I initially thought that my second attempt at moving abroad would be just as successful as my first.
By which I mean spending a few glorious weeks in the sunshine before disaster struck and I was forced to return back to the uk once again. And, if a messed up semester abroad had been enough to force me back home, Past Georgie definitely would have thought that a global pandemic would have determined a similar response. But stubbornness, spontaneity and a resolve to not let this particular piece of history repeat itself has meant that I stuck around in Indonesia, and today I’m celebrating my one year anniversary here.
It’s been a year since I’ve seen my family; done an ASOS order; eaten McCoy’s salt and vinegar crisps or worn a coat. It’s been 365 days exactly since I’ve read an English magazine; complained about British weather; used the data from my still-being-paid-for phone contract or paid for something using pounds. Which is mad. This is simultaneously the longest I’ve spent away from the UK and the longest I’ve ever spent in one place before.
Of course, as much as I loved Bali when I first arrived, it was never my intention to stay particularly long. Six months in Indonesia was supposed to be followed by a trip to the Phillipines and then a year or two in Australia, starting from around Christmas. And, although that hasn’t gone according to plan (to put it very mildly) I am so, incredibly, gloriously happy here.
I’ve never loved anywhere the way I love Canggu. Throughout all of my travels over the last few years, I’ve always subconsciously viewed each place by its potential for moving to and staying there for a longer period of time. But there’s always been a catch – nowhere has been perfect.
And, accidentally, thanks to this global pandemic and the Indonesian government’s Emergency Stay Permit visa, I discovered that Canggu is the perfect spot. I live a five minute walk from the beach; I have access to fast internet and co-working spaces and endless sunshine and friendly people. The food is amazing, the location is perfect and I’ve made so many wonderful friends. It’s almost too good to be true.
Even when it’s pouring with rain or I discover another huge spider in my room (we’re averaging one every two weeks at the moment) or I mess up my Indonesian sayings or I can’t find a specific product, I’m so so happy to be here.
Of course, one of the funniest parts of moving abroad is the change in day to day life. Those small things that you just accept as everyday occurrences when to the rest of the world they might seem completely odd. Like having to dodge snakes and dogs and ducks on the road (or monkeys up north) when driving to the gym. Saving the number of the local snake-catching man into your phone. Or that, if the cars are sat in traffic on the roads, the motorbikes will just nonchalantly drive down the pavement instead. Red lights? Optional. Giving way? Frowned upon. I could write an entire book on the Indonesian driving system. Thank god they still drive on the same side as the UK, at least.
And it’s not just the traffic system that I’ve accepted as the norm. It’s acknowledging that the weather can change from gloriously sunny to torrential downpour in about 30 seconds flat. And that having a swimming pool is a standard part of every villa here. Or even talking about “my villa” rather than a room in a house. It’s that I can spend more money on a jar of peanut butter than multiple trips to the mechanic to get my bike fixed. It costs about 5p here to get my tyres pumped up.
I’m also learning new lingo. I discovered that my AC unit had broken because it ran out of gas. Who even knew that an AC unit needed gas in the first place? I’ve learned that huntsman spiders eventually wither up and die when sprayed elaborately and consistently with mosquito spray. I’ve stopped asking about things like boilers and double glazing when finding a new place to live and instead have asked questions about the age of the AC unit, whether there are cockerels living nearby and how frequently – if ever – the family who own the villa pop back to pray at the house.
I’ve backed up knowledge like the exact time the sun sets; the best beaches to walk along that aren’t too busy; the supermarkets that sell the best sourdough bread and the local market that sells the specific type of banana (there are seven) that I use to cook plantain. Or, as it’s called here, pisang goreng. My automatic reaction to someone holding a door or passing me something has swapped from “thank you” to “makasih” and I’ve stopped subconsciously going to the tap to get a glass of water. I know the average price of laundry, how to top up my Indonesian phone credit the cheapest way and the safest (and dodgiest) back streets to cut through when in a rush.
I kinda see Canggu as an extension of uni life or a sort of playground for grown ups. Or, as much of a grown up as I would really count myself as. Life as an expat here is ridiculous. It’s not something I think I’ll ever be completely comfortable with, but it’s been a year now since I’ve changed my bedsheets myself or taken a bin out or done my own laundry. Each villa comes with a variety of lovely lovely staff, who pop in a few times a week to keep the villa clean and make sure everything is running smoothly. Everything is done for you.
Gojek, Indonesia’s equivalent of Uber, costs about 50p a trip. If it’s pouring with rain and I don’t want to get a motorbike taxi, I can pay about £2 and get a car instead. Gojek also comes with Gofood, aka Uber Eats. But, because it’s Indonesia, you can also order everything from house moving services to on-call massages, courier delivery, insurance or even get someone to go to the shops for you.
And then there’s the magical, verging-on-unrealistic side of Bali, too. If you want something in Canggu, there’s no one to stop you from having it. The low cost of living makes almost anything and everything accessible. You can rent ridiculous fancy motorbikes for around £5 a day and fill up the tank for £1.50. If you see a cute puppy on the street, there’s no one to stop you from taking it home and keeping it for yourself. Want your nails done, hair blow-dried, eyelash extensions or a massage? It’s easily possible to find all of the above for no more than £10 each. I went for a 3 hour spa session on Saturday: full body massage, facial, foot scrub and eyebrow wax: all for about £35. It’s crazy.
Coming from London where even breathing is expensive, Bali seems like an almost parallel universe. I think the only cost here that’s on par with the UK is my gym membership, which is about £40 a month.
I’ve got into a deliciously low-key daily routine of going to the gym in the morning and choosing one of my favourite coffee shops to spend the afternoon at. When it’s sunny, I spend mornings tanning by the pool. As the evening approaches, I wander down the beach, playlist in my ears and waves washing against my toes. Quite honestly, not a day goes by when I don’t appreciate being able to live here.
I could say “this year has been full of surprises” but I don’t think that really covers it. As much as the obvious global pandemic/shut down of international travel and all the horrors that surround it has caused an incomprehensible level of stress worldwide, these past 365 have been filled with lots of good things on a personal level, too. I learned how to Scuba dive and ended up taking five different courses learning how to mix breathing gases, dive using two tanks simultaneously and avoid triggerfish. I also learned how to ride a motorbike, to avoid arak and how to (sort of, it’s a learning process) navigate my way around Canggu and surrounding areas. Most if not all of these things wouldn’t have been possible if I hadn’t been lucky enough to spend this last year here.
So, what next? My plan – visa dependant – is to spend at least another year in Bali. I want to explore more of the thousands of different islands here, to maybe take some more Scuba certifications and qualify as a rescue diver, and learn to speak more Bahasa Indonesia. When it’s safe to travel I’m going to pop back home to the UK for a month so I can finally see my family and friends but, aside from that, I’m pretty happy to spend at least another 12 months in beautiful Indonesia.