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.


“Jatiluwih. Okay with you?

“Ya! What time?



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.

Stressed? Just throw a good old-fashioned tantrum.

Yesterday I woke up cranky. Perhaps a smidge beyond cranky. The usual start-the-day-right rituals, wash face, make coffee, journal, do yoga, meditate made it as far as the journal. By the time I’d written a few sentences trying to get to the source of my dire mood I was so antsy and agitated I couldn’t sit still.

That state is rare for me – like once-every-twenty-years rare – and the usual methods of dealing with small irritations weren’t working.

I got up from my journaling chair and paced. It felt as though the house couldn’t contain all my roiling, boiling energy. I had to escape. I grabbed my phone and sent a quick message to Ketut. Do you have plans today?

The reply was instant. No plans. You have?

I’m stressed. I want wind in my face. I want adventure.

Ok. What time?


One of the many things I love about the Balinese people is their passion for gossip. We’d barely straddled the motorbike when Ketut said, Why you have stress? I was only too happy to vent my wrath to the back of his helmet, yelling my grievances: drought, heat, politics, monkeys, my friend with cancer. He nodded his understanding while navigating the insane Ubud traffic. When I stopped for breath he asked more questions plumbing for details, anything juicy.

It was during one of those breathing moments that I realized what was happening. I was speaking Indonesian and the vocabulary to describe emotions, frustrations, the craziness I was feeling wasn’t translating well from English. The words I pulled in to communicate my bizarre state of mind changed the story. My rant sounded silly, even to myself. I wondered how Ketut was hearing it. The image of a naughty child in full-on tantrum mode flashed before me and I exploded into laughter.

Ketut’s helmeted head swiveled as he ventured a curious glance over his shoulder.

Ya? You okay? That made me laugh harder. Was I okay?

Okay? I repeated, my heart pumping pure gratitude for this friend. Yes. I’m finished now. No more complaining. Thank you for listening. It’s your turn, Ketut. How do you feel today? Is your family good? Is your garden planted?

I knew what he would say – could have mouthed the words with him: Ya. Good. Same same. There was a pause as landscapes I hadn’t noticed to this point rushed past. I sucked lungs full of clean air and feasted on the glorious greens of paddies and jungle – and waited.

I’ve learned a bit about Ketut over the years. He’s a great listener but given the opportunity he’ll tell me just about anything. I was hopeful. Then, Maybe I borrow cow, he said and the floodgates opened.

We sailed along climbing steadily toward the rice terraces of Sidemen. I sat back, clear-headed, relaxed and content to listen to Ketut’s happy prattle.

From the precipitous roadside I caught glimpses of farms spread like patchwork far below, and Mt. Agung ringed in clouds. Our destination was Warung Uma Anyar, a rooftop cafe perched on the mountain with sweeping vistas of terraces, paddies, and jungled foothills. The memory of that view had prompted my urge to flee Ubud and we were getting close.

An hour-and-a-half after leaving home we pulled off the road. There it was: the chalkboard sign out front, the smiling owner, and the sinful cup of Nescafe with fake cream and processed white sugar that I’d been craving.

Crispy kerupuk, peanuts still hot from the roasting pan, and chemical-laden coffee. Heaven! Ketut took a minute to answer emails and I morphed into a vegetative state of bliss.

Mount Agung in the background almost obscured by clouds

We snacked on peanuts and crisps and basked in the immensity of solitude. Then the food came. I’d ordered vegetable soup picturing something like the canned Campbell’s we used to have growing up and couldn’t have been more pleased when the Warung Uma version arrived.

My delight must have been evident because the man who delivered the colorful dish beamed and told us he’d worked in a big hotel for nine years. It was owned by an American and featured a Thai restaurant. He’d learned to cook everything on their menu. Then bankroot, he said.

The meal proved as tasty as it looked. Ketut and I lingered over it, chatting about the tawon that appeared to be building a nest in the roof. Ketut asked what tawon was in English. Maybe bee? I said. Or hornet? A quick consultation with Google pegged it a wasp. When we couldn’t scrape another morsel off our plates, a young man appeared to clear the table.

Bali people eat 15 minutes, Ketut said. We already eat two hours! But he seemed to approve the slower pace. When I observed he hadn’t ordered his usual Coca Cola and would he like one now, he smiled and nodded. Okay, he said.

While he enjoyed his sugary hit of extra caffeine, I studied the map. Let’s go home a different way. See? I showed him the phone. If we turn here, we can cross over to Sidemen village and take the other road. He asked me to put it on my phone. I plugged in the route and we headed off, waving goodbye to our host and promising to come back soon.

The warung was still in sight when Google sprang into action issuing orders. Right turn one-hundred meters, left turn one point five kilometers. The paved two-lane road narrowed to one lane. Left turn six-hundred meters. The asphalt was old here. Chunks were missing and what remained was potholed and lumpy.

We bumped along. A little farther on even the patchy asphalt disappeared. Then we were climbing again. The single lane became a trail of eroded, rocky gravel. We rounded a switchback. I gasped and grabbed Ketut’s shoulders. The way ahead was a vertical plunge to another sharp turn a long, long way below. My terrified croak, I’ll walk! was swallowed by the crunch of wheels grinding into the gravel. Good view, Ketut said as we started down. I shut my eyes.

By some stroke of fate (or Ketut’s expertise) we made it to the bottom, rounded the hairpin curve intact, and trundled on. The trail now was the width of a motorbike tire, a mere depression in the grass.

And then…

We’d been following Google’s instructions all the way. The map on the phone showed the road leading to a river. We were there. Water rushed wide and brown in front of us. Rice paddies stretched in all directions. But that was all. No more road. No bridge. This isn’t Sidemen village, I said.

Maybe Google not understand Bali, Ketut answered.

Definitely doesn’t understand Bali, I agreed.

We stood a few more dazed minutes. Then without a word, Ketut turned the bike around and I climbed back on. The impossible hill wasn’t as bad going up.

It was a magnificent day – the perfect adventure. There was not one single bit of it, not one fraction of a moment that I wish had been different. The wind in my face, the beauty, the terror, the food, the fiasco, and best of all, the friend who listened.

*Note: The ‘tantrum photo’ at the beginning of this post was taken by Sharon Lyon. Thanks, Sharon, for the worst photo anyone has EVER taken of me!

Part Two: Creating a life that fits like skin “Why Bali?”

In 2010, Jessa was teaching in South Korea. Several months before my sixtieth, the phone rang. “Mom, why don’t you meet me in Bali for your birthday?” Bali? My only frame of reference to that word was the movie, South Pacifichere am I your special island, come to me, come to me…

“Can you come?”

I thought it over for about two-and-a-half seconds. Why not? I was in the midst of a bitter divorce, jobless, I had nothing better to do. Why not meet her in…Bali? Where on god’s green earth was Bali?


Bali with Jessa, February 2010

I’d been living on savings. In February I snatched another chunk of change from the dwindling account and left. To go from winter in Minnesota, to resplendent greens, thick humid air, happy people, and sunshine, sunshine, sunshine, does a number. My body loosened. My parched skin plumped, and wrinkles disappeared. I felt years younger.

TERRACED RICE PADDY, UBUD AREA, BALI, INDONESIAWe were with a Balinese guide making our way through farmlands and jungle. “I show you rice terraces,” he said. I pictured more green paddies of the kind I’d seen everywhere. We rounded a bend on a narrow piece of trail and my breath caught in my throat. The mountains formed a semi-circle around us. Cascading down their slopes were pools of water, each one reflecting the sun, sky, and clouds. It was the most unearthly beautiful sight I’d ever seen. Something settled into my heart that day. I didn’t know what it was then. I do now.

Back in Minnesota, still winter, late February, I hit bottom. After Bali, the cold felt colder and the dark gray of winter seemed endless. I toughed it out with hours of Qigong and Kettle Bells. Qigong stilled my mental spins. Kettle Bells wore me out. It was the perfect combo.

And I wrote. Writing brought peace.

The emotional pain of that time was glorious. I had the sensation of my body being separated from its parts. An arm floated out in front of me. The left side of my face hung off my shoulder and the ground was too close. Every step jarred. I have never been so disconnected from myself. I felt nut-bucket crazy.

But I had one thing going for me. Over the years I had perfected the appearance of sanity. No matter what kind of chaos was churning around or within me, I maintained a placid, controlled, exterior. There was nothing I couldn’t handle. “You’re so calm,” people said, and I’d smile, certain that if I opened my mouth all the bats in the belfry would fly out.

Crazy or not, employment was a necessity. Driving past a strip mall one day, I noticed a banner in the window. TURNSTYLE CONSIGNMENT, COMING SOON. Consignment shopping wasn’t really shopping to me. It was a treasure hunt. I’d spent happy hours buried in the aisles of such haunts. Turnstyle was a familiar chain in the area. They’ll be hiring, I thought, and did a wheelie into the parking lot.

Two months later I was their newest employee, earning $8.16 an hour. As far back as I could remember I had never made so little money and worked so hard. But I loved it. We were all women, most younger than me by at least half, some two-thirds. It felt like family and it was exactly what I needed.

A friend’s spare room had been housing me. Now, gainfully employed, I found a two bedroom apartment in the Kingfield neighborhood near Uptown with an enormous living room. I didn’t need anything that big, but the minute I walked in, it felt right. The built-in buffet, hardwood floors, and adorable kitchen, charmed me. Plus it had a garage, a luxury in that part of town. I had been there about two months when Jessa returned from Korea. She came to my spare bedroom and stayed a year.

Jessa at sunset - southern coast of California

Jessa at sunrise – California coast

Teaching in South Korea was life changing for her. While there, she had immersed herself in yoga and was ready to pursue it professionally. The living room in our apartment became her studio. We pushed the furniture against the walls to accommodate yoga mats. Each week people from the neighborhood came to her classes. I was a regular.

The year with Jessa was a happy one. I took writing classes and started working on a novel. I held workshops to teach the writing processes I had created and found that it also worked for others. I enjoyed my job at Turnstyle and I adored having Jessa living with me.

Morning after morning in the kitchen nook, with my steaming coffee and notebook, I took myself into the dark places, the wounded places, the broken places. I was nearing retirement. I felt like I had one last chance for a do-over. This time I had to get it right. There were huge pockets of grief as I came face to face with myself. I gave in to it, allowed it. I knew that the more kindness I afforded myself while I learned these lessons, the more quickly I could move on. I was birthing a new life, and this time it was my own.

Our apartment was a hotbed of change. Jessa’s yoga classes were growing. We needed space. My discovery writing pointed more and more to a simpler way. I’d read a book by Karen Kingston, Clearing Your Clutter with Feng Shui. She advised that in order to make room for the new we have to clean out the old. All of our stuff holds energy from the past. Photographs, furniture, everything. We should be mindful of what we keep.

I looked around me. Much of my furniture had been chosen by someone who was no longer dear to me. From the art, to the rugs, to the china, there was a pretentiousness that had never been my style. Looking at my possessions that day, thinking of the boxes stacked in the storage room in the basement of the apartment complex, feeling the overwhelm of it all, I made a decision.

Craigslist became my new best friend. Stuff flew out the door. I began to imagine freedom. The thought was intoxicating.

And then one morning I knew. I knew what I wanted. All the writing, the revelations, the pain, the uncertainty, had brought me to that moment. I wanted to go back to Bali, but not just for a vacation. What if I could retire there?

Fear kicked in with a vengeance. “You don’t know anybody.” “You’ll be lonely.” “What if you get sick?” “What if you hate it?” By now I knew how to handle those inner voices and simply wrote them out of the way.

I booked my first trip for two months. It was a trial run. I figured even if I hated it I could stand anything for that long. In the Bali Advertiser, a magazine for ex-pats with an online presence, I located a writers’ group with an e-mail contact.  I began corresponding with two of the women in the group. Technology also connected me with Dewa at Jati Homestay. I secured a room. He said his driver would meet me at the airport.

As the departure date drew near I was suffused with peace. An underlying excitement existed at all times, but the sense of having fallen in line with something bigger than myself, persisted. I had nosed into the slipstream of divine purpose and was cruising at altitude. It was effortless.

My heart brims full as I write this. The BoHo shirt (Part One) is no longer with me. Come to find out, I prefer less drama in my clothing when my life is full-on incredible. But BoHo ignited a desire, woke me up from a long, slow, sleep.

My reality now defies even my wildest imaginings. When I was gripped with emotion at the rice terraces, I didn’t understand. But, for me, the island is irresistible. I am in love with this place. It supports who I am and who I am becoming. It nurtures my body and reverses the aging process. Its profoundly feminine energy promotes an ever deepening spirituality.

Danielle LaPorte, the creator of The Firestarter Sessions, says, The journey has to feel like the destination. My journey, if anything, has intensified in Bali. The joy of it baffles me, thrills me, fills me with immense gratitude. It is sheer bliss.

If your journey doesn’t fit who you are…

If you’re still waiting to kiss your frog…

Or win the lottery…

Or if you’re in the habit of saying, “Things will get better…”

STOP. Please just stop.

Write a new story!


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