Diary Extracts from a Tropical Nomad IV

Chapter 4 – Never underestimate the power of small changes

Although Bali was just a few months ago I feel like it was another life.  Time is such a strange thing.  Like distance but turned on its side. The more than punctuates that time the more miles you put between you and the past.

Ubud was a fantastic way to step away from the Islands, from my new job and my new home, and to spend some time gathering my thoughts. It had been…overwhelming.  My life had switched into a completely new gear: I had moved from an old manor house in Devon in the cold UK winter to a humid and distinctly sticky Indonesian island that is located just one degree north of the equator.

I realise this is not how you’re supposed to eat Durian fruit but I was going for the dramatic effect

One of my favourite pastimes when I’m travelling is getting a massage. I’ve had quite a range of experiences in various massage parlours across the world, some good, some bone crunchingly bad. Now I have a little more cash at my disposal I can tip generously and when I’m not face down in a pillow, chat with the therapists about their lives.  On my second day in Bali I treated myself to an afternoon in the spa wherein I had my first facial, she must have dug out grime from the 90’s I swear. If you ever find yourself in Ubud go to Putri Bali Spa. Peaceful and professional. I can’t recommend this place enough.

I also met up with a random Facebook friend called Geoffrey, an Indonesian arts collector.  He then introduced me to his Swedish friend who’s lived in Bali for around 20 years.  I drove for an hour or so North from Ubud to meet them both at this incredible place called Geruda Gallery – I Made Ada – where there is a collection of artists studios out the back of a cave-like building which houses the most astonishing sculptures I’ve ever seen.  

Garuda Arts Gallery – Handcrafted sculptures, the skill, passed down through generations. The detail is incredible.
This piece was 20ft high. Really hard to understand the awe you feel when you’re up close to it. Exquisite carving.

It turns out the sculptors have been working for the Royal Family of Bali for three generations.  Their work has to be seen to be believed.  I’ve never been anywhere like it and it’s a shame I could only see it briefly.  But it’s great to build a network of creative spaces and see how each place situates itself.

After a few hours of generous chat, we went out on a evening drive to grab some street food from a bustling night market.  To this day I have never eaten such delicious munch.  I didn’t know corn on the cob could taste like that.  The weird thing was, we drove on the exact road where I would unknowingly spend my final few days in Bali.  But more about that later.

Rice Paddies in Tulungagung – There were so so many people queueing for instagram moments on prefabricated swings. Not really my cup of tea but it was a nice view.

I drove home alone through the Balinese countryside in the dark and was reminded of my time in Vietnam riding through nighttime jungles.  Again, a rush of freedom hit me right in the heart.  I had finally worked out how to get back to my digs (only took a handful of wrong turns) and was really content with my situation.  

But as usual, life throws a curveball and my planned excursion of white water rafting was stressful for all the wrong reasons.

15th April 2019 – Monday

Local Time – Around 6pm
Location – Northern Bali
Mood – Impassioned

I’m not sure how to describe exactly how I feel right now.  I have just arrived in this wonderful villa.  It’s in the jungle of Northern Bali.  The circumstances through which I ended up here are, well, they feel strange.  I was supposed to stay in my other accommodation in Ubud.  Yesterday I was quite happy with this.  Then today I went white water rafting and everything felt off. 

I was grouped with a couple on their honeymoon who at first made me feel very uncomfortable. The husband was extremely misogynistic and had undertones of racism towards anyone who wasn’t Arabic.  But I grew to like them.  It was a strange experience though.  

On the way to the rapids we made a pit stop at this cafe that sold coffee that had been through the bowels of a civet cat.  I was told this was a cruel practice and wouldn’t have gone if I had a choice but it was an interesting tour around the small jungle farm nonetheless.  We sat and drank some different teas and coffees on top of a hill and the other guy paid for it all.  So the ice was broken a little. 

I pointed out Mount Agung to them on the way and they’d never heard of it! 

I was quite nervous throughout the rafting experience, not because it was necessarily scary, it’s just my aforementioned rafting partner kept ignoring the instructions from our guide.  Paddling when he was supposed to wait and not paddling whilst me and his wife were grinding away at the white water.  He would also jump up and down in the dinghy randomly which was very off-putting. The whole thing was quite stressful and kind of pissed me off. 

It was a cool experience seeing the environment from that POV though but there were some hair raising moments where we got stuck on the rocks and the dinghy almost flooded.  Mostly due to Mr Honeymoon fucking around.

Also, we got given this free Indonesian lunch and there was this Australian woman who downright flat refused to eat it and let everyone know.  It was delicious.  I dunno, it was just a weird experience.  This is why I don’t do these day trip things.  I just thought I’d give one a try.  

We came back to Ubud around 2pm after a typically hair raising car journey and I was pooped.  I was then informed I would have to move rooms because I was given the wrong one.  I was half expecting this to happen as I was in the wrong room from the off. 
I checked the new one out, which was basically a wardrobe, and decided that the Universe was telling me to get the hell out of Ubud.  Three days was enough.

I made the decision, scanned through some air bnbs and found this place.  It’s beautiful.  It feels like home and that makes me want to cry.  It’s not cheap but it’s got a pool and it’s so amazingly different.  The woman who owns it is what I want to be when I grow older.

There’s a lot of emotions rolling around in me.  For example I feel like I know the girl in the next villa to me and I haven’t even met her yet.  I’m so sad I only have three nights here but perhaps it’s perfect.  I have to have faith that everything is perfect.  

I know this place though.  I’ve been here before.  It’s important to me, I can’t describe why.  I’m in the jungle, I want to live here.  It feels like my destiny.  I found it.  Home.

Dragonflies and bromeliads encircled me as I swam in the pool earlier.

As I mentioned earlier, this wonderful place, Rahisia Manis, was practically the same road as the Geruda Gallery.  It was weirdly co incidental. I had barely seen any of Bali and the one place I had been to, in the middle of nowhere, turned out to be around the corner from this lovely retreat where I spent my last few days and met a new friend, Alina.  

A pitstop on the Kayaking experience. I do love a good waterfall.

Rahisia Manis was my first experience of Indonesia’s long standing relationship with the spirit world. I would like to write a whole blog about this because it’s truly fascinating. The retreat was built on an old graveyard, something I only found out after being kept awake for three nights by strange noises outside my hut. This was accompanied by the strongest sensation that whoever was out there wanted to get in. None of the staff would stay there at night and all the animals were locked away.

I am neither a skeptic nor a believer. There are too many things we don’t understand about this world. But as you will find out in future blogs, my personal involvement with the spooks did not end here.

My chicken neighbours. Bali is almost infested with roosters of varying colours and shapes. They crow outrageously and it’s pretty consistent.

During my stay in Bali, one of my plans was to visit our consultant chef who works for the islands.  Penny has her own restaurant, Bali Asli, near to Mt Agung (the one that keeps farting ash- not the restaurant, the Volcano) and I wanted to go and try her famous Balinese family meals.  I got up early and drove further North to Mt Batur, another volcano, this time – extinct.  

The drop in temperature as I climbed towards the national park in which the volcano lived was astonishing.  I shivered as icy winds licked my fingers.  You are never prepared for the cold when you are in South East Asia, you almost forget what it feels like and because your body is so used to being at a balmy 30 C, even the slightest drop renders you a shivering mess.

Mt Batur. A cloudy day but very beautiful nonetheless. You can see on the edges of the picture, the rim of the original crater.

I stopped by the side of the road and picked up a tie dye wrap from a lady.  I gave her a few extra thousand rupiah because she wasn’t actually ‘on duty’ and she was all smiles and gratitude.  I feel like we should try, even in the smallest interactions in this world, to make them positive.  Not always possible I know, but it’s good to try.  A smile goes a long way.  

The lookout point of Mt. Batur was sublime.  Although it was a cloudy day, I feel like this added to the atmosphere of the place.  The volcano sat in the middle of a huge bowl which is the mouth of the original blast.  Half of it had become a vast lake and it was a great monument to the power of nature.

Chillin’ with my morning coffee. Indonesian coffee can be…lets say…chewy.

There were lots of stray dogs wandering around searching for scraps and a violent fight broke out between two of them.  I have a healthy respect for stray dogs. Combined with gathering storm clouds, I took my cue and move on.  

Indeed the rain came as I was halfway between fuck knows and obscure-ville so I just pushed on.  The route seemed relatively simple but the nature of Balinese roads means that if you miss the turn you are up a creek with a dwindling petrol gauge.  Cut a long story short I drove around for a fair few hours before I decided I would give up and head home.  

A thoroughly enjoyable experience despite the moments where I thought I would be driving along pitted roads and durian scented streets forever and ever…

17th April 2019 – Wednesday

Local Time – 9pm
Location – Rahasia Manis Retreat – Ishani Hut
Mood – Exaulted

Things have come around full circle.  This trip to Bali has been a fascinating ride.  When I arrived I was sad.  Each day brought new challenges.  I saw a lot an everything I asked for I received one way or another.  I am eternally grateful for being in a position to know what I need and to recognise it.  

The girl next door, Alina, turned out to be what I expected.  Completely similar, same age, solo traveller, smart and wise.  We have really good chats in the morning and the evening and I finally got the company I wanted.  She’s also an arts events planner which is hilariously co incidental.  

We arrived the same day, the only two guests in this wonderful place and we leave the same day to go find our own way.  I feel so great today.  Spent the whole day here, reading and relaxing.  I’m in a good place with work.  Ready to go back and excited for this project.  Magic is happening around me.  It’s a miracle.  Quite amazing.

There are no roads to Rahisia Manis Retreat. You have to walk for five minutes through Rice Paddies to access it. The owner explained that every brick was carried by hand to construct the place. It’s very special.

Up next…returning to reality…or whatever that means. Little did I know but the next few weeks would be quite a difficult period. The pain of shedding an old skin was about to kick in.

Cover Photo by Bernard Hermant on Unsplash

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