Julia Etzelmueller is a film producer from Berlin and a seasoned traveler with a new-found love of surfing. This German adventuress recently relocated to Los Angeles but her gypsy soul isn’t ready to settle in one place yet.
Julia has spent some time on Oahu and in Byron Bay, Australia (loved both), but Bali holds a special place in her heart. Here’s what she had to say about the ‘Island of the Gods’:
3 Days*: What attracted you to Bali and what made you decide to stay for so long? Had you been there before?
JE: Yes, my first trip to Bali was in 2013 and I fell in love with it then. When I decided to transition from Germany to Los Angeles last year I wanted to allow myself a break, an opportunity to hit the reset button. It’s the perfect place to do all that so I returned. A gentle climate, lush jungle, tropical beaches and volcanoes… the island really has it all.
I like being active and Bali offers many opportunities, from surfing to hiking, white water rafting, snorkeling or mountain biking. While all those activities satisfy the more adventurous side of me, I do appreciate the spiritual appeal of Bali as well. Meditation, yoga, healing and wellness allow for a cleansing of the mind and body and that kind of healthy living is important to me and helped me refuel before taking on a new challenge.
3 Days*: Speaking of healthy living, what or how did you eat in Bali?
JE: You can find everything in Bali today. From top-notch restaurants, to delicious cheap eats at the local warungs, cool beach shacks and fancy cocktail bars alike. I love to hang out at the beach, beer in hand and listen to someone playing the guitar by a bonfire; One of my favorites is Bingin Beach on the Bukit Peninsula where they offer freshly caught fish which they grill on the bbq while you watch the sunset. I would also often ride my scooter to a warungs and grab a gado-gado (Indonesian salad with peanut sauce) or a lawar (mix of vegetables, coconut and minced meat). Occasionally I like to dress up and try out a noteworthy restaurant followed by a glass of champagne at a trendy beach bar. You can find it all in Bali and easily paddle it off the next day.
3 Days*: Speaking of paddling, would you recommend Bali to a surfing novice? What makes the surfing there unique?
JE: Bali offers pretty consistent waves all year around, great surf breaks for every level and in such a beautiful setting. They have world class surf breaks and at the same time you can find "small and smooth" waves for beginners like me. Last but not least the great weather - no wetsuits, just board shorts and a bikini.
I can definitely recommend Bali to a surfing novice. There are different ways to go about it. You can either get a local guide who takes you out or join a surf school.
I signed up for a surf camp and stayed with them for 2 weeks. Bali has a variety of surf camps and retreats especially in and around Canggu, on the Bukit (Padang Padang, Uluwatu etc.) or in Seminyak. These retreats are often combined with yoga - a fantastic addition to surfing and good way to stretch the sore muscles after hours of paddling. And they are ideal opportunities to meet other like-minded people from around the world. I made new friends who I am still in touch with. The ones I can recommend are Surf Sistas, Lotus Surf Camp, The Pineapple House, Surf WG and Escape Haven, all at varying budget levels.
The surf guides take good care of you. They introduce you to the basics of surfing and the right etiquette in the line up, explain a bit of theory and then get you out into the great wet where they help you catch your first waves.
I would not recommend going out by yourself if you’re completely unfamiliar with surfing. Ending up on the wrong break can be dangerous and it’s at time difficult to judge the conditions when you are just getting started.
Waves, swells, sets, breaks, wind… there is plenty to wrap your head around and you don’t want to end up in a spot that’s too crowded if you are still learning how to control your board. Lastly, it’s a lot of fun to go out with people who are as stoked as you are.
3 Days*: If surfing isn’t your thing, what other fun activities do you recommend?
JE: I spent a considerable amount of time in or around Canggu, where the options are endless. On the mornings I didn’t surf I started with yoga at Samadi in Canggu followed by a hearty breakfast at Samadi, Old Mans on Batu Bolong Beach, Betelnut or Crate Cafe. In nearby Seminyak I frequented Watercress, an Aussie cafe/restaurant does a mean flat white and the “Sprouted Goodness” (hands down my favorite avocado toast) has etched itself into my memory forever.
Even if you don’t surf, it’s fun watching the pros do their thing in Uluwatu while having a Bintang Beer at Single Fin.
A sunrise volcano hike is definitely worth the energy. While Mount Batur is an easy and fairly quick ascent, Mount Agung, though harder, has better views and you can see the sun rising over the island. White water rafting is also fun and allows you to enjoy the lush surroundings while being active.
Generally the best way to discover the island is by scooter, which are easy to rent and available all over the island. I particularly loved cruising through the rice paddies near Canggu and Ubud.
And a trip to Nusa Lembongan is obligatory. The island is reachable by boat from Sanur and the slower pace, fewer people and remote beaches are simply wonderful. There are also remarkable snorkeling opportunities around the Nusa.
3 Days*: I (Kirstin) have been to Bali in 2002 and 2010. The difference in terms of tourism was astonishing. How did you experience the influx of travelers and expats and how does the island handle all these people?
JE: Parts of the island are overrun, that’s true - but you can also find places where it’s not that bad. By avoiding the main touristy hubs such as Kuta, Seminyak, Ubud, etc you can still discover quieter little gems. The continuous influx of tourism combined with other factors has become apparent in Bali’s pollution problem, though - and the island seems to struggle to get a handle on it.
I was shocked when I arrived on the island last time. A number of people are actually doing something about the garbage issue like a friend of mine who started a cool project after spending some time in Bali. It’s called FiveOceans and they make sustainable surf board fins out of plastic they collect from the ocean and the beaches. Bali is such a magical place full of natural beauty and kind people, I really hope a solution can be found to preserve the island and to protect this gem.
3 Days*: They call Bali “Island of the Gods” and spirituality is very important. Was this your experience?
JE: Yes - it’s very important, you can feel it everywhere. The Balinese devote a lot of time preparing offerings, attending processions and partaking in spiritual activities. In fact, I was told the average person spends a considerable amount of their income on donations and offerings for the Gods. While the rest of Indonesia is Muslim, Bali is Hindu and yoga and meditation classes are offered everywhere. Local healers called balians are also very popular and easy to come by. There is certainly a very spiritual and peaceful vibe everywhere, which makes it all the more special. I think I’m ready to book another ticket right about now… :)