“ …Water, water, everywhere,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, everywhere,
Nor any drop to drink…”
“The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” a poem dating back to 1798 by Samuel Taylor Coleridge came to mind as I wrote this blog.
It’s now the lull after Christmas and right before the next big celebration, a good time to say my piece before the frantic pace of a new year begins.
A while ago, I alluded to writing a humorous account of my recent trip to Bali. After re-reading my travel journal, it was clear that this post might never end if I recounted everything—so I won’t.
Instead, a unifying theme cropped up—water. Much of the trip involved water and all things associated with it. It seemed the perfect way to share highlights of the trip and close off 2018.
Unlike my lone trips to Bali in 2016 and 2017, my friend Darcy joined me this time. She and I traveled to Cuba earlier this year and enjoyed a wonderful week together. We could only imagine how much trouble we’d get into on the other side of the world!
Darcy had never been to Asia, so a big part of my excitement was to see Bali through her eyes. I wanted to show her some of the places I loved but also explore the new as well. We anchored the trip around the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival and set off from there.
LEARNING TO SWIM
Before the trip, I signed up for swimming lessons. Yup, you read that right. I cannot swim, or at least, I can’t swim well. I never took lessons as a kid and finally decided it was time I did.
Darcy had already said she wouldn’t jump in to save me if I was drowning. She has big hair and she wasn’t getting it wet for me. I think she was joking, but I wasn’t taking any chances!
My biggest problem is I have no fear of water. “No fear? But why not?” you ask.
The simple answer is I’m an idiot. I’ve almost drowned several times—in a pool, in a lake, and even in the Caribbean when an undertow pulled me out. Still, I’m quite happy to wade into water and hope for the best.
Like I said …
Before my lessons began, I got a boost from my good friend Janet, an executive coach and master swimmer—a renaissance woman, really. In less than two hours, she taught me the importance of proper breathing and some key mechanics. It was a promising start.
The two lessons before my trip were less successful. I was one of three adults in the class. Toddlers and grade school kids occupied the rest of the pool. Our instructor was a kid himself. After he requested we perform some preliminary moves, he said to me: “I can’t believe you can’t float. Everyone can float.”
He seemed genuinely concerned, like I was some kind of mutant. I assured him I wasn’t sinking just to prove him wrong.
Update: Ten swimming lessons later, I still cannot float. I ate tons of fatty foods over the Christmas holiday and hope it helps. Lessons resume in the spring unless I can convince Janet for more private ones. 🙂
Our first stop was Sanur, a seaside town in southeast Bali. We booked a private villa owned by a delightful Indonesian woman, Yank and her Dutch husband, Wine. That the owner’s name is Wine was serendipitous for two wine lovers like us. He wasn’t there when we arrived, but his wife graciously accepted our hostess gift of Canadian whisky.
Check out the view and hear the running water from our outdoor kitchen. Toronto was in minus-degree weather at the time. 😉
BEACH AND GENIUS CAFE
Our villa in Sanur was within walking distance of the beach, though it took us a couple of days to stumble upon Genius, heh.
We may be geniuses, but we are both directionally challenged, even with a smart phone and Google Maps! Some of the most memorable times were when we got lost, so it didn’t bother us too much.
We met a four-legged friend who was happy to hang with us at Genius, a fabulous eatery that marries entrepreneurship, a healthy lifestyle, education, and care for the environment.
Colourful jukung fishing boats rocked along the shallow shoreline.
Excellent coffee prepared with love, and a colourful feast of fruit.
I’ve never eaten such sweet dragon fruit.
This was my favourite breakfast—fruit with oatmeal, yogourt, and coconut milk.
Darcy and I shared more than a few of these – lime kaffir and vodka on ice!
Kuta is a place I visited last year with a different vibe than Sanur. A more touristy resort located on the sunset coast of Bali, it has its charms.
Turn on the volume for this video at Poppies Restaurant where we stopped for lunch before heading to Seminyak. You’ll get a feel for how water is woven into the fabric of daily life.
In front of our table was a koi-filled pond.
TANAH LOT TEMPLE
En route to Ubud, we took a detour and stopped at Tanah Lot. Considered one of Bali’s most sacred landmarks, Tanah Lot means “Land (in the) Sea” in Balinese. An ancient Hindu shrine perches atop an outcrop amidst constantly crashing waves.
The onshore site is dotted with smaller shrines located in the Beraban village of the Tabanan Regency, approximately 20km northwest of Kuta.
Because the large rocks have been shaped continuously over the years by the ocean tide, I can’t be sure if this photo of me in Tanah Lot thirty years ago is in the exact same spot as the picture above it. What I do remember is the grounds were much quieter with fewer tourists—not so any more.
I wanted to see Tanah Lot one more time before it becomes even more overrun. And there is good reason to believe that it will be.
The current U.S. president has set his sights on a six-star resort development in the Tabanan Regency. The planned resort would renovate the existing Pan Pacific Nirwana Bali Resort and turn it into a much larger one, complete with a tower and golf course.
I cannot stomach the thought of it.
The Balinese are a deeply spiritual people. They believe that no one should build higher than the height of a coconut tree, or the gods will be angered. The new resort would far exceed that.
I don’t intend to return to Tanah Lot, but if at all possible, I will add my voice to prevent this upcoming development from happening.
LIQUID OFFERINGS AND OTHER LIBATIONS
The pool at Tebasaya Cottage where we stayed in Ubud was small but lovely. Our room was one of four at the rear of the small hotel, tucked away from the main road.
We faced the pool as we ate breakfast from our balcony. The sound of running water and the beautiful workers who made their morning round of offerings provided a peaceful start to the day.
WATER PURIFICATION AND A DATE WITH A SHAMAN
Darcy had no interest in a fish pedicure when I first suggested it. It’s popular in Bali even though it kind of disgusted me. If you don’t know what it is, a fish pedicure places your feet in a water tank filled with about 200 small fish. Toothless Garra rufa fish feast on the dead skin of your feet.
The result: Smooth, soft feet or possibly an infection.
Umm … No!
Instead, we booked a full day at Pura Mengening, a water temple followed by a reading from a local Shaman.
Pura Mengening means “stillness.”
Our day started early at 4:30 a.m. with a pick-up to meet the guides and a change of wardrobe into traditional clothes.
There are two bathing pools, one for women and one for men. Regular visitors to Pura Mengening are pilgrims who come for prayers in the temples and collect holy water from the springs. Local villagers also bathe in the pools. Unlike the large groups that attend Tirta Empul Temple, we were the only people at Mengening.
Our guide, Wayan, placed numerous Canang Sari (Balinese offerings) along the temple walls before she led us through the ceremony.
At the temple, we undertook a powerful ritual to cleanse, purify, and let go of everything that no longer served us. Wading into the cold pool was an experience in itself. I’m at the bottom of the screen and Darcy is beside me. It was a sunny, crisp, clear morning, and we were all shivering!
After the water ritual, our diverse group (hailing from the USA, Australia, Germany, and us from Canada) went for a lovely breakfast at Bebek Bengil.
Each of us had a thirty-minute session with the Shaman, but because she did not speak English, Luh translated her readings for us.
Otherworldly practices tend to scare me, so I admit I entered into this experience with some trepidation but held no expectations (none I was aware of anyway). The Shaman asked for my name and birthdate and proceeded to tell me about myself. Some of it was good, some not so good. Overall, the news wasn’t awful. Still, both Darcy and I left our respective readings in tears—for different reasons.
It’s something we both deconstructed later—over a bottle of Prosecco! Perhaps we were not convinced by everything the Shaman told us, or maybe we just needed to process the information differently. Regardless, we both agreed the experience was worth it.
In the end, I let go of what I needed.
We combined a tour of Tegallalang Rice Terrace with visiting a local coffee plantation.
Of course, Kopi Luwak was on the menu. If you’re unfamiliar with this coffee, it’s only the most expensive coffee in the world because of the labour-intensive process to make it.
The coffee beans (which are actually seeds) are digested by the Indonesian cat-like animal called the civet cat (known as luwaks in Indonesia). The feces of the luwak are collected by farmers, processed, and then sold as Kopi Luwak.
We enjoyed the tour and sampled numerous coffees and teas. Though I’m still not a fan of Kopi Luwak, we both bought a bag to bring home as souvenirs.
Why not, right?
STEAMING RICE AND STEAMING VAGINAS
So … let’s talk about steaming rice first, shall we?
We ventured on a cooking course which included a morning visit to the local food market.
The sights, sounds, and smells are unlike anything you will find in the west.
Fruit, flowers, meat, fish, vegetables and other food items vie for space on the street market.
It’s a busy place with the locals, especially early in the morning.
Our knowledgeable and entertaining hostess, Ayu, led the class in her home and introduced us to Balinese culture and customs. As a group, we created delicious dishes and then ate the meal together.
Here’s Darcy pounding the ingredients for the yellow sauce—a base ingredient used in many Indonesian dishes. There are 17 herbs and spices in this one sauce alone.
Modern-day cooks would combine ingredients using a conventional blender, but we all enjoyed a workout with the traditional mortar and pestle. It was nice to get in some exercise before the big meal!
Ayu and her international group of chefs! We loved our group from the USA, New Zealand, and the U.K.
Ayu explains the process of steaming rice, which makes for a good segue into steaming vaginas. 🙂
I’m not really one of those girly-girls. I rarely have mani-pedis or beauty treatments at home, and yet, Darcy and I both had a pedicure the first day we arrived in Bali. Bali is known for excellent spa services at affordable prices. We had numerous massages during the trip.
I wanted to try something different and came across a spa practice called Ratus or V-Smoking.
It’s a traditional Indonesian treatment originally created for Javanese princesses before their wedding day. The goal is to freshen the woman’s intimate area while improving blood circulation, tighten the muscles of the pelvic floor and … make you feel like a virgin all over again.
Hell yeah … we were in!
I set off to find this elusive spa treatment. It wasn’t easy, but we stumbled upon a reputable spa that did it. I say stumbled because it happened during one of those times we were hopelessly lost. We had walked over an hour in the wrong direction only to turn back, saw the spa, and entered on the off chance they had V-Smoking on the menu.
They did, but … they had something better than the traditional V-Smoking.
“Try V-Steaming“ the woman behind the desk said. It’s more hygienic and you’ll get better results. Two women in the waiting room who had just finished their V-Steam treatments confirmed what she said.
That convinced us. We booked and came back the next day for our appointments.
So … How was it? you ask.
The treatment was 30 minutes. Darcy went first while I was getting a foot massage. We couldn’t do the treatment at the same time because the spa only had one V-Steam chair.
When Darcy finished her treatment, it was my turn to go in. She offered no clue as to what she thought of it. She later told me she didn’t want to “ruin it for me,” preferring I have no preconceived notions. It was kind of her.
The room was set up like a regular spa room, only in addition to a massage table, there was a chair beside it. What distinguished this chair was a hole in the seat. After the therapist wiped down my private parts with a wet towel, I sat facing the back of the chair with legs spread wide on either side, my head and arms resting across the top of the chair.
The key was to position myself strategically over the hole of the seat.
That’s where the therapist had placed an electric mini crock pot on the floor filled with water and a poultice of herbs, where the steam was supposed to rise up and make me feel like a virgin again, only … there was no steam. I had envisioned steaming rice or a steaming cup of tea. I had even hoped for the room to fog up, but there was none of that.
As the therapist gave me a relaxing neck and back massage, I stared at the tiny pot below me and wondered how long it would take to heat up. I only had 20 more minutes for the steam to work its way into me, and the water hadn’t even started bubbling. Gently, I asked the therapist if she could turn up the heat on the pot. She said it was already at its maximum setting.
Long story short. I never got much steam to my intimate parts. My vagina was damp at best, not smoking hot. When I stepped off the chair, I was instructed to lie on the table where the therapist wiped me down again and examined me. That’s when she smiled and nodded with enthusiasm. “It looks very good,” she said.
I chuckled to myself and had to wonder how I looked before the treatment!
Darcy and I concurred the experience was underwhelming, and if we ever got the chance again, we’d try V-Smoking next time. The best thing about it was we got to laugh our asses (and vaginas) off!
THE END OF ANOTHER YEAR
In a few hours, another year will be ending. It’s been one of change for me, and most of it has been positive. My über talented and creative husband, wonderful family and friends, good health, travel, and the ability to write gives me so much to be grateful for.
As 2018 draws to a close, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank you for supporting my writing. Support comes in many forms, and it doesn’t only include buying my books. Your comments on my blogs, your kind words in person, and your sharing of my words on social media all add up. They mean a lot to me and keep me moving forward, especially on days when I’m wracked by self doubt or simply can’t find inspiration.
Your encouragement means the world to a lonely writer. Thank you, from the deepest part of my heart.
I look forward to seeing you in 2019 and wish you all the best in the coming year.