Bali Jet Lag Journal: “Rustic” in the West Bali Forest
My mom is an adventurer. She won’t rough it, or sign up for death-defying activities, she doesn’t even really swim, and yet she is one of the most adventurous people I know. In my lifetime, I watched her earn her second degree and graduate in her cap and gown with Obama as commencement speaker, become a volunteer superstar for a nonprofit baby health clinic in Kentucky, conquer an illness that made her look like she was on a hunger strike, move to city after city after city and always make a nice home for me, and then when she turned 60, she moved to Manhattan, got a job at the Met, and spends every single day furthering her art education at painting class at the Art Students League. (She also befriends and mentors random girls, and that’s a little weird, but whatever.) The woman is Annette Funicello and Cruella de Vil wrapped up in one.
So when I planned our trip to Bali, I told her the date we were flying in, and the date we were flying out, and nothing else. She didn’t know where we were staying, what towns we were visiting, or what I had planned. When I told her how this trip was going to go down, she paused and then said, like the Hialeah High cheerleader she is, “OK! Yes! I can do that!” She was game to live in the moment and take each day as it came. So on our last night in Gili T when I informed her that we were going to take a road trip across all of Bali to end up at West Bali National Park, she surprised me by whining, “Ohhhh! Elizabeth! That sounds awwwful! Ohhh god, really?? You’re not going to make me camp, are you?” Not exactly. She was game, but she didn’t trust me.
When we finally arrived in West Bali, we drove through a pitch black, completely uninhabited forest to reach The Menjangan, which rose from the trees like a tower out of the imagination of Hansel & Gretel. They fed us sushi, checked us in, and put us on the top of a van with a giant spotlight into the woods to transport us to our beach villa.
When we woke up and the sunlight filled our room, we discovered that we could roll from our back porch and into the ocean. That’s when Mom knew that she was wrong to worry – why would I make her camp on our mother-daughter honeymoon? Luxury is the goal! There was nothing to do here except eat breakfast on the dock (Mom had ramen soup, which is always a fun treat to have for breakfast in Asia), receive spa treatments from small open-air huts on the water, and sketch and read on the shore.
Here, the stars were so plentiful that you could actually see Mars and a faraway galaxy (search me to the know the name of it) with the naked eye. Borrowing a snorkel and mask was one of my favorite resort amenities, because with a jump off the jetty I found myself floating over neon yellow and blue coral reefs. I followed sea turtles and the entire cast of Finding Nemo as the reefs bubbled and fizzed beneath me. The fish glowed, and I do believe that one had the exact markings of my childhood Pocket Rocker. I do think ocean life is pretty scary, so I snorkeled in small bursts just to cool off from the sun. It was beautiful, but I wanna be where the people are.
The shells were tiny and perfect, so they were fun to collect and easy to carry home with us.
When we were deposited at our beach villa, we were given a walkie-talkie in order to call for rides into the forest to Bali Tower. This was a beautiful, tall treehouse where we watched the sunsets and had nice seafood dinners. During sunset, Mom and I serenaded the other guests, who were all couples on a romantic trip, with a short rendition of Bali Ha’i. After we sang romantically together (we were not applauded), Mom informed me, “We’re better lovers than they are.”
For her birthday dinner, the chef prepared bright green, chewy balls filled with molasses and covered in coconut flakes. It took about 5 full minutes to get one down, but we appreciated the gesture.
In addition to spa treatments and snorkeling, we took a guided forest trek. We found two tiny owls nestled together on a tree branch, held sea cucumbers and starfish (they can really move), transplanted spiky sea urchins onto the shore so that we won’t swim with them later, marveled at about a dozen monkeys, and then found an enormous snake slithering through a hole in a cliff. “You’re so lucky!” our guide informed us. “Some people stay here a whole week and they never get to see a snake!” So lucky.