I just got home from brunch with seven of my favourite girlfriends. We caught up, shared stories and mimosas, marvelled at a bacon-filled Bloody Mary (bacon! In a drink!). It was one of those easy afternoons you have with the people who really “get” you. The ones who know you best, and often have known you the longest.
Except I have known these girls for less than six months. We didn’t grow up together, our parents were not friends. We didn’t meet at school or go through sorority rush together. We didn’t even slave together at our first jobs, bonding over the long hours and cheap pay.
I made the decision to go to Bali on a whim. An LA-based yoga teacher, Jen Pastiloff, whose class I had taken once or twice, mentioned she would be leading a weeklong trip there in November. I knew virtually nothing about Bali, except for the magical feeling evoked whenever I heard the word. She had probably announced it in those previous two classes as well, but this time I heard it. I took a flyer, exchanged a few “what can I expect” e-mails with The Travel Yogi, and was booked on my first yoga retreat one week later.
How do you prepare for a life-changing experience? You can’t, I guess. You can simply take the leap, open your heart, and allow it all in.
I flew the 10,000+ miles alone, from Los Angeles to Denpassar by way of Tokyo and Bangkok. I had met a few of the girls coming from LA; we had all become Facebook friends, and shared Coronas and margaritas at a Mexican restaurant prior to the trip. They were still nearly strangers, and I gulped back one last pang of anxiety, one last “am I really doing this by myself?” as we pulled into the driveway of the gorgeous and serene Soulshine.
It was the last time I would feel alone in Bali.
From the first introductions, to the opening circle, to the first dinner … these women felt like family. Yes, ALL women, from all over the country, who came together to become a tribe. We explored Ubud together, buying the same yoga shirts and feeding (or in some cases running from) the monkeys. We told inside jokes about men washing their roosters in the river, and whether the “chicken” we were eating was really cat. We laughed about throwing our iPhones into the rice paddies to get them to work (doesn’t rice absorb water?!). We bonded over warm bottles of Bintang and danced and swam in the rain. We shared our stories and our tears and our awe, our hopes and fears and everything in between.
It was seven days but it felt like an eternity, a dream that you never want to end, until it was time to say goodbye. Instead we said “see you later” and as we had heard in Bali, “thank you very big”.
Months later I can still hear the chorus of roosters and ducks waking in the morning.
Months later I can still smell the tuberose that lightly scented the warm, muggy air.
Months later I can still taste the fresh mango slices, the sweetest I’ve ever savored.
Months later I can still picture the sunrise over the rice paddies, a spectrum of colors unlike any I had ever imagined.
Months later I can still FEEL what it felt like to be in Bali.
And with my 19 new lifelong friends, I can continue to reminisce about our time in Bali, to keep it alive. Barely a day has gone by that I haven’t been in direct contact with at least one person from our little Soulshine family. We’ve done reunions in LA and San Fran, in New York and New Jersey. Some of us are traveling together this summer, and next Thanksgiving to a yoga retreat in Galapagos as well. We truly are family now.
Retreats now mean to me: falling in love with the world, discovering beauty and magic, releasing fear, and connecting with strangers who became soulmates.