Should I Go to Bali Part 1: A lesson in taking risks, hardship, and appreciationOver and over, before we even set foot on this trip, I wondered, “Should I even go to Bali?” Bali’s just not me.

We knew better. I’d already learned this lesson (4 years ago in Nicaragua) and I didn’t feel the need to learn it again. 

On April 23rd we traveled from New Zealand to Bali, something we’ve repeatedly noted to be one of the most extreme transitions in travel.

New Zealand: wealthy, immaculately clean, mountainous, cold.

Bali: poor, tropical, polluted, hot.

What were we thinking when we booked? Well the thing is, unlike the rest of the trips we’ve taken, we didn’t decide and book things all at once.

It started with a plane ticket to Hawaii. Then it was a ticket to New Zealand then a plane from New Zealand to Bali. Next thing you know we’ve got a 3-month trip planned. All of our flights cost a mere $200 from place to place. And since we were trying to travel cheap, we found a house on the beach of a famous left-hand break, Medewi for only $750 for an entire month and booked it without a second thought, which would become another problem in itself. 

Related blog: Things You Should Know Before Booking a Trip to New Zeland

We had no idea it would be so expensive to get back home from Bali. The cheapest price we could find from Bali to LA was $500 each. For about 3 months we worked our asses off at home to try to be able to afford tickets to get home and all the while we seriously contemplated losing the money and ditching Bali.

I can’t tell you the amount of times we went back and forth between going or not.

We pro-conned it dozens of times. We wondered if Bali was going to be worth it. We knew Bali wasn’t even our element. It was tropical beaches but we’re mountain people at heart. But we were still surfers and we were still bloggers and we were still a family that seeked new experiences–that seeked adventure.

We thought that if we took the high road and skipped Bali, we probably wouldn’t be back here for a very very long time. Quite simply, our time as nomads was coming to a roadblock and while we will always be nomads, it was time for a break from this fast paced travel life. Certain members of our family needed a break, and more importantly we needed money.

In addition, my older brother, Daniel, is almost 19 and as kid whose been homeschooled his whole life, he was ready to take a small step into the world and have a little independence and was planning on volunteering at some farms over the summer. This might be the last time he travels with us. 

So the supporting facts on the pros side of our I Should Go To Bali list were:

  1. If we wanted to see Bali we needed to do it now, because with what we’ve learned about ourselves, we know our hearts may never guide us back to Bali.
  2. If we wanted 1 more chance to travel as a family, the 7 Robledos, we needed to go to Bali.
  3. If we wanted to surf one of the best left-hand point breaks in the world, we needed to go to Bali.
  4. It would go against everything we preach if we don’t go. Bali is a risk. And risk is good. We have the money to get through Bali but when we get home we’d be at $0. We’d be completely starting over and in some ways that was also a pro to us. A very scary pro. 

None of us wanted to go back to San Diego and the lifestyle and routine we had there. What we had in San Diego let us live our dreams this long but I think I can speak for my whole family when I say we were done with it.

Related Blog: Outdoor Adventure Guide to San Diego

San Diego Family pic

I knew—we all knew— that we couldn’t grow as people if we came back to San Diego . . . and growth is what we wanted. 

So we had 3 ways to play our cards.

  • Don’t take that big of a risk, ditch Bali and fly home from New Zealand (almost half the price for those plane tickets).
  • The second option, go to Bali and don’t book tickets home until we get there. This would basically be our wild card, our way out if the going gets tough. But this too involved some risk, we managed to make enough money for flights home and although it would give us a way out early if we wanted, we’d be taking the risk that plane ticket would go up in price.
  • And the third option would be to book the tickets now, in our head (and by “in our head” I mean my mom and I since we are the only ones who plan our trips) ensuring that the we’d get the cheapest tickets possible. We subconsciously knew by choosing this option was how we were forcing our own hand to change our future

1 month until departing, we chose the third option.

In just a few hours of being in Bali, everything we feared it would be was sort of coming true. Now keep in mind you never truly know what to expect when you visit any country.

People can tell you, 'oh you'll love it,' or, 'it's beautiful there,' but you really don't know a place until you get there. Click To Tweet

So here we are in a van with a hired driver. It’s rush hour on the busiest and craziest road in Bali and our driver is insane.

I’ve sat in the car as my parents have driven us in countries with crazy driving like Costa Rica, Italy, and dirt roads in the US backcountry. Nothing compares to the madhouse that is Balinese driving. I’m a compulsive backseat driver and a chill one at that but I’ve never experienced that amount of stress while riding in a car.  It’s a two-lane road but it’s treated more like a 4-lane road because more than half of the people in Bali drive motorbikes and since they’re so small, cars and motorbikes drive side by side despite the fact that there’s breathing room only between them.

The cars are practically bumper to bumper and we’re driving 40kph, but the driver insists on passing anyone going slightly slower than him. You know how normally you only pass if you are confident that you will have enough time/room to pass and won’t get hit by an oncoming car? That logic doesn’t exist in Balinese drivers. It more like, I’m passing whether I have room to pass or not and an oncoming car can stop if they have to. My older brother, who hates all things driving, almost died on the ride. 

To make matters worse, we arrive in Medewi 3 hours from the tourist-centric part of the island and when my mom asks to stop at a grocery store, we basically find a pulperia (to those who’ve been to Nicaragua), a mini store filled with dried, packaged, unhealthy foods and no produce or meat. So we grab rice, peanuts, and 4 eggs and get back in the car for 5 minutes and follow the house manager to a narrow driveway on the side of the road.

Should I go to Bali (Part 1): Medewi Bali

Our big family unloads on the side of a crazy 2-lane road and walks down a dirt road filled with piles of trash. We arrive at a 2-story house in the middle of rice fields. The house has beautiful views of the beach and of the point break, a 10 minute walk east, but we instantly notice that all of the rooms are separated and I’m taken back to our Nicaragua experience, as if I haven’t already been having flashbacks of that trip in the short time we’ve been here. It’s an odd thing that you wouldn’t think anyone would particularly dislike but it’s more of a comfort thing.  In America, houses are things like barricades.  Built to block out everything from the outside world.  In America, people don’t leave their house unless they are going somewhere. When rooms are separated like that, it goes against a deeply ingrained sense of comfort that we are accustomed to in the USA.

Putting the layout issue aside, we were starving, so the manager brings us down the concrete pathway lined with the greatest amount of litter I’ve ever seen, to the beach where there is a little warung (restaurant). Little did we know that we’d be eating at this restaurant multiple times a day every single day.

The restaurant was extremely cheap and was run by two Balinese women. The food was delicious, not 5 star restaurant delicious or French delicious but delicious in a way that the food was flavorful and you were just so damn hungry that you wanted to eat and were happy to be able to eat a lot.

Should I go to Bali (Part 1): Medewi Bali

When evening came, we were all a little bit scared to sleep in a really dark room all separated from each other but I was able to rationalize the childlike fear to go to sleep that night. 

I went to bed feeling pretty hopeless to the fact that this month was going to suck.

Another big thing to note is that the house we rented has 0 wifi and the world’s slowest cell service. I don’t mean to sound like an iPhone obsessed teenager, in fact, I feel I’m quite the opposite. I don’t like how technology drives the world and how many, including myself, depend on it to make a living.

But to any blogger, workaholic, or entrepreneur out there, you understand the struggle of being unable to work on your website/business for an entire month. If you’re not that kind of person let me explain to you this way. To succeed in blogging or business you have to nurture your blog/biz every second of every day in order for it to shine and be the thing you want it to be. To lose that ability for an entire month is devastating.  Along with no wifi in the house, we have no car and there is no decent wifi within a half hour (by foot) radius. We had no choice but to let our blog/business be. 

The Airbnb is also located in a Muslim community, not a problem until we realized just how close our house was to the 2 surrounding mosques. The loud sounds of prayers woke us up that morning before dawn, which didn’t really help our fatigue. 

Should I go to Bali (Part 1): Medewi Bali

I knew that if I was feeling this hopeless and distressed about our situation, my mom was going to be 10x worse. I feared even going upstairs because I thought she’d be in a mini-panicked state. She was.

And here’s the icing on the cake, that morning the electricity and water went out.

We contacted the house manager who would later come to fix the electricity and water but all our phones and computers were pretty much dead. 

All morning I just kept thinking, why are we here. Why would we have decided to stay in a rural town as far as you can get from the part of Bali everyone else goes to, in a house with no wifi, and no car to get anywhere?

So finally, I get off my whiny ass and we go find a place to eat and more importantly we go surf. After all, that’s why we were in this rural, 3rd world village. We came for the world-class break that can become the longest left in Bali (in case you didn’t know this, my mom has a thing for lefts).

Should I go to Bali (Part 1): Medewi Bali

My parents were a little nervous to leave the other kids at home by themselves. We just got there and we didn’t really know how safe it was. So we decided to bring them when we went to go surf.

We walked down the pathway through the rice fields then headed east and walked along the motorbike road. The air smells so pungently of burning trash you try not to breath too deeply.

We walked past houses that were more like shelters than buildings. People were sitting in shacks they called their homes—no water, electricity, chairs, or comforts oevery day of their lives. Their homes must’ve been so incredibly hot in the constant 80+ degree weather. People sat on the ground, covered in dirt, staring at my family as we passed because what else did they have to do. Kids were squatted down, half naked, happy and playing in the dirt.

Despite the painfully impoverished lives these people lived, they’d smile and say, “hallo” to us as we passed as we smiled back.

I felt like I was back in Nicaragua again.

When you see that kind of poverty it would be impossible to not be moved by how people so poor can still manage to find some happiness.Click To Tweet

If you were able to not feel appreciative for the life you have after seeing poverty like that, I’d be shocked. 

The short walk seemed to take an eternity because of how harshly the sun beat down here. Finally we reached the river mouth that we had no trouble crossing due to low tide. We found a restaurant at the point and ate breakfast there. The food was 3-4x as expensive as the large dinner we ate the night before but at least the restaurant had a meager wifi signal and electricity to charge our phones.

At that point, we didn’t want wifi to work, we wanted a way out. 

My mom already had 5 different ideas of how to get out of here, but I wasn’t really buying any of them. Sure they all sounded great—a Kickstarter, a product launch, a donation based webinar—but they were far out, we weren’t going to be able to make an extra $3500 dollar to get tickets to leave Bali early. And as I said that I thought to myself, do you know how entitled that sounds.

First of all, there are hundreds of Americans caught up in the rat race that half-heartedly wish they could be in Bali, though not this part of Bali. 

Second, I just walked past dozens of poor people that will be stuck here for the rest of their lives and here I am wishing I could leave early.

Making a ridiculous sum of money was unlikely to happen and if we did somehow, spending that money on extra plane tickets instead of folding it and putting it in our pocket would just be dumb.  My mom caught herself too.  

We paid our ridiculously expensive check and went to surf. I hopped down the rocks to paddle around the side to the point, my parents right behind me. As I’m performing the rock dance I’m thinking, no problem, just like Raglan. I get a little deeper, the rocks get a little mossier, I’ve done this a hundred times, I put weight on my board to take the weight off my feet, then suddenly I slip slightly and instead of quickly catching myself and continuing, I catch myself but think, shit, I just sliced my foot opened.  Ugh, whatever, suck it up, Gabi. We were warned: the rocks are really sharp in Medewi. But what do you do, not surf? 

Should I go to Bali (Part 1): Medewi Bali

It’s not like this was a really big issue. Surfers get reef cuts all the time. But it’s little things like this that keep arising.  Aaaaand the cuts did take like a month to heal.

Consistent little hardships in our days that make the rewards less “worth it.” 

We finished our surf at mid tide. Repeatedly, people had told us that you can only cross at low tide and we unwisely listened to them. So we walked back on the road, the same 2 lane road with insane drivers.

Among multi pitch climbs, getting lost in caves, and surfing 10 foot Sopelana, that might top the list as the scariest moments of my life. Click To Tweet

The worst part was when we reached a 2 lane bridge over the river where we couldn’t walk on the shoulder of the road. One at a time we waited until there were no cars and we each sprinted across the bridge.  Finally, we reached the house and we all just collapsed on the steps of the porch once again thinking, why the hell did we come here

Should I go to Bali (Part 1): Medewi Bali

Needless to say, the first 48 hours were hard. Tell me, if this were you would you not be a bit uncomfortable, angry, distressed, or frustrated in this situation?

Click here to read Part 2! PS part 2 is way better than part 1 😉

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Should I Go to Bali Part 1: A lesson in taking risks, hardship, and appreciation