Adventure! Following the FBI in Bali

One of the first Indonesian words I learned was petualangan. Trying to wrap my Midwestern American tongue around that one was a challenge. But so worth it. Petualangan means adventure.

I woke up this morning with itchy feet. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen the UNESCO rice terraces of Jatiluwih and they were calling. At 7:30, Ketut popped his head around the corner of the veranda where I was journaling. We exchanged the usual pleasantries and when he asked if I had a plan today, which he always does, I said yes, adventure.

“Where?”

“Jatiluwih. Okay with you?

“Ya! What time?

“9:00.”

“Good.”

It was a glorious morning, sunny with breezes. A quick check of the weather app showed a high of 77°F (25°C) in the mountains where we were headed. This would be a much shorter journey than the ridiculous 12-hour bike ride that left me feeling every one of my golden years for weeks afterward. I estimated one hour thirty minutes to get there and a quicker trip coming home, downhill all the way.

As soon as we left Ubud, the landscape opened. I sucked in lungs full of farm-scented air (through my mask, of course) and shed the cloud of gloom that’s enveloped the town since lockdown, March 2020.

It’s impossible not to feel a surge of joyous abandon when flying through the coutryside on the back of Ketut’s motorbike. The wind in my face, the congenial chatter, the comaraderie, the laughter – it’s a higher high than any drug or drink could possibly achieve.

Soon the road narrowed and we began to climb.

First we passed this guy.

Then we followed this guy.

It probably says something obscene below the big letters. I couldn’t make it out. If you can, and it does, don’t think poorly of me. I captured the photo on the fly and it was too good to pass up.

I wanted to have this adventure during Galungan. For ten days every six months, the ancestors return from the spirit world to visit their villages. As if by magic, streets transform overnight and elegant penjors arch and sway gracefully overhead.

Each town has its own style. You can tell how well-off the village is by the grandeur of the penjors.

The moment I set foot on this island, the profusion of artistic detail amazed me. From temples, to ogoh-ogohs, to the massive bulls and cremation towers that carry the deceased to their final farewell, the creative wizardry of the Balinese people is astounding.

And then…

What is it about rice terraces that unravels me? It’s been that way since my first trip to Bali in 2010. The guide stopped the car and said to walk around the curve and maybe I would like to take photos. Around that curve was the most jaw-dropping view I’d ever seen. Sunlight glittered on hundreds of pools of freshly planted paddies cascading down the mountainsides. I clutched my throat so my heart couldn’t escape, then burst into tears.

Today I didn’t cry, but reverent awe is always there.

At approximately thirty minutes in, our walk came to an abrupt halt. Heavy rains had washed out the land beneath the trail. The concrete path was broken and hung precariously over the abyss.

“What do you think, Ketut? Shall we try?”

He looked at me like I had two heads. “Maybe never come back,” he said.

“Good point. Let’s go eat lunch.”

By the time we’d hiked the thirty-minute return, starvation was setting in. My mouth watered thinking of the overflowing buffet at Billy’s Cafe. As soon as we entered, I realized that was a pre-covid memory. There was no buffet. There were no patrons. The menu had shrunk to a single, laminated sheet, drinks on one side, food on the other. But the view remained.

We ordered and chatted, ate and chatted, sat enjoying the perfect weather, the idyllic view, and the empty restaurant – and chatted – for hours. Bliss.

There isn’t much I enjoy more than lingering over a meal in the company of a good friend. But shadows were growing longer. It was time to go.

My favorite photo of today’s grand adventure is this one. Three Indonesian flags, whipping in the wind atop needle-thin poles marked the beginning, or from this perspective the end of the path through the terraces. Gratitude welled up within me for this country that has been home for the past nine years. I’ve been treated with utmost kindness. I never realized how much I needed that.

As I stood rapt, gazing upward, I could almost hear the national anthem of Indonesia. It’s blared from loudspeakers every Independence Day but I’ve never known the lyrics. Today I looked them up. The last stanza speaks my heart’s wish:

Let us pray

For Indonesia’s prosperity:

May her soil be fertile

And spirited

The nation and all the people.

Conscious be her heart

And her mind

For Indonesia the Great.

Now I’m curled in my comfy cushions at home, relaxed, rejuvenated, nurtured, and at peace. What a perfect day and a magnificent adventure. Thank you, Ketut.

A Life of No Regret

 

I ran across this poem recently:

What I Regret
By Nina Cassian

. . . never having heard the voice of the Dodo bird . . .
. . . never having smelled the Japanese cherry trees . . .
. . . never having punished the lovers and friends that
deserted me . . .
. . . never having asked for honours that I deserved . . .
. . . never having composed a Mozart sonata . . .
. . . never having realised that I’d live long enough to
regret all the above . . .
. . . and much, much more . . .

What a heartbreaking indictment, a tragic litany for a final act.

At some point in my fifties I realized that if I continued my trajectory, I would die with huge regrets. The picture was graphic: I saw myself on my death bed. I felt the agony of an unlived life but it was more than that. I was ashamed. Why had I undervalued myself? Why hadn’t I followed my dream of travel, my love of adventure? Why had I squandered the gift of years? I was smart, strong, healthy, and capable right up to the end. I could have changed my circumstances at any time. But seeing the shrunken disillusioned shell I’d become, it was obvious I hadn’t.

The vision terrified me. But it prompted action: a slow steady turning of the barge midstream to head toward the waterfall, and conquering that, to the sea beyond.

What I know now that I didn’t know then is a basic condition of my character: I have the capacity for unfathomable darkness and I’m hard-wired for adventure. It’s in my DNA. But if I don’t get healthy excitement, and if the darkness isn’t deliberate it will come out sideways, corrupted, and dysfunctional. In my life, it had done just that.

People thought I was nuts to move to the other side of the globe alone, to a place where I knew no one and had only been once for a two-week vacation. But there are times when knowing settles into the bones; times when you realize that listening to the crazy voices in your head will save you.

People have asked me, “How did you summon the courage to do it?”

Courage? Ha! It was terror, pure and simple. I was terrified of the alternative and fear is by far the most powerful motivator there is.

That short visit was enough for me to know that Bali’s energy was different, that there was something there for me.

The culture is rich, deep, and ancient. Shamanistic rituals maintain the balance between darkness and light.

There are world-class events: the Ubud Writers Festival, the Food Festival, the Jazz Festival, the Bali Spirit Festival, the Kite Festival, the Arts Festival, that challenge and entertain.

There are natural disasters: earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes, that provide enough trauma for several lifetimes.

There are problems: illiteracy, pollution, poverty, which create boundless opportunities to get involved and help. Bali, by nature, provides everything I need and allows me to be fully who I am, effortlessly. And maybe that’s the key: the lack of striving.

I hope you aren’t tired of hearing this from me. I know it’s a recurring theme. But I can’t emphasize enough the importance of living a fulfilled life. I hitched myself along for the ride on someone else’s dream many times. It’s a spirit-shattering business. Nobody but you can live your life. Nobody but you can nourish your soul.

Yoga, Intention, and Geocaching!

There are heart-opening poses in yoga. Some are quite easy, others require a mind-over-matter approach! There is also the opportunity to set an intention for the day. I set my intention this morning to allow my heart to be open to new opportunities in whatever form they presented. I held my intention through the poses which leaned decidedly toward the more strenuous.

(The following pbotos were taken from the Bing search engine.)

We did a lot of this only our arms are outstretched reaching, lifting, holding in front of the body.

And a lot of this, holding, holding…

And the full sun salute series 6 times on each side.

The one pose that was over-the-top doesn’t have a photo anywhere on the internet! Picture this: Stretch out full length on your stomach, legs together. Stretch your right arm straight out from the shoulder, perpendicular to your body. Roll your entire body to the left toward that arm as far as you can keeping the right arm extended. Bend your left knee and bring your left foot close to your left hip but keep it on the floor. Bend your right knee and bring it up beside your left. Now raise your left arm toward the ceiling and then stretch it back as far as you can toward your right arm. Then hold the pose for 2 – 5 minutes. Your shoulders crunch, your heart opens! Wallah!

I walk back home and sit down in the little cafe for breakfast after greeting the others already assembled there. Pulling out my notebook I start working on the next piece of writing when I overhear a conversation between two tables at my left. The man from the Netherlands is explaining to the couple from Canada about his travels geocaching. As I eavesdrop I learn that “treasure boxes” are hidden all over the world with specific GPS coordinates for locating them. They are placed by individuals who have an interest in or love for a particular place. There are actually three right here in Ubud, he says. By then I am shamelessly listening and asking questions. The one he plans to see this morning is in a school for handicapped children. Then the invitation, did I want to come along?

Cause and effect is a reliable force. Here was an opportunity presenting itself not more than a half hour from the time I’d set my intention in the heart-opening yoga class. I ask a few initial questions then accept. We head out, Rob from the Netherlands with GPS in hand, and me, open-hearted, opportunity-seeking adventurer. Twenty minutes later we enter the huge open main floor area of the school. It is spotlessly clean with some structures that appear to be built for large motor skill development. Then we’re directed up the stairs. Three-quarters of the way up Rob exclaims, “There it is!” and picks up a brightly-colored woven basket sitting on the ledge by the stairway. He opens it and removes a notebook and pen, writes his name and the date and something else in Dutch, and returns the notebook and the basket. Then he shows me his phone slash GPS and the button to push indicating he found the treasure.

Wonders never cease. We then observed two classrooms. In one the children are singing, beautifully. In the other they are paying close attention to their teacher. She gives an instruction and they perform the task, then she issues another instruction. A woman tells us that there are children with Downs Syndrome, Attention Deficit, Hyperactivity, Autism and other disabilities. At 10:00 they will be downstairs in the gymnasium for exercise…that is what I saw coming into the building…and we can watch.

The school has a restaurant and is attempting to be self-supporting. All the children and everyone I see working there is Balinese however the school (and orphanage) was founded by Europeans. This is not a tourist destination so information is a little tougher to come by, nor did I find a website.

We thank them and leave, conversing congenially as we walk back. Rob catches his motorbike taxi to the next treasure location. I retire to to my balcony to once again share the events of the day with you swearing never again to underestimate the power of intention.

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