from the reception desk.
Westerners bop around the
vaulted studio to the tune of a
clubby bass line. The Balinese
stare blankly. I stand with
them, silently, for a minute or
two, trying to catch a glimpse
from their vantage.
It’s worth noting that while
yoga is a Hindu practice, it’s
an Indian one, which here in
Ubud seems reserved solely for visitors. Taxi
drivers ask if I’m here to do yoga in a quietly
mocking tone. “Some people come and just do
yoga, every single day!” one says, laughing at the
ridiculousness of the ritual. This, from a community to whom ritual is a way of life.
And so, when Lendy offers to take me across
the terraces and into his village, I immediately
accept the invitation. Molly in tow, we navigate
the soggy levels, our guide offering up details
about rice cultivation along the way. Bananas
swing, Seussian, overhead. We pass temples,
small cemeteries. Molly laments in hushed
tones as malnourished dogs circle our feet. We
enter the home of Lendy’s friend to find him
seated at the center of the compound, carving a
wing out of wood. His father meanders around
and roosters thrash around in inverted basket
cages, eager to come out swinging. It’s uncomfortable simply because it’s different. It’s what
I’ve been looking for.
MY LAST NIGHT in town is set to be a lavish
one, and one where I will finally be utterly
alone. I’ve booked a room at Bambu Indah,
an “eco resort” built sustainably and almost
entirely of teak and bamboo (a bamboo elevator
will take me to my space) by longtime expats
John and Cynthia Hardy. There’s a vegetable
garden that transmutes into meals and a nat-
ural swimming pond. My room — the Copper
House, a new structure divined by John and his
daughter Elora — is an open shell in the trees
that overlooks the Ayung River. I’m going to
journal and be still and not talk to a single soul.
But when I arrive, there’s a celebration in my
backyard. My open home, the most isolated in
the bunch, is like a luxurious command tower
seated above one of the resort’s recently implemented Sunday spring-water pool parties. And
it is, of course, Sunday. I laugh out loud at the
best-laid plans and make my way down.
I meet a scientist who’s writing a book on
electromagnetic fields and who has been ricocheting bet ween the Bay Area, Ubud and Chiang
Mai for the past decade. I dip my feet in the water
as he tells me tales of local cult activity — hint:
there’s a fair amount, and it’s predominantly
Western-driven — as a group of Australians host
a tea ceremony on a neighboring rock platform.
Steve, from Villa Kitty, is suddenly there, at the
bar with two friends who are in Ubud “sitting
with a guru,” who upon further inquiry turns
out to be a 65-year-old German man hosting a
cadre of women along with a few young men with
bright eyes and deep pockets. The Ayung River
flows dreamlike around arrangements of lanterns. Later, there’s fire and dancing.
I retreat to my room to jot one thing down.
“IF I REALLY WANT to grow, I’ve got to go
home,” I scrawl in childish handwriting before
rejoining the festivities.
I can see why so many flock to Ubud looking
for something — it’s a visual paradise, with a rich
history of cultural openness and spirituality. But
if everyone slips away to the same place, what
results is a party of lost souls, most beautiful, all
vulnerable, and all escaping. I don’t know that I
will take the same path as my uncle and give up
on the island entirely. But if and when I do return
to Eden, it will be with the knowledge that the
fruit of that place was tasted a long time ago. m
But after a mere 30 seconds,
anxiety gives way to bliss, and
soon I am convinced that the back
of a bike is the best seat there is.