Lines that Divide

Lizard chirps and bird songs woke me up before the sun. We packed our backpacks last night, so we just had to brush our teeth and eat breakfast before catching the bus back to Mandalay for our flight back to Thailand.

On the long journey back to Mandalay, I appreciated the things I was too distracted to appreciate before. Peering out the window, I saw miles and miles and miles of farmland, stretching as far as my eyes could see. There were no tractors, just Burmese men leading their oxen, cultivating the soil.

Homes looked like they could be blown away with the huff and puff of a big bad wolf. Yet, families sat together on the ground sharing meals and playing card games. Children were like cubs in the arms of their mother bears and maybe their aunts. No strollers or fancy contraptions that strap their babies to their chests. I appreciated that there were no daycares in sight.

Colorful marionettes dangled from tree branches waiting to tell stories of spirits and royalty. Yoke the’ is a traditional form of entertainment in Myanmar. Puppets portraying animals, princesses, princes, a king, a brahmin, an alchemist swirled in the wind with tales at the tip of their painted lips.

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Motorbikes and monks crossed rivers that overflowed onto roads.

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As I looked at this piece of the world I thought about how different it is from America. In the United States everything we could want or need can be bought at the store, and we operate machines for hard labor. In these small towns, the people depend on the land for most resources. They depend on their bodies and their animals. While there is an overabundance in America, there’s a sense of simplicity here.

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I wondered what it would be like to be Burmese for a day. I wondered what a day would be like walking in their shoes… But many of them don’t wear shoes. So… in their bare feet.

I couldn’t help but reflect about my own lifestyle. Sometimes I am uncomfortable if things don’t feel clean. And here, women sweep the dirts floors of their houses where the words bedroom, living room, and kitchen are superfluous. In their homes, just one room is shared by an entire family. I have everything I need, plus so much more. But here, the families seem to have just what they need.

I wonder what they want. Many of the things we take for granted in America do not exist to the natives of Myanmar. And how could one want what they don’t know about?

To get close to the ground, the people squat the way our ancestors did. Americans could probably sit that way before our range of mobility became limited by the constant use of chairs and sofas. To get higher, they climb bamboo ladders and patch roofs with tightly weaved palm leaves.

Mandalay seems to lack all of the luxurious things we have access to in the States. It also lacks opportunity. I couldn’t help but feel overcome with gratitude for all the options I have and the choices I get to make.

Where do they buy books?

Where are the schools?

But seriously… Where did the monk get an iPhone??

These patches of Earth are untarnished in many ways. There are no loud roads of traffic. There are no factories blowing clouds of chemicals into the atmosphere. Even the sense of time is different.

It’s a beautiful, natural world in the land of Myanmar, and I wondered if the United States is killing itself. And if and when it does, will Myanmar still be breathing and growing?

Or will the United States and China find a way to steal her trees instead of her gemstones?

I saw a sign in the middle of a verdant, green field, “Royal Bagan Hotel Production.”

It made my stomach twinge. No wonder they treat tourists like we are walking wallets and our initials are U.S.D. Maybe they resent us for our unwelcome attendance in their homeland. How can I blame them? Perhaps the borders were open for tourism to bring money. Locals are the ones working to give tourists a five star experience, yet they will never see the money we spent for the experience. Just like anywhere else in the world the rich keep getting richer, and in some cases, they ride on the bleeding backs of the poor.

When Eric and I travel to undeveloped areas, there is an obvious tension in our interactions.  At first it was really disconcerting and annoying, but now we know that this is life. Unfortunately we come from a greedy nation that is in cahoots with a greedier nation. But just like the Burmese didn’t choose their place of birth, neither did we.

We can’t change the way they look at us, but we can show them that not all of us are here to take from them. We can learn to be givers. Instead of being another “No, thank you,” when they solicit a sale, we can look into their eyes and ask them questions, human being to human being. We can learn from their ways of life and their cultures.

On our next trip I plan to take small things in our backpack. So every time we have to say no, we can still give something small.

* * *

I hope our child or children can travel less like me and more like the hippies and backpackers who are grateful for any cot or bunk or tent to sleep in at night. I hope they can experience the world in an authentic way and learn from the natives of the land.

But I know I would have to expose them to those kinds of conditions. I would have to pave a path for them to follow.

Eric and I learn valuable lessons from these moments of discomfort. Traveling is not about being comfortable. It’s about opening our eyes and our hearts to new experiences, then adapting and allowing our perspectives to evolve.

It’s about learning. The world is rich in knowledge, and the most valuable things are not learned from reading books or memorizing facts, but by engaging in experiences. It’s breaking the routines and habits that make us move like robots on timers.. so we can experience the unknown. It’s recognizing the invisible lines that divide us and finding ways to cross them.

Traveling is immersing ourselves in cultures like diving into an ocean without knowing what’s underneath. Sometimes there will be rocks, it might be hard or even painful, but most of the time it’s mysterious and captivating.

Migrating like monarch butterflies, we can continue to evolve in the most miraculous ways and somehow always find our way.

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Old Bagan, New Day

Backpack packed. Breakfast boxed. E-bike charged. Map in hand.

We were ready to step into a world where the past has been preserved on the beautiful plains of Bagan.

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Last night the hotel receptionist circled the temples on our map that are famous for sunrise. But one of the many travel lessons we have learned is to avoid the most popular locations. I told Eric the name of three more secluded sunrise options that I had read about, and we found their locations on our map.

As we rode down a dark, unknown road the headlight of the scooter went out. Great.

No streetlights or headlights. Had a map, but no road signs. The only signs were for temples, but it was too dark to read them. Do we go straight or turn right?

We pulled over. Both of us looked at two paper maps and one big map on the side of the road. A local on a motorbike stopped to point us in the right direction.

We rode north for a couple of minutes. Then we pulled over again to check the map. The same guy circled us with his motorbike. He offered to help, but he was also trying to lure us to a different temple than the one we wanted to see. It made me uneasy that he followed us. Yeah, we could have used some help, but he kept trying to convince us to go in the opposite direction, like we were as ignorant as fish that bite the sharp hook disguised by a worm.

We’ve been through situations like this before, when it seems like someone wants to help, yet they take us somewhere we wouldn’t choose to be, usually out of the way, and then ask us to pay them. The roads were empty because it was still so early. I told Eric I didn’t trust the guy, and we started the bike.

Now we headed east. Time was running out as the sky’s deep, dark blue hue began to lighten. We didn’t want to miss sunrise, so we pulled over to ask an older couple at the entrance of another temple. When we stopped the bike the man immediately asked for money to enter, even though we already paid for tickets to explore the archeological zone.

We expressed that we just needed help and didn’t want to enter this particular temple. The couple couldn’t speak English, but they understood the name of the temple I was looking for. They used their hands and body language to help direct us.

We headed west then south… backwards. I finally realized we needed to read the signs for temples. Sounds simple, but they were small, dark, and by the dozens… or hundreds. Because we didn’t have a headlight, we had to slow down, pull over, and shine light on each sign.

Somehow we got lucky when we saw the sign for Lowka Oushang. It was closed, but just across a dirt road, a stone’s throw away, stood a tall stupa with stairs carved onto each side. We climbed to the second tier and sat beside each other with our boxed breakfasts.

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The famous and popular Shwesandaw stood in the distance, and dozens of tourists in colorful shirts crowded together on its upper level awaiting sunrise. I was grateful only three other people were on the stupa with us. It was quiet and intimate.

We sat together on top of this ancient structure as the night turned to day. Clouds prevented us from seeing the sunrise, but it was still a spectacular view of the pagodas and temples peeking over the dark green crowns of trees. Behind the distant morning mist we could see the outline of mountains that loom over the Irrawady river like hazy shadows.

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Watching the sky and earth from the edge of this man-made monument, I felt a sense of wonder.. and curiosity.. and absurdity to ever know or understand the mysteries that stand before us, beneath us, and all around.

Could all of these structures really have been built to honor Buddha? Why are they placed so sporadically all over this particular city? Were the builders trying to communicate with someone or something above?

The peaks of even the smallest stupas reach higher than the trees. The big temples look like Kingdoms with a capital K, which makes sense since they were constructed under the orders of kings.

Rendering feelings of peace, awe, and confusion, I thought, “Where in the world are we?” It was all so interesting, and the day had only begun.

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After sunrise we drove around without any destinations in mind. We just rode.

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Turning on curved, dirt roads with the map tucked in Eric’s pocket, we saw stupa-ruins rising above the canopies of tamarind and palm trees. We saw the majestic silhouette of mountains scaling in the distance, and I wished we could get closer to them.

The first temple we went inside was Thagya Hit.

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A large statue of Buddha sat behind an abandoned alter. The temple’s keeper, a small man who was eager to share his knowledge, shined his flashlight on the walls, revealing original eight-hundred-year-old art. As he shined his flashlight and led us through the temple, a coiled snake startled me. But after a closer look we saw that the reptilian creature was actually a pair of mating lizards. With their bodies entwined they appeared to make the infinity symbol.

We looked up at the Buddha image etched into the walls with an eroded face. The keeper said it cracked off during an earthquake in 1975. It was strange how the face was the only part affected by the disaster . . .

The temple’s keeper led us up a hidden stairwell. Standing on the top tier of Thagya Hit we could see the Irawaddy River enclosed by pagoda-studded hills. The keeper pointed to the north. “Mandalay,” he said. Then he pointed to the southwest, “Yangon.”

The Irawaddy, also called the Ayeyardwady, flows north to south into the Indian Ocean. From the second story of the temple we could see the tallest pagodas in Bagan. The keeper pointed to an imposing monument in the distance. “Htilominlo,” he said.

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We went there next. The Htilominlo Temple, a massive monument built in 1218, was named after King Htilominlo. Inside were four Buddha statues facing the cardinal directions. People kneeled before the shrines, praying with incense and lotus offerings.

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Faded murals of Buddha were illustrated on the walls. My favorite parts of this temple were the tiles that tell stories with scenes from the Jataka tales. In Sanskrit, Jataka means “birth history.” The scenes portray images that represent the life of Siddharta Gautama. There was a charming quality to the tarnished art within the damaged walls.

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We continued riding down random dirt paths, each one leading us to another temple or pagoda. Stupas substituted power lines. Pagoda crowns rose to the clouds like skyscrapers.

Almost all of the pagodas are topped with a spired ornament called a hti, which means umbrella. The hti represents protection of the Three Jewels; the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha.

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Out next stop was Shwegugyi Pagoda. Shwegugyi, meaning “the Golden Cave,” was built in the 11th century while Bagan was under the reign of King Alaungsithu. Giant, ancient teak doors were propped open at each entry. Cracks reached like rivers of veins from the walls to the ceilings from the 1975 earthquake. Original Sanskrit inscriptions and Pali poems were engraved on the walls.

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After exploring the temple we bought a sand painting from a teenaged girl named Eirzer. She had completed hundreds of pieces, which made me wonder whether or not she goes to school.

“My family is very poor so I cannot go to school. I help my family by making art,” she told us.

Eirzer has never been to school, but she speaks English well, knows some Thai, and is a wonderful artist. She even explained the cultural, mythological, and religious meanings of her creations.

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Thatbyinnyu Temple, the tallest pagoda in Bagan, could be seen towering over trees from most of the other temples. Thatbyinnyu, meaning “the Omniscient,” was built in the 12th century. The name represents the state Buddha achieved through meditation, an omnipresence through time and space.

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Adjacent to Thatbyinnyu stands Ananda temple, one of Bagan’s most visited temples. The name was derived from Siddhartha Gautama’s first cousin and loyal companion, Ananda. In Pali Sanskrit, Ananda means “bliss.”

We experienced a strange moment of synchronicity at Ananda. At the entrance hallway, we stopped to look at books about the culture and art of Myanmar. Suddenly the shop keeper handed Eric Burmese Days by George Orwell. At first we were like, “What the….?” Because out of ALL the books she had, she handed Eric one by his favorite author. It was almost creepy. “How did she know?” we thought. She wasn’t even haggling, or annoying us, or trying to get us to buy anything. She just handed it to him and turned away. Then we were like, “Whoa… what just happened?” It was a magically aligned moment.

Of course we bought it as a souvenir.

Within Ananda are four standing Buddhas facing the four directions of a compass. The statues of Buddha are made from teak and adorned with gold leaf.

Kassapa and Kakusandha, the south and north-facing statues of standing Buddha, are said to be original. Both replicas have hands placed in dhammachakka or dharmachakra, a mudra that symbolizes the Buddha’s first sermon, teaching the path to nirvana.

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Kongamana, the east-facing image of Buddha, holds between the thumb and middle finger a small pill-like sphere. This mudra symbolizes Buddha offering the cure to suffering. The photos unfortunately do not capture the great height of these statues.

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Gautama, the west-facing image of Buddha, is displayed with his hands in abhaya mudra. This mudra symbolizes peace, benevolence, and fearlessness. It is said that this gesture was used by Siddharta Guatama when he was attacked by an elephant.

There is a sad legend about the monks who designed the Ananda temple. Eights monks came to King Kyanzittha seeking alms. They told the king about the temple where they meditated in the Himalayas. King Kyanzittha invited them to his palace to receive a detailed description of the temple. He then requested to have the Nandamula Cave temple re-created on the Bagan plains. After the Ananda temple was constructed, King Kyanzittha had the architects killed so the temple could not be imitated anywhere else.

* * *

While admiring the beauty and magnificence of the temples, one can’t help but think about the labor involved to build such masterpieces. The temples were built under the order of kings. People worked like slaves.

Eric and I pondered the deeper meaning of Buddhism. Siddhartha Gautama would not want to see people slaving and suffering under the ruling of kings to build these magnificent structures used for worship. He did not want to be worshipped.

Siddhartha meditated under trees, in the mountains, beside rivers. Not in giant temples built by poor men under royal rulers, where people sell incense and golden leaves to place on larger-than-life statues.

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Somehow the truths and philosophies of Buddhism got buried beneath rituals and religious ideas.

* * *

It was a day of recovery and discovery, exploration and imagination. So much, yet so little remains of these archaeological masterpieces. Some of the monuments have survived a thousand years, and we felt lucky to see them with our own eyes, to learn the history, to experience the culture.

At the end of the day we started hunting a perfect spot to watch the sunset. Because we seek seclusion, we didn’t want to go to the Shwesandaw temple, famous for the sunset views. Riding down dirt roads without direction or a destination, we discovered a hidden treasure. We climbed to the top of the ancient pagoda to watch the sun’s descent behind the stupa-studded horizon.

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Pagodas peeked over the plains.

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We were on an adventure.. Physically, we were tourists sitting on an archaeological wonder. But as we sat there, I kept contemplating… questioning stories I had read, and creating stories of my own. As I looked at the Earth adorned with these sacred, ancient structures, I made up theories about why they were built. I went on my own inner adventure.

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I was lost in the beauty and colors and confusion of the mystery of being. So much doesn’t make sense, but I’m addicted to the confusion…

And he, my Eric, my partner in this magnificent life journey, was golden. He was enchanting.

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I was enchanted. The images of Old Bagan are distilled into my memories.

 

Bumps in Bagan

It’s been a bumpy ride to say the least, not just because of the road conditions, which made the five-hour ride feel like a detour down a rocky backroad. That’s how long it takes on a bus from Mandalay to Bagan.

When we arrived by plane to Myanmar we quickly realized we weren’t fully prepared for this brief expedition to Old Bagan, the land of over 2,200 Buddhist temples, pagodas, and monasteries.

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Mandalay International Airport doesn’t offer wifi, which squashed our laughable plan of getting a Grab or Uber like we’ve done during our other SE Asia trips. It’s now embarrassing  to admit we thought we could simply catch an Uber, because even finding a taxi was a difficult, expensive headache.

We eventually bought two tickets for an hour long van ride to the Mandalay bus station. From there, we were told, we could catch another bus towards Bagan. Imagine a gravel and dirt lot lined with open shacks, no signs, and a bunch of locals eating, talking, and spitting betel on the ground. One of those shacks was the bus station, although there was nothing to distinguish it from the others.

We were the only tourists in sight, and all eyes were on us. “How do we even buy a water?” I thought. Somehow we managed to find the “bus station.” There were no signs or price lists, so it was one of those situations where you just have to trust a stranger’s word. Once again we approached a language barrier, but found our way over it and onto a bus after paying 18000 kyats.

Looking out the window was like watching an unfamiliar film as I observed settings that were so different than the world I know. Locals squatted under trees that seemed to be the only source of shade for miles. Fisherman stood chest deep in rivers with their bamboo rods. No tall buildings or intersecting paved roads. No traffic lights or shopping malls. No billboards or 7 Elevens or stores. Just thatch-roofed huts selling golden mangos that overflowed from weaved baskets.

Instead of pants, men wore longyis, which are the traditional sheets of cloth worn around the waist by Burmese men and women. Instead of makeup created in factories, women wore a cosmetic paste called thanaka, which they make by grinding matured Thanaka trees and mixing the grounds with water. It is antifungal, has a sandalwood scent, and is used for cosmetic beauty and sun protection. Thanaka paste has been used by Burmese women for over 2,000 years and is a distinguishing element of Myanmar culture.

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Scenes that seemed fictional reeled in reality. Women carried on top of their heads an assortment of snacks I’ve never tasted. They looked so poised and graceful with their heads held high and shoulders pressed down and back. One lady turned, looked from left to right, and ran across the road, all without dropping the items precariously propped on her head. Her sense of balance alluded me.

It was a humbling sight as other women walked across sunny fields with bundles of bamboo bent over their shoulders. The women were so small yet so strong, and I admired their strength.

A pair of young men squatted in the dirt weaving palm leaves and sticks into roofs and fences. “We could learn so much from these people,” I thought.

I realized this would be a new experience for Eric and me. No one on the bus could speak English, nor could the bus station employees. So, not only were we unsure of our arrival time, but where exactly the bus would drop us was also a mystery.

“Are they taking us to our hotel or to another bus station?” I asked Eric.

“I don’t know, probably another station,” he responded.

* * *

Five hours later we arrived at another bus station. We made it to Bagan! Some locals greeted us and then led us to a truck taxi called a lain ka. Riding in the back, we looked out into darkness for twenty minutes before reaching a town with streetlights, restaurants, and hotel signs. It was crazy to see how dressed-up the tourist areas were, especially compared to the small towns we passed on the bus.

It was now late, and we still had to check in and organize our scooter rental for the morning. As soon as we put our backpacks down, we laid on the bed with our legs up the wall. Inverting after long days has become a ritual. We could literally feel the synthesized energy in our feet and ankles trickle down our legs.

Even though our hotel had five stars in cleanliness, a mildewy smell came from the bathroom, and the tiles were moldy. Inside the room, mosquitoes were drawn to me like jing-joks to night light. I already couldn’t wait to get back to our comfortable, convenient condo in Bangkok.

During our travels, we’ve stayed in some rough rooms, including a thatched hut in Cambodia. I hoped that traveling would help me overcome some of my OCD tendencies. But I still feel that distracting discomfort when I’m in a place that doesn’t feel clean. I was already getting bitten by mosquitos just sitting on the bed.. I just felt uncomfortable.

I started thinking about the Burmese houses without plumbing that I saw from the bus. I felt grateful for the showers I take at home and decided to take this shower with the simple intention to wash my body. The shower didn’t need to be clean or comfortable.. It just needed to have soap and water.

We hadn’t eaten a “square meal,” as Eric would call it, all day. We took the map given by the hotel front desk and walked the dark roads to a late dinner at 7 Sisters, a nearby restaurant run by seven local sisters.

By the end of the long, expensive day that we thought would be short, cheap, and easy, I just wanted to lay my head on Eric’s familiar chest.

I guess we didn’t really prepare ourselves for this trip, which was supposed to be a painless ‘visa run.’ At first, visa runs were fun. They were an excuse and opportunity to explore SE Asia. We researched and put a lot of thought and planning into the trips. Now several trips later, the intoxication of the nomadic life has faded into a need for balance and stability.

Though we wanted to stay in Thailand, we had to hop across the border. So we planned a last minute trip to Thailand’s neighbor, Myanmar. We thought it would be the most inexpensive and quickest option. Mandalay was the cheapest flight promotion through Air Asia, and we both wanted to see the archaeological zone in Old Bagan. So we booked it.

And even though it was a stressful day.. we made it. Traveling and living in Asia has helped us learn how to adapt and make it through unknown, uncomfortable situations. A sense of accomplishment arises when we have to adapt and improvise without things we usually depend on like wifi, google maps, and spoken communication. We made it here without any of those things.

Monarch butterflies on their great migration don’t carry maps or follow signs, but somehow they arrive at their destination. They don’t teach their offspring the route, yet somehow they too can follow the same path. We need to get back to the nature within us.

Tomorrow we will wake up at 4:45 to see the sun rise over Bagan. It will all be worth it.

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Honeymoon

June 16th was a day to remember. I don’t want to forget anything that happened. And so I write.

After our less than perfect day of getting robbed, losing our money, disagreeing, crying, and returning to an apartment we didn’t feel comfortable in, we decided to wake up early to find some of Bali’s secluded beaches.

At 7:00 am we walked to the scooter rental and shared a cappuccino at Pearl. We rode through many jalans, which means “street” in Indonesian. Then, once again, we merged onto one of Bali’s busiest highways. Luckily it was early, and the flow of traffic was pretty steady.

There is so much freedom in exploring with a scooter because we can make random stops if we see something that entices us. We saw some bakeries and thought it would be nice to start the day with breakfast.

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At Cafe Moka we shared a cappuccino, fresh papaya juice, homemade toast with butter and jam, eggs, bacon, and fresh fruit.

We rode the scooter for an hour and a half to the southern most areas of South Kuta. Our first stop was Green Bowl Beach. We parked the scooter on the bukit (Indonesian for “hill”) under the shade of a tree. The Pura Batu Pageh temple stood to our right and a couple little shacks selling fresh coconuts and snacks sat to our left. Wild monkeys peeked at us from inside the temple while others gathered around local women weaving souvenirs.

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We paused at the top of the cliff before descending 300+ stairs to access the beach. There was a sense of anticipation, but we took our time to take in the atmosphere. Every now and then the curtain of trees would open, showing us glimpses of the sea.

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Families of long-tailed macaques with mothers holding their babies crossed our path. We observed quietly with smiling faces.

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When we reached the bottom of the stairs we got our first panoramic view of the sea. The tide was high. Waves crashed against rocks. Natural caves sunk into the curves of limestone cliffs. It was beautiful.

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We spent the morning sitting in the sand, leaning against the surface of a bluff, watching the waves.

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Eventually the tide rose so high that it wet the sarongs we were sitting on and almost carried away Eric’s shoes. We hiked back up the 300+ stairs.

When we got back to our scooter we found a macaque sitting on a scooter beside ours. I watched it watch Eric. When Eric put the backpack down, the monkey jumped right in front of him and snarled its sharp teeth. I jumped back. Eric imitated its attempt at intimidation and made himself bigger than the monkey (which wasn’t hard). The monkey didn’t budge and made a motion like it would attack. I wish I had this on camera.

When Eric’s intimidation failed, he took a step back. The monkey jumped down to our backpack and started pulling things out. We began yelling at it, but it was on a mission and ignored us. Out of nowhere an elderly local man appeared with a slingshot. He didn’t hurt the monkey, but you could tell it recognized the slingshot because as soon as he saw it, he ran off. True life.

We thanked the old man, hopped on the scooter, and rode away like nothing happened.

“Did you just have a showdown with a monkey?” I asked.

And we both laughed as we rode along the edge of the island.

* * *

Next we drove to Pantai Ganung Payung. (Pantai means “beach,” payung means “umbrella.”) Once again, to access the beach we had to walk down many stairs. And once again, it was a beautiful walk. Unlike Green Bowl Beach’s stairs, these were not enclosed with walls of trees. With each step the view of the ocean got bigger and bigger. We were present for every step.

When we reached the bottom, the beauty magnified. Azure waters painted the shore in shades of blue. Behind me, emerald vines weaved down the surface of the steep cliffs that loomed over the beach. And Eric, my deepest, truest love stood in awe with a glow in his eyes. Am I dreaming?

It was the most beautiful, breathtaking beach I had ever seen or been to. There were maybe six other people there. It was quiet, secluded, and heavenly. There weren’t any locals trying to sell things to us. We could just be.

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The golden sun appeared and disappeared behind floating clouds and kissed our skin. The wind and the waves soothed me with their serene sounds.  The sandy Earth absorbed me, and like releasing a clinching fist… I felt myself let go.  The elements fulfilled their grounding magic and peace was returned to my heart.

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We stayed at Pantai Ganung Payung most of the day. Eric went all the way up the steps to get a young coconut drink for himself and a chilled Bintang Radler. (Bintang is Bali’s renowned beer and radler gives it a twist of lemon or grapefruit.) It was probably the best beer I had ever tasted. We shared the coconut and a pandan sandwich.

Hanging a sarong on the branches of a leafless tree for shade, we laid together on the sand. I kept thinking, this is a place people might see once in a lifetime, maybe for a honeymoon. I felt so grateful and closed my eyes on his tanned chest.

It was the most natural, secluded beach I have ever seen or felt. I could really feel the grounding, yet elevating effects. We worshipped the sea, the sun, and the sand. Gratitude and love overflowed from our spirits. Our auras radiated gold.

I didn’t want to leave. But we wanted to continue our adventures. So we climbed the steps, paused at the top to see it one more time, then hopped on the scooter.

* * *

Next stop.. Nusa Dua, an east coast beach 45 minutes away.  We walked to the end of a rocky pier. It was the golden hour. The sunshine was perfect. I spun around in a circle, letting the wind wrap around me. Eric expanded his arms, opened his heart, and lifted his smiling face to the sun. We embraced the moment.

Somehow we got lucky and found an outdoor bathroom where we dusted off sand and changed out of our bathing suits for dinner.

We couldn’t stay at Nusa Dua for long because we wanted to get to a beach on the west coast to watch the sunset.

“Let’s go chase the sunset,” Eric said. As if our day could get any better…

He loved driving the scooter, and l loved holding onto him. Here we go again.

* * *

We opened google maps on my phone and scanned the southwest coast for beaches to watch sunset. Although our Airbnb was on Kuta beach, we wanted to spend our last night somewhere less populated. We chose a random beach, Bingin, and once again… everything was falling into place.

We got there just in time to see the fading sun splash colors of pink and purple across the canvas of the sky. We walked down another mountain of steps and shared an ice cream on the way. At the bottom we found a sweet beachside barbeque.

It was the perfect last dinner in Bali. Fisherman had their coolers set up so you could choose what you want.. tuna, snapper, prawn, squid. They grilled it on a fire right there on the sand and served it with vegetables, rice, and Indonesian spices. We also ordered some chips, which were fresh potatoes sliced and fried.

It wasn’t a busy, touristy restaurant that has a bunch of reviews on google. It wasn’t playing loud western music. It didn’t have white tablecloths. It was a hidden gem, like all the pantais we saw today. We enjoyed our dinner at a table on the sand with the ocean before us. I sipped my Bintang. A single candle flickered.

dinner

* * *

We were an hour and a half away from the apartment. It was now dark, and we only had 27% of battery left on my phone. We had been using it as our map and needed it to find our way back. There was an initial, “Oh no we better hurry.” But we quickly realized that there wasn’t anything we could do about it, so we should continue embracing each moment. Nothing could spoil this amazing day.

We probably should have went straight home, but it was our last night.. There were so many foods we still hadn’t tried. So we made some random roadside stops to get street food. First we got Gorenga. Then we stopped for dessert.

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I watched the lady prepare our dessert from her cart. She put fried bananas in a box then grated a block of cheese and a block of chocolate which coated the bananas. Then she added sweet milk and spices. It was an explosion of flavors. We stood there in the parking lot, still wearing our helmets indulging in the street dessert.

Then my battery died.

We basically winged it. I told Eric, worst case scenario, we could get a taxi to the Airbnb, and he could follow on the scooter. Eric’s phone still had a bit of battery left, but his didn’t have a SIM card so we needed wifi. We drove in the general direction and stopped at another random cafe to get gelato and use their wifi.

After using wifi we had screenshots of the map. I tried to help navigate, but somehow we ended up on a toll highway. Cars were zooming by. Eric ended up in the lane that said NO SCOOTERS OR MOTORCYCLES. But it was too late to turn around.

I held on tight.

It was dark. To my right were speeding vehicles. To my left was the dark ocean. I didn’t know where we were going, but there were no exits in sight. Not to mention we were the only two-wheeler in this lane. A thick rail separated us from the scooter lane. My heart was racing.

“I’m scared,” I told Eric.

“It’s okay.”

It was the longest road over water I have ever been on. It was insane.

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Eventually I started to be in the moment. Miles and miles of dark ocean surrounded Mandara Toll Road. The wind blew against us. We started laughing at the situation.

“What the hell have we gotten ourselves into!?” we laughed.

We ended up on one of Bali’s most dangerous streets, “Sunset Road.” Eric weaved in and out of traffic.

Finally we pulled over and asked for help in a closing tour guide booth. Luckily, the employee knew how to get to our Airbnb, showed us on a map, and gave it to us. After a two and a half hour scooter adventure in South Kuta, we arrived at the apartment.

* * *

Riding the scooter all over Bali with Eric is one of my best memories from all of our trips. We were doing something new, something risky, wandering with freedom, figuring things out as a team, seeing beautiful places, making random stops, tasting exotic foods on the side of the road, seeing true Bali.. Going over the sea on the tollway road, searching for secret beaches hidden away from tourism, chasing the sunset…

The exhilaration and adrenaline we felt was incomparable.

scooter

* * *

I didn’t want to leave Bali. But I look over on the airplane, and he is beside me. There are more places for us to see and explore together. There are more foods to taste, and so much more for us to learn. We are getting better at this traveling thing. Finally getting the knack of it. We are learning. We are living our dreams.

This week when we return to Thailand, we will be moving into our condo in Bang Na. Another chapter begins in our story. Words cannot express the gratitude in my heart for this partner I have. He’s my human ally. I love him from the deepest realms within my heart, to the tips of my fingertips, and it can’t be contained… And so I write.

May our honeymoon continue.

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“We were both wild birds chasing the stars. We’d lose our way and find new places, close our eyes and fall back towards a constellation of dreams. We wrapped ourselves in a blanket of passion and each night we fell deeper without control, into this strange space called love.” -Robert M. Drake

 

 

 

 

Dark Waves

June 15, 2017

I wait two days before writing about this day, so it may be difficult to describe the wave of emotions that crashed over us.

We started with our habitual morning routines of coffee and quietness before packing and going to our next place in Kuta.

“I’m going to miss this bungalow,” I said.

“I know so am I, but tomorrow we are going to wake up on the beach!” encouraged Eric.

We almost always stay in Airbnbs, but Eric really want us to stay at a hotel the last couple of nights so we could be right on the beach. We imagined seafood dinners and evening walks beside the ocean, observing the sun’s descent towards the horizon.

Once we arrived at Citadines Hotel, the man at the reception desk said we couldn’t pay with Eric’s card even though they had it on file, so we left our luggage at the hotel and walked to nearby money exchangers.

We found a great conversion rate, so we went inside. 

One worker stood behind the counter to assist us. As Eric placed a $100 bill on the counter, another worker came beside me and kept asking me questions. 

“Where are you from?”

“Where are you staying?”

In that moment, it just seemed like a friendly, curious interaction. However, the feelings that took over me were instinctual. My intuition started quietly communicating with me, telling me that something wasn’t right. An inner dialogue was dictated within my mind.

“Kat, isn’t it weird that this guy approached you at this specific moment? Pay attention to this transaction,” a voice from within warned me.

One after another, like rolling waves, the voices inside my head were pleading their cases…

“He’s just being friendly. Don’t worry.”

“No, he doesn’t care about what you’re doing or where you are staying. He’s a con-artist trying to distract you!”

“Why are you so suspicious? Think the best of people.”

“Just ignore him. Or tell him to leave you alone.”

This battle in my brain continued.. Thoughts were appearing and dissolving before I could grasp them.

The man behind the counter started counting the rupiah. At the same time the man beside me continued his questioning…

“Are you going shopping?”

“Are you going swimming?”

I was counting money mentally while answering his questions verbally. Even though my intuition warned me, I became overwhelmed and distracted.  

I had been paying attention while the man placed bills in front of us. After he counted the large bills he said he didn’t have small change and could not give us an exact conversion. He asked Eric if he could break a large bill. Eric looked down at his money for a second.

Because I had read about exchange scams, I knew not to take my eyes off the bills on the counter. I also knew it was fishy that he asked Eric for small change after converting on calculator and counting the money. 

Then the man beside me began tapping on my arm.

“Are you married?”

“Is this your honeymoon?”

As I recall and write this now, it seems so obvious! But it all happened so quickly. Eric didn’t realize what was happening in my head.. and he seemed oblivious to any deception that was occurring during the exchange.

I just had a feeling. 

As soon as we walked out, I told Eric we should recount the money.

He responded, “We just watched him count it, but okay..”

“I just think it’s weird that another man was involved. He was tapping on my arm, as if he was trying to distract me. Then the other man needed you to look for change. They exchange money, they should have the change, not us…”

My intuition was practically screaming at this point, wanting to be heard. 

Eric listened to what I had experienced. He usually believes my feminine intuition to be a powerful asset during our travels and life in general, so he led us into a hotel lobby around the corner, away from the crowds of tourists and souvenir shops. Eric took the money out and began counting the stack of blue bills. 

$100 USD was supposed to covert to 1,389,000 rupiah.

I counted in my head as he flipped through the blue papers. We both counted 1,000,000, but no more. 

Eric seemed surprised that 389,000 rupiah was missing.

He counted it again. While he checked his pockets, I  had already began walking back to the exchanger. 

My feelings had started simmering as soon as we initially entered their shop and were bombarded with questions. Now, they were boiling. From Eric’s perspective it probably seemed as though my emotions hit a hundred in an instant. But I now felt like my suspicions were justified. 

During our walk back to retrieve our stolen money, I told Eric that I could feel it, that I knew something wasn’t right.

“You were right. You were right. You were right,” he said. 

I was so confused about that phrase, You were right. He wasn’t listening to me. I felt dismissed. 

I was mad. Mad at the money exchangers for taking advantage of others. Mad at them because they tarnished my capacity for trust. I think some people are ignorant when they meet American tourists. They become blinded by the USD, and forget that we are people too..

I also felt mad at Eric because of his comment, “We just watched him count it.” It felt like he didn’t take me seriously when I expressed a need to recount. And for saying, “You were right,” when I was just trying to vent. We have never been the kind of couple that cares who is right or wrong. 

But mostly I was mad at myself. Because of my desire to be kind, even though something inside me knew we were being deceived, I didn’t listen to my intuition. I heard it, but I didn’t listen.

It doesn’t feel good to be suspicious of other humans. In my heart, I wish I could just trust. A daunting cloud of guilt hangs over me when I judge a person or situation without knowing them. And now, I was judging myself. My pace quickened.

Eric asked me to calm down. He wanted me to slow down. I wanted him to speed up.

“Think about it. They just robbed us, they are not going to just give it back,” he said. 

“I’m still going to try.” I replied.

When we re-entered their store, their friendly smiles faded into frowns. They knew why we returned. We asked for the rest of our money. Instead, the man behind the counter handed us our $100 bill, and we gave him back the rupiah. It was like they had been through this kind of encounter before because they didn’t show a hint of hesitation. 

Eric slipped the bill into his pocket.

“I can’t believe you do this to people. I would never steal from you. It makes me very sad,” I said with all of my heart.

We walked away.

At least we got our money back.

Did I cause them to steal it with my negative thoughts?

* * *

After the deception, we were both a little off balance, a little on edge. We still needed to exchange money so we could check-in to the hotel. We went into a couple more places, and for some reason none of them had exact change.. only big bills. It didn’t make sense to me. Like it was a trend… Do they all do it the same way? The art of stealing.

We purchased a drink at a mini-mart so we would have change, then went to a new money exchanger prepared. As the worker led us to the counter, Eric reached into his pocket for the $100 bill. But it wasn’t there. 

“Babe, where did we put the money?” he asked.

“You put it in your pocket,” I replied.

He took off our backpack, and we started unzipping and searching while the man stood beside us waiting to exchange.

We couldn’t find the bill anywhere.

We retraced our tracks. Did the same people from earlier steal it? Did someone on the road steal it? Did it fall out of Eric’s pocket?

At this point, I just wanted to get out of this area. I felt like a target. 

I was trying to think, but with every step we took, hagglers were hollering, trying to lure us into their souvenir shops.

“Cheap, Cheap! I give discount.”

The equatorial sun was pouring its relentless rays onto our shoulders. The haggling continued as store owners saw dollar signs instead of humans. We couldn’t even go back to the hotel because we still hadn’t exchanged money. 

I really resented the men who robbed us right before our eyes, because now I was looking at all of the other store owners with narrow vision. I didn’t trust anyone.

We went back to the hotel. Eric was upset that they wouldn’t use his card and seemed to be taking the previous hour’s frustrations out on them. 

I wasn’t any help. I wanted him to take care of everything without me. I couldn’t believe he lost a hundred dollars. I was being stubborn, and I regret that now.

He told them that we would stay somewhere else, and we took our luggage outside. 

We were both pretty heated at this point. In the grand scheme of things, it was just money. But it wasn’t just money. It was the key into our hotel. Here we were in a foreign country, having just been recipients of deception and misfortune. Now with nowhere to stay, we were stranded. 

We found some chairs outside another mini-mart. Our laptop had 6% battery, and Eric tried to find an Airbnb before it died… without my help. 

It seemed like one thing after another. We couldn’t check in. We were robbed. We lost our money. Negative circumstances were just following us like rain clouds, and I got caught in the weather. My frustrations were tangible, and I wasn’t really communicating with Eric.

He wanted me to “let it go.” That made me more upset because I thought I had the right to navigate through these circumstances and feelings in my own way. I thought, Just because he can let it all go so quickly doesn’t mean I have to be like him. I will let it go, but it just takes me more time. 

As soon as he booked a place for us to stay, we stood up and put on our backpacks. Nearby Taxi drivers saw us and began yelling. 

“Where are you going?” one asked. 

“Need a ride?” another one chimed in. 

Eric asked how much.

“100,000.”

“No thanks,” we responded.

“50,000.”

No. This is a game. Get me out of this area!

Eric arranged a Grab car. It ended up being 27,000.

By the time we arrived to the Airbnb, we were deflated. The whole day was wasted. We were mostly upset at ourselves and each other for how we responded to the situations. 

* * *

We thought, “How can we try to make the most of today…. or what little of today is left?”

We decided to go to the beach as it was only a two minute walk. We didn’t take our bathing suits or a towel or sunscreen. Neither of us was in the mood to play. We were both lost in a maze within our minds.

At this point, I was pretty frazzled. In my head I was questioning everything. I was questioning humans. Questioning myself. Questioning Eric.

I could feel that he was in a similar state. It caused him to question the future… that under negative circumstances I might just close myself off and not be on his team. 

He said that I care about money differently than he does.

Then I felt like I had to justify myself, explain myself, and I had never had to do that before. He had always loved and accepted my quirks and flaws. 

We spent the evening talking by the ocean, ignoring the crowds, attempting to express our fears, concerns, and true feelings. We felt defeated. We felt misunderstood.

We are different when it comes to money, and that’s always been okay. But we have been sharing an account for six months now, and it’s been an adjustment.

I told him I want his help with all of the little things I do. I always double check the bills, search for the best deal, recount change, look for the best value, negotiate. I resist a lot of temptations so I can save. I research how much a scooter costs before we go to the rentals, and I research the usual taxi fare so we don’t get ripped off. As a driver takes us from one place to the next, I whisper to Eric how much this should cost because there has been a pattern of getting overcharged, and he laughs..

He lets a lot go. He doesn’t understand why I care so much. Sometimes he defends the person we are paying. “This is their job. This is how they support their families,” he says. 

That doesn’t mean we should be tricked. We travel on a budget. When we are traveling all the time, we can’t afford to be careless. If a taxi fare costs 20,000 rupiah, I don’t want to pay 100,000. 

If it was just me, I would continue my financial habits in the solitude of my own mind with my own money. Now that everything is ours, I feel like I have to verbally share my resistances and calculations. Sometimes it’s exhausting, and sometimes it makes me insecure. That’s why I asked Eric to help me with some of it. 

“But I am different than you when it comes to money,” he said. “I don’t care about some of the things that carry so much weight with you, and I feel like you need me to. I am worried that maybe I am not what you need to be happy and comfortable in the future, and I am just holding on to you for my own selfishness. I don’t want you to suffer.” 

By the end of the night I just felt so misunderstood. Finally… I let the waves take me under.

“I think you are right,” I said with coldness.

“Maybe you aren’t the person I need for happiness in the future,” I continued, “because you aren’t listening or trying to understand. I don’t need you to care about things like money the same way that I do. I need you to care about me enough to help make things easier on me because I care.”

Suddenly, there was silence. The rolling waves became still for just a moment, and we could finally come up for air. In that space, the energy shifted.

Dark waves could be heard, but not seen. Music streamed from beachside restaurants. It was getting chilly, and I wrapped my sarong over my shoulders. The wind whistled. Stars shimmered. 

And we cried. He finally realized what I was trying to say. He finally understood.. not the words I was saying.. but the meaning and feelings behind the words. He wrapped his arms around me. 

“I’m so sorry, Kat.” 

I looked up at him with tears in my eyes. 

“I am sorry too.”

We took a step back from the struggle and gave ourselves enough space to see the maze in our minds from the outside. With our gazes pointed within, we found our way back to each other.

“For you and for me, the highest moment, the keenest joy, is not when our minds dominate. But when we lose our minds, and you and I both lose it in the same way, through love.” -Anais Nin

* * *

We both have so much learning to do. Right now our lives are not consistent. We are in a new country every month, staying in new places, navigating unknown roads, and learning different money conversions. It’s intoxicating and incredible, but at times it is hard. It’s hard to find balance.

And we are doing the best we can. We are growing from all of these experiences. We are learning so much about the world… things that we wouldn’t learn if we had the same day-to-day routines. We are learning so much about ourselves and each other.

If I want him to take on more, I have to learn to let go. Sometimes things happen that are out of our control, and all we can do is control the way we respond to them. 

We love each other enough to not give up when rocks appear in the river of our relationship. Our roots are entwined. In the end we are lucky to experience these moments because they teach us how to become better. They are preparing us for something bigger… 

* * *

As we embraced beneath the desolate sky, we saw a sea turtle emerging from the ocean onto the sand. We ran closer so we could see.

Isn’t it amazing how they can migrate such long distances, sometimes across entire oceans… but can always find their way home?

Dim Sun

June 14, 2017

We woke up early.. smiling, cuddling, and loving each other.

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We decided to go to the beautiful beaches that were on my wishlist today. We showered to wash away the remnants of our love. We had coffee and toast with apricot jam and packed a backpack with sunscreen and water. We squeezed the bag under the seat of the Scoopy scooter and headed out to explore the island.

The weather was flawless.. Azure skies, sunshine with some wispy clouds, and a soft breeze.

Riding on the scooter with my arms wrapped around my love and my chin resting on his right shoulder, I took in everything around me. The scent of incense, drivers filling up their scooters with gas out of Absolut vodka bottles, the aromas of mee goreng and nasi goreng coming from kitchens, locals wrapped in sarongs carrying trays of daily offerings. My senses were suspended. The atmosphere was intoxicating.

We knew it would be kind of a long ride for a scooter and unfamiliar roads, but so far all of the roads we have ridden have been slow, narrow, and easy-going. After fifteen minutes of riding, we entered a busy, speeding highway. Fear fogged my vision, and I became hyper anxious. Eric wasn’t that experienced on a scooter, and even if he were.. I would still think it was very dangerous… especially on a speedway. My heart was racing, and I was holding on tighter.

“Baby, I’m really scared. This is really dangerous. It’s not worth it.” I said.

“It’s okay, love. I’ll be very careful.”

“Please slow down.” I asked.

“I have to go with the flow of traffic. Trust me.”

I trusted him. But I didn’t trust all of the other vehicles that were whizzing by.

Eric weaved through spaces of traffic just big enough to fit a single scooter. I tried unsuccessfully to shrink myself. Eventually we got into a flow, and could breath easy again. I helped navigate directions while he drove us through places we’ve never seen before. We ended up seeing so much more of true Bali, completely untouched by tourism. It felt risky, but I trusted him. It was exhilarating.

“Together, they were afraid of nothing.” -Emily Bronte

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We rode an hour and a half to Belangan Beach. It was breathtaking. I couldn’t stop smiling, and couldn’t look away as I tried to absorb as much of its beauty as I could. We rented two chairs and an umbrella, which was a treat for us because we usually just sit on one of my tapestries. The waves were strong, so there weren’t many swimmers… but I couldn’t resist.

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We rode the scooter to the cliff overlooking the beach. It was magical and dreamy and stunning. We kept saying.. “I can’t believe we are here. I can’t believe this is our life.” It was one of those views that feels like an illusion. Standing at the edge of the earth, we became enveloped by feelings of wonder.

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We stopped by a little market and purchased a cold water and a refreshing Asian pear. It was so nice to be exploring at our own pace, following our own desires. Then we headed to Dreamland Beach. Instead of high-rise hotels and expensive commercial restaurants, these beaches were bordered by cliffs, trees, and shacks selling coconuts. I couldn’t believe how beautiful. I rotated around in a complete circle and all around me, there was beauty. Eric’s eyes were the color of the cerulean waters, and I was enchanted. Our spirits were elevated.

Playing in the waves, I laughed so hard. I was so grateful when Eric played with me. We tried to ride the currents to the shore, but they were smashing us, causing me to tumble under water. People nearby probably thought it was my first time seeing an ocean because I couldn’t contain my excitement. We kept getting tons of sand in our bathing suits… I mean soooo much sand….my bathing suit was sagging. It was almost impossible to get it out without getting beat up by another wave. So it became a game of us versus the waves as we tried to dip under before another one rolled over us.

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Dreamland wasn’t completely secluded, but it also wasn’t as touristy as Echo or Seminyak. It still possessed it’s natural beauty. The people around us were all smiling and enjoying the waves. I kept staring at Eric. We were becoming golden. My heart was as bright as the shining sun.

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On our way back to Canggu we drove through authentic Bali. We were the only tourists for miles. Families handwashing clothes outside and young men standing chest deep in rivers with fishing nets. We came home, showered, then went to dinner.

Earlier while we were laying in the sun I said, “Want to go to the dim sum place we saw?” And we planned it. It was nice to not have to look up where to go, or read reviews, but to just follow our gut and go.

It was a five star food experience. Sitting beside a window that allowed us to watch the chefs folding the dim sum and preparing them fresh, we tried 39 different varieties of dim sum. Then we ordered more of our favorites.

To me, traveling is tasting. Food is culture, and dinner is more than a meal. There’s a sense of anticipation when I am trying something for the first time. It’s an experience to take in the ambiance, acknowledge the art and creativity of cooking, figuring out how to order when there are language barriers, and activating my senses… smelling the aromas of spices and garlic, seeing the presentation and colors, tasting the flavors, and feeling the textures.

We were present for every bite, and present for each other. We savored the flavors and the moment. Our table was completely full and so were our bellies. And our hearts.

We woke up with a smile and a kiss, and fell asleep with a smile and a kiss. It can change the direction and destination of your entire day.

Happiness.

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30 in Canggu

June 13, 2017

Tuesday, my 30th birthday

The day began with coffee on the patio overlooking the landscape striped with green rice fields. A light rain fell. Eric played “Time to Say Goodbye” by Andrea Bocelli  because he knows it is one of my favorites. We weren’t rushing out to do things, but taking our time and enjoying the solitude.

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This is the morning dream for a solitary couple like us.

* * *

We had brunch at Cafe Organique and shared kombucha (the first one we have found since we moved to Thailand), cappuccino, a breakfast burrito, and an attractive Bondi bowl.

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We still wanted to see the beach even though it was raining, so we drove the scooter to Echo Beach because it was a short ride away. Echo beach is known as one of the best surf spots on the island. The sand was black, the skies were gray, and many surfers were waiting and watching for the storms to pass. Eric and I stood, took in the atmosphere, then hopped back on the scooter to head south to Seminyak Beach.

We came upon a restaurant I went to in 2009. I had good memories of it so I suggested we go inside. Ku De Ta is an upscale beachside restaurant. We sat in oversized lounge chairs looking at the beach. We shared a pizza and I had a cocktail, but it was all so over-priced. There were also many locals standing in the sand directly in front of us, staring, trying to get us to purchase a souvenir. It made us think and feel sad because of the recognizable separation..

After leaving Ku De Ta we drove the scooter to a few bakeries in search of a birthday cake. Part of me was sad or disappointed because I thought Eric didn’t plan anything special… I thought, “Maybe he thinks being in Bali is enough.” And it is… I’m grateful… but I wanted to feel special on my 30th birthday, especially because we were in Bali.

He wanted to take me to a nice dinner, but I didn’t feel up to it… After Ku De Ta, I was definitely not interested in going to another high-end tourist trap… It’s nice to experience places like that from time to time, but expensive, upscale, and crowded venues don’t really appeal to me.

Instead of going out we went to the store and bought pinot noir, cheese, chocolate, a fruit tart, and a layered chocolate nougat cake. We had an intimate, romantic evening on our veranda. A beautiful bouquet of flowers was left for me in a vase. Eric lit matches on the cake for me to make a wish. I love making wishes. Then he surprised me with my gift.

He said, “I was saving this to give to you at dinner.”

He handed me a red velvet pouch.. and I knew what was inside before I even opened it. The Thai gold ring was almost identical to the one I chose for myself three years ago when I came to Thailand alone, except this one was bigger. I could never wear the one I bought for myself because I accidentally bent it. Thai gold is very fragile. Out of all the styles, I couldn’t believe he chose the one I would have chosen for myself. Simple, unique, beautiful. The intricate design on the ring looks so… Thai. His gift was flawless. I love it so much, especially because it is from him.

He said, “You can wear it on your left hand ring finger if you would like to.”

We are committed. We are bound together, not by legal papers, not by an expensive wedding, but by a passionate, unwavering force of love.

I told him that rings are tricky for me, that my fingers are bigger than my body frame, and most rings fit too tightly. This one fits perfectly… Not too tight, not too loose. He said he had secretly taken one of my other rings that I wear all the time to help him find the right size. I love the size, and the cut, and the way Thai gold looks on my skin. I love that it is just for me and that no one I know has one. It’s so special. I love the story of the ring.. That it was given to me from the love of my life, in Canggu Bali, for my 30th birthday, the year we lived in Thailand.

I drank three glasses of red wine… the most I have drank since we moved. We enjoyed the evening so much just being alone and comfy. We played songs from Youtube and sang along. We danced. We laughed. We flirted. We kissed. Eric said I was his entertainment. It makes me happy that he likes listening to me sing and watching me become entranced by music, poetry, and life.

“Watch carefully, the magic that occurs when you give a person just enough room, to be themselves.” -Atticus

We made love. And we loved each other.

After three days of insomnia.. I finally fell asleep.

It was an immaculate night. We were so happy.

To me, the best memories from traveling  are not from the places seen, but rather from the moments of happiness, gratitude, presence, and love.

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Ubud

June 12, 2017    *Adult Content*

Monday

I finally fell asleep last night after believing insomnia would be the death of me. Nestled within a pocket of nature, lacking street or artificial lights, our room was dark and peaceful, but I remained awake with my eyes closed.

Last night we made love three times. It was beautifully painful.. or painfully beautiful. Like steam trapped in a boiling pot, my feminine energies rose to the top, bubbling until the lid was lifted and the heat desperately dispersed into space. Tears fell as the energy evaporated.

We haven’t been this alone in months, and it was like I was holding my breath under water for too long before finally coming up for air..

I was grateful when Eric didn’t stop when my body was taking its time to respond. All of the particles and cells within me seemed to be existing independently, carrying out their own tasks… Then one by one they became aroused, started stirring, and became magnetically aware. Then they were harmonizing.

At first I felt it in my roots, and the energy spread like fire to my cheeks and face, then my mind, then my emotions… and I wept.

“Life should be lived to the point of tears.” -Albert Camus

* * *

Now it’s morning, and I sit at the wooden table writing. The sounds are like yesterday. I could get use to this tranquility.

Eric prepared toast with butter and honey. And hot coffee. I saw a curious, black cat. Her steps were so stealthy. I wouldn’t have sensed her presence if I wasn’t constantly looking up to absorb everything around us.

Butterflies.. the yellow ones were dancing.. fluttering around each other in circles, mesmerizing each other, hypnotizing us. It was like the male was saying, “Dance with me.”

“We are dancing,” she replied..

“No. Dance with me, not around me.”

He continued to flatter her with his flutters before she floated on to a flower that distracted her from their dance.

A tiny yellow bird… it comes here for the banquet of nectar served from the bright, scooping petals of bird of paradise flowers. From our veranda, we witness symbiotic relationships, how it all comes together so beautifully like moving art.

And today… Today we will explore Ubud on a scooter. I’m scared, but I trust him. If I didn’t I wouldn’t ride with him. Ubud is known as the cultural and spiritual heart of Bali. It is home to rainforests, rice paddies, ancient sites, Hindu temples, and is the center for arts and Balinese dance.

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We will be together. Experiencing something new.

It’s a beautiful morning. It leads me to you, dear diary.

I’ll take a deep breath now.

Good morning.

* * *

It’s now afternoon. We wait in traffic with Mangku on our way to our next AirBnb in Canggu. We have passed many rice paddy fields, women carrying baskets of bamboo and wood on their heads, locals bathing in the river, and a monumental statue of Arjuna from the Mahabharata and Bhagavad Gita.

I have read the Bhagavad Gita and also a rendition of the Mahabharata from the female protagonist Draupadi’s perspective, so I enjoyed talking with Mangku about Arjun and his Pandava brothers who shared the same wife.

* * *

Eric and I really enjoyed exploring Ubud today on the scooter.

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We visited the Merta Harum Agro coffee plantation where the ingredients for coffees and teas are grown organically. Our guide escorted us through the lush gardens and showed us the coffee plants, fruit trees, and spices. He then explained the process for making Luwak coffee, which is considered one of the most expensive coffees in the world.

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After a pineapple plant flowers, it takes the fruit six more months to mature.

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The traditional roasting process for Luwak coffee takes place over an open fire. The coffee beans are grounded in a large mortar and pestle.

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After the tour, Eric and I sat in a treehouse and sampled a variety of fourteen coffees and teas. Mangosteen, rosela, ginseng, cinnamon, saffron, ginger, lemon, and lemongrass flavored teas… Chocolate, vanilla, ginseng, coconut, white chocolate, and ginger flavored coffees. I liked the mangosteen and rosela teas the most. Eric favored the saffron tea. We both loved the coconut coffee. We ordered one Luwak coffee to share, just for the experience. The setting was serene and peaceful. A statue of Buddha sat beneath the trees over a koi pond.

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After our coffee tour we pulled the scooter over at a random restaurant and shared lunch and a slice of milk crepe cake for dessert. I had a glass of chardonnay.

We spent the rest of the day looking at local art. We bought a handmade chopping board made from teak wood from Java for our new condo. We also bought a beautiful dreamcatcher. I got a pair of feather earrings for Lizzie and a pair for myself. Eric was so happy driving us around on the scooter. I can’t believe I get to be his passenger.

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Ubud was artistic, peaceful, dreamy, and deeply spiritual. Each morning we were given gifts of inspiration. We are excited about Canggu. There’s so much more to see, taste, and feel. Now that we are comfortable on a scooter, we have the freedom to explore the island of Bali at our own pace and acquire a more authentic experience.

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It’s my last day of being in my 20s. I want to remember these enriching experiences. I want to channel my deepest gratitude. And so I write…

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Tirta Empul

Sunday afternoon…

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Our driver, Mangku, took us out to see more of Ubud. We drove through traditional villages and a mile stretch of Indonesian arts. Balinese paintings, sculptures, textiles, wooden carvings, wind chimes, melted glass, and dreamcatchers created by local artisans were lined down the narrow street.

We had lunch overlooking the Tegalalang Rice Terrace. The scenery didn’t seem real, but it seemed like how I picture Bali in my brain. An aesthetic display of terraces were sketched into the green slopes and hillsides. Palm trees swayed. Local farmers wore hats woven from coconut leaves.

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There were many tourists, as it is one of Ubud’s main attractions. But instead of allowing the crowds to ruin the beauty of the moment, we could see ourselves as one of them… fellow wanderers seeking the treasures of the world.

Eric and I were pretty silent during lunch. We were both staring at the majestic landscape and breathing in the moment with gratitude.

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We shared Nasi Goreng, Gadu Gadu, fresh watermelon juice, and handmade ice cream bars.

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After lunch we visited Tirta Empul, a Hindu Balinese temple. Tirta Empul means “Holy Spring” in Balinese. An old, beautiful banyan tree was wrapped in sacred cloth. At the foot of the tree was a shrine for praying, meditating, and leaving offerings for the gods.

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The temple is known for its bathing structure that contains fresh spring water for purification rituals. Mangku told us that he and his people come to the temple once a month to not only cleanse their bodies, but to purify their minds and spirits. He said he will come to Tirta Empul if he thinks bad thoughts or has bad dreams.

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It sounds very beautiful and sacred. However, what Eric and I witnessed was more like a waterpark fiasco for tourists. It just didn’t feel right. Tourists were swimming and splashing around the pools. We didn’t feel comfortable there, but tried to make the best of it.

After researching this temple, I learned that it was built between the 10th and 14th century. Like Angkor Wat in Cambodia, the structures in Tirta Empul seem ancient. Though there are many Hindu gods, Tirta Empul is dedicated to Vishnu, the supreme god who preserves and protects.

I believe it is important to immerse ourselves in experiences and culture when we travel. And I saw some travelers observing the sacred rituals with respect.

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Escaping the crowds, we followed a wave of quietude to another yard of the temple and found a path less traveled. It was there that we could pause in veneration and feel the sacred spirituality that envelopes the grounds. The crystal clarity of the spring water is so pure that it is completely transparent, and the temple is surrounded by Bali’s luscious vegetation.

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After returning to Kupu Kupu, I felt weary. Eric wanted to go out on a scooter, explore, and have dinner somewhere local. I wanted that too… But deep down I just wanted to take it easy, rest, and connect with him before the remainder of my energy faded. And it was fading fast.

I wanted to be fun. I didn’t want my exhaustion to ruin his experience, but I knew I would be happier and healthier for the rest of our trip if I allowed my body to recharge. We were in desperate need of showers after being out in the humid climate all day, and I knew we wouldn’t make love if we left, went to dinner, then came back to a shower. It would be so late, and I was already drifting.

Luckily I was honest with him, told him I was tired, and we stayed. Eric ate bread and a papaya. I snacked on nuts and peanut butter pretzels that Mum sent me from America. I was ready for my nightly routines to be finished.. I could have showered alone, brushed my teeth, then crawled into bed. But I didn’t want to miss this opportunity. It’s not every day that we are in a romantic oasis in Ubud, Bali with access to an outdoor shower.

Being together was our priority. Not together like in the same space, but truly together.. Present in mind and body and spirit.

Carpe diem.

We showered together. We kissed. He kissed me exactly the way I like.. His tongue gently caressed mine, causing shivers to erupt from my skin. He still gives me chills.

Steam.. breathing… touching… feeling…. trembling…

We pressed our bodies against each other and turned the outdoor shower into our own holy spring.

We connected at Kupu Kupu. It was romantic and renewing, and exactly what I wanted and needed. It was sacred and holy and purifying.  Love is a religion that leads to a higher path. We worshipped each other.

I put on his big, comfy t-shirt that makes me feel at home no matter where we are.

We loved each other again and again.

Goodnight…

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Kupu Kupu

June 11, 2017

It’s now Sunday morning.

Last night upon arrival, we received green Indonesia visa stamps in our passports, went through customs, then searched a crowd of taxi drivers for a handwritten sign that read, “Kupu Kupu.”

“That’s us,” Eric said.

Our driver, Dharma, was kind with a warm, sincere smile. He talked to us briefly before I dozed in and out of consciousness in the backseat. An hour and a half later we arrived to this pocket of paradise, changed into our pajamas, and went to bed.

* * *

We are in Kelabang Moding, a traditional Balinese village in Ubud. I sit here now in my sarong, on a pillow on the floor of the veranda, looking at the luscious greenery that encompasses Kupu Kupu, which means “butterflies.”

A yellow butterfly flutters around violet flowers as I peek up from my diary. I see orchids, banana leaves, and the biggest peace lilies I have ever seen.. just growing in the wild.

I hear the symphony of nature.. insects, birds, and a blissful breeze. Every now and then a scooter passes by in the distance. A rooster crows. And Kapli kapali.*

The raining has ceased, but I can still hear the soothing sound of drops dripping from low-hanging branches. Earlier this morning I showered in the magical outdoor bathroom oasis. Natural rain trickled down while I took the hottest shower I have taken in six months.

We take cold ones in Thailand. They were also cool in Singapore and Malaysia. We showered with buckets of rainwater in Cambodia. So today’s shower was a treat. I was in a cloud of steam as I breathed in the fresh morning air.

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Eric is behind me now preparing our coffee. We remain silent to savor this moment of tranquility. It’s a break from the busy bustling of Bangkok. Our giant coconut drinks are sitting on the table beside where I write. A yellow carnation and a red rose. A round table close to the ground. Two pillows. Two coconuts with frangipanis and straws.

I look forward… green life that keeps luring my attention. I look up… coconut trees and a serene sky.

I listen.

My spirit it settling.

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It’s just us and the sounds.

Red fireflies. Yellow butterflies. Toast with butter and honey. Hot Indonesian coffee.

Bird of paradise plants serving nectar to little hummingbirds.

An older Balinese woman leaving Canang sari by our steps, a daily offering of flowers and incense to thank Acintya which in sanskrit means “he who cannot be imagined.”

A lizard with an orange stripe crawls beside the offering.

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Eric and I reminisce about moments that were bliss.. Riding bikes in the rain and making love on the platform in the trees at Renegade Mountain in 2014.. Laying on the hammock between two palm trees on Arashi Beach in Aruba, 2015..

We were the only people on the beach that night, and the only light was from the moon. It was the night he said, “If you were to become pregnant.. it would be your choice, but I want you to know that that baby would be conceived from the highest and purest form of love, humanly possible.”

I’ll always remember that night. Under the ceiling of stars, a seed was planted in the depths of my heart.

* * *

Now on this veranda, on this harmonious morning, he says, “We should record a video to our future child.” He continues, “Just say we are thinking about you.”

We kiss.

Hmm hmm hm. Take my whole life too… Cause I can’t help falling in love with you…

I’m humming softly as I write. I can’t get the song out of my head.

Why do I get to be here in this country, in this setting from a dream, with the man of my dreams?

Why do we get to experience this together?

It’s so quiet. There are so many sounds, but it’s so quiet.

How can we not overflow with gratitude?

How can we not be inspired?

I don’t want to break this silence with words. And so I write. With gratitude flowing from my fingertips and leaking onto these pages.

The moment is now. The moment when it goes from “cerebral to physical.” This… This was an idea… even a dream. Then it became a plan.. Then suddenly we are here.

Now I’ll surrender to the present.

“The dreams were only a beginning. They indicated the path to follow.” -Anais Nin

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* Kapli kapali, The shortest staccato sentence in War & Peace that means “Drops drip”