On a still road in Penestanan Village in Bali's central foothills, a dull, blue-stained signboard points toward the house of the medicine man. Ketut Liyer is a ninth generation healer of undecided age — "maybe 90?" he shrugs — who has never been off the Indonesian island. But the dozen or so women who crowd his compound this afternoon, their chatter in competition with the peeping of caged birds suspended from clay-roofed pavilions, have come from all over. One by one they approach the small, weathered Balinese seer with the brilliant, near-toothless smile, and have him interpret their palms, their legs, sometimes even their spines.
Today, the ladies Paket Wisata Bali all are "very lucky." They will each live to be one hundred and ten. In fact, most days visitors to Ketut can expect the same reading, with minor variations, but few mind. Ketut Liyer is not just a healer famed among locals, but a leading character in American author Elizabeth Gilbert's 2006 memoir Eat, Pray, Love, and his bamboo mat is an almost necessary stop on Bali's increasingly popular spiritual tourist circuit.
At the outset of the book, which has now sold over seven million copies worldwide, the medicine man predicts that Gilbert — newly divorced, disconsolate and on assignment in Indonesia — will return to Bali and teach him English. In what follows, she escapes suburban New York and over one year indulges the senses (and above all the stomach) in Italy; quiets the mind at a West Indian ashram; and, revisiting Bali, finds new love in a Brazilian jewelry exporter. If 170-odd weeks on the New York Times Best Seller List is anything to go on, weary Americans can identify with the need to regroup on unfamiliar ground. Now, in advance of the August U.S. release of a film adaptation starring Julia Roberts, that need has given rise to a new customer for Balinese hotels, travel agencies and tour operators: the spiritual seeker.
Newly launched packages by luxury resorts and spas like Ubud Hanging Gardens and the cliff-top Ayana promise to recreate Gilbert's four transformative months on Paket Wisata Bali Bali in a few passing days with yoga classes, drawn-out beach dinners, massage therapy. As of June, the upscale chain COMO Hotels and Resorts combines Bangkok, Bhutan and Paket Wisata Bali in an Eat, Pray, Love excursion that culminates at the swish Uma Ubud, where guests can choose from cleansing temple rituals, sessions with Ketut or outings to locations where the movie was shot. [Update: COMO has cancelled its Eat, Pray, Love excursion.] Other tours built around the book focus on curative group gatherings and self-discovery of the kind Gilbert has down. "Not even Italy or India could give her the peace she longed for," boasts Indonesia's official tourism website. "And she found it in Bali, island of gods and goddesses."
The idea behind these offerings is not to knock off a checklist of the people and places the writer visited, but to partake — however briefly — in her progress. "It really did feel like Liz was helping us experience some of the same spiritual growth she did," says Halle Eavelyn, co-founder of Las Vegas-based Spirit Quest Tours, which led its first six-day Eat, Pray, Love Bali trip at the end of May. Eavelyn, who testifies to turning overnight from atheist to believer, offers, with her husband, "life-changing luxury travel." The island, she says, is "where the culmination of Liz's flowering happened, so we skipped right to the end of the book." Of the 15 participants in May's tour — aged 29 to 78, and all but two of them women — most describe undergoing "shifts." One lady finally began to confront her husband's death. Another, an insomniac, slept soundly for the first time in over a decade.
Mornings, the group would share in meditation sessions, learn from local guides to pray in full sarong, jot thoughts in journals; an evening might be spent bathing with hundreds of pilgrims in the holy springs that feed a stone temple pool; at lunch, authentic pizza with the America-sick Balinese musician who once road-tripped with Gilbert across the entire island. And on either side of their activities Eavelyn read caringly selected passages from the book, "an awakening tool," off a brand new iPad. The tour costs $3,000 with airfare, but spotlights a site that doesn't even require getting off the ground. Says Eavelyn: "I want to take people to a place inside themselves."