I stopped in the neat bookstore Iconoclast while in Ketchum, Idaho, this summer and picked up two paperbacks for the plane ride home: Travels with Herodotus by the late Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski and Eat, Pray, Love, the best-selling memoir by Elizabeth Gilbert.
A scruffy employee stocking shelves assured me Eat, Pray, Love was chick lit in the finest sense of the term—and it is! I still have to tackle Kapuscinski, but I sped through Gilbert's self-deprecating, thoughtful, and, at times, laugh-out-loud-funny account of a year spent recouping from her divorce. She spends the first third indulging in Rome's dolce vita (and pinpointing the finest pizzeria in Naples), then takes an austere, soul-searching turn at an ashram in India, before winding up in Ubud, the artsy center of Bali.
After learning I'd be traveling to Bali this fall, I couldn't wait to check out some of the places she vividly describes—and people like medicine man Ketut Liyer…
Luckily for fans like me, Gilbert has made it easy to follow in her footsteps: She set up a FAQ on EPL section of her website, elizabethgilbert.com/faq. She reveals where to find Liyer as well as the location of her friend Wayan's traditional Balinese healing shop, the best spot for roast suckling pig, and how to contact an expert teacher offering yoga tours of the island.
I jotted the details down, but hadn't contended with the all-encompassing nature of an Indian wedding, my reason for being in Bali in the first place. Like the hundreds of other guests, I stayed in Nusa Dua, a sandy hotel strip about an hour and a half from Ubud, which is set further inland amid hills and rice patties. There were just too many traditional ceremonies, buffet dinners, and dance parties to make it that far.
One afternoon I did slip out to explore Kuta, the laid-back beach town where ex-pats and surfers have been hanging out since the '60s. (A memorial commemorates the terrorist bombing of a nightclub in 2002; guards with dogs now inspect cars at major hotels and other checkpoints around the island).
If I return to Bali someday, I know where I'm heading first: Ubud. If you're mulling over a trip, our story Secret Hotels of Bali can point you towards affordable, friendly places to stay in Ubud and beyond. You'll also want to keep an eye on our Real Deals section, which currently touts an air/hotel/tour package for Bali starting at $1,299.
Wherever you're traveling next, there's likely to be a writer who's tried to put his or her own inspired stamp on the place. The website Literary Traveler posts essays devoted to the association between such writers and their places, among them Ian Fleming's London, George Sand's Majorca, and Hunter S. Thompson's Puerto Rico.
Photo shot by Kate Appleton in Kuta, Bali.