I often ask myself, what is it about Bali? The jagged blue line of Mt. Batur, intriguing and vaguely threatening as it towers over the lowlands. The fathomless eyes that glance beneath paddie hats, impassive as they see right through you. The Island asks us to lose ourselves and happily we do, in the hope we might find something better.
In the 1580s, a group of shipwrecked Portuguese sailors refused the rescue offered them, choosing instead to spend the rest of their days on Bali, with a people they couldn’t understand, in a land that must have seemed as foreign to them as the moon.
Perhaps they realised that words could be replaced by gentle gestures, that a flash of white teeth communicated something universal. After all, it’s impossible to feel lonely in Bali, where endless conversations can be had with babbling streams and whispering bamboo.
Like many others I thought I’d come to Bali to ‘get away’, but now I realise I was looking for something. It didn’t happen for me in a single workshop, or the words of a wise guru. It was a merging of experiences across all five of my senses: sight, smell, taste, touch and sound, reminding me that life is what happens when, as a recent comic said, you’re busy taking instagram photos.
So with iPhone firmly tucked away I endeavour upon a day in Bali, with no set destination in mind. And like all the best adventures, it has to start on a full stomach.
Taksu Spa overlooks a small river that curves its way around the airy timber structures. You can almost imagine being one of those Portuguese sailors, weary after months at sea and sick to death of endless blue and salt and sun, only to find yourself enveloped in the cool, delicious embrace of the forest.
I order the tofu scramble, which let’s face it, isn’t the most intrepid choice, but as I feel the soft texture of it on my tongue, revel in the hints of onion, mushroom and spinach, I decide it truly does leave scrambled eggs for dead.
Chefs from every corner of the globe have fled their busy urban restaurants to bring a taste of home to Bali’s culinary cornucopia. I’ve enjoyed better croissants here than in Paris, and learned that raw food is a lifestyle, not a salad.
As the day begins to heat up I’m reluctantly drawn out from the quiet of the trees and into the sweaty surge that is Hanoman Street. Taste satisfied, a short stroll leads me to Shangri-La Spa, where my understanding of sound is about to be broadened in a Big Way.
A handsome young man leads me to a large, hard slab of oak. I’m dubious; wondering if I’m about to be served up to some affluent Chinese business men. I’m actually lying atop a giant guitar, the thick cables running under the length of my spine. My guide plucks the chords in a gentle caper across the scales and as each note resonates through my body it appears in my mind as a burst of colour. Suddenly I realise that it’s entirely possible to see and feel sound; he has played a song to my soul, and as awfully trite as that may sound, I’m dazzled by it. Just another one of those ‘only-in-Bali’ moments, I guess.
In Australia you might say my body and I weren’t really on speaking terms. At best, it was a relationship of convenience, but Bali doesn’t allow for that kind of complacency. That is why my exploration of ‘touch’ is not in a massage parlour, or hair salon, but at Motion Fitness in Petitienget. The worst thing is, I’m not even there out of some gnawing sense of obligation. Somehow, the brutes have actually tricked me into enjoying exercise. That’s right; I can’t have a hedonistic day of pleasure anymore without a workout. It’s disgusting.
With the floor thumping under your feet, hands on swaying hips and twists that wake up muscles you never knew you had, Move & Groove is the kind of workout for people who hate workouts. By the end of the hour I’m exhausted, but my body is tingling and in its own way, thanking me for it. We’ve broken into a new dialogue and for once, I’m willing to listen. Friends of mine send their kids to Motion Fitness’ Teen Move & Groove, and I can’t help wishing I’d started this journey at their early age. But as they say, better late than never.
My perfect day in Bali is incomplete without a brief sojourn to Utama Spice, on Monkey Forest Road. Afterall, Bali is a land of smells, and I’ve come to love the good with the bad. The lusty frangipanis, warmed by the sun, and the rich, visceral stench of backyard pigs. Bali’s herbal remedies are fascinating and sadly many are being lost along with other elements of traditional life. The guys are Utama make everything by hand with natural ingredients, not because “organic” and “chemical free” are the latest buzzwords, but because they’ve never done it any other way. The “Wellkiss” and “Clearing” oils are my favourite, and a small way for me to carry a little piece of Bali around with me.
As the shadows grow long it’s time to get home and satisfy the last of my five senses: sight. I’m staying at Abing Terrace, not because the photos on the website looked pretty, but because the reviews on Trip Advisor are so glowing. I figure it must be worth the 15 minute drive out of Ubud. I’m not wrong. The rice terrace views are epic, and you almost expect King Kong to step through the valley of coconuts. That golden glow, unique to Bali, has descended over everything like an old-school sepia lens. The sky is reflected in the mirrored glass of the paddies, the splash of bright pink bougainvillaea almost surreal against the green. It’s so breathtakingly beautiful, I wonder if it’s possible to ever get used to it. Do the Balinese feel the same awe as visitors who’ve come from concrete jungles, or the Portuguese sailors who lived atop endless hills of blue and grey?
A single day in Bali is a lifetime elsewhere and I guess that’s why we surrender ourselves to her black sand shores. To live, to feel. To know that in this moment we are here to witness, to taste and touch, to smell and see, to hear a song that can’t be heard above the roar of life in the different places that we’ve come from.
Read this article in the Communication Issue of Inspired Bali, or see the digital version here.