The First Refuge – Bali, Indonesia

He has never seen “Eat, Pray, Love,” but apparently Julia Roberts has some type of spiritual awakening in Ubud, Bali. He couldn’t speak to that type of experience, but he did find his first real refuge in Ubud.

Wayan is the name given to first born children of a family of Bali. Wayan of my hotel greeted me with a calm demenor that encouraged the traveler to feel at home in his six bedroom hotel, one of the room shared by Wayan, his wife, two children, and two puppies.

That night he walked the city streets that did not badger him for taxi rides or to buy merchandise but rather smiled as he passed by and gave a gracious nod. He happened upon a traditional Balinese dance exhibition. Bali has a handful of dance style unique to the island, recognized by the Indonesian government.

The crowd of 50 tourists watched a band of 15 play drums, Balinese crafted chimes, and various other instruments without sheet music and to a tune they seemed to manufacture to a rhythm they deemed appropriate. The hour and 15 minutes performance told a six part story of a Joe-shmoe’s riotous acts that the gods defy and then discover Joe-shmoe himself is part god. The story was lost on the Californian, but the play description clued him in.

The following day he actualized one of his dreams of riding a motorbike, renting it for two days for $8 USD. He had gotten his license in the United States two months prior to his departure so he would have confidence and a base knowledge. Also, he thought it would bring comfort to his mother and father’s worries of riding a two wheeled motorized vehicle in a foreign country.

He followed his guidebook, “Lonley Planet: Bali and Lombok,” to the Gunung Kawi Temple. Ten candi (shrines) memorial carvings in the rock cliff faces, done overnight by a king by hand, pay homage to 11th century Balinese royality. The 270 steps worked up a sweat, but the telestic feeling of wondering a 1,000-year-old temple alone gave him vigor. Water and stone seamlessly integrated to create a spiritual mystic only tarnished by the vendors selling chachkees and beverages.

He wondered into the proper temple after removing his shoes and sat alone in a dark room for a number of minutes. Trying to imagine life 1000 years ago, huddled in this room with dozens of others, praying or talking, he was unsure of its original intention. Upon exiting, he learned from a guide leading a couple it is the tomb of the great king.

He explored slightly off trail and upstream beyond the temple through rice fields where he found a waterfall. For the time he was there, it was his waterfall.

That afternoon featured another scooter ride The Holy Spring Temple, per Wayan’s suggestion. Having not read about it in his book, he was floored by the parking lot filled with nearly 100 cars and motorbikes. Wearing his sarong purchased for $3 USD outside the Gunung Kawi Temple, he entered along the stone pathway. He was soon greeted by a spring, with people wading in wearing servings and performing some kind of ceremony.

He quickly clued together that anyone could participate, so he headed towards the locker room, stripped nude with the exception of his new fashion piece/cultural appropriate garb, and entered the line. Asking the Australian couple in front of him, he learned to dunk your head under each spout and splash water into his mouth three times, swallowing on the third. Though he didn’t understand the significance or appropriate prayers, he did feel a sense of old mystic that felt comforting yet foreign. Post dunk, he saw firsthand the holy spring oozing from the ground, and the Hindu prayer sites surrounding it.

The afternoon heat encouraged him to retire to the hotel pool, where he ended his day with pizza and YouTube clips.

The following morning hotel manager Wayan served him a breakfast of dragon fruit, pineapple, watermelon, and banana with pineapple pancakes covered in honey and coconut. Appropriately sized for his appetite (aka not American portions), he sat on his deck and watched the greenery blow in the wind.

Post-pancake, he departed on a 30-minute motorbike journey to the Terreang Rice Terraces. Parking street side, he burned his foot on incense burning outside a store, at which both him and the shop owner laughed. A conversation quickly started with a 50 year old white man who parked next to him, and continued as they walked towards the Rice Terraces.

Adrian the art handler from Seattle became his adventure pal for the next hour. They wandered the Terraces together, swapping travel stories of Bali, other countries, and home. He learned a bit about the rice Terraces from Adrian, but more about art handling and the life of an interesting man.

The journey through the countryside climaxed with the heat of the day and the scooter ride found him by the pool, this time with the company of two other hotel guests, two Finns (two “N”s, and Finn is more common than Finnish when describing a people, he learned) That hour in the pool did more good for him than any other single hour the trip thus far. The Communication major didn’t realize the emptiness he felt from lacking connection with humans.

After discussing lifestyles and culture, they exited the pool. Wayan confirmed the Finn’s 2AM booking to hike Mount Batur for sunrise, a common tourist exploration. The Finns turned to the Californian and said, “You should come with us!” He doesn’t know much, but when two kind Finn’s excitedly ask you to join them on a journey up a volcano, you say yes.

Another pizza and two hours of sleep later, the trio was picked up in a van and driven up the volcano. The driver chose whichever lane was the most empty, due to dogs sleeping in the street and cars illegally parked. After an hours drive, they arrived in a parking lot filled with sleepy tourists and dozens of guides. Their car of eight began the upward hike assisted by flashlight, where he met Eddie, the twentysomething businessman who studied at Cornell University and now ran a property business in his home country of China. The Chinese man and the Californian man hiked the hill joking together and learning of each other.

Our group took the shortcut per the guides recommendation, which meant a steeper and rockier hike. Luckily his months of hiking and walking prepared him for this exact type of exploration. The hour and a half hike through the onions, rice, and peppers brought him exhilaration, not exhaustion. The monkeys atop the mountain explored for food while the humans atop the mountain surveyed the view and witnessed stream pouring from crevasses.

This mountaintop is also the sight of animal sacrifices for religious purposes in which animals (chickens, goats, cows, and once a buffalo) are flung/pushed into the caldera of the volcano. The return journey down the mountain allowed for more conversation with the Finns, conversation that was not topical but rather emotional or personal. An unbiased source to discuss his life without filters.

They returned to the hotel, he packed his bags, and they hugged goodbye. In this time of transition, an anxiety trigger, he began to feel discomfort. Upon expressing this to the Finns during their goodbyes, they assured him he would enjoy his next destination. One locked eyes with him and confidently said, “You will be fine. You will enjoy your yoga retreat.”

Previously, only those whom he had love or deep admiration for could lock eyes with him and provide ease through a simple sentence. Now, a Finn, the first he had met, not 24 hours before, had provided the same comfort. Maybe deep admiration can blossom in a day when conversation and experiences are richer than months and years of surface level conversations and interactions.

Into the taxi and through the rice fields he went, aiming for his only arranged plans of the trip: a week long yoga retreat in the jungle.

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