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Continuing Thru Bali

INDONESIA | Wednesday, 27 August 2008 | Views [1535]

...Continued having left you in Bali, Indo after a long delay. Welcome back to A Balinese Yoga Festival!

Day 5: An Afternoon Continuation

Now, some 45 days later, something is rekindled. I think back to Bali, at Gunung Agung where I left my Self, where I left my readers. The retreat feels like ages ago, a distant dream savored and succored for its warmth, peace and fragility. And it was—ages passed with the interim of change, adaptation, new faces and new places.

But today, October 20th, 2008, there is a revival of story. Back in a seemingly familiar culture, with familiar faces, familiar places, and the familiar routines—the unknown apparently lost to the untrained eye. Day-by-day I strive for that unfamiliarity received while traveling. It is a space completely unbeknown to agendas, responsibilities based on others’ expectations, and business affairs ranging from monetary needs to social rendezvous. Therefore, in place of its absence, a deep yearning arises: to return to that magical isle with its gentle people emitting an air of hospitality akin to the maître de accompanying two lovers: It’s their moment. So, I invite you back to this terraced land—layered with greens, nudged in the Indonesia archipelago—to a time in history where the advent of yogis & yoginis take on a culture imbued with ease.

I remember returning from the volcano high with accomplishment, bloated with pride. And I remember returning from the volcano defeated, physically pummeled with exhaustion as my knees and toes struggled to support. We had risen at midnight in the earliest of morning hours, drove two hours and proceeded to climb four hours through jungle, brush and scree until summiting at sunrise. Then downhill. The knees faltering. The shoulders bouncing. Toes crunching at the forefront of my Keens.

In Ubud after the drive back, five yogis unloaded from our friend’s Acura SUV and stumbled into Ubud Aura. I went up to my room searching for the Lioness, found the den empty, cold like a windowless cave as the air-conditioner droned, and quickly exited donning boardshorts and towel.

At the pool I slept, drifted in and out betwixt pages of reading. Time passed as others came and went; to the pool, into rooms and beds, in search of Balinese treasures and the nourishment of their victuals.

Time was of insignificance in Bali. Only yoga times and food times; and schedules of culture, dance, art and exploration—but these were the luxuries. Sometime passed noon, Laura emerged and the varied forms of hunger came with her. In search of food, we left with Zoe and Francis to a warung setup as a sort of medicinal meeting ground for progressive herbalists and neophyte spiritualists. Call it Wayan’s Warung (warung being the common term for food stall). Made famous by Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love, Dra Ni Wayan is the healer the author befriended for her wise words of health, love and life.

Navigating the torn sidewalks and dogging the quiet traffic of Ubud, we strolled to Jalan Jembawan and sat at a sturdy hardwood table upon chairs of equal comfort.

“Feed us,” our mere presence exclaimed. Drinks of fresh grated turmeric and lime juice sweetened with honey cleansed our blood and strengthened our bodies. Twenty minutes later the full spread. We were served seaweed with spicy coconut (vitamin E for healthy skin/hair), water spinach with ginseng (iron for strengthened power), sautéed bean sprouts (protein for the vegetarian), grilled coconut (rheumatism prevention), an array of tofu & tempeh (calcium + protein), papaya (aiding digestion), a tomato chutney (vitamin K… strong eyes…), and a red rice (for strong heart). Each dish was provided with a tag describing its health benefits while Wayan circled the table like a schoolmaster making sure we could read and appreciate our spiritual nutrition. It was refreshing, exotic and intensely simple, packing flavor.

Shortly, with a satiated belly and the necessary ingredients for full-body rejuvenation, exhaustion crept back and my mood sunk. I was Grouch, a fury temper with downcast eyes that hung to my eye-sockets like a stretched Slinky. I needed sleep. So, disappearing into my own realms of recovering low blood-sugar and lack of sleep, I found the room and allowed the rest of the afternoon to slip away, along with Laura DeFreitas restorative yoga class from 6:30 - 8pm.

Day 6: Monday August 25th, 2008

We dined for breakfast, skipped the morning yoga practice and met Judy Slattum at 9AM for a final Balinese language lesson. By 9:30 we were out in the streets, loading into our two vans and departing for the State Temple of Mengwi.

The drive north was from out of a movie. Protected in our metal domes of vehicular transport, the outer Bali passed untouched. Traffic was to a minimum despite the narrow lanes, quaint for one-way streets. And yet both ways flowed steadily as we came upon large gaping holes where workers toiled and perspired. They dug at the earth in tandem, using a method I’ve only witnessed in worlds without Western modernity. One worker manned the shovel, the wooden rod in hands; the legs, back, shoulders and arms heaving the blade into the soil. As the palate filled with earth, the second man assisted with strength, tugging on a rope attached to the metal shaft where the shovel’s blade and its wooden rod met. They heaved and pulled together, working like children on a teeter-totter.

The vans rolled on through large swaths of open land. Greenery. The vibrancy of chartreuse and neon. These were the sawah-sawah, or rice fields, lush and dense with the thickest verdancy. Each plot looked like a laying of shag carpet with small lice crawling around in its hairs, picking, scything, harvesting the paddies. More workers bent over at the waist. The pictures reminded me of rural scenes along the Vietnamese railways: palm trees and fruit trees, banyan and bamboo forests looming in the distance as strands of line hung over the rice. Plastic bags tied in a medley. Rainproof scarecrows.

Through the farmland, and as if around the block, we entered back into civilization. The State Temple of Mengwi. Architecture from a deepened Hindu faith. Layered with stone and rusty red brick. Cats roaming the grounds. Dogs guarding gates. We wandered among other tourists, following Judy’s lead, absorbing her words like chicken feed. Like a stroll through a park, we gazed at lotuses and lily pads, counting the meru (or multi-layered thatched-roofs) ascending each shrine. Then we drove north between the mountains.

Scenes were stunning. Large open valleys terraced with a burning ember of green. More palms, wooden housings and bamboo walls. Low clouds clung to the sides of slopes. The outline of a hilltop temple; mysterious, out of reach, reclusive. And then, pulling through small hillside towns we climbed into the white ether, passing trucks loaded with jackfruit, durian, melons and corn. Soon we arrived at Pura Ulun Danu Bratan with sweaters stretched over our heads. As a Buddhist/Hindu temple, Ulun Danu is a shrine to Danu, the goddess of water. Therefore, locals pilgrimage to the site for important ceremonies to ensure a sufficient rainfall for the island’s agriculture.

Exploring, observing, taking in the temple that perches on different islands off the lakeshore. There was a couple—a woman and a man—garbed in white dress and sleek suit. It was their marriage setting, pictures taken, smiles bright, yet a future uncertain. It was strange to see this Western style so far from home. The elegance and demeanor absorbing the attention instead of two lovers transfixed solely on their union. It took me out of my head, paused my shutter and the jumbling words in my head. I turned to an iris by the pathway. Watching its beauty, the lackadaisical petals, the bright yellows and the speckled jaguar spots a fiery orange—it was simple, modest. An expression of love without the fine details. It just was, and in its simplicity, it celebrated to those who could stop and breathe.

Up off my haunches, I wandered with the others back to the vans, loaded like shepherded sheep and drove into the neighboring town of Bedugal. There we lept into a full-frenzied market. Locals with woven baskets balancing on their skulls and tourists totting plastic sacks and backpacks slung with cameras wandered the produce market. And the spices like a color palate. Tables were lined with square bags of vibrant hues. Maroons of saffron. Cocoa browns of coffee beans. Oranges of curries. Greens of peppers. Rich tans of cacao powder. It was local, fresh. The long strands of vanilla. The hardened lumps of cardamom and Muscat. We made our deals, thought of home, the ridiculous prices, and Homeland Security at customs. And there were fruits, heaps and heaps stacked like pyramidal representations from an ancient time.
Mangosteens, strawberries, bananas, watermelons and grapes, mangos and jackfruits. Sacks loaded, photos snapped, locals and tourists laughing with the exchange of money. And then homeward.

4:30-6:30pm yoga. Sweating, rejuvenating. Downloading the months away and the journey’s nearing end. Some yogis chose to visit the guru of Ubud Aura. Laura and I disappeared into the sawah, crept through the rain and into the dim streetlights in search of pirated films and large bottles of Bintang.

Day 7: Morning Unto One’s Own

7:30AM yoga. The usual routine with cowboy coffees, sugars and creams, breakfast and dispersal. Few took a cooking class at Bumbu. I vanished and exchanged a book, indulged my tired feet with an hour’s reflexology, lounged poolside and fell into the consuming world of the Internet—a connection to home.

4:30PM rolls lazily towards my consciousness and before I comprehended the transition of nothingness to activity, Laura DeFreitas' yoga retreat found itself at the Heron Preserve in Petulu. We sat. We scoured for birds at the canopy’s height where spindly boughs of foliage hung from dense trunks. Heady palms froze in the stale air. Monotone clouds drifted with faint recognition. Then a bird. Two. Three. White herons, what appeared to be similar to the snow egret, swooped from the far shores and settled on branches. They come and go each day for unknown reasons. Like clockwork they depart. And like clockwork they arrive between 4-5PM.

We watched and then we walked, wandering through the rural fields of central Bali back to Ubud. It was a good 3-5 miles, long and winding stretches where fields of football enlivened crowds and men herded their ducks into the rice to devour the scouring insects, ritualistically dropping their turds - pest control and fertilizer in one. Women bathed nude in the streams beneath bridges. Dogs snarled and yapped. Scarecrows sauntered in the still atmosphere. And old men passed on rusty bicycles. Bali as it was years ago. Bali as it is today.

The gaggle of yogis halted at Terazo—a chic, out of place establishment serving a fine fare of International cuisine. Laura, myself and others indulged, taking to three course meals starting with a fresh tossing of greens before an entrée of pepes ikan (white fish cooked in banana leaves with Balinese spices) sided with a chocolate martini. Dessert topped a sated tongue. The belly fussed. I squeezed and made room, like a jackrabbit digging deeper into its hole. Dessert was a ganache served with a regrettable selection of Jacob’s white and cherry brandy… yoga retreat?? Night fell into the oblivion of dreamscape & poetry:

Boundaries & parapets—
Borders of a guardian prince.
In the majestic night,
Tantalized by streaming crickets & whirling bats,
Forces unseen creep into my nostrils.
I sense a smell—
An oily burn of dirt & diesel,
Flames that falter within the machine of common order.
The invisible brings this all down.
The untouchable leeches with absorbed imagination.
And these shadows,
Set these fields swaying,
Informing the frogs to jibe—
And snakes to slither.
Coconut fronds stand still in this darkened tune,
While surrounding villages set their lights to midnight—
Temples empty of offerings,
And their wild packs of daylight.
I’m all alone in this world,
Above the scene,
Below the gusts,
Mysteriously filled with the breath of Balinese magic.

Day 8: Balinese Habits

Routine sleep hounded by the silence of cricket song, frog croaks, and the deep dark of night. Then risen; a new day in Bali, a new face, a new dream, a new way of life to recreate, destroy and create again. I called upon a dawn swim to wipe the sleep off my body. Next—breakfast with kopi dan gula (coffee & sugar). Then further departures. We left for Batubulan at 9AM for another dance, another Barong (or mythical lion-dog creature assembled with a virtuoso’s touch). The costumes at the dance shimmered in morning light, clear and crisp, and the artists followed the gamelan’s tempo; moving, slowing, speeding and twitching hands, heads, necks & shoulders. With the underground beat, each footstep was precise, representative of higher purpose. Toes perked like two dog-ears, and then there were the fingers. Each dancer twisted, turned and contorted the palms and their worm-like phalanges as if silly putty. Stunning, etheric, their motions otherworldly with a complex storyline of love, betrayal and the common battle of Deities vs. Man.

Afterwards we proceeded into the capital of Bali. Our caravans arrived in Denpasar at the Anthropological Museum. Hawkers checked our sides as we checked our pockets and bags. The heat of the exchanges thick while the humidity of the city dense, denser then spurting traffic which heaved fumes of exhaust at our sucking lungs. Inside, the air was just as stale as the hawkers continued to lurk. They made me feel guilty when I denied their items. They made me feel as though I had enough to purchase their works whether I liked to or not. I tried not to take pity on them. I fought my conscience to not ignore them, push them away farther from their own dreams. So we struck a conversation.

“All from USA?” they queried.

“Yes, and we come to Bali for yoga.”

“Yoga! Oh, very strong, very good. And you go back to America?”

“Soon,” I replied. “But too soon.”

“Then what of your future president?” One man probed our thoughts.

I shrugged, tired of the thought, the rallying and the garble fit for politics.

The man looked at those who were listening. “Obama is president. Obama is good choice for the world.”

What affects me the most is the last word this Balinese man chose: world. It’s as though America is the center of the universe. It’s as if the president of the US of A decides the fate of humanity… and I pause, reflect… and continue to realize he is half correct. And this is what causes my stress.

Yes. It is true. The President of the United States of America has a major hand in the state of the world. The President (and/or the puppeteers) make the choices for themselves, which in turn effect others on the opposite side of the globe; the government makes decisions on its own best interests despite the effects it might have on minute countries with their falling economies.

“Obama,” I said with conviction. “Obama,” we said.

It strikes a deeper memory, one founded at the start of the presidential campaign. Obama stood before the crowd gathered to listen for change, hope and a brighter future. He spoke (I paraphrase): The United States will elect the future president that they deserve.

The thought is poignant, raw, unreserved and disarmed from the war-games of politics.

Then as we all looked at each other, American/Balinese—Balinese/American, I saw the importance of Obama’s statement. I awoke to the importance of this Balinese’s word choice: world. They were one and the same when striped of race, ethnicity, gender and age. Humanity is humanity. Period.

Lunch. Fantastic homemade Balinese lunch. We were served at Surya’s house, partner to our tour leader, the American-born Judy Slattum. Inside his 400 year-old family compound, we wandered the grounds, laughed with the family and feasted upon the incredible delicacies of cultural cuisine.

Time ticked, our energies within the tropical heat dwindled, and we spun off; one van to pick-up mask purchases and paintings, while I loaded into the other bound for home. Swim, nap, nap, swim before 4PM yoga at the Yoga Barn with Laura DeFreitas. The end of the day crept over us. Lotuses in their ponds began closing, the bats began circulating, and us yogis soon awoke with renewed energy. It was the night of the Arak Attack!

Slowly, not too fast, sip it. Sip the arak—the Greek’s ouzo in Bali. Tasting like firewater, the liquor is made from fermented palm fruits. Goes down smooth. Comes out spittin’.

So we cruised into the night, feeling the need for celebration as fellow yogini and Gunung Agung mountaineer, Abby Bange, was to leave the following day. Therefore, why not drown ourselves in illusion and let go all defenses the way society knows best.

Shortly, as Monkey Forest Road woke with languid nightlife, Napi Orti appeared with the ambiance calling for reggae. We climbed the stairs, settled in the highest alcove, and called for drinks.

“What you want?” the bartender cried.

“What you have?”

“Arak Attack!”

“Iraq what!?” We looked at each other with suspicion.

“Our drink—arak. It will attack you.”

Our heads bobbed simultaneously. “A round, please.”

And then they came, and came, and came again. The smart ones in the crowd chose to eat pizza. I on the other hand stuck with the all-you-can-eat peanut dish and paid the price.

Time passed. People came and went. Things began to blur. I was done for. After donning a local’s motto helmet, taking snap shots, laughing, taking more shots, and peeing countless times, I threw in the towel… alone.

I found myself wandering solo back to the room. Emotions came up after all the joy and unhidden glee of drunkenness, and soon, before I knew it, I was cursing under my breath. A bamboo rod made it into my hands and I began swinging. I swatted at the pavement. I slashed at signs. And I flattened blades of rice, discovering myself inconsolably crying to the sheer terror of a passing local. Yes, I was on my own, alone with repressed emotions freed by intoxication a world away from familiarity, comfort and understanding. So I spat them out—those emotions; the anger, the shame, the confusion and disappointment, the failures and losses. I told my story to Mr. Toilet Bowl, too. He heard me as I held him and heaved my chest, spewing out the toxins before settling back into more wailing at the balcony’s banister, pulling at it, putting my force into the metal, trying to ripe it out of me. Sleep crept to my body. It zapped me like a lightning bolt and tucked me deep into fathomless rest.

To be continued...

Tags: bali, cam2yogi, cameron karsten, cameron karsten photography, danu tours, indonesia, laura defreitas, lauranidra

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