Sunday, April 16, 2017

There's No Sorry in Bali


We are leaving Bali today. I can't believe the trip is almost over already!

As I looked over the edge of the cascading pool one last time yesterday, I meditated on some ideas that I would like carry home with me. First, I noticed all of the greenery in front of me and I thought, I want my inner life to be as lush and fecund as all of this. Then I thought of Ganesh, the Hindu elephant god who removes obstacles. He is everywhere you look in Bali. I decided that I wanted to be my own Ganesh, removing all the obstacles from my own path.

We are in Ubud now, and we arrived last night from Gili Trawagan. On our first night in Gili, we were invited to join our hosts and fellow guests of the Guava Garden hotel for a home-cooked meal in the lobby. One of the staff found us playing our ukes on our porch and asked if we'd also bring a ukulele. Jenny brought hers, as mine was being finicky in the tuning department. The hotel owners were a husband and wife from Gili and Sweden, respectively. They had a little girl who was less than 1 year old, who sat in a high chair, and everyone else sat on cushions on the floor. We were each given a Bintang beer and a glass of mineral water to drink, and the dinner was served buffet-style. The cook explained that everything was vegetarian except for the chicken at the very end of the table. There was lots of tofu and tempeh, and sauces like peanut sauce and coconut curry. For dessert they served watermelon.

Jen and I sat across from a woman and man traveling together from Australia, and one of them had brought their parents along. They were all originally from England but living in Australia now, so they traveled to Bali quite often, they explained. Next to us on my right sat a soft-spoken man from Singapore, and to Jenny's left sat our hosts. Next to our hosts sat a couple from France. We all chatted with each other in English. Our hosts told us about how much the island had changed over the years, and all of us guests traded stories about where we had been and where we were going.

After dessert, the hosts brought out a guitar, and asked us to play. I played "I'll Fly Away" on guitar, which I had been learning on my uke ever since I arrived in Bali. Then Jenny played "Folsom Prison Blues" on her uke, followed by "Bad Moon Rising", and we backed each other up on vocals. We were still tired from our long, scary boat ride, so we excused ourselves after those few songs and got up to head back to our room. One of our hosts began playing "Three Little Birds", which Jenny taught me to play a couple days ago. We both like that song, so we had to linger a little longer so that we could sing along with everyone. It was such a lovely and perfect evening!

The next day didn't start as well as the previous one had ended. I awoke with a deep sadness in my chest. There had been a heart break in my life recently; it stuck with me. I had managed to move from the crying-every-morning stage to the keep-on-keeping-on stage in these last few weeks since my break up. But suddenly the pain found me again.

After a lazy breakfast on our porch, we walked to the beach. We were starved for exercise, as we'd spent so much of the previous day stuck on a boat or a shuttle bus. So we walked as far along the dirty beach as we could, until it was even dirtier. We reached the filthiest part of the beach, where we found free bean bag chairs to sit in, and tried hard to ignore that they were covered in ants. We cracked open the beers we had just purchased at 10 AM. The sun was hiding behind thick gray clouds; the sky was reminiscent of Portland. Cats crawled around us without tails. One scampered up to us, flea-ridden, eyes squinting against the bright silver sky. "Oh kitty, you need sunglasses!" Jenny exclaimed.

I lit a cigarette even though I usually only smoke when I'm really drinking and that's usually at night time. I felt despondent, and I let it all out to Jenny. She let me cry it out. She asked how to make it better. I felt a little better already.

We decided that swimming in our hotel pool might cheer us up. It certainly sounded more appealing than swimming on garbage beach. As we walked back to the hotel, the clouds parted and the sun peeked its face out. He was fully revealing himself to us by the time we reached the pool. We drank of a couple of whiskeys by the pool and then began swimming, until we were both giddy. "See, this was all we needed!" Jenny cried. "I mean, how can you be happy on garbage beach?!"

The clean side of garbage beach

We went to lunch later and formulated a plan for that evening. I decided that I was in the right head space to drink a mushroom milkshake now. I mean they were served openly in bars on the island, and I didn't have my child with me, and I was cheering up from my heartache and having fun with my friend, so why not? It struck me as a once in a life time opportunity, like when people try weed when they normally don't smoke but they find themselves in Amsterdam. I knew it was little emotionally dangerous to throw mushrooms on top of a heartache, but how often in your life can you walk into a bar and order mushrooms? I wanted to take advantage, and tonight would be our last night in Gili.

After a nap, we went to a bar near the beach and got a light dinner and had a drink. I hadn't wanted to eat too much in case I got sick later from the mushrooms, and also hadn't wanted a full stomach to dampen my high. We weren't sure exactly where to buy the aforementioned mushroom milkshakes. We had been told by one bartender on our trip that he could make us one later for 250,000 rupiah (about $18.80 in US currency). That sounded a little steep to us for one drink. After dinner, we passed a bar that had a disco ball and a black light and we knew that they had to have mushroom milkshakes there. We walked in and I sauntered up to the bar, and try to sound casual. "Do you guys have... the shakes here?" Jenny thought that I looked like I knew what I was doing, but I thought that I sounded like a narc in an after school special.

"Yeah," the bartender said, nodding.

"How much?" I asked.

"One-fifty," he replied. One hundred and fifty thousand rupiah was the equivalent of $11. Jen and I looked at each other and nodded in agreement. Jenny only drank 1/3 of the shake because she didn't feel like tripping too hard. I drank the remaining 2/3, and then we walked across the street to the beach in an attempt to watch the sunset. The sun had already gone down so we actually just watched the sky get darker, as our bodies began to tingle with the excitement of something about to happen creeping into our veins. I was hopeful, as things already seemed a little bit funnier than usual as we began our walk home.

By the time we arrived back at our hotel, things were really funny but no visuals yet. We got into the pool, figuring that it would be a great place to come up. My legs looked strange to me by the light of the pool, underneath the wavy water. Suddenly the trees around me began to look fake and plastic. My stomach felt a little queasy. I knew then that it was really coming on. I told Jenny that I needed to go back to our cabin, in case I got sick. The hotel owners and staff were hanging out at the front desk which was right near the pool too, so it was kind of messing with my buzz a little bit.

Jenny followed me back to our cabin and we sat on the soft bench on our porch. I curled up inside a wet pool towel. I felt like one of the mangy cats on the island: dirty but resigned, and cuddly toward myself. We listened to some '70s rock. Then Jen played ukulele for me. She said she wasn't high. There were wicker blinds covering the front porch, and I watched them dance and breathe and melt into one another. The last call to prayer came and the chanting started up suddenly on a loud speaker somewhere in the distance. Soon we could hear a man somewhere to the left of us joining in. I'd heard the chanting all weekend, but it sounded different now. It felt different. I could feel every tone going through my body. Jenny stopped strumming the ukulele and we focused on the chanting for a while.

As the chants faded out, Jenny got back to playing her music, or tried to. She was fiddling with a song I had taught her, and then she was cracking up and flubbing some chords. She thrust the uke toward me and insisted that I play it instead. I protested that I was too high. It was only then that she admitted that she was also high. I gave it a shot, playing an old jazz song, my fingers full of electricity.

Jenny said her high was coming and going. Suddenly, darkness covered me like a tangled blanket that I couldn't find my way out of: my recent failed relationship came to mind and I wondered if everything that had gone wrong in the relationship had been solely my fault. I told my friend and she didn't know what to say to try to help me feel better. Maybe she was higher than she'd thought. I just flipped the thought over and over like a coin in my mind, until I could get to the positive side of it. I knew that my ex, one of my best friends, would've told me that there are two people in every relationship, so all of the problems could not be caused by just one of the people in the relationship. This provided some consolation.

Then Jenny insisted that she needed to go for a walk in the dark, back to town for more whiskey and cigarettes. I asked her not to go. She insisted that she would be fine. I was stuck to the bench on the porch, wanting to protect her but feeling helplessly sunken in. The sound of my protesting voice was as weak as the instant coffee that was served everywhere in Bali. She insisted that she would be safe. She leaned her faced towards mine and stuck out her tongue and hissed, and then slithered off like a lizard.

I still unsettled by the Thought. Not to mention my friend's lizard tongue. I missed how my ex and I were able to pull each other out of strange turns, so I sent him a text. He responded with: "You should think about anything that comes up, anything you want to think about at all, and remember that it doesn't have to ruin your trip. And remember that I'm always going to be around, and I'm happy that no matter what happens, you'll always be my best friend."

This made me feel much better. I went inside our room and laid down in my bed, watched music videos to keep my happy vibe going. "Down Under" by Men at Work, followed by "Don't Come Around Here No More" by Tom Petty, was a good combination. Jenny returned and used the restroom, then retreated to the porch. After checking in with her, I went back to my bed to lie down and sink into the come down. I closed my eyes and watched strange animals and insects dance inside my mind's eye until passed out.

The next day, sadness met me again with the dawn. I sat on the porch again, writing and eating breakfast, thinking about my ex again. There is no other person like him, I thought. He is the only version of him out there. The thought that he wasn't going to be in my life in the same way anymore broke my heart all over again. As I sat out on the porch and cried, Jenny came out and offered me a hug. I thought I'd begun to feel better, but later, when we sat on the beach, waiting for our boat back to Bali, I heard a bar near the beach playing the album, "Born to Die", by Lana del Rey. I thought it was a strange choice for beach music. It was an album my ex and I had listened to together quite often. I started bawling on the beach. Oh god. I was bawling in Bali. I felt like a pathetic mess. "I'm sorry," I said to Jen.

"Don't be sorry! There's no sorry in Bali!" she insisted. With that, I began to cheer up.

Our boat ride to Ubud was much smoother than our ride to Gili, but our shuttle ride took forever. It was only supposed to last about an hour, but we got stuck behind a festival, so for a couple hours we just moved about an inch every five minutes. Our driver got out and smoked a couple of times, until finally an Australian passenger got out as well, in search of beer for herself and her partner. She offered to buy for everyone else in the shuttle, so Jenny and I took her up on her offer. She walked across the street, up it, and down it. Jenny got out to have a cigarette. An English man and Lithuanian woman who were a couple were sitting next to the Australian's woman's boyfriend. We had all lost track of her. "How far will she go?" one of them mused. "Well, she is an Aussie," her boyfriend joked.

Everyone was hot and tired from the long ride. It was inconvenient but the good mood that Jenny had helped me find on the beach persisted nonetheless. I was taking in all the sights on our slow ride. We saw a woman holding a toddler and sitting topless in front of her home. The little one waved to all of us. We sipped our Indonesian beer. Finally we began to really move, though it still took another hour to get to Ubud. Green countryside stretched out for miles as we finally left the beach.

I looked at Jen and felt so grateful for her. She'd invited me and she'd picked out all of the accommodations. If it wasn't for her, I might never have made it to Bali. The next night in Ubud, I promised her then, I would take her out for a big, fat drink, knowing that she would probably try to keep her eyes open as late as she could that first night but would tired from the long voyage from Gili.

She couldn't wait for me to finish my drink after dinner that first night, before she headed back to our hotel to lay down. I couldn't blame her: the local wine was very bitter but I was determined to finish it after our long day. "I'm sorry," she said, her voice feeble but sincere. "Hey," I reminded her, "there's no sorry in Bali!" She cares for me and I care for her, and I'm learning when to let her go her own way. I think she will always come back when I need her.

Now I'm in a bathtub in Ubud, remembering that I deserve better than what I left behind in America, that maybe there was a reason my ex and I worked as friends and not as lovers. That's where this trip started, and also where it ends.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Braving Boats, Beaches and Bracelet Ladies

I awoke to the sound of a rooster crowing. A sticky heat crept into the room to dominate the air conditioning. I saw some bright colors out of the corner of my left eye and turned my head to find that my friend Jenny had left a few festive flowers right beside my pillow. Everything in Bali so far is different and lovely to wake up to. Portland, where I live, has been full of dreary winter and rainy spring days so far this year, with only a couple of brief, sunny reprieves.

Jenny was in her bikini and putting her face on. She was readying herself for a busy morning of lying around by the pool. After telling me where to find breakfast and coffee, she joked, "the Australians take all the cream though. I like to blame everything on the Australians." They were an easy target, I already knew, even though I had just arrived in Bali the previous evening. The place was rife with Australian tourists.

Bali is also lousy with street merchants, who stand in front of their shops trying to lure you in, desperate to relieve every tourist of all of their rupiah. We bobbed and weaved our way through them as we made our way to the beach later that day. "Hello, my friend," they all said to either one of us. To me, they always said, "Hey, green hair!" or "I like your hair!" and a couple of them just exclaimed, "Lady Gaga!"

"You're the bell of the Balinese ball, Amy!" Jenny said. "Damn, if I ever want to get laid in Indonesia, I'm going to dye my hair purple or something!"

We got down to the beach, each of us a sweaty mess under the glaring sun. We rented chairs with umbrellas and then all of the beach merchants descended upon us, in hopes that we'd buy their sunglasses, ice cream, or drinks (we acquiesced and bought a couple of cold beers). One man came by to try to sell us hats. Jen told him, "I spent all my money already!"

"Ahh," he replied, "tomorrow, if you want to hold onto your money, beware of the massage ladies! And the bracelet ladies! The bullshit-talking bracelet ladies."

Naturally we were intrigued, but we were also distracted by the funny ring that "bullshit-talking bracelet ladies" had to it. A woman walked by shortly after, her voice beckoning, "Massage?" I had to grab Jen's towel and cover me face to stifle my laugh.

After our one hour was up in our rented chairs, we walked from Kuta beach to a beach in Seminyak. We'd planned to eat on the beach and watch the sunset and hear live music and we found a bar where we could do all of these things. I like it here, even though it takes some getting used to that noodles are served for breakfast. The only dairy I get each day in the cream in my coffee, but I don't miss the sluggish feeling that plagues me when I've had too much dairy. Most places only serve instant coffee though, so that is another adjustment. But rice, veggies, fresh fish and Bintang beers are readily available everywhere and have pretty much become my diet here, and I can't complain.

The next day, we found a place that served real cappuccinos, for which we were eternally grateful. After lounging around by the pool for a couple hours, we headed back to the beach, where we played our ukuleles. People wanted their pictures taken with us as we played. Jenny pointed out that I had pictures taken of me for money back home, as a model. "Hey," she quipped, "she gets paid like, a thousand dollars an hour for this normally!"A man was lying in the sand just a few yards away from where Jenny sat. He kept smiling and staring at her, ostensibly enjoying the music. I went out to swim in the Indian ocean. Someone came by and started taking video of Jenny while she played more music. Then, she recounted to me later, the man lying in the sand nearby unbuckled his belt and took liberties with himself while Jenny played on. He was just fastening himself back up when I returned.

Today we took a long boat ride to one of the Gili Islands, where we'll spend the next 48 hours. The waves were prodigious and choppy. The boat ride felt treacherous. Jen gave me the Mexican equivalent of dramamine, stowed away from one of her other adventures, before, and during, the boat ride. I still felt a little queasy, especially when the two women in front of us started taking turns vomiting. Mercifully, Jenny and I kept our breakfasts down. I clutched my belongings or Jenny's hand in fear every time the boat shook, but finally, after an hour and a half of rocking back and forth, we arrived.

After we climbed out of the boat, scaled the side of it to get back to the front of it and jump off, we made the rest of our rainy voyage to the hotel on foot. We stepped mostly around, but sometimes through, big muddy puddles, as bicyclists and chickens scurried by. There are no cars on the island, only bikes and horse-drawn carriages. The rain and mud sticking to us, we finally found our little, rustic hotel, complete with an outdoor shower and toilet. I felt happy to take a tepid shower before lunch. I reflected on how I'd woken up today feeling sad that I was halfway through my trip to Bali already. I counted the days to see if I was wrong and if maybe I had more time ahead of me.

On our scary boat ride, I started counting the days before I leave Bali.

Now that I'm rested, clean and fed, I am happily between those two extremes: grateful for what I've experienced so far, and excited for what lies ahead, but relieved that I'll get to return home next week and see my son again.

As we'd traipsed through the mud, hauling all of our luggage to our hotel earlier today, a Australian man saw me struggling with my suitcase and offered to carry it over the mud puddles for me. I thanked him and he kept my bag from getting wet and filthy. "See Jen," I thought to myself, "there's something you can't blame an Aussie for: good old-fashioned chivalry." I can't wait to see what other kindhearted or bullshit-talking people we will meet on our adventure.