn’t know what to think or feel,” Nicole says.
“He said, ‘I love you Nic’ and I realised I was home.
“Throughout this whole journey I’ve found my truth and Eat Pray Live has led me back to my love.”
For more information on Eat Pray Live or to book an escape, go to http://www.eatpraylive.com.au