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Suzen's Personal Journey - Chapters Three and Four



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Chapter Three: Settling in at Gandra's House

By:  Suzen

I have been in Bali for 21 days now and am beginning to relax! It was difficult at first becauseSPJ_Dance_Princess_in_Danger.jpg of the manic state I was in before leaving home. And I was thrown into the Ubud night life by my next door neighbor from Canada, Maxine. She is 68 years old and has been coming to Bali since 1986 for 6 months every year! If she wasn't introducing me to another Balinese Dance Performance (these are held several times a week throughout the area) it was another jazz café or blues bar! She returned to Canada June 2 so she crammed all her favorite things in the last few days, especially since she had a new awestruck person to show it all to!! There is no doubt about it, I have had fun! But I am exhausted. Actually I ended up a tiny bit sick and slept pretty much all day (and night) for the better part of three days. I will settle into a quieter space now. After all, this is one of the primary reasons I came to Bali, for a personal journey without AND within.

The first 10 days in Ubud (I spent my first 4 days in the quiet comfort of Susan Spilman's home!) I went to 3 Traditional Balinese Dance Performances, to the Jazz Café 3 times and took four 2 hour bike rides up into the rice fields at 7:00 in the morning. The 68 year old ran me ragged! This in addition to meeting new people, walking all over town every morning and afternoon to familiarize myself with the area...anyone who knows me understands I am a bit directionally handicapped. (I don't want to count the number of times I have been in a store in the mall and gone left into a store and come out and headed left to get back to where I was!) So my best technique is familiarity. I start in a small perimeter and moved out from there. I keep a business card of Gandra's on me at all times and am considering writing on the back "if found please return to Gandra's House". One of my habits has always been walking in a spacey kind of way, just looking around at all the sights. (I hear my daughter Robin saying, "Yep, that's her.") Here that mode of walking is perilous! To call the sidewalks uneven is such an understatement. SPJ_Ck_out_the_sidewalks!.jpgApparently there is a drainage system under the sidewalks and they must pull them up occasionally. This creates 6-10 inch drops in the sidewalk plus an enormous amount of breakage and the drains look to me as treacherous as an open pit. Therefore, I walk with my head down, who knows what Ubud really looks like! Actually I frequently stop and just take it all in, and I am still fascinated.

Little by little I am beginning to absorb the atmosphere and the beautiful energy here; friendly, peaceful and unhurried. Many of the women still carry most everything on their head and walk in a carefully measured way...beautiful to watch, especially when they are dressed for a special occasion. The men also, walk slowly and have an open and ready smile to give. Even people on motorbikes wait patiently with no yelling or even an impatient look on their face if someone is in their way. Amazing!!

I am beginning to understand why people find it hard to either leave here or to stay away! The magic of Bali, I think, happens gradually and you are lured into this beautiful energy. However, I am a little disconcerted at how difficult it has been to settle into this pace. Apparently I was busier than I thought in my previous life!! Just sitting and watching the rain or doing absolutely nothing has proved to be as difficult as the 3 day meditation I embarked on in March which I thought was going to be a piece of cake...(wrong!) Maybe Bali is an extension of that small beginning.

An unexpected and totally enjoyable advantage for me of staying in a Guesthouse is meeting travelers from all over the world; I wouldn't have wanted to stay anywhere else...As opposed to a hotel, most of the living space is outside, on the porch naturally, since the room is just a bedroom and bath. Breakfast is served on the porch along with a thermos of tea. Being in a compound with gardens throughout leads to people just wandering around as well. When someone new arrives a conversation is started immediately and travel questions and advice begin soon after. You pay when you leave and are free to stay day to day with no limit since there are no reservations.

SPJ_Emmi___Ben_Packed___Ready_To_Go.jpgThere are the typical 25-35 year olds traveling alone or in pairs, and the hearty retiree free of obligations and the fears that often plague middle age!! But also there are families; right now we have a French woman and her 13 year old daughter who have been traveling for 9 months throughout Southeast Asia. And another couple from France traveling for a year with an 8 year old daughter whom they are home schooling. She speaks 5 languages now and absorbs things faster than I can pronounce them! A few days after I arrived Ben, 28 from England and Emmi, 28 from Finland arrived on a 2 week holiday. Then Marko, 26 from France is traveling Bali and Java for "just a month" he says "because I have a job." Poor Euro guy, only a month vacation his first year on the job!!

Photo above and right - Emmi and Ben, packed and ready to go

Then, my favorite, a 70 something year old woman from Holland, Janneke, traveling alone, first time in Indonesia. Unlike me, she didn't just settle into a safe cosmopolitan place like Ubud. No, she took planes trains and boats all over Java and the surrounding islands. I was fascinated with the exotic names like Yogyakarta, Serabaya, and Sulawesi. She actually caught a cargo ship, (with passenger cabins) from somewhere to somewhere for a 3 day journey to some island in the Java Sea!! I wanted to ask from where to where but my mouth was stuck in the drop jaw position! And she was such a sweet soft spoken lady. Former teacher of handicapped adolescence in Holland and a member of a performing choir. She looked like the typical white haired grandmother but when a taxi driver in Java tried to charge her $70,000 rupiahs instead of the $17,000 they had agreed on (she had made him write it out...$17,000) she folded her arms and refused to exit the taxi!! The police finally came and she paid the $17,000 with the policeman standing there laughing! She said "I knew $70,000 was just too much! Right. Of course, I would have handed over a $100,000 rupiah bill and said "keep the change!" Just let me off in front of the hotel!! By the way $100,000 Rupiah is roughly $10 American dollars!

All, regardless of age here at Gandra's, are friendly backpackers with travel guides and a sense of wonder and wanderlust!! Everyone has their own personal space but a strong sense of community is present too. Someone is always sitting on a porch and welcoming one more person to the conversation.

SPJ_Cloe__Tina__Anne___Marko.jpgJust to let you know the type of travelers I am around every day, besides Grandma Excursion, the little French girl, 8 year old Cloe, came up as I was scrutinizing a map of Indonesia and trying in my head to pronounce S-u-l-a...and she immediately looks at the map and says "Oh, Sulawesi, I have been there." Sure you have...how do you say brat in Indonesian...ha...ha.

Photo left- Cloe far left with traveling friends staying at Gandra's House

Of course I am only kidding. Right? See, I am not really a traveler. I have hardly been further than Atlanta by myself. And here I am in freaking Indonesia around people who rattle off names like Laos and Bangkok and Sulawesi like I do Ybor City!! When I say "where is the best beach around here they look at me like..."don't you read Lonely Planet? What are you looking for? Snorkeling, coral reefs, surfing, diving?" Ahhhh, just sitting on the sand and watching big waves???? Maybe catching a sunset?? So they smile and wander off to discuss with the other "Travelers" where the best Warung in the neighborhood is. Warung, local café just a step above a street cart, personally I only go to places that have the blackboard in English outside and feature a white wine.

I am quite sure I stick out like a big white thumb but I make no excuses and I refuse to pay $35 for a new lonely planet guide when I can just use the 15 year old one here. Most of the places still have the same name. Anyway, anywhere I go will probably be on a bus. With air con. With other lily livered westerners. And a destination with a return to my guesthouse. How do you say gutless in Indonesian?

So to pass the evenings, since most of the adult trekkers have pretty much found out all there is to know about me...(porch sitter) I have been playing Rummykubes with the 13 year old French girl, Clemance. (Looks and acts 18. See the dangers of traveling, premature maturity!) and Gandra's niece who is 9. Maxine started her on Rummykubes who knows when, the thing is, at 9 years old and with limited English, she is a killer Rummykube player. Very strategic and serious but with the most infectious laugh ever when something ticks her. Usually winning. Her name is Anna. Precious.

As much fun as all the people are and the activity is at Gandra's, now, I am in the mood for solitude. So I am at one of the internet cafes sitting at an Asian style table cross-legged on a cushion having a glass of Balinese wine, ($1.90) and some prawn & veggie spring rolls ($2.30) with a beautiful candle burning in a bowl of oil and a waiter with a frangipani over his ear!...For me in Bali, Life is Good.

 

Chapter Four: Acquiring My Bali Senses

By:  Suzen

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The smell of incense, wood fires and frangipanis...this is the smell of Bali for me and no matter what the context there is something beautiful to see. Even on the broken sidewalks, if you venture a glance up, there is a woman in ceremonial dress with a basket of offerings on her head, walking slowly and with the confidence of one knowing where she belongs or a boy in his sarong and head-dress on his cell phone laughing like any boy anywhere in the world. I feel pretty certain that I have never experienced a friendlier warm gentle group of people as a whole. Bali people are patient in traffic with a smile ready at any moment; soft spoken and totally unpretentious. Sure there are exceptions but what a great norm!

Ceremony_at_Market_Temple.jpgThe Market (Bazaar) begins with vendors arriving at 4am. If I am on the street at first light around 6 or 6:30 (it's happened!) I see women returning with their groceries! Many women still shop early in the morning for the day and often cook just once. The Balinese do not typically eat together, they eat alone when they feel hungry or when there is something available.  There is no sleeping in around here anyway, the roosters begin crowing before 6 am and they are insistent..."get up, get up, it is a new day!" I am just at the foothills and the sun rises more rapidly than I am used to. A soft daybreak a little before 6 turns quickly to sunlight a little after 6. And the same with sunset, darkness comes quickly and early, again around 6 -6:30. We are so close to the equator that we have almost 12 hours of light and dark each. The rhythm here is easy, slow and friendly. So much smiling! All women can walk with enormous items on their heads therefore learn very young to walk without moving their heads or shoulders, and with a slow measured cadence. Hence the movement is in the hips, which makes the women's walk beautiful and mesmerizing.

In the afternoon you can always look up and see all shapes of kites high up in the sky, or at the soccer field little boys running with 3 yards of string and a little kite trailing behind them. Everything has a small beginning. Around 4:00 in the afternoon the side streets, at least the ones that I have been on, have badminton games going on. All ages, girls and boys. You would be hard pressed to find kids at any game anywhere having more fun than these kids, big and small, with a simple badminton racket and a birdie. Sometimes even the adults play.

Speaking of food, I am addicted to the Ubud Cafes. Little open air types with free wireless andSuzen_Breakfast_at_Internet_Cafe.jpg some with organic foods. The other day I went around the corner to a little "juice bar" for a bagel. Price - $1.00. Do you think they threw a cold bagel on a paper plate with a plastic square of jelly at me?? No, as I sipped on Bali coffee (from a cup and saucer!) I was served a perfectly toasted crispy chewy freshly made bagel on a "real" plate with two little ceramic bowls, one of shaved butter and another one of homemade citrus jam! As a garnish, there were chunks of fresh papaya, pineapple and banana.  (I do now realize that you can OD on papaya and pineapple. Who knew?) I love the food here and the presentation of food. All of this for one American dollar! Plus $.60 for the Bali coffee...

I was a bit under the weather and had been on the banana, yogurt & rice regime for a couple of days. Feeling better and having tolerated the bagel and coffee so well, I ventured out around 5:30 for dinner. I did have the bowl of rice again, but being the risk taker that I am I added a side of wok tossed veggies. And a pot of ginger tea...real shaved ginger included. I received a plate of rice surrounded by little fried onions $.50...then a full bowl of seasoned sautéed onions, red & green peppers, zucchini, eggplant, broccoli, cauliflower and carrots. For one American dollar! This was a side dish! (However, I have noticed, if the cook realizes the sides are your dinner, they will make the sides a dinner! Very accommodating these Balinese!) I spread out the rice and shoveled on the veggies and then just stared at the beautiful color and the fabulous aroma. I have to say very soberly - I was in heaven.

Suzen_Bali_Juice_Bar.jpgIt came as a bit of a surprise to discover that most of the cafes I like are not owned by Balinese at all. They are generally owned by westerners and specially cater to the tourist and the ubiquitous ex-pats from some western country or another. Of course, the chances of me being able to acclimate to a true Balinese diet are quite slim for my American belly. And, on the up side, the food is great and it is cheap!! That pretty much puts an end to the discussion for me. One of my favorite cafes, Bali Buddha, is an organic café that uses ingredients from Bali farmers so that's good. And jobs are created for the young Balinese workers.

Prior to the little stomach upset, with no correlation intended, (just too much activity and too much food!) I actually had quite a bit of Balinese food. For example one day for breakfast I had a black rice dish made with black rice, rice pudding and palm sugar and something that I just couldn't place.... Black rice is somewhat of a delicacy here; it is actually a breed of rice that grows black. Anyway, quite a nice desert, but a bit sweet for breakfast. Then, on the same day, around noon my neighbor, Maxine, says "today we are having suckling pig." I don't eat a lot of meat anyway and haven't eaten any whatsoever in Bali, but this was a declarative statement so I went along with it. I was trying to fend off my reputation as a complete woos. The restaurant for this dish is supposedly world renown, but as all the best local places tend to be around the world, it is not a place I would likely go into on my own! The recipe has been handed down for generations and guarded by fierce old women! To cook this delicacy they actually take a baby (hence the word suckling...I thought it meant really juicy but apparently that is succulent!)...so they roast this little pig for 8 hours on a spit (originally it was a hole in the ground) while applying spices. It is served just like "pulled pork" in a BBQ restaurant in the south with rice and some Balinese veggies; mainly spinach like vegetable and it was very, very good, totally succulent!! Leave it to me to avoid meat and then go straight for the baby pig! It took a day or two to get over that.

Just this week I swung over to the other side with a lunch from a little café owned by a Balinese healer. For those who have read the book, "Eat, Pray, Love" it is Wayan's place from the Bali section of the book. Since there were only 2 tables I had to sit with a couple of girls already there. They were drinking some concoction of herbs and stuff. I was there for the vitamin lunch, which consisted of about 6 little plates of certain foods, mostly grown there at the café, for the optimum health lunch. It began with Turmeric tea which was grated at the table by the cutest Balinese kid I have seen yet. The meal then progressed to tomato chutney and water spinach and seaweed, (very rubbery) and red rice and toasted coconut and bean sprouts with a delicious sauce. Believe it or not it was really yummy. And I felt clean from the inside out too.

Suzen_spa_rocks_shower.jpgThe other addiction I have is the Bali massage. Not only is it THE most relaxing treatment ever but the cost is ridiculous! My first massage was $4 for one hour. Complete with an outdoor shower surrounded by smooth rocks (and a little wall!). The most expensive one by far has been $110,000 rupiahs...eleven American dollars!! That is $11. Even my warung eating, lonely planet across Asia on a shoestring backpacker friends, can have this luxury! And most do. The salons I have been to are clean and nice and the Balinese masseuses are well trained and very professional. There are just soooo many of them, the price stays very low.

I met a couple of new friends the other day. Actually they are the two girls I sat with at Suzen_Emilie__Paveen___Suzen_at_Bali_Buddha_Cafe.jpgWayan's place having the vitamin lunch. 30 something's from Singapore. Very sweet and very cool women. They were renting a car (with a driver!) to go up to Lake Batur the next day and invited me to go. Der, yes! The cost of the car is per car so the more passengers the cheaper. We went all the way up into the mountains and hung around for 2 or 3 hours and came back to Ubud for $30. That was $10 each. I feel guilty now. We had lunch in view of Gunung Agung, a live but dormant volcano. It last erupted in 1963 and cause massive damage all over Bali, resulting in a dire food shortage since so many of the crops were destroyed as well as many lives lost. Now, as it lies so still and majestic it is beautiful to see, but there is still a tinge of grief knowing the devastation it can and did cause.

 

 

 

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Photo Above- Lake Batur & Volcano

When we got back to Ubud about 5:00 we went to a drum circle held at the soccer field near my guesthouse. There was an equal mix of Balinese and westerners. Extra drums and other percussion items were passed around. (I did give it the old white girl try! No one yelled encore.) It was very cool to see the Balinese teenagers laughing and playing mixed in with these tourist types. As a rule the Balinese are accepting of outsiders and treat everyone with a kind respect and seem to actually enjoy interacting with us.

My new friends are Paveen, of Indian descent although she was born and raised in Singapore, and Emilie who is a 5th generation Singaporean, which is about as unheard of as a 5th generation Floridian!  (see photo above of Emile, Paveen and me) They met in Australia at a university there and have been friends ever since. When they heard of a special fare to Bali for under $200 round trip they took a long weekend and came over. Smart girls! These girls are foodies from way back. They were so much fun to eat with and each meal took hours to get through. Especially Emilie who I feel fairly certain can easily eat her weight in one meal and somehow never gain an ounce. Must be all that chewing.

A funny thing happened. I had already booked a bike tour for Thursday before I went to Lake Batur with my friends on Tuesday. On Thursday when I embarked on the bike tour we ended up going to the exact same spot at Lake Batur! O well...even though there is a lot of Bali to see, I have never yet regretted seeing anything twice!

The cycling trip began at 7:30 and eight of us went by van up into the mountains to Lake Batur. There we had breakfast with a stunning view of the mountain (volcano) and the lake and then drove down to pick up the bikes. (And helmets!) 

There are plenty of older American & Europeans in Ubud but wouldn't you know I ended up onSuzen_Aussies.jpg the tour with 5 people from Australia along with, thank God, 2 citified Londoners. The Aussies were all like "Oh no worries mate, we're from the Outback! This won't be hod!"  Of course, I had 15-20 years on all of them as well!! But I am happy to report I did keep up. From sheer pride, but nonetheless...We biked 26 kilometers, (I believe that converts into a hundred and some miles! Measuring on the Suzan scale of how long it FELT!)

We made several stops in the villages to view a temple and a Balinese compound and family. The family so graciously allowed us in to gawk at their way of life, must have seemed like we were from outer space what with our helmets and tank tops and just plain stares! This family was a typical village farming family with everyone from the grandmother down having their assigned responsibilities. Our guide had been educated in Java and stayed there several years but came home at 31 to get married and move back into his compound and take care of his parents and any unmarried sisters. He was the youngest son and custom is the youngest son is responsible for the parents in their old age. He also inherits the property. Next we visited a coffee plantation. Being from the south the word plantation threw me, it really was just a very small farm. But coffee beans are grown there, shelled, dried, roasted and ground. Suzen_Village_Family_Compound.jpgPersonally I love Bali coffee. It is a fine powder and is made by the cup simply by stirring in hot water. The plantation also grows cocoa beans and cinnamon and ginger and a bit of tobacco along with all sorts of exotic fruit. The Balinese are masters at not wasting anything. All the parts of a plant are used for something and then returned to the earth. Even their offerings, which can be all kinds of food, are offered to the gods and then returned home and eaten. The gods require the essence of the offering and allow the actual offering to be use by the giver.

 A good part of the ride was down hill, which believe me was not without peril. I thought we were on an asphalt bike trail but shortly (immediately) after starting I noticed motorbikes, cars, trucks along with the every present Bali street dogs AND walkers shared our space. The road space was about the width of a Ford Explorer! However, the traffic was sporadic and we had the road to ourselves a lot of the time. The road would be a beautiful piece of asphalt curving around rice fields and then for no apparent reason it looked like a bomb had fallen in the road. Chunks of asphalt everywhere and huge potholes all over the place. Then there were the hills, uphill not so bad, downhill, another story. Hurtling downhill at the speed of light you come to the bottom to be faced with a curve and a wok sized pothole. Land in one of those pits and your kidneys end up smack in the middle of your throat chakra!  Did I mention the seats were not the "gel" seats I am so fond of.

Suzen_Big_Banyan.jpgWe stopped at a banyan tree that reportedly is 500 years old. Banyan trees are considered to be sacred by the Balinese and can never be cut down. While we were marveling at this tree someone appeared with a big bunch of bananas (probably the tour people). And while we were devouring these like a pack of monkeys a woman came walking along the road with a big black tub full of sand. (Not tour people.) As my fellow bikers found out, it wasn't sand but dried ground coconut. They claimed it was really good.

 Tomorrow I am going to a beach called Candidasa on the east side of Bali, near the port of Padangbai. AND there is a new adventure looming in my future!

 

 

 

 

More Photos Below:

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Photo Above- Village Grandmother working...

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Photo Above- Morning Sun Before Bike Trip



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