Baliment

March 1-16, 2013

I was in Paradise recently, Bali to be more exact!  It was spontaneous, completely relaxing and happened during a brief window of time before things really became hectic at home and with the marine mammals at PMMC.  A friend who’s living in Ubud currently opened her home to friends for a visit, so with my savings from utilizing a chain Tax Service instead of a professional CPA, I bought a ticket to paradise… can you blame me?  The holiday seemed an unusual one for me as it was purely an indulgence, albeit an affordable one…. daily yoga, regular massages, amazing food, gorgeous accommodations, some diving, some hiking, a big festival and some very special people  I met along the way who where there to do as I was doing.  I do love Bali.

Another beautiful offering

Another beautiful offering

So normally, there is much to expound upon about a trip full of activities, adventures and perhaps some volunteer efforts in new exotic lands so by comparison this may seems a bit quiet, well aside from the “exotic land” part.  Hindu Bali is so unique and beautiful, a land and culture very different from the hundreds of surrounding islands that also call themselves a part of mainly Muslim Indonesia.  The architecture alone stands out with it’s intricately detailed walls surrounding large multi-structured compounds, monster guardians stand sentinel at the entry, thick black-grass roofs topped with crowns adorn lovely wall-less buildings.  I love that last bit about the architecture and the feeling of being on holiday… no walls!

Yoga Barn Studio

Yoga Barn Studio

I spent much time pondering which variety of yoga classes to take tending to start each day with something traditional.  Later, relaxing restorative classes as the sky turned pink in the setting sun in the late afternoon soothes the soul, or vigorous vinyasa flow classes surrounded by heavy rains making the experience so unique like being on my own little island and giving the feeling of really connecting with the surrounding nature.  I tried the oddly freeing ecstatic dance and incredible workout dance that is Brazilian capoeira.   I’d love to be good at this later one, not only is the exercise element superb, but the artfulness of it all is so beautiful.  I can picture myself on the beaches of Brazil joining the street dancers in this artful flowing movement acting and reacting to the movements of each partner.  Between such activities I filled myself with the best foods possible including 2-3 fresh juices per day and organic meals ranging from raw to macrobiotic.  Of course all this effort requires time of recovery offered in great quantity by the various massages available around town.  My choice was Zen Spa, where I spent a good amount of time during my last visit and find it comfortable as well as a good bit for the buck.  The people there are just so friendly, the location can’t be more convenient, the prices are good, the atmosphere delightful and well, the services are just so relaxing!  I found myself asking for Kuman most of the time, she has the perfect touch.  The location of all this was once on the edge of an idilic rice field, but now it resides next to a large 5-star hotel… yes, things are changing rapidly here in Bali.

Balinese sidewalks... look out!

Balinese sidewalks… look out!

Between all this “excitement,” I did squeeze in a bit of adventure… how could I not indulge a bit?!  The diving here is superb including one area famous for it’s nearly ever-present population of giant manta rays.  A dream of mine is to swim with them, so I had to book a day there.   Of course it is always important to remain flexible when traveling as there are invariably unforeseen twists and turns in the plans that lead to great and often unexpected memories… or the chance of no memory at all.

Going Diving in Tulamban

Going Diving in Tulamban

 

My first scheduled a dive trip to Manta Point took a detour as the second person flaked out last minute so a boat could not be hired.  Instead Made, the dive master, and I headed up the coast to Tulambun to submerge ourselves in the WWII US Navy ship wreck, which a “friend” Ian (from OZ) highly recommended.  The shore is quite rocky, but that quickly gave way to a sandy bottom and steep drop off where the ship had landed so many decades ago.  I was looking down at the bright sea life enjoying watching the little critters do what they do, then I looked up and was overwhelmed my the enormous looming shadow that was once an active battleship. Organs played dramatically in my head as we approached the eery vessel.  Details emerged as we swam closer.  Brilliant colored coral now calls the steel skeleton home and incredible sea life of all sorts frolic and play in and around this giant jungle gym of the sea.  Our first dive was a trip around the parameter of the vessel taking it all in from that point of view.  Sea fans add elegance to the jagged beams, neon fish and nudebranchs add extra color and glimmer to the scene.

Swimming within a school of Jack Fish... wow!

Swimming within a school of Jack Fish… wow!

A large dark ring formed overhead, a closer look defined it to be a considerable school of jack fish looking like a giant black and silver tornado ready to touch down.  We continued around what was the bow of the ship where we checked our air them continued on.   Amusing garden eels looked to have taken root in the sandy soil swayed this way and that looking for a nibble to come along.  Any approach and they would have sucked back quickly into the hole in which they were “planted.”  The vast school continued to swarm as the dive became more shallow on the mainland side of the wreck, coming ever closer to me, closer and closer, until I found myself wonderfully engulfed in the silvery movement of these large graceful fish.  A couple very large silvery grouper-type fish about 5x larger than their company meandered amongst the jackfish trying to fit in quite unsuccessfully.   I wanted to stay there in that moment, it was magic!

Tulamban Ship Wreck

Tulamban Ship Wreck

An hour of off-gassing on shore accompanied by a disgusting lunch and Made and I were back in the water for our second look.  This time, we took to the innards of the great vessel.  The ship is so large, it’s a dream to swim through and explore.  The whole thing seemed haunted in some way, I could almost hear the creaks and groans of the big vessel settling to its final resting point and the excitement of the men rushing to disembark so many years ago… it was like a whole story was somehow still alive within the confines of this coral covered steel skeleton wanting to be told to all who visit.  Life of all sorts thrives here… octopus, turtles, stone fish, it’s all here… except the big mantas.

A few days later I was able to join a group of Chinese tourists on a dive boat to swim with the giant manta rays… a dream dive!  Odds were about 90% in our favor of seeing the graceful creatures, but sadly we found ourselves in that dreaded 10% range not seeing a single one from our dive.  We did see a couple from the surface heading to our second location, but didn’t get in the water with them… bummer!  So that dream remains on my “dreams” list… yes, I actually keep one!  Something I did get a kick out of, was my company.

Manta ray from the surface

Manta ray from the surface

I visited China in 1988 when the people had their own currency and tourists had another keeping the Chinese inside their own boarders.  It was rare, if ever to come across Chinese tourists, now they’re out and about like the rest of us… probably in better style than most of us, enjoying the fruits of their booming economy.  Even though we didn’t share a language, we laughed and enjoyed the day together… despite our shared disappointment in not diving with the mantas.  We did see quite a few sting rays, an eel, sea snake, turtle and many amazing fish even though the current was fierce in this second location.  The day was gorgeous heading out, then on the way back a massive squall hit our little vessel with huge choppy seas… what a contrast.  By the time we were back in Sanur, the skies were clearing again.

I had my own driver to take me back to Ubud… a rather forward one!  Men here, single ones, haven’t and qualms about asking for casual sex.  I always say I have a boyfriend at home (I hate lying, even in this case it makes me feel bad), but that only helps, they still insist that it is ok to have an affair in Bali and not let on at home.  It’s all I can do to keep from laughing in their face… btw, this guy was only 27 years old!  He gave me his card in case I want a tour or for him to stop by to drink some Arak and “stuff,”… yea, right!  Not!  I actually did laugh in another guy’s face, he caught me so off guard.

Nyepi:

I was fortunate to have been in on the island for a major Balinese holiday called Nyepi.

Nyepi is the New Year for the Balinese calendar based on a 269 (?) day calendar… seems to coincide with Nepal in some ways.  The macabre celebration highlights the evil spirits for the evening, followed (in the past) by a huge bonfire, where all the horrific “floats” are burned along with the evil they represent.  Because they are made mainly of styrofoam, the burning becomes a toxic cloud, so that is no longer done… thank goodness!  Instead they are put on display in each town over the next week for a closer look.  Where they get such massive pieces of foam is a mystery to me, but I do hope it will all be recycled next year or reused in some way rather than burned as so much garbage in this part of the world is.  12 March, is Nyepi and all of Bali goes into hiding (literally) in honor of Mother Earth.  All locals honor the day by staying inside, no one is to do anything except stay quiet… no walking, no cooking, no electricity, no motor bikes, no music, and no airplanes…  Yes even the international airport even closes on this day!  It’s a beautiful holiday and one I wish the whole world would partake in.  Imagine a day without stock trading, without airplanes, without cars, without crowds, without war, without politics, without electronics, without phones, without any intensity… just a true day of peace for the world… sounds like a John Lenin song.

Nyepi parade on Monkey Forest Road

Nyepi parade on Monkey Forest Road

What an experience the festivities were!  Having watched so many of these huge “ogoh ogohs” characters being created by the exceptionally talented locals in every village since arriving here on Bali 1-1/2 weeks ago, it was truly spectacular to see them paraded in all their glory amongst the sea of humanity along upper Monkey Forest Road and into the soccer field where they sat on display for all to see.  The atmosphere was electric, crowds of people, gongs clanging, laughter everywhere, smiles abound, the trill of entering a new year is in the air.  Children sit at the base of the grotesque sculptures depicting a playful side to the evil spirits.  When raised and moving later in the evening, the statues often battle it out with other “spirits,” bounding up and down on their large handheld platforms, moving toward and away from others as though sparing for dominance.  The smell of incense and cigarettes perfume the air, tourists are catered to with vendors selling beer from coolers, but it’s not really a drunken sort of event, it’s truly more of a family festival.  Many of the loathsome sculptures are quite small for the children to carry along the route to the temple, others are massive unearthly creatures complete with lighting and sound effects.  Musicians compose pieces of rhythmic harmony using drums, loud brass gongs and cymbals to drown out the noise of the crowds as an imposing character passes.  Some accompanied by torches carried by pretty young girls dressed traditionally, one was carried only by women and had a lovely song that was chanted over an over in contrast to the rather massocistic (spelling?) idol they supported overhead.  Each piece was very secure on it’s large bamboo frame so they can bounce, run and sway back in forth in response to another much of the bouncing is rather violent to show its power and rage.  It was all the complete antithesis of the serene choreographed Rose Parade in Pasadena (USA) celebrating the western calendar’s new year.

Scary Ogoh Ogoh

Scary Ogoh Ogoh

I met up with Rebecca from Australia on the soccer field and spent the evening with her.  She’s a fellow yogi, here for a holiday.  Next year she’s hoping to bring her family here to experience this very special observance.  I can see returning for it too.  I think of my nephews Jake and Zack and how they’d get such a kick out of being here for this as well.

I returned back to my “home” about 10pm followed by a massive downpour.  I stood outside in the refreshment nature offered as the evil spirits were literally washed away leaving clarity for all good things to come.  It felt like Mother Nature herself was here partaking in the spirit of the festival and the honor of her amazing planet.

Relaxing during Nyepi

Relaxing during Nyepi

Nyepi Day was a lovely clear morning after last nights flood of energy and the heavy rains… how perfect it all seemed. The day was to enjoy, just watching the rhythms of the rice field, languishing in the gentle breeze blowing the thick humid air through my lovely abode.  The birds seem more active today sining and chirping, the tiny tree squirrels leaping from branch to branch seeking fruit from the local palms.  The light musty smell of the rice fields brings a smile to my soul.  I spend the morning reading, writing and just being there. I wouldn’t want this every day, but on special occasions it’s a day full of moments to revel in, enjoy one’s own company and our own connection to this beautiful planet and the short time we have the privilege of being apart of it all.  The afternoon I head to the pool where most of the other guests are and I join Kathleen and Rebecca for a bit of fun by the pool and a tour of one another’s unique rooms here at Green Field.

Walking past Sari Organik rice fields.

Walking past Sari Organik rice fields.

With only a couple days left, I wanted to fit some more things in.  A visit to Sari Organik was on my list as it is an amazing walk up above Ubud through magical rice fields, friendly villages and stunning views all the way to the ocean, before arriving at the farm and cafe.  The last time I was here, it was closed, but this time it was bustling.  I met up with a new friend, Ilse (from Amsterdam) there on this perfect day with views as far as the ocean’s horizon and clouds as white and playful and a child’s mobil.  The rice fields were in the perfectly green stage with skies as blue as they can possibly be.  I wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else… just there sipping on my watermelon juice eating a salad picked fresh from the cafe’s garden across the path.  I even met a delightfully energetic dog on my walk up here… it was perfect!

Lunch at Sari Organik.. yummy!

Lunch at Sari Organik.. yummy!

That evening after a cooling swim, Rebecca and I enjoyed dinner alfresco at Down to Earth, reflected on how we love this island and planned a day hiking Mt. Batur.

15 March ~ Mt Batur for Sunrise

2am wake-up, ugh!  It’s supposed to be worth the effort.  Our car heading out of Ubud was old and it’s exhaust seemed to pour into the interior of the car, making for a rather unpleasant start to the day.  We stopped at the ubiquitous coffee sellers for breakfast and a little sales pitch, before hitching a ride with another upgraded vehicle to the start of the climb and meet up with Made (not the dive instructor), our local guide.  This night is completely black aside from an amazing heavy sprinkling of stars saturating most in the center section like a ribbon across the sky, the Milky Way is always a treat to see.  The Big Dipper was also out making me think of my dad… yes, a special day and worth the early rise!  The climb started out gentle, with some rocks to dodge, but not too strenuous, just had to focus on our footfalls and keep out torches in front of our feet.  We’d stop now and again, turn off our lights and marvel at the incredible sky.  We stopped to make a proper offering at a shrine lighting incense, saying a prayer and putting flower pedals behind our left hear.  The trail began to steepen with larger lava rocks to climb, we thought of how careful we’ll have to be on the way back down.

There is a lookout about 2/3 of the way up with a lovely view.  The other gal who joined our group was slow and struggling a bit, so she stopped there, Rebecca and I were keen on going to the top of the crater, so headed in the direction we were pointed in following what looked like a black path, turned out it wasn’t but as long as we were heading up, it’d be pretty hard to miss our target.  The terrain was steep, slick with tiny lava pebbles and large rocks… good to have hands free to help out in some areas.  As we approached the summit, a cold wind was blowing and thick clouds drew like a heavy curtain obstructing our view.  Folks who’d summited early were very cold in the wind and foggy air.  We took photos of what we didn’t see, and had fun with some locals who  loving having a couple blonde gals in their photos… some good laughs there.

Mt Agung at Sunrise from summit of Mt Batur.

Mt Agung at Sunrise from summit of Mt Batur.

I looked up and saw a little parting in the clouds, we waited, more parting, then back to grey, then more parting… a tinge of blue sky, then grey, then eventually we were presented with a true gift, like a special holiday endowment.  The murky curtains drew and the spectacle took our breaths away, we all jumped up and down, laughed and giggled in excitement.  Mt. Agung, Lake Batur, Lombok in the distance, the steep cauldron down one side, and the sunrise in all it’s amazing glory showed itself in it’s best light (literally)!  We couldn’t get enough, there were enough wispy clouds to add drama, but none to take from the Earth’s artwork.   Opposite the sun a cloud had formed inside the active crater creating a very unusual rainbow… or should I say a rain-circle.  Yes, the rainbow was complete, top and bottom.  Stepping up to the edge with the sun directly behind left me a silouette of oneself inside the rainbow… it was almost eery.  Next time I hear someone say they’ve “come from the rainbow” (as I overheard at Buda Bali Cafe), I’ll be able to relate… I’ve come from one too!

My shadow in the rainbow

My shadow in the rainbow

We stayed a while, before Made said we should begin our descent.  The terrain is steep and very slick, at one point I tried to just stand still and found myself literally skiing down the black slope.  The local guides were born in this area and trek this nearly daily, so they headed off at a run and would stop now and again to wait for us to catch up.  We stopped for a light breaky (another one) at the viewpoint, behind us, enjoying the warmth of a steamy volcanic vent, were a family local macaques.   An odd sight to see up here, but we hung out with them for a bit watching the cheeky characters play and frolic.  Shortly into the final descent, the sun became intense and all layers were stripped as the hot humid Balinese air welcomed us back to the lower levels.  We enjoyed seeing all the agriculture at the foot of the crater, which we’d missed in the dark of night on the way up.  Chili’s, tomatoes, squash, bananas, beans, etc… all looked so healthy and yummy!

A lovely relaxing 1-1/2 hour massage followed by nice strong yoga class with the rain pouring all around, then a final dinner with Lisa.  “Home” to pack and relax in preparation for tomorrow’s departure.

That night, I slept well aside from being awaken by a cute gecko a couple times who seems to be stealthily eating away at the ceiling in the bathroom.  I heard some loud crunching, along with the cute chirping so characteristic of the little lizards, got up and heard the pitter patter of little feet run away so as not to be caught.  I went back to bed and he continued his work, so I just closed the huge wooden door, wished him well and smiled as I made each experience linger in my mind knowing tomorrow I’d be heading home after a bit of yoga and a healthy macrobiotic breaky with friends, Ian and Kate from OZ, enjoying some final time together before parting ways, “until next time,” a more tolerable ending than a final “good-bye.”

Flight crew waves us farewell

Flight crew waves us farewell

It was a very special trip, a true holiday and one providing much of the clarity I was looking for at home, but couldn’t sort out.  I thought I’d spend more time writing about my thoughts and dreams, but sometimes other things happen shedding the needed light in less expected ways.  In this case, it was hearing and sharing stories of life and struggle with others that shed light on my own.  The practical side of me is feeling stronger as I work out and combine my dreams with the “reality.”  Yes, life is short and not a dress rehearsal.  It’s an ubiquitous saying for a reason.  Define your dreams and goals, then set out to make them real.

Photo link:

http://s1242.photobucket.com/user/travelgirl5/library/?sort=3&page=1

Categories: Asia

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