When you think of Bali I’m sure things like infinity pools, lush spas, white sand beaches and relaxation usually come to mind. If this is what you’re looking for, come to Bali and you will find it. For $1,000/night and a very small chance of any type of cultural immersion you can have a Pinterest-inspired resort style dream vacation. Considering this goes against everything I believe in as a budget traveler, I chose an alternate route – Couchsurfing with a Balinese family in Ubud, the cultural heart of Bali.
I’ve been a member of the Couchsurfing community for close to three years but have just began using this amazing resource. For those who don’t know how it works, here is a basic run-down:
Hosts/surfers have profiles containing information about themselves and their travels. If a host has space they will offer a couch, mattress or sleeping bag on the floor at no cost. Rest assured, you are able to see reviews from everyone that has ever stayed with the host so you get a good idea of what you’re in for. This organization has gotten huge over the past few years and almost every long-term traveler I meet uses Couchsurfing regularly to save money on accommodation. But the idea of Couchsurfing is more than that. Couchsurfing allows you see what it’s really like to live like a local. The hosts usually point out spots to visit that are completely off the tourist track and places to eat that don’t charge inflated, tourist rates!
I organized my stay with Made (pronounced Ma-day) Sana and his family, had the taxi driver drive me from the airport to Ubud and before I knew it I was standing in a traditional Balinese family compound.
Made Sana showed me around and introduced me to his entire family, none of which spoke English. The structure behind a traditional Balinese family is very intricate but basically, the entire family (brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts, uncles) all share a “compound.” The compound consists of different areas where each family has their own space with bedrooms and a bathroom. Make note these are not bedrooms and bathrooms in a traditional, Western sense. I will let my pictures do the explaining:
The common areas are completely outdoors. The kitchen sink is actually just a hose in the ground. Roosters, mice and cockroaches roam the floors freely. And the biggest challenge for me – THE BATHROOM.
Grandma, I know you’re cringing right now! But this is authentic – this is how real Balinese people live. There was no shower, just a bucket with water. I could not bring myself to do it so I went four days without bathing. Maybe I’m a diva but I just couldn’t do it. Let me tell you, it was a sweaty, smelly four days!
After wandering around Ubud for a while I walked back to the home and found five other Couchsurfers. This is the kind of person Made Sana is – opening his very modest home to complete strangers for no reason other than the desire to help others and educate us about real Balinese lifestyle. Being the typical American I am, I kept waiting for something bad to happen. He must have an ulterior motive. Something is going to go missing, someone is going to ask me for money. That moment never came. Up until the time I left Made Sana and his family did nothing but make me feel welcomed. Made took me to a traditional Balinese dance show, took myself and the other Couchsurfers to the local, non-touristy night market for dinner and helped me organize the rest of my time in Bali. We spent hours chatting, joking around and learning about our different ways of life. It is people like Made Sana that renew your faith in mankind and make you remember there is more good than evil in this world.
On my first night I fell in a hole (Yes, a gaping black hole in the middle of the side walk) and got pretty banged up. The following day I was in a lot of pain and really needed to clean up my cuts. I was nervous to use the water in fear that it would cause infection. I walked to the local pharmacy and they didn’t speak English. I sat on the sidewalk and teared up, feeling completely helpless in this totally foreign land. I thought to myself, “I can either find a way to fix this or sit here on the sidewalk crying like a fool.” So, I got up, went back into the pharmacy and two hours later I was back in action. It took time and patience but I did it. Travel sure does have a way of boosting your self-confidence =)
My last night in Ubud I went to bed around 11. To be honest, I was dreading it. At this point I was dirty and I was terrified of the creatures crawling around. I began to drift off when I started to hear noises on the ground. Mind you, I was on a mattress on the floor. The ground wasn’t that far away! I grabbed my phone and lit it up. Then I thought to myself, “I don’t even want to know what’s on the ground! What would I do even if I did know?” So instead, I grabbed my mosquito net and curled up in it like a cocoon. I didn’t sleep a wink that entire night.
The following day I hired a taxi to bring me to my next destination – Sanur, Bali. It was only an hour drive but it is so different. I feel like I left one country for another. After checking in, I basically sprinted into the shower. And then stayed there for about 45 minutes. It wasn’t anything special. In fact, I didn’t even have not water. But it was clean and it was a shower! I was the happiest girl in the world.
My short stay with Made Sana and his family was amazing, eye-opening and terrible all in one. I didn’t sleep for two nights or shower for four days but I consider myself fortunate to have learned how the real Balinese people live and to have met such genuine people. I hope next time you find yourself on a beautiful, tropical island that you remember there’s more to the island than just white sandy beaches and sunsets. Keep in mind the people that inhabit those islands and even consider getting to know them if you have a chance to. And who knows, maybe a Made Sana will cross your path and forever change your perspective =)