Finding Balance

Trip Start Jun 02, 2007
Trip End Ongoing

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Where I stayed
Merthasaya Bungalows

Flag of Indonesia  ,
Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Before I came to Bali, my boss Mick, said that there is something for everyone here. You can either indulge in complete debauchery with the Ozzie set and get trashed at the clubs, or you can go to Ubud and sit under a pyramid with a crystal on your chest chanting Ohm.
Not one to miss out on anything, I said, "I'll do both." And so I have.
After two days partying in the clubs and on the beaches of Kuta (enough said there!) I needed to detoxify and let my liver recover. It was time to go to Ubud for some R & R.
So yesterday I left Yan's Beach Bungalows and hired a taxi driver to take me on a tour through the countryside to Ubud.
Wayan was a good guide (in Bali the first-born son is always called Wayan, so there are a lot of Wayans around). An older man with a wife and three daughters, he was very respectful and not harassing in any way. He gave me some kelepon his wife made-small green ovals of rice-flour cake coloured green with leaves and sugary palm syrup in the centre, sprinkled with fresh coconut and wrapped in a banana leaf. But hati hati! Biting a piece of kelepon is like biting into a cherry tomato-my first one burst palm sugar all over my brand new hemp T-shirt. But the mess was worth it. They were delicious.

We stopped at Singapadu Temple, where the people greeted me warmly, wrapped a purple-pink sash around my waist, and led me to the inner temple where women carried stacks of offerings on their heads and placed before the altar. A group of men and a young boy sat weaving decorations that flew high in the sky like kites off bamboo poles.
During our drive through the countryside, art blended seamlessly with the landscape, and sometimes completely dominated it-old temples wreathed in vegetation, artisans' shops displaying massive canvases of sunsets, surfboards, flowers, fish, tigers, beautiful women, and all that is Bali. A massive purple butterfly hung suspended next to a shack on the side of the road, and homemade quilts hung at shop entrances. Colourful walls of kites-mainly butterflies and Garudas, or eagles, with bright pink claws and wings outspread to catch the wind-lined the road.

One village specializes in stone work, another wood. Both have produced a massive progeny of beasts and beings, duplicated as far as the eye can see. Countless Buddha heads bearing conch-shell curls and serene smiles sprouted out of the ground. Elephants raised their trunks, gods squatted fatly in entranceways, horses with flaring manes reared up on their haunches, and fish swam through the grass.
Just beyond the fruit stalls bearing perfect pyramids of fruit in each bowl, we arrived at Gunung Batur, a volcano overlooking Danau Batur, a huge caldera, though not as big as Toba. I had fresh fish for lunch at the Lakeview Restaurant. Called mejain, they look much like the ikan nila from Toba--small black and round. They stared at me so balefully with their barbequed eyes, I could barely eat them.
The volcano was ringed with clouds at the top, and the clouds were always moving, dappling patterns over the lake. When the sun broke through, the lake glowed turquoise green.

Down in the valley, near the rich black volcanic fields, singing arose from a Hindu temple, echoing around the valley and up to the balcony were I was perched, picking away at tiny fish bones.
I toasted the lake and the volcano with my fruit drink, downed it and hit the road again.
The winding roads through the countryside are much like those winding through the Gulf Islands at home, with artisans' houses and their whimsical creations tucked in the trees. We went through Garuda village, which, like the village of all-stone and the village of all-wood, displayed nothing but countless Garudas of every size, wings outspread to carry the god Vishnu on his back, the legs of a human strongman wrapped in the traditional checkered sarong connoting the powers of darkness and light.
House after house displayed these self-replicating Garudas. Workmen squatted on the ground, creating more garudas with their chisels and files; their children, the next generation of artisans, gathered round to watch.

And, finally, Ubud, a peaceful town filled with long stretches of shops displaying all the arts and crafts from the country artisans. It was nighttime by then, and I was exhausted. Two nights of dancing and a day of touring had finally caught up with me. I checked into my room at Merthasaya Bungalows on Monkey Forest Road and fell asleep around nine.
I awoke sometime in the middle of the night, still groggy, head swimming. But then a drum started softly in the garden, unseen hands tapping out a heartbeat in the darkness. Cicadas hummed and fish ploshed in the pond. The heartbeat became more intricate, like the fluttering of a butterfly, lulling me back to sleep. I didn't wake up until 9 o'clock, my head filled pleasant dreams of those I've known back in Canada, and night visions already vanished with the drum.
                                                                      *   *   *
It's much more peaceful here than in Kuta, and my room at Merthasaya Bungalows is absolutely spotless, with a comfy bed, a shower that actually works and hot water, too-scarce luxuries in lower-budget accommodations. Plus, it has its own small garden paradise.
This morning I sat out on the porch, having a cigarette before yoga class and enjoying my complimentary breakfast: fresh fruit salad, a pancake filled with bananas and jam, sealed and stamped with a flower motif, and flavourful, slightly spicy Balinese coffee, black.
The morning sunlight sifted through the palm trees and illuminated an impressive mass of orchids growing on a tree. A comical stone man with a satisfied smile and arms tucked behind his head lounged at the base of it. The gardener paused from his weeding to pick up fresh red hibiscus blossoms that had fallen on the ground, tucking them behind each ear of the stone man, and one behind his own.

Feeling much stronger despite the cigarette, I jalan jalaned over to Baliyoga on Hanoman Road to detoxify from my Bintang binge. It was an airy, bright space surrounded by palm trees and filled with all the same types as on Hornby Island, my favourite summer island back at home-mainly aging hippies calming their fears about the ticking clock and young over-muscled girls taking themselves too seriously. (It occurred to me that I am on the threshold of transforming from one to the other, ever hovering between worlds. It's okay, Wendy, just breathe!)
"Bring yourself into the present moment," the young instructor urged as if reciting from the latest yoga journal. "Find out what is blocking you and release it."
We pressed our hands to our hearts and chanted ohm. I tried to stretch my ohms out without erupting into a coughing fit; my voice wavered and caught in my throat. I should never have started smoking again. What am I blocking, I wonder?

Feeling slightly ridiculous sitting in a room full of chanting people, suddenly I became aware of how self-conscious I can be at these moments, when people make an overt display of spirituality. I am a spiritual person, as my blog can attest, but my spirituality still feels intensely private. Even as I share it with others through my writing it is still private, because I am speaking to private hearts. I could touch someone deeply, and I hope to do so because that is my entire aim in life, but to actually talk about it could end up as nothing but awkward chit chat. Like meeting an author whose work has moved me so deeply it has changed my life. But if I had the chance to meet her, I would probably think of nothing more intelligent to say than "I love your work!" There's times when life must remain on the surface-surfing instead of deep sea diving.
We did so many downward dogs my self-consciousness melted out of my pores like so many Bintangs. With one leg up in the air, I peered under my armpit and saw the other yoga enthusiasts trembling in their poses, thighs a-quiver, sweat rolling down their backs, competing with themselves. 

People are the same, really. Whether posing in warrior one at a yoga studio or indulging in liquor-fuelled gyrating at a disco, when we all get together our energies blend. It could be dark and sexual or it could be light and peaceful-it's up to you, and even better if you work up a sweat. 

The checkers on Garuda's sarong are of the same cloth. It's all about striking a pose and finding your balance.




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