Amit texts me, “Want to meet for a walk?” I was introduced to her just last week. She’s currently living in Bali and recovering from a near-death accident in Cambodia. While riding her bicycle she fell through a bridge. I can’t allow that image in my mind. It’s too horrifying. She is lucky to be alive, and even more fortunate to be able to walk. That wasn’t a given at the time.

I text back in the affirmative and we agree to find each other at 7 o’clock near the Royal Palace on Jl. Raya. I set my alarm for 5:45 a.m. and settle in early for a good night’s sleep. I drift off. A blinding flash followed by thunderous rumbles awakens me. For hours the thirsty earth is watered by pounding torrents of rain.  At times it cascades straight down like a heavenly waterfall. Then the wind picks up and the water crashes against the windows. I don’t sleep until it stops around 3 a.m.

The sweet, melodious chime of my alarm wakes me. The sun isn’t up yet but the sky has that bright, scrubbed look that it gets after a good cleansing. I feel remarkably well rested with just three hours of sleep. We plan to walk the rice paddy trail. It occurs to me that it could be muddy after all that rain, but its a passing thought. I splash water on my face, braid my hair, pull on cargo pants, a tank top, and my hiking Merrells and set out.

Monkey Forest Road at 6:30 a.m. after a night of rain.

Monkey Forest Road is deserted. I’ve never seen it quite so empty. I set out at a brisk clip. The football field is a well-known landmark in the center of Ubud. There is a grade school across the street and often the grassy space is filled with children playing soccer or flying kites. This morning its soggy surface shimmers in the mist.

Football field after the rain.

I arrive at the designated meeting place and a few minutes later Amit hails me from across the street. We chatter as we hike along. You know how it is with some people? It’s like you have always known each other and conversation is effortless and mutually enjoyable. So it is with Amit as we begin our walk.

Amit on the path.

Notice the path. This trail is shared by pedestrians and motorbikes. Notice the water beside the path. The other side is mud thanks to the rain from night before. When a motorbike approaches we have the choice…water or mud.

View across the rice fields toward Champuan Ridge

There is a well-known restaurant nestled in the rice paddies along this trail. Sari-Organik has been a landmark for many years and was one of the first establisments to focus on providing healthy, organic meals to patrons. The staff is just pulling up the bamboo blinds and sweeping the puddles of rain off the floor. We continue on, chattering away. I am fascinated by the list of various jobs Amit has had in her life. We are engrossed in conversation until suddenly she stops abruptly and says, “Oh! I wonder if we’ve missed the path?” Up ahead there is a farmer approaching. “Pak!” she calls, “Pak!” It’s a form of salutation, like sir, or Mr. in English. The man stops and, yes, we have missed the turn. We follow him back a short distance. The fork in the trail is quite obvious when you’re looking for it! We set out once again in good-natured camaraderie. Within a few yards there is another fork. Which way now? We opt for the less muddy one on the right. Soon we are slip-sliding down a steep bank. At the bottom is a stream. A bridge has been fashioned out of thick branches. We cross.

A muddy bank and a makeshift bridge

We find ourselves at the bottom of a gorge. The trail follows a stream which becomes steadily more turbulent as we proceed.

Rushing stream at the bottom of the gorge

By now we are both quite certain that we are not on the official ‘rice paddy walk.’ But we know we’re heading in a direction that takes us back toward Ubud. We’re a good 60 minutes into a walk that was supposed to take an hour and we are still swapping stories. We contemplate our two options: we can turn around  and go back the way we came, or we can keep forging ahead. We keep going.

Trail by the stream

Suddenly the path veers sharply to the left. There are steps carved into the earth and most of them are still intact, even after the downpour of the night. We pick our way slowly, carefully, to the top and emerge at the edge of a vast sea of rice.

Are we there yet???

At this point we have embraced the adventure. We’re committed to moving ahead even though we know now that we are definitely on the ‘road less traveled.’ The grassy mounds squish beneath our feet. I try not to think about the creatures that live here whom we might be disturbing. Leeches, snakes, rats…no, I won’t think about them! The path becomes narrower and narrower, then ends. We retrace our steps a few feet to a place where there was a tiny connecting ridge that zig-zaggs us toward a line of palms in the hazy distance. Now we are in a terraced paddy. The path ends abruptly at the edge of one terrace and we jump, slide, slither our way down three or four feet to the next level.

I use the term ‘path’ loosely. These are 8 to 10 inch wide raised portions of earth that skirt the edges of each field. One slip plunges you into the muddy goo that sucks off your sandal as you try to extract your foot. We teeter perilously on the spongy, lumpy, mounds while our soaked feet slide loosely in our sandals. But we make progress. Far in the distance there is a wall with roofs peeking over the top. Civilization. Slowly, slowly forward, one foot in front of the other, one more leap off the edge of a terrace to the sog below and we’re at the wall. We follow it to the left. Rounding a corner a vista opens before us. It is a construction site. To my eyes it’s Shangri La.

Shangri La!

There is a real stone pathway, real concrete steps, a real bridge!

A real path…we made it!

Descending from the terraces we pause beside this waterfall. I take a photo of Amit. She takes a photo of me. It’s like we’ve achieved the summit of Kilimanjaro. But where are we now? We climb a steep stairway up the opposite side of the valley and stumble into riches.

A golden ganesha welcomes us

We walk through a doorway, or fall down a rabbit hole. I’m not sure. We’re suddenly in another world.

Pristine perfection

We stare in awe. Is it a villa? A museum? A private home? The grass…you don’t see grass like this in Bali. It is as perfect and beautifully manicured as a golf course. We look closely. Astroturf. I feel momentarily betrayed, but not for long. The trees drip orchids. In the wall below the grand entrance stairway is a glass window. There are fish staring out at me. It’s an aquarium. The stream we followed for miles found its way here and rushes alongside another work of architectural magnificence.

Orchids hang from the trees and ornate statues stand guard

We stare in stupefied wonder, pointing out each new discovery to one another. We are awed. Our cameras click, click, click. Finally,  reluctantly, we tear ourselves away from this make-believe place and pass through the magic gate into the street. Amit knows where we are.

We stop at the first warung we pass. What is that place at the end of the street? No, not the school, the other one, the one still being built. Now we get big smiles of understanding. We are told it is a new palace for the royal family. I am secretly relieved that it is not another mega villa or 5 star hotel. And as I think about it, I should have known. It is traditional Balinese design. The steps up to the magnificent doorway, the genesha directly in front of you as you enter, the courtyard, the family temple, the exquisite aesthetic, all of these are typical of the Balinese home but on a much grander scale.

A simple rice-paddy walk had turned into a full-blown adventure with a surprise ending. But I’ve learned this about my new friend: Amit is a seeker. She never complains. She sees the glass half full. She is an overcomer, a possibility thinker, a believer in the basic goodness of all things. She has had extreme hardship in her life and triumphed. I am honored to know her and delighted to have spent the morning with her…lost.

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