Oh yep, yep, I know what this might look like, another op. ed. Bali travel piece. How-to’s of wearing sari’s, visiting temples, rice terraces, giant swings and scooter riding.
Well, it kind of is, but it’s much more too. It’s about finding and creating a new home base in another part of the world, discovering some of your tribe and how as humans we are not built to stay in one place forever; life is too short and our heart’s too big for that.
It was the tail end of 2018, I had a long fucking year and wanted to go somewhere zen to unwind and relax. I had just done a couple weeks in Europe a few months prior and was keen to go somewhere where I could still pinch pennies. As a criminal defence lawyer who’s basically on call 24/7, cause crime don’t wait for nuthin’ woooo, I only had the court vacation period to go, so Cairns to Bali’s quick commute time was ideal.
Despite internal pleadings from my 18/19 year old self, I steered away from Seminyak or Kuta or any other party district and headed out to Ubud, the art/music/soul capital of Bali.
After a 4 hour wait in the immigration queue into Denpasar, I finally got out of the airport and was greeted by my saintly patient driver Arif.
Arif drove us the hour drive to the Air BnB I booked in Ubud (If you’re going there, do yourself a favour and click that link to the place), arriving at 1:00 am. Because it was so bloody late, I expected to just be told to grab a key left in some letterbox somewhere and just head to my villa.
But instead I got out of the car and was greeted by the co-owners of the homestay, Ayu and Ketut. Ayu and Ketut walked me to my villa, offered me a hot towel to wipe the travel-shit off my face and a freshly punctured coconut (Tip #1: drink every single coconut you can whilst there). We sat at the dining table and had a conversation, introducing ourselves to each other and going through all the induction things one goes through when they stay somewhere.
Balinese are known for their hospitality but this already struck me as the beginning of a very good trip. In the West, there is no chance your hosts would be waiting for you at 1:00 am, let alone have the genuine desire to ensure you are greeted and as comfortable as possible from the get-go. Let’s be real, in a lot of places, so long as the deposit is paid, no-one cares.
This caring and sharing attitude of my hosts would last my whole trip.
Now, this might sound like what is to be expected, I mean you are paying for these services. But I’ve stayed at a lot of places and none where this accomodating. Ayu and Ketut went above and beyond at every given opportunity.
Over the next two weeks, I’d even find myself asking them to organise something for me that I could easily have done myself, just to line their pockets with more cash. They refused every gift or tip I’d try to give, except for Ketut’s birthday when he finally accepted some Balinese chocolate sheets.
For the next two weeks, Ketut would source luwak, Balinese alcohol made from fermented coconut leaves and he’d bring it to my villa and we’d drink. They both knew I wanted to get as much of the real experience as I could, so any local tradition that came up they’d come over and see if I wanted to be a part of it. The only time I said no was when I was asked to help kill a goat.
Blessings, synchronicities and warmth were hallmarks of this trip.
One local tradition I adopted was the daily offerings. Every few mornings or so, Ayu would fill up my blessings box with new self-made caning sari’s; little boxes of bamboo leaves, candies, rice and flowers, wet with blessed water to offer the Gods everyday, to usher in good health and ward away negativity and evils.
Anyone whose travelled to Bali would see nearly all business shopfronts and homes lined with offerings every morning, afternoon and evening and even put in the front pouch of scooters to pray for safety on the chaotic roads. The last thing I wanted was to be wiped out by a truck in Bali whilst riding a scooter, so I adopted the local practice. Sure as shit, I did get into an accident too, but it wasn’t too bad, I think it was because of the caning sari in my front pouch.
Over the weeks, I found a great calming presence surround me every time I took a few moments out of my morning to place a blessing at the front of my villa, humming a couple chants I learnt back home in the Hare Krishna groups I’d sometimes attend. This was the first synchronicity I noticed, having a practical time and place to apply what I had learnt in years past.
It felt very normal to acknowledge daily that as much as you are in control of your own life you are also at the whims of the universe. To acknowledge that unknowable presence, to acknowledge that unknowable presence alongside an entire island of people, felt like being a part of a very strong communal force.
One day I also spent some time with Ayu and her daughters making these blessings. Me going slowly, struggling to fold bamboo leaves and Ayu pumping out at least 50 in 15 minutes.
The lingering spirituality in the air didn’t just stop there. A few days in, my bank blocked my card because I forgot to tell them where I was going. I was running out of cash, attempts at getting a money order wired were proving difficult given all the public holidays at home. As an anxious person I thought fuck, am just gonna have to rough it this whole trip cause I can’t access any of my money.
After an exhausting morning of trying to call banks, people to wire money, the banks again, getting put on hold, trying to get Balinese police to certify my paperwork, I gave up. I remember thinking to myself, fuck it, you have a short time here, spending it worrying about something out of your control will do no good.
I had already arranged with Ketut to visit Tirta Temple, one of the holiest temples in Ubud/Bali. He agreed to let me pay him later when I could sort something out, so we hopped on the back of his scooter and went.
After we got to the temple, again, caning sari’s were piled to the sky and people were everywhere, sitting and changing into their sari’s; one for going into the water and another for going into the prayer section, it was very important to have two.
Ketut and I spent some time there, basking in the energies of the sacred space.
When we returned home, I received an email from my bank saying that the block on my card had been lifted. But I hadn’t done anything though. I hadn’t verified my identity to anyone, hadn’t sent any verification documents, hadn’t even confirmed my details or anything and yet this major obstacle had lifted itself up and out of my way.
Even if you were standing in front of a human at a counter in a branch in the West, you know nothing would ever happen that swiftly without such fuss, or even to look at a driver’s licence or something, n-o-t-h-i-n-g.
I went over to Ayu and Ketut’s place to let them know that the problem I had bugged them with that morning was now resolved. Ayu, in jest, joked to me it might have been because I went and received a blessing at Tirta Temple. But as soon as I had read that email from the bank, that was my immediate thought too. Synchronicity.
All throughout my trip strokes of luck appeared in front of me out of nowhere. I’d be wandering through the Sacred Monkey Forest by myself, but then I’d end up striking a conversation with a security guard, Kuomo, who would end up taking me to the local coffee plantation, get shown all the local kopis (coffees) and teas, drink all the kopies and teas, buy all the kopis and teas.
He even taught me some of the local bahasa bali language and I was able to get lessons and drink kopi for a few days on my trip.
Now, some four months later, I’ve found myself trying to partner with the Bali kopi producers to redistribute here in Australia. My ability to speak some bahasa, and not just standard Indonesian, helps me develop trust with them and reassures them I’m legit and not just trying to take advantage.
It also just so happened that the time I went to Ubud, long-time friends of Ayu and Ketut were also visiting their holiday house. They were a couple from Melbourne, Australia and they had set themselves up with a pretty good retirement life split between Australia and Bali; providing me with new ideas to do the same for myself but back in the Philippines.
Through them and a birthday party they threw for one of the local girls on New Years, I had also met some new people. We ate, drank, laughed, I ended up slivered and we all went to Bali Bohemia club to celebrate and enter the New Year.
Back in my youth, youth, no-one would ever find me at home. Not to sound like one of thoooooose people but some of the circles I would run with in Canberra, Melbourne and Sydney were club owner’s, bouncers, glassies, punters, whoever. Some of the crews were part of certain lifestyles but one things for sure, we always had a good fucking time.
Then as the years went on, the body couldn’t take the same kind of beating, commitments my career called for no longer aligned with those things of the past, so I made sacrifices.
No regrets, of course, but I do miss the way things were. I’ve moved around a lot since those years and have always had to start from scratch again. I’ve retreated more and more into myself and focused building what I’m building.
For that reason, I wasn’t expecting to do anything for New Years, I just expected to spend the evening taking stock of the years, reflect and have some wine. But like the great surprise it was, Ubud had other plans and wanted to give me a night filled with adventure like the ones I used to love ever so.
I can understand how it might seem weird to over-think a night out so much, I mean it’s not that big of a deal. But through my eyes, with all those things put together, it was just another great stroke of luck and synchronicity.
As for the people, I ended up becoming close to the store owner across the road from my villa, Ani. I spent every day of the rest of my trip, sitting on her store step, drinking coffee’s, playing with her giant dogs, talking about life and chain smoking. She reminded me of my family in the Phillipines, just her demeanour, we clicked instantly.
She actually ended up doing a stint in an Indonesian prison for protesting against the former dictatorship government under former president Suharto. I thought well shit, if you aren’t just exactly like me, if only a bit older.
There were many other significant things along the way, but those are a few.
Those cherry-picked were simply to try and emphasise the way these people live.
Freely, yet formulaic.
Simply, yet with depth of substance.
Slowly, yet consciously productive.
Dualities that are natural and work in equanimity.
I left Ubud with an open door invitation to return at any time, new friends, new information and new ideas.
Ubud now feels like a home, a place to retreat to to fill up the soul’s cup.
The cool winds off your back when riding through the effervescent greenery is the closest thing I know to having wings.
I’m ever so grateful for them, grateful for Ubud.