It is impossible to speak about Bali in the last few years without a more than passing association with Eat, Pray, Love – the literary phenomenon of lost, self discovery and ultimately, love from American author Elizabeth Gilbert. A tale of Elizabeth’s search for balance and self after a crushing divorce set her on a spiral of depression, her search takes her to Italy, which constitutes the culinary portion of the book title, India, where, holed up in an ashram in meditation, she discovers her inner spirituality, and finally, Bali, where she found love.
The book has been such a hit that ‘Eat Pray Love pilgrims’ have been visiting Bali, people coming from all over the world, drawn by the vivid descriptions painted by Gilbert, seeking their own versions of discovery. Not unlike the ‘Sound of Music tourist’ in Salzburg, skipping about in Mirabell Gardens and the famous gazebo, these Eat Pray Lovers roam about, clutching well-thumbed copies of the book, trying to identify places where the book (and later, film starring Julia Roberts) describes and to experience what Elizabeth Gilbert experienced during her time in Bali (primarily Ubud). And the local tourism infrastructure has cashed in, with drivers eager to point out places where iconic scenes were filmed, and where Julia Roberts stayed whilst in Bali (Four Seasons), and that Ketut the medicine man ‘is not the man he was since success came to him’.
Old lady selling baskets and other rattan products at Ubud Market
Eggs for sale
Lady preparing offerings
Fish for sale in baskets at Ubud market
The book and film paint a very romanticised picture of Bali, which to be honest, is not too far away from the truth. I worry about falling into the western trap of romanticising poverty and ‘a simpler way of life’ when evidently, those at the ‘unromantic’ end of the equation have understandable desires for a television or a new moped and the other little luxuries development brings. An incredibly laid-back, spiritual and idyllic place (assuming you avoid the mayhem that is Kuta), our week in Ubud, Bali allowed us a glimpse at life in the slow lane, and it is intoxicating.
A bucolic utopia
A rice farmer’s best friend, ducks not only eat the pests that plague their crop, they also fertilise the soil with their droppings.
Bucolic paddy fields and fruit trees growing wild, children catching fish with little nets by the stream, chickens scratching on the ground for worms in generations-old traditional family compounds, it certainly makes our addiction to smart phones and tight schedules seem a bit bewildering.
Eating in Italy, Praying in India and Loving in Bali? I think that Elizabeth Gilbert could possibly have saved herself some time (and money on airfares and attendant fuel surcharges) by finding all three in Bali.
Cocoa pods growing on the tree
Cocoa pod and nutmeg