Saturday, February 24, 2018

Snoozing in Sanur

Once again it was time to move.

Away from the comfort of Ubud and the Aya Putri Cottages on Bisma Road — to something new. The beach called to me. Scenes in the movie, “Eat, Pray, Love?”  Or just the need to get away from the crowds and traffic, do nothing and write? I am a Florida girl, after all.

The main reason I picked Sanur, and not the popular if frenetic surfing and party beach Kuta, was that I had met a lovely Dutch woman in Kathmandu. We had hit it off over breakfast, bonding as adventurous retirees do. She mentioned that her long-term partner had a daughter in Bali and that they were going to Sanur for three weeks while I was also there. “Come visit us!”

I had high hopes that they would guide me towards wonderful sights, tours, etc … and that I would find friendship. 

His daughter did pick the Gardenia Guesthouse for me — a great choice— but after an initial drink on the beach with the couple, they were off on their motorcycle to enjoy his family. I was a little sad not to spend much time with them but had only my assumptions and loneliness to blame. I even went back to the Gardenia and indulged in self-pity, hugging a pillow for comfort— so tired of being alone, of being cheerful in messages back home, of recovering from illness …

And then I noticed the inscription on the pillow —“Strength does not come from your physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.”  

Someone had placed placards and pillows around the cottages:
“Be patient. Things will change for the better.”  
“Life is what you make it.” 
“Some people look for a beautiful place. Others make a place beautiful.” 

OK, Kathy, get a grip!!!

It turned out that Sanur was perfect. 

The Lonely Planet Guidebook refers to it as “Snore.” I was cared for by the staff, given a lovely cottage and pool and full breakfast for $31 per day. The beach was a three minute walk. With little distraction, I could settle into a nice routine. Not exactly the “Kathy normal”, but I could get used to it!

Each morning:

Wake up to the sound of roosters and the scritch scritch of brooms on the lawn. The Balinese are the cleanest people I know! (Other than plastic trash.) The main litter is flowers— in the pool, on the roof, on the grass.  Removed every morning. Enjoy this veritable watercolor!

Once removed they are arranged, offerings and beauty everywhere!

Then an hour walk south on the beach boardwalk and back. Lovely to see the boats in the early morning light.

Enjoying a little girl twirling and singing  “Let it Go!” from the Disney movie Frozen. Notice the size of her brother’s shoes!

 Respecting the owners of little stalls making their offerings before cooking sate on the grill. 

One path led to a mangrove swamp— with a its own temple. An old man and woman statues guarded it — not to be messed with!

And then on the canal a man swept up the sand from the night’s overflow, a never-ending daily job.

And another removed plastic before it washed out to sea.

Everyday cleaning up, everyday making offerings, even if the trees drop more flowers and the beach sand encroaches on the concrete. 

At one community gathering I was almost enlisted to help in clean up!

On Sunday, Bali families turn out in force on the beach. 

It’s their one day off and they buzz in with motorcycles and run into the ocean fully clothed, even those with head scarves. At day’s end they buzz back, wearing the soaked clothing. Happy people and simple pleasures!

After the walk, thoroughly soaked with sweat — a good swim in the pool, bathed in the falling flowers.

Ahhh… time for a read, writing,… Maybe a good haircut, shopping for a summer shirt at Hardy’s where you don’t have to haggle over prices, or lunch at a new place. 

Other options in this “Snore” (boring?) place:

 Finding a thousand year old pillar and the offerings that are left there.

Learning to make palm leaf decorations at the Mercure Hotel.

But mostly just hanging out.

And at 5 PM Yoga at the Power of Now Oasis, two minutes away.

In the evening? 

Well, there was the Frog Dance at the Prama Hotel.

A $7 fresh fried red snapper dinner, here, with my feet in the sand.

Or a $7 hour long foot massage.

And then, time to snooze.

Sounds boring? Well, I could take it for a week. And I had to. Because my passport for the extended visa was still in Immigration!

And the truth was, I needed the protein, fruit, rest and exercise in order to recover from Nepal. 

Thank you, Sanur and my Dutch friend!

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Best Day Yet in Bali!

Sometimes you just have to get out of Ubud. 

The Putri Ayu Cottages were lovely. The room inviting.  The pool refreshing and the landscaping beautiful. 

They took great care of me when I was sick for a week after Nepal— cold and stomach cramps etc…One clerk called me, “Mama.” The owner smiling here told the pool boy to climb a coconut tree to get me healing green coconut water.

But, the traffic was impossible to negotiate crossing…. No crosswalks. My Bisma Street which was originally built for those farming the rice paddies, degenerated the further you got from the main road. The asphalt turned into paving stones turned into potholes. I apologized to each taxi driver who took me home— they didn’t know I lived in that part of Bisma that would turn an ankle in the dark and probably a tire!

Tourists everywhere of course. And the poor taxi drivers just needing one fare for the day to survive and the massage people who played on their cell phones when there wasn’t a customer, which was usually always. They were annoying in their requests for business, in their hunger to support themselves. I was tired of the effort it took to ignore  these honest people who just wanted work. Tired of saying, “No thank you.”

I needed out!

There are a zillion booths lining the tourist streets with the same fading pictures of tours for hire — ride an elephant, raft wild waters, see this waterfall or that temple. Too hard to choose and who should I trust and who speaks English well enough to be a guide???

So I ducked into an actual building that looked like an official tourist information center. Not! But a very pleasant woman sold me a ticket to a Greenbike Cycling Tour— “500,000 rupiah, but for you, 400,000.” Great trip advisor ratings. 

I was a little uncertain about the state of my knees and no bicycling for the past 8 months. I didn’t want to hold up the group or randomly fall over. But… I had to get out of Ubud. Not much more dangerous than walked down Bisma Street in the dark! Perfect.

They picked me up promptly at 8:00 AM, loaded on three others and a guide who spoke perfect English, understood bicycling, and taught us all kinds of cultural things. Turns out that the tour in the van was just as much fun as the bicycling. 

First stop, a coffee plantation. 

Well, actually a tourist attraction which gave pancakes and 10 tastings of coffee and tea, included in the tour price. 
The best? Ginseng coffee. 

The most interesting? Luwak coffee. Or civet cat coffee. What?
Convinced they were putting me on, our guide showed us this little bugger on display.

The luwaks love coffee beans for the sweet fruit around the beans! They eat them. They drop them in their poop.

 People collect the poop, wash it thoroughly, roast it and drink it. Because historically it was from wild luwaks who were attracted to the very best beans, it became an expensive delicacy. 

This charge would be extra. Well, should I? For $4 I could have a once in a lifetime experience. They brewed it at the table. Tasted like coffee, but with a stuffed nose the nuance of scent was probably wasted on me. But I did it! (A Dutch fellow rider said that when Balinese workers were forbade the coffee beans on the Dutch plantations in Bali, they just found some luwak poo. That’s how it started.)

Here is one very caffeinated civet cat.

Then onto a great view of Volcano Batur 

...from which the locals gather black debris or stones with which to decorate their temples. And Lake Batur under it, down from which the rice fields are irrigated. 

Finally we got on our bikes, with me pleading to lead up the rear so as not to endanger anyone else and off we went— down-hill.

 It was much more like riding the brakes than riding the bike. The whole trip was downhill!  I’m sure I never even burned off the calories of the pancakes! But wow, was it wonderful. Through villages and tangerine groves (which can grow at this elevation) and under which are planted coffee or vegetables or ginseng.

We stopped at one compound which Greenbike helps because the father is disabled. 

They hospitably showed us the rooms, the making of three times a day ceremonial offerings, and offered me the clean hole in the floor bathroom.

 Our guide detailed how the open-air ceremonial room in the center of the compound is used for rituals, including teeth filing. Yep— the top front six teeth are filed flatter at puberty by a priest— so that with the feel of the tongue one is reminded to curb the six bad habits of lust, greed, anger, jealousy, confusion and drunkenness. Hmmm…

Then on to the rice fields! 

Now, I’ve seen rice fields in Nepal. I’ve harvested rice in Nepal. But these were grand, green swathes of undulating curvaceous exuberance. So beautiful!

 With an intricate, orderly and ancient irrigating system called…suwak. 

How do you know which is your rice field? By the markers. Does that include those really tall coconut trees? Yep— and you climb the tree like a monkey to harvest your coconuts. Why not just let them fall like we do in Florida?  Because once on the ground they no longer belong to you. OK…

And then more non-strenuous bicycling downhill, and the rain started. 

Out came the free use of ponchos and we rode on. Now this was the scary thrilling part for me. A spill could have sent me back to the States. But here I was — “Focus” I told myself. The guide leader did just what he should— pointing out pot-holes and little ditches in the road obscured by the down-pour. I followed the buttocks of the woman in front of me, avoiding debris and dangers. 

But what to do about sudden dramatic downhill slopes, dangerous with gravel, chickens, dogs and random children? Much less a woman with a sickle? Ring the little bell? Worked for the humans but not for animals or gravel. And sudden braking on slick pavement not a good idea. I just pretended that my dear friend and competent ride leader from Florida was beside me saying ,“Focus, no sudden actions, you can do it…” And St. Larry as I dubbed him in my appeals got me through it upright.

I survived, a bit muddy but happy! Yay!

And the celebration was here, at the buffet provided by the Greenbike Cycling Tour’s own restaurant. Maybe the Vero Beach Bike Club should adopt this model, Larry?

So, for $30 I had a full day out of Ubud. Sights, tastes, nature, culture, learning weird luwak stuff, proving my survival skills … and coffee, pancakes, banana and water, and full buffet. 

(And because I wasn’t strapped to a GoPro for the really exciting rainy dangerous part of the trip and can’t show you that video, I’ll leave you with this. Enjoy the expansiveness and serenity.)

And yes, I survived without a spill!

Yes, the best day yet in Bali!

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Ubud, Bali — Anything You Want!

“Why Bali?” you might be asking. “Why not?” I reply. 

Haven’t we heard about Bali all our lives, from the song “Bali Hai” from the musical South Pacific, to the last third of the book, “Eat, Pray, Love?” I hear about Bali twice a year when I visit my dentist for tooth cleanings. Her surfer brother settled there, married, and will never leave.

On the surface of things I chose Bali after Nepal for a 12 day Permaculture Design Course. At my journey’s outset I had intended to do this in Southern India as part of the International Permaculture Convergence. But a conversation at an organic farm in Nepal gave me second thoughts and I looked into other choices for this course. A tent in India in a field with thrown-together sanitation or ….Bali? Back and forth I went for about two minutes and chose the more exotic and and what I hoped was the more sanitary. And after a week of surveying the eruptive potential of Volcano Agung and noting that the threat was steadily decreasing, I bought the ticket and arrived.  And with a month to enjoy myself before the training began, I started in Ubud.

What is there to do in Bali? 
In this popular tourist and cultural center, Ubud, anything you want!
This entire blog entry should have all been video!!

 Legong Dancing at the Palace.

Watching children learn Legong dancing at the Agung Rai Museum of Art.

And learning instruments in the Gamelan ensemble music.

Water gardens outside Starbucks.

Temple ceremony for which I had to don a sarong, sash and arm covering. And hand-made offerings.

The Monkey Forest: but beware!

One little bugger jumped on my backpack, undid the zipper, plucked out toilet paper and ran up the tree with his findings in about three seconds. One friend got bitten for no good reason. Fortunately she had had the rabies vaccine in the States and did not have to fly to Singapore for the full rabies treatment!

Shadow puppet show, from the Mahabaharata. The story was described and then narrated in Balinese, Indonesian and English but I completely lost the story line!

Cooking classes. They pick you up, take you to the market, efficiently have you cook and eat eight dishes and drive you back home. Delicious! 

Ubud is lively, friendly and very busy! 

The only danger are the holes in the sidewalk and disregard for crossing walkways and the ubiquitous unsafe water. (Got a sick tummy again!)

Go, have fun, get a cheap taxi ride if it rains and ignore all the other offers for rides and massages and street sales.

And if you start missing Western conversation, the Paradiso movie house and vegan cafĂ© on Hanuman Street will make you feel at home before you step back out into the beautiful and mysterious Bali. 

And I still had almost a month to go!!

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Finally Appreciating Nepal!!

It has taken me 9 days with this family of 5 to finally appreciate the gifts I’ve been given.

There is no way I could have foreseen it! All I wanted was to learn organic gardening at after having been given a tour by Shyam two weeks before.  Here is the very accomplished and lovely Judith, who founded the farm with her late husband, and reaches out to teach the Nepali farmers and agricultural students techniques that work, are profitable and sustainable.

Shyam, the training manager,  had an upcoming 3 day training on trees and I certainly needed to learn how to graft and prune them. Only $10 a day for training and $10 a day for room and board at his house. It felt right. The interval of time between the meditation retreat and the training was awkward so I took him up on his offer to work at the farm as an “apprentice” for that time and to stay at his home. I hoped I’d learn a lot about organic gardening  in Nepal. I had no idea of what I’d actually learn.

Until today, the day I’m leaving, I’ve basically whined. 

To myself of course. To everyone else I hoped I looked easy and grateful and content. But inwardly I found it so difficult! I constantly had to use the “work with the difficulties” practices I’d learned at Kopan Monastery.  Why? Well, the language barrier. There was so much I wanted to know about this family, especially the women, but it was all filtered through Shyam and the poor guy had enough of answering my questions at the farm. So I nodded and said “dhanyabaad”, thank you, a zillion times. Communication was actually easiest with 20 month old Unnati! Hi, Bye, Ammah (mama), grins, bouncing on the knee…

And the sanitation has been a big put-off. 

I think I’m getting used to it. At least I’m using more of the wipe-with-the-water method, since toilet paper does not exist. But no soap in the out-house? Really? In two of the farms there was no sink in the kitchen. In all three there was no soap in the out-house. Makes the Kathmandu campaign I witnessed of  “Wash your hands!” much needed and especially poignant since so many children used to die of diarrhea in the summer, before electrolyte solution was invented. They eat on the kitchen floor which I think is hard mud. Anything spilled just soaks in. Peelings are dropped on the floor. Food that spills from the plate is left there. The goat occasionally scampers in and leaves a dropping. All of us leave our shoes at the threshold, except Unnati, so she tracks in who knows what. At the end of the day the floor is swept but obviously never mopped. 

One rag hangs — to wipe hands that wiped noses … So, close proximity of livestock, a wipe down of the floor each morning with sacred cow dung, food on the floor… Hard for this doctor to get used to! I’ve been scrupulous about drinking filtered boiled water. But still I got the tummy trouble at two of the farm stays. Dishes are rinsed in cold regular water. I have no control over that. Even if the food is offered with love...

And the danger and embarrassment of having to walk these rocky narrow slippery mountain trails with two hiking poles! 

Such a blow to the ego! It’s a miracle indeed that I haven’t broken my neck! The paths on the garden terraces are narrow and the wet clay soil is a set up for falling. The walk to and from the farm slows Shyam down a lot and he hasn’t complained, but the 92 year old neighbor, who easily moves up and down the hills, asked him, “What’s her problem?”

I’ve learned to ask the trainee girls for help going down sod terrace steps (why are the risers so high for these relatively short people?). I choose not to care what they think but I’ve  shown everyone the knee replacement scar to get a little sympathy. The main problem is balance on narrow tracks. I never noticed it in flat Florida. Not fun to be so unsteady! The knee replacement cut out the proprioceptive nerve fibers in the joint! Or maybe I’m just protein deficient! See how I whine?

And the fear was founded. I fell twice. The first just off the terrace, mistaking weeds for solid ground. Just down 8 feet, mostly sliding. And it was a miracle I didn’t gouge myself with the sharp sickle I was carrying! And another when I was walking alone down a stream bed— a neighbor girl helped me up. Fortunately the rock only bruised my butt and …  my ego.

Food. Falling. Fear. Not fun!

But … I soon realized that I had a choice. 

I had chosen this experience even though I had no idea of what I was getting into. There was one to blame but me! But more than that, none of this was a problem for anyone but me! They were doing just fine with the sanitation— better gut bacteria and strong legs and balance for the steps.  I was grouchy but it had nothing to do with anyone but me!! This is their place, their country, their culture and rituals. Their relationships.They are doing just fine!

And when Shyam was worried that one of the cow’s teats was blocked, is that really any different than when my adult child needs a car repair? There is always scarcity of some sort. Uncertainty. I wonder if they are more used to the vagaries of life — of nature, farming, animals, health?

They are certainly more familiar with the logistics of death. Within 20 minutes of a relative’s death, the conch horns sounded, cell phones rang and a group assembled. The women consoled the wife. The men prepared the body. And then they carried the blessed, fabric-wrapped body slung from bamboo poles, down the mountain, down a trail.  Shyam and others carried it for two hours to a sacred fork in a river. Others preceded them, cut down a tree, and prepared a funeral pyre. Within three hours of death, he was becomimg ashes. I know — I watched the video.

Who knows? Maybe a Nepali farmer’s life with subsistence crops and livestock, living with extended family and a debt-free house is even more certain than an American who loses a job, has college debt, a sick child and no health insurance. So, really should I pity them in any way?

I did have compassion and admiration as I watched a woman sift sand, and carry it, gravel, and bricks on her back to rebuild her house after the earthquake. 

I did have a little sense of anger as I watched the wife sick with bronchitis struggle to feed everyone including the animals, watch the child, do the dishes and laundry… while the husband basically sat after work. I finally said something and he did the dishes and rubbed her chest with Vicks! Definitely cultural differences.

Tonight, my last night, I watch the sun go down from my writing place by the rock goddess Devi. A fourteen year old boy appears and I ask what he is doing. (Neighbors do tend to wander into the place …) “I am looking at my village.” Village? All I see are houses scattered and hills. No market. No temple. But he proudly tells me the name, not knowing how to spell it, and that it includes 350 people. He knows his place.

So I have just been plopped into a place, a culture, a family. And the attitude I’ve finally arrived at tonight, my last night, is that of gratitude. Wow— what a rich experience!!!

The shift happened as I followed a woman up the path to the home. Shyam had stayed below to help his parents carry up immense bundles of rice straw on their backs (food for the livestock in the winter.) So he asked her to carry my back-pack, explaining about my knee problem. I recognized her as the woman who the night before appeared and pulled from her feed-sack vitamins for Unnati and worm pills and a tattered notebook for Shyam to sign. “She is from the government. Sort of the community health worker.” 

So when I met her on the path today she said, translated, that since I’m a doctor we share something and that we have to say hello in a special way. Shyam then told me that she was indeed a special woman. That before the hospital was built 20 minutes away she was the mid-wife, going up and down these paths at night, saving lives, and dealing with disasters. Wow! Was I privileged to be walking behind her! Here we are together, me full of admiration.

And for the first time as I precariously ascended the path behind her I wasn’t  ashamed of my disability. Here was a woman, a health worker, who understood that I was just doing my best.

A rich experience indeed.!!!

Tonight I will say thank you to them. 

I will explain how much I appreciate their patient inclusion of me. Their putting up with my cultural mistakes. Their toleration of my boiled water requests and slowed walk to work. 

And I’ll share what I admire about them— that they have each other and care for each other as an extended family. That spirituality pervades their days, with morning puja and over 100 holy days a year. 

That they wear clothes until they drop, use local resources— usually what they grow, come together within hours after a death as community, survive and rebuild after an earthquake, and even if there are the rare conflicts, there is always laughter.

I feel badly that I don’t have gifts for them, so I look through my stuff and come up with these. A  cobalt blue cloth for Sabita— given to me at Kopan Monastery to hold our Buddhist texts. Nice face soup from a hotel for Bagavati. A two dollar euro for the head of the household, Kesav. A one dollar bill and euro small coins for Shyam, and biscuits for Unnati. 

And what have they given me? Priceless! 

Memories of watching TV Animal Planet on the bed, rubbbing shoulders with the whole family, in English. Language is irrelevant with animals.

Celebrating the day of the Holy Basil, decorating the tulsi plant. (Tulsi is the goddess who worships Vishnu.) 

Fresh milk each morning and yoghurt made just for me. 

A very special treat for me of fried chicken feet. Hmmm…

And when I give them their presents, tears from the Shyam’s Mother, Bagavati. “Why are you crying?” I ask, translated. “Because you have been here so long, you are a member of the family. I’m going to miss you!”

They bless me with a beautiful mala that she strung from marigolds and chrysanthemum, a white scarf, and hugs. 

So, even though I learned how to air layer tree grafts, and recieve this certificate,

... finally, after a month of inner whining,  I’ve actually learned  appreciation for the courage, the ingenuity, the kindness and the beauty of the people of Nepal.

Thank you so much!!!

And together with you,  I wish the very best for your precious children, and your future!