Island of the Gods Part 1: Women & Wisdom

Well that month just flew by. I can’t believe my 30 days in Bali are up! Although I’m sad to be leaving the sunshine and a place where I can indulge in my new obsession with surfing, I am excited to get back to Mike in Korea and cure my Bali Belly with some much needed kimchi. I have so much to report I had to split Bali into two posts. Stay tuned for part 2 coming soon!

This is what most days looked like in Bali – Bintang, coconut and beach!

All the Single Ladies

Attention all single men! I have discovered where all the single women have been hiding. They’re in Bali.

There are so many solo female travellers in Bali that I feel like a bit of an Eat Pray Love cliché just being here. Having also made the decision to come here on my own though, I can understand the appeal. Bali tops every list of safest destinations for women to travel alone and the island has a lot to offer. Amazing beaches, great food, friendly locals, yoga studios galore, and loads of opportunities to meet other travellers through retreats or tours.

Standing solo at Lovina Beach in Northern Bali.

It’s funny (although in retrospect not surprising) that the things I decided to do in Bali connected me with other like-minded, strong, brilliant women who came here for the same reasons. The amazing surf/yoga retreat (Pelan Pelan) I stayed at in my first week ended up being just 5 ladies for most of my stay – all of them were also keen to learn a new skill while relaxing in Bali. We became a badass international surf chick posse by the end of the week!

The surfer chicks of Pelan Pelan, plus our awesome instructors!
I swear this wave seemed bigger than that when I was on it!

During the Advanced Metalsmithing course I took at Canggu Jewellery Classes, I met so many other women in the studio who were also excited by the idea of creating something beautiful with their own hands. On the 8 day G Adventures tour I did, we were all women but one (poor Ben!), who wanted to see the real Bali, beyond the ultra-touristy areas like Kuta and Seminyak that most Aussies never stray beyond when they visit the island every year.

Our G Adventures group at a waterfall near Munduk featuring Yefta, the happiest tour guide who ever lived!

As a bonafide introvert, I was a little worried I’d be lonely during my month in Bali, but like everyone said it would be, it’s easy to meet people as a solo traveller, especially here. I feel grateful to have met all these lovely women (and a couple men) and hope to cross paths with them again someday!


A Religion of Their Own

It’s impossible to describe what Bali is like without talking about religion. Although most of Indonesia is Muslim, the dominant religion in Bali is one exclusive to the island called Balinese Hinduism. I’ve never seen a culture so influenced by their faith. It truly shapes everything they do and believe. They follow the lunar calendar for absolutely everything, from which day is best to get married, to when you should plant a crop or begin construction on a new building. None of these things can happen without at least one ceremony. As you can imagine, there are some delays in getting things done when you’re working around those kinds of restrictions.

Tanah Lot temple at sunset.

One of the reasons Bali is so safe is that they are major believers in karma.

Special Galungan bamboo offering to the Gods.

What they do in this life can seriously impact what happens to them in the next. Pair that with Indonesia’s severe capital punishment sentencing and nobody is touching drugs, guns or tourists. Even walking alone down a long, dark alley to get to my Airbnb accommodations at night, I never felt unsafe in Bali which is not something you can say about a lot of places.

I was lucky enough to be in Bali during the Galungan holiday which is one of two major religious holidays celebrated throughout the year. Everything shuts down for a few days while the Balinese Hindus return to their villages, hold ceremonies and celebrate the triumph of good over evil. Part of the ritual involves hand-making these elaborate bamboo ‘offerings’ for the gods and hanging them outside their homes.

Balinese women are truly amazing. Before cooking the entire day’s worth of meals for their family every morning, they make around 15 or so smaller versions of these offerings and place them around their homes, in their vehicles and on the streets to bring good karma to their loved ones. They do this every single day! The morning air is filled with smoke as each offering includes an incense that brings the offering upward to the gods as it burns. I was told that the average Balinese family spends about 60% of their (already limited) household income on these offerings. Like I said, they’re serious about karma.


Other Fun Facts About Balinese Hinduism

  • There are 3 elements for happiness in Balinese Hinduism: connecting with the gods (through offerings, ceremonies), connecting with each other (they are always kind, even to tourists), and connecting with nature (trees and mountains are sacred too)
  • Babies must be held for the first 3 months of their life. They can’t be put down, even to sleep! After three months, they go into the care of the Gods so it’s okay to lay them down after that.
  • Bali is also called the island of 1,000 temples, although there must be way more than that. Every home has a temple, every neighbourhood has a temple and there are also public temples anyone can visit like this one below.
  • There are no high rises in Bali because buildings can’t be taller than the community’s main temple. Even though there are tons of tourists it doesn’t feel like Mexico or Hawaii.
Taman Ayun Temple

Spiritual Chaos

When you first arrive in Bali, driving on this island looks like a total shit show. Scooters weaving in and out of the cars, vehicles heading straight for oncoming traffic, and all kinds of honking. But after a while, you realize that there’s actually a delicate dance going on between all the drivers that’s (for the most part) very respectful and courteous. While this kind of driving would immediately invoke some serious road rage in North America, I never once saw anybody get angry on the road (or anywhere for that matter) the entire month I was here. Everybody knows what to expect, and they’re at peace with it. I feel like this kind of spiritual chaos is really a metaphor for the entire way of life here.

Mt. Batur volcano in the distance.

A lot of Canadians I talked to who had visited Bali said they didn’t really like it that much, and I can see why they might feel that way. It’s dirty, there are stray dogs everywhere, it can take forever to do anything, and sidewalks are practically non-existent even on the fanciest shopping streets. If you’re picturing serene rice fields and empty white sand beaches, this could be a bit of a let down for you. But I can also see there’s something more going on here that makes so many other people fall in love with this place.

Made it to the top of Mt. Batur for sunrise! Biggest feat was dragging myself out of bed at 3am.

It’s hard to explain, but there’s an incredible acceptance for the way things are in Bali. If a ceremony taking place in the middle of the street causes a one hour drive to become a four hour drive, it’s no big deal! The ceremonies obviously need to happen there so people will patiently wait. If you’re building a house and you need to take up half the street for your pile of gravel, no problem! They will drive around it. If you can’t buy a steel ladder because the government has super strict importing regulations, that’s okay! You can make one out of some rope and bamboo. Bali might not look so serene on the outside, but if that kind of attitude isn’t ‘zen‘ then I don’t know what is.

Spectacular sunset from Nusa Lembongan.

6 Replies to “Island of the Gods Part 1: Women & Wisdom”

  1. What a wonderful time you had in Bali! I can see why all those women go there.
    I thought I had signed into your blog….

  2. Nice to hear of a country where woman feel safe and are respected,good on you gal for riding the waves,

  3. Jasmine Moore says:

    Thank you for writing Heather! What a beautiful perspective – ‘no big deal’ because someone needs to engage in a certain way vs assuming someone is being inconsiderate

    Sounds as if you have had a great month. Looking forward to following you two in the coming months!

    1. Heather McManus says:

      Thanks Jas! I’m working at carrying that attitude into Seoul as this city is nuts with everybody trying to get what they need amidst 10 million other people. Wish me luck! Miss you lots 🙂

  4. Such a great read. You captured Bali perfectly 🙂

  5. Wow – loved reading this! What a great way of life…. I want to follow you and go to Bali for a month….. sounds amazing! 😀😀😀😀

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