Holiday from my Holiday

Sometimes when you are feeling very emotionally drained you just have to put your thoughts aside and do something to relax. Watch a movie, go for a walk, call a friend or eat some yummy food. After my two nights alone in Munduk and some intense reflection I decided I could really use some social interaction to get out of my head. I drove my motorbike down the mountain to Lovina, a long stretch of beach in scarcely populated Northern Bali. I quickly discovered that almost overnight the high-season had come to an end, there was a lot of good, comfortable accommodation available and a great backpacker vibe with restaurants, bars and cafes. I quickly manifested my desire to meet people, befriending an Australian at lunch who had been traveling for 15 months already to many of the places I am intending to go. We had a great conversation, agreeing to meet up later with a few other people for drinks. Turns out its quite a small town and after 24 hours I had formed a clique of people at my hotel- myself, an Irishman, a French woman and a German woman, with occasional appearances from a Canadian and another Australian. Planning on staying 2 nights, I remained for 4. I enjoyed the regularity of having people to dine with, lounge on the beach with and to go on random adventures together like snorkeling, fishing and bar hopping.

IMG_2036My days were very routine – sleep in, breakfast, Internet, swim, lunch, siesta, beach, yoga, sunset, shower, dinner, gambling on the beach with the locals, drinks 🙂 I kept myself out off of the computer other than to Skype family and friends and away from the guidebook. I sought some intellectual stimulation through Sudoku and conversation. My final evening I overheard someone say “I need a holiday from my holiday“ and instantly had my blog title! And Lovina truly was that – a place to rest, mingle with locals, make friends and enjoy great cuisine. I allowed myself to be OK with idle time (something I generally struggle with), go with the flow of the other travelers and spend time conversing with locals even when 9 times out of 10 you know they just want to sell you something. Nothing very exciting to blog about – probably the most interesting thing I saw was a modified game of roulette translated as ‘fair ball’, where you gamble on colors and numbers. We were entertained by the game and the locals were entertained by us. We would get all excited and they generally remained very cool, despite some of them losing half a months salary in an evening…

I must admit I’m leaving Bali with some great memories. Never intending to come here in the first place, I ended up stretching out my visa to its final day. I’m already wishing I had purchased some of the amazing art work or crafts and definitely wish I had taken more pictures! The problem was I generally was cruising on my scooter cruising by at 60k. I saw women with what looked like 75 lbs balanced on their heads, ceremonies everywhere, families of 5 plus their gear on the same scooter, cocks fights on the side of the road, men carrying unimaginable loads of wood or bamboo, people IMG_2050constantly at work with their sickles, and much more. Off the tourist track it was very easy to glimpse the real Bali, watching village and family life unfold before your eyes. Even in the smallest villages someone could speak a little English and point me in the correct direction. One of my favorite scooter memories was leaving Munduk and driving through the villages where clove, nutmeg and vanilla were drying on the sides of the road – delicious! Also my final day on the motorbike I followed a guidebook recommendation and drove this absolutely amazing windy road  through the hills, passing volcanoes, rice paddies, waterfalls, and small villages while breathing in the crisp air. The children on their way home from school would all wave or chase after me in their colorful uniforms and every time I stopped to gain my bearings someone would almost immediately help me before I could ask.

The people truly are happier and friendlier than almost anywhere I’ve traveled. They are also close to the poorest. We all know that money doesn’t by one happiness, but there is a general standard of living that is generally necessary to provide a so-called ‘happy’ life. Yet despite the majority falling significantly below IMG_1466this standard, they were living a life of peace and love. There are many factors, more to go into with my limited view. One that struck me the most was the constant offering process, always paying respect to the gods and the spirits. Meaning that despite how poor you were, there was still a concept of a connection to something larger that you recognized and respected through these offerings – material offerings and offerings of their time through ceremony. Another powerful thing was that extended families lived in ‘family compounds’, each having their own temple and it was not uncommon to see 4 or even 5 generations together in the same place. Who knows the secret formula – but its worth investigating! Put Bali and Indonesia on your travel list, you will not be disappointed.

I realize this isn’t the most inspiring entry I have written in some time so I apologize for the drab, update and detail variety. I’m now back in Bangkok, spending a couple of nights taking advantage of her wonderful offerings and then shipping out north on a course for China and Mongolia. A friend from high school, Wei, who I haven’t seen in 10 years was waiting for me at the airport and we’re going to team up for a while. She just started an open-ended, round the world journey of her own. Through the magic of Facebook we uncovered that riding horses in Mongolia was a life-list thing for both of us – so off we go.

Freedom of Choice

I’m typing this from the porch of my bungalow in Munduk, Bali. Munduk is a sleepy mountain town with a cool, misty ambience set among lush hillsides covered jungle, rice, coffee, cloves, vanilla and almost every kind of fruit imaginable. I can hear several waterfalls raging through the gorge below me. So why exactly was I jumping at the bit to plan my next destination? As I poured through Lonely Planet, looking into the island of Java, reading about Bromo as well as other destinations in Bali, I suddenly had to stop and remind myself of something my Zen teacher says – “No other location”. A flip of words on the overused “Be here now”. 

In one week I will be headed back to Bangkok to start a long march through Burma, China and Mongolia. What is so wrong with sitting tight, enjoying the mountains and then a few more days on the beach? The serious alternative I was researching meant driving a moped that stalls every 15 minutes hundreds of kilometers in order to find greener grass and ultimately turn around and have to truck back to the center of Bali to catch a flight. Thank you dear blog for helping me see the ridiculousness of this and agreeing to enjoy central and northern Bali for a few days at a slower pace. Once again, I have to understand that this is not vacation, I am not out to see as much as possible, and there are points during this journey that I will treat as work days, blogging, emailing, job searching, etc. Often it is these times when you surprisingly get to know a place by getting your face out of the guidebook and into the community.

In my post about One Hundred Years of Solitude I bring up the freedom of choice, and its often paralyzing effect. I believe this at the root of many issues for people in the West, the endless freedom of options. I mentioned the characters in the book and their acceptance of fate – the last two months I’ve seen a lot of this. This morning, the woman raking the cloves or the teenage boys carrying hundreds of pounds of bamboo up a steep hillside or the duck herder (literally) aren’t thinking “should I go back to school to get that graduate degree? Should get my massage today and then go to the movies tomorrow? Which of the 20 restaurants within 2 miles of my home should I go to tonight? Which of my 50 articles of clothing am I going to where today?” No they don’t. And I’m not arguing that this is the lifestyle I want – clearly poverty plays a big role in simplifying choice. However there is something to be said about the way these people live when faced with limited choice. Simply, peacefully, and lovingly from my observations.

Where am I going with this? Back to my plan to explore half a continent in 6 days- through endless choice and so called freedom, we can avoid the present moment. Our mind jumps ahead to these potential paths our life might take – as simple as where to eat or as complicated as marriage or career. In the past I actually set up my life to create as much flexibility as possible – not committing too deeply to my career, to other people or a location, etc. In fact I am still doing this now, living temporally, having created the ultimate freedom of a daily choice of what to do and where to be. The truth is I think this trip is an apex for me – an apex of this exploration where I begin to move down the other side, accepting more aspects a permanent existence, once where the choices narrow and I find a deeper poise in these limited choices. Krishnamurti uses the term choiceless awareness – where when we are acting truly from a position of wisdom and clarity, our so called choices are not really choices, they are an act of truth based out of love.

A Chinese sage once said “ Why go on being like goats, picking up things at random and putting them in your mouth? Or another metaphor is that we act like a fly in a glass jar, seeking liberation through everything we see but ultimately just bumping into a piece of glass. What we don’t realize is that the top of the jar is open, and if we are quiet, truly listening to the world we can fly out into the true beauty that is actual existence.

***** (One day later) *****

I remained true to my word, sitting tight in Munduk. I went for a walk, ate at a few local restaurants and found amazing strawberries at the market. I spent the evening listening to the sounds of the hillside and woke early to exercise and meditate. I started thinking again about my temporal existence – while it is in fact true that I have an unbelievable freedom of location and action, the normal daily distractions are very absence. I’m typing this many miles from any internet connection, I haven’t seen a television in 2 months, I can’t pick up the phone which I don’t own and call a friend at any time. All of this boils down to spending a lot of time with my own thoughts and self, the true purpose of this journey. The biggest opportunity to distract myself is movement – riding the scooter, taking the bus or boat, exploring a new area and figuring where I will eat and sleep. Of course that will be part of any trip – I just need to balance movement and stillness, ensuring when I do move, it is because I am ready to move on, not because I need the distraction.