My right leg is wrapped around my left, thigh over thigh, foot tucked behind my calf. Sometimes. My quadriceps quivers as I entwine my arms, the palms flat against one another in front of my forehead. My left leg begins to wobble as I sit back onto an invisible chair as my elbows reach up and I bend forward, an attempt at the advanced posture for this pose I’m told is called Garudasana. Google would later translate it for me: Eagle Pose. I bend at the waist but keep my eyes up and all I see is a lone coconut palm, my drishti, the very same tree I affix my gaze to every morning. It’s the tallest tree on the distant ridge, across the valley of rice fields and jungle, to the right of an orange-roofed villa. I can spot this tree from whatever mat I claim in the window-walled yoga studio at Intuitive Flow and I must for it is the source of my balance, shaky as it may be. For ninety minutes every morning, day after day, regardless the pose, I see no further than this coconut palm across the valley in the achingly beautiful Penestanan area of Ubud, Bali. Nor do I want to.
Bend at the waist, hands touching the floor. Inhale, right leg back.
Exhale, heel down and turn out the toes. Rise into Warrior One.
Hips squared, arms raised, focus on your Ujayii breathing.
One of the local ladies we see most mornings on our walk to yoga. She’s carrying a large basket of offerings to the nearby temple. Families in Bali each make 25 small offerings a day, but this was a festival day so she had a much larger offering prepared.
Our first night in Ubud was something else. We went to the cafe nearest our house, Alchemy, a holistic, cold-pressed, vegan, organic oasis for the spirit-seeking, yoga-crazed, Eat, Pray, Love pilgrims who flock, unbeknownst to us at the time, to this part of Bali. The place was a caricature of itself; I had no idea cafes like this existed outside of South Park and Futurama punchlines. All around us, long-haired, barefooted, Sanskrit-tattooed men and woman in breezy clothing, most younger than us, sat cross-legged on sofas, their dirty feet unabashedly brushing the numerous pillows. Snippets of conversation involving phrases like heart space and total soul floated across the room. “Everyone,” I remember commenting to Kristin, “is so affected. This can’t possibly be authentic.” We sat and sipped our all-natural smoothies through our fresh-cut papaya straws and enjoyed a most unforgettable hour of people-watching.
Our table at Yellow Flower Cafe, where we can be found almost every day.
After yoga each day Kristin and I walk along a narrow concrete path delicately perched on the edge of a terrace between jungle, rice fields, villas, and a narrow water channel, to the nearby Yellow Flower Cafe where we settle down to read over too many cups of coffee and a whole coconut. We sit atop thin cushions on a raised floor in the corner, leaning our sweaty backs against a curved wall, the same spot every day. Sometimes for hours. The coffee is local, cheap, and strong and the food organic and delicious; the setting is priceless. We are slowly becoming part of the scenery and often fall into conversation with whoever claims the other low table in this nest-like portion of the cafe. Perhaps a woman or two from our yoga class, or one of the instructors, or a retired Australian couple, or European newlyweds. It doesn’t matter. Ubud is the anti-Seattle. Here a warm smile inevitably leads to a lengthy conversation, an exchange of email addresses, and a hug. The staff knows us now too, knows that we’ll be back tomorrow, and knows we want a table for two, sometimes three, no-you-better-make-that-four for the Sunday night Indonesian buffet. They don’t fret for a moment when we realize that we’ve run out of cash and have to return the next day with the rest of the money we owe. It’s happened twice.
Back foot meets the right and Downward Dog.
Turn in your elbows, hips to the sky, exhale.
Inhale and slide forward into plank. Exhale and hold it.
One day last week we didn’t go to yoga and the cafe but instead rented a motorbike and took off across the island, up into the mountains. It was a 75-mile day trip, pushing our 110cc Honda Scoopy to its limit as it gamely carried us up steeply switchbacking 20% inclines to the rim of an ancient, weathered volcano. Bali is beautiful, from tip to tip, just as we suspected. Though our trip to a lakeside temple, waterfall, and rice fields yielded a very memorable day we opted to scale back our plans for other similar forays on account of our newly-formed, instantly-treasured routine back in Ubud.
Legong dancers take the stage at Ubud Palace.
Still, as the days went on, my drishti began to change. Though my physical eyes remained affixed to that same stalwart ridgetop tree, the towering nail that refused to let the wind hammer it down, my inner sight saw far beyond it. I began seeing all the way to Rome… and our bicycles. And then, a few poses later, my gaze fell beyond the Greek Isles and Turkey and all the way around the world to southeast Asia. Further always, forever looking around the bend in the road or to the next page of the calendar. It is my blessing and my curse. It is why we are here in Bali. And why we’ll leave next week. Dammit.
Focus your awareness on your heart as you breathe deeply.
Feel the air passing through your heart from your chest to your back. Hold it.
Follow the air as it moves from your back, through your heart, and out your chest.
With the house locked tight, cheap supermarket bags stuffed with a change of clothes, sunscreen, and our ever-present Kindles slung over our shoulders, we set off at 5 a.m. to catch a ride back to Denpasar for an early morning flight to Labuan Bajo on the island of Flores. Of all the things I ever wanted to do in this corner of the world, visiting Komodo National Park sat atop the list. And we were going to do just that. Kristin had booked us for a three-day boat trip from Flores to Rinca and Komodo Islands. We saw eleven Komodo Dragons during our three mile hike that first day at Rinca Island, enjoyed a gorgeous sunset in a sheltered cove off the coast of Komodo and Kalong Islands, and watched as thousands of very large “flying foxes” took to the night’s sky. Bats. The next morning brought an early wake up and opportunity to hike Komodo Island where we’d once again spot another ten Komodo Dragons before going snorkeling.
The ranger drew the dragon’s attention and took this photo while our guide, armed with a large forked stick, protected us in case the dragon turned around. Komodo Dragons are extremely fast over short distances.
This dragon on Komodo Island was prowling the ranger’s quarters.
The dragons can grow to ten feet in length, from nose to tail, and were every bit as intimidating as I had hoped. Park rangers, armed with a lengthy, forked stick made sure we kept close together and stayed always, always, behind him. Komodo Dragons have attacked–and killed–humans and our guide Cuba “Call me Fidel Castro” on Rinca admitted to having to use the stick on numerous occasions. “Every year over 60 people apply to be rangers at Komodo National Park and only one or two make it through the training. This is very dangerous work,” Fidel said. Though it’s possible to survive a dragon bite, the toxic bacteria combined with the bleeding will likely kill any victims before they can reach the hospital at Bali, a ninety-minute flight away. Fortunately, the dragons eat only once a month and their preferred prey–water buffalo and deer–are still plentiful on the islands. Sadly, the dragons on Komodo Island did manage to wipe out the entire population of pygmy elephants that used to inhabit the island.
Lie on your back with knees bent, heels a hand’s length from your butt.
Hands behind your head, palms down, fingers towards your shoulders.
Slowly raise your hips and arch your back. Rise into Wheel Pose.
We smelled the incense from the tarmac: Bali. It was great to be back… home? It was late and we were tired. With our feet dirty from hiking a cave on Flores and in dire need of a shower, we did what anybody else staying in Penestanan would do. We headed straight to Alchemy and got two massive salads and a bottle of raspberry coco-biotic water. After all, our frequent salad-buyer card was full and we were due a free meal. And there we sat, flip-flops kicked off, feet on the couch, eating our kimchi-, coconut crispy kale-, and spicy cashew-topped salads, saying hello to the familiar faces, and smiling at the new ones. We no longer notice the half-naked children running around or the overheard snippets of conversations about spiritual healing. We only notice the great food, the warmth of the space, and the way we feel when we’re there: blissfully relaxed and healthy.
Always talk to strangers! We started talking to the neighbor of the warung where we were eating in Munduk and not only did he speak English, but he took us on a tour of the rice fields down in the valley below.
The next day, on a drive from Ubud to the immigration offices in Denpasar, we met a Swedish woman, Mia, who has come to Bali several times and now hopes to stay as long as she can. She just rented a house for a year and her excitement for Ubud mirrored our own. We’ve met others holding one-year leases with designs on staying in Ubud for as long as possible. It’s contagious. One of the many “digital nomads” residing here in Ubud she periodically works out of the popular co-working space Hubud and does yoga or walks in the rice fields daily. We’ve met several others like her; programmers, writers, women working on business plans, designers, and yoga instructors who have come to Ubud to live and work for as long as they can. “Hopefully forever,” they often add.
Lie on your back, feet at the corners of the mat, palms up near your sides in Shavasana.
Close your eyes and think of someone special who is having a tough time.
Send them a piece of the joy and peace you received here today.
Kristin sighed over her coffee this morning and, when prodded, told me that she was struggling to find a way to explain this place to her sisters. I had been thinking similar thoughts. What is it about Bali and, more specifically Ubud, that makes it so special? I’ll try to explain. It’s the natural beauty for starters. Of course. The seven minute walk from our house to Intuitive Flow each morning is a walk through Eden. But it’s so much more than that. Whether it’s the effect Ubud has on its visitors or the people who come to Ubud I don’t know — I don’t really care for chicken-and-egg dilemmas — but I know the people who are here are among the most welcoming, supportive, warm, and friendly people I’ve ever been around. And though we barely know any of them, we feel their warmth. It’s in their hellos, their smiles, and the way everyone seems to be assisting and encouraging everyone’s endeavors. It’s in the conversations we overhear, their love for themselves and the world and the way they care for what they eat and drink. It’s in the way people discuss what matters, really matters to every day local living, and completely ignore and dissociate from the manufactured noise that poses as news back home. Wherever that original home might be. There are no ill-spoken words, no tempers flaring, no rudeness, no ideology, no politics. Some would say it’s a bubble, but I think of it as an envelope of beauty and support where anyone, with any idea, can find nurture. The people we see each day, our new friends, ourselves, are not affected as I initially thought. We are both cause and effect of a place made by and for people who cherish the intrinsically good. From the native Balinese to the relocating Briton.
Nothing like sibling rivalry, err, love.
I’ll be going to Hubud several times next week to give the co-working space a proper test run to see if it is something that works for me. We’re still headed back to Italy in June to get our bicycles and continue our journey eastward, but my drishti has again changed these past few days. It’s settled back on that coconut palm and Penestanan and when I lie in Shavasana, my mind is not blank. It’s here. In Ubud, with designs on how we too can return. “Hopefully forever,” as the others say.
Congratulations: To Megan Knight, one of Kristin’s former co-workers, for winning the May “Postcard-and-More” giveaway. Woo-hoo! If you want a chance to win, just sign up for our newsletter via the link on the right-hand side of this page (near the top) and sit back and cross your fingers. And don’t worry, we respect inboxes of all shapes and sizes.
Thank You, A Favor: Our blog and FB page have been getting a lot of increased traffic lately and, whether by coincidence or as a direct result, there’s been a noticeable uptick in sales/borrows of my travel story “One Lousy Pirate” on Amazon these past two months. Thank you so much, I hope you enjoyed it! If you were one of the super awesome people who downloaded the book, could you do me a favor and leave a review on Amazon or Goodreads? Reviews are extremely important for indie authors like myself and, unfortunately, only about 1 in 500 readers ever leave a review. Don’t feel bad, as I’m guilty of it too. But if you read the book and can take a minute to leave a review, I’d really, really appreciate it. Thank you!