Earlier this year I started my first big trip on my own. I went to Bali, to live and work there and gather as many experiences as I can and that I did!
When I left Germany on the aeroplane, I had a lot of mixed feelings, but my anticipation overshadowed them all. For quite a lot of years, I always dreamt of doing exactly this and there I was, sitting on the aeroplane, on the way to fulfil my dream. It also helped that the airline provided good beer during the whole flight (just kidding).
After about 21 hours of traveling, and a big stop in Dubai I finally arrived. I was tired but I couldn’t wait to see the people, the accommodation and – for the next 7 weeks – my new life and home. By pure luck, I met another participant at the airport, while we were both waiting for our luggage. This took away a lot of pressure because it was super nice to have someone else to just talk about all the things.
After we arrived at the accommodation in Penestanan, Ubud the coordinators introduced themselves and some of the other volunteers which had already arrived. Other than that there wasn‘t much planned for the day, which was good because we all were extremely exhausted from flying so much. The jetlag hit me hard.
On the next day – Monday- our introduction week started with a breakfast, where we got to meet all the other volunteers that were now complete and would spend the rest of the introduction week with us. After that our coordinator Arya, who did an awesome job throughout the whole time, explained a lot about Balinese culture and the big differences between their way of living and ours.
Then he took us to Ubud, a really big but still very traditional city, which is right next to Penestanan, where we got to see a temple, the famous Monkey Street and Monkey Forest and the Ubud market. The day ended with us witnessing a traditional Balinese dance show called Kecak, which was very intense and interesting. All in all the first day was the perfect start into one of the best times of my life.
Throughout the rest of the introduction week, we got to experience even more of the Balinese culture, learned a bit of Indonesian, did a Batik painting (which is now hanging in my home), learned how to cook a traditional Balinese meal including Gado-Gado, sweet tempe and fried banana, learned how to do a Balinese flower offering and, as the final point of the week, we got to do a spiritual tour, where we visited the famous temple „Pura Tirta Empul“, the holy water temple.
There we had the possibility to offer the flower offerings which we made the day prior and take part in the holy water ceremony where you shower yourself under fountains of the holy water. We had a lot of fun during the introduction week, which was due to the wonderful people that volunteers with me.
I couldn‘t have been happier that I made the decision to finally go to Bali.
During the weekend we didn‘t have any program, so, me and some of the other volunteers decided to rent a villa in Canggu, which is a very touristic city next to the ocean. You‘ll see a lot of typical „western“ things in Canggu and also tons of tourists. Nonetheless, it was a great idea to go there, because you had the chance to bond even more with the other volunteers. It was also quite cool in Canggu, because they have a great nightlife scene, which Ubud doesn‘t really have and it was also nice to just lay down at the beach or to swim in the ocean.
Then, after the weekend, the real experience started. I had decided to do elementary school teaching. The first thing me and my teaching partners had to do was plan the lessons. Due to the age of the children (about 8-10) and their other lessons you teach them a lot of basic stuff. You always teach with one or two other volunteers. There is also at least one employee which helps you if you have any problems with material, some of the children or the Indonesian language.
The first week we tried to teach shapes, colours and numbers which was quite successful even though none of us had a lot of teaching experience. Due to some bureaucratic reason, we had to change the class and school after one week. This was very confusing at first, but in the end, it paid off because our second class was filled with so many children that were just eager to learn but also very happy to be around us and we immediately noticed, that we’d be even better off with this class.
Not only did we teach the second class a lot of stuff, but we also learned a lot of things about Bali and Indonesia from that. Other than learning we also sang, danced and most importantly laughed a lot with the children. During the breaks, we would also play or talk with them. The favourite game of the boys was catch and football, so I played that a lot.
My time with the children was – I know I’m repeating myself, but I can’t state it enough – amazing. It was just great and always so wholesome. Even on a rainy day, they would still be happy and did their best to make us happy as well, which wasn’t hard regarding all their contagious laughter.
During the week we also did a lot of different stuff, as the teaching only took place in the afternoon. We usually prepared the lessons for the next few days so that the mornings and noon would be free for us. We went to Ubud sometimes, just to putter around or do a bit of shopping in the beautiful little stores or on the diverse market. You can find pretty much anything that you want at the Ubud market.
At other times we hiked through the close rice fields or just explored the area and sometimes we also went to a nearby hotel where you could use the swimming pools against a small fee. There’s also the possibility to do Yoga, get a massage and such things.
In the evenings most of the volunteers usually went to a local café close to the centre where we would play some cards, have some snacks and listen to live music. On some nights we would also head to Ubud because there were some bigger pubs and clubs where you could party.
The weekends during the teaching program were free as well, so we mostly travelled during that time. We went back to Canggu once again, but we also visited two beautiful waterfalls (Sekumpul and Kipuan Kebo), the close by Pura Ulun Danu Beratan Bedugul, a temple on a small island inside a giant volcano lake which was absolutely stunning, Pura Tanah Lot, which is also a temple on a small island but this time it’s in the ocean and here you have a fantastic view on the sunset if the sky is clear and so much more that it would take way too long to list it all.
The time flew by way too fast. We had so much fun and such a great time with the children and the exploration during the weekends, that I didn’t even realize, that the first part of my Bali travels was nearing its end.
I kind of dreaded my last day in school, because I knew, that it would mean goodbye for a long time and that I’d miss these children a lot. And when it inevitably came, I was heartbroken. All these little, usually happy faces were frowning. They felt the same as I did. Few of them were smiling when we said our goodbyes, mostly because they once again played one of their pranks. Most were sad and some even cried a little bit. The time has been so much fun, even when it was challenging, but I knew that I’d never forget it or them.
But I also knew that the coming time would be great as well and so I had an amazing last weekend with some of the other volunteers before I left.
On Sunday the second part of my travels began. I packed my stuff, cleaned up the room and met up with one of the coordinators. She brought me to the port in Sanur, where I would take a speedboat to Nusa Penida, a small island next to Bali. Here I would be part of the turtle conservation and rehabilitation centre.
The boat ride was over very quickly, but you get a great look at Nusa Penida and its neighbouring islands Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Ceningan. Bali is already a very green island with a lot of forests, but it was nothing compared to those three smaller islands. The people I arrived with and the people that were already working at the centre were once again super nice and welcomed me with open arms. I immediately found a small group of people which I befriended and with which I would do most of the work during the week but also spent most of my free time with. They were great!
But let’s start with the work. A lot of turtle species are endangered due to the pollution of the ocean. Your day to day work consists of cleaning the turtles and their tanks, preparing their food (fish and crabs), hunting the aforementioned crabs and feeding the turtles.
On Fridays, we would also release turtles that were seen as fit enough for the ocean. The employees would also teach us a lot about the different kinds of turtles that they have at their centre and how and wherein the ocean they live exactly. I have to say that the work is quite physical and demanding, but also very rewarding, especially on the Fridays where you can see the turtles, that you helped grow a bit, getting back into the ocean.
Every Thursday a special dinner for all the volunteers on Nusa Penida and afterwards we also had a big bonfire where we would play the guitar and sing along to it, pretty much every participant sang with them as well. They liked “Hotel Balifornia” a lot, but we also sang some songs that I still can’t get enough of because it reminds me so much of that incredible time. I still listen to Leaving, On a Jet Plane by John Denver or When You Say Nothing At All by Roman Keating on a near-daily basis.
In our free time, we explored the insanely beautiful island Nusa Penida. There are so many otherworldly places on that little island. Kelingking Beach was my favourite. There’s a rock formation which kind of looks like a T-Rex head. You can also go down to the white beach and swim in the crystal-clear water, but the way down is very difficult. They built a stairway into the cliff and it’s a steep way down. Bring enough water, a hat to protect your head from the sun and a lot of sunscreens if you want to take that trip.
We also visited Broken Bay, Diamond Beach, the Pura Goa Giri Putri Temple, which is located inside a massive cave, Crystal Bay (once a week) and Angel’s Billabong and probably a lot more that I’m forgetting right now.
Our free time before or after work was mostly spent at a nearby beach club or at the beach. In the evening we would sometimes go to the beach club as well because they played good music or to one of the restaurants which were close to the centre.
I said it a lot during this text, but yet again, the time was amazing and breath-taking. The work with the turtles was just so rewarding, the time spent with the volunteers so nice and the overall experience just perfect. Due to all of that I can say that this was not my last time on Nusa Penida during my travels.
After a week of fun, a lot of new people and interesting work I took the speedboat back to Bali. This time I wouldn’t be teaching or working though, this time I would participate in the ‘Adventure Week’. You start the week on Monday at a coffee plantation where they make the famous ‘Luwak Coffee’, the most expensive coffee in the world. You can see some of the Luwaks and try a lot of their coffees. It’s in the middle of a jungle, so you’ll have a beautiful view and can take some great pictures. There is also a Hollywood-esque sign which says “Bali Cat Poo Chino”, which is funny because it’s a wordplay with Cappucino and Luwak Coffee, the one they produce here, is literally made out of the digestive of the Luwak Cat.
After that, you take a bike tour through Kintamani, which is next to the second biggest volcano Mount Batur. You get a great view of the volcano, the volcano lake and the surrounding volcanic landscape.
On Tuesday you visit another turtle conservation and rehabilitation centre which is located next to Sanur on Bali and you get some insight into their work. I already knew a lot of the stuff that they told us because of my week on Nusa Penida but it’s still nice to get some more information from a different centre. From there you’ll be taken to Sanur Beach, where you get lunch and then you’re allowed to relax for the rest of the day at the beach. You can just chill on a provided sunbed, but you can also swim etc.
The next program point on Wednesday was white water rafting. We did this at a river that flows right through the jungle and you get to see a lot of cool stuff, like ancient Balinese rock carvings and paintings that tell a traditional Balinese story. It’s not really that wild, but still a lot of fun. You can also swim in the river and you take a break where you can buy drinks and lunch and eat them right next to that river.
Thursday was my favourite day by far. You start really early in the morning. I think we got up at around 1 am. You get a little breakfast and coffee or tea and then you’ll be taken to the already mentioned Mount Batur to do the so called “sunrise hike”. This is really demanding, especially regarding the early time, but I’m sure that everyone can do it. There are so many groups doing the hike at once. I think I counted at least 15 groups that each consisted of also at least 6 people excluding the guide. They give you flashlights which you will definitely need because it’s so dark. Even though it is really not that easy, I can only recommend it. You reach the top shortly before the sun will rise and we also had a lot of luck because there were nearly no clouds so had a perfect view.
The moment the first light appears on the sky I just knew that the trip was worth it. While watching the sunrise more and more you can eat the lunch packet provided from the guide. There’s also a lot of monkeys on the top of the mountain and a small temple.
After the trip back down, they take you back to the centre and that’s it for the day. Some people slept during the afternoon, some went shopping or something like this, but I took the chance and decided to visit my school class once again. This was so cool, because they were again just happy, and we had a lot of fun. I wasn’t there as a teacher, so I got to join them a lot more.
The last day of the Adventure Week, the Friday was meant for pure relaxation after the intense hike and week you had. They give you traditional Balinese massage and then you’re free to do what you want. If you have the chance and time do at least the Mount Batur sunrise hike, it was by far the best part of the week, but I can also recommend doing the whole Adventure Week as it was a really good experience.
The fourth and final part of my travels with was supposed to be a beach week, but due to the fact, that I had so much fun on Nusa Penida with the turtles and the coordinators and enjoyed the work there so much I decided to change the week of doing nothing to another week on Nusa Penida. This week was not so much different than the first one, but there were a lot more people this time and so they had to move the meals from the centre to a restaurant that is next to the beach, so you had breakfast, lunch and dinner with a sea view including the highest volcano on Bali, the Mount Agur, which was just beautiful.
As you can see, I used the words ‘cool’, ‘fun’, ‘amazing’, ‘beautiful’ and so on a lot in this text, because even after a long time I can still not find better words to describe this experience.
I made so many new friends, experienced so much new and (again) amazing stuff and just had the time of my life. I still really miss Bali and that says a lot! Pictures that I’ve taken during this time are already hung up in my apartment and I also made myself a phone case with one of the pictures that I took.
If you’re thinking about doing a volunteer program in Bali I can absolutely and with all my heart just recommend it. Don’t be anxious about it, just do it. You won’t regret it.The last thing I want to do is thank all the employees in Bali for enabling this amazing time and for always being there for you, no matter what. As your coordinators lovingly said, we, the volunteers, are now part of a big and great family on Bali and I really feel that way. Also, thanks to all the other volunteers from all over the world who joined me on my travels who became really, really good friends to me.
Thank you all and Sampai Jumpa!