I arrived after a flight delay (Hong Kong weather) only to face an hour-long immigration line. Hello Bali, so beautiful, so untamed and so darned friendly! And yes, there really is “Bali time,” and as a New Yorker this will take some gettin’ used to!
It all started with the immigration line. Imagine my shock, as a TSA conditioned- paranoid-American, when a uniformed airport security person spoke to me in that same sleazy voice NY airport gypsy cab drivers use when they say, “Taxi? taxi? taxxiiii?” This guy didn’t offer me a taxi but he did suggest that if I paid him $85.00 I could skip the long line. Confused and annoyed, I brushed him off saying, “I’m on vacation, and I’m in no hurry.” Well, after the first hour had passed, my indignation quickly turned to wishing I’d have slipped the officer the money. I put on some John Legend, chilled and checked out the other tourists – typically old and young, backpackers and honeymooners and everything in between. The only element missing seemed to be the wealthy since they probably forked over the eighty-five bucks.
Ketut, my driver from the Villa, met me. He gave me a friendly wave and pointed to the spot to meet him once I cleared customs. When I got there he was nowhere to be found. After being hustled by cab drivers, I finally had him paged. Poof, there he was again, a guy with huge smile and deep happiness in his eyes. I have a confession; I was hot, tired and a little flustered and so after the 25th taxi driver asked if I needed a ride, I snapped (think shoe department at Saks – more clerks than customers and they circle like vultures to make the sale). I raised my voice at one of the cabbies, saying, “No, I do NOT need a ride!” His sarcastic response, “you are a really nice lady,” was a slap in the face. My behavior really bothered me. I read that the Balinese do not like conflict, anger or raised voices. And, there I went and did it. I don’t want to be that grumpy, angry New Yorker. I’m on the journey trying to loosen the tight strings of my high strung existence and when it got rough I reverted back to my old ways. Well, as they say, practice makes perfect.
Ketut then drove me to my villa. Oh vey the Bali roads – narrow, curvy and shoulderless – overrun by scooters whose invincible drivers don’t look before pulling out into traffic. Better than the worst New York cab ride! The Villa upgraded me to a two-bedroom sprawl with ornate furnishings and a large private pool. I first thought, “Wow!” but that quickly gave way to “oh shit.”
This grand Villa had surely seen better days. Everything was old, run down and well worn. But, hey maybe things will be better in the light of a new day. I got to pick my bedroom and I chose the quaint upstairs one with the soaring ceilings and beautiful canopy. In my naiveté, of course I failed to realize that that high ceiling was a heat trap and that the pretty canopy was actually mosquito netting. As I sweat and swatted my way through that first night, I wondered what I’d gotten myself into.
I woke up on my first day and took a refreshing dive into the pool (after a nice fellow cleaned it for me) and ordered breakfast. I thought, “well this isn’t so bad after all.” But then the temperature soared and the only two places I could find comfort were either my little room or in the pool. But even my room’s AC couldn’t ward off the heat. And if that wasn’t enough, I was soon introduced to my many housemates, discovering all the little creatures – lizards crawling on the walls, a crazy assortment of creepy bugs and black moths flitting about, brown frogs hiding under rugs and in crevasses. I literally jumped at the slightest little rustle or movement. The only creature I truly loved was the orange stray kitty that spent his day sleeping in the chandelier dripped outdoor dining room. He didn’t care much about me but seemed to enjoy having someone around. I know that Mother Nature is a big part of the Bali experience, but seriously!
On Day 2, I took a journey to the local supermarket to stock up on snacks and as my driver helped me with the bags, I asked him about the music and smoke coming from across the river that ran next to the Villa. He responded with great cheer, “it’s a cremation!” Call me crazy but that caught me off guard for just a moment. He pointed to the haze of smoke and said, “See, it is a cremation ceremony!” As I sat in my villa, seeing and tasting the smoke, I tried to understand how I felt about this. On the one hand, I was mortified at the thought of a burning corpse and on the other, I felt fortunate to be so close to a sacred Balinese ceremony. Here is what Wikipedia says about Bali funerals, called Ngaben.
A Cremation Ceremony, is a funeral ritual performed in Bali to send the deceased to the next life. The body of the deceased will be placed as if sleeping, and the family will continue to treat the deceased as sleeping. No tears are shed, because the deceased is only temporarily absent and will reincarnate or find final rest in Moksha (freeing from the reincarnation and death cycle).
The proper day of the ceremony is always a matter of consulting a specialist on ceremony days. On the day of the ceremony, the body of the deceased is placed inside a coffin. This coffin is placed inside a sarcophagus resembling a buffalo (Lembu) or in a temple structure (Wadah) made of papier-maché and wood. This sarcophagus is then borne to the cremation site in a procession, which is almost never walked in a straight line. This is done to confuse evil spirits and keep them away from the deceased.
The climax of a Ngaben is the burning of the sarcophagus containing the body of the deceased. The fire is viewed as necessary to free the spirit from the body and enable reincarnation.
Ngaben is not always immediately performed. For members of the elite castes, it is normal to perform the ritual individually for the deceased within three days. People of lower social classes opt for a more economic solution where they first bury the deceased, who is then cremated with the village’s other dead in a mass ceremony.
Wow, can you imagine a funeral where no one cries? Oh how I wish my Dad’s funeral was void of sadness. What a beautiful way to think about death. It’s just a short separation.
UPDATE: I’ve done further research and have learned that of course, the Balinese are sad at the loss of a loved one. This source jumps to the conclusion that just because of a belief in reincarnation, there is not sadness. I think that there is minimal outward expression of sorrow but as would be expected, Balinese feel deeply grief and mourning.
My second night was better, as I enjoyed a raging thunderstorm with pounding rooftop rain. But, then as Day 3 heated up (It reached 90 degrees by 11 am) I decided to call it quits. I sat in my barely cool room and searched for a new hotel, called the front desk and explained my dilemma and was pleasantly surprised when they agreed to refund my unused deposit and drive me to a new location. I think they all know that the Villa has seen its day and they explained that the weather was even hard for the locals. Apparently, they are in the midst of record-breaking heat! I think they sympathized with the older lady from New York City amid the jungle-like setting of the Villa.
I booked at the Anantara Seyminak on the south shore of Bali. This place lacks the quaint charm of the Villa but it has air conditioning, ocean, yoga, great food and a more modern feel. My day today started with private yoga at 7am – fabulous – a long walk on the beach, breakfast and retreat to my balcony to read and write. It was an overcast day and very comfortable. I then headed out for an amazing swim in the ocean, surrounded by surfer wannabes. The real surfers where about 100 feet farther out, catching the big waves. The ocean was delightful with surf reminiscent of the East Coast US, but about 20 degrees warmer! A swim in the pool, a late lunch of fish tacos and then a fabulous Balinese massage! Yep, I’m really roughing it, searching deep inside myself – HA! No, to be serious, I have been crafting Chapter 2 of my journey to a better work and non-work life. That will come soon.
My week’s mapped out. Tomorrow I’ll be diving Nusa Pinida, supposedly a difficult dive that promises big animals! Tuesday I’m taking a tour of the island with Ketut, my Villa driver that will include Ubud. Wednesday it’s diving again at Tulamben on the northwest side of the island. Friday, I’ll be spending the day at a holistic spa where I’ll indulge in a range of Svaasthya Wellness treatments. Off days will be spent reading, relaxing, yoga, beach walking and writing at the hotel.
The people here are beautiful and ever so-laid back. I am planning to have much of that rub off on me before I go!
Selamat tidur, for now.