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Should I Go To Bali (Part 1): A Lesson in Taking Risks, Hardship, and Appreciation

Over 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, 2018, 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 this? 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. In our pursuit of budget travel, we snagged a beach house at Medewi, a renowned surf spot, for just $750 for the entire month.

However, this impulsive booking would pose its own challenge.

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 weighed the pros and cons repeatedly, questioning if Bali would truly be worthwhile, knowing it wasn’t our ideal environment. 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.

Deciding to bypass Bali meant potentially staying away for an extended period. Our nomadic lifestyle faced a roadblock, prompting a much-needed break from the fast-paced travel. Some family members needed respite, and crucially, financial stability was imperative.

Additionally, my older brother Daniel, nearly 19 and homeschooled all his life, sought independence by planning to volunteer on farms over 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.

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 tickets would go up in price.
  • The third option, handled by my mom and me, includes booking tickets in advance for better prices. Subconsciously, we understood this choice would compel us to change our future.

1 month before 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.

[click_to_tweet tweet=”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. ” quote=”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. “]

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 been in cars navigating through countries with intense driving, such as Costa Rica, Italy, and US backcountry dirt roads. However, nothing compares to the chaotic driving in Bali. Despite my usually calm demeanor as a backseat driver, my stress levels reached an unprecedented high. The roads, nominally two lanes, function more like four due to the prevalence of motorbikes. Given their small size, cars and motorbikes often drive side by side with minimal breathing room.

Cars crawl bumper to bumper at 40kph, yet our driver recklessly overtakes slower vehicles, ignoring safety norms. In Bali, passing is impulsive, with little concern for oncoming traffic. My older brother, who hates all things driving, almost died from stress on the ride.

We had a setback arriving in Medewi. It was far from the touristy areas and when we went searching for groceries, we found only limited options—a small store lacking fresh produce or meat. Grabbing essentials like rice, peanuts, and a few eggs, we quickly resumed our journey, following the house manager to a narrow driveway nearby.

We parked by a bustling 2-lane road and strolled past trash piles to a stunning 2-story house amid rice fields. Despite its beautiful views of the beach and a nearby point break, the segmented rooms trigger memories of Nicaragua. It’s an odd discomfort, contrary to the enclosed comfort we’re used to in the USA.

Putting the layout issue aside, we were starving, so the manager brought us down the concrete pathway lined with the greatest amount of litter I’ve ever seen, to the beach where there was 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.

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 had no 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.

For bloggers, workaholics, and entrepreneurs, not working on your site/business for a month is a struggle. Success in these fields demands constant nurturing. Without Wi-Fi at home or nearby, we couldn’t tend to our blog/business due to lack of transportation.

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.

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).

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 every 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? Many kids were squatted down 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.

[click_to_tweet tweet=”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.” quote=”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.”]

If you were able to not feel appreciative of 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, which luckily we had no trouble crossing since it was 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 and 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 with 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 and 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 open.  Ugh, whatever, suck it up, Gabi. We were warned: the rocks are really sharp in Medewi. But what do you do, not surf?

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 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.

[click_to_tweet tweet=”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. ” quote=”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. “]

We faced a challenge crossing a narrow bridge, waiting for gaps between cars to sprint across. Exhausted, we reached the house, collapsing on the porch, questioning our decision to come.

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 😉

Did you enjoy Part 1?  Let me know in the comments!

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

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Tuesday 14th of July 2020

Nice blog glad I discovered it ! it's good to see how you guys went from Medewi to Canggu, yet without it Canggu won't feel as great. Every experience builds up.


Sunday 19th of July 2020

Absolutely! Perspective is great teacher of gratitude :)

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