We left California on 9/15/09 late Monday night with mixed feelings- sadness that we are leaving our friends and coworkers and excitement that our dream trip that we worked so hard for and planned so long for is actually beginning. We landed in Denpasar, Bali, Indonesia on Wednesday 9/16 after feeling like a sardine for 24 hours of travel and made our way to the Ashram Gandhi in Candidasa on the south east shoreline.
Ashram Gandhi is basically a holy Hindu community where people live, study, and pray while contributing to the inner runnings of the community- such as cooking, cleaning, facility maintenance, sweeping (lots of sweeping at the Ashram!), teaching religious instruction, amongst other duties.
This Ashram follows the teachings of Gandhi, adheres to a vegetarian diet with no MSG, and has compulsory prayer/meditation for members four times daily (first prayer at 4:30 am, last at 7:30 pm). The Ashram also has a holistic clinic available to anyone in need who shows up on its front door steps. Within the small clinic space are two amazing acupuncturists that serve the community for the sake of service (one of the acupuncturists Sadra's reasoning was "I do this because these are my people"). For those that can actually afford to pay any amount for the care they receive there is a donation box outside the clinic. Often times we witnessed "payments" in the forms of watermelon, oranges, snake fruit, or a small temple offering of flower petals and palm leaves the size of your palm.
After our arrival we soon discovered that when you leave the tourist areas, the poverty of this place is startling. Indonesia is a third-world country with extreme poverty...most of the hardest working people here earn a salary of $40 a MONTH.
Where we stayed, there is a struggle to provide the surrounding communities with the most basic things that we have taken for granted...running water...potable water... plumbing...sanitation infrastructure (i.e. garbage removal)...ease of maintaining hygienic conditions... electricity... food... health care... As volunteers at the Ashram, we witnessed daily the consequences of the lack of affordable health care to those who need it most. I had first became involved with Ashram Gandhi in 2002 through a three week Chiropractic Mission Trip. It was an incredibly powerful experience that remained on the forefront of my mind. It served as the source of inspiration for us on how we should start our trip. We decided to "pay it forward" as the saying goes, and volunteer at the Ashram for the first three weeks of our amazing adventure. Myself primarily by serving the community with chiropractic at the clinic,
Keith teaching English classes to Ashram and community members, and both of us helping out with what ever chores or tasks they needed help with. (I was cautious when teaching English as I was trying really hard not to pollute anyone's English with my New York accent! LOL)
The patients at the clinic presented with an assortment of health challenges...many common ailments that I would see in the US (various arthritic conditions, diabetes, headaches, pain, numbness), but there were many where the mechanism of injuries were new to me. There were multiple cases of moped accidents (NO ONE wears helmets here! It's NUTS!), and paralysis as a result of falling out of a coconut trees and banana trees. These were the cases where the disparity between quality of health care was most evident.
Upon return in 2009, it is evident that the need for help is even greater in more ways than one. Walking down the main street in Candidasa one can see many vacancies where businesses once tried to stay afloat. There is garbage strewn about in the empty lots. The sidewalks are obstacle courses with overgrowth, open sewers and concrete slabs in disrepair. As a result of bombings, terrorist activity, and a global financial crisis, the tourism industry has slowed to a crawl here. But there is also incredibly beautiful crystal blue beach water
, gorgeous plush greenery, beautifully terraced rice patties,
and awe-inspiring architecture. Tourism is a mixed blessing...foreign money is the major financial source that fuels the local economic engine, but unfortunately the influence of the tourist industry has greatly diminished the authentic Balinese experience. (No doubt this can be argued as an effect of tourism all around the world.) We are happy we chose to stay at the Ashram as it gave us the opportunity to have an incredibly authentic experience. We've been able to form relationships with Ashram members and locals that we would have missed had we done it differently
. Spending the majority of our time in Indonesia at this one place has given us the time to really set our roots here, and we feel like we have become part of the community for the short time that we are here. The Ashram members are a fantastic group with the biggest hearts you could ask for.
While at the Ashram there was a lot of construction taking place all over the facility. The concrete breakwater wall was being repaired to minimize severe erosion that the entire Candidasa coastline was experiencing. Also the Ashram had received enough funding from a charity abroad to build a new clinic space. With that the old buildings had some cosmetic repair, and repainting of Gandhi and his wisdoms on the wall facing the eating and praying area. My favorite being the "7 Social Sins"...
SEVEN SOCIAL SINS:
Politics without principles
Wealth without work
Commerce without morality
Education without character
Pleasure without conscience
Science without humanity
Worship without sacrifice
Upstairs from the clinic was a space for yoga taught by Uke the acupuncturist's husband named Kawi, and also a small library that was being organized by a gentle Englishman-now-New-Zealander named Terry
. Terry helped me to pick out a great book on Gandhi (just titled "Gandhi" by Peter Ruhe). It had a wonderful overview of the life, death, and impact of this enigmatic man with wonderful pictures to highlight the narration. I had never directly studied Gandhi's principles or life (beyond what they taught us in school), so the ashram was a perfect place to start. I was particularly drawn to the descriptions of "satyagraha" or "truth" (satya) "holding firmly" (agraha), which was Gandhi's unique mode of peaceful struggle. Satyagraha was a nonviolent resistance that demonstrated the power of love and truth, with the objective being moral transformation. Coincidentally, the Ashram celebrated Gandhi's 140th birthday on October 2nd while we were there.
When we first got to the Ashram the first several days we stayed in the volunteer's quarters. They were located above the elementary classroom, so by 7am the children were in full swing reciting the alphabet, signing, and other very loud educational exercises
. For our first several days when the kids saw us we would experience the kids laughing and pointing at Keith and screaming "JANGOT!". We finally got the translation and learned that since the Bali community is mostly Hindu, facial hair was extremely uncommon, and the kids were just loving Keith's unusual beard. The school's early start was fine as we were definitely still adjusting to the time zone difference. Candidasa is exactly 12 hours ahead of New York time- 7pm Sunday night in New York is 7 am Monday morning for us. (For the first two weeks here, by dinner time in Candidasa, I was falling asleep in my plate of gado gado and rice.) Off the narrow deck walkway in front of our quarters is picturesque views of the aqua blue tropical waters surrounding the island. Our next door neighbor was an amazing Pink Floyd-loving artist named Dodi, who at one time lived in the jungles of Indonesia.
Dodi originally came from Java island, just west of where we were. Keith spent long hours conversing with Dodi, who knew more about Pink Floyd and other hippie era rock bands than Keith, often times making references to albums and songs Keith had never even heard of.
After a while we upgraded to a bungalow on the outskirts of the community
with its own private bathroom (which was greatly appreciated by Keith at the end of our stay in Candidasa when he was hit with what locals call "Bali Belly".) Right outside our front door was the gate that let you down past the breakwater walls to the ocean where there was no beach but some great snorkeling.
On our days off from scheduled volunteering, we have had the opportunity to see the beauty of Bali. One day we went with Dodi and a local fisherman on his very small fishing/sailboat to a place called Blue Lagoon for the most AMAZING beautiful snorkeling.
I cannot believe the crazy neon technicolor fish we saw even exist in nature.
On the way to Blue Lagoon, Keith and Dodi went fishing...Indonesian style. This entailed literally just a fishing line and a hook with bait- no fishing pole here. Dodi caught a sizable Barracuda
, which the Ashram later happily cooked up and served for several meals (occasional seafood was their exception to the vegetarian standard, as is now mine too.)
We took a couple of day trips where we hired a local Balinese named Anom who would rent a car (at "local" prices versus tourist prices), we'd pay for car rental, gas and his time...at a bargain rate. On our first adventure we looped down towards Sukawati which is an artistic community that has the most amazing paintings, wood carvings, and artistic crafts...all hand made. After we toured Sukawati we hopped over to Ubud. Ubud is known as the cultural center of Bali. It's rich with history, Balinese art works, temples, kings palace, museums, beautiful rice paddies and landscape. It is supposed to be a serene place to visit but has become somewhat of a tourist trap. As most places of attraction it's been over run by shops, tourist guides, transport services, lodging, etc. The streets are busy with tourists and anyone trying to make a dollar which is most everyone. Although Bali is primarily populated by Hindus, yoga is not a true part of the Balinese or Indonesian culture. But in a response to tourism, Ubud has become somewhat of a yoga center, where people from all over make a pilgrimage to this artificially created yoga mecca for classes, retreats, and workshops. When we first arrived in Ubud we went to lunch and treating Anom to lunch as well.
The price of our lunch was very conservative for three people by American standards. But I had a moment of guilt when Anom ordered a smoothie and told us that he had never had one before...I realized that the cost of a smoothie back in the US was more than most Indonesian's salary for 3 days. Anom mentioned a couple of times that he was content with the tough conditions of his current life, but he hopes for his next life that he comes back as a tourist. This made me wonder if behind all those friendly Indonesian smiles if Indonesian's working within the tourist industry were really just disgusted by tourists' wasteful spending. I was thankful that we were volunteering and giving back to the community in other ways. Anom was a great source of information for us to learn about local life outside of the Ashram. Also in Ubud, we checked out the Monkey Forest Sanctuary.
The monkeys are ridiculously cute, but we were quickly reminded that you shouldn't monkey around with wild animals...one baby monkey sitting close to Keith got scared after it lost its mother for a split second and screamed for her. Well Momma Monkey came charging towards us hissing and bearing teeth. After she realized that baby was fine she stared us down as we quickly walked away.
After the monkey sanctuary, we saw the King's Palace in the heart of the cultural center of Bali which had beautiful, ornate architectural style.
One the way home, just as the sun was setting, we reached the Bat Cave Temple-Pura Batu. In our opinion this is the BEST time to go...at sunset hundreds and thousands of bats are making a mass exodus out of a temple created around a cave entrance.
As you can see we were literally 3 feet under the flying bats right at the cave entrance. It was here that we received eternal good luck...we were christened by bat poop. When you stand under thousands of bats swooping a couple of feet above your head, there is inherent risk in this activity. Side note- heads up for any man, woman or child planning to travel to Bali- bring a sarong! You never know when or where you will need it as you cannot enter a temple without one...and the island of Bali has over 1000 temples alone.
Another day trip was to the Mother Temple of Bali- Pura Besakih.
Pura Basakih is the largest and most sacred Hindu temple in all of Bali. The temple center is only allowed to be entered by Balinese and for worshiping purposes only. We had considered not going here, as there were many reports from various people that the experience was not a pleasant one. This was a tourism hot-spot and it was crowded and there were some unscrupulous locals that would take advantage of unsuspecting visitors by various scams. We went with Anom, who even as a local Balinese had such a bad previous experience that when we planned this day trip he told us he would take us to Mother Temple on the condition that he would not come in with us. So we went expecting the worst. Perhaps this mental preparation was our best way to approach the Mother Temple, as we actually had a GREAT experience. We were approached with the usual amount of offers for tour guides, souvenir shopping, and transport that we were accustomed to in Candidasa. (You quickly grow a thick skin to this...you are approached MANY times everyday, and you quickly learn to say NO very firmly immediately, otherwise you are bombarded.) Mother Temple is quite impressive to see, and the views from the top were breathtaking. After Mother Temple we went to a lunch spot with a panoramic view of the valley between several volcanoes Gunung Agung, Gunung Batur, and Gunung Penulisan (one still active), and if you look close enough you can see the lava flow that covered part of a village just 4 years ago (dark colored landscape behind us).
(Later after our return to Candidasa, Sadra shared with us his experience of the 1963 earthquake and how it devastated the area.) After, we embarked upon a windy twisty turny road that is not good for delicate stomachs (ie. my belly) to get to Tulamben located on the north coast of Bali. There is a US shipwreck that sunk just off the coast that has fantastic snorkeling with more technicolored fish varieties than we saw previously at Blue Lagoon. The beach there is made of all smooth lava rocks and the water is warm. After we went to Tirta Gangga, a beautiful water palace that has large fountains and pools with coi fish the size of a dog.
Another day was a day of ceremony for the trees (there are many ceremonies taking place in Bali at any given time). Anom took us to his village so that we could see how they do suckling pig roast in his village as part of the celebration. When we got there, they had carried the pig from the pit where they roasted it with a large wooden spit going through the pig- into its mouth and out the other end- and placed it on the table and surrounded it with offerings.
We went into what I could best describe as a family compound (walls surrounding several huts with a common space in the middle) and watched them cut up and use every piece of the pig. Keith tasted a bit of roasted pork and reported that it was delicious.
Another day I went with the Ashram members to what was described to me as a ceremony at a temple on a hill. Well, it turned out to be a mountain. After what felt like almost a 30 minute hike up a steep slippery loose surface, we were rewarded with a fantastic view of the surrounding Candidasa area.
The dedicated local people did this hike in their sarongs and flip flops, while at the same time carrying offerings on their heads.
I imagine that if it were this hard to get to church in the United States the pews would be empty on Sundays.
Sadra the acupuncturist was this incredibly fascinating man who was also just recently elected to Parliament. Sadra took the time from his incredibly busy schedule to give us a personal tour of his town Tenganan.
If you are traveling to Bali, this place is a do-not miss experience (with the right tour guide LOL). It was built in the 11th century, and strictly follows traditional customs and Hindu values. You will not find a car in Tenganan. You can see here the incredibly complex traditional craft of double-stitch sewing, where the dedicated women take 8 YEARS to sew one piece of cloth.
Our time in Tenganan was definitely a highlight of our time in Candidasa. On a side note, the caste system does not exist in this town. In the rest of Bali this system of social hierarchy still exists and is adhered to. As an American, the caste system is foreign to me and makes me feel uncomfortable.
One morning Keith and I went with Dina the elementary school teacher to the local market in Amlapura. This was an educational experience to say the least. My ideas regarding sanitation and hygiene and what my human body can ingest without issues were challenged as I realized this is the food source for the Ashram's meals. My reality was shifted - to say the least. The market was a bombardment of colors and smells and people.
There were all sorts of fruits and vegetables that I was unfamiliar with. While we were at the ashram we were given all sorts of delicious fruits new to me: snake fruit, mangostein, passion fruit, different types of fluorescent colored bananas, and the infamous but delicious duria (smells worse than a dirty bathroom).
Keith was struck with what locals call "Bali Belly" at the end of our time in Candidasa. In an effort to battle the belly bug he underwent the local traditional Asian treatment of coin rubbing. As the coin rubbing session started, I watched deep red stripes form on Keith's back as the blood came to the surface of his skin... making me a little nervous, but Keith reported that it didn't hurt a bit. As a result of Keith's delicate condition we extended our stay there to allow him the time (and comfort) of not traveling with Mr. Montezuma. This also meant that our last 24 hours in Candidasa just so happened to be our two year anniversary.
While I was volunteering at the clinic I was adjusting mostly locals, but there was a sprinkling of expatriates from all over the globe that utilized the clinic's services as well. One person was a lovely woman from Sweden who lived locally with her husband who was the manager of a local beautiful resort. She was incredibly generous and offered us as thank you for our volunteering a wonderful dinner and massage at the resort. This was such an amazing gift as we would have not have treated ourselves (traveling on that shoestring budget).
We had our wonderful dinner earlier in the week, but the timing for our massage spoil session was perfect for our anniversary and also great way to help get the kinks out from three weeks of adjusting people at the clinic. Later that anniversary night we went to a restaurant called "Friends" owned by a Dutch couple
(As a result of the Dutch occupation and control of Indonesia up to 64 years ago, many Dutch still live here.) The waitress was incredibly friendly and chatty, but her English was off just enough that unfortunately we didn't quite understand 100% of what she was saying so when she was laughing at her own jokes we merrily laughed along as well not to make her feel bad.
At the end of our stay, the Ashram threw us a going away party.
Traditional party activities crossed cultural lines...they got us doing traditional Indonesian dance and we got 'em doing the limbo stick! We tried the hokey pokey too, but that one didn't catch on quite the same as the broom-stick limbo. We were sad to leave our new friends, but excited for the adventures ahead.
As many of our friends and family members know from the news, there were several significant earthquakes and surrounding natural disasters that occurred while we were in Indonesia. On the second morning we were there, we did feel one of the quakes, and then later that same week I felt a shaker that woke me up in the middle of the night. But our immediate area of Candidasa did not experience any damage while we were there. Our area was on watch for possibility of tsunami, but after some time the warning system removed the area's alert status. We were saddened to hear about the severe devastation suffered by the Indonesian island of Sumatra as a result of the earthquakes. We thought long and hard about shifting our volunteer efforts in Candidasa over to the rescue efforts in Sumatra. After great research and deliberation, we decided to make a donation to those best trained in rescue efforts. We realized that these organizations don't want inexperienced, untrained individuals (with good intentions) who don't really know what they are getting themselves into to show up there and end up hurting themselves and as a result consuming the rescue resources that are so preciously needed. Another likely reality is that there are millions of people in these areas already, so plenty of capable labor is available to accomplish what can be done manually. They don't need another mouth to feed, rather they need support to feed the mouths there already and keep them strong to complete the job, and support their supplies and transport. As a result of these realizations we decided to donate our financial resources rather than our physical resources.
So after three weeks in Candidasa, and we had one more week in
Indonesia before we departed. Another person we met while volunteering
at the clinic was Toni Tack. Toni is a fascinating 70-something-year
old Dutch woman who is an Indonesian historian living in Bali. Our
encounter with Toni radically changed how we were planning to spend our
last week in Bali.........
We're almost 5 weeks into our trip and totally loved how we chose to begin our excellent adventure. Since it took a little while to get our blog up and running, this entry is a lot longer than what we anticipate our future entries will be since it will pretty much encompass our entire three week experience in Candidasa, Indonesia.