The Good, the Bad, and the Bali
Before I get back to the dreamy rose of a place that is Bali, a few minor thorns:
The Airbnb I had booked, while lovely and perfectly adequate (well, minus air-conditioning, which I admit is a luxury, but a medical necessity for me) came with three roosters that lived right outside my door. This I didn’t mind at all. But as if their almost impeccable on-the-hour guffawing throughout the night wasn’t enough, it was somewhere around three o’clock in the morning when what sounded like a small army of ROUSes thundered across the roof. Cats? Monkeys? Welcome to Bali.
I lose my ATM card to nothing more than my momentary idiocracy. The sight of $1,000,000 rupiah (about $80) causes me to become dumbly flummoxed enough to quickly shove the money in my wallet and dart out of the vestibule before retrieving my card. Sigh. This is what my dad would call a silly “mental mistake.” Vintage moi. And yes, Mom, I have two other cards that I can withdrawal money from, so no skin. Promise.
I spend 90 minutes one morning trying to find a place to drop off laundry. When I get to the closest place that shows up on my google maps, it’s closed. When I find a second place, it’s attached to a tourist information kiosk (which is typical) which says “open,” but there’s no one around. A second tourist information kiosk I approach has someone working it and a small “laundry” sign, but when I inquire about laundry, the man just shrugs and shakes his head. Fourth time’s a charm. Finally I find an open laundry service- Ganesha Laundry Service. Ganesha, the remover of obstacles, and sweat stains, it seems. 4.5 lbs of laundry: $3.70. Clean clothing: priceless.
Ok, back to Bali bliss. Since my first night had unfolded so nicely without any real pre-meditation, I decide to, to an extent, ditch the itinerary (my family is laughing at me; we grew up being issued itineraries for vacations) and let each day plan, or not plan, itself, resulting in the following fortuitous synchronicities:
Day 3: attend class at Yoga Barn, where I meet Maria, who clues me into Go Jek, the app I will, for the rest of the trip, use to summon a motorbike to get around for roughly $1 a ride.
Day 4: I set out to walk the Campuhan Ridge Walk. It’s not a viscously hard walk, but 1.5 in, the heat and humidity warrant a break along the way at the Karsa Kafe, the only thing showing up on my Google maps, because there is nothing else around. I soon discover that the Karsa Kafe also happens to be the Karsa spa, because Bali. Out in Tjampuhan’s sacred hills in the middle of the rice fields seems the perfect place to experience my first Chakra balance ($9). A cute, young woman holding a bowl of stones ushers me into a gorgeous little room, and motions to lie down on the table. Massages, mediation, or any activity that calls for hyper relaxation of the mind tends to throw my brain into overdrive, so it takes a short while for me to relax and not ask myself “am I doing this right? Am I relaxing properly?!” Honest to Ganesha, those are the thoughts that swirl around, but soon, I’m relaxed, feeling a delicious fuzzy semi-consciousness invading. Time and space disperse, and I’m only slightly aware of the young woman as she moves stones around the different chakra points and acutely aware of her hands as they jerk and twitch ever so slightly against my body. I’ve longed believed in more than ,just one existential plane, and the stones and the energy pulsing through me, through this tiny oasis in the middle of a rice field in Indonesia are, right now, offering further proof. When I leave, the woman looks as disheveled as I look and feel. I manage to stumble to the entrance of the spa, where I pop open the Go Jek app and request a ride. As I drain the last drops from my water bottle, my motor bike ride arrives, and I giddily hop on (sans helmet) floating the 2 lush miles back to town in a post-rain, post-balance calm.
Day 6: After a late afternoon yoga session, I lazily make my way the .75 miles in the direction of home, stopping for a pizza and beer. Ubud is, as far as nightlife goes, the sweet Aunt that retires after dessert and coffee, so I was excited when I heard the faintest wafting of what sounded like live music drifting through the wide open windows as I swigged the last of my beer. It is Saturday night after all, and I adore live acoustic sets. Ten minutes into listening, a young woman with a hijab sits at the bar next to me and quietly orders. Her drink arrives looking so beautiful that without thinking, I turn towards her, blurting out “what did you order?!” “Milkshake,” she says, immediately sliding it towards me, “you want to try?” Samia is a college student from Lyon, France who is spending the year learning about agriculture working at a farm about an hour outside of Ubud. We listen to the music and chat, enjoying this simple, utterly life-affirming moment. We bond over watching a guy try to worm his way into a group of 20-something, tanned, mini-dress-wearing American tourists by buying them a round of shots. It doesn’t go well, and we giggle conspiratorially. Our conversation meanders through life, and love, and hedges into politics when I confess that, as amazing as Bali is, it has, because of the climate of increasing political unrest at home, felt bizarre to be away. Samia confesses a bit of the same. “Same in France. The divide, she mutters, “…that fucking bitch Le Pen…” trailing off as I laugh slack-jawed. No matter the mother tongue, or worshiped deity, or native continent, world events have set the veins in both of us on fire. She lets me read a page of her journal and a lone stops me in my tracks: what do we want to leave this earth, when even the broken letters of heart spell earth.
Until we meet again, Samia. Thank you for the unforgettable experience
and gift of your friendship. xo.
Day 13. My last night in Bali before a quick 2 day stopover in Kuala Lumpur before I head home, so I decide to hit up the creperie I found earlier in the week and indulge in a dinner and dessert crepe. And the whole moment is lovely. Until it isn’t.
I used to think that Paris was the worse place to be if one was sans paramour. But I was wrong. Bali is worse. It’s quite cliche and easy to fall in love in Paris strolling through the manicured gardens in the shadows of monuments after a liter of wine at lunch while romantic accordion music follows you around. This is not hard. But that is artifice. No one does passion and romance like Paris. But Bali is a more real kind of paradise. If Paris is the eyelash-batting coquette aiming to tease, Bali is the shy wallflower aiming to please. Bali shows you the beauty and the scars. The ruin and the rapture mixed. That is real. That is Bali.
The last night his me a bit hard, as I couldn’t help but want to experience such a magic. I walk in a very thin rain the 10 minutes back to my hotel, barricade myself in, and cry for ten minutes. I cry because I had just enjoyed a wonderful meal alone. I cry because earlier in the week, politicians in power began the process of revoking healthcare for millions literally overnight in a viscous show of spite. I cry because I am mourning the departure of the most remarkable president I have known in my lifetime so far, maybe ever. I cry because my country is about to inaugurate a joke. I cry because I don’t have a hair dryer. And I cry because I have, on this last this evening, felt the sting of a kind of lonely that I haven’t in a long while.
The next morning I awake to a sun gently muscling through a just finished rain. This is Bali. This is life.