This is a Guest post by Abeer Allan. She is a prominent writer and social activist based in Dubai, UAE.
My Solo Adventure – Bali: Imagination unlocked, escaping a cage drawn by a relentless life. Soul freed, reaching beyond the hidden dimensions of an uncertain universe. Thirst. Hunger. Rebirth. For forever we are greedy.
My kind of pictures come differently, I paint with words. Here is my story.
It is 10 pm in Bali and the fears of traveling solo have already vanished. It is real: I am in Bali, a faraway Island. Alone. Excited. Overwhelmed. This is my adventure.
A positive force was pulling me in as the time got closer to drinking my morning Bali coffee. Overwhelming energy and excitement shook off the fears away every time they were about to attack me. Panic attacks I used to get whenever fear stroke, but that I managed through this force that I did not understand.
As the plane was landing, I watched the dim lights of the awake Kuta. Something took over me, I was so keen to let my sight wander the streets, passing through the markets and the walking people while observing simple-yet-complicated life stories being written in the drunken night. But in the sky still I was, eagerly anticipating.
I arrived. Yes, I arrived! I was looking forward to seeing my name written on a sign held by an absolute stranger, I never had this experience and I loved it because it reminded me that I am here, completely on my own. Signs of random names held by unknown “friendly” faces were all around the airport. Unexpectedly, this crowd of searching eyes started off from the hallway and ended outside at the pick-up/drop-off line!
First thing I wanted to do after spotting my name and taking off my eyeglasses – thinking it would make me look better- was screaming. I wanted to scream.
Like a 5 year old girl excitingly waiting to unwrap her Christmas gift, my soul was impatiently calling for the day I wake up to Bali. The loving Bali. It was March 29th when my heart started beating to the sunny Bali, a day after I nearly killed this adventure dream, I almost missed my flight! That was my first dose of the adrenaline rush.
“You are lucky!” said the security guy after opening the gate and accompanying me to the plane. “Have a safe trip,” he smiled and waved goodbye.
I opened the curtains to find the mesmerizing greenery swaying “good morning”.
The Sun began to hum, softly… the birds sang along, the trees smiled and their dancing branches spread the beautiful fragrant of a cool-breezed winter.
Curious I was about the other travelers that might cross my path, there was the hotel’s owner’s wife standing behind the small breakfast-buffet counter, smiling. Rice mixed with sausage, scrambled eggs, slices of cucumbers and tomatoes, toast, honey and jam were the ingredients of the first breakfast.
Little I put from the rice and few slices of cucumbers and tomatoes, “I want to lose weight while being here,” I thought to myself. But myself I was kidding, I was more worried about not liking the food!
Widi, the owner’s wife, joined me for “Coffee Bali” as she called it since last night. Last night when I arrived at the hotel, after she picked me up along with her daughter, I put my bag in the room, took a shower then went down for a warm cup of coffee. Widi was there so I asked her for coffee, “try Coffee Bali,” she suggested with a big smile covering half of her beautiful sharp face. We started talking about the famous Balinese coffee, which is made of the toddy cat’s poop, it eats the best kind of coffee beans, and after it “leaves” their bodies, the coffee is processed into a drinkable coffee.
“Oh my God! I have to pretend I’m feeling good about this and pretend I am not disgusted,” I thought to myself as I was sipping in the extremely bitter black coffee, unsweetened, telling her “this tastes so good!”
“This is my adventure, in every small detail. It is an adventure to be lived with all its curves,” Another voice in my head replied to the disgusted one, suddenly killing all my obnoxious and disgusted emotions, a tricky voice that echoed throughout the entire trip manipulating my fears away.
Later in the trip I found out that was the normal local coffee, the Asian palm civet’s, also called toddy cat, coffee was different, which I still tried and liked more than the local coffee to be frank. Not so bitter and is called the “Kopi Luwak”.
Her husband, Augus, joined our conversation. White hair covering most of his head added prestige to his age. I told them how I wished to visit the temples to experience their ceremonies, so they offered to take me along with the family for one of the biggest ceremonies of the year, five years I must say. Excited I was, generous they were. A friendship seed was sowed.
The next day, after having the morning Coffee Bali with Widi, Ujang – a friend of theirs who is a freelance driver and tour guide – picked me up for a first journey around the beautiful island of Bali. Ujang had a plan for the trip which I actually changed according to my earlier research for the places I wanted to see and visit. An old guy with wrinkles thrown here and there on his dark skin reflecting the stony paths he took in his life, yet a funny and determined man he was with an interesting motto: “In case you get lost in Bali, don’t call 911, just call me!”
Off to Ubud, road surrounded by water from both sides as we cross our way out of Denpasar, the Capital of Bali. Our path was paved with temples in yellow and colorful clothing, statues of different symbols and mythologies, art villages, handmade crafts and paintings, then we passed by the monkey forest – without actually stopping because I heard if I was unfortunate to be bitten by a monkey, it is poisonous – we then went to Ubud market, the place where I learned the bargaining game. I was never a bargainer until Bali happened. “So I will let you on a little secret before buying anything, whatever price they give you, always cut it down to half and start bargaining,” Ujang said to me as I was about to buy my first souvenir, he watched me practice my skills at couple of stores, “I think you are ready now to go on your own,” then he walked away to sit somewhere for a later meeting point.
I wandered around the market, and started counting the souvenirs hoping I did not forget anyone. Raindrops started falling, caressing my skin as I walked my way to the Temple, faces reflecting different backgrounds were wandering around, taking pictures while still enjoying the rain.
The reason I took my final decision, firmly, to take my first solo travel to Bali was the Rice Fields, the breathtaking rice fields. I dived into the beautiful famous rice field terrace – Tegalalang.
The rice fields were thrown in an organized yet random order down the valley and all the way up the mountain, like pieces of clothes sewn together by the narrow muddy paths creating the kind of beauty that tackles the soul. I stood there, out of breath and out of mind, couldn’t believe my eyes, the mountains stood there staring back at me with pride showing off their beautiful clothing gifted by mother Earth.
The sun started fading away as we were driving back to the hotel to freshen up and off to discovering the nightlife of Bali. We went to a shisha café at the beach of Sanur, where I enjoyed smoking under the dark sky with a cold breeze missing my hair up and a live local reggae band playing their famous music entertaining the travels who also came leaving their troubles behind. But not for long did I stay for I was exhausted.
Shades of blue were the colors of the sea which I was excited to swim in, but in the sand I swam. Literally. Waves were so high, huge and strong that every time I wanted to just feel the water they would scare me away. Like monsters with their scary voices they were after me keeping me offshore, forcing me to run away, quickly. After the so many back-and-forth escaping games, I decided to lie down on the beach and let the sea come to me! People were passing by laughing at what they saw, a woman on the beach swimming carelessly in the “leftover” waves that made their way to her. Pure joy of a game played, foolishly, by the nature and myself. A child I was.
As the night started falling, it was time for the awaited journey to the mother of all temples, Pura Besakih. I was lucky to catch a ceremony that happens only every 5 years, and I was loved to be embraced by the Family of Augus and Widi who took me with their family. Dressed in traditional and ceremonial Balinese outfit yet not looking like one, everyone was smiling at me, in their eyes I could see they were welcoming me among them in the mother of all temples. I would just do whatever they did, not knowing what exactly was going on, and Widi would translate at some point which flower I should be raising for the next prayer, before it landed in my hair at the end of each one.
I found the offerings were acts of human’s genuine instincts: generosity, kindness and compassion. To live in a place where they give away food with colorful flowers for the unseen spirits, without asking for anything in return, and if animals ended up eating them they wouldn’t feel bad since they did not go to waste but for a living spirit, I was out of this world. Somewhere far from wars and bloodsheds, the Balinese did not have money, in general, but were compassionate enough to live in peace and happiness, far from materialistic pleasures, for they were rich in humanity.
The next day, a new voyage.
Unplanned trip with Ujang and his Australian friends, whom I enjoyed knowing, to the Northeast Coast of Bali, a site mostly known for snorkeling and diving. For the first time, I broke my fears of the deep water and went for snorkeling in Tulamben, where the USAT Liberty shipwreck took a refuge, giving birth to a breathtaking colorful marine-life, I was diving into this entirely new wonder of this universe, different kinds of fish, of all shapes and colors, drifting amongst the joyful corals and crossing my path. Glowing blue fish was tackling every bit of my soul, leaving me mindless, problems-free and a pure spirit enjoying the wonders of this miraculous universe. Looking around me, I almost drowned many times as I forgot to hold my breath wanting to breathe in this life. In that particular moment, while I was swimming around the shipwreck, all my problems in the outer world were washed away. This life seemed bigger, much bigger than the life we live. As I drifted between the hot and cold water, between the wreck, the glowing blue fish, the reef and the dark blue mysterious dimension of the water, I realized: Life is composed of natural phenomena, we just have to dare to live, discover and witness beyond what meets the eye. We have to float in this universe as free spirits, creating miracles of our own. A unified peaceful quest, this thought seemed to be.
Thirsty for adventure still I was, so I went on for another snorkeling voyage in the second famous site where the Japanese shipwreck rested amongst the beautiful corals. Bali stole my worries and fears away, gave me genuine love and kindness in return, and to the genuine I am forever vulnerable, thus, it took a piece of my heart that I never expected to give, willingly.
And like tea dissolving in hot water, the sun dissolved in the sky… creating a velvet horizon, announcing for the stars’ night dance with the moon, the awaited joy for the wounded souls. And with this scene, this chapter has come to an end.
I always wanted to travel alone, and I finally did. This journey has taught me to trust in faith and to trust in paying it forward because I must have done something good in my life to have deserved the genuine love I have found in Bali and among the family of Augus and his wife, Widi. Bali has opened my eyes, freed my soul and rested this tired brain of mine. Traveling solo has unveiled multiple dimensions of how strong I can be, how far I can go, and peeled off layers bringing to life the tough challenger I am.
I traveled alone, but not a day was I alone, for there were always free wanderers crossing my path. And as I shared my story with many, I was asked once: “But how do you trust strangers?” I smiled and told her with regained confidence, “You don’t, you just trust yourself.”