In her acclaimed memoir Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert’s desire to travel was sparked by the loss of her husband; my own wanderlust was motivated by the imminent loss of my mother. I’d venture to guess that although our catalysts were different, we were both driven by a quest for peace—a desperate hope that exploring the world might provide the answers we were seeking.
Unfortunately, I had neither time nor money to take 12 months off for vacation, so my eat, pray, live journey took three years! But in the end, I found what I was seeking… and more.
Traveling to the opposite end of the world when your mom is terminally ill might sound like an odd thing to do, but I’ll be honest in saying that when I began planning, I never imagined she’d still be with us. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I envisioned the trip would be a way of recharging “after.” And somewhere at the front of my mind, I worried that I would get “the call” at the airport and have to head home. Either way, I comforted myself with thoughts of how devoted I’d been in the seven years since Parkinson’s disease changed our lives, and reminded myself that my mom—always a lover of adventure—wouldn’t want me to stop living.
It was my 40th birthday, so I decided it was time for the trip of a lifetime. Bali was a mere 24 hours away by plane, but well worth every minute.
I’ll spare the details of my travel delirium and of our brief detour to Singapore (the cleanest city I’ve ever seen), and skip straight to the moment when my girlfriends and I stepped off the plane in Denpasar. We moved swiftly through customs, noting signs that said “the penalty for drug trafficking is death,” and on to the money exchange, where we each got over two million rupiah in exchange for about $175. (Try doing the math on that!) Finally, we reclaimed our bags, looked for the sign with my name, and breathed a sigh of relief that our driver, Yudi, was there.
On the way to our rented villa in Nusa Dua, I tried to relax and find the peace I’d envisioned, but instead I began worrying about all the things that could go wrong. What if the villa didn’t look like the photos? What if it didn’t exist at all? Here I was on the other side of the world with a 12-hour time difference in a land where I didn’t understand the language or know the culture. How would I survive? A rooster crossing the road as we passed by one of many shanties only heightened my fears.
But then it happened. We rounded a corner and gates opened to reveal the most beautiful resort grounds I’d ever seen. Minutes later, we stepped into the large family room of our three-bedroom home, where a staff of six greeted us with virgin mojitos and peaceful Balinese music playing in the background. Yes, peace lived here.
Over the next seven days, and under the watchful eye of our guide, my five girlfriends and I explored as much of Bali as we could. We sampled the beaches, giving credit to the waves in Kuta that were likely a surfer’s dream, but ultimately preferring the calm turquoise waters in Nusa Dua. We visited numerous boutiques in the ex-pat community in Seminyak, but found our real treasures in the silver shops and flea markets where bargaining was the rule not exception. On the road to Ubud, I even stumbled upon a life-sized original piece of art that I negotiated down to $100—a steal in any country.
And did I mention the food? We had some of our best meals at places with no walls, including Blue Ocean—a restaurant where you pointed to the live seafood of your choice then found a seat out on the sand to watch the sunset while your meal was cooked. We also discovered a quaint hut in the rice fields where we sat on pillows and enjoyed the spiciest noodles I’ve ever tasted. Or what about the park where we rode elephants, or the holistic center in Ubud where we took an impromptu yoga class? No summary would be complete without paying homage to all of the beautiful temples, including the infamous Tanah Lot rock formation that (even with the little monkeys that scared me to death) was worth every minute of the two hour drive to get there.
All in all though, my favorite part of Bali wasn’t any of the material things; it was something far less tangible. There was an energy of gratitude that permeated everything and everyone. The way people left offerings at their doors as a sacrifice each day, and had tributes to their beliefs sprinkled throughout their homes and businesses. The way a Thai restaurant displayed a picture of the king of Thailand as a thank you for allowing them to serve their food in Bali and in hopes that the good energy would pass to everyone who ate there. The way people happily lived without the material items we cling to as necessities in America.
Yes, I went to Bali in hopes of regaining my peace during a difficult time, and after a week there I came back with a renewed sense of gratitude—determined to live each and every day to the fullest, and to enjoy every moment with my mom in celebration of a tomorrow not promised.
Imani is the author of the novel When I Was Broken and a book of inspirational thoughts, You Are Not Alone. An attorney by trade, she’s also a life coach and speaker dedicated to inspiring others to live each moment to the fullest.