Best thing about Bali: the awesome locals New skill acquired: a) riding a moped b) riding a moped with three kids on it as well as me Local food: unimpressed Local wine: very impressed Number of pairs of sunglasses that have broken since setting off: 9 Items of clothing lost through laundry services: over 20 Items mislaid during travels: over 30 (including very expensive, barely worn running shoes lost by airline) Trips to A&E: 2 Thing I miss the most right now: mince pies!
3 SMALL KIDS, 2 CRAZY ADULTS, 1 YEAR TO TRAVEL THE WORLD
POST 11: 23rd December 2016, Ubud, Bali.
I knew when I wrote that I hadn’t yet used our emergency medical kit, that it wouldn’t be long before it was required. Talk about tempting providence. Two days later, our last night in Luang Prabang was made memorable by a trip to Laotian A&E for multiple stitches to my cheek. (The reason for this is not very glamorous – I banged it on the back of a chair whilst stooping to pick something up in the dark).
The hospital was VERY basic. So the idea of a needle so close to my eye ‘sans anaesthetic’ did not seem like much fun. Instead I ‘suggested’ (forcibly) that I use my own steri-strips, despite, somewhat naively, not knowing whether this was even feasible. It was a risk that paid off. I may have spent the first week of our stay in Bali resembling a cage fighter (with my rather large facial dressing) but all is well now. Just another scar that should fade. I hope!
Photo caption: off to practise my moped skills (top left); what happens when you don't take an umbrella with you in rainy season (top right); a passion fruit from the tree in our garden next to our private temple (bottom left); BoboMama me-time - or so I'd hoped (bottom right)
Luckily Bali is an incredible centre for healing of all sorts. It is not for nothing that it is called the Island of the Gods. It seems to offer everything: beautiful natural scenery (including an active volcano, tropical jungle, verdant rice fields and sandy beaches); a smattering of superb restaurants (particularly if you are into the burgeoning vegetarian/vegan/raw food movement) and a local population that is super friendly, warm, thoughtful and kind. And here, in the ‘cultural capital’ of the country - Ubud - we are the beneficiaries of its most amazing and also oddest attribute: the meeting of two very different sets of spiritual practices.
Photo caption: view of the still-active volcano, Mount Agung, from Xanthe and Raphael's Steiner school (top left); the walk to school (top right); the view from our villa (bottom left and right)
The most visible sign of Bali's religion is its inhabitants' adherence to the multiple ceremonies that are held throughout the year - even birthdays are celebrated twice! These either welcome or shun certain types of spirits but mostly just appease them so that they leave us well alone. This is because 'butakala' or potentially negative spirits will only do harm if neglected or provoked. So villages and homes are dotted with ubiquitous offerings of flowers and food: the women lay them out daily on household shrines, temples, near rivers and in and around the entrances to houses. Since they are known to be particularly active on certain days, at certain times of day, in specific locations (known to all locals), processions with various effigies are regular occurrences at which traditional dress is donned, gongs and drums are banged.
Photo caption: every day Ibu Wayan comes to visit (dressed especially in ceremonial gear) and leaves her home-made offerings at our temple as well as dotted around the house and entrance. She says some prayers, lights a joss stick and sprinkles water on each and every one in order to bring "good sleep" and "relaxing".
Alongside this, there is the sometimes slightly JP Sears-esque New Age version, in which tourists, drawn to Bali for its remedial network, can supplement their inner-journeying with heart-opening cacao ceremonies, chakra-balancing yoga, past-life and ancestral clearing, harmonic body songs, deep dive dance, conscious communication sharing circles and holographic kinetics. (To name but a few of the mind-bending, alternative therapies on offer.) Healing tonics, raw chocolate brownies, gluten-free pizzas, dairy-free ice cream and kids' brown-rice bento boxes are all readily available here; the local supermarket sells frozen wheatgrass shots, organic palm nectar and spirulina flakes, and even the cinema is an organic, vegan one.
Photo caption: snapshots of last week's ceremony to appease the 'butakala' or potentially disruptive spirits
It is both awesomely refreshing that alternative healing modalities are so readily accessible - I have hugely benefited from dabbling in a few of them - but it can also get a teeny bit annoying too: just about every westerner you meet is a therapist of some sort and conversations over heard in cafes can border on the self-consciously esoteric - on our very first morning here we stumbled into the nearest café only to catch the end of someone’s description of their most recent shamanic astral travel. As you do.
So whilst my inner Bohemian is loving it, my inner Bourgeois is having a superiority-complex field day: are these guys for real? What kind of planet have I landed on? The latter half of me is not alone: I have recently heard this phenomenon described as Bali ‘bla bla’. Which makes me laugh. Because it sums up the potential weariness that I feel might ensue when I have been here so long that I just crave some football talk. And I hate football. Just anything that offers a glimpse into something that is a bit more grounded, solid, real.
Photo caption: offerings along the bridge over the nearby stream (top left); another shrine to the river (top right); safe-guards for homes come in various forms: offerings, an 'aling aling' wall just behind the main entrance ('butakala' can't turn sharp corners), warning messages (bottom left); and statues of Ganesh the protector, who also inspires us with faith that obstacles will be overcome (bottom right)
Thus it’s been an interesting three weeks. And definitely relaxing. We have been honing our manifesting skills and managed to up our game yet again by finding ourselves living in an even more spacious, luxurious pool villa than the one in Thailand – this time adorned with beautiful art and sculptures and set amongst the most incredibly scenic as well as calming paddy-field vista. All because we waited until quite near to our arrival date before offering a handful of AirBnB owners the price we could afford rather than taking any notice of that which was publicised.
Photo caption: our pimp Balinese villa
Waiting until the last minute has never been my forte - after all, Virgos are renowned for their perfectionist planning - but through practising patience and allowing life to FLOW rather than carve my own groove through or against it, I am amazed at how much we have managed to ‘achieve’: two fabulous schools for the three children, a gorgeous yoga studio just 5 minutes walk away, a car and scooter, a lovely babysitter and a brilliantly-talented, weekly masseuse, all within a few days of arrival! Through being clear about what we wanted and trusting that it would show up, we managed to secure all of this purely through serendipitous meetings with key people at random times in random places. Or maybe it’s just Bali. It is said that this island will bring you whatever you need to experience on the next step of your journey. And that’s exactly what it has done for us: some easy living after quite a bit of stress in Laos, a spot of luxury, a precious four hours a day to ourselves during the week and some healing thrown in for good measure.
Photo caption: New-Age architecture (top and bottom right); Cacao ready for the ceremony (bottom left)
The only thing that is missing is Xmas cheer. Which is probably a blessing really considering how much of a humbug I usually feel in England in response to the ruthless commercialisation of what was originally a pagan festival of light. But it would be nice to indulge in it a bit. So we have made our own advent calendars and snowflake decorations (Kirstie's homemade Christmas, eat your heart out) and we have found a fun place in which to enjoy a family Xmas Eve supper (which includes face-painting, kids' corner, Christmas carols and even a visit from Santa. In Bali!)
Photo caption: an example of Balinese creativity and artistry (top left); a sacred tree near Coco's school (top right); our local, organic/vegetarian/vegan (of course) cafe (bottom left); home-made advent calendars (bottom right)
It may not be a traditional Xmas - no tree or tinsel this year - but it will be fun and unique: the Balinese masseuse is booked for Xmas morning (it is not a holiday here) and afterwards, we will be enjoying a three-course vegetarian/vegan/raw menu in one of the cool, local cafes (that acts as Andrew's office during the week). I did however insist on investing in some festive tipple - I bought a sneaky, duty-free bottle of Dom Perignon 2006 whilst transiting through Kuala Lumpur airport - after all, it's not Xmas without champagne and a wine specialist needs nothing but the best!
Happy Xmas everyone! xxx
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