My early planning for my round the world trip commenced just as the furor surrounding the release of Eat Pray Love, the movie, was reaching a fevered pitch. I had not been a fan of the book, and would soon learn I was far from alone in my distaste. Across newspaper articles and blogs, scores of writers and travelers bemoaned the ruination of the book’s 3 featured destinations – Italy, India and Bali – which they claimed were now plagued by throngs of sad sap devotees of the book seeking their own Eat Pray Love-like spiritual and romantic awakening.
Of the 3 places, repeatedly, Bali received the harshest criticism as being the most tainted by visits from the book’s impassioned readers. I’m guessing because Italy is already so inundated with tourists, a few more just blend into the mix relatively unnoticed. And India is challenging for even hardened travelers to visit; I imagine few of the book’s readers actually take the plunge to travel the sub-continent beyond the confines of an ashram. But Bali, and in particular the town of Ubud, is tiny – a sudden influx of folks might in fact be noticed. In any case, as I planned my travels, the negative hype led me to reconsider a Bali visit. Thank goodness I ignored my better judgement.
Ubud, it turns out, is magic. Plain and simple. (see photos) Beyond it’s exquisite natural exterior of lush flora, the island’s architecture is stunning with it’s carved details on doors and rafters, and the town’s endless alleys seem to always yield to labyrinths of gardens and temples and statues. A strong tradition of art and dance will sate even the most jaded culture-lover. The island’s Hindu and Buddhist traditions add to the mystique. Statues of the elephant god Ganesh are omnipresent in shopes and homes, and every morning and evening women can be seen leaving tiny offerings of banana leaves, palm fronds, flowers and food on doorsteps, street corners and temple entrances.
Wandering the streets, visitors stumble upon endless boutiques and galleries, many with genuinely gorgeous merchandise. Health nuts can rejoice at the plethora of juice cafes, organic food stores and yoga studios.
All this is nice and blissful, but still you may wonder, was there any evidence of an EPL tourism boom? Indeed. And did it suck? Totally.
A handful of shops proffered the tacky faux gold and silver “Eat Pray Love” statues (pictured at top left), and there are even group tours to visit Ketut, Elizabeth Gilbert’s guru, titled “From Ubud to Hollywood” costing a mere $60USD per person. I cannot forget the brochures for the woman (pictured in a turban) offering to do Eat Pray Love chakra readings and energy work. All completely cheesey, and annoying.
Sure, the rise in tourists interested in visiting Bali after reading the book (and no doubt harboring hopes of finding their own “love,” per the author’s experience) would lead money-minded people to take advantage of a chance to profit from the trend. There will always be folks who prey on other people’s desires; it’s just one negative side of the human experience.
As for the EPL tourists? Good for them! Go forth and travel! It’s silly and small-minded for others to judge a place (and it’s visitors) harshly just because it’s become popular among a certain subset of travelers. Trust me, it’s not like Ubud has become some sort of Mecca for love-seekers who now clog the town’s sidewalks and Hindu temples, and whom “travelers” must sidestep on their way to the nearest cafe. Please. The vibe here remains remarkably artsy and chill.
If someone finds a place distasteful, as I certainly have on this trip (I’m looking at you, Varanasi), that is their business and their opinion, but certainly not the gospel truth. Bottom line – I’m glad I’ve discovered on my own that this island is amazing.
As for the sensation that is Eat Pray Love and the subsequent travel trends it has catalyzed, I know whether I liked the book or not doesn’t matter. What I think does matter is that it inspired legions of readers to seek their better selves, to set higher expectations for their own lives, and yes, to travel – to visit somewhere that once may have seemed just a little too foreign. And that is a very, very good ending.