my pretzels are stale

Well I made it! Four planes and five countries later I’m in Bali. Everything went smoothly at the airport:
-Visa, check
-Local currency, check
-Driver, check
And from there Anom and I set off on the 18-mile, 2-hour trip to Candidasa. Yes, that’s correct, only 18 miles in 2 hours. A 2-lane “highway,” plus several major construction projects near the Denpasar airport, plus several thousand motorbikes loaded with entire families (I think I even saw a woman nursing her baby on the back of one; also helmets are entirely optional) makes things a bit slow going. A travel blog warned that traffic on Bali is worse than in the Phillippines – I have no frame of reference for that statement, but it sounds busy. Fortunately as we headed up the eastern coast traffic started to thin out and so did the commercialization. I didn’t come to Bali to see how they eat KFC on the other side of the world, after all. As we approached Candidasa, the central mountains became visible (think Jurassic Park) and it started to feel like we were driving through a rainforest – a rainforest with temples every 50 feet. On an island where you can drive the entire length in about 6 hours, there are 20,000 temples. That doesn’t include the private temple inside the home of every Balinese family either. Bali is unique in that they are a Hindu community smack in the middle of the other Islamic islands that make up Indonesia.

The ashram (“a secluded building, often the residence of a guru, used for religious retreat or instruction in Hinduism”) where I’m staying is idyllic, with a lagoon and lush hills on one side and the Indian Ocean on the other. I have my own thatched roof cottage with a very modest bathroom and a spacious porch for having tea, reading, writing and listening to the waves crashing. It is possible to swim in the ocean (and I did briefly yesterday) just outside my door, but it’s a fairly painful coral and shell sea floor. I’ll have plenty of time for beaching on the Gili Islands later this week. People I’ve met so far: Anom, my driver, has lived his whole life in Candidasa, several years at the ashram itself but now just up the road with his wife and two young sons, the youngest of which required having a hole in his heart repaired at just 5 months old. He is 3 now (Kellan’s age) and while he made it through heart surgery, he is now being treated for epilepsy, requiring monthly visits (and 2-hour drives each way) to the doctor in Denpasar. All this aside, Anom is very light-hearted and talks to me about all of the ceremonies that the Balinese practice. He says the reason he could never travel to America (which he would love to do) is because all of their money is spent on ceremonies. In fact, his family is getting not one, but two suckling pigs for an all-day ceremony today to celebrate his mother and father. He said it’s to celebrate their birthdays, but I think it’s not quite the party hats and presents version we are accustomed to. It will no doubt involve many prayers and offerings and probably the moon. Much ado is made over the moon here. I’m still learning.

Kawi is the operator and a senior member of the Gandhi Ashram – he also lives nearby with his wife, two children and his parents. It is customary for the eldest son to take care of his parents as they age, though not in the same house. Just close. Kawi is also a yogi and has spent some time practicing in India as well. He tells me that the Balinese aren’t really on board with exercise (making him a minority), but that they still practice yoga in other ways – through karma, devotion and teaching. I look forward to talking a great deal more with him, albeit difficult to focus as Kawi is also somewhat of an expert in nose hair and poor dental hygiene.

Mara is a sweet German girl who is a guest of the ashram like myself. She is 18 and has taken the last year or so off to travel before doing an internship in Spain this fall followed by college next fall. She has spent all but the last couple of weeks in Australia and came to Bali to be alone and have some peace and quiet from all those crazy hostels down under. We are already grateful for one another if for no other reason than mealtime. Let me paint the picture – the bell rings and ashram guests make their way to an open air shelter and sit on a small cushion where the nine or so young ashram members are already there waiting for you as though you are unfashionably late for church. You are then essentially waited on by a girl no more than 12 years old with a variety of traditional Balinese fish and vegetable dishes (and rice, of course) who then sits and quietly waits for you to finish. Meanwhile no one attempts conversation with you. In fact, the ashram members are finished eating before you can finish your first bite of whatever it was you just put in your mouth. And then it’s just you and the pretty young Balinese girl sitting there. Alone. Not speaking. That is what mealtime was like for poor Mara the couple of days before I arrived when she was the only guest. Mara has already planned her departure from the ashram around mine. I feel better about my own insecurities knowing that this seasoned solo traveler isn’t entirely immune to feeling like an outsider; what her experience has taught her, however, is to lather on the bug spray whilst traveling to uber tropical destinations. I packed with such a spiritual intention that details like climate never really occurred to me. All I really need are yoga pants and a little SPF for my face, right? There are no pants in a climate where the temperature never drops below 78 even at night and you can practically drink the air when you get thirsty. And that brings me back to my pretzels – a handy little snack I saved from one of the fourteen airport lounges I was in the day before yesterday. Just shy of 8 hours in Bali they are the consistency of bread pudding. I ate them anyway.

Song Of The Day: Just Like Heaven by Katie Melua

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