If you need to feel inspired, here’s a tale of a very smart and determined woman who went to Bali and decided to open her own unique brand of holiday accommodation.
But better yet, if you want to actually go and find your bliss, just book here for your next time-out.
After years of busy corporate work, a huge few months of working around the clock and then making the decision to start my own PR business, I decided to check in for five days at Bliss Sanctuary for Women.
In the busy times, this holiday was the light at the end of my tunnel and when it actually came, was the rejuvenation and head-space that I needed to properly plan my new venture.
Bliss Sanctuary is for women who want to travel safely, alone or in small groups, with no kids or couples and are looking for a “sanctuary” environment. It’s totally unique as this holiday is all about finding YOUR bliss – whatever that may be.
Run by Zoe Watson, her Bliss hostess and a small team of Balinese experts, your holiday is totally tailored to you.
- If your idea of Bliss is hanging by the pool drinking cocktails and chatting on Facebook on the Bliss iPad, you go for it.
- If you want to go shopping by day and hit the cool Seminyak bars and clubs by night, then this will all be arranged.
- Bliss is not a health retreat – there are no structured schedules like “get up at 5am for meditation, then go to yoga, then eat vegetables and herbal tea for breakfast, then go to water pilates, then go to massage therapy, then eat salad and herbal tea for lunch etc” – though if this were your Bliss, then this would all be organised for you.
Oh, a few things that are locked in – all of your meals (lovingly and deliciously prepared), transport and 1.5 hours every day of massage and beauty treatments.
You think you can handle that? I thought so.
We’re both originally from South Australia and we ran in similar circles but never knew each other. We met two years ago at a work lunch in Sydney while she was a sales director at a major radio station. Here was this driven, successful sales and marketing exec and also a sassy, fun and kind human being. She was also wearing really hot Mimco heels. I had one of those primary school moments where I instantly thought ‘I want you to be my friend.’ After this one lunch, we connected again on email then stayed in contact since.
Many months later, I suddenly discovered that Zoe had left her high-flying corporate job and had moved to Bali. Three months later, Bliss Sanctuary for Women was born. Zoe tells this story best herself at her blog. It’s an eye-opener.
So this blog post is the tale of my recent trip to Bliss. It’s one of the wordiest I’ve written but the Bliss journey had a huge impact on me. By sharing this with you, my hope is that it inspires something significant in you too. (Feel free to now go get a cup of something delicious and sit down for a read…)
I arrive into Bali late at night – only 10pm local time but 1am according to my Sydney body-clock.
Incredibly, the girl across the aisle on my flight is Jess, my fellow guest for the week. Jess is a writer from CLEO mag and she’s here to file a story. Bliss can take up to eight guests at a time but this week, it’s just the two of us. I just hope that her idea of Bliss isn’t going out every night and wanting me for a drinking partner – I have seriously never felt so tired.
I discover later that neither of us had been sleeping properly and I don’t think she’ll mind me saying that we both felt (and probably looked) like death warmed up.
We’re met at the airport by Bliss driver Patu – possibly the man with the brightest smile in the world – who helps us with our bags and gives us cold water which is very welcome in the instant heat and humidity. Then we’re driven in air-con comfort to the Bliss villa.
Zoe’s villa manager and Bliss hostess Courtney greets us and offers us tea and a snack of fresh cold rolls. We chat a little but she senses that we’re tired and we head to bed. I’m soon to learn that Bliss hostesses are all incredibly intuitive people. Before the week is out, I feel as if the Bliss team know what I really need and want, even before I do.
My body clock wakes me again at 6am, followed by the muted crow of a rooster next door. I’m so tired and headachey but instantly grateful to be in Bali. I’m so happy to be in this sanctuary, nestled in my enormous bed under a dreamy, romantic mosquito net.
I’d made a mental list of all the things that I wanted to do here this week – most of which were simple things that I didn’t have time to do at home as I was always rushing around working. So that morning, as tempting as it would be to check my emails or jump on Facebook like I’ve been so conditioned to do, I meditate to a guided track from my iPhone. 30 minutes later, I come out of it feeling so much better. My body has been told it’s rested, my brain slowed down and my mind focused to wake feeling refreshed and revitalised, ready for a beautiful day. Not bad for half an hour minutes and certainly something still achievable when I get home – tick.
I wander out to the garden and discover just how stunning it is.
I start with a swim then Jess and I sit up to eat breakfast. Bliss breakfasts and lunches are whatever we want, cooked whenever we were ready, and all made by the caring and very funny Alit (who I instantly want to take home with me). The girls have the house specialty of banana pancakes while I dig into a mushroom omelette – I need an eating re-boot after the last month of too many sneaky sugars and white carbs that have contributed to me feeling like a slug.
I’ve decided that I want to go to the 10.15am yoga class at the nearby Desa Seni village, then have lunch, then plan the rest of the week. I need to figure out what day to go to Ubud, what day to go to cooking school, what day to sit by the pool with my computer and make my new business preparations. Then I’ll go bike riding and have a swim, maybe a massage before dinner and then have an early night.
There, my day is organised.
But then something strange happens.
Jess and I linger over coffee.
We chat, talking about boys, Balinese culture, Mother-in-laws (potential and real), the importance of having six months left on your passport and celebrity children.
I feel a little antsy while we’re talking, after all, I HAVE A SCHEDULE TO KEEP.
But after about five minutes, I’m so busy enjoying the girly chatter that I forget all about my plans.
We disperse a while later and I’m shocked to discover it’s midday. I wander into the Bliss office to ask about the next yoga class.
The antsy feeling has returned. It’s just so weird not to be on a strict schedule. Or to be more in control.
I absolutely loved having a gossipy, girly breakfast – I seriously couldn’t tell you the last time I’d done that – but I needed a plan!
My Bliss hostess smiled.
It’s a smile that I will see often over the week, full of understanding and warmth but with a hint of playfulness. She’s clearly seen my type before. She picks up a piece of paper from her desk. On Bliss letterhead, it’s a day plan for Jess and I. It reads;
12pm – Jess’s massage
1.30pm – Bec’s massage
4pm – yoga class (if want to)
6pm – drink at waterfront bar (if want to)
7pm – Balinese feast at home
Phew. Ok, we have a plan. I take a cup of tea next to the pool with a book. I read, swim to cool off, read some more, swim again, eat lunch.
And I realise life lesson #1 for the trip;
This is difficult after the last six months of working 12 hour days, six days a week, or sometimes even more.
I had been keeping up the exercise and meditation over that busy period as I knew it centered me and kept me healthy so that I could keep up the hectic lifestyle, but I was still quite tightly strung.
So day one was all about teaching me how to gently unfurl.
I was glad to have learned that straight away – now the next four days stretched ahead of me like the unwritten pages of a book. And I could write as often or as little in them. In neat cursive, or random scribbles. Or I could just look at the pages and see what beautiful images emerged.
After a massage from heaven from the hands of Wayan (another gorgeous woman who I want to take home with me), I head over to Desa Seni for my first yoga session. It is divine. Open air and a small class of friendly people from all over the world. We’re all at totally different levels but it doesn’t matter, it’s all about our own experience. It’s a little like being in the garden of Eden. While we’re balancing in tree pose, a small black snake even slithers past in the garden nearby, but it doesn’t alarm anyone, we’re all just a part of nature.
Manuela, the Brazilian yoga instructor, explains that the theme for today’s practice is ‘gratitude’. I can safely say that I have plenty.
That night, we sit down to a Balinese feast. It was unbelievable – five different traditional dishes spread out before us – fish sates on lemongrass, shredded chilli chicken, vegetable gado gado and roasted vegetables in local spices. The girls eat sticky rice for dessert and there are plenty more chatter and laughs.
I’m under my mosquito net by 9.30pm and fast asleep.
Day two has me awake at 5am but this time I feel completely rested. Nestled in my luxurious bed, I meditate again to my iPhone guided track. Afterwards, I slip across to the kitchen and make a coffee then take it back to bed with a book.
At 7am the three of us head to Desa Seni for an hour meditation class followed by an hour and a half yoga class.We get ferried over on the back of scooters. Komang drives me over. He lives next door and is the grounds keeper and on-site security for the Villa. He keeps the garden looking exceptionally beautiful and he’s another constantly smiling and kind addition to the Bliss family.
The scooter ride is no where near as scary as I expected – zipping past the rice paddies in the soft morning sunlight is so surreal, yet I feel completely at home.
Our meditation and yoga teacher Anna explains that today’s theme is ‘Letting Go’. Well that’s spooky. Anna is a beautiful spirit and her voice is gentle and calming. I have an instant girl crush.
The hour of meditation goes past very quickly. I can not say the same for the yoga class – it is intense! It’s also very hot – not Bikram hot but close to it. Of course, I feel a million bucks once it’s over and I even did my first ever unassisted headstand.
Alit comes back to pick me up on the motorbike and, while I swim to cool off, she fixes me some breakfast.
Later we head into Seminyak for a look at the shops. If you know where to go like the Bliss staff do (and when you’re driven around in total air-con comfort thanks to Patu) it makes for a great afternoon. We stop off for a quick bite at Cafe Bali – part French, part Indo and part your Grandmother’s house, it’s charming.
Back at Bliss, it’s time for some treatments with Wayan. I have reflexology this time. I fall asleep and wake up groggy so dive back into the pool to wake up before we head over to the very cool Potato Head Beach Club for sunset cocktails. Thanks to the well connected Zoe, we find ourselves getting the VIP treatment with a reserved lounge at the edge of the affinity pool. Life is good.
After much chattering, several cocktails and a cheese platter, we head back to Bliss for another Balinese feast. This time it’s BBQ snapper and prawns, mixed vegetables with local nuts, corn on the cob, tofu and tempe, all with spicy accompaniments.
Lounging back on our cushions, more relaxed than I’ve felt in a very long time, Our Bliss hostess Courtney gets the Angel cards out. They’re kind of like Tarot cards but with more mainstream advice. Whether you believe in cards as a way of telling your fortune, or using the advice they give as pointers to start thinking more creatively or simply as a bit of fun, if you’re in the right head-space, they’re a great tool to loosen your mind away from merely being logical.
I was all for expanding my mind so we each asked a question out aloud about love or careers then chose cards. Mine were;
- Change of career
- Spiritual Teacher
These cards sum up precisely why I am here in Bali, why I have had a change in career and, well, if you look at the different categories here in my blog, are many of the areas that are intrinsic to me (maybe swap ‘spiritual teacher’ for ‘think’).
Coming to Bali was for a well-earned rest but was also designed for me to take the time to work out exactly what I should be doing with my new business. Was I to begin work immediately as a publicity consultant or should I be setting up a big PR company with staff?
I knew that I needed to sit and think about what my key drivers were for making this career change. What did I want my life to look like? And how was my career to fit into this?
I was also all too aware that, in the past, I would look at other people’s success and automatically figure that by chasing something similar, it would be the best thing for me too. I didn’t want to go down that track this time. Thankfully, I had several more days of calmness to ponder this and I slip off to bed and am asleep in minutes.
The next morning I start with meditation again. The more I do it, the easier it is to settle into, and the more rested I feel when I come out.
We were going to go to Ubud today but Jess and I surface late. I don’t really feel like getting in a car for a trip today and the weather, still balmy and lush, does look as if it could turn cloudy. Courtney senses this from us both and makes the executive decision that we’re having the morning at Bliss instead. Alit cooks us breakfast while we swim and then the beauty treatments start again (I have a divine facial and pedicure today), before heading back to my room for another nap.
Later on, we pick up coffees from the super cute, tiny cafe Butter and drive over to Tanah Lot temple. We drink coconut drinks then wander the markets for a while before heading home. I also pick up a great straw beach bag for AUS$12 – score.
After an early dinner – another Balinese feast of course – we head over to Cubana bar to meet Zoe for some salsa dancing and mojitos. It’s ladies night so two of those mojitos are free. I love this place. There wasn’t much salsa going on for me but an awful lot of catching up. Talking with Zoe that night was brilliant – and so much of the advice that she offered for starting a new business was truly insightful. As she’s experienced, there will be difficult, testing times, but the rewards can be huge.
The next morning I decide that I’m going to ride a bicycle to the 8am yoga class.
Yes, I have a dry mouth from the mojotos last night and no, I’m not the world’s best bike rider, but I managed to make it there in one piece and without falling off the skinny roads and into the swampy rice paddies.
I treadle home again, dropping in to Butter for my takeaway latte – oh so Western of me but I’m not on a health retreat so my morning caffeine routine ain’t going no where.
I arrive home in time for an appointment that I had to give some serious thought to before I went ahead.
Bliss offer to arrange consultations with Sami who is a massage healer. You can read about Zoe’s own experience of a session from Sami here. Sami is a renown healer in Bali, working on intuitive massage. The reason I was unsure about going ahead is that, well, there’s nothing wrong with me. Sure, I had some lingering sporting injuries and was recovering from a bit of a sleep deficit but other than that, I’m healthy. But I was interested nonetheless and when in Rome…
I was advised to go into the session with an open mind and heart. Good advice for just about every situation really. Yet another lesson to take away with me.
So a consultation with Sami kind of feels like a really strong, thorough massage. I’ve never had my neck or back cracked before – and have never wanted to – but after feeling every teeny piece of tension be wrung out of my body and I was as limp and pliable as a ragdoll, he cracked my neck and back and I have to say, I’ve never felt better. When the massage is over, you then sit up and have a bit of a chat.
Sami explained a lot about the differences in Western and Eastern medicine and how his country’s traditional practices are very holistic, encompassing the body, mind and spirit.
He then proceeded to recite back to me my medical history of the past few years and some of the more holistic ways of dealing with any of the issues if they spring up again.
He’d discovered all this during the massage.
He had absolutely no way of knowing any of the minor health issues that I’ve had. I’m still amazed by it, and still don’t quite know what to think of it. So I’m going with the advice to just ‘Let Go’.
After this rather mind-blowing experience, Patu drives us to Ubud for the afternoon. We eat lunch in one of the many organic cafes then wander the streets, poking in to shops and down to see the monkey forest (the monkeys were pretty gross – cute until you realise that they are quite akin to rats and may give you rabies).
I’d like to spend more time in Ubud one day – it’s very beautiful and lush and plenty to see and do – next time.
That night we have our last Balinese feast at Bliss. Every bite is remarkable – fresh, light and satisfying. In spite of the excellent dining experiences of the past few days, my clothes are actually looser than when I arrived and I feel lean and well. I also realise that for the past four days, I’ve eaten every meal sitting down at a table. Not nibbled on as I’m driving to work early in the morning, not distractedly forked into my mouth as I sit at my computer, not shoved down my throat late at night as I half sit, half lay on the couch staring blankly at the TV. Yet another lesson to take home.
I have my last late night swim in the warm water of the Bliss pool then read in bed under my mosquito net and I’m fast asleep by 11pm.
Eeeek – it’s my last day!
Always prone to “last day of holiday melancholy”, I’ve planned a busy one. I’m off the the markets in Denpasar and then going to cooking school at the nearby Hotel Tugu. Jess is going horse riding on the beach.
As arranged by Bliss, I get picked up at 7am by my very own personal chef Sri. Again, in perfect air-con comfort, we drive to visit Denpasar’s largest traditional market. It takes about an hour to get there – peak hour traffic in Bali is pretty insane. It’s kind of organised chaos with a lot of gentle beeping. This is probably the only part of Bali that would drive me nuts if I were living here.
The markets are eye-opening and fragrant, though I’m glad we arrived early. By the time we left closer to 9am, it’s really crowded and getting hot.
Sri shows me all of the different spices, fruits and vegetables that we’ll be using to cook with and carefully selects the freshest and best. The meat freaks me out a bit, just sitting out in the open, no strict food preparation laws here. We give all of our purchases to our young porter who has been following us around all morning and she places them in a basket that she balances on her head.
Sri decides that I need to try a traditional Balinese breakfast. A mix of coconut, mini pancakes, sticky rice and flavoured sago, supposedly drenched in a palm sugar syrup which we get on the side (as delicious as it looked, I gave it a bit of a miss and was glad I did, it was very, very sweet without it!) She gets it take-away, wrapped up in a banana leaf and promises me I can have it when I get back to the hotel. My stomach is grumbling and I can’t wait.
Arriving at Hotel Tugu, Sri unwraps my banana leaf breakfast and serves it with coffee and leaves me to eat while she unpacks our produce and prepares for my cooking lesson.
Yet again, I am stunned by how good life is. (And how great my new $12 straw beach bag is!)
Cooking school is so much fun. I learn all about the base herbs and spices for Indonesian cuisine and set about grinding the base paste for each dish in a huge mortar and pestle. I constantly have to switch arms after grinding for the five different dishes we create – forget about yoga for toned arms, it’s all about the pestle workout.
After the class, making everything from banana stem soup, to fish sates on lemongrass, to steamed tuna in banana leaves to shredded Balinese chili chicken, I get to sit and sample the meals then everything is packed up for me to take back Bliss to share with everyone there. I also get a recipe book with all of the dishes we made and a Hotel Tugu apron (too cute).
I’m also free to go and explore Hotel Tugu. I cool off with a quick swim and head down to check out the private beach. The black, volcanic sand sparkles in the sun as I share the surf, salty air and sunshine with one other couple, who barely glance up from their sun lounges.
Patu comes to pick me up around 1pm to take me back to Bliss. This whole morning’s experience – being driven the the markets and back, having a personal guide and chef, breakfast, lunch, all of the food to take back to Bliss, the recipes – cost just over AUS$100. I’ve had a ball and it was the perfect way to finish my trip.
Back home, I proudly show off my cooking prowess to the girls and put all of my take away containers in the fridge for the others to eat. Then it’s more swimming, a hot stone massage and a cream hair treatment, just to make sure that I’m refreshed for my flight home.
Later that afternoon, I slowly pack my bags before heading into the Bliss kitchen and lounge to start to say my farewells. I’m sad to be leaving – I could easily have stayed another five days – yet I’m also ready to go. I’m relaxed and calm but really excited to get home and start work again.
I have an early dinner – what better time to finally sample Alit’s famous banana pancakes? They have been well worth the wait.
The flight home is surprisingly fun – Jess and I are lucky to be bumped up to the front of the plane so we have a few drinks, watch a movie and nap before gliding home at 9am on a clear, perfect Sydney Saturday morning.
I smile my way through immigration and customs, still completely zenned out from the trip, then wander out into the crisp Autumn air which is a cool and refreshing change from the humidity of Bali.
I hug Jess good-bye, both aware that we’ve shared one of those rare life moments that we’ll both remember forever. Meanwhile, one of my girlfriends who works for an airline has also just finished work for the day so we share a taxi home to our beach suburb.
The house is silent when I arrive. My man is at work. The cat wanders out from under the bed to blink sleepily at me then retreats to the darkness when she realises I’m not going to feed her. I head to bed for a few hours. As I start to drift off, I discover that I’ve had the same peaceful smile on my face since I left Bliss almost 12 hours ago.
They say that gratitude is a big part of being happy and I can see why. I am so grateful to have had the chance to go on this trip and, on returning home, to have the luxury to create a life of my own design.
All of this time for refection has taught me one huge thing – I am damn fortunate.
I am healthy, blessed with wonderful friends and family and I live at the beach in one of the luckiest countries in the world.
As I finish writing this, almost three weeks after returning home, I know that life isn’t always going to be bliss. Since I’ve been back, I’ve had the demanding realities of starting my own business, two doses of the flu which have left me looking and feeling terrible and Sydney’s been deluged by rather depressing rain and a weird mix of cold, cloudy humidity.
But as I look at my photos, it’s incredibly easy to recall the serenity, the warmth, the good health and creativity that this holiday gave me. When plans are made from a relaxed mind, it’s so much easier to believe in them, knowing that you’re making smart decisions that are coming from the “real” you.
And it’s this perfect little piece of inner-Bliss that now travels with me each day.