Chasing Eat, Pray, Love in Bali

When I was 16, back in 2007, I read Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert’s New York Times bestseller. And then I read it again. And again.

Needless to say, Eat, Pray, Love firmly put Bali on my map of dream destinations. And seven years later, I finally ventured to the island I had read so much about.*

And I’m not the only one entranced by Gilbert’s descriptions of the lush, mysterious island; Many tourists come to Ubud, Bali, seeking sunshine, spirituality and possibly a Brazilian lover. And Bali has cashed in on this craze. When strolling Ubud, one will see Eat, Pray, Love branding on everything from ice cream shops to vet clinics.

*(To be fair Eat Pray Love is definitely not the only reason I came to Bali. Also I reread Eat, Pray, Love this year and found her voice to be much more self-involved then I remembered… holy navel-gazing. Moving on.)

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And I won’t lie- during my three weeks in Ubud I sought out many of the people and places I had read about in Gilbert’s memoir.

 

A Palm Reading at Ketut Liyer’s

In her memoir Elizabeth Gilbert writes extensively about Ketut Liyer, an elderly Balinese medicine man who lives in Ubud.

When I arrived at Ketut’s compound the family promptly asked me to pay 350,000 rupiah (about $30 USD) for a palm reading. Which felt a little… presumptuous and invasive, to be honest.

When I laid eyes on Ketut he was exactly as I had imagined; a small, wizened Balinese man with a broad smile and only a few teeth.

After a brief wait, Ketut held my palm in his hand as he predicted I would have two babies, enjoy much success in my career and someday get divorced. 

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He then gave my friend a nearly identical fortune. “You are beautiful. You lucky, much success.” (Though instead of a divorce he predicted she would lose all of her money for being too generous.)

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I really hate to say this, but I do want to be frank with any of my readers- um, I wouldn’t advise getting a palm reading from Ketut. Ketut Liyer is a very sweet old man but is very advanced in age- and 350,000 rupiah is a steep price to learn you are very beautiful and will have two babies.

 

Wayan’s Shop

Next I visited Wayan’s shop. In Eat, Pray, Love Wayan is a kind-hearted divorced healer who runs a healing shop with her 9-year old daughter, Tutti.

The shop wasn’t what I had expected; I was shocked by its filthy and cluttered state. But soon Tutti came over and I couldn’t help but exclaim, “You’re so big!” when I saw a beautiful teenaged girl with black hair down her back instead of a little girl.

“The book came out nine years ago,” she said shyly.

Tutti then made us a turmeric tea by grating turmeric root and mixing it with water. As we sipped the tea Tutti said that someday she wanted to be a healer like her mother.

Then Tutti brought over some leaves that she instructed us to chew. “What are these leaves?” I asked.

“They are for overweight adults.”

Oh. Um, thanks. She also handed us a sheet explaining that normal adults should chew 7-10 leaves and overweight adults should chew 11-15. (For the record, she prescribed me 14. which is like practically off the charts.)

I almost returned to Wayan’s shop the next day for a body reading but backed out when I read on TripAdvisor that the reading is a total ripoff and that there are rats scurrying around the house. Sorry guys. Phobia.

Reflexology

The most worthwhile holistic pursuit I found in Bali was reflexology. On my last night in Ubud I headed to Sandat Bali, a guesthouse and reflexology center run by a Balinese couple everyone calls Mama and Papa.

Papa happens to be the resident reflexologist, and I eagerly asked him for a reflexology session.

It turns out reflexology involves having a wooden mallet pounded into the sole of your foot to identify your maladies. At times it was agonizing.

Reflexology

As Papa hit zones of my foot, he would observe, “Ah, you have bad neck.”

By the end, his diagnosis was scarily accurate- he had identified that I have problems with my neck, back and stomach. The only one I didn’t agree with was my stomach.*

Overall he reported that I haven’t undergone a lot of pain in my life. He told me this was clear to him because I wasn’t writhing and screaming on the table. (Apparently people who have endured intense traumas like car accidents will howl and cry in reflexology.)

*But then when I came back to Michigan and I discovered I have a gall bladder problem so the healer totally called that. How weird is that? He also examined my friend and correctly identified that she had no kidney on her right side, which is true- she donated it when she was a teenager. WTF?

And another thing that was weird?

One Saturday night I was walking around the streets of Ubud by myself with a bottle of Bintang. (Um… No comment.)

And up walks a handsome, tall, dark-haired Brazilian man named Elio. He invites me into a Cuban bar for a drink where we communicate via a hodgepodge of Spanish and Portuguese. Then I hop on the back of his motorcycle and we drive to another lively bar where we smoke hookah and dance salsa. And then we hit up a few more bars and at the end of the night he drives me back to my homestay. (Unfortunately I documented absolutely none of this with a camera but it totally happened.)

So what I’m trying to say is that despite a few disappointments, my Eat, Pray, Love fantasy totally came true.

Have you ever read Eat, Pray, Love?

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Ashley Fleckenstein

Ashley is an American travel blogger and freelance writer who moved to Paris at 21 and has been traveling the world ever since. She's usually in pursuit of yoga, languages and perfectly ripe cheese and her writing has been featured in National Geographic, Viator and Jetstar Australia.
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26 Comments

  1. I read Eat Pray Love years ago but didn’t “overly” care for it (to be honest, I really didn’t like Gilbert’s writing style). And I’m probably in the minority when I say this but I actually preferred the screen adaptation to the book (this is generally never the case for me).

    Even with the couple of disappointments you encountered along the way, it still seems like a truly unique experience.
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  2. I had to smile reading this post, just because I know you are so not alone in your desire to chase EPL in Ubud. I actually had never read the book, predicting it would not really be my thing. When we purchased our tickets to Bali, I decided to give it a shot while we were chilling out in Pai, Thailand (a pretty fitting place to give it a shot, I’d say). I will just say that, this devolved in my livetweeting my hate read of the book, and I only made it through the Eat section before giving up. I mean, I’ll put up with a lot to read about food (Italian food at that!), but I just couldn’t with that one. I don’t even think Gilbert is a bad writer—she’s not!—just way too navel gazey for my tastes.

    So, I definitely didn’t try to recreate anything from the book while we were in Ubud, but it sounds like maybe I was better off for it in the long run… :)
    Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) recently posted..Kuala Lumpur Photo Walk: Pudu MarketMy Profile

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  3. Dear Ashley,

    I enjoy your blog and particularly liked this write up. I’m a fan of Liz Gilbert and think she’s quite inspiring and has clearly lived a remarkable life; including a stint as one of the original Coyote Ugly girls at the first bar in NY which a lot people don’t know about. I chuckled as I read your write up because one of Gilbert’s favorite quotes came to mind, I’ll paste here for your consideration and hope you smile. Thanks again for your entertaining writing – salaam N
    “Understand that you can have in your writing no qualities which you do not honestly entertain in yourself. Understand that you cannot keep out of your writing the indication of the shallowness and evil you entertain in yourself. If you love to have a servant stand behind your chair at dinner, it will appear in your writing. Or if you possess a vile opinion of women, or if you grudge anything, or doubt immortality — these will appear by what you leave unsaid, more than by what you say.” Walt Whitman, 1855

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  4. I think I need to re-read Eat, Pray, love. I don’t remember liking it that much but it has resonated with so many people. Sounds like you had an awesome time- sorry you got 14 leaves. lol.
    Rachel of Hippie in Heels recently posted..Koh Tao’s Chilled out Diving VibeMy Profile

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    • Lol I didn’t take it too much to heart, the Balinese are so tiny that practically anyone is huge in comparison, haha.

  5. Ashley you are so talented loved this blog. Cant believe you didnt show me that photo or tell me about the bike trip

    Reply
    • Hi Momma, glad you liked the post! And yes, it was a very fun night. I’m so happy to see your website is up and running, looks great! Love, Ashley

  6. This post is very interesting, first because you heartly advice which things didn’t stand your expectations, and that’s valuable advices for any travellers, but secondly (and I’m probably the only one here reading the other comments) I didn’t have a clue that these places and people actually exsisted!!!
    It might be cause I didn’t read the book but only saw the movie -I will definitely read the book now-
    What I did visit in Bali related to that movie was Padang Padang beach, the beach in which they say the party scene was shot!
    a Blonde around the World recently posted..A BLONDE AT THE GRAND CANYONMy Profile

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  7. Hi Ashley! I love this post! I never read the book mainly because my sister said it was extremely frustrating and didn’t like Gilbert’s writing style but I saw the film and quite liked it. As a girl who adores travel, the part I loved most in the film were the travel experiences! I love that you relived them on your trip to Bali! Bali is definitely on my bucket list, but I would avoid Ketut’s reading – thanks for the tip!
    Carly
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  8. I read EPL in high school and fell BADLY in love with it. I (like you) read it over and over and i kind of refuse to reread it because i know i’ll probably dislike it. ….that being said I LOVE EVERY SINGLE SECOND OF THIS!!!!
    Ashley recently posted..let’s runaway….At least for a littleMy Profile

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  9. Thanks for your honest thoughts! I’m planning a trip to Bali this summer so I’ve enjoyed your posts. I was pleased to see in another post you enjoyed yoga barn- I’m planning on practising yoga there when I’m in ubud. I hadn’t heard of yoga shak in nusa lembongan before, so thanks for listing that as I’ll probably try that too now!
    J in Beijing recently posted..Biking in Beautiful BaganMy Profile

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  10. Hello! Never read Eat, Pray, Love so I can’t comment there but the part of your post that got me thinking was the part with Ketut. No idea if he’s a scammer or not (I do believe that people can possess legit abilities like this), but the predictions would mess with me so I don’t think I’d visit him. Like in the future if you’re in a relationship and times get tough, will you be more predisposed to lean toward divorce instead of maybe exhausting all other options? Or if you have one child, will you be more inclined to have a second because of this prediction that happened many years before that’s just lurking in your subconscious? No answers to these questions but when someone who is all-knowing tells you stuff, it’s hard to separate it from reality sometimes and just live your life in the present. Interesting stuff! Enjoyed this post!
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  11. love it lol

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  12. Dear Ashley
    I have read “Eat, Pray. Love”, and an interview with her about it. She is quite
    a lady and I really liked the book. I believe all Paradise places have a few
    blemishes, but you manage to find the most satisfying. I didn’t know about the handsome young man and your time together. Sounds magical…

    Love,

    Gamma

    Reply
  13. Amazing article! I was curious how you got set up with a homestay in Bali and what the costs and accommodation was like? I may have missed a post when you explained this, but I would love to hear about it!

    Reply
    • Hi Baylee! The homestay was actually more like a B&B, you just pay for a room in the house for as long as you want to stay. It was normally like $20 a night but you can bargain down. They’re a great deal and it’s fun to live near the family!

  14. I absolutely adored this post! I’ve also been a fan of Eat, Pray Love and your post brings a whole new flair and life to a journey to Bali!
    Stephanie Mayo recently posted..Inspiring Travel BooksMy Profile

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  15. I loved EPL when I first read it, but I was in my 20s and going through the whole quarter-life-crises so it really resonated with me. I have a feeling if I reread it now, I’d feel differently about it. I think I’ll just let it live on fondly in my memory, and make a note not to look up any of the places she mentions when I eventually make it to Bali :-)
    Heather recently posted..36 Hours in TokyoMy Profile

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  16. I’m so glad that you met that romantic man of your dreams LOL :). I haven’t read the book but I watched the film which I really liked ‘cos it featured pretty much some of my favourite countries: Italy, India and Indonesia.

    Happily, I first went to Bali in the 90’s so I already have my impressions of Bali and they were already beautiful so that’s alright then!
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  17. Your visit at the reflexologist in Ubud reminds me of my visit at a massage place called “Massage by the blind” in the Muslim Quarter in Xian, China. I have had lots of massages in my life, but this one absolutely positively stands out. I had a bad back that day, but after the treatment my pain was almost gone. The blind masseur ferreted out all my restraints and knew very well how to release them. The atmosphere wasn’t great though, I was lying on a couch under neon light, having three or four chinese adults standing arround me talking during the treatment. But the masseur was very experienced and the massage very much worth the visit. Plus I paid for 40 minutes, but got a treatment twice as long.
    Vanessa @ The Travelling Colognian recently posted..A Wonder of the World: The Great Wall of China, MutianyuMy Profile

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    • Wow that sounds absolutely fascinating. I’d actually heard of that in Cambodia but never investigated… maybe I should’ve!

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