Today I spent my first entire day alone (i.e. without another tourist) in Bali. By the way, for those of you closely following, Hansjergen and I are making great progress in our relationship. He even kept his squawks down to cute little chirps last night. My day began with a real adventure – to the local market. Mara mentioned that she had tagged along with Wenten, the older woman who does most of the cooking at the ashram, earlier in the week and I was inspired to do the same. This 18-year old girl is really helping me push my own limits in terms of embracing the people and the culture and I truly admire her confidence. She’s not afraid to ask anyone anything. I can only hope to raise my own children to have such fearlessness about exploring the world. So I head to the market with Wenten at about 4AM this morning and by the time we get there it is already swarming with other women there to stock up on fresh produce, meats, fish and grains. And let’s not forget the pre-made offerings. An offering is exactly what it sounds like – a gift to the gods. They usually consist of a palm leaf made into a tiny bowl and filled with fresh flower petals and various other things. I’ve seen pieces of candy in some and sticks of incense in others. They range from the simple homemade variety to very ornate little woven baskets like the ones for sale at the market. And they are everywhere in Bali – in temples, in front of doorways to homes and businesses, and about a million other seemingly random places outside. Never inside; all spiritual activity happens outside, including at the temples which are all open air. I could be wrong but I think it has something to do with the Hindu connection to their gods and a roof’s ability to block that connection. Either way, you can’t walk 10 feet in any direction without seeing an offering that had been made earlier in the day so it’s certainly understandable how it might be more efficient to just buy a stash of them at the market each day. I follow Wenten around to all of her favorite stalls trying to blend in, but even with a local escort it’s impossible. I’m maybe a foot taller than most of these women (except for the butchy coconut shuckers, I notice), blonde, and relatively pale. So instead I just embrace my inner clown and smile and greet anyone who looks in my direction. I even tried to buy some coconut but the seller and I just could not overcome the language barrier even with my feeble attempts at charades. Wenten was of no use either as she had sent me off on my own while she negotiated a complicated transaction with the lady selling the beans. Hey, at least I tried.
Back at the ashram I showered calmly as Hansjergen looked on before heading out with Nyoman, the driver Mara and I had hired the first day and again yesterday to go whitewater rafting. Today I wanted to spend some time with my own thoughts and so we drove about an hour north to the Pura Lempuyang (pura means temple). It’s one of the more significant temples in Bali and sits in the middle of the jungle on top of Genung Lempuyang (genung means mountain). It’s about a 2 hour climb up 1700 steps, past three other temples to get there (translation: my ass and thighs were shaking on the way back down). The nice thing about traveling here in May is that it’s nearly low season so most of the touristy highlights are bare and with Pura Lempuyang not being the most important temple in Bali (that’s Pura Busakih), I had the place practically to myself. Just me, quite a few locals there for an unsurprising ceremony, and about 50 monkeys. Anywhere there is trash in Bali you find chickens, dogs and monkeys. As I approached the summit where the majority of monkeys were hanging out waiting for handouts, I was pleased to find several Balinese children who were equally amused with them. I may have been the only one taking picture after picture with her iPhone, but at least I wasn’t the only one oohing and ahhing over them either, especially the mama monkeys with the teeny tiny babies latched onto their bellies. Even the very elderly women stopped to take notice of the babies. And at that moment I was united with these women; we are literally, culturally and demographically worlds apart and yet…it’s a mom thing. One other thing that made me smile at the temple today was the greeter and donation collector at the entrance. Several times before I began my ascent he told me “happiness day.” What is so innocently charming about this is that most of the adult Balinese people who know any English nowadays learned it “on the street” as Nyoman described it. It dawned on me after saying “happiness day” to myself a few times that what the greeter really meant to say was “have a nice day” but he most likely had only ever heard it spoken rapidly by native English speaking tourists and just assumed that “happiness day” is an appropriate adieu. And it is!! I hope some arrogant tourist doesn’t try to correct him some day either.
Speaking of happiness, I had my first happy ending today. After my long hike and another shower (sans Hans this time), I decided to treat myself to my 3rd massage so far in Bali. I’ve decided I’ll never forgive myself if I can’t find time for an $8 full body massage every day that I’m in this paradise. I went to the same place I’d been the day before so instead of getting the boring old Balinese massage again I opted for the relaxation massage plus the special papaya body treatment. Now I’d been to this place yesterday so I already knew that the massage style here is a little less…inhibited than in the US. Let’s just say “full body massage” has a fairly literal meaning and topless (and sheetless) is typical. What I was not prepared for was the “full body bathing” I received after my papaya treatment, i.e. stand in bathtub filled with flower petals whilst masseuse (female, for the love of Brahma) proceeds to soap you up and then rinse you off. Once I got over the initial creepiness I felt thinking about the same thing happening to me at the Four Seasons Spa in Chicago, I truly felt like a queen. This woman was bathing me for crying out loud.
And with that, I bid you “happiness day!”