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Day 61: to Bali with love

I shared in yesterday’s story how I found myself outside a closed airplane door in Bangkok, Thailand, crying and banging on the boarding door to be let in. It was a scene straight out of a movie. The flight was headed to Denpasar Bali, where I was off to meet my old friend and high school algebra teacher G***, who was there on a guy’s trip with about 15 of his friends from Malaysia (yes my old algebra teacher from Park City, Utah lived in Kuala Lumpor, Malaysia). I learned he was in Bali from an announcement he made on Facebook, and seeing as how Thailand was sort of a short plane ride away from Bali and I’d never been there, that made this next adventure to see G*** again a yes for me. I had little to no plan for my travels once I got to Bali, and it would be the last stop of my 3 week solo vacation that started with me meeting Starbucks man on day 1 of my trip (see day 60). So I wanted this journey to keep being magical. And as a side note, my first reunion with my teacher G*** was in 2009 after I hadn’t seen him in 15 years since I was a sophomore in high school. Thanks to Facebook, in 2009 we’d reconnected and met up at a resort he was staying at in Ko Samui, Thailand. And after having a reunion meal with his friend, we all took a ferry at 11pm to Ko Phagnan, the next island over, for the Full Moon party. And wow, the experience I had that night was surreal, beautiful, peaceful, wild, healing and unforgettable. But it’s a story in and of itself for another time; back to my heart changing trip to Bali in May of 2011. I had no plan for Bali when I arrived nor did I have much knowledge of the country. I’d been told by G*** to tell the taxi driver at the airport I’m Denpasar to take me to Kuta beach by the McDonald’s, where G*** would be with his friends high on life and mushrooms playing a competitive game of ultimate frisbee. I hoped these directions would make more sense to a local taxi driver than they did to me. I also hoped that somewhere along the way, I’d find a safe & clean lodging option nearby, because I was exhausted from not having slept much the night before hanging out with R** from Tennessee, aka Mr. Starbucks (day 60). The only impression I had thus far of Bali was from reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s 2006 best seller, Eat, Pray, Love. But the book alone was enough to associate a sense of magic with this country. And on account of the sheer luck I had at the airport, of getting let on the airplane after the gates had closed, I already knew Bali has some lessons for me. When the airplane landed I was feeling relaxed, relieved and open to whatever adventure was meant to come my way. I’d seen the movie adaptation of Eat Pray Love more recently than I’d read the book, so the images of Bali were fresh in my mind. I finally got around to reading the book Eat Pray Love in 2009, when a fellow female traveler gave it to me at a resort in Ko Samui where I was spending my final 2 nights before heading home to my life & dog in Utah. I’d gone down towards the pool and found a narrow path in the woods that lead down to a smaller and more private-feeling bath area. A woman was down there alone lounging in a chair overlooking the ocean, and she smiled as i approached, so I joined her and we began to talk. As our discussion meandered around life topics I realized how diverse her background was. She was from South Africa, she was in her early 60’s, she was a retired journalist, she spoke 4 languages and lived in London. I didn’t know anyone like that in my circle of friends or in my life yet, so she was fascinating to talk with. We were just strangers lounging and chatting, but after just a few moments we felt like familiar friends, and she told me she’d just finished a great book and did I want to read it. I looked down at the ground and it was Eat, Pray, Love. I laughed and responded yes I’d happily take it for reading, because I’d heard of it already and seen it everywhere, mainly strapped onto the outside of a few travelers backpacks, almost like a club. But it wasn’t the right time for me to read it yet; so to be gifted Eat Pray Love at the end of of my own first solo Asia journey felt perfect. Now back to arriving in Bali. I was so relaxed during the entire plane ride into Denpasar. I think after my body experienced the extreme panic of having fallen asleep at the gate and nearly missing my flight, I had my body so stressed. So now it just wanted to relax and have some peaceful rest. I felt completely open for a heart opening adventure in Bali, and almost missing my flight was just the beginning. And to be met with a round of applause from the first few rows of people on the airplane when I finally boarded felt like a great start to the magic. At the Denpasar airport, I was surrounded by loud peaceful chaos. Men were waving signs at me, tapping me on the shoulder and pulling at my shirt to ask if I needed help or to show me their various tours and hotels. I knew I was looking for an official taxi line, because in my head that minimized my chances of getting in the car with a rapist who was going to kidnap me and hold me for random. Like a mantra, I kept repeating my destination to myself in my head, “the McDonalds by Kuta Beach, the McDonald’s by Kuta Beach, the McDonald’s by Kuta Beach.” It was relaxing to know where to go. I made my way through the sea of people to the baggage claim area, got my backpack, and proceeded to the end of the sidewalk to the long airport taxi line. The line was moving slowly and I was looking down at the ground when I heard a friendly voice behind me speak to me in a beautiful non American accent, “You almost missed your flight earlier.” And I turned around to find the young handsome face of a backpacker smiling at me. “Why yes, I did, thanks for noticing” and I laughed at how that whole plane scene had unfolded. “Where are you headed?” He asked “I was told to go to the McDonald’s by Kuta beach, but I don’t know where that is.” “That’s where I’m headed; it’s about 20 minutes away. Do you want to share a taxi?” “Yes, I do, thanks!” And with that, I relaxed and felt grateful for the continuing magic of Bali. My taxi companion’s name was Maa**** and he was in his early 20s and was from Amsterdam. He was traveling around Bali alone for about a week and unlike me, he had a clear travel agenda with lodging already booked. Smart guy. He had a quick wit and within a few minutes of our taxi line wait together I felt like I had made a new friend. We talked a lot about things strangers or a man and woman don’t usually talk about, like what’s our purpose on this planet and do you believe in magic. And fate. As we were on the road headed towards Kuta Beach, Maa*** asked where I needed to be dropped off, and I casually mentioned that I didn’t have a place to stay yet, but I was meeting 25 guys from Malaysia at the beach by McDonalds who were all supposed to be on mushrooms and playing frisbee. I realized right then how strange my plan sounded to a stranger who had only known me the length of my nearly missed flight and this taxi ride. But Maa**** didn’t skip a beat and stepped in with a side plan that made him into a knight in shining armor for me. He told me his hotel was close to the McDonald’s and Kuta beach, and it had two beds. So he asked if I wanted to share a room with him. And yes, of course I did, still aware and grateful for the unfolding of synchronicities. Maa**** and I checked into our hotel room and as soon as my backpack hit the floor, my body collapsed onto the twin bed and I let out a huge sigh of relief. I was so happy to be safely somewhere. We took turns showering, like we’d been roommates for years, and Maa**** like a gentleman, stepped out onto the small porch to let me get dressed. I’d just bought a new shirt with a big gold OM on it so I was excited to wear it. And when I walked out into the porch to tell Maa**** I was ready to go, he looked up at me and his eyes widened and he said, “wow, you look great. Can I snap a photo of you?” And he picked up his phone and snapped a picture and then we were out the door and off to Kuta Beach by the McDonalds. Once there it was a sight to see and it was exactly what my teacher G***said to look for; about 25 guys on the beach on mushrooms playing some sort of game involving a frisbee and men standing arm n arm. The scene was hilarious and I recognized a few of the faces from when I’d seen them a year before in Thailand. Each year, this gang of men pick a location to get together, eat mushrooms, play music, surf, and play frisbee while tripping. Their friend team name was the Killer B’s and they even had t-shirts.

G*** saw me approach the beach from the street and jogged over and gave me a long warm hug. I introduced him to my new friend and roommate Maa****, and the two of them immediately began chatting like old friends, and G*** offered us a cocktail; but not just any cocktail, it was a magic mushrooms cocktail. Maa****, being a cautious, smart and aware traveler, turned the offer down, but he also let me know I could indulge if I wanted to, and he’d keep an eye on me. So there I was in the middle of a country I hardly knew, amid men I sorta knew, and a handsome Dutchman was about to look after me while I took a mushroom trip? Sounds on point with my desire to have a magical time in Bali, so I said yes. An hour or two later the mushrooms set in, and Maa**** was a total gentleman and just walked slowly with me along the beach, and through the city near Kuta as it poured rain down on us. We laughed for hours and couldn’t have had more fun when from the outside it seemed like we weren’t doing much. It was the feeling between us that created the magic in the moment. G*** and his crew had settled at a nearby bar and were taking turns signing at the mic on the stage, and the restaurant workers let it happen because it was funny and they’d just opened the doors for the evening, which meant they were the only ones there. Everything was fun and funny that night, regardless of whether I was seeing it through the lens of mushrooms. We stayed with the guys at the bar for several hours, and when we felt tired we said our goodbyes because though we were just arriving, it was their last night in town so they had no plans for sleep. I hugged my friend G*** and told him I’d see him and the Killer B’s again, somewhere in the world another time. As maa**** guided me back to our guesthouse he asked what my plan was for the rest of my time in Bali, and that’s when I remembered I didn’t have one. And when I let him know that, I was so flattered when he suggested that we stay traveling together because he said he enjoyed my company and he didn’t enjoy being around a lot of people, hence why he traveled alone a lot. So there I gratefully went from being a solo traveler with no clear destination, to having a companion who was headed first to Uluwatu, to see some of the worlds tallest surf waves, and then to Ubud, the town I recognized from Eat Pray Love. This was definitely going to be a wonderful way to end my vacation.

My days traveling with Maa**** were long, slow and deep. I’d never spent so much concentrated time with anyone before, not even family, so I got to know him a lot. I learned about his family, about his desire for connection he seldom talks about, and about how the heartbreaking death of his father had effected him. He’d died of AIDS and ran off to die alone. We were together for 7 days, all day, through all meals and moods of the day, and we seldom stopped talking. Maa**** was like an old friend and sounding board for all the places our minds and conversation topics would travel to and we both loved it. I remember being out on the porch of our guesthouse near uluwatu, and I was doing some yoga on the porch and he was reading, and we had tunes on the background. Then out of nowhere he said, “Harriet, you should write a book someday about your life” and I looked up at him and it felt like every cell in my body was just called on by name to pay attention, like an internal yes. “I love that idea. But where do I start?” I asked this young handsome Dutch guy from the airport. “You start wherever you want and share whatever you want, as you’ve done with me the last new days. I’ve learned a lot from you and I think others could too.” And so an idea to write was born; to share a book about my life. And when I went inside our guesthouse and opened the drawer of my bedside table, there was a notebook in it that someone had clearly left behind. There were a few words written on the first page, but the rest was empty. I took out the book from the drawer, tore out the first page, and began to scribble ideas and stories I wanted to share someday with the world. The book writing had begun. The next day Maa**** and I took a bus to Ubud and found an adorable little guest house with two full size beds for under $20/night. It had a nice garden out the front porch which was a nice place to roll out my yoga mat and for Maa**** to read his book. We visited the monkey sanctuary, an experience I’ll never forget because I wore the wrong earrings. The monkeys are used to being around people, and often people have food, which I did, so when we arrived a monkey saw the banana in my hand, ran up me and my bag, and grabbed the banana and my earring, nearly ripping it out of my ear. Even now if I wear earrings one sits below the other, forever memorializing that monkey experience with Maa**** in Ubud. We also visited gorgeous gardens with exquisite ponds of fish, visited the main retail and restaurant strip and I visited a day spa there, because that’s what I love to do anywhere I visit. And by day 6 of 7 together in Ubud, Maarten and I had done almost everything that had been suggested in that area. But I still wondered if I could find Wayan, the healer and herbalist from Eat Pray Love. I asked around for her whereabouts and people knew of her and would point in various directions sending me in what felt like circles. Maa**** opted out of this particular adventure of searching for Wayan, but I did meet a woman at the day spa who was up for spending a few hours looking with me. And so we wandered cobblestone streets and followed locals’ vague directions, until 1 man was sure we were on the right street. So we walked slowly down the street looking at each storefront and I knew it when I saw it. There was a gorgeous garden out front, a gate, a path leading in and a beautiful woman wearing a dress with an apron over it sweeping the entryway. I knew it was her just by how she felt and looked. I wandered nervously towards her knowing it was the end of the day and she was closing up shop. We exchanged smiles and I asked if her name was Wayan. She nodded, and I asked if she had time to do a healing session on myself and my friend. She paused, looked up at the clock, clearly indicating it was past when she usually worked, but she agreed to do 1 session. My new friend had a few more days in Ubud, so was nice enough to let me do it. Plus she hasn’t read the book yet and was just along for the ride. Once I got the green light for my session with Wayan I walked into her apothecary that smelled of the earth and saw pictures on the wall of Wayan with both the author Elizabeth Gilbert and the actress Julia Roberts, who played Elizabeth in the movie. It felt exciting and surreal to be in the space. Wayan asked me to come further back into the space, where she fiddled around with some herbs in a drawer, and then asked to see my tongue, she tapped on my head, she held my head, she did some chants, she tapped over my eyes, she patted down my body and then she disappeared without saying a word into the back of the store for a few minutes and returned with a bottle of tincture that I was to drink morning and night for 2 days. And she made sure to mention that it tasted as bad as it smelled. Wonderful. I paid her. We took a picture together and as I was about to leave the shop she held my arm and tapped on my head and said, “you need to quiet this space...” and then she tapped on my heart, “to open this space.” And then she took her hands off me and made one more comment. “And alcohol does not work well with your body, no drink.” And with that, Wayan waved goodbye and closed her shop’s front door. My spa friend and I parted ways and I returned to the guesthouse to fill maa**** in what had just happened. I’d found Wayan, gotten a healing session with her, had been diagnosed with a busy head, a heart that was slow to open, and I needed to stop drinking alcohol but drink a potion that tasted like armpit sweat and dirt. Not the most thrilling report to get from a healer, mainly because it meant I had work to do, and it was the inner type of work, which there is no map or timeline for. Maa**** enjoyed hearing about it all and just smiled. It was Maa**** and I’s last night together in Bali before I headed home and he continued his travels to the Gilli islands. He laughed at my description of the healing experience, seeming generally curious about the head and heart healing I was told to embark upon. We chose a cute little Italian restaurant for our last meal together and sat by the window so that we had a view of both outside and inside and the restaurant. I couldn’t help but notice an adorable couple sitting a few tables away, both in their 60’s, sitting next to each other in a booth seat and playing backgammon together as they waited for their food. They both had white hair and he has black circular glasses that made him look like a college professor. I couldn’t help but feel a little envious of their love. It looked and felt so peaceful and connected. They seemed simple and happy; and that’s what I was slowly realizing that I wanted too. That last night I passed on the wine for the night, because Wayan’s words stayed with me that alcohol was not good for my system. I wondered did she say that to everyone? Cause it’s not like alcohol is a nutritious option for anyone; and I noticed my desire to discount the prescription I’d gotten because it didn’t fit into my existing lifestyle. But wasn’t that the point of healing? I’d have to get uncomfortable? Yes; so I knew changes would have to be made. As we were ordering dessert Maa**** got serious for a moment and told me he had a going away gift for me. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a tiny statue of a Buddha that was maybe an inch tall and stood it on the table between us. My mother gave me this Buddha statue after my father died a few years ago; she said it was to help me find my way in the absence of not having a father now. You’ve been so influential for me this last week, showing me a different experience of women; you’ve shown me it’s important that women be strong, insightful, interesting and fun to be around. I’m so grateful, so I’d like to give this Buddha to you, to help you find your way too.” Wow. I had instant tears with this gift and it felt this exchange was the perfect culmination of my magical trip. When my airport taxi arrived early the next morning I felt so emotional leaving Maa**** because I knew I’d just made a friend for life. When I told him I was excited for when we’d get to see each other again, he looked at me and said, “Harriet, maybe we don’t need to see each other again; maybe this experience this last week was exactly what we were meant to have together.” And with that pearl of wisdom I got into the cab and drove away from him, letting his words from both the night before and just now simmer in the mind I was now out to learn how to quiet. And that seemed like a full time job itself. Returning home this time something was different in me. On this trip I’d had educational lessons in school, spontaneous lessons with Mr. Starbucks (day ), my healing with Wayan, and my journey with Maa**** that now left me with the seed that I should write a book someday. And this someday is now, and it’s happening 1 day at a time. Namaste

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