Jan 11, 2017- Big Tree Chocolate Factory Tour


The Creation of Chocolate!

See more photos here: https://flic.kr/s/aHskN7oJJ6

The Bali Silent Retreat is quite remote and there are no taxis or Ubers nearby. Thankfully, the retreat helped coordinate a ride for me half way with another guest who was a part time yoga instructor and retired from a career in finance. He now works in travel journalism and was on his way to evaluate the Ritz Carlton in Ubud. He was one lucky guy! I then took a taxi to the Big Tree Chocolate Factory where I met Franki and Ranah.

The tour started promptly at 2:00pm and costed 60,000 IDR which included chocolate tasting. I was surprised at how intensity of the security confident leaving my large backpack with them. I had to check in at the entrance and was provided a visitor pass. Afterwards, I was escorted to the waiting room with the rest of the tour group. Even when I stepped outside of the room to find a toilet, I was instantly greeted by security who gave me directions.

The tour was magnificent and went above and beyond my expectations. First, we were led upstairs in the beautifully constructed bamboo building to the visitor area. We got to try coco beans from the actual pod! The outside tasted like mangostein and once you crunched into the bean it tasted like a vegetable… similar to a raw string bean. We got the chance to try the chocolate at every stage and even the completed form! An overview of the manufacturing process was also provided. From the hand peeling of the coco beans from their shells, to the Swiss machine of the 1930s used to help form the chocolate. I loved the tour and would definitely go back! Franki and my dream of trying raw chocolate came true here. In the end, I ended up purchasing one 61% Dark Chocolate bar. It’s called Wonder Chocolate – Cold Processed & Coconut Palm Nectar Sweetened and tastes incredible!


Jan 9-11, 2017 – Bali Silent Retreat


My last dish from the buffet (the rest I ate too quickly!)

See more photos here: https://flic.kr/s/aHskQTaGGi

Before heading out to my silent retreat, I had to try a yoga class at Ubud Yoga House. I had a wonderful time and it is now my favourite yoga studio in Ubud (out of the three that I tried)! Having the studio located in the middle of rice terraces definitely sets the atmosphere and mood for your practice. I loved that my instructor was Indonesia. Although he was casually dressed in a white tee-shirt and khaki shorts, he gave great instructions and moved around the class to correct poses. The instructor was also able to accommodate multiple skill levels. The class I went to was considered to be large (17 people) but I was happy to get a front row spot next to an older woman from Norway who had come to Bali for three months to practice yoga.

Although my morning was relaxing and very enjoyable, it quickly changed when I was trying to catch an Uber to the Bali Silent Retreat.

First of all, the price had increased three times the normal price so I had to wait over 30 minutes for them to drop to a reasonable rate. Once I confirmed my Uber and she came to pick me up, a taxi drivers from the street came over to harass her and wouldn’t let her drive me. So I got out and kept walking. My Uber driver circled a couple more times before I had to literally jump into her car and closed the door behind me. The retreat was about 2 hours away and we had to detour once because a bridge had been broken. I was so thankful when I finally arrived at the retreat!

I was warmly welcomed at the reception of Bali Silent Retreat (where you can talk) and was provided an overview of the rules, amenities, program schedule, etc. Next, I was given an in-person tour and shown where my dishes, lockbox, and dormitory was located. There is a bit of a misconception that you must be silent at all times during the retreat. That is true about 90% of the time. If you have a question, you are welcome to ask any staff member. During workshops you are also welcome to ask questions. Also, after meditation or yoga meditation many participants will say “Namastay”.

I had arrived just in time to catch the afternoon meditation class. I grabbed a yoga mat and cushion and joined about 6 other people. It was the first time I had ever meditated in my life and I found it difficult to concentrate. In the future, I think I may start with 3 minutes per day and work my way up. As I tried more meditation during my stay, I found the exercises quite interesting. For example, during one of them, you visualize looking at yourself from the front, back, and sides. Then look at yourself internally. Then listen to all of the sounds around you and let go of any thoughts.

I also attended a meditation workshop during my stay which was really thought-provoking. The speaker was originally from Sweden and coordinates yoga retreats all over the world. He believed that the definition of meditation for himself was “accepting life as it is”. I liked that he recommended siting in the most comfortable position when meditating and not in the traditional Instagram pose (cross legged with your hands on your knees). Meditation is different for everyone and I liked hearing about how meditation had helped balance out the high and low points in his high life. I also learned that you can meditate anywhere (bus, airport etc.)!

After having my first dinner, I realized that the food was absolutely incredible, and over the next couple days I sometimes felt uncomfortable meditating or doing yoga because I was so stuffed! Everything was inspired by “New Balance Earth” cooking. All the dishes were either vegetarian or vegan. The tea station was set up so that you take the leaves or cut the root of an edible plant that you want and then add it to boiling water. The salads at lunch included homemade dressing and again, you cut off the amount of foliage that you wanted from the table. Every meal was a buffet and you could go back as many times as you liked.

During my stay there, my body would rise and set with the sun, waking me up around 6:00am and going to sleep around 8:00pm. The retreat is off the grid so most areas do not have light after the sun goes down.  I was impressed by some of the sustainability solutions they had implemented. For example:

  • Bathroom lights in the main building have timers
  • Tea and salad options are literally leaves that you tear from a larger part of the plant
  • Cows for composting food
  • Banana leaf cups in the yoga studio
  • Bags made of recycled newspaper
  • Retreat participants wash their own plates and cutlery and keep the same set for the duration of their stay

Overall, I loved my experience! During a silent retreat, there is no pressure to meet people or make new friends. The property was large enough that I could be alone almost anywhere (ex: the jungle walk, labyrinth wall activity, etc), but was close enough to others that I didn’t feel isolated.  I enjoyed being able to participate in group activities or having the option to do whatever I wanted. My favourite place was the water temple where you sit on a stone while cool water pours over your head. It is a great place to ponder. Ultimately, the best part of the retreat includes discovering more about yourself. I loved that I got to disconnect from my electrical devices. No beeps of notifications or nagging emails. Just being ever-present felt very freeing.


Jan 8, 2017 – Puri Lukisan Museum and Acro Yoga


Acro Yoga at the Yoga Barn (Photo taken by Franki Katz)

See more photos here: https://www.flickr.com/gp/140043503@N03/66b997 

The three of us had a bit of a lazy day. We ventured to a water temple beside the Central Palace and saw a couple more rice fields before visiting the Puri Lukisam Museum. The museum was established in 1956, making it the oldest art museum in Ubud. It was founded to preserve and exhibit modern-traditional Balinese art. According to the information on my ticket, it is “home to the finest collection of paintings and woodcarvings of the Balinese Modernist era (1930s – 1942)”. The paintings and woodcarving were magnificent and I found the modern art collection very interesting as well.

In the evening, we ran into our frield Lanie from Gili T and invited her to join a free Acro Yoga class with us at the Yoga Barn. Acro Yoga is extremely fun and involves a lot of trust!

Jan 7, 2017 – Campuhan Ridge Walk, Goa Gajah (Elephant Temple), and the Tegalalang Rice Terrace


Goa Gajah (Elephant Temple)

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Ranah, Franki, and I had not done any hiking recently, so we decided to try the Campuhan Ridge Walk. It takes less than an hour to complete and provided some great views of the surrounding jungle. The three of us had hopes of seeing some rice terraces, however, the Campuhan Ridge Walk has none to offer. So afterwards, we took some lesser known paths following a nearby river. At first, we were just hiking in the jungle and didn’t find any rice terraces. I did happen to spot a rare Balinese black monkey. Unfortunately, I didn’t get any photos of it. As we left the river’s edge and were heading back to the main road, we finally stumbled upon some rice terraces! Yay, what a relief!

Following our quest to find rice terraces, Franki, Ranah, and I took an Uber to Goa Gajah, also known as the Elephant Temple. The cave’s façade looks quite menacing! The interior has about a 13 meter long hallway that leads to a T-junction with several statues inside. The cave dates back to the 11th century and was discovered in 1922.

Just before sunset, the three of us headed to the Tegalalang Rice terraces which is one of the largest rice terraces in Ubud! I loved it!

Jan 6, 2017 – A Balinese Cooking Class in the Middle of Rice Fields


Our Cooking Class at Canting Bali (Laplapan Village, Ubud)

See more photos here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/140043503@N03/?

A van picked us up from our hostel and one other family before stopping at the Ubud Market. There, we were shown which ingredients we would be using during our Balinese cooking class and provided information about the market and Balinese cuisine in general. It definitely gave me a better understanding and deeper appreciation of Balinese cooking.

Next, our tour guide then drove for about half an hour until we reached some lovely rice terraces. Our group walked along the rice fields with cute quacking ducks and right into an open dining room and cooking studio! A second group joined us. We all got outfitted with aprons, instructions, and then got to work, chopping, slicing, frying, crushing, etc. It almost felt like I was on the famous TV show Iron Chef! At the end of our cooking journey, we had a spectacular feast that everyone shared!

By the end of our class our group had created:

  • Basa Gede (Basic Sauce)
  • Soup Ayam Jamur (Chicken Mushroom Soup)
  • Tempe Lalah Manis (Sweet Fried Tempe)
  • Tahu Kare (Tofu Curry)
  • Sate Lilit (Marinated Fish Skewers)
  • Lawar Bali (Mixed Vegetables with Coconut and Balinese Spices)
  • Pepes Tuna (Grilled Tuna in Banana Leaf)
  • Sambal Matah (Raw Sambal)
  • Dadar Gulung (Rolled Crepe with Coconut and Palm Sugar) – My Favourite!

On our way back to our hostel, we each got a recipe book to take home. Overall, I highly recommend the company we did it through: Canting Bali Cooking Class Laplapan Village. It was an outstanding experience!

Jan 5, 2017 – Ubud’s Monkey Forest and a Balinese Dance Performance


A Balinese Long-Tailed Monkey in the Monkey Forest

See more photos here: https://flic.kr/s/aHskQmAmUu

I started off my day with another yoga class, but this time at RAl Vinyasa class at Radiant Yoga which was very close to our hostel. I had a lot of fun and loved being in the front row!

Later on, Franki, Ranah, and I walked around Central Palace located across from the public market. It is the official residence of the royal family of Ubud and has many decorative gates.

Not too far away is the famous Monkey Forest. I had heard several stories of the monkeys stealing peoples belonging and acting very aggressive so I went in with these expectations. Luckily, the monkeys were not as mischievous as I had thought. As long as you have all of your important belongings out of site and you are not feeding the monkeys bananas – you will be fine! The Hindu Temple complex within the Monkey Forest is magnificent and quite large. Over 700 monkeys live there.

In the evening, the three of us went back to the Central Palace to attend a Balinese dance performance.  It was accompanied by live music and all the performers wore spectacular costumes!

Jan 4, 2017 – The Peaceful and Yoga-Centric City of Ubud


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Ubud has quite the opposite atmosphere from Gili T. It’s peaceful city with great food, shopping, and yoga. It is very much a tropical version of Vancouver and I could easily see myself living there along with the large expat community already established. Many older women I met in Ubud seemed to take the principles of “Eat Pray Love” to heart and were trying to find themselves through yoga.

Today, I tried a Vinyasa Flow class at the Yoga Barn. It is the largest and most popular yoga studio in Ubud. I found the class to be very good but too crowded for my liking. There were about 50 people in the raised studio overlooking lush jungle. Ranah, Franki, and I also had lunch at their café. I got a dill and cucumber chilled soup which was delicious!

We spent the rest of the day walking around and exploring. For dinner we went to Black Beach Restaurant which serves amazing thin crust Neapolitan style pizza!

Dec 29 – Jan 3, 2017 – Celebrating the New Year on Gili Trawangan, Lombok


See more photos here: https://flic.kr/s/aHskML2sAC

After our adventures apart, Franki, Ranah, and I rendezvoused at our hostel called “Up to You” on the Island of Gili Trawangan or also known as Gili T. Of the three Gili Islands off of Lombok, Gili T is known as the party island for young people, Gili Meno is better suited for couples, and Gili Air is more family oriented. We chose Gili T because we wanted a fun place to celebrate New Year Eve in Indonesia. It is also very accessible from Bali.

During our time on this small island we:

  • Watched the beautiful sunsets
  • Visited the turtle conservation centre on the beach
  • Went snorkeling on the beach
    • Franki and I went snorkeling off one section of the beach and found 2 hawksbill turtles!!! One of them we watched eat sea grass for a good ten minutes. It was ginormous and very relaxed.
  • Ate the incredible barbequed corn sold by street vendors
  • Visited the night market for dinner
  • Went on a sorkeling/island hopping tour
  • Partied
  • Biked around the island
  • Relaxed in resort pools
  • Met lots of new friends
  • Tried not to get too sunburnt

Dec 28, 2016 – Broken Bay (Pasih Uug) and Angel’s Billabong


Angel’s Billabong

See more photos here: https://flic.kr/s/aHskMU5xJZ

After finding breakfast outside my hostel for 15000 IDR ($1.5 CDN) and discovering which ferry to take next, I headed to Broken Bay and Angel’s Billabong. Both were about a 5 minute walk from each other but the ride there took over an hour. It rained in the morning so some of the road had puddles and muddy patches. Additionally, the road got progressively worse the closer you got closer to the sites. I felt like I was mountain biking on my scooter!

Once I got off the “broken road” to Broken Bay, I could finally stop to catch my breath. In front of me stood a beautiful rock archway encasing a small beach (although I don’t think you could swim there because the surf is so strong).

A short walk away is Angel’s Billabong, another natural wonder. It is a natural infinity pool overlooking the ocean with several large caverns with fish and sea urchins. I went swimming in it and checked out the sea life below! If you continue walking, you can see the waves crashing into the rocks creating huge bursts of spray.

I stopped by a small night market close to my hostel for dinner. For dessert, I got ice cream for 8000 IDR (80 cents) and a bubble tea for 6000 IDR (60 cents). The food on Nusa Penida is much cheaper than in Bali.


Dec 27, 2016 – Nusa Penida’s Crystal Bay and Gammet Bay


Crystal Bay

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Today I scooted towards the other side of the island to Crystal Bay (named after its crystal clear water) which took about 40 minutes. It’s located in Banjar Penida, Sakti Village and is only 20 minutes from Toyapakeh.  It is one of my favourite beaches and was absolutely stunning!

I brought my goggles and literally swam to the site where the other tourists paid to snorkel and saw lots of really neat fish. I also did some reading and enjoyed sitting in the shade drinking from a fresh coconut!

After talking to a local, I was recommend to visit nearby Gammet Bay so I scootered over there next. The hike down to it wasn’t too bad and I was rewarded with a beautiful black sand beach that was entirely deserted and teeming with corals. The water was good but was a little too shallow and wavy for swimming. So, I decided to do some yoga on the beach instead.

On the way back to my hostel, I stopped at a Green Lion Turtle Conservation Centre. It wasn’t really set up for public viewing, but I decided to have a look anyways. There were about 30 tanks with hawksbill turtles of various ages. After about 8 months they are released. There were several volunteers cleaning out tanks and giving medicine to the turtles. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get too much info because everyone was so busy.

I finished my day overlooking the water with mango juice in one hand and a plate of cap cay in the other. YUM!