Apr 17, 2012

Memory fragments

If you haven't noticed yet, I've started uploading photos to my different Bali posts so you can see some of the beauty and magic I found there. It's a slow and painful process, though, so the full beauty and magic show may take a while for me to update.

In the meantime, I thought I would list (in no particular order), some of the mental images that I will take with me into the office and the grey Swiss winter (yes, it's still winter here) to keep my heart warm (mental images take much less time to upload than photographic ones...):

- trying to figure out how to place a lotus flower in the back of my heart during yoga (or how to breathe into my knees, or let my body be soft and juicy, or ...)
- the old man with a sling shot aiming at the monkeys in Uluwatu temple

- Puspa, my cooking teacher, joking about getting "married by accident"
- the feel of Gado Gado when you're mixing it with your hands
- the Balinese healer telling me (with a burp, to release evil spirits) that my soul belongs in Bali
- high-fiving Gaday, my surf instructor, after finally standing up on the surf board
- indulging on banana pancakes every single morning (at least when I wasn't sick)
- being carried first, by a very delightful man (swoon), then by two of the girls, all the way from the restaurant back to my bed after my sprained ankle started acting up
- eating fish with my hands at the Jimbaran beach barbecue on my last night

- getting distracted by the beautiful scenery and falling right into a very muddy rice paddy (if you are the owner of that rice paddy and were wondering what happened to that particular plant in the north-west corner, I apologise)
- sharing sad stories with eight strangers and ending up with eight friends

- nursing a coconut water for an entire evening, watching Ubud go by
- getting giddy at the giant ceramics store (even when I get spiritual, I can still shop)
- eavesdropping on hippies comparing and contrasting squatting laws around the world
- the Millionaire Martini at Potato Head (that's a martini with a champagne chaser, in case you were wondering)

- fighting off a small but deceptively strong monkey who decided to hitch a ride on my pocket to see if he could get his hands on my camera (I eventually won)
- developing a passion for the strange and wonderfully expressive stone carvings that populate every corner of the island
- the smell of incense, everywhere

- ... and so many more...

Oh how I wish I could place a small offering by my door, and recapture some of that Balinese happiness...

Apr 13, 2012

Seminyak, day 12

It's amazing how yoga can build me back up again. The swelling on my ankle had gone down a bit this morning so I managed to follow the entire 90 minute yoga and meditation session before breakfast, and I felt great. Centered. Energized. Ready to face the world, make some difficult decisions, and confident enough to believe things will fall into place. Somehow. Some day. The question is, will I be able to maintain this positive energy when I'm back in an environment that seems to surround and fill me with anger and self-loathing and hopelessness? Simply thinking about it now makes me want to cry. But I have a plan, a nugget of an idea to get me to a happy place. It will need nurturing, courage and a bit of crazy, but it's time to move forward. Like the Balinese healer said, I've lost my soul and it's high time I got it back.

Apr 12, 2012

Seminyak, day 11

I'm tired today. Tired of my swollen and sore ankle keeping me from joining in the activities (mostly I'm disappointed that it's preventing me from fully participating in yoga class; I don't mind as much about the surfing). I'm tired of hobbling ten metres behind everyone whenever we go somewhere. I'm tired of all the thoughts in my mind about what I should do with my life when I get back to Switzerland and figuring out what I need to make me happy. I'm tired of listening to well-intentioned advice about dropping everything and finding my soul. I'm tired of facing the prospect that I will have to leave in two days. I know I owe you a post about the Balinese healer (who did a pretty good job on my ankle until I decided to walk on it all day today and ruin all her good work). There are also so many other things I should tell you about Bali, about the food, the temples, family structures, deep-tissue traditional massages, art and dance, the hordes of Australians and the million other things I have discovered. But I'm just too tired. And the ice-pack on my ankle is melting and needs to be changed.

Injured surfer girl - ice pack in sarong

Apr 10, 2012

Seminyak, day 9

Strangely enough, today was a great day. I'll explain why I say "strangely enough" in a minute. We started out with the third yoga lesson of the week, an hour and a half of breathing and twisting into funny shapes and then having an excuse to lie down for a bit. It was fantastic. And all without a slip and slide show thanks to a nice pair of socks. This was followed by a massive breakfast (pancakes, muesli, poached egg, odd looking but yummy brown juice drinks, ginger tea), then some pool time and a one hour massage to top off the morning.

Then came the part I was dreading, the surfing. All the girls were so convinced I was going to stand up on the board today, while I was quite convinced of the opposite and worried about disappointing them (or worse, getting pity looks for being the only loser in the group). But I did it! It took a while, and the waves were bigger today so I was absolutely terrified. But with one very patient instructor holding on to my board and shouting "don't stress" repeatedly, mixed in with a healthy dose of pride, I got up there. And the photos look pretty good too, if I do say so myself (and I do).

So I was feeling pretty pleased with myself this afternoon; it's a good thing the girls here are so fantastic and supportive, because I'm fairly certain I was bordering on unduly smug. Which is when the gods decided to strike me down (as gods are wont to do). When you surf, turns out the most dangerous part (for beginners) is getting off the board. We surf in very shallow water so when you land you're going to hit the sand pretty hard. Most times I landed on my amply padded backside (which will turn out nice and bruised in a few days). But once I landed on my right ankle. It hurt, but not for long, so I thought nothing more of it.

Three hours later, I was in agony. Right in the middle of our girls' night out at Ku De Ta. I somehow managed to grin and bear it through a couple of drinks and a starter, but then it was too much to handle and I had to go. Two of the girls actually carried me out of the restaurant, into a cab, and all the way onto my bed (I can't even put a toe down). And I barely know these women. So despite the pain (slightly numbed now by cocktails, ibuprofen and a very large bundle of ice), this was a good day, and I'm happy to be here with these new friends. And tomorrow I'm seeing a traditional Balinese healer (a rather fortuitous appointment) so hopefully I won't miss out on the whole rest of the week.

Apr 9, 2012

Seminyak, day 8

This second week of my Balinese adventure is a huge contrast to the first. So much so, that I feel like I've started a second, distinct holiday. Which is great, cause I love a two for one as much as the next girl! This entire week I will be staying in Seminyak, the St Tropez of Bali on the southern coast, where all the fancy hotels and shops and restaurants are. I am in an absolutely gorgeous villa, which I share with eight other girls during a one-week surf and yoga retreat. Like I said, a very different experience from my time in Amed and Ubud.
The first yoga class was last night out on the lawn; and remember how I said there were no offerings here? Well scratch that, because at the end, when we opened our eyes, there were offerings at our feet and a Balinese priest and priestess blessing us with holy coconut water. It may sound a bit silly but I was actually quite moved by the experience.

Yoga studio
I was feeling a lot less moved this morning, when the whole class was executing perfect warrior poses except little Res who got sweaty feet and started slipping all over the floor of the studio trying not to break down into a full split. Great way to make a first impression. In fact, I looked just about as elegant and coordinated as I did this afternoon on the surf board, or rather, behind, beside, or underneath the surf board. Basically anywhere but on it. The whole group managed but me, but what would you except from the girl who fell into a rice paddy? (Oh yes, did I forget to mention that?!) The women are great, though. And the whole spiritual thing? Well, it's starting to grow on me.

Apr 8, 2012

Ubud to Seminyak, day 7

The first thing you learn about Bali is that offerings are everywhere. Tourists or no tourists makes little difference to the Balinese, they will put their daily offerings wherever they find space. Not just at temples but in front of their homes, their shops, your hotel room, at restaurants and petrol stations and markets, at the end of a bridge or by the side of the road, even on the dash of their car. Needless to say, offerings are constantly getting stepped on, driven over, pecked at by chickens and dogs or stolen by monkeys. Never mind, it's the act of offering that counts to the Balinese, and they'll be making another one soon enough anyways (apparently most Balinese make an offering once a day, although many do it twice a day, and more on special ceremonial days).

The base of your typical daily offering can be purchased at the market and consist of a small square or flower shape made from what I assume are banana or palm leaves, covered in flowers. The whole thing just about fits in the palm of your hand (ceremonial offerings, like when my hotel got purified, are much bigger and more elaborate). Then the offeror adds a personal touch, like a few grains of rice or a mentos candy (I'm not kidding). Maybe a fruit and a small glass of water will be squeezed in there. Then in goes the burning incense and, voila! You've got yourself a Balinese offering.

Gunung Kawi - 11th century
Tirta Empul tempul - cleansing ceremony

The first thing I noticed about the villa in Seminyak where I will be staying this week (well, after ooh-ing at how pretty it is) is that there are no offerings anywhere. I almost feel like I'm not in Bali anymore. In fact, driving through Seminyak it really does seem like I've entered a different world. Everything is so modern and Western here, such a shock coming from anywhere else on the island. This is Bali Miami beach style. But hey, I've just had the best massage of my life and am about to begin one week of yoga and surfing bliss with eight other women, so you won't hear any complaining from me!
Surf Haven villa

Apr 7, 2012

Ubud, day 6

After my lovely lunch yesterday I went for a nice long walk on the outskirts of Ubud, through rice paddies and over rivers and... right onto a narrow mountain road. You would have thought Lonely Planet would have mentioned the whole near-death part of the experience. It worked out well in the end, though, because my daredevil walk took me right past the Neka art museum, which I had been meaning to see but thought I wouldn't have time for. When life gives you lemons and all that.

Today was cycling day, although it started off with quite a bit of driving and a commercial stop at a coffee plantation that frankly could have been avoided. As for the cycling itself, I have mixed feelings. Overall, it was great, and an incredible way to see the Balinese countryside with people going about their daily business as they would whether you were there or not (although perhaps with more waving and grinning as you career down the mountainside). But I was pretty stressed by the whole things. My bike appeared to have few functioning gears, the roads were often little more than giant craters with a bit of tarmac in between, and cycling on them involved a lot of weaving between oncoming cars, motorbikes, chickens and dogs. As well as people drying their rice on the road. But really, seeing Bali this way was pretty special so no regrets!

Tonight is my last night in Ubud, and I'm debating what to do. Fit in another dance performance? Or simply continue to sit here on my cafe terrace, with the hippies (who I am sure disapprove of the iPad), and watch life go by?

Apr 6, 2012

Ubud, day 5

I'm back to being blissed out and in love with Bali again. Although things did not get off to such an auspicious start this morning. Or so I thought.

Having decided to sleep in, I was brutally jerked awake at 8 in the morning by a gong, various cymbals and men chanting. Have you ever been woken by a gong? No, I hadn't either, and I can assure you I have no intention of repeating the experience.  Stumbling down the stairs into the courtyard of the hotel, I was met by a ten-piece gamelan (Balinese orchestra), a priest with a bell, a tower of offerings and incense everywhere. Turns out it was a purification ceremony for the construction site that was causing me such grief yesterday. I was quickly offered a seat, an apology for the noise, tea and some Balinese ceremonial cake. And it was all done with such genuine smiles and generosity I was completely charmed by the whole thing and instantly forgot to be angry.

So off to the Monkey Forest I went, bright and early and with a spring in my step. I'll admit, I was a bit scared of the monkeys (especially when one of them tried to grab my camera out of my pocket) but the forest was so beautiful, filled with old temples and crazy statues and, well... monkeys. Mostly it's the mad tourists you need the worry about, the ones who try to provoke the animals, but since I had so luckily gotten an early start to the day there weren't too many of them about.

The rest of the morning was spent exploring the center of Ubud, with its insane drivers and  quiet back streets and little cafes that make you want to stay an extra month just so you can try them all. It is so difficult to describe this town in a way, that will do it justice. It is so difficult to simply wrap your head around it in the first place. A moment ago, I was sidestepping a giant pile of dirt and dodging on-coming traffic in the process; now, I am having lunch in a quiet garden with ponds and wild flowers everywhere, in bare feet and sitting on a cushion. And the two spots are probably 20 meters from each other. Yesterday I drove five minutes out of town to my cooking class, into Wayan and Puspa's outdoor family kitchen in the middle of the rice paddies. This morning, I had an iced latte at a cafe that wouldn't have looked out of place in New York (except it would cost much more than $2 and the two people behind me would not have been comparing national squatting laws.) I have to see how the yoga classes turn out next week but I would certainly not rule out coming back for a month-long yoga retreat some day (armed with plenty of tummy pills).


Apr 5, 2012

Ubud day 4

I am feeling very sorry for myself right now. Which in itself is not so surprising, because when am I not feeling sorry for myself. But today is particularly bad, because I have wasted a whole afternoon (and will waste a whole evening) holed up in my hotel room listening to construction workers due to a nasty spell of Bali Belly. (These are the same construction workers I was told only operated between 10am and 5pm, although they were well under way by 8.30 this morning and are still at it now, 11 hours later. No 35 hour week for these guys. Damn them.) Anyways, here I am, grumpy and ill and all my plans in a jumble. Boo.

Fortunately, I managed to keep it together long enough to make it through my Balinese cooking class, which provided me with a lovely opportunity to demonstrate to perfect strangers that I really can't chop anything properly, and to partake is some much-needed socialising. I love traveling by myself but when you're a chatterbox like me, sometimes it gets hard (especially when you're sick).

Ubud market - women selling offerings
Ubud market
Puspa, cooking teacher extraordinaire, demonstrating the Balinese blender
Me mixing up some Gado Gado
Look Mommy! I made it all by myself! (well, sort of...)
 As always, pictures to come when I get back, blah blah stupid iPad blah... Tomorrow my plan is not to be sick anymore and have a wander through a sacred forest of monkeys (as opposed to a forest of sacred monkeys, which would be very disturbing. But first I will have a beer, because somehow I have it in my head that beer is good for your tummy. Like Coke. If I'm wrong at least I'll have pretended to have a good evening.

Amed to Ubud, day 3

Part 1

I think I'm falling in love with this island. It's hard to explain what's so special about it. It isn't very clean, there's a lot of poverty and just as many tourists. And it's not a spiritual thing for me either (those who know me will tell you that, while I have my moments, spiritual is hardly the word  to describe me).

No, Bali doesn't make me believe in a higher power. It makes me believe in people. That people can be good and kind, and that the world can be a peaceful place we are lucky to be a part of. I can see why people never want to leave, Bali is like a giant pot of tiger balm for the soul. So soothing.

I'm sure the Balinese people experience their share of grief and heartbreak and loss. But their default mode seems to be good cheer and generosity. It can't just be a giant marketing ploy. I see them smiling, bursting with laughter, patting each other on the back and generally acting like today is going to be their lucky day. Even when they greet you they say "hello yes" or even just "yes", which is such a lovely way to start things off. Coming from France, where negativity has been elevated to an art form, this can be quite a shock. If I were a candidate in the upcoming presidential elections, I'd recommend that social security cover a two week trip to Bali for every French citizen. It may not solve any problems but maybe it would stop people from complaining about them and just get on with it.

On the drive from Amed to the water palace of Tirta Gangga, we were stopped by people chatting in the street, decorating cars with flowers and generally having a bit of a blast. Turns out it was a wedding because, as my driver explained, "for Hindus, today is a good day for a wedding". I bet it is! The sun is shining, we're in Bali, heck, I'd get married today if I could! (any takers?) (it must really be a very good day for a wedding, as we saw a dozen more on the way to Ubud; I even caught sight of a bride, in a beautiful gold and purple sari and a giant gold head-dress)

A house decorated for a wedding

Part 2

So not so much blissed-out peacefulness in Ubud. I can't believe how crazy this place is, and in off-season! What a change from the fishermen's shacks in the north-east. Still, I feel I'm going to like it here, and I have a full schedule of activities to look forward to. Starting tonight, with some traditional Balinese dancing at the lotus pond temple. There are worse places to be.

Apr 3, 2012

Amed, day 2

Amed is in fact not one single place, but a string of little villages in the remote north-east corner of Bali. Well, as remote as you can get on such a small island, anyway. And by villages, I mean mostly hotels. It's beautiful. Behind us are tall, green hills. In front, the ocean, and a narrow line of black sand and rock. This is volcano territory, and the island's scariest volcano, Gunung Agung, lurks nearby. It last erupted in 1963, which is around the time Betty left Don, just to give you some context.

The trouble with Amed is, once you're in your hotel, you can't really leave. I went to talk to a man about some snorkelling (there are reefs and shipwrecks right off the shore) and he encouraged me to rent a motorbike and explore all the wonderful sites in the vicinity. Great. I have never ridden a motorbike in my life and something tells me the hilly, narrow roads of Bali are not the best place to start. I'm really wishing now that my father had taught me how to drive the little scooter we have back home.

Anyways, being sans motorbike, I tried walking. I did not get far. Did I mention yesterday how hot it is here? And I am still handicapped by the damn bronchitis that threatened to have me cancel the whole trip altogether, as well as a twinge of Bali Belly hanging in the air yesterday. Still, I managed to get some lovely shots of rice fields, fishing boats and soaring hills. None of which I am able to share with you now (dear iPad, you know I love you, but sometimes you just enfuriate me).

I'm a little tired today. Jetlag, plus the whole waking at 3am to cough up my left lung. It's my last chance to snorkel, but the water is choppy and I'm worried I may fall asleep in the water and drown. Or cough up my right lung. So maybe today should be a spa day. And tomorrow, off to see a water palace on the way to Ubud. Lovely breakfast waiter Ketut (a fourth born, according to what I have learned about Balinese names) has found me a driver for the journey - for the small sum of $35. It's so much less than what I would have paid, I didn't even bargain him down (on the contrary, I was tempted to bargain him up...)

I look forward to telling you all about the pretty pictures I will take.

Apr 2, 2012

Amed, day 1

Welcome to Bali, the host location of this blog for the next couple weeks! First impressions? It's hot. You have to forgive me, I've only just woken up following a midnight arrival after a 30 hour door-to-door journey so my poetic skills aren't quite what they could be. So hot is all I have for you right now.

The whole adventure began with the following cab-ride conversation:
Driver: so where you going?
Res: Bali.
Driver: Berlin?
Res: no. Bali.
Driver: where is that, Thailand?
Res: indonesia.
Driver (sounding horrified): indonesia?
Res: yes.
Driver: is that a nice place to go?
Res: yes.
Driver: really?
Res: really.
Driver: and how long does it take to get there?
Res: about 20 hours (I rounded down)
Driver: oh no. That's too far.

He had no idea.... A few hours later, after a significant delay, we were flying to Doha when we hit some serious turbulence. So serious, in fact, that the whole plane started screaming. Yes, including me. After the initial scream, I may have been overheard begging God to not let me die this way, next to some stranger who would probably refuse to hold my hand on the way down. Which is when it occurred to me (after the plane righted itself and it became clear I was not dying after all) that I am a very selfish person. Because I actually wished for someone I loved to be sitting next to me just so I wouldn't be alone. They say the truth comes out of mouthes of babes, and people who think their plane is crashing over northern Irak. Shame on me.

But never mind. Here I am, many hours later, after a few more flights and three customs and immigration queues, after 3 hours of driving on snaking, potholed roads (good thing I was warned and packed those car sickness pills) after a comatosed sleep under a mosquito net. Here I am. Overlooking the ocean with a cup of tea. Desperate for more sleep but very happy to be here.

Happy beginning of April to me.