This is a verrrrry long intro blog, practically a small book. Didn't know how to format it any other way. From now on I will try and rein in my "Aquarian" self and conform to more normal length posts:)
It actually covers from 2004 to 2008... when my creative writing juices seized up slightly (more on why later)...
On June 1st 2004 with an around-the-world ticket in hand, I headed out to explore the world. I started in Bali and then continued on to London, Shrewsbury, Crete, the Czech Republic, and Poland. During my travels I sent e-mails home to my family and friends from time to time letting them know where in the world I was. Many of them have suggested that I put those e-mails somewhere to further share my experiences, and so here they are:
June 2004 I arrived in Bali yesterday, finally realizing that I am now 15(16?) hours ahead of the USA. I was a good 22 hours in transit, after having a wonderful time at the NORWAC conference in Seattle. It is currently 4.30am and I'm up way before the sun. It rained a lot during the night, which was very soothing, but apparently at this time of year it doesn't rain during the day.. pretty handy!! My abode here exceeds anything I could have imagined. It is private and quiet, with lovely views. It is a not-so-little 2 storey bungalow with tile and wood floors and a bamboo gabled ceiling. Each floor has a 4 poster canopied king sized bed with mosquito netting(didn't even hear one of those critters yet, but I'm encouraging the lizards to move in...just in case they appear). I have a little yard with a gate resplendently flanked by Hindu ghouls... keeping me protected I'm sure!? A lovely spacious patio with recliner and dining table... + my own little pond right in front of it full of giant koi..... a laughing buddha in the middle and water lilies. Those of you who know where I was living in the Valley will appreciate the synchronicity... the only thing I don't have is the redwoods, ducks, or of course the wonderful Karen.... The bathroom is hand-crafted out of stone, and has water constantly coming through in channels from the rice paddies(which I am completely surrounded by), there are living plants in the walls.... It's amazing!!** The kitchen is very basic... which, considering my culinary aspirations, is NOT a problem. I am about 10 minutes walk from any semblance of a road, you meander up many steps, past little temples and homes on tiny, narrow pathways between the rice paddies to get here. My landlord Dirna is a shining, warm, kind man... who never stops smiling, he lives very close by with his family, and is a really good artist. Many of his Gauguinesque paintings grace my walls. I think I'll be fine here..... not that I think any of you are feeling sorry for me?!?As soon as the sun is up I'm going walkabout, it feels very safe but I don't want to begin this adventure up to my neck in a rice paddy.. so I'll wait for the dawn. See I AM getting more cautious in my old age!I arrived in a jet-lagged daze yesterday afternoon so only had time to scurry out to buy a can of sardines and a towel before collapsing. But can't you guess... NO can opener.The roosters are starting to crow... so I'm off to have tea and begin my explorations!!!!!!
It is many hours later.... STILL haven't figured out my email. As I was sitting here in Paradise getting frustrated a beautiful Balinese woman appeared to bless my house with incense and petals.... mellowed me out very quickly... ah Bali*)))))) I've been taking amazing hikes.. and getting massages and body scrubs to die for. I'm actually spending most of my time alone. I am loving being around the Balinese where my house is..... they have a simple joyfulness that is such a good reminder of how uncomplicated life can be. There are many places where I could meet other Westerners.(but I ask myself WHY?)..... I think I'll stay in retreat for while longer..... A little later.....
June 2004 I am at this moment sitting on the top part of a pagoda.... staring at the ocean(Bali Sea).... on the northern coast of Bali... a little place called Alisari... I don't believe you'd find it on a map. Would someone PLEASE explain the phenomena that I can actually SEE the curvature of the earth perfectly from here... it is the strangest thing!!!!!!!????? And no I have NOT taken any mind altering anythings#$%In Ubud I met this wonderful artist named Symon, who brought me here.. a giant teddybear of a sweetheart who is rapidly becoming a good friend. He is from Detroit and has lived in Bali for 25 years.. and has a studio/art compound both here and in Ubud. The work he does is wonderful/wild/colourful.....this studio is called the 'Art Zoo'. He is training lots of young Balinese(who are all his models also), and they are all working on sculptures, casting and painting. You can see the work on symonbali.com. He is quite the wild and colourful character himself(lived in Nepal for 7 years before coming here)... and has made me very welcome. I have my own little guest-house that is amazing... not a single inch of the property isn't a work of art in itself. There is a 5 foot pink plaster penis right outside my room that really quite took me aback...which is of course an important Hindu fertility symbol!!! There is a pool(filled with drinking water!), a lotus pond and several guesthouses each one handcrafted and completely unique.
I met another English artist, Jason Monet(he was actually BORN with that name... and considers it a bit of a curse!) who is going to paint me when I get back to Ubud(hasn't told me what colour yet...teehee!!).. Apparently he is quite well known.. (as is Symon) and has a good website too. .. just in case anyone is interested. This is an absolute haven of/and for artists... could of course be because the Balinese themselves are great craftsmen......and that the light/natural beauty and life-style seems to lend itself to it beautifully!! I'm almost tempted to pick up a paint-brush myself. And the Balinese are the most dramatically gorgeous people. I am particularly enjoying being around these young Balinese... they are so lively, gracious, thoughtful and full of enthusiasm.
So I obviously came out of my retreat mode, I've been visiting temples, and trying all the different kinds of massage(purely research of course...***), taking wonderful hikes.. eating great food, and generally just soaking up this beautiful island. I am really being drawn to another place.. a tiny remote island off the coast of Lombok called Gili Air.. no cars, police or anything. I might run off there for a week or so....Next month I will have about 3 weeks of friends visiting.... which will be fun.. and when I'll do more of the 'tourist' thing. In the meantime I am actually succeeding at doing astrology readings over the email and phone. This makes me feel (a little!) less like a hedonist... and very encouraged that I CAN keep travelling. Bali really is one of the least expensive places I've ever been, and I'm already plotting my next visit..... this could easily become one of my 'homes'. Laos is on my list now too... but it's not SO far away from here.All in all, life is very good, I have a whole new chapter for my 'memory' log.. and I feel richer and immensely fortunate to have 'discovered' such beauty, creativity and simplicity amidst the craziness that is going on 'out there' in the world. And these people have been far from immune to all that... they are still suffering from the bombing, through grief, shock and the loss of tourism. There are several large resorts close by that are completely empty. Of course people are the same everywhere in so many ways... you lose that starry eyed idealism after spending more day-to-day time with them, pettiness DOES exist the world over unfortunately!! But there is a definite magic here.. a sense of the divine and a closeness to the earth that is really nourishing to be around.....
Am now back in Ubud... having just driven through the centre of Bali(when I went to Alisari we drove around the coast). It was stunningly beautiful ... In my last email I joked about falling in a rice-field.. well I have... TWICE!!! Once to a rather large audience of workers... I was very muddy that time... but they just kindly helped me out and didn't laugh(at least not while I was within earshot). The 2nd time was just now... and fortunately NO audience... I just got wet. The pathways between the fields are very narrow, and I've never been known for my grace... so no(Carolyn) I'm not going to be trying it wearing a sarong with 3 baskets balanced on my head!!To all my 'astrology' friends... I'm convinced my neptune transit played a cosmic joke on me.... the prevalent thing it brought into my life is .... DUCKS. Everywhere I go I'm surrounded by them. They've cut down a lot of the rice around my house, and now there are literally 100's 0f them. I can barely think for the quacking!!!!
July 2004 I've been on Gili Air now for 5 days and will be until July 3rd(turns out I couldn't TEAR myself away until the 4th.... and not a single firework here!!). It is a tiny tropical island.. no cars or motorized vehicles of any kind(only horse drawn carts), no police(you go to the village chief if there is a problem).... I haven't even heard a phone ring since being here.... and there is only one American on the whole island(I haven't spoken to him.. but I've HEARD him)... although many Europeans. I am staying in a place called Coconut Cottages.. owned and run by a Scotswoman!!! It is heavenly, I have a thatched bamboo cottage up on stilts... very simple... with a great patio and hammock. It is very close to the ocean, set in the most beautiful coconut grove/tropical garden, and there seem to be no mosquitoes here either. However this is quite dangerous... I'm paying less than $4 a day(breakfast included)..... I really could forget to leave, if it wasn't for all my buddies arriving soon I might have to be pried off this place. I walk the circumference of the island daily along the shoreline.. it takes about an hour and a half. There is great snorkelling and lot of people come here to dive. There are 2 other islands close by and I have taken a boat tour around them. Coming over from Bali took 5 hours on a boat(and several more by bus) and it was so good to be on the ocean that I became very nostalgic about my sailboat trip last year. Have only seen about 3 sailboats.. and I resisted the urge to try and flag them down. Especially since one looked very dilapidated and had a black and red sail.... my imagination went a little wild as this area is known for it's pirates..... but I'm quite sure there are NO Johnny Depps amongst them!
The 1st morning I walked on the beach I started crying, it makes me SO happy to know there are still places like this on the planet. It is part of Lombok and therefore Muslim... but not in the least fundamentalist.. the women are not veiled and play a very active part in all of life. I have wandered through the centre of the island which has no tourists.. and everyone is warm and friendly... they all want to feed you and know where you are from. I have experienced no animosity whatsoever.I love Bali too.. but it is very different(Hindu and far more tourist orientated), one big difference is there are countless dogs there... and none here(a muslim thing I'm told... they don't like them). I think in the future I want to spend far more time in the more isolated parts of Indonesia... this island is the most perfect retreat I have EVER found. As soon as I heard the name I knew I had to come... and the minute I got here I knew why. I am hatching some plans that would make it possible for me to spend more time here... next year in fact! More to be revealed on that later.....................
And I am not hiding away from the world... By chance on the boat from Bali I met some French/English/ Australians who have been delightful company. I pretty much wander about by myself during the day... explore, do astrology and yoga and read.. then in the evenings there are these little platforms on the beach where you sit on pillows, hang out with other travelers and the locals, listen to the ocean and eat amazing fresh caught fish and the local (sasak) Indonesian food. There really is nothing to do that doesn't involve the ocean, being self sufficient or simply interacting with others... which I find wonderful. I'm feeling completely at peace here, it's like a total recharge for the soul... no distractions. The full moon we just had was spectacular and the ocean so alive and bright beneath it.I'm spending several hours a day doing written astrology readings which has been a whole new experience for me, and I'm really enjoying it... (****astrology aside.. this has been an interesting manifestation of this Venus in Gemini Retrograde cycle.... ruler of my MC/5th/6th***)
I'm now back in Ubud(in the ricefields with the ducks and the frogs).... after quite a grueling 10 hours on Indonesian public transport... I took a tourist package going over... it was MUCH easier. It really was difficult to leave the Island... it's very, very special. The last day I rented a bike(I splurged...it was $1 for the whole day!).. and covered every inch of the island, and not one inch is paved. Such a simple lifestyle... and real COMMUNITY. I love how that feels.. the old, young, and everyone in between, together... and seemingly very content and supportive of one another. I got to know so many of the local people that they were all waving when I left(probably thinking there goes that whacky woman..........?!!).In a few days friends start arriving from the US, so I'm going to become more of a tourist.. which will be fun and will make me see more of Bali itself. .....and later
July 2004 I only have 2 weeks left in Bali..... and this is not particularly good news!!! My friend Symon says(no pun) 'if you fall in love with Bali, you fall in love forever', and I am officially in love...... so I'm just going to have to get used to that long flight across the Pacific.I am no longer solo. My friend Pam was here for a week... and we power-vacationed(saw as many sites and ate in as many restaurants as physically possible in 7 days+ had massages, facials and body scrubs practically every other hour!!)... This was a brand new speed for me on this laid back island....but we had a blast. Now Mimi, Diane and Cindy are here... I rented the house next door to mine and a driver(who is now a friend also)so it is working out perfectly, and when I need to work they are in great hands. They are SO easy and fun to be with... all ex-stewardesses so they are seasoned travelers. Only one has taken a dunk in the rice-field so far....I won't tell who... but I still hold the record! Today we are going back to Alisari on the north coast of the Island.The plan I am ' hatching' is really taking form... and I'm very excited about it. Two of my dear friends, (and favourite astrologers), have agreed to come here next year and do a workshop. I have a facility.. it is gorgeous and also set in the middle of the ricefields.. I'm looking at it as I type.. and a pair of white egrets are flying over it! So this could be the ticket.... combining 2 of my passions beautifully....this paradise and those heavens!!!!! Who knows it could turn into something more... maybe we really do get to create a life out of our dreams? And for those of you itching to know who, etc, etc... I'm just pulling it more together before I say. Hey... I like having a bit of a mysterious streak!!And my treasure.... I really haven't coveted much while here(says she with 45 gorgeous sarongs bursting her suit-case), but I did throw a wish out that something/one heard. Up on the north coast several weeks ago a female sperm whale got beached by a temple(one that I have seen from the ocean while out in an outrigger...another adventure!)... the villagers managed to push it back to sea. The Balinese(in general) would never kill a whale.... in fact saving it would been a huge blessing on their village. Apparently it was really sick and ended up dying further down the coast. Divers went out and collected the teeth(if you can imagine what a task that was). Anyway I wished for one of the teeth... and one came to me... in a very interesting synchronistic way. I have been told this is very powerful medicine not to be taken lightly... and I don't. Apparently in this part of the world they are highly coveted. I am wearing it on a cord around my neck... and will notice that sometimes a person will get riveted by it...never in a creepy wanting to steal it way... they want to now HOW it came to me, and I've been offered a lot of money(by Balinese standards) for it. I don't actually consider it mine... it is on it's way to someone else, but I am loving it while I have it. Plus it feels so connected to all the Neptunian themes in my life.Went to another Balinese temple ceremony at my local village last night, and realized that this place has truly seeped into my bones... the music, the spirituality, the colors and smells feel so familiar.... walking in the ceremonial parade I was getting deja vu chills all through my body. So I continue to be immersed in the magic, and it is literally everywhere... but I'm preparing to head for my homeland. I've had a slight change in plans. I will be in London visiting my dear friends there and then in Shrewsbury with Melanie and helping her with her show(she is wonderful muralist/artist who has a yearly display at a famous flower show). Then I head for Ireland to meet Bobbie and Ralph and do a little travelling. In reading about Ireland I have discovered it is not as it was when I was last there.... meaning affordable!!!! So because I want to keep traveling(comfortably) for a few more months, I have decided to spend just a couple of weeks in Blarney and then head for Poland and the Czech Republic. I have always wanted to see that part of the world, and I think it is easy to do by train.... so that's the plan.... at this moment in time at least!!
We returned from the north yesterday, and a couple of my friends were taken to a healer there... someone who does not accept payment and is known for his gifts. They had a very powerful experience with him.. he pegged to the year a particular injury from long ago that is the source of what one of them is now dealing with. He will only see someone with a problem... so I didn't get to go(NO comments from those of you who know me well.... I just have to live with the problems I have!!!!) They are going back up there in a couple of days... but so far the results look very good.... and once more, knowledge of this person came to us in a very interesting way. And in the meantime I am appreciating every minute I have left here on this 'beautiful beyond words' island.
August 2004 I'm sitting in Denpasar airport and I have to say this is the 1st time in my life I have come to tears leaving a country.... it feels like leaving a lover. But when your customs man beams at you and everyone else checking your ticket etc. is sweetly asking when you are coming back.... it does feel so blatantly different than the usual disconnectedness. The country itself is stunning... but Ihave to conclude that it is the people of Bali, their graciousness, love of life and each other that has captured my heart. Every Balinese friendship I have made has touched me in a very special way. My landlord Dirna would come by almost every evening to visit, and at 1st I thought I had to entertain him, so I would chat away... then I finally got it when he just smiled at me in a bemused way(wondering why on earth does this woman keeps twittering on?!)..... the truth is he came simply so we could be in each others presence. So in the end we would just sit there quietly and comfortably as the sun set..... Their's is a deep simplicity that is contagious and profoundly comforting to be in the midst of. I have already rented the house again for May/June of next year. Basic philosophy of 'pay for it and you'll get there!' I have booked an entire hotel complex on faith for Dec 2005... and not a qualm about it.... I'm coming back, and that project will happen, either that or I'm going to insist all my friends take the rooms!!! I have left half my belongings here so I'm just trusting that whatever it is that brings homing pigeons back will work for me too....While my group of buddies were here, we were lucky enough to be in Ubud for the largest cremation ceremony in 25 years. In keeping with their general attitude to life these events are times of great celebration and rejoicing.... No lamenting, they shoot arrows into the air representingthe freeing of the soul, and feast and celebrate the life that was and it's journey on. They spent over a month preparing, so I got to see the whole process. They built beautiful ornate structures, bulls and all kinds of mythological creatures, and in this instance a ten storey pagoda that was dazzling(a member of royalty had died). The bodies were placed inside these works of art and the men of different villages took turns lifting these enormous structures(built on bamboo bases) ontotheir shoulders and running through the streets of Ubud to the cremation grounds. The music, colours and energy was incredible. 57 people were cremated on this one auspicious day....
July 24th(buried or preserved in various ways in the meantime).. and the day was chosen I might add without astrology... well NOBODY'S perfect!! However astrology aside.... ****they(by chance!??) started the celebration on an exact Venus/Moon/Neptune Grand Trine.I had 4 days alone after my friends left... and 'planned' to lay low. As chance would have it I met a very interesting group of people who lived close to me in the ricefields(and had been there the whole time unbeknownst to me... Neptune lurks)... Argentinian/French/American... and one delightful lady who lives in Orvietta Italy most of the time. Long story short... I ended up doing readings for all, and it was a very intense last few days... so before I know it here I am in the airport wondering where on earth 2 months went? One of my 'new friends' Alejandra is an architect and just got a 20 year lease on half an acre of stunning land in the ricefields for $10,000, and for another $18,000 is building the house of her dreams there.... no building codes, restrictions, yearly fees or anything. That may sound a bit scary to us in the US, but as far as I can see people are only building structures that fit into the environment... no geodesic domes or the likes have sprung up. Personally if I get my wish to make it another home I'll be content to rent.... it's ludicrously inexpensive... and I now consider Bungalow Dirna 'mine' anyway. All kinds of questions come up about the Balinese keeping possession of their own land. But at the end of 20 years Alejandra will have the option to re-lease.. and if she doesn't all structures go back to the leaser... as they will eventually anyway. Another synchronisity... I ran into a guy I know from Santa Barbara(in a massage salon.. my favourite hangout!!)... who was also spending 2 months in Ubud with his wife and daughter... they ended up leaving the hotel they were in and renting the house I was in after me(plus the other one next to it like I did for visiting friends).. so Dirna is very happy and I'm earning 'renter brownie points'... I am now in Bangkok airport, enduring a 5 hour layover. Luckily I only just found a power outlet or this email could have turned into somethingas long as the Gettysburg Address!!! So in approximately 14 hours I will hit London... arriving in the rush-hour no less.
From the ricefields to the underground... all a little surreal. Must admit I am greatly looking forward to seeing myfriends there, and London is my favourite city. I will be on Hampstead Heath ASAP. On Monday I head for Shrewsbury and it's back to more beautiful countryside.... and then I'll be putting on my hiking boots and heading for the Welsh Hills. ****I'm now on the train going to Shrewsbury... and I was complaining previously about Indonesian public transport... it is a dream comparedto England... !!!! I don't know what's happened here, but NOTHING is ever on time. I had a wonderful time walking all over London(they can't hinder you when you are using your own 2 feet!), and Hampstead Heath was great... many memories. Much as I love England, I am astounded at how much more expensive it is than even the US.. I am not exaggerating when I say things cost double what they do in the States. I come from being like the 'Queen of Sheba' in Bali, to the 'little match girl' in London. Fortunately it doesn't bother me, it's part of the fun of adapting to different worlds. However I know it would bother me greatly if I had to live here.... because I would have to work so much harder in order to have the freedom Ihave now. Many of my friends are really struggling financially... with not much light seeping into their tunnels!!! Nonetheless England has a multitude of charms.
Now I am ensconced inMelanie's 500 year old little cottage, in this magical Elizabethan town, with it's river and swans and churchbells. From being in my bright, open, sunny house in Ubud surrounded by the ricefields, I am now in a little hobbit-like attic room with ancient beams and one tiny window looking over the roof tops... Bali Hai to Mary Poppins ...... I may be heading for Eastern Europe in September instead of Ireland.... Bobbie and Ralph will not be coming there, so I seem to be leaning east rather than west... but things can always change. Sending Love..... and Hoping it's a Happy, Prosperous Summer for all... it's certainly been one of the best I have ever had. Part of me wonders why it took me so long to find Bali, but of course everything has it's time, and if I had found it sooner I rather think my kids would be speaking Indonesian(just kidding Tara.. I can see your horrified face! I know your karma wasn't to be born in a country without a Nordstroms... so it would never have happened!!!!).......... The fact that I've found it at this 'young' ripe old-age just confirms my theory that the best is always yet to come. .....and later
August 2004 I am starting this letter in yet another airport!! I'm in Manchester and on my way to Crete. England has been fun, but they(?we?.. where exactly am I from?) are having a very dreary summer weather wise. I've been here over 3 weeks and there seem to have been more rainy days than dry ones. At first it was a novelty after Bali... but enough already. Still I've managed to get in some great walks in both Shropshire and Wales. Also went canoeing on the Wye river with Melanie. We must have hit the bank 50 times in about 8 miles... and just when we'd finally got it down we'd reached our destination!! It also decided to rain torrentially(again!!!), so we ended up attired (very stylishly) in black garbage bags but still drenched to the skin. Passed many gorgeous swans(my favourite creatures on the planet)... but had a rather sobering moment when it looked as though we might go careening into a family of them, not a good idea... they are just as fierce as they are beautiful. I think it was about then that our rowing took a quantum leap in proficiency level... but then again it may have been after we made an emergency stop at a riverside pub for hot chocolate, brandy and mars bars..So.... how come I'm going to Crete? Some of you may remember that it was on my agenda last year.. before I got side-tracked and sailed away in the other direction across the Mediterranean. Well I figure we get what we ask for... but perhaps not WHEN we ask for it. I met a friend of Mel's who just happened to mention that he had the use of a villa in Crete.. and there was an extra room that nobody seemed to want... ****so now(several days since I started writing) I am sitting in it typing this letter. There are 4 of us, a homeopath, a retired headmaster, a water-colourist... et moi.. the astrologer!! It is an interesting feeling being on this Island of Zeus's birth. I was last here in '73, and I must say it is a shock to see how built up it's become... but realistically that could apply almost anywhere. A real positive is that this time I am far more cognizant#$% and able to fully appreciate where I am( + *wearing shoes and sleeping in a building rather than in a cave or on the beach.....). *last time I was here, in a previous incarnation DURING this incarnation, I was a bonafide hippie and and didn't even own a pair of shoes...... which is astounding because all of Greece is rocky and I used to run(okay stagger) up and down these hills daily...... who was that person????? It's great because my travel companions know the island really well, a couple of them visit yearly. We've rented a car and every day we're going exploring and to different sites. This land is at the very heart of so much of the mythology that astrology is founded on, so I'm really fortunate for this opportunity to re-visit(as mercury does it's retro thing). Much of the landscape is very harsh and barren(although we've already been to one slightly greener valley)... sadly so as it was once covered in oak and other hardwood forests, but what man didn't cut down was lost to fires. It's strange because I can 'feel' the loss, and how lush and different it must have been. What was immediately familiar from my last visit is the aroma everywhere, the pungent smell of olive trees and woody herbs is divine.... Many places you walk there are fig trees(I'm eating approximately 100 a day), wild peaches(fortunately not ripe or I'd be eating those too), and wild grape vines.Luckily I'm with a group who like to walk as much as I do, and I'm doing yoga daily. No matter how much walking I did in the UK it did(could)N'T counteract the custard, crunchies and baked beans I was consuming... I always go into culinary childhood regression when I come back. Plus the ceiling in Mel's cottage is so low, and the beams of course even lower, only floor yoga poses are possible.... I have permanent bumps on my head from simply maneuvering around my attic.
I am a little taken aback at the amount of military activity on Crete. I know the Olympic games are taking place on the mainland.. but there are countless huge aircraft laden with missile-like things taking off from here ALL the time, going heaven knows where... It must be extremely disruptive if they are all flying around the stadium#$%Several days later and my heart has opened to Crete in a new way, and although I can't exactly define it I 'know' why I'm here. You're right Steven.. you would LOVE it....! Went to the south coast today and hiked to a remote site called Lissos(inaccessible by road).... where there is an ancient Aesclepian healing temple, and there are also Minoan ruins around and evidence of early Christianity. There is a tiny chapel with some extraordinary murals. Just when I'd decided that Crete was great.. but I didn't feel that personally connected, I had a very powerful experience... when I reached the top of a ridge and saw this amazing little valley and bay way below I was overwhelmed by a sense of familiarity... or something similar that sent mini shock-waves through me. The temple still has an intact mosaic floor and there is a small snake pit, the rock face is dotted with burial chambers and there are remnants of carved plinths and pillars everywhere. I found it very hard to drag myself away from one particular piece of marble that was like a globe that had been cleaved in two... if it hadn't been for the fact that it weighed about 2 tons I may(not seriously) have tried to take it with me.. fleeting criminal thought though that may have been, it felt like MINE. I would advise anyone who wants to see Crete to come SOON... they are putting new roads in everywhere, ready for the tour buses. And although some of the loveliest places can only be reached by foot or boat... it's probably only a matter of time before the hoardes arrive because power-lines are being built to them. And as I said, it is astonishing how developed it has become since last time I was here. You simply no longer see the goat-herders(although there are still goats?), or little men riding donkeys. I have become good friends the other woman in our little group.. Jo... she and her husband are a delight to be around, and full of knowledge about this island. Tonight is the full moon and we are going to do a meditation on one of the sites close to where we stay... I will be here until September 7th, then back in the UK for a whole 16 hours before I turn around and fly to Prague with Melanie for 2 and a half weeks. Just enough time to wash clothes and visit the library for more books!!! In fact I haven't a clue what the temperature will be in the Czech Republic, so I may also be frantically beg, borrow or steal-ing some warm clothes....
September 2004 Mad dogs and Scotswomen go out in the midday sun! Well that seems to have been the story in Greece. Strenuous, fabulous walks up craggy mountains in the blistering heat.... phew, my goaty capricorn side (mercury/chiron/venus) was suddenly in super high gear!!! All kinds of hermits caves, chapels, mysterious ruins and the likes are found in little out of the way coves and on cliff sides. Found an amazing chapel built into a cave, with beautiful frescoes on the rock faces... I take back my premature cynicism about Crete being 'ruined'.... it could appear that way on the surface, but it's treasures just have to be worked (bloody hard) for. Had a couple of delicious days completely to myself.... I really enjoy the people I'm with, but I seem to always need solitude to recharge (only child? aquarian? fiercely independent?.. some combination thereof.....). On one of those days I walked the Samaria Gorge, 18km long and supposedly the longest in Europe. Incredibly dramatic and beautiful, wild goats, amazing colours, and at the narrowest point only about 10 feet wide. Also drove to the Diktaelon cave alone.. it's a long drive from Kalives so(luckily) no-one else wanted to go. Thanks Tad for encouraging me to take that journey... you were right it was definitely not to be missed!! This is the cave where supposedly Zeus was born, and it feels right, it is deep, dark, mysterious and beautiful and steeped in history and magic. What the heck if it's a myth.... they feel as real as anything else on this whacked out planet**** I actually had 20 minutes completely alone in it.. I got to hug the rocks and stalactites and commune with the gods (indeed I did!!) without looking like a fruit-cake. Interesting that we are only crazed if someone else sees us being so.... perhaps another reason I love my alone time so much!#$%? 4 tour-bus-loads were wending and puffing their way up the trail towards the cave as I left...... On the way back I went to Knossos, the most famous site on Crete, but it is SO pristine, rebuilt to one man's perceptions, that it was actually the most disappointing place I visited. It felt contrived, but there are some exquisite pieces that were found there... e.g, the stunning statue of the Snake Goddess.
So now I am in another airport.... Chania... back to England, and then onto Prague tomorrow. This time I'm going without lap-top so may be i(u)incommunicado for a while. We're going to the Tatras and some other wild remote spots(with a few sites and jazz clubs in Prague thrown in!!), and apparently there are still bears and wolves in the mountains, and heaven knows what else? So my next report may be of vampires and werewolves... god help them if they run into the 2 of us******Now I'm back in Shrewsbury & off to pick up some Kafka and Kundera**** .....late
September 2004From the fields of Bali to the fields of Birkenau, not quite sure how that happened. I originally envisioned leaving Bali for the green hills of Kerry and County Cork.... but it didn't happen. What it means is that I am now more convinced than ever that the journey takes us rather than the other way around. I am now back in lovely Shrewsbury after 2 and a half weeks in Eastern Europe. It was an amazing time.. but definitely the more complex leg of this trip, in every way imaginable. I think it is going to take me a very long time to really absorb and process it all.**For my astro-buds.. Saturn is transiting my 8th house and grand crossing my cardinal T-square rather intensely.....an understatement from someone not known for making them!!******The quick jumps I have made from Indonesia.. to the UK.. to Greece and then to the Czech Republic and Poland have been so culturally extreme that I have had to really slow down(some of you will laugh at that notion) and carefully watch my own judgments and responses.. mentally, physically and emotionally.I was really blessed to have Melanie with me on this leg, she is one of the best-natured, adaptable, bright, interesting.. and interestED.. people imaginable.. and so FUN. We've come back even better friends than we were before... a major feat as those of you who travel know. My only complaint would be that she is an even worse map-reader than me... I lost count of how many times we said..'weren't we just here???'.
Prague is the most beautiful city I have ever seen.. it is beyond astonishing. Every corner you turn there is some other building to take your breath away. I had no idea such a place existed, it is the REAL city of fairy-tales. And far more than that even... we spent a day at the art gallery seeing the most incredible jaw-dropping work of people neither of us had ever heard of.. and we are both art history buffs.... Plus we have heard some live music that is likewise astounding. The city positively oozes with creative brilliance.But... and this is a tough one for me to even say (lest I sound like a xenophobe).. Prague was at the same time really challenging because many of the people were surly and snappy. Of course not everyone, but enough to really take us aback. Their history has been so hard, invasions, oppression etc, etc.. so of course who are we to judge?? They were under communism until 1989, which in historical terms is barely 5 minutes ago..... And the consensus we got from Czechs(of course there are very friendly ones..and we tracked them down!!!) and foreigners living there, is that the general populous can lean towards having no interest or patience around dealing with other people's problems.. and if they don't like you (or what you represent) then they have no qualms whatsoever about letting you know. Which is fair enough, and a lot better/more honest than insincere niceties. And obviously they are a deeply creative, talented people... everywhere you look there is evidence of that. I was reading a lot of their literature while there... and there is a broodiness and seething passion in the writing that is reflected in just being there. It's like you could see Rapunzel leaning over any ledge and she wouldn't be out of place, and there a lot of (admittedly appealing) dark and poetic, rather anguished looking types(moon in scorpio gone slightly awry is the feeling). You're not sure whether it is more appropriate to lean out of turret windows in floaty dresses, or sit around in cafes in black turtle-necks and jeans broodily reading poetry. We ended up doing neither.. instead wearing tennies and anoraks and traipsing about 10 miles a day...... clutching an extremely ragged map....I have to admit both Mel and I were rather disappointed that our 'supposed' charms got us absolutely nowhere... in fact the more we tried to turn it on the more we seemed to irritate people!!!! I developed my own(completely trite) theory about why the Czech temperament tended towards such edginess. Beer is (truly) cheaper than water, and it is a fact that they drink more of it than any country in the world, it is VERY common to see people drinking beer for breakfast. And the food is incredibly rich and heavy, eg. pig knuckles with mustard sauce, cabbage and dumplings... (I thought that while in Prague... I would do as the Czechs to some degree.... but the result was the word indigestion has a whole new meaning for me). So I think that hangovers and chronic indigestion could perhaps contribute to some people's shortened fuses. Thank god for Chinese restaurants.. we could now write our own Prague guide to them.... it was our nightly quest to discover new ones.So what happens?? 'Little Miss ALWAYS positive and NEVER gets ill'(moi)'s back goes out and she spends an entire day head under covers hiding from the world after one too many people snarled at her................ My 'inner wimp' decided to have it's s(d)ay. Life and it's humbling moments!!!!!!We did get to Southern Bohemia, a beautiful town called Cesky Krumlov, and took a great hike. After my gripes about the deforestation of Crete, it was a delight to discover that Bohemia is covered in beautiful old forests.... it was like gulping down the richest oxygen possible. Interestingly this very town was also having a convention for the wheel-chair bound, there were about a 100 there... that very quickly put paid to my whining about MY back!!!While on a bus to some other small town we had a rapid-fire change of plans(Mel's a double Aries.. and I too have my fair share of fire!!), and before we know it we were on the night-train to Krakow. It was all rather dramatic, being woken at 3 am by very loud knocking... the border control, and then again at 5am by our porter yelling and gesticulating, it seems he forgot to wake us so he practically shoved off the train in our jammies!! Prague might be the most stunningly gorgeous city I have ever seen.. but Krakow is now my favourite city. Not so dramatic in it's beauty but it has an almost tangible soul.. despite it's past/recent history being such an agonizing one also. OUR experience of the Poles was that they are gentler and in general more outwardly warm and friendly.And of course we went to Auschwitz and Birkenau. What can possibly be said? The Poles have made it into a Memorial/Museum with enormous respect and without any exploitation. We chose to go independently and not to take a tour.. and it was better to do it that way. The tours are about 3 hours, and we spend 7 hours walking by ourselves and only just covered both places. Auschwitz had a lot more tourists, many of them groups of ashen-faced extremely young Germans.. all the buildings are still standing, many of them containing exhibits to honour the individual groups and countries that suffered such unfathomable losses.If anything Birkenau was more wrenching, it is vast and almost exactly as it was when the Nazi's left it... we walked there from Auschwitz(about 2km), along the railroad tracks. The Nazi's dynamited the crematoriums and nothing has been moved, the rubble remains. Almost nobody else was there and it was an experience I will never forget, and I sincerely hope I'm right about that because since going something inside me feels changed, and my wish is always for deeper awareness. It actually felt as though an enormous amount of healing had taken place there, so the experience itself wasn't overwhelmingly harsh per se. We all 'know' what happened but standing on those train tracks and walking the same path as those millions of souls was indescribable. Since I'm telling-all, I confess that the day after Auschwitz I had a fainting spell (on a nice unyielding tile floor). Split open my lip and chin, so spent the rest of the trip looking as though I'd been in a punch-up! I am absolutely fine, I believe it was a little sensory over-load and I just don't do well with the diet there. Take me back to Bali!!!!!!!!!!!!Poland also has certain associations for me, Louis's family was from Krakow and I saw his features everywhere.. Plus my own father (who most of you know I haven't seen since I was 13) was shot down over Poland when he was 19 and spent 2 years in a POW camp there, and the only thing I own of his is his log-book from that time. All VERY interesting.......... The old Jewish Quarter in Krakow is fascinating and quite beautiful... Then we took ourselves off the tourist trail and went to the ghetto on the other side of the river where the Nazi's housed the Jews before the transports to Auschwitz. These homes cannot have changed since that time.. no new paint..NOTHING. We walked into hallways and courtyards and it could have easily been 60 years ago... and they are all occupied... but not by Jewish families. There are now less than 150 Jews in Krakow(there were 65,000 at the commencement of WW11). Outside of the tourist areas both the Czech Republic and Poland are still extremely poor.... and we were told the standard of living has barely changed since communism. Also went down a 600 year old working salt-mine in Poland that had a whole cathedral and many chapels carved into it... absolutely amazing. Of course had to then buy a kilo of salt from it(???) which I have been lugging around ever since. Plus the false economy of library books... there isn't the luxury of unloading them when read... my Scottish blood(?venus in cap? saturn transit?)... what IS a girl to do.....?? None of it does this(temporarily) dodgy back much good....
Spent our last 5 days back in Prague staying in a place called the Art Prison. It was originally a convent, and then became an interrogation centre during communism, and is now a hostel. We spent the 1st night in the room Vaclav Havel was held in, but it was SO bleak and dank that we asked to be moved. They have painted the whole place in primary colors and wild murals. Way to do Saturn in the 8th... every night we went back to our cell!?! We were both having pretty wild dreams there.....On the plane back to England I met a 38 year-old Iraqi(scorpio) physicist, who originally went to Prague University in the '8o's as it was the only place he could get a scholarship. He still has friends in Prague and goes back regularly, so he was able to fill me in on much of the history and the changes he's seen there... and of course on Iraq from an insiders perspective. Fascinating and sobering... and reassuring to meet someone with such a complex background AND such an open heart and mind. He'd never been to the US but was very familiar with Krishnamurti and David Baum..... I do love never knowing who you'll meet next. ****** Have to share this additional piece that struck me as one of those synchronous 'gems' the Universe throws down to keep our attention.... If you remember when I was in Crete I visited the Diktaleon(Psychro) Cave, the supposed birthplace of Zeus(Jupiter). Well I get to Krakow and visit this vast fairytale castle called Wawel.... and I discovered what is written below(copied straight from a guide book)... <<<<>>> Well... you can guess who was seen lurking in that particular courtyard, which is enormous and stunning!?! And once more I was lucky enough to find myself completely alone there for a time. It really was scalp-tingling stuff. Jupiter is my ruling planet(and there are those who'd argue I have a little too much of it....look at the length of this letter!!!), and appears to have been very close to me on this journey. I'd go so far as to say it felt like one of the reasons I was (unknowingly) so drawn to Krakow..... I don't know why, but there is nonetheless something deeply comforting about it...................
If the World had a Heart............it would be Bali. And I have heard 1st hand from my friends there that somehow it has been miraculously spared the devastation that has so tragically affected that part of the world. It has been so wonderful to be back in Santa Ynez... it's easy to forget how beautiful it is when in 'other' glorious places. It was been an extraordinarily stunning fall/winter. I am still taking hikes in sleeveless t's... although there are many frosty mornings, the sun always seems to get the upper hand pretty quickly. At this time of year the light is amazing... everything is high intensity colour, and you can see forever. Those of you NOT here(those here may well be sick of hearing and talking about this film) should see 'Sideways', it was filmed right in this Valley and has some great shots and really does accurately show how lovely it is. And of course the REALLY great thing about being back has been seeing daughter(son is being elusive... but seems fine), and all my wonderful friends.I came back to a high gear work schedule, sometimes 7 days a week... which is excellent news since I am back to replenish and recoup.... and since I never work 8 hour days there is still time for fun and enjoying this incredible place.I have been living back at the 'Trout Farm', in the idyllic little cabin there... although I am now temporarily staying with a friend in another magical little spot through the holidays. The plan is of course to go back to Bali.. in fact I've moved it up to April(possibly even late March). I am going for a month, then to Laos for a month, then back to Bali for 2 more. Don't know why Laos is so vital to visit...but it has been calling to me, and I'm sure I'll find out exactly why once I get there!**! I think I will probably be going there alone, but from what I can gather it is not hard to get around, and people I've met who have been there all say it is very beautiful, despite having been the 'most bombed' country in all of history.Then it will be back to Bali for another 2 months... so I will be gone a total of 4(to begin with anyway!). There is a lot of visa juggling to be done, but I have plans to get that sorted out this next visit. The thing that has been consuming my every non-working moment since coming back is the astrology workshop I am planning for December 2005. I won't bore you with details... but if you are interested you can check it out... www.astrologyinbali.com... Having said that.. I am VERY excited about it(I'll just bore you for a minute#$%). I love the idea, it brings together the things I'm most passionate about... astrology, travel and Bali... AND I will get to hang out there with a bunch of other astrologers... how great is that?????? I really like the organizational aspect, my dear friend Jean has created a lovely web-site... I've written and edited it....but she is definitely the artistic heart of the whole thing. And if this 'test run' works out it could be just the ticket to support this nomadic life I love so much(yeah!!!!). Melanie, from England is going to visit Bali for a couple of weeks, late May, which will be wonderful. I will be back in the US late July/August, in time to go to Chicago for a very big astrology conference where I will be touting mine.......and hopefully recruiting many people. Then I will be back in Bali Nov/December for the 'grand event'... and possibly longer. I plan to reward myself with a trip to Gili Air(the island I visited and loved so much on my last visit... Xmas in Coconut Cottages, yummy)... and then I think I'll take one of those sailing trips to Flores(another of the Indonesian Islands) where the Komodo Dragons are... pretty exciting!!
LATE MARCH 2005
Yes I am back in Bali.... and very happily so. Strange phenomena... but as soon as I heard people actually looked forward to getting these letters... I felt I had nothing to say#$% My own weird psychology I know... but the 1st few days I was here I had some moments of anguish about what one earth I could say I hadn't said before???....Well as much anguish as one can muster when lying in a hammock in Paradise** I mean how boring is it that I am back in this gorgeous place... waking up to 360 degree views of ricefields, jungle in the distance... glorious sunrises, sunsets etc,etc,etc.. doing yoga at dawn, getting massaged, scrubbed, manicured and all my senses delighted by the colours, smells and beauty that is Bali.............. ????
I can't avoid the realisation that if I can't be happy living somewhere this beautiful then there would have to be something seriously wrong with me! Of course the experience this time is very different.. now I arrive to be picked up by a driver who is a friend... taken to 'my' house, with my things already there, no trial and error about what restaurants to eat at or masseuses to call. Everyone is greeting me like an old friend...so guess what... it's even better... I'm practically Balinese... now if I could speak more than 3 words of their language I'd be in rare form!!! I was wondering if I might have built it up too much in my imagination, but I hadn't, I haven't had a single disappointing moment. I had almost zero jet-lag which was rather strange, but I believe it has something to do with that happiness enzyme/hormone(?) that actually enhances your immune system, I was so excited to get here that I think I was overdosing on it!
And traveling on the mercury retrograde was just fine... apart from pinching a nerve in my pinkie by trying to be Hercules with my outrageously heavy suitcases( filled with books and appliances... that all promptly blew up when I plugged them in... oops there's that mercury retrograde!!)
The 1st day I was here they were celebrating the full moon... which was lovely, all kinds of chanting/music at dawn etc,... EXCEPT it wasn't the full moon it was 2 days early!! When I asked about this nobody had an answer... and who am I to question an ancient civilisation? I hope I can find someone who can help me get clearer on the part astrology/astronomy plays in their religion.
And I've had my 1st adventure, so I feel I have something to write about(phew). Last time I was here I became close friends with a 22 year old Balinese called Kadek who also happens to be an amazing foot relexologist... and one of the most delightful, kind, joyful, humble, buddha-like souls I have ever met (and nobody get excited there are NO Harold and Maude scenarios going on... ) I just came back from crossing the Island on the back of his motorcycle.. which will tell anyone who knows me well how much I trust him... I generally can't stand those things. And it was really fun, it only takes 3 hours to cross Bali, but you pass volcanoes, rice terraces, a lake, endless villages... slight carbon monoxide poisoning being the only downside#$%^
We visited his family who live in a very remote farming village, that is never visited by tourists. They have neither inside nor outside plumbing , and live purely off the food they grow plus the tiny wages of a daughter who picks fruit for someone else.. And of course Kadek helps them too, he is the son who moved out of poverty to be educated and build a career for himself... against the odds of being lower caste (yes sadly that system does exist here) and the son of subsistence farmers... but a huge motivation is a better life for ALL his family, with his main goal being that all his siblings get an education. He himself is already teaching at the college in Ubud (at the ripe old age of 22) besides working full-time.
Their home is a hut with a dirt floor, not a single possession that isn't a neccessity(the one decoration/luxury in their home was a battery operated wall clock) yet they were completely gracious and I think gathered all resources to prepare a meal in my honour... neighbouring women (everyone it seems a relative of some description) came to help...and everyone else came to have a look. I am, sometimes uncomfortably....an Aquarian through and through... I positively squirm at that much attention, but all I could do was just that.. squirm my way through it as I sat there in awe of their generosity and kindness. **And I do believe I may have now eaten squirrel**.
The village itself was beautiful, lush and full of trees and flowers, and as usual everyone smiling radiantly..... My 3 Indonesian words didn't help much... Kadek's family don't even speak Indonesian... only Balinese, the indigenous language of the island. But as I've noted before they are a people who don't need to fill space with chatter, silence is perfectly comfortable to them, so it never feels awkward. Another big difference about being here this time is that I am VERY busy... I am working on my project, so lots of organizational things to deal with, and it is going really well. I have a very long 'to do' list which is usually only a part of my US life.
First on the agenda is a social visa so I can stay for extended periods of time... and I will have to spend about 4 days in Bangkok getting that together. So my plan is to be here in Bali until about April 19th, then I leave for Thailand, and as soon as my visa is organised I am going to Laos. I want to be there about a month, then I will be back here for when Melanie arrives from England(yeah)..... And my friend Theo actually arrives in just 2 days from now, another fearless speed vacationer.. she will be here only 6 days.. but they will be fun-filled!!! I have no idea what lies in store for me in Laos... but not one person I've spoken to who has been there has anything but glowing reports. Then I will be back in Bali for 2 more months until late July.
No I did not drop off the planet!!!! Just got back to Bali after 6 weeks of traveling, and there were computers everywhere I traveled to.. they were just VERY slow, and I was so much 'on the move' and without a few free hours to write... that I didn't!!! At the risk of being repetitive.. I LOVE BALI. I have had an amazing time everywhere else... but this is still where I am the happiest.. I have undeniable, palpable physical and emotional elation whenever I set foot on this island. Never before has a 'place' affected me this way. Okay this may turn into yet another 'Gettysburg Address'... I have no idea how to condense my experiences of the last few weeks into anything remotely civilized in length..........? Other people 'impulse buy'.... I on the other hand 'impulse travel'. As I already said I 'last minute' invited (imposed?) myself on some new friends to join them on this trip to China because I had heard them talk about it, and then woke up morning knowing I 'had' to go too.
I have never before particularly had the desire to go to China... so this was perhaps the only way I was going to get there! For a start we were an interesting group, John the artist/craftsman.. who has been going there for years to buy handicrafts and textiles.... Symon, the wild and crazy painter(to call him a character and half would be a gross understatement) who followed suit after I invited myself, Nick from Alabama.. totally laid back and very 'southern'... and his daughter who is a firefighter in the heart of Baghdad... and me.. Ms 'Curiosity Incarnate' along for the ride.
We all arrived in Bangkok in batches and met at a hotel in the middle of the 'chaos'... many people love it.. I just find it another traffic clogged dusty city(with granted some exquisite sites.. ). The night-life is definitely unique unto itself, and I did venture out(reluctantly.. and within 10 minutes sorely regretted it) one night... but my ???prudish??? feminist?? there but by the grace of god go I(if life had handed me that card)??? who knows what???culturally uncomprehending?? side finds the blatant 'sex for sale ' of Bangkok really disconcerting. Definitely something to look at in my own psyche..... in theory I want to 'see it all'.... but?!?! We all ended up in a club..."Super Pu**y"...yes that's really the name (Jean won't let me spell it out because it could attract the wrong internet element), women (girls) playing 'tricks' with cigarettes, ping-pong balls... and razors#$%^&. There was a western woman in there engaging beautifully with the girls, giving them money and (seemingly) genuinely having fun... I on the other hand was attempting to crawl for the door........................
We did a rush on getting our passports for China(we got them in one day when officially it takes 3....a little extra cash gets you just about anything)... which included being in a(literal) stampede to pick them up .... there was no pretense of politeness.. and much bribing of those who made it to the head of the queue. Then we flew to Kunming, in the Yunnan province (South West... bordering on Tibet, Burma and Laos)... and so began the culture shock(ing) experience of modern day China.... a shopping Mecca.. extreme and garish modern day glitz alongside the most ancient and simplest imaginable.... peasants with hand hewn tools and water buffaloes for work and transport.
Yes.... I went to Wal-Mart in China......... It is like 2 worlds in collision... and the old one is definitely losing. Traveling by bus... and stopping at rest stops I saw a side of China that makes India and anywhere else in Asia look positively gleaming.. I saw some of the dirtiest places imaginable. Plus I would implore my most deeply animal-loving friends NOT to go.. there is the lowest regard for living creatures I have ever seen (frogs skinned alive and piled in buckets... fish being fried alive... and I won't mention the dogs......). It feels so 'tough' there... and again and again I feel stretched to accept that going to these places I have to see beyond my own perceptions and prejudices.
And it IS beautiful and the people are unique... We were really lucky because traveling with John we met and spent time with some Bai(tribal) people, ate at their home and were shown around some places we may not ordinarily have seen. Their textiles and embroideries are exquisite(I have some wending their way across the Pacific... I hope).... We went to Dali and Lijiang... beautiful traditional areas... but the most elaborate of super highways are under rapid construction and headed to all the loveliest corners.
I did have some beyond amazing massages in Dali.. and the women giving them were all deaf-mutes........ I heard much talk of how the Chinese are about to really start travelling... and when they do it will be an incredible tidal wave of people suddenly leaving the confines of their own country... the likes of which the world will never have seen before. Probably the highlight of China for me was a trek I did (with John the only other person willing***fool enough?*** to do it) through 'Tiger Leaping Gorge'. Last year I did the 'Samaria Gorge' in Crete(supposedly the longest in Europe)... this one is(apparently) the deepest in the world. It was 2 very intensive days passing through the most glorious dramatic, breath-taking scenery... with names like 'Jade Dragon Snow Mountain'. We were on the Tibetan border... just 120 km from the actual place Shangri-la. Tragically a dam is scheduled to be constructed that will radically change the face of the whole area... it hardly bears thinking about, I am just having to focus on feeling grateful to be able to experience these places while they still exist.
Oh... and by the way ironically China is not the best of places to have Chinese food(at least not in the areas I was in). I am definitely not a 'foodie'.... but there was nothing to write home about being served up. One of the greatest hazards is the amount of MSG they pour into anything and everything... and when you say 'please don't', they think you're mad. I had many itchy, sleepless nights from overdosing on the stuff!!!
After China we all headed back to Bangkok... I had to spend 3 days there getting my visa for Bali(I am working on being able to spend a LOT more time there)...... The group dispersed, John to the US, Noelle to Iraq... Nick to meet a girlfriend... which left myself and Sy... the crazy artist and the 'slightly' whacky astrologer. My plan was to go to Laos. and he had decided to go with me (he has even more 'Aries' than me!!!)... So we hopped on a plane to Luang Prabang. I love Laos, it is stunningly beautiful.. not saturated with tourists. I'm biting my typing finger (yes it's true, I am a 2 finger typist!!) willing myself not to get on my soap-box. BUT ....it holds the dubious honour of being the most bombed country in the history of the world and apparently they lost ALL their intelligensia(?) they were killed or they left.. not that they were even 'officially' in a war!
There is a undeniable flatness and lack of animation to the people, especially in comparison to the Balinese... who are so warm, expressive and creative. I met a German who has lived there for over 20 years who explained this seemingly disinterested quality as a simplicity of outlook.. and he told me they have a tendency to consider themselves stupid, and even to joke about it. I found that really sad and alarming, and I did like the people and found it far less disconcerting to just think of them as shy. I am forever intrigued and mystified at how entire countries/cultures can embody life determining (be they positive or negative) ideas about themselves that somehow end up being the 'truth'...............
Since Laos was a French Colony it is full of lovely(rather decaying)old colonial buildings.. plus you can get a baguette on any street corner! Luang Prabang is in a loop of the Mekong (like Shrewsbury and the River Severn!), and it is really beautiful. And probably the most striking thing is the Buddhist temples, full of incredible gold statues of all shapes and sizes.. Sy spent most of his time painting them.. and left there with an amazing series on both canvas and rice-paper.
Took trips down the Mekong to Buddha-caves and waterfalls. the river has many incredible outcroppings of rocks so it takes some skill to navigate... however the Chinese have started dynamiting the rocks as they plan to bring super-tankers through there.......
I took a 2 day trek into the jungle.. which made 'Tiger Leaping Gorge' look like a walk in the park. Primarily because it had been raining... so it was unbelievably slippery.. and unbelievably hot and humid... plus I got a few ferocious bites from 'god knows what'.... one even flew up my pant leg and got a rather dramatic response from me.... plus left me with a killer welt that is still there! But it was breathtakingly lush and picturesque. I was very lucky because I had a guide to myself (hiking solo is NOT recommended because there are still a zillion land-mines there).. and he was an amazing young guy who told me about the different people of Laos and the various tribes and their traditions. He was only 23 but wanted me to slow down... I think he was more exhausted by my constant questions than anything else! He was Hmong and his father a village Shaman.. who I was fortunate enough to meet.
Where we trekked was really remote... no roads whatsoever, and we spent the night at a village enroute. They had no electricity(or plumbing of any description....) one bamboo spout providing water for everything.. and there was a lot of curiosity about how the 'extremely sweaty' tourist was going to wash herself... NEVER travel without a bathing suit being the moral of that story!!!!!!!).. And unfortunately(for me only) they had a generator they turned on for 2 hours a night.... I say that because it was right next to the hut I was 'sleeplessly' comatose in. There was 1 TV and everyone jammed into a room to watch it(being charged a nominal fee by the enterprising TV Baron).
There is a distinct lack of wildlife in the area, and you rarely hear or see a bird... apparently because having a bomb dropped on them every 9 minutes for 8 years either killed or drove almost everything undomesticated away (apparently except for those fearless biting things that like to fly up pant legs!!)... Laos used to be the 'Land of 1,000 Elephants'... now they have less than 100. We concluded the trek with an amazing river trip(a tributary of the Mekong) and people were panning for gold, fishing, collecting rocks, washing clothes..... the place was teeming with life....
I then left Sy in Luang Prabang and went exploring the rest of Laos (we had done marathon bus/train trips in China, and he refused to do another.. plus I was ready to go solo for a while). The buses weren't great.. but neither were they overly full of people so it was tolerable... I headed east to the 'Plain of Jars', where they have these giant stone jars.. that there are many theories about... but no-one actually knows what they were for. The area actually reminded me a lot of the Shropshire Hills... except this is where most of the bombing took place.. every town was flattened and the land is pock-marked everywhere you look with craters from the bombs.
All over Laos you'll see quaint little touches..like planters made out of missile casings and the likes.. but in this area whole sheds and homes were constructed from bomb parts... and you can do tours to see how creative they've been with them. They also have tours to the Ho Chi Minh Trail... which is apparently just as it was left.. strewn with artillery. Considering how I got physically ill after going to Auschwitz last year I decided to pass on more 'war tourism'. Plus if I worried about land-mines before.. here there were signs everywhere telling you to 'stay between the markers'.. and I heard 2 go off.. but there are teams of people officially finding them and detonating them... so I choose to believe that's what I heard.
The town I stayed in was called Phonsavanh... as ugly and characterless a place as you can imagine... nothing old ...because nothing survived. AND.. horror upon horror.. this is a large town that does not have a single chocolate bar in it!!!! I'm not kidding, I scoured the place... Oreos they had... but nothing else. This was enough to drive me out of town.. so I headed south to Vang Vieng... another 8 hour bus journey... but the scenery again made every pot-hole worth it!!
Ah Vang Vieng.. this may have been my favourite place in Laos. It is on a small river surrounded by amazing stark and dramatic limestone outcroppings.. just like in those old Chinese paintings. There are caves, lagoons, lovely waterfalls and some spectacular monasteries. I spent a couple of days in a little hut on the river. I rented a bike and toured the whole area.... it took me about 2 minutes to realise the bike had no gears.. and being torturously hot and hilly, I do confess I was often seen 'walking' my $1 a day bike! The town itself is 'backpacker' heaven... pizza parlours, 24 hour bars... and 24 hour reruns of 'Friends'(NOT kidding)... I was probably the 2nd oldest person there... but I only showed my face in the town centre to buy yoghurt... and okay I admit it I indulged myself and had a lemon/mint shake while watching "Friends'!!!!! But I was completely satiated after one and a half episodes..............
Fast forward to Vientiane... Capital of Laos.. felt obliged to see it... another boring, dusty city... biggest, most impressive temple was the highlight... bussed it over the border to Thailand and caught a night-train to Bangkok. A kid from Shrewsbury in the bunk under mine... 6 degrees of separation they say?? Spent the night with a fan that was a helicopter propeller in a previous life about 2 inches from my head.... sorely tempted to disable the thing... but resisted lest the whole train came to a grinding halt......... Met up with Symon again in Bangkok and our last night there we went to see Chinese Acrobats... it was beyond amazing and a wonderful finale to our trip.
So now I'm back in my idyllic little house in Penestanan... I paid to have a bath-tub put in while I was gone so now it is truly PERFECT, and everything I could ever want. My workshop project is going really well.. and keeps me very busy, I am getting great responses and many sign-ups.. plus I am catching up on client work. They cut the rice while I was gone... so now the ducks are here... they are so cute... and quacky!!! Melanie arrives from England on Thursday, which I'm really excited about.. but until then I am not moving from the ricefields or my hammock... fortunately I am doing yoga every day so I'm not quite turning into a hammock-(dim-sum??)potato!
July 2005 I haven't moved that far since my last update(oh yes I did go to Thailand!!).. but things have certainly been happening in the ricefields. On a mundane, but spectacular, note is the speed of the rice growing season, there are 4 crops a year so I have observed the fields ploughed, flooded, planted, harvested.. ducks brought in to fertilize and presumably wipe out the insects, then it all starts again....
Mel came from England, so we saw the sites.. and climbed one of the volcanoes.. Batur. It was amazing, very hot and challenging(loose shale all the way up) but incredible views...it towers above a vast beautiful lake which looks to me as though it would be perfect for kayaking... there was not a boat on it as far as I could see. We also managed to see ALL the art galleries in Ubud.. which are wonderful. I've become such a local it takes a visitor to get me to sightsee.
Melanie loved Bali and was as always the most fun travel buddy.. she arrived (on my stellar advise) with empty suitcases and left bearing WAY over the weight limit. However she charmed/disarmed them into not charging her(actually she started repacking and throwing things out of her suitcase with 50 people behind her).. when all else fails.. play the 'blonde card', they rushed her through without making her pay to avoid more turmoil. Which is just as well or it would have the MOST platinum of blonde stories, she'd been food shopping and in a fit of culinary enthusiasm had bought kilos of rice and palm sugar. It could have turned out to be the most expensive rice in history...... slightly reminiscent of she and I dragging kilos of salt from the mines of Poland all the way back to the UK last year#$%^&
So THE owl..I've met a guy with a tame owl that he rescued when it was a baby. It is full grown now, but still very small(a 'scops' owl apparently.. perhaps only native to Bali?). Anyway I fell in love with this thing, it is so cute, an unbelievable amount of attitude and personality in a tiny ball of feathers!! However the feelings are not mutual... it attacked me twice.. once going for my eye and drawing blood...... now I know how a mouse feels. I still want to see it.. but I shall be wearing a hat and glasses next time!
On another wild-life note, while doing yoga one morning there was a swarm of 100's of dragonflies outside my window that danced to my music for at least half an hour... it was completely mesmerising. And these dragonflies come in the most brilliant reds, blues and greens, it's quite extraordinary. I don't think there is a single day in Bali when I don't have a 'real' magical experience.
I have also had one more jaunt to Thailand since last writing. Spent a couple of days in Bangkok... and I have discovered what many ex-pats know(am I now one of those??.. in which case am I an ex-pat/ex-pat, an immigrant ex-pat, or simply some kind of itinerant/transient gypsy?#?.... next time I come to Bali I'm bringing a thesaurus/dictionary).
This great 'secret' I have discovered is that Bangkok is a Mecca for excellent, progressive, incredibly inexpensive medical care. It has many well-reputed hospitals, the one I went to was like a hotel, beautifully kept and decorated, very modern and clean. I had an eye exam, dental check-up, cleaning(from the dentist himself**), filling, bone scan, skin exam(being of melanoma history), some laser work by a dermatologist, and 2 moles incised and biopsied by a plastic surgeon. All of this, including ALL the lab work... and I got change from $500. Plus perhaps best of all, I had the sweetest Thai hospitality girl escorting me to each appointment, and there were barely minutes to wait between any of them. I got there at 10am and was back in my hotel by 4pm. Apparently there are now many people who fly to Thailand, do all their medical stuff, have a great vacation.... and still end up financially ahead compared to what it would cost in the US.
From Bangkok I went to Maesai in northern Thailand, which is bang on the border of Burma, in fact our hotel room was a little cabin on stilts that sat on the river that marks the border. Every day people just waded back and forth across it, apparently bypassing going through the border control, and with all their belongings on their heads!! I decided against it... I think I might have stood out a little, and even a fleeting visit to a Thai or Burmese jail doesn't appeal. I was with my friend John, and he was without a passport (which he had left it in Bangkok for visa reasons), so we saw Burma.. but didn't actually go there. The hills in the distance were covered with golden stupas, and I know that it is definately my next destination... so with that to look forward to my itchy feet didn't get the better of me.
We were right on the edge of the 'Golden Triangle', where Thailand, Burma and Laos intersect... of the infamous opium trading legends. It was the next chapter in my 'motorcycle diaries'.. because we rented a motorcycle and thoroughly explored the area. John makes me look like the most conservative person on the planet, he is Indiana Jones at the best of times, put him on a motorcycle and suddenly Steve McQueen is thrown into the mix....so you can guess.... but I am all in one piece, and with one more wonderful experience under my belt(plus I do believe my spine got completely realigned enroute)! John travels to about 9 countries a year buying artifacts and the likes, and they are all places like China, Tibet and India. He invited me to Afghanistan and Pakistan later this year... I mentioned this to my daughter and was immediately grounded#$%^
As many of you know Tara and I have a bit of a role reversal going on.... she being the far more 'sensible' one. And truthfully it is not a part of the world I am anxious to visit at this precise moment in time... and there are so many other places I still have to see that are not so full of strife. Anyway he and I also went into some amazing caves that go back for miles, but having just bought our flashlights at the local market I was NOT trusting of the batteries so I balked at going too far... an instinct compounded by the tale of 2 Canadians who spent 2 days trapped in the very same cave after falling in an underground river (and also probably because their flashlights came from the same market!). I simply dug my Tevas in and refused to go any further, even I can be 'a stick in the mud' around someone more radical than myself.....
So my time is winding down, and as usual I am in that place of not wanting to leave, and at the same time incredibly excited about seeing everyone I love and miss so much in the US. More and more I love the life-style here in Bali, I have always been a minimalist to some degree, (except when it comes to books, chocolate and airline tickets.... and these same addictions/necessities are alive and kicking wherever I am), but I am just getting happier all the time with the simplicity of life here. And yes I have a full-time maid, massages whenever I want and am surrounded by incredible beauty...... so I am certainly not living the life of an esthetic, in fact I am far more pampered than I can ever afford to be in the West. So I would say that spending time in both places I have the best of both worlds, but I have to confess my preference leans towards this one. I am also a developing a great circle of friends here, the workshop I am putting on has made me more high profile(I have plastered the entire island with my fliers).
There are lots of creative and fascinating people here, and as a bonus I am developing an astrology clientele which is helping me build a security base(woman cannot live on nasi goering alone). My yoga practise gets stronger all the time, I have been doing it daily and at times with John(who is an incredible yogi and is encouraging me to be far more courageous with head-stands etc). There are some great intensive, 2 month long Australian yoga teacher training programs that take place right here in the ricefields, it is something I have been considering since I first arrived but it is rapidly moving to the top of my list... along with learning to type(perhaps my most ridiculous and embarassing deficiency!), learning Indonesian, putting on twice yearly astrology wokshops and basically exploring all of Asia. I don't see myself getting too bored in the near future!!!
October 2005 (the following letter was written the day of the 2nd tragic bombing in Bali's recent history)
Dear Friends... I awoke to the news that there have been bombings in the tourist area of Bali, and my immediate reaction was wanting to get back there as quickly as possible to what I have experienced as the most beautiful and spiritual place on earth. I don't feel afraid to do so, with the recent attacks on all corners of the earth, my own feeling is that these acts of hatred are designed to instill fear and paralysis, and to allow them victory is to do just that. The random acts of so few can cast ripples that affect countless lives on so many levels, which is of course the intention. I was not yet living in Bali when they last went through this with the Kuta bombing in 2002, but I hear from my friends who were that the Island was immediately awash with offerings and incredibly beautiful healing ceremonies aimed at counteracting the forces of darkness embodied in these acts of terrorism. Their responses to such things are very different from ours in the way that their realities are so heavily grounded in their spiritual beliefs, and there was apparently a powerful show of solidarity between the Hindus and Muslims on the Island.
As most people know Bali is predominantly Hindu, and very unique in the Indonesian archipelago. The perpetrators of these attacks are not Balinese and it is important to know that although they obviously take aim at the most heavily populated tourist areas, the people who suffer en masse are the people of the island who rely so much on tourism and the goodwill of the rest of the world. And ironically it's as though attacks are being made on paradise itself (perhaps a metaphor for all that seems to be escalating on our precious planet). I am not being trite when I say 'if the world had a heart it would be Bali'... and my desire is to get back there and let my Balinese friends know they won't be abandoned in these times.
In regards to my own personal project in Bali, I know I can only be philosophical and surrender to the fact that it will be what it will be. The village where we are holding the workshop is a very small and peaceful rice-growing and artisan community, and the closest actual town is Ubud, a relatively quiet place far from the highly populated, commercialized tourist areas of Bali where these tragedies have taken place. Aside from this, security on the Island will be at it's absolute strictest and tightest for a very long time to come. I feel acutely sensitive, concerned and fully responsive to the desires of everyone who is now a part of this with me. I only ask one thing, that we all give it some time, immediate reactions to these events are naturally fully charged and raw, I have been watching my own emotional responses change radically in the few short hours since I first heard.
Anybody who knows me also knows that I pretty much live my life by the words so perfectly expressed by Virginia Wolf..'as a woman I have no country, as a woman I want no country, as a woman my country is the whole world'. In the same vein of what Guiliani so succinctly expressed about showing solidarity after 9/11 through not being scared away, and which the Indonesian president just publically reiterated, I am returning 'home' to Bali on October 13th... I know I carry the good wishes of all my friends for the people of Bali with me.
Well should I bore you with the fact that I am back in Paradise, once more waking up every morning to 360 degree views of ricefields, tropical vegetation and everything beautiful that is Bali? It actually isn't because I am lying in my hammock soaking it all up I haven't written before ... but because my workshop starts on December 6th (and people actually start arriving in 2 days from now!) and I have been incredibly busy. So in the most laid back place on the planet I have managed to create an intensely hectic life... wherever you go, there you are?#$%
Everything is going great... I have rented an entire hotel complex and 9 houses around it.. it has been a fantastic way to get to know all the locals really quickly! I have people attending from all over the world, and I feel like each and every one is a friend after all the ad infinitum correspondences we have shared. Bali is fortunately doing well considering the recent bombing, with the great irony being that most of my friends here in Bali heard about it from me... they simply aren't media saturated or obsessed as we are in the west. And yes tourism is way down, but the people's spirits aren't as dampened as they were with the last one... sadly/realistically these events are now commonplace in our world and no place is immune. I did lose several attendees but surprisingly few considering.. and many people who were on the edge about coming decided to over-ride their fears.
I truly have been in a whirlwind of preparation so have nothing really exciting to share... however my reward to myself (my excuse anyway) is that I will be going to Myanmar (Burma) and (possibly) southern India for about 6 weeks after it is all over. I may go alone, or for part of the time I may go with my friend John who I went to China with, he is a fantastic traveling companion and loves to hike and tear around the world going to the most exotic out of the way places, etc, etc.
A friend of Mel's from Shrewsbury came to visit for a month, but she has caught the 'bali bug' (symptoms being you get emotionally velcroed to the place )and is staying for 3 and has rented the house behind me... Lynn Bell (my close friend from Paris and speaker at the workshop) arrives on Dec 2nd and will stay on until the end of December so we will have a Balinese Xmas and possibly go off and have an adventure(or 2) somewhere.
Really not much else to say... except how exhausting it has been trying EVERY SINGLE massage therapist in the area (*research*).. running off to the North Coast and going on a wonderful boat trip, going to local markets and buying amazing flags covered in gold dragons so that the hall where we will meet will be just like a Balinese temple. AND in the midst of it all plotting and planning my next 2 workshops (for 2006) and rewriting the web site... I have more great people coming to speak and really exciting programs brewing.. BUT I'm keeping it all quiet until I am done with this one. I promise to send some more interesting news after the workshop (if I'm not stuck in the fetal position recovering#$%^&) to tell you how it all turned out (and if I have nothing interesting to report I'll make something up).. by then it should be determined whether this is going to be my 'Bali-ticket'...
It all looks/feels really positive, but I always have plan B of putting in my application for a job picking/planting rice.......... or tending the ducks! Because one thing is for sure... I love Bali more every day and the thought of NOT living here is unthinkable
(written right after the end of the most successful 1st "Astrology in Bali' workshop... yeah!!)well the workshop ended last Thursday... and I am still wiped out! I've never worked so hard in my life... but it was fantastic, fun, intense, moving.. and a HUGE success. I couldn't be happier about it.
The group was wonderful, 90% women (as usual in the astrological world), a diverse and interesting group from as far afield as Columbia, Paris, Australia and Canada. No Brits (except for my transplanted friend Salena who lives in Bali**)... so we'll have to work on that! Steve and Lynn were their usual engaging selves and held everyone rapt for the entire 9 days... no great surprise but even knowing them both as well as I do, I am still in awe of their brilliance.
And none of it would have happened without Jean, my webdesigner extraordinaire... I'm never in this lifetime going to be able to thank her enough. I don't even know where to start, it was a whirlwind of non-stop energy. Only one major disaster.. a Swedish woman got sent back to Tokyo because Sweden and Indonesia are having a spat and so they are taking it out on them by insisting that all Swedes get their visas prior to arrival.. and she omitted to inform me she wasn't American (she lives in the US, and even works in the travel biz).The list of things I learned to do and NOT to do would stretch from here to Australia. And of course there was a downside... I have definitely learned who NOT to hire etc,etc,... but the positive far outweighed that parts that made me grind my teeth(gggrrr) so I won't bore you with any of it.
Okay I'll bore you with a bit of it.. they decided to build a house right next to the hall we were meeting in (Saturn transiting opposite my Sun for you astrologers), hammering and the likes. The hall is an open sided pagoda, so no sounds are blocked. I went into a complete panic just prior to everyone arriving.. and started sending food every day (and begging and grovelling to the owner). They really did try to keep the noise down... but I spent a lot of time glaring at them when they slipped... and the participants told me it bothered me more than it did them. Fortunately the Balinese are non-judgemental and forgiving but I think the workmen now consider me a little 'bizarre'.
And we are into the rainy season(which is obviously COMPLETELY out of my hands#$%&)... and when it rains.. it RAINS.. although it really wasn't a problem and there were many gloriously sunny days....and when it did rain it cooled things down which was good.Truthfully it would have been hard to go wrong.. my speakers were amazing, the location breathtaking... and everyone fell completely in love with Bali. The hotel treated us wonderfully ( great food and service).. besides it being their nature to be warm and kind they are so grateful we were there because tourism took such a bad hit after the last bombing.
It was a delight to watch people who had been worried about coming sink into the joys of Bali.. people got softer and lighter by the day.. despite the fact that we were doing very intensive, emotional work. Perhaps it had something to do with all the massages and retail therapy they were enjoying in between sessions...?
We decorated the hall like a Balinese temple, with brightly colored dragon flags, flowers and ceremonial decorations, and hung paintings by my friend Symon(of which many sold).. and my precious pembantu (housemaid) Ilhu started the workshop off with a traditional blessing and offering. About half the attendees stayed at the hotel, and the other half in houses I'd rented for them.. we even had a single Mom come with her 6 month old baby.. I got her a full time nanny for $50 for the whole time (a high wage in Bali) who I know she wanted to take home with her.
And of course we had some people who couldn't tear themselves away.. one girl is staying until the end of the year.. and many have already signed up for next year... yeah.I put together a party for the last night at a fabulous restaurant and hired a Balinese Salsa band (no joke).. they were fantastic and every single person was dancing for much of the time.... I believe the Balinese were in awe(astrologers are NOT a tame bunch!)
So what now??????? I am flying to Bangkok January 3rd and heading straight for Yangon, Myanmar (once I have a visa). I really want to do some trekking so I may head north, but I've decided to make it a real adventure and not make any concrete plans. And please no-one worry,(meaning you in particular Claire... don't watch any more of those films!!) there is political unrest, but it is contained and they don't even allow tourists to go to those areas. I have no intention of being THAT adventurous.. it would be the equivalent of wandering blindly into some US inner city.. nobody can deny that warfare (be it urban) is happening everywhere.
I will be alone for about 3 weeks but then John will join me for about 2.. I really want to spend that long there, it's a big country with huge diversity, both geographically and ethnically.
And on the workshop front... I actually have plans for years to come...(the woman who doesn't believe in plans is changing). I have 2 in the works for next year, one with Jeff Jawer and Rick Levine in October, and the other with Rick Tarnas and Darby Costello in November!! Steve and Lynn will definitely come back at some point. Lynn is staying until the end of the year, and although Steve only had a couple of days extra, he loved Bali very much, it suits his personality beautifully.... it was lovely to hear his flute playing drifting across the ricefields every morning.
So I am thrilled to have been able to share my dream and my Paradise with everyone, and my reward is I have a legitimate reason to be here(as if I needed one.. teehee***). But truthfully it is a dream come true to be able to live here, bring astrology to Bali .. and make a living at the same time. I really didn't know how much work it would be (I practically collapsed when it ended)... so I'll be better prepared next time (says the eternal optimist!).
As a reward to myself after completing my first Astrology in Bali Workshop, I took six weeks to go traveling in Myanmar(Burma) and India. I spent the first 3 weeks alone and my sweetheart John joined me for the last 3+.
Again what to say? I could write a small book on each leg of the journey. It started in Bangkok with the interminable quest for visas (Myanmar and a new Indonesian one).. the one for Myanmar was a trial unto itself. They only give 50 out a day... and only 20 of those can actually get it the same day. I found this out on my 2nd fruitless trip there, the 1st failed attempt being because they were closed for the full moon (which it WASN'T, as an astrologer I found this most confusing, but arguing the point with them didn't help!). Anyway long story short(ish), I eventually managed to get it by camping outside the embassy on the pavement at 6am, and then storming the counter(with hordes of others)when it finally opened at 9am.
My time in Bangkok was made much sweeter through an unplanned, synchronistic meeting with one of my scholarship recipients (Ian) from the December workshop. We ran into each other in an obscure little nondescript cheapo restaurant on a Bangkok backstreet (called the Moon Cafe however*). So he and I got to spend some great time together, mull over the workshop... and really become friends.Flew to Yangon(previously Rangoon)..
Nothing had prepared me for Myanmar( the name Burma is a misnomer pegged by the colonialists through laziness, and they don't like it).. I'd read a lot and always wanted to visit.. despite the fact that it is a political nightmare. And it truly is, as a tourist you can't even go to many parts of the country because of insurgents (and repression and other vile things no doubt) etc. And the people are very nervous about talking politics because they are under a military dictatorship, and punished severely for talking down the 'bastards'. Freedom of speech anyone?!?
Having said that these are some of the warmest, kindest people I have ever met, along with the Balinese of course. The truth that you cannot judge a people by their government is proven to me time and time again. The people of Myanmar have a unique kind of innocence because they are largely unexposed to western values (or perhaps LACK of), or all our superfluous 'stuff'. And an irony is that this country, with all it's dark truths, now has a very special place in my heart and has succeeded in making me feel far more at home in this world.... go figure?
And the comfort that comes to me from traveling is one of the reasons I want (need?) to explore the world.....I have to see it all for myself.. because then it all starts to feel like home(*Moon/Jupiter in the 4th for my astro buds*), and this gives me more of a sense of security than anything else. No matter what you hear or read, the reality usually bears little or no resemblance to what you conjure up in your mind through the (naturally) biased reports of others.
Tourists aren't a common sight so there is a lot of curiosity and people often come running out of their houses to look at you.. but always with waves and smiles and great generosity. They seem untainted by consumerism (they are very, very poor), or any kind of greed... there simply isn't much around to covet. I don't think I've ever felt safer anywhere. I took long bus trips where I was the only foreigner.. and people were very caring without wanting a single thing in return. In many situations I knew I could leave everything I owned unattended and it wouldn't be touched. And of course, it is a Buddhist country.
There is controversy as to whether it is good or bad to visit this country. Aung San Suu Kyi (the Nobel laureate who has been under house arrest for so long) recommends people not go. However you can be there and vigilant about not supporting government hotels, stores, airlines etc, and the people are very grateful for the tourist revenue and the fact that they, their country and it's beauty, are appreciated.
The Internet there could leave you screaming or weeping (I experienced both), the government blocks many web-sites, and although there are ways to break through.. it would sometimes take a half hour to send one email.... and the whole system would frequently crash completely halfway through the process.
I was 'adopted' by a Buddhist monk in Yangon who literally picked me up in a temple and then escorted me all around the sites. It was very kind of him, but part of his motivation was practicing his English, and it can get rather exhausting when someone chatters continuously in English with pronunciation so bad that you can only understand one word in ten. He got an A for trying, I got an F for intolerance...but since it was a buddhistic(?) experience I'll be compassionate to myself and take an extracurricular C for not showing my true sentiments!!
My 1st (only) night in Yangon was spent projectile vomiting (and the rest**), with what felt like a vise grip around my head, and the receptionist in my hotel was an angel, stroking my head and forcing fluids down me. I can be a little smug about what a 'hearty, hardy' traveler I am.. so I had a rather harsh reminder that maybe it takes being in a country more than 45 minutes to build antibodies, and it isn't advisable to eat street food the minute you hit the tarmac?! I started imagining dengue fever, bird flu and malaria... because I had every single symptom of them all.
So what do you do after a night like that... of course you get on a bus for 16 harrowing hours (how was I to know there are no actual roads in Myanmar... just dusty, pot-holed trails?). I really do never learn, but I suppose if I did I wouldn't do many of things I do, but it was one of the most uncomfortable, bone rattling journeys I've taken in recent memory. I think I'm still clearing the dust of Myanmar out of my lungs. I might be exaggerating.. but not by much, there would be very occasional patches of paved road, but they certainly weren't the rule.
My reward was arriving in Bagan.... literally 100's of ancient stupas and temples of all sizes, many of them red brick or painted gold (sunrises and sunsets to die for).. archeologically one of the wonders of Asia. I rented a bike and spent days exploring, and at dawn one day I went to a special festival market, coming through the mist it was breath-taking and must have been exactly the same as it was a thousand years ago. The clothes, the bullock carts, all the temples; everything... it was one of those sights you never, ever forget... which is just as well since I am a camera free zone (much to the chagrin of many of you!).
Next I took a minivan with some other people to Inle Lake (supposedly a 7hr trip, but in truth 11). The idea was that it might be more comfortable than the bus... WRONG. The only advantage was being able to stop and shake the dust off whenever you wanted. And again there was a spectacular reward. Inle is a 35km long lake, with a whole world on and around it. Floating gardens, floating markets, and for $10 you can hire a boat and a driver to explore everywhere. I also took a guide for the day and went hiking to some of the more remote villages. It is spectacularly beautiful and unspoiled.
Inle is where John met me... The arrival of 'the trader' suddenly changed the trip (in only good ways). I have (or should I say HAD...) an allergy to shopping, and this man makes part of his living picking up artifacts, antiques and treasures from around the world (besides being an incredibly talented craftsman/jeweler), and he knows ALL the tricks of the trade and where to go. We were immediately taking boats down tucked away little waterways to people's homes, and they were digging things out of dusty old chests.... even I find this a fascinating way to shop!
We then flew to Mandalay (John had been to Myanmar before and was not about to get on a bus!!!). I now understand why I kept hearing people say 'the best thing about Mandalay is the name'... it was probably the least interesting place in the country... another vast, unbelievably dusty city... again pretty much unpaved. There really aren't that many vehicles, at least not relative to other countries, so it's pretty pain free getting around. This is a bit of a relief, especially after Bangkok. Also the majority of vehicles are white, when I queried a taxi driver about this he told me it was because white is the only paint color available for touching up dents(so I'm assuming a sign of wealth would be having a colored car!).
The most common mode of transport is bicycle rickshaws, and they haul 2 people on each. The drivers are incredibly wiry and thin... not surprising when they have to haul the combined 300+lbs of the likes of John and I around.. for a mere pittance to boot. We did make the most of our time there and went to the Jade Market (apparently they have the best in the world), and of course John ferreted out all the best antique shops.
I had my birthday in Mandalay, John had come armed with about 10 lbs of dark chocolate from Trader Joe's so I was VERY happy! The food in Myanmar is laced with MSG (interminable itching and sleepless nights for those of us not used to it), so we always ate at Indian restaurants. And this might be a part of the reason why subliminally we made the decision to head for India. So I applied for my visa at the embassy in Mandalay, John goes to India yearly so already had a multi entry. It is really fun being with a man as spontaneous in his travel habits as I am (he is also as willful and determined as me.. scary huh?????? but we're NEVER bored!)... What I admire about John the most is that he really and truly lives his dream, and always has. And I may be a little biased(?) since those dreams aren't dissimilar from my own.. a creative life exploring the world...
We had to wait 5 days for the Indian Embassy to find out if I was a wanted felon, so headed for the small town of Maymyo. Another amazing place*** It's where they grow all the flowers, and climate and scenery-wise it is a lot like Santa Barbara (but no ocean). What's really fascinating is that it is also like an Asian wild west town. The taxis are horse and carriages (a remnant of Victorian colonial times).. but they are painted in primary colors and driven by the wildest looking characters. Many of the people in the area are of Nepalese heritage, the British brought Gurkhas here because of their fighting skills.. and they simply never went home again, in truth probably weren't able to. So there is a larger Hindu and Muslim (not sure where they came from) population around Maymyo.
We rented bikes (which were as funky as the carriages) and went to wonderful waterfalls, markets... and every single antique shop that could be found. Myanmar is almost ridiculously cheap.. and in this wondrous, exotically quaint(?) town we experienced the topper.. we went to a little Indian restaurant and the bill came to 60c... for both of us.. in an all you can eat situation. They do charge foreigners special rates for being anywhere vaguely historical, and airfares are higher for us. I changed $100 bill when I arrived in the country and was in awe at how my little wad of cash never appeared to get smaller, it seemed to last forever! However knowing that the average wage in Bali is $3 a day, I don't even want to think about what it is in Myanmar.
We went back to Mandalay, picked up my passport (the Indians determined I wasn't a felon), and took a boat at dawn down the Irrawaddy river to Bagan... and the whole 12 hour trip was breathtaking; temples, monasteries and a whole different view of the country. We then flew from Bagan back to Yangon (didn't go into the city at all) and straight back to Bangkok. It is practically impossible to go west into India from Myanmar, tourists can't cross any of the borders.. or even go to many of those remote regions.
We were literally in and out of Bangkok in less than 24 hours.. enough time for John to mail his latest 'spoils' home and to eat some fantastic Thai food!!I had not been to India for about 12 years, although it's always been a great love of mine, it seems there are always too many other places still to see. I don't know if it's changed.. or whether I have.. but this time traveling there felt easier and gentler to me. Of course Delhi is still a teeming mass of extremes and chaos, and I KNOW there are definitely more, not less, people now.
We headed straight for Jaipur, on an extremely nice AC bus on real, actual paved roads... I never thought there'd be a day when I would think of India as highly civilized in it's amenities?!****For my astrology friends, my very 1st trip to India was for my 40th birthday with Saturn on my Sun... lo and behold I return with the exact opposition to my Sun*******And India was not originally a part of my travel plans for this year... aha and WE think we're running the show?
John had been telling me about this great hotel in Jaipur.. and it turned out to be the exact same one I stayed in 14 years earlier... just a little dejavuish*** Rajastan is incredibly mysterious, mystical, colorful, exotic... you can't use enough of those words to describe it. In 20 years of buying there John has all these great contacts, and there was lots of going down dark alleys and through unmarked doorways to these amazing tiny places full of treasures. They keep plying you with delicious spicy chai until your heart is leaping out of your body(I had to go cold turkey on day 2), and bringing out more and more beautiful gems and sometimes incredible pure oils.
I fell under the spell, how could I not be intoxicated..?? And as we all know intoxication breaks down the defenses.. so yes I burned some rather serious rubber on my CC (no they don't have a sign out front, but yes they take visa cards... yikes). And in truth I bought some incredibly beautiful things that my very clever daughter is going to help me sell on ebay (once I have wrestled her to the ground and pried them out of her hands!). And I do believe this could be yet another way to support my travel addiction. Compared to John I was incredibly conservative, but it IS his business...! I even HAD to go back to some of these places and get some shiny things that were haunting and taunting my dreams... it's a slippery slope! I know the prices were great, and I had my experienced advisor on hand... although sometimes I completely ignored his advise... surprise, surprise!!
From Jaipur we went to Pushkar, a very small desert town on a tiny lake, that is famous for it's yearly camel fair and as a place for pilgrimages. It is even prettier and more exotic than Jaipur, and John described it perfectly, it is the 'Kathmandu of India'. Lots of very young foreign hippies with dreadlocks and the likes, and looking very much like we did 30 odd years ago (in truth they're not very original in their style.. apart from all those piercing). Being a place for Holy Pilgrimages you can't buy meat or alcohol anywhere in Pushkar, you can however get 'bang lassis' on any street corner. These are fermented yoghurt and marijuana shakes... I did not partake.. otherwise I might still to this day be wandering round and round that lovely little lake, mesmerized by the camels and beautifully painted elephants.
We then made another sojourn back to Jaipur with plans to head to Goa, or some other beach. It is a problem in India that they charge tourists ludicrously high prices for internal flights, prohibitively so and it is even more expensive than in the US, and while we were there there was much talk of changing this very unfair, prohibitive practice. We didn't have too much time so a 2 day bus/train trip was not feasible (or appealing), so we headed further south in Rajastan, and the real heartland of India, to Udaipur. It was still a 9 hr journey, but we took a sleeper train, and for some reason I love these.
Sleeping on a train for me is like sleeping in the rain... very soothing.And so we arrived in yet another ancient beautiful city, Udaipur. Again on a lake, this one much larger and surrounded with palaces (and even two in the middle of the lake). It would have been nice to stay somewhere overlooking the lake, but since we arrived early in the morning we ended up at the 'Baba Palace' in the center of the town. We had another amazing time here... and John knew it was where they make the swords and knives he loves so much, and he was soon spending lots of time with a man whose family had been making them for 500 years.
I must admit I was a little peeved at being in a noisy hotel when there were so many idyllic ones close by. We were directly opposite a Vishnu temple, with a tiny square in front of it, and we could see right into it from our 3rd storey room. The bells and chanting began at 5am and went on periodically until 10pm. I soon realized what a gift I'd been given, I could sit in a corner of the window and observe without being seen myself (not an easy feat as those of you who have been to India can attest to). I just watched for hours and hours. The teeming life of India is fascinating, e.g.; Saddhus (Holy men) who had their homes on the steps of the temple... and the little 10 year old homeless/parentless boy who owned one blanket and a broom, he would immaculately clean his little corner every night before going to sleep, then get up and beg all day, hopefully get enough food to survive, and then do it all again.
Then one night there was a huge commotion, and suddenly there was a wedding party stopped in the square, music, dancing, fireworks, unbelievable colors, the groom on his white horse. Another medieval scene.. apart from the portable electric chandeliers being carried and powered by a generator being pulled at the end of the procession! Elephants, camels, cows, rickshaws and an endless colorful mass of humanity was forever milling around those temple steps.
It seems India is a country you love or hate, and I love it. It never ceases to amaze me how, amongst the chaos and suffering, an incredible beauty and passion for life persists more intensely than anywhere else I've ever been. No matter how people struggle and suffer, from what I can see on the surface nobody appears depressed.. they are too busy surviving. I've always wondered if depression isn't a luxury you can only afford when you have enough to eat? Of course depression is very real and devastating, and I say this as an observation and not a judgment, and of course I would never ascribe to the whole world going the way of India. I get to observe.. and leave...so I have only an abstract idea of what it is like to really be from there.
And 'Evelyn as an Indian woman'... we won't even go into what a nightmare that would be!!!Anyway, Udaipur was fantastic.. but then we had to head back to Delhi... on another train. We were a little suspicious that our tickets were only $8 for a 13 hour journey. We soon found out why.. but it was the only train so there really wasn't a choice. As John described it....'it was like sleeping in a petri dish'. Yikes.. and this time we didn't get blankets, so it was a case of putting as many clothes between you and your narrow little (filthy) plastic bench/bed as possible. It was a bit of a creepy, cold sleepless night... but we survived and got to see the endless slums of Delhi as the train moved slowly through the suburbs from dawn on. Very sobering, and a reality hit raw enough to halt any complaints about our own trivial and temporary suffering!
We were at the point where we'd had just a few too many curries (it is my favorite food so this is saying a lot)... but we actually found a TGIF in Delhi and had fish and chips!!Went to the Red Fort, did MORE shopping, but from then on we pretty much zipped back to Bangkok( more shipping for John), and onto another plane and back to Bali. Ahhhhhhhhhhhh.
It was an incredibly enriching, enlightening, educational 6 weeks, but I am very happy to be back in my beautiful little house in the ricefields. The plants are full grown and it is harvest time. The women are threshing the rice, and it seems to be a full time job keeping the birds away. There are flags, clappers and anti-bird yells and yowls galore. The rainy season is slowing down but we are still having some fantastic lightening storms. As one of my dear friends noted, I am managing to have an 'Endless Summer'... and it is suiting me just fine... thank you very much!
Yesterday as I watched an(other) amazing Bali dawn while doing yoga, with one eye on the clock so I would be finished before my masseuse/facialist arrived, while the 'angel' Iluh who takes care of my every need was at the market buying fruit for my breakfast... I realized why I have ambivalence about writing! It feels a little wierd writing these me, me, me letters as I am living this idyllic life...(an Aquarian moonlights as a Leo)!!! But I promised I'd write so here goes... more ramblings from a hammock.
People tell me they like reading my 'adventures', only right now I'm not actually having any... and there are none on the immediate horizon! It is easy to write when I am off doing completely new and different things.. but suddenly bopping between California and Bali has become my everyday life, and doesn't the extraordinary inevitably becomes the ordinary?, so it feels like I'm just repeating myself... paradise to paradise and other banalities!
I feel outrageously fortunate to have entered a stage of life where I do what I want, when I want(and I say this without self criticism), and I certainly GO wherever I want. And I believe I am, along with all my friends, at that age when we should be living our dreams... because if not now, then when?? I have more appreciation for everything I experience than ever before, and I don't feel old age creeping up or anything like that (it wouldn't dare!)... but I am very aware that I need every minute I have left of this life to see all the things left to see... and more!
And as an aside there is of course the 'not so small' matter of funding these 'heart's desires'... but if we're really lucky (and I feel I am), even this part becomes part of the whole adventure! So on one level every minute feels like an adventure.. but the truth is when you are actually 'out in the world' you are constantly meeting people living far more exotic, creative and adventurous lives than yourself. I have friends climbing huge, daunting mountains, a boyfriend charging through about 9 countries a year on a regular basis, and another friend who has immersed herself in humanitarian work in a remote Indian village... so little Ms 'Pampered, lounging in Paradise' doesn't exactly feel like Sir Edmund Hillary or Thor Heyerdahl at this precise moment in time!
But let me see how I feel after my next massage........ On this last trip 'home' to the US I spent time with several friends facing intense physical and emotional challenges. It is impossible to describe how strong and inspirational they are. I came away feeling very ordinary and humbled (in a positive way)... but at the same time encouraged (love that word.. uplifted by anothers courage... **), and happy and grateful for this life... especially because I share it with these people. I have no doubt whatsoever that those with the greatest courage sometimes don't move too far from their own front door...and being truly adventurous has far more to do with how we live every single day than how far we actually travel.
I happened upon part of a Kahlil Gibran poem recently and it expresses exactly how I feel about my friends... When you part from your friend, you grieve not; For that which you love most in him may be clearer in his absence, as the mountain to the climber is clearer from the plain. And let there be no purpose in friendship save the deepening of the spirit.
The friendships I have in Santa Ynez, and further afield (who I see even less of), if anything become closer as time passes... no matter how long or wide the separations. I rarely see everybody when I am there... but I've realized it simply doesn't matter. The connections remain strong, and are ever growing stronger.I was in the US almost 4 months(March to June), condensed into what felt like 4 days! Santa Ynez was glorious... beautiful and green, and I conveniently (and quite unconsciously) sandwiched my time there between the rains and what I hear is now a 'blazing furnace'... phew!!
Hate me if you will... but the ricefields of Bali are perfect at this time of year... gently swaying palm trees and cool breezes taking the edge off the skin-replenishing humidity. So what do I do when I'm back in 1st world 'civilization'? I work, hike, take yoga classes, constantly catch up on my email work, and of course have some great social times. And before you know it I am packing up AGAIN, and crossing the same ocean AGAIN! Repetition exists no matter how things may look! Then I'm back in Bali, doing yoga, taking (shorter, sweatier) walks, on the computer, seeing friends. Same life, different landscape.
There are no great adventures to be told of my stay in the US... except for deepening friendships and a lot of love.. but what's better or more exciting than that? Oh, I did have to wade through a flood to get to my friend's beautiful home in Manchester by the Sea, but the only potential danger was getting my computer wet, but that is a pretty serious one... I went to Chicago and Boston, and spent time with my precious daughter and close friends back there.
I also saw my beautiful 'renegade' son, so the most vital connections were made (be it far too briefly). The majority of my work time was spent doing astrology readings, some massage and keeping up with all I need to do for the 2 workshops in Bali in October and November.
Karen and Jon once more gave me an amazing, (temporary, but consistently welcoming), home at the Trout Farm, which was heaven. Melanie came from England for a quick visit, painted a masterpiece of a mural and brought her lovely South African boyfriend, who is very amusing and full of life. He is Aquarian, like me, so the poor girl now has the 2 of us being bossy and trying to organize her life... and yes maybe it was because we are so alike that we bickered (playfully) quite a lot. I would guess it is the sign least likely to mate with its own sign... too independent, stubborn and quirky to get along with someone else with those same non-compromising traits!
John breezed through SYV several times on his bi-yearly trip to the US, he drives vast distances selling his treasures and visiting the galleries that show his work between New Mexico and California. He now has a whole new group of 'fans', and his creations can be seen on many a stylish SY Valleyite. I went to a dinner party and there were literally a row of his 'one of a kind' beaded purses sitting on a dresser... it would have made a great promotional photo!
When I flew back to Bali in mid July, I boarded the plane in LA and there, by coincidence, was my friend and neighbour from the ricefields, an Argentinian woman Alejandra, who is as much in love with Bali as I am. She is creating a life that will allow her to live here too, an architect by profession she has morphed into a really good clothes designer... I think it's something in the air, everyone in Bali becomes creative (except for me ... I just hang out with them and get to wear the things they make)#$%. We hadn't been in touch for about 9 months, so had lots to catch up on... AND she had access to the Executive Lounge in Hong Kong, so as her guest I got to shower, eat, drink and LOUNGE.. God bless coincidences(and of course friends with Executive privileges!)
An added delightful bonus to arriving in Bali this time (once I had got through Indonesian customs peering at my 6 months worth of vitamins long enough for me to realise I needed to pay a little compensatory 'tax'), was having a very sexy guy leaning against a pillar with a great smile and a red rose behind his back waiting for me. Yep, a year and a half later it's probably time to admit I really am in a relationship! We're having a great time, we like the same lifestyle and both want to experience as much of the world as possible(despite the insanity and fearmongering that conspires to dampen such dreams). And perhaps most importantly, we are both very independent and respect and feel unthreatened by that quality in one another... we share the same need for alone times.... and what is more romantic than reunions??
He leaves in a few weeks to go on his annual buying trip to China, Nepal, Pakistan and India, and may in fact take the new train from China to Tibet. It's pretty controversial for a myriad ecological and social reasons... and apparently the tracks are already suffering damage after only a couple of months of use. It is predicted to have at most a lifespan of 50 years.... so god knows why they built it... how silly of me, could it possibly be MONEY and COMMERCE? Nonetheless it is supposed to be a spectacular trip, and I would love to see Tibet... although I'm told it is already too late. Sadly, after 50+ years of occupation Tibet is now far more Chinese than Tibetan.
Since I began writing he has decided to skip the train... apparently it is a bit of a nightmare even getting a ticket... and practically overnight there has been a jump from 2,000 visitors a day to Lhasa to over 7,000... the Potala is now as crowded as the Sistine Chapel, and probably just as commercialized. And apparently McDonalds is to be found anywhere... why am I surprised?
I am pretty much rooted here in Bali until the workshops, there is an enormous amount to do logistically, and although it is easier the second time around, it is still going to take most of my time between now and then to get everything together. But it's fun... I am currently designing more comfortable pillows for the hall (almost the only complaint I had last time was lack of comfortable seating)... actually what I am REALLY doing is going around spying and stealing other people's ideas and having them made for a fraction of the cost! Things are going really well with the workshop plans and sign-ups, although I have some big challenges exactly in accordance with my own astrology and the big bites I have chosen to chew(gnaw?) on... but I'm facing them, and I don't need to air them... it's LIFE, and if it looks too cushy...it 'ain't happening!!
Thank Heavens for a little Vipassana meditation in my past (and in the future methinks would be a very good idea!!)...In truth after 2 years in Bali I have been forced to take the rose coloured glasses off. I love the country and the people more than I ever have... but in the way that love deepens and becomes more real once you shed the illusions. I am only just now beginning to see and experience daily, through creating and operating a business here, what really goes on below the surface.
The Balinese are truly the most gracious, kind and lovely people... but there is a very ancient and complex social system that they all belong to. Plus they are poor, and we are the wealthy visitors... and that is a dynamic that dominates and must be understood and negotiated daily. I just read a book called 'Eat, Pray, Love' by Elizabeth Gilbert, and part of it is set in Bali. Her description of their society is very insightful, and her experiences very much in keeping with my own.
John and I took a wonderful 4 day trip, rented a car and drove across Bali to the north coast. I thought he was Steve McQueen on a motorcycle.. well now I have driven with him in Bali (land of NO speed limits)... and I must say, without a doubt, that he is also the Parnelli Jones of South East Asia! We had an amazing time and ended up in a village called Pemuteran on the north west tip of the island, very close to where the ferries cross to Java. Very different landscape, almost reminiscent of the Santa Barbara area. It is the dry season so the hills are quite dry and golden, not at all like the year round lushness of the ricefields (which remain my absolute favourite).We stayed in quite an upmarket old hotel right on the beach.. it was divine.
They are trying very hard to re-establish the coral reefs that were randomly dynamited before they realised the unbelievable damage they were doing. I found it slightly worrying seeing electrical lines running into th ocean, but apparently it's working, and I didn't see any snorkellers getting catapaulted out of the water. There were quite a few European (mainly French) families with children, and it was encouraging to see people still taking their kids out into the world. There are natural mineral hot springs in a village close by, so every evening we had these amazing baths... without another soul around. I have no idea why they weren't full of other tourists... although this was only to our advantage. They were very, very hot(and I like my tubs steaming!), but heavenly. I recommend all insomniacs try the combination of mineral baths and sleeping right next to the ocean.. it's like falling into an instant coma.
On the way home to Ubud we stopped in Bedugul, a market town at the foot of the volcano (at an altitude at which one actually needs a sweater!), and we hit the market and filled the car to the gunnels with fruit and vegetables. John is an incredible cook... which is very nice since I generally only have a kitchen because they tend to come with all houses! Ilhu who works for me.. and cooks for me when he doesn't, looked at me one day in a very concerned way and said "who cooks for you in America?" !! Who indeed? Despite what anyone says, it's really tough in the 1st world. Then the rental car blew up about an hour from getting us home... not literally it was just billowing vast amount of steam out of the engine. So we left it by the side of the road and piled all the fruit and vegetables into an even smaller taxi and headed home. I guess that could qualify as a mini adventure?
My friend Linda from CA just literally breezed through Bali (only spent 4 days here,)as part of a round the world trip she is on. It was delightful because she immediately 'got' Bali, and decided to just stay in the ricefields and do zero sightseeing. She had come from a whirlwind tour of Australia, love those Aussies but are they ever energetically different from the Balinese!, and was on her way to Paris. So the very wise woman opted to do a complete soul bathing (with daily massages of course!) on this 'island of the gods'. I rented her the house next to mine and watched her just melt into paradise... as only a Taurus can do THAT well. She even took a fall into the ricefield (forgive me for telling Linda)... but I believe that it is a form of baptism, and a sign that the ricefields want you back! I was constantly falling in when I first got here and now I can't leave... at least not for long. .
On November 24th, 6 days after the workshops end, I will wrench myslf away from Bali and fly to Chennai (Madras) in the south of India. I hope to be able to lighten my load considerably by leaving most of my luggage somewhere, and then I am going to spend a month travelling there. I'm really looking forward to it, because this is part of the world I have yet to visit. It is a great time of year to go (unless their weather has gone crazy too#$%), and I plan to take the train from the east coast to Kerala in the west, and there is apparently some great trekking (Western Ghats), some of the last remaining wildlife of the area to be seen (or not!), and a vast expanse of waterways that can be explored by hiring small boats... yeah.
I have another 'around the world' ticket, and I will be traveling on my own (although John may come to India for a couple of weeks before he heads home to spend Xmas with his family). From India, on December 23rd, I fly to Egypt and for the 1st time ever I am doing a 'tour'. I decided to do this because hanging around alone in a Muslim culture doesn't appeal that much right now... I have done it before, and its not always that ' woman alone' friendly, (and at times that means being TOO friendly), especially if you aren't already familiar with the country. I do have women friends who go to Egypt alone regularly with no problem but I suspect that's because they know it well and have 'time earned' familiarity about where to go.. and not to go.
All I want to do is see the 'sights', so I really don't have time to acclimate and scope it all out before 'jumping in'. The tour I've signed up for is 8 days long (or should I say short?). Cairo, the Pyramids, 2 days going down the Nile on a felucca (I'm assuming that's a boat?!... just kidding), 2 nights on a train going to Luxor and Aswan.. and that's it, everything I want to see and do! And someone else organizing it suits me just fine, plus when I priced it out doing it myself it would have been a LOT more expensive. And you may get all my complaints, regrets and laments in a future letter, but hopefully not...
From Egypt I fly to Manchester England on New Year's Eve (and the Brits, especially MY friends there, do know how to have a party, so I'll be just in time to borrow a party frock!). I am going to Shrewsbury to spend about 11 days with Melanie. I miss England (and her) a lot, and it seems I can never go too long without a quick revisit... my heritage periodically calls to me, try as I might to ignore it. I am always happy and content when I'm there.... as long as it's only briefly! I am anticipating freezing the minute I land.. so now besides being the only woman in the ricefields with a pair of 4 inch black satin stiletto heels (try walking down narrow wet grassy paths in those babies!), I would warrant I am the only one with a pair of Ugg boots. They look rather lost and odd sitting together in my closet(and both pairs are in danger of going moldy... I may have to buy them a heat lamp so they don't melt in the humidity).
If nothing else the lower 18 inches of my body will be protected when I hit the vicious British winter... and Melanie has been warned that I will be plundering her wardrobe. My sarongs will not cut it.... besides that, coupled with the Uggs it might be a rather bizarre fashion statement. So there, in a rather fat nutshell, is my life at the present moment in time! Actually it is very much a 'what I plan to do with my life' letter.. (appropriate as it was started while Mercury was still retrograding)...the blanks to be filled in later!! The ricefields around my house are about to be harvested, so the Balinese farmers are keeping a constant watch out for birds, there are flags flying, tin cans being rattled and all kinds of wild catcalls being made. I have never before witnessed, or felt so nestled in, the cycles of life and nature in this way, its truly wonderful....
While I have been here, a Beloved Friend Ralph passed away.. and he's been in my thoughts a lot, suddenly his presence is larger than life here in Bali.. and in a delightful way. He suffered a lot, but now all I can see and feel is his mischievous, brilliant self. He will be missed terribly, but I for one am deeply grateful that I had him in my life.
In 10 days my next workshop starts, and tomorrow people start arriving. I have truly succeeded in creating a whirlwind life for myself in what must be one of the most serene places on the planet! Go figure....?? But in truth it is an idyllic kind of busy. My office is my bed (the only place to get good wireless coverage)... so I spend most of my time looking at 360 degree views of the ricefields, sitting cross-legged on my beautiful bed that is covered in pillows, in pinks and greens and swathed in gauze mosquito netting.... all at the same time as trying to keep 15 balls up in the air. No wonder I need 2 fans going!
I have made a commitment(nobody faint now!).... to my house. I just made a 3 year rental contract, and consequently I have completely redecorated it. It is staggeringly inexpensive to do... I go to the market.. spend an hour picking out piles of different fabric... then hand them the equivalent of $42. I really wanted some bamboo ladders to hang towels on, and got a little argumentative when they told me I had to buy a set of 3... until I realized it was under $5 for ALL of them! Then 3 days later I magically have custom made pillows and bedspreads and beautiful lamps.... what was that about hardship in the 3rd world?
Two major inspirations have been at play. Firstly I love my dear friend Emily's house more than any house I have ever seen... so it is a mini copy of it.... 'Rancho de los Colores East'(in fact I've named it 'Rumah Warna'... House of Colour). Secondly my paddymate Alejandra started making her house really cute.. so it was a blatant case of 'having to keep up with the Cisneros'.' And we know what a slippery slope that is...
I will sub-let it(only to people I know or are referred) when I'm not here.Anyway that was a bit of a project that I started right when I was coming up to the 1st workshop.. and I am still itching to take the whole front wall out and replace it with glass... but I am resisting! It is however on the agenda for next July. I managed to run away to a couple of Islands right before the last workshop. Once with John and some Czech friends, we went to Nusa Penida.. an Island renowned for being the home to certain 'demons'.... which the Balinese take very seriously. It is about an hour and a half boat ride from mainland Bali.. but not developed at all (but well known as a great diving spot). We rented motorbikes, John driving.. my hat promptly blew off (like something out of a movie.. and more on hats later!), and we lost the rest of the group, and ended up riding around the island for 5 hours(we both had quite sore rear ends when it was over).
But it was one of those magical mishaps... we kept looking for our friends, and going down all kinds of obscure paths.. and what an amazing place. We would come to the end of a dirt trail, and there would be the MOST dramatic cliffs I have ever seen.. thousands of feet high (I don't believe I'm exaggerating... however I did once buy 100 feet of telephone wire to cross a rather small room!). Wild and impossible to scale... and so scary you had to crawl on your belly to look down (at least for chickens like us!). Miles of them.. with an ocean so wild I am sure the only way of getting to the beach would be through the misfortune of shipwreck! And then there would be no possible way of scaling the cliffs.
Apparently the Chinese have bought the entire coastline, which is currently completely undeveloped... so who knows what it will be in a few years? We finally did get to a beach for sunset, and we could see across to the volcanoes of Bali and it was a sight beautiful enough to make you cry. The following weekend I went to the neighboring island.. Nusa Lembongan... with my friend Alejandra. It is much smaller, and a little bit more touristy... but by western standards not in the least. I made a reservation at the 'Lonely Planet' recommended hotel, there are no docks so you jump right into the surf... and there was a young Balinese holding a wet and disintegrating piece of paper with my name on it shouting.. Miss Evelyn, Miss Evelyn! And it was a fabulous hotel. $8 a night for a single room right on the beach where they harvest the seaweed... yet another million more National Geographic shots (but again I didn't take a one!).
There are practically no cars on this island, so I took the plunge and learned to ride a motor-bike by myself... it was a blast, and just when I thought I had it pretty down.... that darned hat again!! It blew off on a hill.. I stopped, tried to start again.. the bike went over, and I didn't want to let go... but I should have probably let go of the clutch?! You know the rest, I had technicolor bruises for a few weeks, but that was all.. and a lovely Balinese stopped and rescued me, and the bike was fine, so what ends well..... Nonetheless it was really fun, and we found some amazing beaches. One in particular called Dream Beach... a place that Hawaii e.g. was probably like 50 years ago. Straw roofed huts on the beaches... and nothing else but white sand. I LOVE BALI xoxo
John left for Thailand, Nepal, Pakistan and India mid September on his annual buying/traveling trip.. and will be back in about 6 days (yeah!!!), and from that point on I have been in full workshop mode. And the workshop...... Wow, it was amazing, challenging, and in the face of a lot of 'stuff', and enormous success. Rick, Jeff and Danick (Jeff's lovely french wife) arrived.. and all fell in love with Bali at 1st sight. On the 2nd day Jeff and Danick had to rush back to the US because of a medical emergency with their 15 year old daughter.
Very, very scary for them(and thankfully now all is well).. and at the time very secondary was the fact that suddenly we only had one speaker.. But, Rick Levine was amazing and led the workshop single-handedly... and brilliantly!! If there was one person whose energy was up to such a task, it is him. I attended the whole thing(and was called upon to give input, which was fun and a big step for me)... Although it was somewhat of a beginner's workshop, it was never repetitive or anything less than fun and exciting! We had a great group, quite small but they more than made up for that with their generated energy.
AND BEFORE I KNEW IT WORKSHOP NUMBER 2! So, so different in every way... from the energy, to the format... to the people(it was also over twice as large as the first one). No comparisons can be made... but both were wonderful and a great success. Perhaps I was just already fried and oblivious (or maybe I was like the Mom with the 2nd kid!)... but the 2nd group of people were so completely self sufficient and it seemed there were even people I hardly even had a one on one conversation with. But it didn't seem to matter, and everyone was happy and thoroughly enjoyed Bali.
John came back and we had a whole 3 weeks together (kind of... I ran a workshop and he started producing a whole new line of bags and jewelry). But we did have some great times before I crossed his still warm tracks back to India.... we have so much in common that ironically we tend to spend more time apart than together... but we're doing great, so it is just fine!!
I arrived in India yesterday, and this morning woke up to see ravens instead of egrets outside my window.... and for some reason this struck me as symbolic of the difference between India and Bali, 2 Hindu countries that are so, so different from one another. Bali is so light, gentle and easy in comparison to the intensity and (wonderful nonetheless)heaviness of India.
Doing 2 workshops back to back (kind of), was very intensive... (perhaps fortunately) I had no idea it would be this overwhelming... but at the same time they were both fantastic. Anyway it seems I had no time to do anything except keep up with all the organizational stuff I was doing. A perhaps sobering truth is hitting me.. that I can only do so much!!... On second thoughts... nonsense... I'm already starting to forget.. and isn't that how we repeat anything, from childbirth, to writing... to workshops... to anything worth doing???
I am near a small town called Mamallapuram, just south of Chennai (Madras), and I am taking a couple of days to recuperate, catch up with emails and hopefully do a couple of readings by phone that I need to do asap. Leaving Bali is always a wrench, especially now that it is really home, I have rented my house for 3 years, and this time I was the one who left John there in he ricefields... This next 6 weeks is pretty much a solo sojourn, which I truly look forward to.. but anything and everything of value involves some kind of sacrifice..(I'm in mystical India.. I'm supposed to wax slightly philosophical aren't I?) And on a rather 'soul-less' note...I spent a night in Singapore on the way to India, and I didn't even leave the airport... and talk about a change of scene! I went from the idyllic ricefields to sleeping in an airless, (air con is NOT real air in my opinion), concrete cubicle with a teensy window overlooking the runway... yikes!
Then India Air was the perfect way to prepare for arrival in India... the food, the people the smells. Those who know the country well will relate to the love/hate emotions it never ceases to evoke(the love being far stronger for those of us addicted to it and forever returning). On arrival I promptly left my biggest suitcase in left luggage, to be picked up on my way to Egypt on December 23rd. My intention is to do a giant loop down to the very tip of India... and then to come up the west coast( Kerala) and then to cross over the mountains (with some trekking thrown in) and back to the east coast.
Believe it or not (those of you who know him!), but John (Indiana Jones incarnate) has actually taught me to travel a little more 'upmarket'. This fact struck me as I stood on the road outside the airport waiting for the local bus (he would have immediately hailed a taxi I know!)!! But old habits die hard.. and it was fine, the temperature is very comfortable here, and far less hot and sticky than Bali since I just switched seasons and hemispheres. So I actually had a very comfortable 2 hour ride on the rickety old bus (no windows or doors), that promptly took me straight out of the city and to this rather sleepy (by Indian standards!) place where I am staying.
I started feeling a little disappointed because the beaches all looked so desolate and treeless...where were all the tall swaying coconut trees?? They were all teensy.. then I remembered... Two years ago the tsunami devastated this coastline... I felt like a real super spoiled, oblivious idiot (but only for about 10 seconds.. I'm in India practicing self-compassion#$%^). It was not hit as fiercely here as further south, but the waves did come in half a kilometer and devastated many, many lives. But at the same time, just 2 years later, what you see is a testament to the human spirit, people are rebuilding and moving ahead in the way that those in the third world do.. without sentimentality and because they have no choice.
In 2 days I head for Pondicherry(no I shall be visiting NO ashrams, or coming home dressed in orange, or with a new exotic name), but it is supposedly quite charming and colonial.. so more on that later.
After not writing many of these updates lately.. I am likely to start sending a deluge... Partly because I am alone, and therefore I may as well talk to all of you as to myself!! And mainly because it is turning out to be such a rich and wonderful time... way beyond anything I could have imagined. And of course it could also be because I am such an 'all or nothing' person#$%^&
A friend recently told me the difference between a tourist and traveler is that 'a tourist knows where he's going but not where he's been, whereas a traveler know where he's been but not where he's going.' If this is the case then I can legitimately (although it might be by default) claim to be a traveler. I hadn't a clue where I was actually going until I got on the plane in Bali (when I actually had time to read my book on it). I had of course my initial destination, plus a 'Lonely Planet' guide... and a few pieces of paper with scribbled recommendations from people who had already been here.... plus I knew I wanted to loop down south through Tamil Nadu and then up north through Kerala. But I didn't know distances, towns, hotels or any of those rather important details... I simply hadn't had the time to research it all.
This is my favorite way to travel..... but a few days ago I realized that I couldn't see everything, or I would fall into the self created trap of spending more time on a bus or a train than actually seeing anything. But there is no way I would trade the 'surprise factor' for predictability, not in my travels... or my life.But how come there is never, ever enough time?? I think I could spend a year in India and not see everything I already know I want to see..... and here I am finding out there are amazing places I'd never even heard of! And alone I might be... but I have been anything but lonely. I have had many educational and enlightening conversations with Indians on buses and trains, and even with some fellow travelers,(there seem to be relatively few Americans here though).
Last time I wrote was in Mamallapuram (I just had to read my own letter so I wouldn't start repeating myself!). That was a really good place to start.. India on a smaller village scale (once I had taken the rattling bus haul out of the city). After 2 days I got over the initial sense of being overwhelmed that comes with arriving in this land of sensory overload, and it had the impact of bright daylight after coming out of a dark cave. The Indians can literally bowl you over with the radiance of their warmth and their smiles... and they have they have those residual colonialist attitudes and expressions (being called 'Madam' forever makes me smile.. it is SO 'old English'!).
The breakthrough this trip was as I was walking along a completely deserted part of the beach(scene of the tsunami not even 2 years previously)... the ocean is incredibly fierce and wild (so I can only imagine how terrifying it must have been to see those waves coming!). I was lost in thought and feeling the heaviness of what had happened there, and the poverty and darkness of it all, when all of a sudden I see a horse galloping straight for me, with an Indian riding bareback. The horse was small but unbelievably spirited.. and very fast. A couple of heart palpitations later, and the lungi-clad Indian rider pulls the brakes on this beast(or so it seemed) just a few feet from me... flashed me the most amazing smile and said, 'would you like ride Madam?'. In that moment I completely lightened up and have been at ease ever since... I laughed at my own paranoia and consequently arrived body, heart and soul in this impoverished(yet so rich), complicated, overwhelming but magnificent country.
These people have no need for my pity, and a prerequisite for being (happy) in India is without a doubt letting go entirely of all western expectations of comfort, 'normalcy' or any of the civilized orderliness', cleanliness etc. that we in the west tend to expect as our due.. Once you can do that your vision can open up to the indescribable magic that India has to offer... that always comes at you in contradictory, paradoxical and surprising forms. And traveling in India being fearful or overly emotionally sensitive just doesn't work. Sometimes you see tourists walking around looking completely shell-shocked and freaked... and India simply isn't a place for the feint of heart(or stomach).
And no I did not take a ride on that wild creature (I'll leave such bravery to my equestrian sisters.. of whom I have many). Interesting aside.. I was talking to some young Indians on a bus who said despite the undeniable tragedy of the tsunami, on that particular part of the coast, not many lives were lost (being so much further north than the worst hit area) and ironically it has turned out to be the best thing that has ever happened for the local economy. The fishermen were given an entire new fleet of boats... and for the first time ever the government gave the people assistance on all levels.
One constant challenge in India is the pollution (and dust etc. etc) and the onslaught on one's respiratory system because of this. Every single time I (and many others I talk to) arrive in India, it is like immediately starting to smoke 40 cigarettes a day. It is something you need to prepare for (and I had a reminder on the flight here, as the man across the aisle from me loudly hacked and spat into a bag every 2 minutes for several hours!).... and I came armed with echinacea throat spray. I have a really scratchy throat, and it is constantly trying to become something full-blown... but I'm fighting back relentlessly!!
From Mamallapuram I took a bus to Pondicherry, famous for Sri Aurobindo (now deceased guru/mystic), and because it was colonized by the French. It was quite fascinating.. a fusion of Indian/French..... with a decidedly British type promenade along the beach. French bakeries everywhere, and Rue this and Rue that.Anyone who knows me well, also knows I have an allergy to 'guruship' in most, (I was trying to be subtle but in truth I mean ALL), forms... so I had no intention of visiting the ashram.
But as chance would have it on my wanderings I ended up right in front of said famous ashram... so of course I went in. Sorry Folks... it only added to my cynicism (watch... as punishment I will become a devotee of something or someone next year and have to eat my words!!).... This ashram is now basically a shrine, there is a tomb in the center court, where supposedly he and 'Mother' are... and everyone prays and bows, and meditates... It is all very serious and somber, and there is much shushing and scowling by the 'guards'.
I just for the life of me can't believe that if these people were truly 'enlightened' they would want this bowing and scraping going on?? It turns their message into just another cult... and Sri Aurobindo and the Mother both authored truly spectacular writings. The topper was as leaving, I asked the guy who watched our shoes whether Pondicherry was hit by the tsunami.... and he proudly told me no... because of the ashram the tsunami stayed away. So basically screw everybody else.... god's chosen little devotees alone were spared!! Grrrrrrrrrr
From Pondicherry I wanted to go to Maidapur (central Tamil Nadu heading south), place of many famous temples. But 'sorry Madam, no train until December 17th.' Next choice the long haul (11 hours and rattling) bus... so my next question was... 'when is the next train going south.... anywhere?'. So 2 days later I was on a train to Kanyakumari.... the absolute tip of the Indian continent.
It was a great journey, 16 hours, but mostly during daylight so there was a fantastic view of the countryside and towns we passed through. Including I might add... Maidapur!!! So I enquire exactly why I couldn't have taken this train and just got off there???? Apparently they only sell so many tickets to certain places.. and then they are no longer available. So in truth I could have jumped off the train then, but decided to just go with the way I was (obviously!) being directed instead.
Kanyakumari was fascinating, it is where the Arabian Sea, Indian Ocean and Bay of Bengal meet... and it is one of the Hindu holy places (where every Hindu aspires to visit at least once in a lifetime....) and it is dedicated to the goddess Parvati. The actual tip of the continent is very dramatic, large black rocks sit there, and there is a definite sense of some convergence. I had a comfortable (but extremely garish) hotel room with a great view of the ocean. The place is full of black-clad pilgrims... and the celebrations started way pre-dawn, (one advantage being you never miss a sunrise!), with unbelievably loud chanting and music coming through some of what must be the lowest quality speakers available to mankind. They even set off fireworks at mid-day. I then headed for Kerala.
Sometimes the whole language thing can throw you for a loop, but I was more than happy to believe the place I was headed was a mere 2 hours away on a bus. Right......#$%^ 6+ hours later, with 2 spent in a bustling bus station where every single person told me a different time and place to find the bus I needed, perhaps it was amusing seeing me run around jumping up at the windows and accosting every bus driver who arrived? Anyway, I finally wound up at my destination in the middle of the night... got into a hotel and woke up to absolute 3rd world bliss.
I was in Varkala, an idyllic place, mainly set up on a cliff overlooking the ocean. From there you can watch fantastic sunsets, sea eagles from practically eye level(amazing),eat great food, swim in warm beautiful water, have ayurvedic massages and various treatments, and to add to it all the people are warm, friendly and easygoing. The fishing boats look like miniature viking ships, and are quite dramatic as they are being launched. There are many Christians in Kerala(apparently 2% of Indians are Christian, and most of them here), and their churches are intriguingly Hindu-like, in that they tend to look like enormous iced wedding cakes, with an overly heavy handed use of cheap artificial food coloring! It might be naive of me, but it truly feels that the Christians, Hindus and Muslims are living very harmoniously together.
I was right back in familiar 'bali mode'... I had daily massages, and they were like nothing I have ever experienced (and really, really good). You lie on a simple wooden table, two people work on you, and they pour what feels like gallons of (strongly)herbal oil all over your body(and head), and give deep intensive work. The 'doctor' I had was great, and he even had an early morning yoga class on a rooftop in the coconut grove. The only thing I didn't like was the boiling hot rice in a bag that they applied all over your body after the massage... it was like being pounded with rice pudding in a gauze bag... yuck... way too hot and sticky for the tropics.
I had my hair hennaed by a woman who grew and ground up her own henna. She also 'threaded' my eyebrows... they hold plain strands of cotton between their teeth and create a t- construct with it that somehow plucks the eyebrows perfectly in less than 30 seconds... astonishing!
And the egrets came back in Varkala xo. I was walking along the beach at sunset and lo and behold one flew right over me. And that was just the beginning, now they are countless.****For my astrology friends.... the triple conjunction of Mars/Mercury/Jupiter was exactly on my Ascendant while in Varkala... and that day I did my normal thing.... yoga, had a massage, spoke to the man I'm in love with, sent thoughts to all the others I love (especially children... but there isn't a day when they aren't in my thoughts), swam in the Arabian Sea... and was even more than usually aware of the magical life I am living (it really did feel like a technicolor day).... and the fact that all my travels only confirm to me the beauty of this world.
Being in places like this makes it impossible for me to be pessimistic.On this day I also experienced something really moving on the beach. I was walking long and I could see a young Indian, (probably early '20s), laughing, jumping up and down and bringing his hands together into prayer position. Something was obviously delighting the heck out of this guy! So, ever nosy, I have to go and see what it is. And he was holding a 100 rupee note, with a portrait of Gandhi on it, and in the sand he was crafting a perfect, easily recognizable 3 dimensional image of (t)his great hero. Below the tide-line.... so obviously all the work he was doing would be swept away,(which I believe was part of the exercise). It was an act of pure love... and I then walked up to the cliff top and watched him from there... It kept him fully absorbed for hours, he would work on it a while... then jump back and do his little joyful prostration... then get back to work on it. He was spending an afternoon of dedication to someone he obviously loved and revered... in the way that he could.
I'm not sure why this impacted me more than any of the ashrams or the likes..... but it did? I guess because in truth I believe spirituality is deeply personal... and it is the smallest things that we show who we really are. This young man didn't need or want any acknowledgement from anyone, it was a very private ritual...
Needless to say it was really hard to drag myself away from Varkala, but it has actually only gotten better. Kerala is now right up there in my estimation with Bali (and the people are as warm and lovely as the Burmese). And this is a place I would recommend to friends who I know would have too hard a time with other places in India. It is almost like being in a completely different country (they do have the highest literacy rate, and the best healthcare system of anywhere in India... plus great pride in being Keralan)... It is completely laid back, could be all this water?... whatever it is, it has to be one of the most relaxed places I've ever been to.
From Varkala I hit the backwaters area of Kerala... much of the coast has miles of natural waterways and lakes adjacent to it, and it is a tropical paradise of coconut and mango groves where you can take different kinds of boats and explore for days.
I don't know how many days it is since I swore I wouldn't go to another ashram....? but it has to be just enough for me to need to completely eat my own words!! In 1998 or 99, while studying in England, somehow I ended up seeing a female guru in an obscure hall in North London. Her name is Amma(I'm using her abbreviated name...which means mother), and all she does is simply hug... thousands upon thousands of people. Her message is one of love... that's it. And I waited for several hours, chanting and watching, and finally got a lovely cuddle.
I was taking an 8 (in truth 10!) hour ferry ride up the canals of Kerala when I discovered that her ashram was halfway, and it was easy to jump off the ferry, spend the night, and then continue on the next day. However she is rarely there, as she travels the whole world.... giving her hugs and this simple message of kindness (she is considered to be an incarnation of all the goddesses... and her story is quite lovely). Anyway, I kept getting the typical mixed messages of, 'she's there', 'no, she's not'. So I decided if she was there I'd go, if not I wouldn't. Well I met a devotee' on the boat.. who knew for sure she was there.. so I hopped off the boat at the 15 storey pink ashram!!
I could literally write a small book on my 24 hours there... but to spare you I'll keep it short!!! Firstly, she does darshan at set times, and there are at least 14,000 or more people there when she is (she travels with an entourage of 500!!)... all waiting for a hug, so you can wait hours and hours. I was there barely an hour when by sheer chance I walked into the hall, and there she was! She was doing a small, completely impromptu darshan and I literally walked right up to her and got enveloped in this amazing woman's arms. No bells, whistles or great revelations.. just this completely beautiful human being who for 30 years has never missed a day of spreading her love. Needless to say I felt very lucky.And the rest of it..... Evelyn, be nice, be nice #$%^&*
Amma is doing great things for the community (and the world, no doubt at all), she has built e.g.. an orphanage, university and hospital, her message and deeds are selfless and wonderful. The ashram itself was full of all the complexities of PEOPLE... and it is a long time since I've seen so many depressed people in one place.. it had the slight air of a psych ward. And there were of course lots of delightful ones(all probably FAR more tolerant than moi).
The highlight was the 3 young women I shared a(very tiny) room with. All in their 20's, one from Australia, one from Mauritius.. and the other Russian.(who spoke not a single word of English). A delight all of them. But probably the nature of somewhere that houses the ultimate 'mother' figure, is obviously going to attract ALL kinds. Some people were staggeringly unfriendly and superior, others felt collapsed in and deeply sad... and some were open, warm and lovely(and many of I'm sure in permanent meditative states).
There is also a whole segregation thing going on that I don't understand. Indians and visitors are fed separately(and different food).... And there is even a canteen where some tables are marked 'west' and 'Indian'. Doesn't sit well with my Aquarian nature!!As I said, I have many thoughts on this experience. In truth it just isn't my thing, for both the devotee business and the crowds...as I get older I want to spend one on one time with people(and here I am organizing groups!!). I'm really glad I went, I got my hug, and I probably won't be going back (and on a completely bitchy note... I wonder if all those pasty, pale oh so serious people know how unflattering that head to toe white garb is, especially coupled with the scowling??).
I just finished reading a very funny, (and astute), book 'Holy Cow!' by an Australian named Sarah MacDonald. It is her account of living in India, and she visits the same ashram.. plus many others. I recommend it, it gives a great feel for India, and all its contradictions, joys and irritations.
And there is a 3rd ashram story! There is one in Kerala where they do a yoga teacher training course... called Shivananda. I've looked into it, a month long extremely intensive, 200 hour, certified, very affordable, my kind of yoga experience... that fits in perfectly with my workshop schedule in 2008. Can't think of anywhere better than Kerala to do it... and the people I met who'd just finished all had shining reports.... so I do believe I'll be coming back then. I don't want to actually be a yoga teacher... but I do want my practice to be at that level.
So lo and behold.. as I thought.. never say never...'cos all intentions get blown to smithereens when you (I!)do!!In the meantime I am now in another idyllic spot... Alleppey.. thanks to the Mauritian girl (who is an Amma devotee, and has been since the age of 10), who recommended this hotel. I am now in a room right on the edge of the waterway, it couldn't be more peaceful(except for the countless birds and temple chanting wafting across from the opposite shore).
I was actually planning to be on my way to Cochin today... but the entire country is on strike! So it is a fantastic place to be stranded... and I am determined to finish this letter! Last night I hired someone to row me around the little waterways at sunset in a canoe,(yes I could have done it myself.. but with my sense of direction and 90 kms of waterways god only knows where I'd be by now). It was great... and there are bats the size of hawks... I swear they looked like mini pterodactyls!
I have now decided to skip Cochin , I'm sure I'll be back one day, and I want to wind down on the sightseeing bit. Instead I am heading straight for an old British hill station in the Western Ghats(called Ooty)... so I will have a mountain experience and hopefully some hiking. Then I wend my way back to Chennai.. and in 9 days from now I will be in Egypt!!!
Just spent 6 hours on a train, + 5 on a bus... I'm now in Ooty and it is freezing! (no heaters in the 3rd world!)... bought a fleece the moment I got here. Plus I have a stinking cold and a very sore throat (boohoo for me#$%). So I may be out of here VERY quickly, except I can't face another bus just yet. Whatever possessed me to leave the lowland??? Except I did notice some signs that said.. 'homemade chocolate'... I might just be able to struggle through for a few days xo
Ooty, in the mountains (Western Ghats) of Southern India, was the last place I wrote from.... whining sneezing and shivering as I recall. Well as soon as I was attired like an Eskimo (with pockets full of the home-made chocolate... which was beyond divine), things started to look up. I stayed in the oddest hotel, it was quite quaint, overlooking the lake, and full of colonial time antiques... and since we were headed towards Xmas, it was decorated as such. Always rather incongruous in a Hindu country.... but all the decorations were definitely very old and dating back to pre-Independence times (40's).
The odd thing was not the decor, which in fact made me nostalgic for my wonderful Scottish Granny... but the women who ran the place. There were 3 of these tiny, tiny (almost midget size), but very round women who were almost scary, if they weren't so comical at the same time. They were little tyrants in jewel-colored saris. You only got hot water for 2 hours in the morning, and the smallest infraction (e.g. turning a light on before it was pitch black inside or out) resulted in severe reprimanding. And even if they were being friendly they were yelling and scowling at you. At the same time they would thrust their tip jar under your nose, and since they came to about my navel, this was a rather intimidating upward motion. And the funniest thing was the way they yelled at you, and each other, in these hobbit type voices. I would never recommend it or stay there again, because they were really quite mean...
I started wandering around in search of someone to trek with, and the whole area was steeped in Britishness, all of India is... but it was so much more obvious here. A boathouse, a racetrack,(now a giant weed patch..). Addresses like "Gymkhana Way" etc. etc. Also the British brought a lot of their native plants (so they wouldn't feel homesick), and the climate in this area is so much more like the UK that they thrived and so there is gorse, and many other plants that are not indigenous to the country. And how do I know this?... I found my guide!!
As luck would have it, I was approached by this man, who introduced himself as one of the tribal people of the area... a Toda. And they still have tribal land, their own religion and customs, and I was very fortunate because I was able to go to an area that is the private reserve of these people. It was another amazing experience. And I could write a whole book just on the day I spent with him. It was one of those days with a shaky beginning and a fabulous conclusion. We were a group of 5, the guide, myself, 2 Israeli honeymooners... and a lovely young Scottish lad (I may not want to live there, but I am always delighted when I get to spend time with my fellow countrymen).
Anyway our guide turned up late reeking of alcohol, whether from excessive indulgence the night before or his breakfast bevy I don't know? He had also apparently just been in an actual physical fight with some local Indians, being tribal and very different in looks and beliefs from the average Indian, the story was that they were jealous of his popularity with the tourists. Anyway our slightly bloodied, alcohol reeking guide piles us in the back of a pick-up and we drive and drive and drive... and drive for what seems like hours as we bounce around on rough mountainous roads. Just as we were beginning to get seriously worried, we did stop, and proceeded to have the most spectacular of days.
We soon understood the jealousy of the other guides, and the reason why 'Joe' (I've completely forgotten his name) was so popular. Here was a man who came from the simplest of tribal roots, very little formal education who had taught himself to be fluent in 2 languages, English and German, and was now teaching himself Japanese. He loved to read great literature and poetry, and I could have listened to him for weeks. His clothes were threadbare, and even although he was in high demand and beyond rich in intelligence and brilliance, he was definitely an economically "poor" man. And because he was of the Toda tribe, we were able to trek through their land (the Indians cannot take you there).
The mainstay of their life is the buffalo, the smoother haired ones with the giant curved racks of horns... and extremely large. What is fascinating is that the people are complete vegetarians; the buffalo are technically wild and wander around at will, but they use the milk, and cheese is a mainstay of their diet. The Toda are animists by faith, and very occasionally sacrifice a buffalo as an offering... but even then they don't eat it. They will give the meat to a neighboring tribe. This info from an encyclopedia shows how I lucky I was to have this experience..
Not so sure I like this idea!!
We were welcomed into people's homes with the typical hospitality and graciousness of those who have very little, but what they do have they share open-heartedly. They enveloped us in warmth and plied us with chai strong enough to stand a spoon up in. We also stopped at a village for migrant workers... although apparently the British brought them from other areas of India generations ago... but they are still not considered "local". It was really impressive how much everyone loved and revered our alcoholic (I don't know when he took sips, but his eau d'alcohol scent did NOT dissipate) guide with the off the scale IQ.
Besides the cultural experience, the landscape was beautiful and we followed a herd of buffalo for a while and had a complete education on the meaning of all the plants, peppered with philosophy, politics, history and any other subject we might want to hear about. Then we ended up taking a local bus back to Ooty, and while we waited for the bus played a game like shuttleboard (with bottle caps) in the back room of a funky cafe with the local betel-chewing (and spitting!) men.
The next day I headed for Mysore at 6 am. When buying my ticket the night before I asked for a seat in the front with a good view (they are small buses packed to beyond sardine capacity). This little bus shows up at my hotel packed to the gunnels, but they have (completely without resentment) saved me the prize seat next to the driver, with everyone smiling and greeting the foreigner as I get on. No rancor at my self indulgence, just kindness and warmth.The reason I wanted a good seat (besides the 6 hours of winding roads without a hair of space between you and the body next to you) was because we were going through 2 game reserves, and I wanted to see as much as possible. And yes, we saw several elephants in the wild... it was thrilling, and as much for the Indians as myself. We would stop the bus at watch them. There were also beautiful large deer and lots of monkeys.
Everybody wanted to make sure I didn't miss anything, so would very pointedly get my attention if they thought I'd missed seeing something.All in all it was an amazing drive. It was also all down-hill to the lowlands and a warm climate (phew). Mysore is famous for its palace and sandalwood. And I didn't miss either. I also took a tour of some very famous temples and the museums and art galleries. Besides all the colonial stuff, some of the paintings are exquisite... but they were nearly all covered in dust and displayed in windowless rooms with a 25 watt bare bulb as the only source of light. So the only way to see them was through peering and contortionism to find the optimum angle for getting some kind of good viewing.
The Palace was beautiful (but quite gaudy) and of course shockingly incongruent with the extreme poverty just outside the walls. India is sooo intense and I was just starting to hit saturation point while in Mysore, because it is more of a touristy city, so there is a lot of vying for tourist business. I had evidence of my increasingly threadbare patience, when I practically snapped the head off some poor man with a horse and carriage for rent. He hopefully shadowed and pleaded with me for about 2 blocks, when the "devil"took me and I turned on my heels and became that woman in the Exorcist (head spinning and all). But it worked... he retreated rapidly... and everyone else around took a few steps back to avoid the wrath of the "white she devil"!
Suddenly it truly was India wind-down time... I took the 8 hour fast train to Chennai, completing a large, clean loop through Southern India. I had a couple of days to regroup there, so I found the "good" bookstore... and a lovely little beauty shop and had a facial (having turned into a complete lizard in the chilling atmosphere of the mountains) and I had my hair hennaed (I was rapidly sprouting a halo of white, and this was when I surrendered to the fact that my hair had won!). Now if I had just stayed in India, since they are masters of henna application, I could have kept my red hair forever!
With fingers crossed I went to the left luggage 'shed' in the airport and retrieved the suitcase I had left there, (with ultimately rewarded great faith), 3 weeks before. It was covered in about an inch of grim... but otherwise completely intact. Although, unbeknownst to me, there was a whole suitcase saga coming up in my near future...
So onto Egypt... I was on my way to do something I'd NEVER done before. In fact... something embarrassing for a veteran traveler... something I had said I would never, ever do. As we know, "never say never"! So I, the traveling snob, took an actual organized tour. And let me say it was most humbling, because it turned out to be fabulous. For a start I want to recommend this Australian company to everybody.. http://www.intrepidtravel.com/ They are a company who go everywhere in the world, from the wilds of Tibet to Paris, and they have different classes of trips, from basic cheap to much more luxurious, and there are never more than 12 in a group.
The people in my group who had past experience with them had only rave reviews... and I came away ready to sign up again next time I wanted to do a "sight-seeing" type trip.And that's what this was... I had 8 days and I wanted to see as much as possible of the wonders of Egypt... and I did! Back in the early '70's, at the peak of my hippie days, I spent 3 months on a beach in the Sinai that was then Israel, but is now Egypt. I had however never seen the pyramids or any of the great temples or tombs. It was whirlwind, but we missed not a thing... and we were ferried here, there and everywhere, with all tickets and arrangements taken care of. It wasn't a luxurious tip, we traveled on public transport and stayed in medium range places, but we took trains, feluccas, camels, donkeys, even a hot air balloon... and it was really fun. It also cost less than $800 for everything, except a few meals (and the balloon ride!)... it would have been impossible to do it that reasonably solo.
It was borderline exhausting, but that was okay because I was on my way to being a slug in England. My main motivation for choosing this route, was that I know how it is for a woman traveling alone in this kind of country. And it isn't that it feels dangerous, I think that it can be just as dangerous in LA... it is always about being aware and sensible. But what you get is an inordinate amount of attention, for being western... and female, and when I travel I much prefer to blend into the background, and having just been alone in India for 3 weeks I needed something more hassle-free. Plus my time there was just too short for me to settle in, get the lay of the land and then make plans. And even being with the group there was still the (inevitable) hustling going on, even more than in most places... including India.
In one particularly bad hotel, I had 2 people show me to my room, one holding the key, the other my bag... then 2 hands go out for a tip! At the pyramids one girl in the group was physically hauled onto a camel and then forced to pay... god help them if they'd tried that with me! And of course, this is how they make a living... but it was over the edge of mildly intrusive and into the realm of extremely annoying. And I have friends (women) who know Egypt well and are completely at ease traveling anywhere there, because they are familiar with all the logistics.
Loved, loved, loved the amazing wonders of Egypt... and my life is enriched by having seen them first hand... it is completely awe-inspiring. Except for... and once more I'm going to sound like a heathen... the Pyramids. Of all the places I saw for some reason they didn't "knock my socks off". Of course they are astonishing structures.. but all I could think was... this was one person's tomb.. what an unbelievable ego!$%^&* And perhaps also because we are bombarded with images of them (in really good lighting!), that the reality doesn't quite match up. And the Sphinx is actually quite small. But Luxor, Aswan, Abu Simbel, Valley of the Kings, Cairo Museum... these places were more amazing than I even imagined.
We also spent time with the locals... we had tea with one family who made us watch their wedding video... 2 hours of poor quality film of whooping and hollering, and many shots of people's feet as the cameraman joined in the dancing! The tour- leaders were local people, which is what really makes the difference. And for the record, I adore riding a donkey (I still have a dream of owning "Donkeyote"!), but I will be happy if I never get on another camel again as long as I live!
I could write a mini discourse on the plight of women and certain social injustices... but I zipped in and out in my highly privileged state of being an independent, western female.. so easy for me to say! We were invited to a meal at another home, hosted by 3 lovely young sisters, who turned out to be highly educated, a doctor, a lawyer and a teacher. None of whom were married, and I asked them what would happen to their careers when (if?) they marry. And of course the answer was that it would be 100% their husband's choice.. just as who they married would be their father's choice.
We also spent time with a wonderful Nubian man, who was quite frank about the suffering of his tribe due to the building of the Nasser Dam and various other stories atypical to minorities throughout the world. They are such striking people, and they still maintain the air of proud and noble warriors. Traveling down the Nile on a felucca as breathtaking, although our trip was cut short because of fierce winds... I can in all honesty say that I was fully immersed in the Nile, as everybody in the boat was completely drenched within 20 minutes of setting sail.
Spent a non-Xmas in a Muslim country, which suits me fine... although a lovely Aussie woman on the tour most kindly had a stocking full of goodies for everyone.I made a rather dramatic exit from Egypt. Because of tricky timing, I flew ahead of the group from Aswan to Cairo, hoping to catch my flight onto the UK. And suddenly there is my suitcase on the carousel... with everything spilling out everywhere.. literally. The zipper had somehow blown out, and there is nothing quite like trying to gather one's undies up publicly in a Muslim country of mostly men, where what few women you do see are most conservatively covered (to say the least!).
Since the flight was already late, I had about 10 minutes to make my connecting flight. I grabbed 2 young men... who proceeded to extort me for 3 weeks wages to help me up a flight of stairs (and then abandoned me with still about half a km further to go!). I managed to find one of those plastic wrap machines to temporarily patch up my decimated suit-case... and then in a country where I was assured that no flight was ever on time... I missed the only one that actually was!!!
I have learned during my travels, that certain behaviors can get you out of potential jams. For example, in Indonesia if you are driving the police will occasionally stop "tamu" (foreigners), and make a great fuss about checking your papers. The point of course being to get a little baksheesh... but if as a woman you start crying they get horribly disorientated and often just wave you on.... Weeell, I was actually so frustrated with having missed my flight (and the whole suitcase fiasco), and the fact that I was then going to miss another connection (in London)... and had discount/non refundable tickets, etc, etc, that I did actually (for real) burst out crying at the check-in counter.
As luck would have it I did it in front of a man who practically fell to his knees begging me not to cry... god only knows what his story was but he completely freaked out. Me weeping, him begging... suddenly miraculously they got me onto the next flight out of there. It was to Munich... but what the heck, he would have done ANYTHING to stop me crying... and it was in the right direction!!
So here I am... in Germany. I just went up to a random ticket counter and asked for some guidance about calling my friend who was picking me up in Manchester (and there seemed not a chance in heaven or hell I was going to get there in time)... and the "gods" were with me yet again. Not only did my "Angel from Lufthansa" let me use his phone.. he also heard my dilemma through my conversation (I couldn't reach my friend she was already on her way but I did talk to someone else), but somehow he pulled strings to get me onto a Lufthansa flight directly to Manchester that arrived at exactly the same time as the one I as currently missing from Gatwick. And it wasn't even the airline I had my original ticket with, nobody can tell me that there isn't still a world full of kind and caring people out there!
So I actually made it to Manchester on time, after missing a flight, being rerouted through a different country, and on an airline I didn't have a ticket for, thanks to an Egyptian who was completely undone by a woman crying, and a German motivated by selfless kindness! Tell me that every single day isn't full of surprises?
So I was back in Jolly Old England, and re-united with one of my best friends Melanie. It was New Years Eve the next day, so I immediately saw lots of old friends. In truth it was ultimately a sobering trip, I was there for 10 days and all remnants of a faint yearning to ever live there again vanished. I love that part of the world, but my short absences always result in my being acutely aware of shocking changes. England doesn't feel like England any more to me... and more to the point I so love living in the soulfulness of Bali, I can't imagine trading it for anywhere else.
I had a great time with Mel though, and lots of time to walk around the river and commune with my favorite creatures, the swans... and to take some great hikes. I was also well rewarded for having taken my Uggs on an around the world trip... I would like to shake the hand of whoever designed those life-savers. England in January is chilly beyond words.
After 10 days it was time to "close the circle", one more time around the globe! I stopped in Boston to see friends, Chicago to see daughter and onto Los Angeles from whence I began... And then back to the glorious "Trout Farm", and all my wonderful friends in Santa Ynez.
But in truth I was only there 3 weeks before I headed to Bolivia with John, time enough to unpack, drag my winter clothes out of storage and repack for the highlands of South America.
January the 15th and I am right back where I started, in Santa Ynez, having circled the globe since last July. I am just completing another (more sobering) circle... I was at the car wash the other day, and I looked over and saw a sign that said "Senior Discount 55 and over". I almost fell off my chair.... I will be 55 in 1 week (and probably 55 and a half by the time I finish and send this!). So, remember when you are 25 and hoping to be carded? Well in the blink of an eye, here I am hoping, hoping I will be carded when I ask for that senior discount (it of course didn't happen). Because, unlike some of my friends who tell me they refuse to acknowledge this and ask for the discount, I am a true Scot and will be asking for it!
And the above experience was followed by a free magazine and solicitation from AARP... how did they find me? Stupid question I know, and the truth is, apart from the aforementioned surprises I'm loving this "getting older" business, or more to the point I'm loving how I feel at this point in my life.
I am sitting in the rice fields of Bali once more, with 2 workshops coming up. It is certainly simpler now that I already have 3 under my belt, a wonderful network of support, and some hard (and helpful) earned experience behind me. The whole workshop idea is starting to sprout wings, and a new website is in the works (thanks to my unfailingly amazing friend and webmistress Jean). "Heaven and Earth Workshops" is to be the new name (I now own 6 domain names because I couldn't make up my mind!), and it will not only be astrology, neither will they be held only in Bali.
More will be revealed about that later, enough to say I have 6 workshops scheduled next year (gulp). 2 astrology, and 4 on other things.Life continues to be wondrous here, I fall more in love with Bali all the time and can't imagine not living here. I just took a 5 year contract out on my house... and I am even doing the thing I swore I never would (why does that ALWAYS happen?), I am looking at actually building something. Actually not building but constructing something. I keep telling my good friend here, Alejandra, that she is "ruining my life"! And the reason is she is a designer/architect, and everything she does is beyond fabulous.... and then I want one too! She has bought a 200 year old Javanese wooden house (so full of soul and history, and for "a song"), and is moving it onto her property.
Alej and I are doing a couple of workshops together next year, because one of her (many) projects is finding her clients the most amazing things (like moveable houses!) and then shipping them to wherever they need to go. So a "Shopping Workshop" is in the works and already scheduled, although not officially announced, with lots of wonderful Balinese experiences thrown in as well.Anyway I am hoping I wake up one day to realize I don't want a Joglo (you can Google and see what they are)... my life will be much simpler if I can purge this particular desire. And of course there have been at least 5 glaringly synchronous events telling me I might not exactly be in control here.
No matter what happens I would keep the renting the house I'm in, I've put a lot into it and it is beautiful, and I could easily sub-let it or just use it for my friends, you know who you are... and when are you coming?? Addendum since 1st writing this... it looks like I lost the battle and I am now about to become a more rooted home owner here in Bali, but all my doubts are dissipating and I have the feeling this is going to be a very creative, positive shift. I believe this is exactly why I am not someone who the "Secret" and "Abraham" teachings work for (with all due respect to those who it DOES work for beautifully). My life always seems to move in curious loops and shifts, and almost without fail.. NOT getting what I want takes me onto something completely surprising and magical, and right.. although right is definitely not the 'right' word #$%^&
Another even bigger change in my life has been that John and I are no longer a "couple", but we are still close and continue to care for each other very much. Even although it was the right (there's that odd word again!) thing to do, it has been hard and sad, but time really does heal, and the fact that we continue to be supportive of one another helps a lot.
On a far more trivial note, I have gone from having long dark red hair... to short blonde! The grey won, so after traveling around the world with a suitcase full of henna (or having my friends FedEx-ing to some jungle... this has happened), I surrendered to something easier. Well not exactly surrendered, the short cut is because you cannot just remove henna... 1st I had green hair, then blue... then I cut it off.
And it is actually fantastic having short hair in the tropics...I believe the reason I found the steam (inspiration) to write again is because I have my next adventure planned. I was originally going to Nepal and India with John, but since that shifted I've been playing with India, Tibet or Cambodia... but nothing stuck as an idea. Then 2 days ago I realized I didn't want or need to travel that far. I really want to see more of Indonesia, and those places closer by, the immediate area is vast and incredibly diverse and I have only seen a teensy part so far.
I was inspired by a quick trip I just took to Java to the stunning 9th century Buddhist temples of Borobudur. I went to research a trip my November group is taking there, and it was wonderful.I do have to leave Indonesia for visa reasons, and I have given myself a month to do something, I will be leaving in mid September right after the 1st workshop and returning mid October.
Long story (not so!) short, is that I don't need to go too far, and I am going to Borneo(Sarawak), which is actually relatively close and the island itself is part Malaysia and mostly Indonesia. I made this decision after determining that I will be able to get to Internet service every couple of days... it sounds like a terrible dependency problem, but I will have a workshop very soon after (November) and that is when there are (hopefully) last minute sign-ups and my attention is truly needed.
I went into a fog a couple of weeks ago and decided I was going to Mt Kailash in Tibet, supposedly one of the most holy mountains on the planet... but it is a 3 week trek into the wilds, where there would DEFINITELY be no high-speed, low speed or any speed whatsoever. I did all the research, felt happy and certain about it... and then woke up in the middle of the night realizing I was not at liberty to completely vanish for weeks on end and completely sabotage and abandon something I'd worked on for over a year! Earth to Evelyn loud and clear.
However Borneo can work, and I can still climb a mountain (Mount Kinabulu), see orangutans in the wild (yeah!)... and trek through some amazing places, where the head-hunters are (hopefully) no longer practicing on 55 year old white females! Apparently there are wonderful beaches also, and places with rare turtles and many wild dolphins... rhinos and pygmy elephants, which have to be the cutest things on the planet. And in between adventures I can scurry off to the nearest cyber cafe!
This is one of the best times of the year in Bali, it is their Winter, so it is cooler and supposedly there is hardly any rain. Well, just like everywhere else on the planet the weather is "on its head"... it is cooler, but there has been an unprecedented amount of rain (I have put in a loud request that it stops for my workshop next month!), and the Balinese themselves don't know what to make of it. I quite like it, right now the fields have just been planted so I'm sitting in the middle of an ocean of flooded fields, with the rice just beginning to sprout... and with the cool rain it feels so clean and refreshing.
Before coming back to Bali, I spent 10 days in Bangkok, which I believe may have completely depleted my love for that city. It is so unbelievably crowded, and the traffic unbearable... with perhaps the worse thing being the emissions and pollution. I gave up my motorbike habit this time and went for the taxis.. because trying to hold your breathe with your eyes tightly shut while weaving through insane traffic clutching onto a nineteen year old driver who hasn't yet learned the meaning of the word fear suddenly lost its novelty (funny how that happens!).
At least the food is fabulous and the people delightful, and Bangkok still remains the place for excellent, affordable medical care(did all my check-ups and even got some vaccinations), so I'm not going to be able to completely erase it from 'my map'. And I actually do have a personal map... if I can't stand a place I just pretend it doesn't exist any more... and I don't go back! Besides that the world is far too full of places I haven't seen for me to want to back-track too much. With Bali being the absolute exception to the rule... and of course those places that are home to my dearest, most precious kids and friends.
Going somewhat backwards here, bear with me please... This was my trip to South America, prior to the last adventures
My last missive ended as I was headed for Bolivia in January. It was a very positive "return" journey. I was last there in 1997, with dear Louis, and this time with another sweetheart, Johnny B... and it really hadn't changed much. Once more we traveled from one end to the other, with one of the highlights being another visit to the Salar de Uyuni, the largest salt lake in the world. And the Salar is only part of it, it is a spectacular wilderness area bordering on Chile that is only accessible by 4 wheel drive, a very intense and bumpy 4 day trip. The highest point is at 17,000 feet and you come across every kind of terrain; snow, desert, geysers, hot springs, lakes full of flamingos.... a lake with no life in it because it is full of arsenic, but the most vivid green you can imagine (appropriately named Laguna Verde).
Much of the area is so surreal it looks as though it is straight out of a Dali painting, and he did in fact paint there, a cluster of rather phallic looking rocks in a desert area are even named "Salvador Dali Rocks"... I'm sure that would delight his modest soul!It is an absolute wonderworld, with herds of vicuna (a small and wild member of the llama family), lots of llamas, birds of every description and chinchillas, (cute as can be, but apparently just a very large rodent!).. The salt lake itself is wondrous, the light magical as you drive cross what feels and looks like a massive still mirror. There is a small island on the middle, Isla des Pescados (although of course not a fish in sight!), covered in giant towering cacti, some apparently 1,800 years old.
We stayed in a hotel completely built out of salt, and it was a really strange feeling being in there, a lot like being in the Polish salt mines... something to do with reversal of the ions?... which I understand not at all, but it certainly felt bizarre.It was a month of non-stop intensive travel. It included a visit to the mines in Potosi, the oldest silver mine in the world, at one time the richest city in the world.. and the most primitive mine conditions imaginable... boys as young as 12 years old working in archaic conditions (completely heartbreaking to see)... and every single person who works down there gets silicosis (a fierce and terminal lung disease) after 15 years, and still it is coveted work because the alternative is abject poverty. And of course when the silver prices plummet they go hungry, so here's to us paying a healthy (= humane) price for our jewelry so that their sacrifices aren't for nothing!
John "the jeweler" and I did have a couple of heated discussions about this...A couple of places I hadn't been to before were Tarija and Tupiza, near the Argentine border. Incredibly beautiful lush farmland, (many vineyards), and red rocks to match anything found in Sedona. Plus the most hair-raising mountainous road between these 2 towns... with no other mode of transport available, except for a ludicrously expensive jeep taxi.. and those drivers were more daring than the bus-drivers. I must have spent about half of the 8 hours with my eyes tightly closed as our mad bus-driver careened up and down unpaved mountainous roads, taking hair-pin turns at what seemed to be 90 miles an hour. I know it seems like I am always having these kinds of experiences.. I honestly don't seek them out!
Every place in Bolivia is such high elevation, that actually going down to around 7,000 feet (Sucre) was a relief, on average we were usually at 13,000+ ft... phew. I must admit it was tougher on me this time than 10 years ago, a few headaches and some pretty sleepless nights, but fortunately only for the first couple of weeks .There were too many adventures to recount, and in summation it was incredible.. and Bolivia still rates up there as one of my favourite places in the world.Once more went to the "Island of the Sun" on Lake Titicaca, and saw the sad little Bolivian Navy patrolling round and round the lake as it has done since it lost its coastline to Chile... a very long time ago. They never give up hope that they will one day win it back... so there it is... Armada de Bolivia, the Navy without an ocean!Interesting aside, in La Paz we noticed that every one of the shoe-shine boys wore woollen balaclava-type hats that only exposed their eyes. Bit sinister looking actually, and I had to enquire about this, because in Peru this job usually goes to very poor street children who are nearly all glue addicts. These were obviously, by their build, older males. It turns out that they are all students, studying law, medicine and the likes, and this is how they help pay their way through school... So the reason for the hats is they don't want to be recognized, probably because they don't want their future clients/patients saying "didn't you clean my loafers once?"
Last time I was in Bolivia I journeyed into the interior, to an area where there isn't much of anything, but in my obsessive way I had to see where Che Guevara died (Vallegrande).. and to lie on the same slab in the laundry where they laid out his body (yes I know I'm weird!). In fact while I was there, so were many Cubans looking for his body, and they found it about a month after I left... absolutely nothing to do with me I swear.This time around I demanded we go out of our way to the pitiful little mining town where Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid (supposedly) made their last stand and are buried. It really was one of the grimiest mining towns imaginable, and there is much speculation as to whether it is actually them buried in the little churchyard, although X does mark the spot, with a very big (mis-spelled) sign announcing their last stand, death and burial. I've since done some research on them, and besides the haziness around where and how they came to their demise, Robert Redford and Paul Newman they were NOT!
We took one internal flight from La Paz to Tarija (in order to avoid an additional 36 hours on a bus, $40 very well spent I'd say), the security was practically non existent, nobody spoke a word of English, and all check-in staff, stewardesses and pilots were in jeans and t-shirts! Then on the way back to the US there was an unexpected 4 day layover in Miami (we were flying on passes thanks to my wonderful "you know who you are!" friend), but due to floods etc. all over the country, it was impossible to get a flight on to LA, especially as we were at the wrong end of the stand-by list!
So having survived the extreme altitude, the street food, all the hair-raising bus travel and the outback of Bolivia, I finally got sick from Miami Airport fast food. Feeling really wiped out we succumbed to getting a hotel room, and then darted back and forth to the airport until we finally got out of there.So back to the US, and I went into high gear work mode and started seeing clients 7 days a week. It is a part of my life I love with a passion, so it is far from a hardship, and since I don't work this intensely all the time (I really do have the life of a tropical Riley), it is still a rich, rewarding and constantly evolving part of my life. And of course I do have to support my travel addictions and Bali-life somehow.
However, lest anyone feel sorry for me, between February and July I still managed to go to Chicago, Sedona, Mexico, Seattle and Santa Fe... some work related, some fun... but on every trip I saw someone(s) very dear to me.
And another time jump!!
So, I last wrote as I was getting ready for workshop number 4... the lowest in attendance to date, and an "interesting" one for lots of reasons. In truth it went really well... reminding me of something I heard recently (and I don't have a clue who or where it came from so I have paraphrased... ), "Worrying definitely works... because hardly anything I worry about ever comes to pass."
This workshop brought this message home loud and clear, not that things didn't "happen"... it was just that they looked nothing like I thought they would...In fact, although at the time I was pulling my hair out... there are some amusing stories to tell. One extremely exuberant attendee got distressed by the caged ducks in the rice fields. They are caged because they are valuable to the Balinese, they "work" by fertilizing and de-bugging the fields after the harvest, and of course they are also eaten. They are completely domesticated and cannot fly, so they are prey to being stolen, or else ravaged by the hungry street dogs. Anyway, this woman decided to rescue these particular ducks, so she made her way from the hotel, through the rice field in a red wetsuit and goggles (I'm NOT making this up!), and freed them. Very irate farmer then rounds them up and recages them.. and she does it again!!
I am by now of course getting fall-out, the Balinese, (as are any farming people), can't afford to be sentimental about their animals and in their minds this woman was crazy... and to some degree vandalizing their property. Long story short, she buys the ducks so they can have a "better life" and they are removed to another village to be "retired". Although I'd bet a lot of rupiah they are all duck a la mango sauce by now! The clashing of cultures is somewhat inevitable, and something I am learning to navigate... I know the Balinese appreciate the workshops for the work they bring, and that they genuinely like the "tamu" (visitors). They are unfailingly gracious, non-judgmental and warm... but when we aren't around I'm quite sure there is a lot of head shaking and bewilderment at how some of us behave.
Many people in the village now greet me by name.. although I only actually know about 2% of them personally... at first this really took me aback, but now I take it as acknowledgment that this is my home.And talking of home... I have now leased 6 ara of land for 20 years, and most cleverly (if I say so myself) it is right next to where my dear friend Alejandra, architect and designer extraordinaire is building!! She won't allow me to go wrong on the building, plus we can share wells, pathways, and our banana plantation! I also just reserved (sight unseen.. but I did see the photos!), a teak Javanese house on stilts to put on it. Things are suddenly moving much faster than expected....Now I just need to make a medium sized pile of money so I can put it all together...! I'm taking it as a positive challenge, now that I have made this commitment, it is going to be the motivation to get some other projects going in Bali. I have moments when I wake up in the middle of the night thinking "what have I done... can I pull this off??" But in the light of day, of course I can... and I think it is rather apparent to all who know me that I actually thrive on challenges.
My greatest (and most heartfelt) confirmation was right after I closed the deal and was having a minor panic attack... my wonderful Ilhu came up to my room and told me that she had been praying in her temple every day that I would never leave Bali... and my buying the land was her answer to those prayers. So we had a happy little cry, and there you have it, how could I doubt providence after that? Once I have my "new" house put together, I will still keep renting the house I'm in for at least another 5 years... I just took out the whole front wall and put in glass, so it is now really open and much lighter and brighter. I'm finding it easy to sub-let it while I am not there, which makes it worth keeping and provides constant work for Ilhu. Suddenly the area I am in is "hot property", and every house in the rice fields is contracted long-term, I have already had 3 people trying to rent it over Xmas.
3 days after the workshop ended I headed to the airport to fly to Kuala Lumpur and then Borneo.... only I had the time wrong and had missed my flight.. so of course I also missed the next connecting one. So back to Ubud, very embarrassedly... multiple good-byes I do not like, so I snuck over to Alej's house and hid there ( at least she found my plight amusing!). Truth is I couldn't have gone back to my house anyway, it was already rented out..
2nd time was a charm.. and I finally found myself in the delightful town of Kuching (which means cats, and there are LOTS), in Sarawak, Borneo.Borneo is primarily Indonesian, but I am on the north west strip that belongs to Malaysia. The traveling has turned out to be rather intense... lots of long river trips, logging roads (a story unto itself), or the need to fly because there are no roads! I am now taking a quick trip to Kota Kinabulu, Sabah, close to Mount Kinabulu, the highest mountain in Asia (as usual since starting writing I have covered a lot of miles and several weeks)... I had really wanted to climb this mountain (it is walkeable to the top.. 13,000 feet... piece of cake after Bolivia!!).
However my beloved Ecco boots spent 2 years in Bali waiting for such a trip.. but when I got them to Borneo, I found the soles had melted, as they do in the tropics... Consequently I have been trudging through a lot of jungles in my Tevas and because it has been so wet and muddy I have developed a crop of blisters that look like I have climbed several mountains. Sad to say my feet have grounded me!
In Kuching I ended up in a hotel above a street market where they were celebrating the Chinese "Moon cake Festival" (I love Asia!!)... and on the very 1st night there were traditional Muslim women drummers and chanters right below my window. I was optimistic that it might be a sleepless night, but I was so delighted to be there I was sure it would be a happy one.
Well it was a VERY sleepless night because after the Muslim chanters came the karaoke at a million decibels, "happy" was definitely not the dominant sentiment at 1am.. that will teach me. I had been so excited to find this room, because it had a window! Yes, I discovered that windowless hotel rooms are very common here. The traditional houses are "longhouses".. that can house close to 100 families in huge long structures on stilts... apparently they originated so when there were invasions (from headhunters and the likes), everyone was safer being technically in the same building.And what does this have to do with no windows? Well these longhouses are really quite dark inside, making them cooler in the jungle of course, and consequently windows aren't so important to them. And I hadn't realised how important they were to me until I spent a couple of nights without one... I am pickier than I thought, I don't like it one bit! In one room I only had a tiny sky-light that was literally 14" x 4", and I greatly cherished that smidgen of natural light.
Malaysian Borneo is an interesting mix of Malay, Chinese, Indian and Tribal people... multiple different tribes. According to everyone I've spoken to here they all live together very harmoniously. Malaysia is a Muslim country, but most of the tribal people are now Christians. They were converted from animism through missonaries and the British Occupation, and are mainly Anglican, Catholic and Methodist (although many still practise animism to a degree). The Indians are descendents of workers and soldiers that the British again brought in, and I met a couple of guides whose fathers were Nepalese Gurkhas. Then of course when the British left they had no way of getting home.
While wandering around Kuching one day I suddenly found myself in an enclosed Muslim marketplace. Being the only tall (now blonde) whitey in there... I kind of stood out, and the whole place turned around at once and I swear they bathed me in the warmest, most generous group smile. It was one of those moments that take your breath away, and remind you of how truly kind people can be, despite any preconceptions or religious differences... And nobody was trying to sell me anything, it is remarkably hassle-free in that way... plus there are government laws about fixed pricing.
As usual I haven't bought a thing... except for several of the local chocolate bars! In truth there isn't much to buy, and what they have is straight from Indonesia anyway." Friendly" is a word that does not even begin to describe Malaysia... I must have heard "Welcome to Malaysia/Sarawak/Sabah" over a thousand times from people of all ages.
From Kuching I went to see the orangutan in one of the only 4 reserves in the world where you can see them in the wild. I'm trying not to gush here... but it was one of those experiences that you will never forget, in a very good way. First of all, we were apparently very lucky because we saw 7 at very close quarters, including a small baby, a couple of mischievous youngsters... and the dominant male... Ricky! What magnificent, beautiful creatures, it was breathtaking watching them move through the trees.. and then seeing the male just chomp into a coconut like it was an apple.
I spent a couple of days at a coastal park called Bako, only accessible by boat, and did some great treks and saw proboscis monkeys, silver face ones, and lots of the rascally little macaques. Also wild boars, tree frogs, endless butterflies and a bright green (big!) tree viper.I then started on a bit of a long-house trail, and took a 2-day river trip to remoter parts, hardly a tourist to be seen. Loved seeing the river life... but could have done without the blaring movies they so love to have on, (and I now know who is still watching all the old Steven Seagal movies!). The boat engines are incredibly loud, and they turn up the videos as loud as possible in attempt to drown them out... so you can only imagine?
The end of the navigable river (before the dam that nobody can explain the reason for.... ) is a small town called Belaga. Actually met a young German couple who live in China, and we shared a guide to take us to some of the more remote longhouses. We spent a night in the chiefs' part of one longhouse. Many of these people were head-hunters but now being Christians they don't like to talk about that! The older people still have the tattoos and the stretched ear-lobes (almost to their shoulders) ... but nobody under about 65 has these markings, so in one generation it will be a thing of the past. Apparently it is not unusual, in the longhouse culture, for women to live to be 115, and the men 90. They say this is because of their stress -free lives.
Of course the young people are leaving for the cities, and in a way they have to. The life style is dying out because they are rapidly losing their natural resources. The people in the longhouse we stayed at put on a traditional dance for us, only their clothes were all sequins and garish colours.... and oddly Vegas-like (not at all tribal looking). They had paper feathers taped to their hands, because they no longer have the horn-bills that they used to collect the real feathers from. And the reason is the logging. This has been the harsh reality-hit part of this trip. You hear about clear-cutting and logging, but when you suddenly see it and find yourself hearing firsthand how it is affecting people's lives, it becomes nauseatingly real.
I started my travels on the river, and the trees and foliage around the banks are still pretty lush... but then would come the rafts piled high with logs, proving that what you were seeing was a bit of an illusion. And then talking to the tribal people you hear how the animals have all gone upriver because there are no more forests. Then I started going overland from Belaga to the north, on a rather arduous logging road... and all of a sudden it was just plain shocking. A decimated landscape, with patches of how it once was... like a cancer or a parasite moving through the landscape. I actually felt my spirits falling, and I had several days of sadness and outrage over this. It is irreversible and seemingly unstoppable, and living "in your face proof" of what so many people are telling us.
They are cutting down the hardwoods that take centuries to grow and are home to countless species. I travel a lot but have never seen anything on this scale before, and in my naivety I didn't think about what I'd be seeing before I came.I took 6 internal flights and it is even more shocking to see it from the air... and then once in a while you fly over a stretch of virgin forest, and it is breathtakingly beautiful. While in the lovely little remote town of Bareo, I was told that the loggers are just 5 km away and coming in from every direction, and there is an ever present haze in the distance form the burning.
I keep thinking back to Greece, which was also completely forested at one time, and how they lost their forests to boat-building centuries ago. So it is far from a new practice, it just seems to be going at breakneck speed now. I have a seemingly unresolveable moral dilemma myself. I was so shocked at what I'd seen here that I stated out loud that from now on I would only buy antique wood... otherwise I only wanted to use bamboo. Never say never, within 48 hours of saying this, my friend Alejandra sends me pictures of exactly the house I've been imagining, I have literally dreamt of this house. HOWEVER... it is teak, it is affordable... but it is only 9 years old. I don't have an answer, except that it feels like it is "my house".. and yet it flies in the face of something I feel very strongly about... And yes I'm getting it, so in truth I am as much a part of the problem as anyone.
It is of course also easy to lament and wax sentimental at the loss of certain lifestyles and traditions.. as a visitor. But truth be told, if time were to have stood still around my own heritage, I would be in the highlands of Scotland, braving the elements, married to some thuggish Neanderthal wearing a kilt, collecting peat, slogging over an open fire making thistle soup with heather in my hair. Phew, I am most happy to have escaped that fate!
One remote place I visited a tiny settlement called Bareo. No phones, no electricity (they have generators they turn on for about 3 hours a night), no roads... the only way in or out is on a little twin prop plane. Everything they don't grow themselves comes in on these planes, and of course without electricity there is no refrigeration. I came on the plane with chickens, and coke cans piled to the ceiling. The oddest thing was when lining up to check-in for the flight, a complete stranger came up to me and asked me to carry a bag on the plane to Bareo for him, because he couldn't go but needed "whatever it was" delivered. I must have looked at him like he was completely insane, this being exactly what we are warned against incessantly in the west! Then the woman at the check -in counter says, "it's not a problem, go ahead just take it for him, everybody does it".
So "when in Sarawak".... I threw up my arms in surrender and ended up escorting an uninvestigated piece of luggage on a plane, from a complete stranger... in a Muslim country!! On top of this I was already slightly over the limit on weight, so I had to pay the equivalent of 75 cents, and said "gentleman" had to pay about 40 cents.The plane was packed to the gunnels with everything you can imagine... besides the chickens and soda pops there were large propane gas canisters (they had to be empty!?), no stewardess or security of any kind, and the door to the cock-pit wide open... So no, we do not represent the rest of the world with our laws, rules, restrictions, etc, etc And I did not even see who spirited away the mysterious bag I was a "mule" for, I was too busy wading through the unbelievable amount of stuff they managed to get onto this teensy plane to even notice.
They did however manage to scare me on my way out of there. First of all not only do they weigh your baggage, but they also make everyone stand on the scale to see how much they weigh (imagine how well that would go down in the US?). Anyway, all weighed and most happy to see, with my own 2 eyes, my little red suitcase safely put on the plane... But lo and behold we get to our destination and my suitcase is not to be found! They received a hefty serving of Scottish wrath, but since there were no phones of any kind in Bareo (even in the airport), I had to wait for the plane to make another return flight to Bareo (only an hour total). Luckily on the next flight it reappeared, apparently having been removed from the previous flight because the plane was too full and the rice was more important than my bag! A happy ending, and by the skin of my teeth I only just caught my next flight.
I then flew to, (again only accessible by air) another remote area called Mulu. It is a state park with some of the most incredible caves in the world. One has an estimated 3 million bats in it, and is the largest cave in the world. It is the size of several cathedrals... at dusk we watched the bats leave in endless streams, periodically being attacked by bat hawks! However while in the cave (so vast you could fly eleven 747's through it in formation... trivial pursuit wisdom straight from our guide!!), knowing there were that many bats above us made any drips on the head extremely suspect!
It has been encouraging to see a few of the national parks, and this one is a particularly pristine World Heritage site, so very well protected.. although the tribal people can hunt, but only with their blow-pipes using the natural poison from the plants.For the first time I went on a canopy walk, they have built platforms about 100 feet up and you walk across tiny suspended bridges between the trees. it was amazing... although ever so slightly scary!At this precise moment I am in Kota Kinabulu listening to the Muslim call to prayer... quite lovely, especially because they seem to have really good quality speakers for once!
I just arrived in Sabah, the northernmost part of Malaysian Borneo, just above Brunei. It is more predominantly Muslim here, and I am in a lovely little hotel looking over a night market... I'll report later on how this bodes for sleeping!Tomorrow I am going to head for Mount Kinabulu... and I plan to go and spend a couple of days at a hot springs at the base of the mountain. My dear friend Wendy just sent a picture of her at the summit of Kilimanjaro... one of my (many) goals. Well done Wendy!!! I'm feeling like a bit of a wimp in comparison.. but I'm still bootless and blistered.. so I shall just soak my tootsies in the hot springs instead!
I originally started this letter in my lovely Bali home, watching another blazing and promising dawn. Practically sitting on the equator, we don't have seasons per se, it is more of an endless summer, and my particular (not so spring chickenish!!) body revels in the ease and comfort of it all. It is the levels of humidity that change, but give me languidly melting bones and moist skin over chilled joints and cracked lips any time... Nonetheless the cycles of life are, if anything, even more stark there. When I had my 1st workshop of 2007 back at the beginning of September the men were planting the rice, and as I concluded the last one at the end of November the women were harvesting and threshing. In their earthy, spiritual ways and in full accord with nature... the men plant and the women harvest (in truth I do occasionally see men helping with the harvest.. but never women sowing the seedlings).
Like the migratory creature that I have become, I am about to wing my way back across the Pacific... in 4 days!! And unlike the "other birds" the only feathers I will get ruffled by the elements will be if I get seated beside someone who talks incessantly (my one and only fear about flying... but a very real one!!). Okay.. I have to stop to remark on the young girl I am watching outside my window right now, she is walking along the tiny narrow ricefield paths ( between the fields that are now flooded and look like a patchwork of mirrors), she has one of those large blue propane tanks on her head, and is moving with a grace and poise that would leave any cat-walk model completely in the dust.
Bali is a constant visual feast... and also a reminder of what pampered klutzes we westerners can be. I could as soon do what that waif-like beauty is doing as walk a tight-rope with a tea cup on my head!And in-between watching Bali's delights, I get to have fabulous adventures... which takes me to where I was last time I wrote.
Malaysian Borneo... wow what an eye-opening wonderful place. I just had to reread my own letter, and as is happening increasingly these days, I was amazed at what I was already forgetting about where I was and what I did... I do believe a diary is going to be as vital as brushing my teeth one of these days (at least if I want to remember anything!). It is akin to having a completely full computer chip, there simply isn't any room left...
I have to laugh because my closing wish in my last letter was that I should find an Internet Cafe. Well... I did! I arrived in the very exotic town of Kota Kinabulu, Borneo... and as I wandered around I came across... wait for it... a Starbucks! Horror, shock, amusement... indignation?? But I nonetheless entered the air conditioned cavern, to find an exact replica of any other Starbucks, any town, any where... is this what they mean by Globalization? And the prices are the same as the West, which of course means that no "man on the street" is going to enter and spend a day's wages on a cup of coffee! Which makes it all even weirder.
But I went in, got my Tazo Passion tea, tapped into the free wi-fi and Skyped every friend I could find for the next 4 hours. Which particularly tickled my friend Rick as I caught him standing on a street corner in Seattle (probably in the rain!) waiting for a ride from another friend of ours.... laptop to cellphone with not a single wire in-between!My hotel was overlooking another night market, and this time it was children who kept me up all night screaming and running around at an hour when they are far more endearing asleep. So I grumbled about it the next day to the hotel staff, only to be informed that the area is full of Philippine refugees who are homeless or living in unbelievably cramped conditions.
Sure enough the next night I looked out at the slum across the street and there were so many people in one apartment that there were people sleeping on the window-ledges... 2 storeys up!!! And the children didn't have anywhere to sleep. I am still not sure why these Christians are running away to a Muslim country for refuge... I do know the Philippines have terrible poverty and a bad government... but I am embarrassed to admit that I am pitifully uninformed as to the details. Obviously their situation doesn't warrant the US government making too big a fuss about it.... and Paris Hilton's life challenges are obviously far more important to the media than these people's plight.
So on my 2nd trip to Starbucks, after realising the living conditions just a block away from it, felt even stranger than the 1st one... and my thoughts about noisy children who still know how to laugh and play when they have nothing much to look forward to gave me a swift attitude adjustment to giggling and raucous fun at 2 am.
Mount Kinabulu is the highest mountain in Asia, and a popular, walkeable ascent. I really wanted to do it, and I will one of these days... but my feet were still in bad shape (they were beaten and blistered from sockless treks in the jungle), so instead I headed for the natural hot-springs (Poring). They were fabulous, apparently the only positive thing left by the invading Japanese troops during WW11. Only problem was they took over 2 hours to fill (everybody had their own little individual tiled tub), but it was worth it. I spent several hours parboiling myself until I was lobster pink and wonderfully giddy.
I stayed in a hostel in the park, that was kind of colonial and very charming. The greatest joy about staying there was a tame orangutan, Jackie. I was lucky enough to be able to spend about half an hour with her and some Malaysian park wardens she trusted. When these creatures look into your eyes close up, ( and can they ever hold a stare!), it touches you in an indescribable way. And smart beyond words... a tourist van came rolling up the hill and Jackie took one look at it and headed for the brush. All the bananas in the world weren't going to seduce her into providing entertainment to a bunch of photo clicking gawkers.
Back to Kinabulu, and I decided to take a boat-ride out to one of the tiny islands off the coast... oops that was a mistake! I sometimes get a little delusional that I am the only person having some particularly good idea, and I do end up in some remarkably magical places... often by myself which is a miracle on such a crowded planet. However this was not one of those instances. The islands did look pristine in the distance, there were only about 5 of us on the boat, but the boat driver was driving like a bat out of hell... practically hydroplaning this rather rickety vessel (with an disturbingly powerful outboard motor), I would have bet a lot of money he didn't own it!
And the rush was... there were about 200 people on the tiny dock of this tiny island.. waiting to leave, while another 200 were eating barbeque and ice creams on the teensy little pristine white beach. I had inadvertently found every single tourist in Malaysian Borneo, and trapped myself on an island with them! I would have turned around and left except for the fact that the queue to get OFF the island was so long that I might have been thrown overboard for taking up a seat without even having gone ashore. This was the maniac boat-drivers motivation, return fares!
So what to do now, well I found a little map and there was a trail all the way around the island... so when you are handed lemons why not try making a Pina Colada? So off I set, and it started out to be scenic enough... and on the whole walk I only ran into one group of Malaysian kids, everyone else stayed glued to the beach by the dock... for fear of being stranded I would imagine. I couldn't help envisioning the whole island tilting over into the sea because of how disproportionately heavy it was on that one side. It took a full 35 minutes to go around the whole island. But I wasn't in the best mood, I'm a traveler who is a touristaphobe (I know it is the pot calling the kettle black, and I should be embarrassed at what a snob I am!), but as I walked on 2 other things were increasingly irritating me. Garbage and bugs... it was a pretty island, but there were bits of plastic and styrofoam everywhere... and these daytime biting things... and I had forgotten my bug spray... grrrrr!!
I came to a little wooden bench and sat down... and there again some awful person had thrown down a plastic tube of something. I am a bit foolish in that I sometimes walk around with my hands full of garbage... as though I can single-handedly clean up the planet! Anyway muttering outrage, I pick up the tube, and it was a full tube of "Natural Insect Repellent Cream"! The joke was on me, lighten up Evelyn... happy rest of walk, no more bites... middle-aged Scotswoman completely alone laughing out loud at herself on the Malaysian island of Sapi. That same tube of insect repellent sits on my nightstand to remind me to be less intense...
Then I slowly made my way back to Bali. The 2nd workshop of 2007 came and went, the agony and the ecstasy. Rather an over dramatised summation on my part... but not too much so. These projects demand a great deal of thoughtfulness to get all the logistics right (speakers, topics etc. etc), so any time I have been less than scrupulous in my planning the results tend to be glaringly obvious. I am seeing that my impulsive, sometimes blindly optimistic nature is great in the planning stages, but needs to be reined in more around the actual execution and some choices I make. I say this in very general terms, and it applies to all the workshops I have done to date. And I would count this particular workshop as another successful one, but I learned a lot from it that wasn't only to do with Tarot or Astrology!
But I made some incredible friends, connected with some old ones.... and it was a lot of fun. Doing something with the Tarot also encouraged me to broaden my horizons and include many new topics... if you haven't seen my new web-site www.heavenandearthworkshops.com ... forgive the plug!
And this time, right after the workshop, for some crazy reason I decided to fly to Java with 24 people, and take them to the spectacular Buddhist temple of Borobudur. It was a "maiden voyage", and in truth a highlight for many people. I did find a great hotel, appalling drivers (not in the sense of safety... just not the remotest clue as to where they were going #$%), did WAY too much in too short a time, and I inadvertently gave everybody a restaurant experience to go down memorably in the annals of "worst ever". I'm not sure if there is any consolation in something being so bad it verges on being funny? And as for the tobacco sponsored karaoke that went on until 1am (followed by the 4am Muslim call to prayer).... well I couldn't do much about that! However seeing the spectacular site at sun-rise is something never to be forgotten... so I believe most other faux pas on my part were forgiven in that moment.
I have learned from these projects that people can be very forgiving.I came home chanting the mantra "never again", only to swallow those words and change them to "simplify, simplify, simplify". It is a once in a lifetime trip for many people, so after much conferring with Ilhu (who is increasingly my voice of reason... thank heavens), we are going to keep offering the trip to people as an addendum to the workshops.http://www.joglosemar.co.id/ancienttemple.html For those interested, this is a very informative page on this glorious site, except they have decided it is one of the "7 Wonders of the World".. not sure which one they think they are replacing?
On exploring this question I googled myself away from this letter and spent half an hour in the maze of the Internet, and found out that there are far more than 7 wonders of the world today! In fact there are countless "Wonders", I didn't find a mention of Borobudur... but the Internet itself is one, and the Channel Tunnel and Sydney Opera House are considered official "Wonders" also. I want full credit for my research if anyone uses this information while playing "Trivial Pursuit".
After the workshop and the Borobudur "adventure", I suddenly had some time to myself so I took a shuttle off to the delightful little town of Amed, on the north-east coast of Bali. There is actually a largish area with the name of Amed, but my absolute favorite spot is an isolated beach, with simple bamboo thatched roof huts, outside showers (cold water but nothing more needed), and hammocks on every patio. The fishermen keep their boats along the shoreline, and they are brightly painted with glorious sails, so watching them leave at dawn, bob around out at sea... and then come back with their catch is a soulful meditation all of its own. The hotel is called "Good Karma" and is owned by a rather wild and woolly character named Bubba, who can frankly be a little overwhelming with his loud and endless chatter. BUT the man has not sold out, lots of little boutique type resorts are popping up all over the place, but this little bay is still pristine and simple... 7 bucks a night includes breakfast, a great slice of no frills heaven, great snorkeling, and a view of Bali life just for Bali.
Mid December I headed for the US, and 2 days after arriving in CA was when my friend slipped away from us. So having just left the tropics I travelled across the US, apparently flying through many storms, I didn't notice I was just hell-bent on making my connections!! It took me longer to get from California to the East Coast than from Bali to California. I went to the winter wonderland of Maine, to be by the side of my dearest friend. She was beautiful, strong and grieving, with a heart like a lioness, and the tenderness of an angel. We cried and laughed, were silent and talked endlessly, and I have never in my life felt so honoured at being with someone as I was to be with her during this time.
Then true to the way my life just seems to be, I flew back to CA, and one day later got on another plane to Mexico to see another precious friend for Xmas. So it was great food, margaritas, walks through the arroyo, big family gatherings and listening to fabulous music. And staying in a house full of furry angels... 7 dogs and 3 cats no less... and a crow called Dennis on the roof who likes to taunt the dogs by imitating their barking! So despite the deep sadness that preceded it, this was a life affirming visit, especially because these particular friends have taken a giant leap from the USA to living in Mexico... and all their instincts to do so were perfect for them and how they love to live. And the street dogs of the area are particularly blessed with their presence!
So one would think I could then settle in the lovely little cabin in SY for at least a few weeks? Wrong! Two weeks later I zipped off to France for a week. It might sound romantic, but in truth I got on a plane to Paris, immediately crossed the city (so I did see the Seine and some of the city), got on a train and headed for Brittany. It was a plain and simple reconnaissance trip for a workshop I have planned there in 2010. And the mission was accomplished and most successful. It is a long story, but I met someone who is renovating a hotel there in a tiny town called Huelgoat. It is perfect for what I need, but I just had to see it. Lovely area, full of grottoes and caves that evoke all kinds of visions and imaginings of King Arthur's times (especially for a Celt like myself). It was really cold and damp and drab (Northern Europe in January... duh)... but I'm a little weird in that I actually like seeing places at their worst because if I like it then.... it can only get better.
Now the French themselves are another story.... of course some were delightful, but after being in Bali, all I can say is they are completely on the opposite end of the "friendly" scale. Their social and cultural attitudes towards visitors are just much cooler and more detached..... was that discreet or what!? In truth it was quite shocking for me, but still it is going to work perfectly for what I want, and I stayed at a wonderful B&B owned by a lovely British couple. I had a room overlooking what is called "Chaos" (the irony is not lost on me when I read back what my life sounds like!). It is a broad stream, with an ancient working water-wheel full of huge boulders, that the myths claim were thrown down by some giants.. a game of monster marbles maybe?
Back to CA, and a rather sobering entry... I had left my car in LA airport, and I was soooo tired driving back to Santa Ynez I had to stop and have Gatorade and Mars Bars just to stay awake. In all seriousness I realised that I was way too jet-lagged and frazzled to drive, and I will never do that again. I don't think I have ever been behind the wheel and that exhausted, but I couldn't help wondering how many people in that enormous city, on that 5 lane highway were just as tired as me?
Had a birthday (56 and trucking!), saw beautiful daughter (best present ever)... with definite plans to see son Andrew on the next trip! And I say next trip.... because I am finishing this letter in Bali, where I have been since February 28th. It is (another!) whirlwind jaunt, I came back to work on some workshop / house projects for about 6 weeks (and managed to get back to Amed again). And I was lucky enough to be here for Nyepi this time. Right before the New Moon in Pisces the Balinese build effigies of monster and demonic forces... tempting out all the negative forces on the planet. Then they burn these symbolic effigies and the following day is one of absolute silence (Nyepi), no driving, working, leaving the house.... complete peace and quiet to invite the positive forces back into the world. It is an amazing day.
This is why I live in Bali... they want to heal the world.... and they believe it is possible.I am just getting over a rather horrid bout of the flu, another friend here in Bali just died very suddenly of pancreatic cancer, and I must admit I've been in a funk for a few days. On top of that I have been getting irritated at myself for not finishing this letter. So this morning I decided that this day would not end without the "send" button being hit. Determination (good and / or bad!), is something I do have! So I sat down with lots of mixed feelings and some emotional turmoil, but guess what... just simply making myself do it has burned up some of my "monsters and effigies", and reaching out to friends always gives me a great feeling of peace.
The last few months have been a period when so many different emotions have vied for centre stage that I honestly can't say in simple terms how I feel in general terms (?! yes that is exactly what I mean). Since my wonderful friend died in December after a long and brave battle with cancer, three other people I've known have also died.The inevitable cycles of life and death are always all around us, and of course I've personally lost many people.... but for some reason with this particular friend's transition I felt a threshold being crossed. It is the time when we (and I mean in particular myself and my friends of a similar age), really are starting to leave, and I don't mean in a morose or morbid way (because it doesn't in the least feel that way).
I just remember when we were all having babies and raising families, or starting careers and journeys, almost everything was about beginnings and birth. But really realising that this present chapter will be one of inevitable and continual goodbyes to absolutely everyone changes life's colours for me. In truth a certain anxiety has dissipated, it really feels like this is it, no need to anxiously look for the perfect career, relationship or place. Of course life is forever renewing itself and full of surprises, but if something doesn't happen, it doesn't mean that some boat was missed... I can't/won't look at life that way.