Wayans and Waterfalls

“Come and see my waterfall,” Wayan Massage said in her intense, bossy way. I call her Wayan Massage to differentiate her from the 20,000 other Wayans in Bali. First born children, whether boy or girl, are often named Wayan, and I’ll leave it at that for now because this story is about her waterfall, not her name.

I’ve been to Niagara. I’ve been to Norway. I’ve seen spectacular waterfalls. Bali’s are nice but they’re not in the same league. So I stalled a bit.

“Where is your waterfall?”
“In my village.”
“Is it man-made or natural.”
“Ya.” My spotty Indolish obviously didn’t translate.
“Okay, soon.  I will come soon.” I pictured children splashing around a pile of rocks with a stream of pumped-in water stolen from the paddy irrigation ditches dribbling over the top, a glorified fountain.

A few hours later, Wayan gave my visiting friend, Nancy, a massage. Before I knew it we were scheduled to see the waterfall the following week.

The day arrived and as we were leaving, my phone rang. “Where are you?” It was Wayan.

“Just heading out of Ubud. We’ll be there soon.” Twenty minutes later we turned off the main road down a narrow path. Ubud, so close by, is one of the hottest tourist spots in Bali. But foreigners rarely come to this village and heads cranked around to stare as we passed. Excited children on bicycles shouted, “Hello! Hello!” and we waved and shouted back, “Hello!”

Wayan, her son Arya, and her husband Komang, ushered us through the gate into the family compound. “Oh! That’s new!” I exclaimed at the structure that had materialized where nothing but garden used to be. Komang explained that it was the pavilion where all the family’s human celebrations are held, baby ceremonies, tooth filings, weddings. “It is also the place where, at the end of life, the body is prepared for cremation,” he said.

“It’s very beautiful” I scanned the remaining open spaces. “And where’s the waterfall?”

“I’ll take you later, please sit down.” Balinese hospitality has its rules. We sat on the terrace and drank from the young coconuts offered to us. Nancy had treats for them. Arya was quick to sample and grimace as the bitter taste of the goji berry raw dark chocolate brownie offended his expectations. When the magic moment came, seven of us hopped on three motorbikes and set out.

As we zoomed along my first misconception became obvious. The waterfall wasn’t located in the immediate neighborhood.

P1100253When we exited to another small pathway and came to a halt at the top of a cliff of stairs, my second erroneous perception showed itself. Whatever the waterfall was, it probably was not a playground just for children.

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We started down the steps. When they ended and the land fell away at a near vertical decline, and I realized that I was expected to navigate it to the bottom and come out alive, I decided that just maybe this might be a deep-in-the-jungle, bona-fide, honest-to-goodness real authentic waterfall.

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Anchored by one strong Balinese man stabilizing me from the front, and another gripping my hand from behind, I skidded, slid, and plummeted to a point mid-way down where Komang stopped us. “Do you want to see the temple?” A grassy trail cut a horizontal path to the left. No one had mentioned a temple. Yes, we wanted to see. It sounded like a better idea than continuing the plunge downward. Within a few minutes the jungle opened to reveal simple buildings tucked into the mountain on the other side of the river. “How do you get there?” There wasn’t a bridge in sight.

“Through the water,” Komang said.

Of course. How silly of me. Any Balinese woman could navigate that suicide path down the mountain with an offering tower on her head, dance her way through the swirling water, sure-footed as a gazelle, and land safely on the other side, her precious cargo intact.

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We retraced our steps, resuming the downward journey. Then, with a fair distance still to go, I spied the falls through a break in the trees.


Stunned by the wild beauty of it, I soaked in the sight and sound of tons of water tumbling over jagged rocks. “We bring the ashes here,” Komang said, and I knew he was referring to the cremains of the deceased and that this spot served a spiritual purpose as well as a practical one.


Reaching bottom at last, Komang and Arya were soon playing in the cool, calm pool at the base of that pounding cascade of water, Nancy, assisted by Wayan Puji, was scaling the steep rock face to the top of the falls, and Ketut was keeping a watchful eye on us all.

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As I sat surrounded by the raw majesty of nature, I felt ashamed. It had been a while, but once again I had misjudged, and grossly underestimated what Bali wanted to show me. Humbled, I whispered an apology to the silent keepers of that sacred place and begged their pardon. But forgiveness, however generously offered, wasn’t unconditional. My penance, unavoidable, lay ahead: the climb back up!

For the love of beautiful stuff…

It’s not fair. Here I am, trapped in paradise, surrounded by the most exquisitely crafted objects of art, and I’m committed to a simple, less is more kind of life? That’s just wrong!

But I’m adamant about keeping my possessions minimal and until now I’ve done well, buying only functional items that I need. One of those, the Bali Blue Bed that Ketut’s father made for his family over 30 years ago, is a treasure. It’s also my couch. I love it…cherish it…and so do visitors!

P1100176Then, lacking storage space, I commissioned a carved teak door from a craftsman near the Tagallalang rice terraces and hired a local tukang to create a pantry for my kitchen.

P1090999A cavernous refrigerator once occupied that space. It woke me up in the night growling because it was empty. Now I have a tiny, under-the-counter frig that I keep comfortably full, and a new closet that is functional, practical, and beautiful!

But then…oh dear.

You know how it is when you fall in love? The object of your affection becomes an obsession. You try to put it out of your mind. You tell yourself all manner of stories to reduce its importance, to diminish it. But nothing works. You make excuses to see it, to hang out in its neighborhood, to just stop by. And then, in a moment of weakness…you marry him! Whoops, no! You BUY IT!

Here’s what happened…

Penestanan is a village of master beaders. The first time I saw their creations I was smitten. But I had no home and less money so I tucked the memory into the ‘save for later’ corner and went about my business. That was three years ago. The other day I passed the shop. Except I didn’t pass the shop. I stopped and went inside. The array of shapes, sizes, and colors of baskets entirely encased in glass beads dazzled me all over again. My resistance melted and dribbled out the door. The bargaining went well and I placed an order. I’d have to wait a month, she said. No problem.

Yesterday I got a call from the shop. It was ready, but, so sorry, too tall, no short baskets, if you don’t like no problem, so sorry. All this was uttered in rat-a-tat-tat Indonesian and I caught the gist but had no idea what it really meant. I told her I would come right away.

She began apologizing again the minute I walked through the door. Please slow down. My Indonesian is no good! Uttering a few more sorry’s she disappeared into the back and returned carrying a fabulous basket, by far the biggest one I’d ever seen. Over the course of the next half hour I learned that the rattan structures that form the framework for the beading come from Java and the size I’d ordered hadn’t arrived. Of course this one, more than twice as large, was also twice the price.

Negotiation is a process I enjoy. It often takes unexpected side trips, and this was no exception.

I have villa, you have friend, maybe your friend like my villa, maybe rent, stay long time, maybe I give you good price and you tell your friend…(she quotes a price.)

Oh, sorry Ibu, that’s too much. I’ll wait until the smaller baskets come.

Long time, maybe not come…

I’m not in a hurry…

Okay, okay, what you pay?

No, it’s beautiful, and the price is good, but too much for me. I don’t want to steal it!

Okay, okay, you tell friend I have villa…(she quotes a significantly lower price and I’m hooked.)

Now I own the biggest beaded basket in Bali.

P1100232And I’m done. Really, I am. There’s nothing else I need, nothing else I want, my home is complete! And every time I look at that incredible, non-functional, impractical basket, I smile.






Bali Boy Braves the Waves!

Superstitions run deep. Bodies of water harbor entities, not all benign, and on this island elaborate rituals are enacted to keep those restless spirits in their place. So swimming is not an altogether comfortable idea for many Balinese people. But today we went to the beach. It’s the supposedly hidden one, off the beaten track, hard to access. The trail appears to drop off into nothingness.


Counter to intuition that told us to continue following the path forward, there’s a door in the side of the wall. I missed it the first time. The trail grew narrower, and narrower, steeper and steeper, until without mountain climbing gear, I wasn’t going another step.

P1100225Feeling a bit like Alice in Wonderland jumping down the rabbit hole, we retraced our steps, found the opening and passed through. It was still a steep descent to the beach, but once there we found the place almost deserted.

P1100193With the exception of a pair of sleeping beauties.

P1100198Today was to be special. Our friend, Nancy, was going to teach Wayan how to swim. But as we settled in at the local warung and ordered our favorite drinks, it was clear that the waves were unusually high and rolling in with astonishing speed. So we sat. And we watched. And we sat some more. We sat and watched while people arrived and congregated on the sand in front of us. The sarong vendor hawked her wares. The beach masseuses found willing victims.


And still we sat. We ordered coffee, then  lunch, then more lunch, then more coffee. The waves crashed on.


By late afternoon, Ketut was looking significantly bored with the whole affair and I was making going home noises when all of a sudden, Wayan jumped up, stripped off his jeans, and headed to the water. There was no swimming lesson, Nancy had gotten over that idea real quick. But Wayan cavorted, splashed, sputtered and played, and emerged at last with a very large, very happy grin. And the rest of us…well, we did what we do best…we watched.

What to do about all that?

Awake before five this morning, the brightening sky lured me from bed. I slid open the wide doors, welcoming the light in the east and the soft breath of dawn. With steaming brew cupped warm in my hands I watched the fire at the horizon fade to blue and scribbled my musings.


But the more I wrote, the less I knew, until my jumbled, tumbling thoughts spit out this question:  WHAT TO DO ABOUT ALL THAT?

Instantly the words came…

Get up early
Watch the sunrise
Hear the sounds
Smell the incense
Feel the caress
Taste the coffee
Receive the blessing
Give thanks

It’s being present and allowing my mind to rest, to let go of trying to ‘figure it all out.’ Don’t push the river, Dad used to tell me. Too often I rushed headlong into a solution of my own devising that brought suffering in the end. Older now, and somewhat wiser, my heart knows that the answers will appear when they’re ready if I give them the chance.

Blowin’ in the wind…the Sanur Kite Festival

When I say kite, what comes to mind? Something diamond shaped with a ribboned tail? I can count on one finger the number of times I saw a kite in the sky where I grew up.  The marshy bog of northern Minnesota wasn’t a kite culture. Maybe that’s why they hold such a fascination for me.

Then I came to Bali and watched graceful shapes dip and swoop in the sky, sometimes fifteen or twenty at a time during the windy months of winter. It was magical! And when I heard that the oceanside town of Sanur had an annual kite festival, I vowed to go.

But I could never quite pinpoint the when of that event. It’s like most things here. Somebody tells somebody else and when word finally gets to me it’s happening in ten minutes, or it just happened ten minutes ago.

So when a friend sent a message to my phone yesterday that the kite festival would be at Mertasari Beach in Sanur today, I was thrilled to have that much advance notice.

This morning we set out. I put my visiting friend on the back of Ketut’s motorbike because I wanted her to remain alive, and I rode with Wayan since I can handle a little more speed and a lot more near death trauma. As we approached Sanur, traffic came to a dead stop for no apparent reason.  There was speculation in the crowd, maybe Obama is passing through, maybe the British soccer team…logical assumptions like that. After a pause of about seven minutes, a whistle blew from somewhere and off we went.

P1100008There were the usual interesting t-shirts. I snapped this one and didn’t notice the uniformed Polisi behind him until I downloaded the photo at home. Lucky accident.

P1100010Today, as always, our motorbike excursion was a visual feast. The entrance to an elegant, upscale jewelry showroom dazzled with the intricately sculpted figures at the entrance.

P1100011And the assortment of statues that grace the major intersections, continue to amaze me. This grand scale example was finished earlier this year.

P1100013Never to be excluded are the edibles being transported from point A to point B by motorbike.

P1100103After about forty minutes on the road, we reached our destination, parked, and stepped through the looking glass, or the wardrobe, or fell down the rabbit hole…into a different world.

We arrived in the middle of a kite competition. Kites so large they required whole teams of men to carry them were advancing toward an open area. Judging officials were housed in covered canopies announcing the events over booming loudspeakers. And when the long-tails leapt into the sky it was just about the most exciting thing I’ve ever seen.

P1100057The glorious, undulating ribbons hung in the air, operated by teams of five, six, seven, or more men, all straining to hold their prize in place against the strong ocean breezes. When the judges called the winner, the teams efficiently pulled the great birds out of the air to make room for the next category.

Overhead was empty blue, then, as though someone opened Pandora’s Box, it was full!

The skill to keep all those kites airborne, aloft in one place without tangling with the strings of the others surrounding them, is an expertise practiced from the time these guys are toddlers. They look like specks in the sky but don’t be fooled. They’re massive.P1100075Some had heads, ornate, crowned beasts with flowing scarves and fangs worthy of a child’s worst nightmare.

When our senses had been stimulated to overload and sunstroke was an impending threat, we left the extravaganza behind and started home. We’d made it about half a block and once again traffic came to a standstill. Nancy stood up on the motorbike to get a better view. What is Ketut thinking?! I wondered as I captured the moment digitally.P1100089After a generous length of time, someone thought of a shortcut. Engines roared into action and a teeming throng of motorbikes turned as one entity into a parking area that wound around the obstruction and spit us out on the other side of it.

P1100104Then it was clear sailing…P1100110past the blue Visnu….

P1100114down the frightfully narrow path…

and home again, home again, to Ubud, jiggety-jig. How nice to get a timely tip. It was a spectacular day!

Report to Immigration!

Source: Report to Immigration!

Report to Immigration!

Why my last year’s picture and fingerprints aren’t good enough, I don’t know. My U.S. passport photo serves me for fifteen years. But the Indonesian retirement visa, no way. And with the number of expats that live here, couldn’t there be a branch in Ubud capable of the required official documenting of our existence?


I swing onto the back of Ketut’s motorbike, my happy place. “Ayo! Ayo! It’s off to imigrasi we go!” I sing out as we meld into the stop-go traffic on Monkey Forest Road. Ketut ambles along, never in a hurry but always getting where we’re going in time. There’s a window, 2 – 2:30, to meet up with the agent, Mr. Heru, at immigration headquarters. The rice fields flash by in their various states of readiness, sometimes wet, murky pools, sometimes shafts of harvest gold. When the burn starts in my throat I know we’ve hit the polluted border of Denpasar and the sudden snarls of motorbikes affirms that suspicion.

Bali Traffic

The outskirts, a hodge-podge of billboards, Communist era gray buildings, and lean-to warungs, disappear as we enter the civilized Renon district and pull into the parking lot. Mr. Heru is there and we’re ushered inside.

I’m not sure what hits first, the heat or the stink, but the combination stops me in my tracks and I disguise the gag reflex in an extravagant episode of coughing. Holy B.O. Batman! Let’s hope this is quick.

Mr. Heru tells us to find chairs. Two in the back corner sit empty and I slouch into the one nearest the wall with a direct view of the television that’s showing a comedy act on silent. I’m handed a slip of paper with a number, C070, and notice that the one showing on the monitor overhead is C036. Okay, so there will be a little wait. My breakfast feels unsteady as I breathe shallow puffs, trying not to inhale any more of that over-ripe air than possible. Memories of morning sickness remind me of how great it is to be old and far beyond childbearing potential.

I tune in to the comedy. Raunchy Indonesian humor has me hysterical in moments. The two men, one with a red mohawk and one with a yellow, in shiny business suits with pants that end about three inches above the ankle, are non-stop hilarity, and Ketut and I laugh lounder than anybody. Their thirty-minute routine ends. I glance again at the monitor. C036 hasn’t budged. Mr. Heru appears, apologetic. “So sorry. Equipment is not working. Can you come back tomorrow? Or maybe you wait, in one hour maybe fixed.”

I barely suppress a groan. “I can’t come back tomorrow,” I say. “I have a meeting.”

“Ya, you wait then,” he says.

“Ya, okay.” What else am I going to say? The idea of turning around, riding the hour and a half back to Ubud, then repeating the sequence again anytime soon is revolting. I’ve almost acclimated to the stench.

Another show that smacks of the old U.S. favorite, You’re on Candid Camera! is underway. The thing that Indonesian television has over anything in the U.S. is its blatant political incorrectness. Here women are objectified, subjectified, and sexualized with careless abandon. Gays are depicted with affection as providing unlimited potential for ridicule and harassment, and the male sexual organ is referenced or displayed at every possible opportunity.

Time passes unnoticed, glued to the tube. But when the display on the digital monitor moves from C036 to C037, a murmured undercurrent scuttles through the room. People shift in their chairs, unfold the crumpled bits of paper that hold their number, and check their watches. The building closes at 4 p.m. It’s now 3:15.

In my TV stupor I’d failed to notice that the room had emptied down to a handful of a dozen bodies or so. Suddenly there’s a parade back in and a scramble for the remaining chairs. One of those New York Wall Street types, with a child strapped to his back and his ex-model wife herding three more children blocks the view of the programming while expounding at shocking volume on the recent activity of the Chinese stock market. I note glances exchanged among the quiet locals. A hip white lady, circa 1940’s, with bleached hair and shorts so short they reveal the saggy creases of once perky buttocks jiggling just below their lacey edge, strolls in with her teen-aged Balinese boyfriend. The monitor flips over another number: C038.

It’s a slow race with time. The numbers advance, sometimes two or three in a row, but often the minutes stretch out with eons between them. It’s 3:55. C068 has parked and taken up residence. Has the equipment malfunctioned again? Am I to get this close and be sent home? I turn toward Ketut, my eyebrows ask the question. Stoic, positive, with the kind of patience that I can never hope to achieve, even in retirement, he appears unruffled and noncommittal. Then, as if tripping over one another in their excitement, C069 is immediately followed by C070.

I leap from the chair. Ketut skitters out of the way as I head for the door marked Photos for Foreigners and push through it. Two desks, manned by uniformed immigration officials, are stuffed into the closet-sized room. I climb over the granny with the shorts to get to the second desk where I’m being summoned by the bespectacled man behind it.

“Sit back,” he commands as I perch on the edge of the chair. “Move your bangs off your eyebrows.” I do as I’m told, grinning like a happy chimpanzee. “You can smile but don’t show your teeth.” That one throws me and I snap my mouth shut and frown just as the camera clicks. If Frankenstein had a twin sister, the photo would have captured the likeness. Before I have time to ask for a retake he’s shoved documents in front of me. “Your signature here, the same as this one, and again here.” At the final flourish of the pen he grabs my hand. “All the fingers, this one first,” and he moves my thumb to the red window on the machine that records its image. Then it’s over. Two and a half hours and three minutes, the three minutes were inside that closet, from 3:56 to 4:00, taking care of the business I came to accomplish. Mine is the last number called.

Rolling through countryside on the return trip I experience yet again the sense of elation, the thrill of living here in Bali, the island of the gods, the land of volcanoes and magic. A few hours sweating it out in Immigration once a year for the privilege, is a small price to pay. We sail along in the late afternoon warmth, exotic views unrolling alongside us, the tails of my scarf flapping in the breeze. “Pulang?” says Ketut. I smile, once again grateful for this sweet soul who is the very essence and heart of my paradise.

“Yes, please, Ketut. Let’s go home.”

Young rice planting

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