Monday, October 27, 2014

Escape Haven Retreat, Bali

I climb into the cool air-conditioned mini van as my driver places my suitcase into the boot. “Would you like a cold bottle of water Miss?” Yes please! It is a sweltering 30 degrees outside. “How about a gluten free Bliss Ball? They are our specialty.” How can I say no! I already love this place and I haven’t even arrived!

I am in sunny Bali, on a spontaneous solo trip, where I am about to spend the next 6 nights at Escape Haven – a woman’s health and wellness retreat. We arrive at our destination. “Welcome to Villa Jupun.” I walk through the entrance, not knowing what to expect, after all I only booked this days ago and am still in a daze. A garland of frangipanis is placed around my neck. I am speechless as I look around – this place is even more amazing than I could have ever imagined, and I get to spend the whole week here!!

Rachel, the Escape Haven manager, greets me and talks me through my program. One of the staff brings over a refreshing traditional Balinese drink of snakefruit infusion with cinnamon and ginger, and a plate of fruit kebabs and Vietnamese lettuce wraps. Rachel and I discuss my week and what is involved. I have chosen the Refresh program, which consists of daily yoga classes, lots of relaxing by the pool and hours on end of spa treatments (8 hours to be exact!).

I am shown around my new home, and given time to settle in before my 30-minute welcome massage. Ah yes, did I already say I love this place?! My room is spacious and beautifully decorated. I find a gorgeous gift on the bed with my name on it decorated with frangipanis – a canvas tote bag containing a purple sarong and a few other lovely surprises. There are frangipanis everywhere in Villa Jupun, with a huge frangipani tree over hanging the pool located directly at the front of my room. And much to my surprise, there is even a frangipani floating in the toilet bowl!!

That evening we attend our first yoga class with Adele – a slow and easy class to centre and ground us in Bali. Yoga takes place in the beautiful air-conditioned yoga studio, decorated with 6 framed mirrors on either side of the walls and a gorgeous statue of Shiva Nataraja doing the ecstatic dance of bliss at the front of the room, which Adele decorates with candles and fresh frangipanis every night. Our yoga mats are set up with towels, blocks and bolsters to assist us throughout our practice.

Following our yoga class we head directly to the outside lawn for a traditional Balinese ceremony to cleanse the body and mind. We are each given an offering and asked to wash the smoke over us to cleanse, prayers are said with our flowers, coconut water is drunk and rice is placed on our forehead for abundance and fertility.

Later that night we sit around the couches sipping on fresh coconut juices introducing ourselves. We are a small group of 7 women, all with different reasons for being here. But we all have one thing in common… we have come to escape the world for a week. 

Our first dinner consists of a delicious banquet of Balinese food. We sit around the communal table, which has been beautifully decorated, as the staff bring out plate after plate – Red snapper fillets poached in coconut milk with herbs & spices; Lentil, pumpkin & coconut curry; Gado Gado with peanut sauce; Brown rice nasi goring; and Vegetarian stir fry vegetables. The food is delicious, wholesome and all gluten free! Conversation flows around the table as we get to know each other. And then just when I think the day cannot get any better – we are served dessert and it is a Coconut sorbet… Words cannot describe how delicious this is! For those that know me, I am an extreme coconut lover. Put simply, I am in pure gluten free coconut heaven. As I slowly eat my sorbet I can’t help but smile. I am in Bali and I am going to enjoy Escape Haven very much!

My first full day at Escape Haven, I listen to my body and allow myself to simply relax and unwind. Breakfast is served at 8am daily and consists of freshly squeezed juice of the day, and a changing menu of fruit, yoghurt, gluten free toast and a selection of spreads. Eggs of any kind are available on request. And I am even lucky enough to get gluten free Ricotta and Apple Hotcakes, and Black Sticky Coconut Rice throughout the week.



While most of the girls are out surfing, my day is spent lazing in the gorgeous sunshine and swimming in the pool, while frangipanis drop overhead from the beautiful tree. Lunch is a banquet of delicious healthy Balinese food; Tofu cakes, Grilled Mahi Mahi Kebabs, Gado Gado with peanut sauce, and Avocado Salsa. Followed by an afternoon stone massage and our daily evening yoga.

Tonight dinner is delicious Balinese style tapas – called Nasi Campur. Each dish is served in a little banana leaf basket with a hidden mound of brown rice in the centre. The dishes include Chicken Sate on lemongrass skewers, Indonesian Salad, Eggplant Curry, Spiced Quail Eggs, Crispy Fried Tempe, and Fragrant Tofu. For dessert a delicious Indonesian coconut & banana palm sugar pancake, made gluten free of course! We close tonight with a yoga nidra session, or as we like to call it ‘bed time yoga’ – a meditation to help us sleep easier.

The days roll into one another as I start to feel refreshed and clear minded. Daily yoga provides a sense of calm. I learn how to breathe again with Rachel. Another healing session releases negative energy. A home yoga practice with Adele. Tarot reading. A visit to the beautiful Finns Beach Club. A Balinese cooking class. And a ride on a scooter with Era through the crazy Indonesian traffic! Throw into the mix a pedicure by the pool while sipping on a fresh coconut, a facial under the outdoor canopy, and many more massages. I am feeling very happy and Zen. Life is good.

Daily snacks consist of Roast Beetroot Hummus with vegetable sticks, Edamame Hummus with corn chips, fruit platters, and my all time favourite - Chocolate bliss balls!  

Lunches are always different, healthy and delicious. We enjoy Pumpkin Soup with Lemongrass & Coconut, Green papaya & pomello salad, Quinoa San choy bow, fresh gluten free sandwiches and a variety of salads.

Before I know it the last night of Escape Haven is here! We gather on the outside lawn to attend a gratitude ceremony where we attempt to make our own offering baskets. Some people are naturals – others (including myself) are not so crafty! We make the basket with banana leaves and then fill it with flowers and our own gratitude, which we have written on a piece of paper.

We take our offerings with us to our evening yoga class. Adele warms us up as per usual and then turns up the heat – the music is fun and energetic and the class turns into a mish-mash of many yoga poses. This is the class to experiment and just have a go, she says. While half the class attempts handstands the other class gets into backbends. We all attempt the ‘crow’ pose (which I am determined to get one day!) but even with Adele trying to hold me up I still cannot master it! ‘Happy’ by Pharrell Williams plays in the background, and there is more laughing and falling than holding any yoga poses.

With the buzz of our yoga class we quickly get ready for our closing ceremony and BBQ. Again we find ourselves sitting around the couches sipping on fresh coconut juice. However now we are different people. We are a close group of friends who have grown throughout the week, all in different ways to each other. I feel a deep connection with serenity and my mind is now at ease.

Our last dinner is a delicious Balinese BBQ of Wild prawns on lemongrass skewers, Basmati jeweled rice, Leafy green salad, Vegetable kebabs, BBQ pineapple, Papaya salsa, and Grilled chicken. And for dessert we top it off with a delicious gluten free and dairy free Chocolate mousse! Tonight we skip our nightly ginger tea ritual, and instead go straight to the cocktail menu… A Pina Colada it will be for me!

The following day after a morning yoga session and some more relaxing by the pool, I join the girls for our last meal together. We gather around the communal table for a Balinese High-Tea. There is a spread of Vietnamese rice paper rolls, Beetroot hummus with vegetable sticks, Tofu pate with corn chips, Fruit kebabs, and specially made gluten free for me a Vegetable samosa, and Strawberries and cream cup. There is a selection of ginger tea and spiced Chai and they are served in the cutest elephant teapots I have ever seen (I think I may have actually squealed when I saw them!).

The afternoon is full of farewells as the group start to leave one by one, and we wish each other safe travels. A 2hr massage and scrub prepares me for my late night flight. The staff have allowed me to stay at Villa Jupun until it is time to head to the airport, where my driver will take me. I order some quick dinner from a local Seminyak wholefood restaurant, Earth Café, of Buckwheat noodles with vegetables and a coconut pannacota for dessert.  

Although the retreat has officially finished the staff kindly help me order my takeaway food. When the food arrives, I expect to eat out of the container – but instead my food comes out prepared in plates. My place is set with a placemat and cutlery and a fresh glass of water. The kindness in their hearts is beautiful. I could not ask for more.

Bali is such a peaceful and happy place. Such calm and serenity, and I find it to have such healing powers. The Balinese people are forever smiling and willing to lend a hand. Even throughout poverty they still smile. There is no stress here. No road rage, although the traffic is crazy. I honestly think we could take a leaf out of this book. And I know I have found my healing land. 

Escape Haven, as I first thought when I stepped through those doors only 7 days ago, was perfect and absolute bliss. The staff were so friendly and willing to help out and most importantly they made me feel completely safe traveling alone. Accommodation was beyond 5 star. The food was even more delicious than I thought! Gluten free was not an issue and all the meals were so nourishing and fresh! The attention to detail and little surprises throughout the week made me feel very special. I could not fault Escape Haven even if I tried.

Stay tuned for more Bali inspired posts to come including some delicious recipes! Namaste :)

Escape Haven Retreat

All images © TWO SILLY SISTERS 2014

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