Flashback

With Sukri in the kitchen

With Sukri in the kitchen

Flashback to the beginning of January when I’ve been living at the Ratu Bagus Ashram for a month.  This Ashram is in East Bali and Ratu Bagus teaches an ancient shamanic shaking practice. Everyday we shake for an hour and a half, three times a day to a whole range of music from techno/trance, to pop or chanting. We do this to raise our energetic vibration for health and well being, as a spiritual practice and as a healing practice. With Ratu’s guidance people have healed themselves of Cancer, Hep C, and other fatal and chronic diseases. Some people are on the spiritual path and others are cleansing and healing themselves of drug and alcohol addiction. Initially, I came to write an article but over time I realized I’m on the spiritual path and I’ve stayed because I love the people and I’m learning how to love myself and laugh again. That’s what Ratu actually teaches. He brings out  that deep spontaneous belly laugh that babies do naturally. For so long I had lost my laughter. Life wasn’t funny  any more and I lost my sense of humour about it all.  I realized how much I needed to laugh and how much I wanted to laugh. Laugh at myself, laugh at my ridiculous thoughts and all the wild things I do.

By the beginning of January I found my laughter again, so it felt strange that as my laughter was coming back and I was happy at the Ashram,  I kept getting this powerful feeling that it’s time to go to India & Nepal. At the same time I got an email about an AJWS (American Jewish World Service) trip to India. About six years ago I went on a volunteer trip to a village in Mexico with AJWS and it was a fantastic experience. Their mission is to empower people throughout the world (not only in Jewish communities) to achieve justice and self-sufficiency through the promotion of human rights, education, economic development, healthcare and sustainable agriculture.  This  trip was designed for younger donors and the itinerary consisted of one week of going to three cities in India primarily to meet a few of the partners who were receiving money and support. I knew it would give me access to people and experiences in India that I wouldn’t be able to have on my own. When I arrived at the Ashram in November I wanted to go to Burma and now I was definitely getting the pull to go to India & Nepal.

I can hear you…please stop saying, “This is sounding more and more like Eat, Pray, Love everyday…”

India has not been on my radar and I don’t write like Elizabeth Gilbert! I admit I had moments of serious doubt before I left. No men signed up for the AJWS trip so it was going to be a “sisterhood trip” and that made me hesitate for a moment. Some very cool and very wise women quickly talked me out of that negative self-talk.

Then slowly it started to come together. First Bangkok for a few days to brush up on my photography. Then, Chennai & Pondicherry for a week before I met up with the AJWS group in Mumbai. After that it was just going with the flow to see what unfolded next. That is how and why I came to India. I was shaking at an Ashram in Bali, I got an email about an AJWS trip to India in February just as I was asking the universe for a fun, heartfelt trip anywhere that was filled with love, friendship and romance.

Ratu on his 63rd Birthday

Ratu on his 63rd Birthday

Ratu & his son Gede at a Fire Ceremony

Ratu & his son Gede at a Fire Ceremony

Putu & little Gede on Christmas Day

Putu & little Gede on Christmas Day

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Shaking with Ratu Bagus – Bio Energy Meditation

As I entered the Taman, in front of me was a 9 foot tall Ganesha wooden statue. To the left was a 5’8 photograph, simply framed of Ratu Bagus in the Vatican in Rome. In the background are other visitors to the Vatican. Next to him is a ghost like figure, clearly outlined and visible on film. It appears as a ghost, those who know him understand it’s his soul captured on film.

To the right of the Ganesha is another framed photograph. Ratu Bagus is performing a fire ceremony. The fire is burning bright and rising up in front of him. Take a closer look and you’ll notice the flames make a dragon shape.  Above Ratus’ human figure is another figure hovering above the scene that is clearly Ratu. Captured again on film is Ratu Bagus on the astral plane as well as on the physical plane. To the right of both aspects of Ratu are long flashes of lightening. It looks as if a lightning storm is happening right behind him. Countless people who have trained with Ratu over many years and healed themselves of what were considered incurable diseases describe connecting with Ratus’ energy as being burned from the inside until all the poison’s inside them was cleaned out.

I walked over to a corner in the front of the room and to find a picture of Ratu I connected with and just stood in place and started shaking. I had no idea what I was doing. House music was blasting from the sound system, then some salsa. I kept standing in place shaking to salsa and saying the mantra, ‘Om Swastyastu-Ratu Bagus”.

Suddenly Ratu walked up to me and greeted me.

“Hello – what’s your name? Where are you from?” He gave me a little hug. Motioned for me to stand with my feet further apart and put his hand near the middle of my back.

“You are electric, You are electric,” He kept repeating to me with a warm smile.

I felt an intense surge of heat rush into my face and my shaking began to flow more gently and softly instead of jerking around trying to dance to the music. I spontaneously raised my arms and my hands moved and vibrated as I lifted them up and down.  My left ankle hurt and my neck was stiff.

“Good, good, very good,” he said encouragingly and gave me the thumbs up signal before he walked away to help someone else. After he left the heat was not nearly as intense. But he left me with a feeling of gentleness warmth and softness.

My intention was to empty my thoughts, clear the chatter. Thinking about Becky, wondering about Michael, my mind drifted to all the articles I wanted to write.

For five days I shook off my preconceived ideas of who I am and why I came; to feel with my body rather than understand with my mind. It was a tall order for someone who thought they were there to write an article about the shaking practice and bio energy meditation. I recognized we all have the power within us to heal our bodies naturally, whether we understand it or not.

Ratu Bagus teaches his students that he is not god, god is inside us, he’s there to help and advise, while providing encouragement and laughter, so we can experience it for ourselves.

From the moment I entered the Taman it was clear I had to leave my rational, spiritually inclined, analytical mind behind. Loud music boomed during the shaking sessions with Beatles, Elvis, Annie Lenox and traditional chanting . A painting of the movie poster from  “Happy Feet”  had Ratu Bagus’ head superimposed on the one of the penguins as it sat on an easel in front of the alter. All tools that got me to leave behind my ideas of what traditional healing or spirituality are about.

During each shake, I heard hysterical laughter, screaming, twisting and people rolling on the floor people around me. I felt comfortable with other people’s deep releases having already experienced people’s Kundalini awakening. What caught me off guard was the deep emotional and physical process’ that came up for me in such a short amount of time.

What I felt and experienced those first few days was clearing my head of all the chatter and then really feeling my soul speak about needing to clear energetically around a Kunalini-Tantra teacher I had been training with. Something that wasn’t even on my mind when I arrived at the Ashram. It was however, lodged inside me and I had been struggling with it for months, going around in circles.

By about day two, I saw myself in meditation pose, cross leg, sitting there above Ratu’s picture. On the ground my hands were in the air, I was shaking, getting hot and I kept seeing myself above his picture.

When I had thoughts of my brother, thoughts of my mother, I focused on the mantra. Then I had a thought about Lisa, someone close to this Kundalini-Tantra teacher.  I was shaking, sweating, raising my hands in the air and I could feel Ratu telling me I’m connecting, he didn’t say a word out loud, I could just feel it.

He came and put his hand on my back again, slightly higher than the day before and repeated, “You are electric, You are electric.” and walked away. There was no great surge of heat like before, I just continued to shake. He stood next to me for awhile, we made eye contact and smiled, he walked to other parts of the room and then came and put his hand near my back again, and reminded me, “You are electric, You are electric.”

I began to shake vigorously as thoughts and memories of practicing with Nina surfaced in the most powerful way.  I felt as if Ratu stood next to me and said, “She took people into Balinese Cremation grounds and they weren’t ready?” (something that happened that frightened me)

He didn’t say this out loud, and he couldn’t have known this. But I heard it, in my head and suddenly the anger and disgust for her surfaced and all I wanted to do was shake it out. I was so fucking angry I just wanted to shake it out as hard as I could. The conversation in my head went something like, “ You fucking bitch, you fucking witch, you took people to cremation grounds before they were ready. You said they followed you but you letthem follow you. You fucking bitch.” And that’s how my clearing started…

I was shaking my arms, shaking it all off me, the memory of it, the energy I was holding onto around it, around her. They way she tried to pick me apart in front of everyone one day when I expressed feelings of being scared. She tried to poke holes in everything I said.

As I shook I was so disgusted with her. Then I felt Ratu next to me, physically, standing on my foot, actually holding my back not saying anything as I started making noise. Breathing and remembering Nina pointing out how confused I was to everyone and the flaws in my thinking. I shook with so much anger and rage as Ratu stood on my foot.

It felt as if Ratu was holding up a mirror to my soul so I could see that I understood the dangers of what this woman was playing at, even if I didn’t believe it. As if deep inside I haven’t yet been able to find the words but I understood the game she was playing.

The lesson was profound. I was so angry with her for taking people into energetic practices when they weren’t ready. When they didn’t understand key elements of what she was doing and where she was going with all of it. I started to recognize that these energetic practices were outside of my intellectual ability to understand, I had to just feel them.

A few instances came to me so powerfully that I recognized I didn’t have words to describe them. It wasn’t an intellectual doubt that I could express, it was much deeper inside. Like an internal navigation system deterring me away from her and how she was teaching. Not exactly what she was teaching but how she was doing it. I could see myself above Ratu’s picture as I stood in front of it shaking and sweating and my soul was going into the whole story, the whole narrative about those moments that I knew inside when circumstances were taking a turn I didn’t want to go along with.

I felt like I was stuck and in the shaking I started to get unstuck. This process became more real once I was home from the Ashram. Waking up the first morning in bed, feeling the effects of a cough coming on, I felt free of my questions about Nina. The chapter was closed and I felt lighter and at peace with myself. I could feel that part of my life was behind me and something new was emerging.

Strolling to Tutmak [Hipstamatic]

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It’s dusk in Ubud and I leave my villa to walk to Tutmak for an early dinner. Walking out of Ani’s Villa I cross the street towards Bridges Restaurant and turn left walking over the Champuan Bridge. I walk carefully on the small narrow cobblestone sidewalk to the right of the bridge. Looking over at the old dilapidated, wooden foot bridge twenty feet to the right, I’m careful to avoid it because it looks like someone could fall through at any moment. The Champuan River runs fast and loud below as I cross the bridge to the other side.

Passing Murni’s Warung I’m offered a taxi by a local. I know it won’t be the only time on my 20 minute walk I’ll hear, “Taxi? Transport?” Walking slightly up hill heading into the city center I try to be as careful as I can of the treacherous pavement. It’s uneven and filled with so many gaping holes anyone could easily twist an ankle or go straight through the sidewalk into the sewer. Quickly and carefully I head into the most run down stretch of sidewalk with stone walls on either side of the road and big banyan trees that form an overpass above.

On my right I come up to Jl Bisma and I know I’m halfway there. Another local offers me a massage and I quickly reply, “No thanks” in Indonesian. Once I come to Beetlenut Restaurant there’s a few men hanging out ready to offer me another taxi ride. Picking up the pace I pass by a group of people sipping happy hour cocktails outside at Casa Luna and pass the Ubud Music Store.

I’m offered a third taxi ride in front of Arys Warung and as I say no, I look directly across the street to Jl Kajeng as motorbikes turn a fast left to join traffic on Jl. Raya Ubud. Continuing on Jl. Raya for about 5 minutes I’m at the intersection of the Palace Road and Monkey Forest Road.

A quick right past traffic has me walking down Monkey Forest Road as I almost lose my shoe in one of the grates on the sidewalk. I stay on the narrow sidewalk and the Ibu Rai Art Gallery is on my left with lights twinkling in front of the adjoining restaurant.

Approaching the football field I cross the street and turn left, walking on narrow footpath next to the football field. I can see the Shisha Lounge in the distance at the end of the field and Tutmak Restaurant just before it. I go in the back entrance to Tutmak and find my favorite platform table vacant near the back door. Ketut, the waitress who always remembers my name, smiles sweetly and greets me. I relax and smile as I sink into the cushions on the floor of my favourite table.

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A Bucket List Dive at Manta Point, Nusa Penida

First dive we swim towards the cleaning station and I feel the gentle swell and surge pushing me right and left as we swim along at about 10 meters. Moving slowly I see blue spotted Stingrays. First one, then two, then a group of four stacked on top of each other. The entire 49 minute dive goes by without one Manta. The water is beautiful, there are plenty of Stingrays, Triggerfish, Oriental Sweetlips and even a rare Octopus sighting. But not one Manta…returning to the surface I’m feeling cold and disappointed. When we got in the water I heard that little voice say, “Say a mantra and be grateful”, but as I got out of the water it was hard not to feel let down.

As we pile on the boat my sea sickness starts to return. It’s the first time I have ever felt queasy on a boat. Nico takes a vote to see how many people want to stay at the site and try again in an hour or so. It is the first time all season he hasn’t seen a Manta at this site and he doesn’t want us to leave disappointed. If we wait it out, there’s a good chance we’ll see a few, the day isn’t over yet. We all agree to stay, have lunch and dive this site one more time.

It was worth the wait. Close to 40 minutes later the captain of our boat starts whistling and yelling, “MANTAS! MANTAS!” Rushing to the side of the boat we’re yelling, “WHERE? WHERE?” As we look in the distance there’s one black fin, then another.

Zuri asked, “Wow – how many are there?” and Murray replied, “Why don’t we get in the water and find out?”

I had my equipment on and did a buddy check in record time. By then the Mantas were swimming closer to the boat. You could have put on a snorkel to swim with them.

We only descended about 10 meters and suddenly Manta Rays were circling all around us. I was in awe. Excited, afraid and totally in the wonder of it all, I couldn’t figure out what to do next. I watched Murray swim beside an enormous black one. It must have had the wing span of at least 8 feet. Murray was swimming as close as he could possibly get for a good shot with the camera. Their wide, triangular shaped fins looked like bird wings as they smoothly sailed through the water. I was filled with wonder as these enormous, majestic creatures elegantly glided all around me. I counted 10 circling around at once and I could see and feel a few more in the distance. Fins spread as they smoothly glided up towards the surface, then effortlessly dipping down closer to me. Six..seven…eight…nine…cruising all around me. I just kept floating, breathing in and out, slowing my breath down and making my air last as long as possible.

Their flat, black bodies looked like huge bats. The cephalic lobes that wrapped around their mouths remind me of a thick, wide, detachable Victorian era color on a man’s shirt. Acting as a funnel for plankton to get into their mouths it’s a built in water filtration system. The lobes were opening and closing as they swam around looking for smaller fish to help remove parasites from the mucus membranes that protect their skin.

A few more circled above me so I looked up to see 5 huge slits for gills on both sides of their bellies. I noticed some blotches on their bellies and their thin, sting ray like tails as they cruised around me. It seemed like there were at least 16 swimming with us.

I started to silently say to each one of them, “You’re beautiful, you are truly beautiful”. Did they hear me? Could I have a telepathic connection with a Manta Ray? I realized as they swam closer I began to feel more fear. They were enormous. I gently and consciously went in and out of fear and wonder, trying to stay in the wonder of it all.

After almost an hour of passing the camera back and forth and swimming along with them I started feeling really cold so I signaled to Murray and started to ascend. Hovering at the 3 meter safety stop I was still surrounded by Mantas, even more had begun to play closer to the surface. I gently lifted my head out of the water and floated with my regulator in my mouth and just watched them. The blanket like bodies looked flat from my view at the surface. Two came close to me as if they wanted to play, I got scared and started to swim away.

Murray popped his head up to the surface to talk to me and said, “Are you alright? Do you want to go back to the boat?”

“I’m cold” I said, “But I’m happy watching them from here.”

“You can get really close if they let you” he said, “I was trying to tell you to get closer to them. They don’t bite or sting or I wouldn’t be swimming this close.”

“I keep getting scared” I told him.

“Ok” he said, “then let me know if when you want to go back to the boat.” Then his head disappeared and he descended back down.

I decided to stay in. I made sure to stay between 3-5 meters on the surface, put my regulator back in my mouth and went down to play with the ones hovering close to me. There were two enormous black ones and I reached out to them. For the next 10-15 minutes I just swam 3-5 meters from the surface gliding along with 3 manta rays. One would swim directly towards me as if to play a game of chicken and then quickly turn left before I even had a chance to get close. I felt the tables had turned and I was the one moving towards them and they were playing hard to get. I simply stayed in the wonder of it. I felt the fear and just relaxed into swimming next to them and allowing them to come closer to me. Swimming as close as they would let me, I soaked up as much of the experience as I could.

For the next 20 minutes I floated next to some of the most fascinating creatures in the water. As I checked my air and saw it was getting low, I silently started to say goodbye to the ones around me. I smiled to myself as I reached the surface and said to myself it was a bucket list dive.










Down Under in Amed

Down Under


As we sit down to have breakfast with Nico and Murray, our two dive guides for the weekend, I can smell the thick, dark Bali coffee sitting on the table. Ordering eggs and toast we start to talk about the sites we’re going to dive. As I look out over the treetops at the cobalt blue ocean I feel the excitement of being back diving in Amed.

Zuri fills out her paperwork before we get started. As usual, the atmosphere with Nico and Murray at Baliku is lively with constant chatter.

Zuri looks over the questionnaire and says, “Wait, you can’t be over 45 and smoke?”
I look over and notice Murray putting out his cigarette, so I say, “Guess that let’s Murray out, we can’t dive with him.”

Nico retorts quickly, “For Murray he already has to mark “No” for half the questions.”

“But there are no “Are you a legend” questions. That would be a YES answer,” Murray defends himself with a completely straight face.

“I don’t understand”, Nico replies

“I’ll explain it to you later” I quip.

“Okay great”, Nico tells me, “That very handsome guy over three will get your equipment sorted.”

And we’re off for a full day of diving at Jemeluk drop off.

Our SUV pulls up to the sight and 6 small Indonesian kids run from the side of the road to our car. A skinny 7-year-old boy wearing blue faded shorts and a worn red t-shirt runs to the back of the car and squeezes in between two taller girls to help pull out the plastic blue crates filled with scuba gear. Gathering around the back of the car the kids help pull out the oxygen tanks, BCD’s and regulators to carry them to our set up spot. As we set up our equipment I hear the skinny little boy yell out, “NNNIIICCCCOOO” and our Belgium guide flashes a big smile as he laughs at his little Indonesian friend.

What I love about shore diving is walking into the water slowly and feeling the gradual decent until eventually you find yourself 30 meters below in God’s aquarium. Immediately a Stingray swims past me. I remember being in Thailand at a fish farm feeding the sting rays and how thick and slippery their skin felt. As I look to my right I spot a lone Trumpet Fish and a small Puffer Fish swims by. Soon a little school of Razor Fish drift past and Nico cups them with his hands playfully.

Staring at the coral reef I spot a big Dogface Puffer Fish casually swimming in and out of the reef. A Unicorn fish swims by and in the distance I spot a Clown Triggerfish (Big-spotted Triggerfish), one of my favorite fish in South East Asia.

Breathing in and out, the darth vadar sound from my regulator lulls me into a meditative state. I see the water getting shallow as we begin to swim closer to the shore. Suddenly Nico is waving his arms to get my attention. I swim higher to meet him, as I’m cresting over the coral reef there is the biggest school of Bigeye Travallies I’ve ever seen. They formed a cyclone shape and swim tightly together hardly moving at all. They look like a tornado starting a few feet above the coral reef and spreading up close to the surface, beams of sunlight streaming down through them. Nico swims just under them and floats effortlessly while watching them above. I hover quietly watching him floating below the cyclone shaped school and make a mental picture of the one lone diver floating below of hundreds of Travellies as the sunlight beams down between them.

I have that picture in mind as we end our first dive at Jemeluk drop off. For our second dive we make sure to bring the camera. As soon as we descend the biggest Cuttlefish I’ve seen is there to greet us. It hovers in front of us and changes its colors and patterns. It’s the first time I’ve seen a cuttlefish camouflage. It was the highlight of the dive. For the next 40 minutes we floated around, snapped photos and enjoyed the vibrant reef and life down under.

Cuttlefish


Same Cuttlefish


Cuttlefish



Lion Fish

Lion Fish


Zuri


Nico








The Wandering Jen

Life in Ubud – Dance Walk

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I’ve been back in Ubud less than a week and the Dance Walk craze already has me.
Has anyone heard of this?

Inspired by a hysterically funny guy in New York, Ben Aaron, Dance Walk has regulars in Ubud and it’s gaining a fast following.

It’s being organized to bring Ubuders (I still can’t believe I feel like an Ubuder) together to dance outside. The mission is to spread good vibes and transform Ubud into a pedestrian friendly town.

We met at the Yoga Barn at 9am, a group of about 15-20, people of all ages. Mom’s with strollers, little kids, big kids, anyone who felt free enough to dance in the streets. With our IPods ready to go, we danced through the streets, heading up the Monkey Forest road putting on quite a show. We had the shopkeepers checking us out and laughing out loud, tourists took pictures and quite a few videos.

I still can’t believe how free I felt when I put on my favorite music and danced in the streets!

Sadly, I only got a few pictures on my IPhone because I was having such a good time, but they are fun!

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Oh So Many Ogoh Ogoh on Nyepi Eve

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Yesterday was Nyepi, Bali’s day of silence and New Year. It’s a little like Yom Kippur in that it’s one of the holiest days of the year here and that the night before everyone is out as a community and that’s when the holiday really begins. That’s about where the similarity ends. Everything shuts down here, including the airport. On the day of Nyepi the streets are completely empty, no one leaves their house or their family compound. In fact my friend Cat told me this morning that in Sayan (a village close to Ubud) anyone caught out in the street or making loud noise is fined 50 kilos of rice. This is serious business. I didn’t leave the house…I’m not sure where I’d get that much rice.

The eve of Nyepi is apparently different all over the island. Since this was my first experience I really wanted to stay in Ubud, mostly to see all the Ogoh Ogoh. I’ve been watching people build them all month and whenever I’m driving around with someone lately they have to stop so I can take pictures, I’m fascinated. The creativity and spirituality of the Gods is all over the island…I also have to admit I don’t have much background to give right now about the story behind the variety of Ogoh Ogoh I’ve seen but I will find out and get back to you.

Here’s what I have found out. During the procession, the Ogoh-ogoh is rotated counter-clockwise three times. This is done at every T-junction and crossroad of the village. Rotating the effigies during the cremational parade and the eve of Nyepi represents the contact of the bodies with the spirits. The intention is to bewilder the evil spirits so that they go away and cease and desist harming us human beings.

On Thursday night as the sun set, there were about 30 Ogoh Ogoh’s gathered at the temple by my place with all the Balinese dressed up and ready to roll. There was a huge parade through the streets, music, gongs, cymbals, I even saw a little fire dancing later on in the evening at T-junction as they were rotating. It started around 6:30pm and at 10:00pm they were finishing parading around the streets. By midnight everything was quiet, everyone had to be in their homes and Nyepi had officially begun. Around 11pm I sat on the steps of the Palace,  a major intersection, which is usually busy, jam packed with people, motorbikes, cars and crowds. I could hear the crickets it was so quiet. One or two motor bikes drove by and no cars. Everyone was hunkering down to stay home, keep quiet and respect the Balinese holiday.

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Melasti Ceremony just before Nyepi

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We’re quickly approaching Nyepi, the traditional day of silence to bring in the Balinese New Year. I asked my friend Gede to take me to Lebih beach to a Melasti Ceremony the other day. It’s one of the most important of the Hindu rituals here in Bali. It happens once a year, starting about 3-4 days before Nyepi. Each banjar goes to either a beach or a holy spring during that time in a parade precession, bringing all their ceremonial symbols of the Gods to the water to purify all the elements of the universe. This means Barongs, Spears, Kris’ and Umbul-Umbuls (banners) to name a few. Some banjars arrive at the beach with various big trucks full of Balinese dressed up to pray and purify. Others walk to the beach in a procession carrying Gong Pulu’s (iron gongs), Ceng-Ceng (small bonze cymbals) and other instruments to play as they walk through the streets.

One explanation of this tradition is to purify the Bhauna Alit (the small world) and Bhuana Agung (the universe) from bad influences, bad deeds and bad thoughts. Some say that Bhuana Alit represents the heart and soul of each individual while Bhuana Agung represents the universe. Going to the water to pray purifies every level of our being.

Now begins the parade of Ogoh Ogoh’s through the street before we go into a full day of silence…

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Back in the Bud

Our adventure around Northwest Bali is over and we’re “Back in the Bud”…Ubud. I’m happy to be back on my Scoppy visiting my favorite cafes and people.  I’ll be posting about our stay at the fantastic Matahari Beach Resort & Spa for my birthday soon… so stay tuned..

Until then,  next week is Nyepi, the Balinese day of silence.  Ogoh Ogoh are being built all over town to be carried around during the festivals the day before. Then, we go into a full day of silence in this part of the world. Burning these monsters is apparently a way of exorcising evil spirits.

Trash… Trash..Trash…in Bali: 3 nights at the Waka Shorea Resort

Turned out spending 3 nights at the Waka Shorea Resort in the Bali Barat National Park with limited WiFi was a unique stop for me and Becky on our adventure around Northwest Bali. An opportunity for a little creative retreat, we could finish reading a few books, write some blog posts…

Becky is a travel writer and sent a media query to see if it someone would be interested in having us come stay to write a review. They offered us 3 free nights! That could have been our first warning had we been paying attention to the signs. She does this regularly and I’ve been her travel buddy a few times… usually the first night is free,  maybe two nights and then they offer us additional nights at 50%. Three nights free seemed great, and the location sounded cool, near Menjangan Island with great diving.  Usually, when we arrive  the General Manager comes to find the travel writer doing a review of the resort, that’s just standard. We learned quickly that things at the Waka Shorea were run a little differently…by night #2 we had not seen or heard from anyone.  When we first checked in a soft spoken and really young man helped us and said he would send the Dive Master to meet with us the next day. It never happened,  we never heard from anyone for the next 3 days. No one came to talk to us about diving. Saved us $115.

The Waka Shorea calls itself,  “An Environmental Sanctuary” on the most Western Peninsula of the Bali Barat National Park. It’s accessible by a 20 minute boat ride from Gilimanuk. This was a little bit of a mystery to us also, we read something on trip advisor about a short boat ride to the Peninsula where the resort is, but no one mentioned it in the email confirmation or let us know on the phone. So we went with the flow when we arrived at Gilimanuk,  jumped on (literally) an old rickety fishing boat that was luckily carrying a few cases of Bintang and cracked open a beer and held on tight. For most people a rough sea ride on a dilapidated boat and a beer may not go well together, for us, it did the trick.  Once we arrived, we walked off the pier to the beach and the friendly hotel staff that greeted us said, “Welcome to the hotel, we know the trash on the beach is not very nice.” He then started to tell us about the snorkeling, diving, cycling & hiking that’s all right here for the resort guests.

The trash on the beach and the state of the grounds of the hotel makes you want to take pictures and start a campaign against them instead of for them. There are dead tree branches lying all around the pathways. Although the trash that washes up on the beach doesn’t  from the resort, it’s floating in from elsewhere; they really need to do something to clean it up every day. Picture this… Becky and I sitting at “our table” on the beach front restaurant looking a crystal blue sea  & washing up on the shore just a few feet in front of us, was a random flip flop, a variety of plastic bags, potato chip and candy wrappers. This is what we saw from our table as we ate breakfast, lunch and dinner.

The food became an ongoing joke between us. We read on trip advisor that it was “warung style” food. It’s just that there was no Indonesian food on the menu except Gado Gado. Not even Nasi Goreng. It was all pizza, pasta, chicken & tuna. The prices were the real joke; $8 minimum for anything on the menu. It’s double what you’d pay in Ubud for warung food. I’d pay that at a Western style restaurant that had all organic, carefully prepared food with love and high vibes. (which is how they describe food in Ubud) One night we decided to skip dinner and just hit the mini bar in the room. We had to ask them to use butter to cook our eggs in the morning because we could really taste the re-used oil in the pan. It sounds spoiled…it was actually that obvious, you could taste the nasty oil. Once they used butter it was better. It was a 20 minute boat ride to the mainland, so our meal options were limited. The food was an ongoing source of entertainment. I ordered the chicken wings for lunch…they were out of chicken wings. We ordered the Tuna Garlic Butter and I swear they cut off the ends of the Tuna and served us that. We’re not sure what happened to the middle of the filet but we had our suspicions when we saw some of the staff leaving to get on the boat that they may be taking the rest of our fish in their backpacks. Anything’s possible.

On a positive note, the resort had enormous potential if they addressed the maitenance of the grounds and the food. There were barking deer that wander by the rooms, wild pigs roaming by the pool with the other guests and black monkeys hanging in the trees on the pathways. The rooms are quite nice, comfortable beds and kept very clean and cozy.

By giving some constructive feedback (complaining) to “a manager” we finally met with “Mr. Ari”, the Sales Manager, who had just arrived.  I have to say, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen someone in a professional role of “Sales Manager” of  a resort play dumb about the various feedback we gave him. We talked about the food, the upkeep of the grounds, the trash…etc. Only after about 30 minutes did he finally relax a little when I said, “we aren’t really telling you anything you don’t already know are we? How often do you get complaints like this?” Mr. Ary relaxed bit, chuckled and admitted he has heard these complaints but wouldn’t let us know how often. He let us know that there is actually no chef in the kitchen. Different members of the staff cook, they aren’t trained and sometimes (probably most of the time) they are interns from the local tourism school. That explains everything right there. He became quite sympathetic about the food.  Ary originally told us the resort had been open for 5 years, we found out just before we left it’s been open 10 years. Ary was not quite on the ball.

The most insulting yet amusing part was half way through our talk, his boss, another, “Director” was sitting at the bar about 10 yards from us talking on his cell phone. He must have just arrived because we spent most of  our time in the bar/restaurant on our lap tops with no WiFi and had never seen him. (we were in nature!) When Ary went over to his boss to suggest he talk to us (perhaps just listen) his boss said “No”. Instead he stayed at the bar and declined to come meet us.  Just sat there, talked on his cell phone and then walked away… Amazing. Becky’s a travel writer. Unbelievable.

The next morning when we were leaving these two men were having breakfast at the table next to us; we were the only people there. We went over to introduce ourselves and give some constructive feedback. I mentioned we had just come from Puri Lumbung Cottages and what a wonderful job the owner was doing there with the area and some of his plans. They know of the place because it’s highly respected in the area, so when he found out we had been talking with Nyoman at Puri Lumbung, he asked me if I would put them in touch with him. It was funny, I laughed. They are interested in asking him for ideas and if he would consult. Sadly for them, what we will remember most is the trash all over the beach and in the water. We got back on the rickety old boat taking us across the peninsula where we were met by a driver from the Matahari Beach Resort and Spa, the only 5 star resort in the northwest of Bali.