The first month of 2017, for me, has been full of surprises and subtle contrasts. It can be split into three distinct chapters, each consisting of ten days. Three moments in my life spent in ways more different from each other than I have ever experienced in such a short period, yet they all had something in common. They were each distinctly unforgettable, because they filled my heart and soul with love, gratitude, and appreciation for who I am and what I am doing. Love in all its forms, that is. It seems to me that we don’t have enough words in the English language to describe love in its different manifestations. Or maybe this is the beauty of every kind of love – that they can be so different in almost every way, and yet in the end, the same.
The first chapter began at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve, at a beach bar on Bingin Beach, Bali, that was blaring live reggae and blasting fireworks right off the balcony. I was, in my constant elegance, soaking wet at the time. Why, you might ask? Well, let’s just say a cliff-side beach combined with liquid courage and limited knowledge of high tides caused it (on the way to the beach, I was blasted by seawater against a concrete wall as a result of my own ignorance). Despite the slight discomfort of being soaking wet at a bar, I fought my wave-induced bad mood and rang in the New Year with a kiss on the cheek from my best friend and lights in my eyes as I looked North toward the beaches of Kuta, Seminyak, and Canggu, of which it appeared every bar in Bali had their own fireworks display. It was both a beautiful and unforgettable sight to behold. After sticking around on the dance floor for the final songs of the night, I made my way back to the table that was occupied by Ariel and Jeff, and found a book sitting on it. “Ariel, did you see this book?” I said sarcastically. Who brings a book to a bar on New Years Eve? A man popped over immediately. It was his book. I was too far away to converse, but Ariel chatted to him for a few minutes and then introduced us. He had just arrived in Bingin that day, and was planning to be there for 2 weeks to surf and work on his freelance writing gig. I was still feeling not-so-great about being sticky and covered in seawater, and dismissed myself quickly from the conversation, not wanting to idly chat with a stranger. Ariel, Jeff, and I, said goodbye and found our way along the beach again, and back to our beach house. As soon as we left, I thought to myself, should I ask him to join us? He was, after all, alone on New Years Eve. But with my companions moving through the crowd, I followed them and the thought disappeared.
The next morning, New Years Day, Ariel and I woke up determined to take our first surfing lesson. I got out of bed, looked out at the stunning view across the cliff from our beach house and saw the same lone man sitting at the guesthouse kitty-corner to ours, reading his book. Maybe I should invite him for dinner, I thought, since Ariel and I were planning to cook a feast that night. I declined to act since I, after all, hadn’t talked to him much the night before, and thought that it would be out of place for me to ask him. So Ariel and I set out to the beach to surf. She bravely went first while I watched, and then I rented my own beginner surf-board and Balinese surfing teacher, and made my way into the waves. Surfing was difficult, but surprisingly easier than I thought it would be. By some miracle, I actually managed to stand up on my board a handful of times on that first day. It was however, exhausting, and there is one picture to prove how pickled I really was as I exited the ocean with my board (you’re not allowed to see it).
As night time rolled around, I was busy in the kitchen, and I heard a knock at the window. I looked up, and there he was again – the man from the bar, let’s call him John – this time he was covered in saltwater, with surfboard in hand. We had a blustery conversation and I invited him for dinner with Ariel, Jeff, and I. He would be back in half an hour to join us. We had dinner, drinks, and conversation that went late into the evening. At one point, I mentioned that I had to extend my Indonesian Visa, and he graciously offered to take me on my errand the following day on his motorbike. I accepted his help, because he had lived in Bali for 18 months previously, and clearly knew the system better than I did.
The next morning, I hopped on the back of John’s motorbike and we explored the south of Bali, looking for a Visa agent, and stopping at a few beautiful beach spots on the way. And so began my whirlwind romance with a Bahasa-speaking Aussie writer; our brief time together quickly becoming one of the highlights of my life. I have never felt so at ease around someone so quickly. It was so easy, so comfortable, so unexpected, and exactly what both of us needed. We agreed from the beginning that we would have a clean break on January 10th, when I was to leave Bali. He was, after all, moving to Vietnam, and I to New Zealand.
Ariel and I decided to stay on Bingin for the remaining week together after Jeff left to go back to Ottawa, and we moved from our beach house over to the guesthouse down the cliff, dubbed “Wayan’s Place” because of the amazing Balinese guy who ran it (and cooked the most amazing food).
And so I spent those first days of 2017 with Ariel and John, waking up at noon, reading, surfing, drinking Bintangs on a cliff, listening to a mix of Ariel playing guitar and the triple-J Hottest 100, and driving around the south of Bali on a motorbike. I was reading Wuthering Heights at the time, and eventually gave up part way through – what miserable, deplorable characters. They contrasted so heavily with my state of Nirvana on Bingin Beach, and had no place in my mind at the time.
(Side note: Ladies, if you’ve never been told by a man that he is going give his female protagonist in his novel your smile, then you have lived life unfulfilled. You should find yourself one of those, before it’s too late. Maybe it’s just my thing.)
By the time January 10th rolled around, Ariel and I had to say our goodbyes after just over 4 months spent together. We were both due at the Denpasar airport, where she would be flying to Wellington, New Zealand to hang with the Kiwis for 2 months, and I to Jakarta, Indonesia, with the intention to move on to Bogor for a Vipassana meditation course. I spent a final night with my two companions, soaking in every minute. John and I agreed not to exchange contact information. We had an incredible ten days together, but knew that continuing our relationship over Facebook or email would ruin this perfect little thing that we had created in Bali. And so I wrapped up ten days on Bingin Beach with a pretty bow, deposited it carefully into a special place in my heart, and took off to Jakarta on my own.
The next 10 days of January were spent in Bogor, in silence, meditating for approximately ten hours a day. If you haven’t already read my post about my ten days of Vipassana meditation, then I refer you to my previous entry. The first few days of the retreat were extremely difficult. I had just spent 10 days with my best friend and my Aussie, staring out at the sea, chatting about god-knows-what, drinking Bintangs, and surfing. Virtually none of that time was spent alone. And now, here I was, alone on the most populated island in the world, not able to talk or make eye contact with anyone. It was a dramatic change, to say the least. To meditate in the style of Vipassana, one observes all sensations in their body, be it pain or pleasure, with equanimity (meaning, without craving or aversion to the feelings). This meant that I had to only observe all my feelings of missing these special people in my life, but only observe them, without clinging to the memories. It proved to be a challenging endeavor, and I spent the first two days of the course replaying my time in Bingin Beach in my mind like a broken record. Eventually, I progressed in the technique and was able to focus on my mind and body. In the end, I was thankful that I had such a challenging transition into the course, as it only made my practice stronger.
Completing 10 days of Vipassana was not easy, but it was extremely rewarding. The best part of the course for me was Day 10, when we could speak again and when I finally start connecting with the women that I shared the experience with. The sense of accomplishment that we all had was bursting from each of us (though without any semblance of an ego to be found in the whole center), and not a single one of of us could stop smiling that day. The post-Vipassana high was like a drug, but was so natural. I remember pausing that day to look around the beautiful center, surrounded by trees, and mountains, and really realized that I was looking at the world and at people in a different way.
On the day that we left the course, we got our cellphones back. I checked my email and found a response from a Workaway host in Yogyakarta who agreed to host me at her homestay in return for a few hours of work per day. I contacted her immediately and set out to Jakarta, where I would take a train to Yogya the following day.
I boarded the train in Jakarta at 5:30am. I was early, as the train was to depart at 6:15. I was used to waking up at 4:00am at the Dhamma Center, so I was pretty awake. I checked my facebook messages, and finding one from Ariel, chatted for an hour about our respective ten days spent apart. She had been exploring Wellington and Nelson, New Zealand, and was absolutely loving it there. When we finished chatting, I called my dad in Toronto and spoke for an hour with him, then called Carrie who was in Auckland, and talked to her for another hour and a half. I was thankful that I had previously purchased a 4GB SIM card, because I think I used up most of it on that train ride. I was so excited to talk to my friends and family again! What a privilege, to have such amazing people in my life who were more than happy to share in my post-Vipassana high. I also talked to my Irish friend Rob, who was bound for Lebanon after a month in India, and my friend Vanessa from back home who was also travelling southeast Asia, at this time in Myanmar. I was so excited to be moving on to Jogja, and eventually back to Bali, excited about life, and about moving to New Zealand in three weeks time. What a high!
After 9 hours on the train, I disembarked and found myself in Yogyakarta. My host, Nurul, met me outside on her motorbike, and we took off through the city to her homestay. As soon as we arrived, I immediately felt like I was at home. Nurul was so easy to talk to and made me feel very comfortable. I met her husband, Didot, also incredibly nice and easy-going, and an American/Indonesian couple that was staying at the homestay. We all sat around talking in the gazebo by the little lake, and sharing stories of our pasts and travels. I discussed with Nurul and Didot that I would stay for ten days, until the very beginning of February (I was leaving Indonesia on February 10th, but I was itching to spend more time Bali).
I was given my own room, told to help myself to any food, and in return, do a little bit of cleaning up and help Nurul with her English. Sound like a dream? It was. My time in Jogja was spent mostly hanging with Nurul. We went to the spa, to the movie theater, on coffee and sushi dates with her friends. Our time at home was spent hanging with Didot and his friends, their pet Civet Bira, and practicing English (which was really fun because Nurul is hilarious). I also frequented a lovely little restaurant in Jogja called ViaVia, explored a couple cool temples, and drove many, many kilometers around the city and beyond on a borrowed motorbike. In my time spent with Nurul and Didot, I learned so much about Javanese culture and customs, taught them about the differences in how we do things in Canada, ate lots of delicious local food, and felt like I had a place to call home in Indonesia. I was so grateful that these two locals cared enough to share their home and their lives with me. It really made me want to continue traveling and meeting locals. February 1st was our last day together, and Nurul and I spent it together, hanging out and practicing for her English test. In the early morning on the following day, I said goodbye to my new friends, and departed another train, this time bound for East Java.
January 2017 is now over, and I can safely say it was one of the best months of my life. I met tons of amazing people who inspired me to keep traveling, to work abroad, to approach the world with an open heart, and to love without pain. In the process, I learned so much about myself, and learned to be myself unconditionally. I learned to love everyone, and that loving everyone is so much easier than causing yourself pain and suffering.
I thank everyone who played any part of my January, because you all made it mean so much to me. To my best friend in the whole world Ariel, her dad Jeff, “John” the Aussie, Wayan, the Indonesian man who talked to me at the mall in Bogor because he wanted to practice his English, all the fine ladies and gentlemen who participated in the Vipassana course, the servers and teachers at the Dhamma Java Center, the hostel staff in Jakarta who helped me fix my phone, the British guys I talked to at the hostel, my mom, my dad, Carrie, Rob, Vanessa, all my friends who I talked from home, to Nurul, Didot, and your family, friends, and guests. Thank you. I’m sending love and good vibes your way.
And to Indonesia: you have captured my heart.