Like everyone else, my travel plans have been cancelled this year. For the first time in ten years I’m not going to Bali.
In one of my ‘If I was at Candidasa as planned now, I would have been having my morning coffee on my verandah, enjoying the view’ moments, I remembered back to my visit a couple of years ago. That trip created a shift in my view point and I came home with grateful acceptance rather than being frustrated by my unfulfilled wanderlust. It’s making being grounded during the pandemic easier.
After booking my ticket to Bali, I notice I’m not feeling excited about it, though there are warm feelings about returning to my Bali family, and my peaceful bungalow by the ocean.
While it’s lovely to return to Bali for my thirtieth year, if I had the choice I would love to travel elsewhere: Asia, Ireland, Europe, New Zealand, so many places.
The Bucket List
World travel is on my bucket list. With the possibility of paralysis of my arms and legs hanging over me from the delicate state of my neck, I have an urgency about attending to my bucket list while I still can. Hopefully the paralysis will never come, and I’m living as though it won’t, but it might.
But while I long for travel adventures, I’m dependent on having a financially and physically able, compatible travel companion in foreign places. I need assistance with navigating my way around new territory – negotiating cafes, speaking up for me when I’m not understood, steps, steep inclines, long walks, unknown bathrooms and toilets, reaching things and carrying luggage; all the elements of travelling. A good strong man would be ideal, but he is no longer in my life. My girlfriends are not as strong as they used to be and have little money to spare. It’s a big undertaking for anyone to travel with me.
So for lack of any other choice here I am booking again to stay in Bali, which I can thankfully manage on my own with the support of my family, their staff, and the ‘wheelchair assist’ service of the airlines.
I’m on the plane returning to Perth, feeling rejuvenated, nourished and happy. What a full time I’ve had. I haven’t rested and relaxed as much since I was in hospital for ten weeks with my fractured knee and femur saga nine years ago, and that doesn’t really count. I feel reborn after busy stressful years working on my book in between making a living, and supporting my elderly mother and sister. Even my holidays in Bali have been spent working on my book.
I am heart filled after three weeks with various members of my Bali family and other friends I’ve made over the years. One by one I spent time with them as the well-oiled grapevine let them know I’m back.
Nyoman and Wayan
There is Nyoman whose big heart and generosity kept me coming back to the same homestay year after year, since 1988. She and her sister Wayan took such wonderful care of the guests, cooking the best breakfast in Bali, and helping in many ways, with good humour, wisdom and love. When I returned eight years ago, after an absence of a few years, fragile, still learning to walk again after my fractured knee saga, they cheerfully took care of all my needs and enabled me to stay for two months, while writing my book (see Writing this Book in Bali).
Wayan bringing offerings from another ceremony
Nyoman is now probably in her seventies (she doesn’t know her birth date) and isn’t working at the bungalows anymore. But she has insisted on making me the most delicious lunches, tasty authentic Balinese food made with love, delivered every day by her nephew. Now I go to visit the family compound in her village.
Visiting Nyoman in her village
This year I was honoured guest at the cleansing ceremony for her elderly brother who died the week I arrived, and felt privileged to be part of an event that few tourists experience.
With my Bali sisters at the ceremony in their home compound for a relative who died.
All in their best ceremony clothes, with the offerings they’ve been making for days.
This was a part of the ceremony where they drew smoke towards themselves
I miss hanging out with Nyoman on my verandah, she was a large part of my Bali experience. It’s not the same staying for a couple of hours at her home. Our conversations were of a different kind than I have with my friends. Instead of “What have you been up to?” we’d sit companionably, our talking meandering over what is happening now, and today, family, life, money, birds, who bought what in the art shop (with the best English of all the family she served the customers), the moon (she always knew what phase it was in), learning Bahasa words. We would just sit and be, and conversation, laughter and observations would float between us, and we’d cover a lot of territory.
One day four Japanese tourists walked past my bungalow to the ocean wall about twenty metres in front. They proceeded to take masses of photos of themselves, posing with the ocean as backdrop. It felt like they were on a stage, and Nyoman and I were the audience watching them pretend to be having a fabulous time, oblivious to us. We laughed together at the entertaining show. She observed ‘They don’t see the ocean, the beauty, they only see themselves.’
The view from my verandah – beautiful backdrop for selfies
Then there were her spicey scrambled eggs, cooked with garlic and mild chilli, she brought a bland food to life, and one of the reasons it was the best breakfast in Bali. One day Nyoman said ‘Not spicey, only little spicey.’ Spluttering, coughing and reaching desperately for the water bottle, ‘Not spicey? Not spicey?! Nyoman, very very spicey!’ Her impeccable knowledge of spices failed her this one time, and she has never lived it down, it became an ongoing joke. For years, every time I had eggs after that, she would say ‘Not spicey Nyoman’ and I would say ‘Mmm really? Let me see!’ And we’d both laugh.
Made and Iluh at Segara Wangi Beachside Cottages
Made (pronounced ‘Marday’) inherited the sea side property as the eldest male, and with his wife Iluh, runs the bungalows, as well as an art shop. They always give me a big welcome, a generous discount, and together with their staff take care of anything I need, I only have to ask. They’ve enabled me to keep travelling, whether I have a companion or not.
I always try to contribute to their lives, not just by staying for a month, but help with computers, the net, social media, English wording for marketing, feedback on their businesses, anything that is needed.
This time they wanted my input about a menu for a coffee shop they want to open at their dining area for guests by the ocean. Immediately my thoughts were “Oh no, not another Bali café serving the same food as everyone else”, which I said more diplomatically.
Trying to be a tourist
We made a delicious discovery while on our way home from another of our “Nyoman (my Bali name) we want to take you out. Have you been to Tirtagangga?” trips. I’ve said it before, I’m a bad tourist, especially going to hot crowded places where I tire quickly (see Adventures at the Klung Kung Markets ). This time we were a party of nine, with five children and another sister. The beauty of the water palace paled after twenty minutes of onslaught, though I enjoyed people watching from a perch in the shade.
Tirtagangga Water Palace, another beautiful backdrop for photos
A shady spot to enjoy the view and people watching
After a delicious lunch in a road side café in busy Amlapura (the nearest big town), I was feeling drained, and happy to be finishing the excursion.
Made said “Nyoman do you want to visit the chocolate factory?’ My whole energy lifted with ‘chocolate’, which is for me, manna from heaven. So we visited the local Dutch owned chocolate-making venture, along a winding track through coconut tree plantations. Beautifully located on a quiet beach, it had a strange, deserted vibe, with only a few children around. With unusual bamboo buildings, it looked like it was an inspired idea that had run out of steam.
But nothing wrong with the chocolate sauce, it was to die for. “Made, Iluh, with this chocolate sauce you can make an extra special ice cream sundae!” Both their faces lit up and “Yes Nyoman, yes!” Made immediately started asking about discounts for large orders, thinking he could sell the jars of the sauce in his café as well.
Unusual designs at the deserted chocolate factory
Another touristing attempt
Another day Iluh asked if I’d like to visit her mother Wayan in a nearby traditional Aga village for the first time. Tenganan is a major tourist attraction, which I visited on my first trip to Bali in 1988, but not since then. Her mother is a craftswoman who weaves double ikat fabric, who learnt this complex craft from her mother, who learnt it from her mother, and so on for many generations. They are trying to keep an ancient tradition alive and make a living.
Tenganan Village, buffalo are important!
We entered a long, old brick building, through a labyrinth of stalls, groaning with fabrics, sarongs and crafts, walking around women bent over looms on the floor, to the family’s small compound in the middle somewhere. With no natural light, a few fluorescent lights, and only small fans to slightly move the dense hot air, and low ceilings, it felt a bit claustrophobic. I soon forgot it as I was awestruck by the intricate work involved in colouring threads from traditional dyes, in specific patterns, so when they are woven together they create an ikat pattern. The double ikat is even more complicated.
Hunched for hours each day over a small loom, it’s back-breaking work. Serving a coffee and sweet treat, Wayan lamented that fewer tourists are buying the fabric. “They complain it is too expensive, but it can take two weeks to make a larger piece, and that is not including the dying of the threads.” She may be the last of her line to carry on this tradition, as there are no younger family members interested. ‘Do you know a younger person who could help you investigate online market places for handicrafts, so you aren’t reliant on passing trade?’ I suggested. Belatedly realising I am expected to buy something, I was happy to support her work and chose a small blue ikat cloth.
Wayan at the loom
The natural dyes in the box, and the thread dyed in particular patterns for weaving
It gave me a fresh appreciation of Iluh’s cultural and creative heritage, informing her choice of goods for her shop, which includes many traditional fabrics. She said ‘Sherly the dressmaker wants to put some of her clothes in my shop. What do you think?’ ‘I think it’s great to expand your range, and offer different products from the other shops.’ I replied.
This later sparked an idea, ‘Many people are trying to avoid plastic bags, and there could be a market for cotton, attractive bags for tourists. I haven’t seen any for sale.’ She immediately understood, “Oh yes plastic bags big problem.” I could see her creative mind ticking over. I don’t think she had ever thought of creating her own products, the possibility opened up for the first time. When I returned the following year, plastic bags were partially banned in Bali and I bought out her collection of beautiful bags as gifts.
‘Why go around with a boring shopping bag when you can have one with style?’, say two women of style
Over my three weeks I had many interactions that were mutual exchanges of support, care and love with all the people I know in Bali; the dressmaker, the massage lady, the beautician, Wayan the fisherman, the sisters and cousins, the children, the aunties. I spent money locally, gave money to family members who needed it, and brought gifts for everyone else (op shop clothes are a winner), while they made me clothes, relaxed my tight muscles, took me snorkeling and on other adventures, fetched the best chicken satay in the world and supported my stay. Balinese are heart people, and they embrace another open heart.
As I reflected on all this mutual love and care on the plane home, it struck me that if I hadn’t been going to the same place in Bali for the past thirty years I would not be having such an enriching time.
Few tourists have my experience. I know people who have been going to Bali regularly for longer than me, who have never been invited to one of the numerous family ceremonies or had my depth of experience of the everyday culture (and still I’m only scratching the surface).
My so-called misfortune of not being able to travel the world has had enormous rewards. Realising this made me again grateful for what I am able to do, rather than wishing for something more. It gave me a fresh appreciation for the richness of my life, even without my bucket list being fulfilled.
Wanderlust appeased at Cradle Mountain Tasmania
My wanderlust was appeased by a Tasmanian adventure late last year, with my brave and intrepid friend Gitika, and my desire for more world travel diminished.
Now that travel is not something we can assume anymore, I’ll be so happy just to return to Bali.