When I set off for Bali, I set my intentions for connecting with people who would bring inspiration and romance into my journey. For me, travel equates to lust, but not in the way you may jump to conclude. It’s an avenue to fall in love, leap into vulnerable places, and challenge myself to let go and explore hearts outside of my own, whether those heartbeats be from a person, a place, or a thing. I seek that noun from which the gratification comes of being swept away by a dopamine I cannot control.
My first and only planned city stop was in the charming center of Ubud, where I booked the mid level of the ‘birdhouse’ tower which rose above the rice fields below and woke you up with butterflies and birds at sunrise. For this bustling zenny town, I envisioned meeting a strapping gentleman to scoot around the city with in giddy discovery, laughing as our hair blew along the jungle roads. Answering my call, Ubud gifted me with Zenobe Jade. The minute I walked into the Firefly AirBnB, I knew he was my one. He was laying on an oversized pillow on the floor next to the others who were lounging in pairs along the couch. The eight of us sat together into the night chatting and sharing our meanings of life and travel stories. Each pair eventually drifted off to their rooms, but Zenobe and I remained, delving even deeper into the joy of sharing the warm night in this storybook place we had somehow landed. He had thick blonde curls framing his pale complexion and a wide smile dotted with one deep, frolicking dimple. His signature move was brushing his hand through his hair to pull it back out of his face, holding there just long enough to show off the sturdy bulge of his bicep. He was fucking attractive… and he was all of 22 years old. If I didn’t fantasize about Zenobe Jade, I would have had no pulse. Yet, instead of being bummed that I couldn’t relive my 20s and spend my two weeks curled up inside the dizzying sparkle in his eye, I was thankful that my Ubud "fromance" was with a guy just out of college because I knew we could just be silly flirty kids together without any physical interferences. We ended up spending the next 24 hours together, most of it with me on the back of Zenobe's scooter, wind blowing through our hair, giddy as can be as we swerved in and out of every alleyway and rice paddy we could find in pure, unconditional awe. I got to relive through his eyes the magic of my first time traveling abroad, and remember what captured me so ardently almost 25 years ago.
The following three cities that I visited in Bali each lined up someone special for me to meet. Kadek, who saved me from tears and then took me to the top of a sacred mountain; The old couple who made me soup as I held their tail-less kitten in my lap, snuggled between the crease in my arm and my heart; The young charismatic Ducky who I met while walking through the twisty local streets of Munduk who played music with his friends each night from dusk will midnight; The Belgium couple with whom I spent the hot days in Pemuteran drinking Bintang and talking for hours; The stranger on a moped who turned out to be the best guide on earth, holding my hand as we walked down steep descents and across rocky pools, frolicking in the waves with me giving me his shoes so I would be safe crawling down the side of a cliff; Nyoman of the treehouse, offering great conversation each morning over Bali-coffee and fried bananas; and of course Constancia of Chile, finally a girl-pal to scoot around Nusa Penida with, dunking into Crystal Bays, chasing Mantarays, and lounging by the evening sea with 2-4-1 mojitos.
I told Kadek that I had a friend from the States who returns every year to the same Temple Lodge down south. On the top of that mountain at sunset, as we watched the hills melt into each other’s shadows, he said to me, “Make this your Temple Lodge, Shelly.” I smiled at him and said, “Of course I will, Kadek. I could not come back to Bali without coming to see you here.” As I said it, I knew that it was unlikely I would return to Bali. There are so many other places my heart pulls me towards. But I did mean what I said to him up there, and I will always remember the infinite ways that Bali romanced me for those two lovely weeks in October.
For a deeper compilation of photos from Bali, please click on Travel:Images - Bali: