Bali, Indonesia – Embracing Fear

This trip is about a lot of things for me.  One of them is facing my fears, looking them straight in the face and conquering them.

I woke up today pretty early, well before the sun had risen.  I crawled out of bed and went across the room to turn the light on.  When I turned around, there it was, laying on its back, staring straight at me.  A cockroach.  Right there in front of me, as I sat barefoot and sleepy-eyed.  It appeared to be dead, laying there on its back, but I couldn’t be sure.  I scurried back to my bed, pulled my knees tight up against me, and thought about what I was going to do.

Now I know that this is an extremely irrational fear, I don’t want to dismiss that, but I have left hotels in the middle of the night, and broken apartment leases because of these bugs.  I don’t like them.  I am afraid of them.  I will do anything to avoid them.  I also knew that there was a good chance I would encounter them on this trip.  After all, I am putting my used toilet paper into a trash can in a part of the world where they ‘just exist,’ and need to exist for all of humankind to thrive.  I’ve stayed in million-dollar homes, and $7 hostels.  In these climates, it’s their home, not mine.

Ironically, I had not seen any on this trip up until this point.  And believe me, I have been watching.  But no, not a single one anywhere.  Not on the sidewalks, not at restaurants, not near the beach.  Or at least none that I could see.  So here I am at roughly 4:30 am, alone with this bug, wondering why did it choose my room?  Why was it the first one I had seen?  My immediate response was to call Tony back in The States.  But I knew that as soon as I got him on video, he would look me point blank in the face as though I was the most spoiled creature on Earth and say, “Babe, you gotta get over it.”  And his response would have been appropriate.  Besides, what was he going to do on the other side of the planet?  It’s not like he could magically get it to disappear.

After a few minutes of calming myself down, I decided to change my mindset.  This was a growing experience for me.  An opportunity to overcome something and become stronger because of it.  Besides, I knew this would happen at some point, right?

I got back out of bed and put on a pair of flip flops.  I held my phone firmly in my hand, as though it was a weapon of some sort against this bug that already appeared to be dead.  I inched closer, and that’s when I realized it wasn’t completely dead yet.  It’s long antennae and crunchy looking legs were twitching.  God, what do I do now?  I certainly can’t get much closer than a few feet away; it was still halfway alive!  Should I get my bug spray out and attempt to put it out of its misery?  But what if I sprayed it and I angered it and it mustered up enough energy to attack?  I eliminated that option pretty quickly.

I stared at it from afar for quite some time.  I desperately needed to wash my hair and shower, so I made a safe assumption that it was minutes away from death, given that it was already on its back.  I wheeled around it, feet high up in the air, naked and vulnerable into the bathroom.  I was able to peer out every few minutes and see it, you know, to be sure it was still dying.  It was a pretty quick shower.  I couldn’t leave this creature out there for long by itself.  I just wasn’t confident that it was that dead.  Do these bugs sleep on their backs by chance?  Was it just taking a snooze to torture me?

I finished getting dressed and ready for the day, eyeing this bug every few minutes, it’s body parts still twitching every now and then.  Around 5:30 am, I looked out my window and saw the hotel owner sitting in the courtyard.  Thank god, he can help me rid the room of this bug.

I loaded up my bag for the day, planning to head to the beach anyway to watch the sunrise.  I was pretty annoyed at this point, frustrated that I had to ‘learn this lesson, face this fear,’ but as soon as he saw me and greeted me, I felt calm again.  I said to him in a desperate but sweet voice, “There is a big bug in my room.  I don’t like bugs.  Can you get rid of it please?”  He smiled, and waved over one of the hotel employees.  I said, “I know you probably are used to bugs, but I am afraid.”  He chuckled, nodded, and the employee went in with a broom.  He came out a few minutes later, they conversed in Indonesian, and the owner just shook his head, smiling all the while.

We chatted and had coffee together for about 30 minutes before I headed out to the beach to see the sunrise.  It’s one of the best.

So, I share this story for several reasons.  One, so that all of the people close to me can know that I am trying – trying very hard – to overcome this absurd fear of bugs.  I didn’t even call a one of you!  And two, so that the rest of you know I am not fearless.  I have petty fears, irrational fears, and I don’t always navigate through them gracefully.  But I do get through them, however scary and difficult it might be.  Sometimes we just gotta face it in the eyes, literally, right in the eyes.

~~~

I spent the day before my bug experience doing many of the touristy things in Bali.  I don’t want my entire time here to be site seeing, I much prefer just walking the streets and experiencing the culture.  But I am here, so I had to see some of the sites.

My driver picked me up at 8 am, and in the back seat were five bananas and two bottles of water.  Of course, bananas are native here and oh so delicious.  We drove for about an hour into Ubud, a popular area of Bali, up higher in the mountain, and much more crowded that Sanur, where I am staying.

Here, we visited the Monkey Forest where I got to hold a small monkey on my lap and feed him dried kernels of corn.  I also saw a monkey family – a mother, a father, and their small child.  I assume this specific bread of monkey is monogamous, or at least the father sticks around until the child is raised.  The mother cradled her baby in her arms, holding it the same way a human would cradle a child.  And the father, slowly and carefully, was combing the mother’s hair to rid it of any insects.  It was a subtle reminder of how closely our DNA resembles that of monkeys.  Interpret that however you choose.

From here, we went to a bird sanctuary where there were dozens of birds, all trained to fly on command and return on command.  Many were native to Bali, and many were not.  I’m personally not a big proponent of importing animals and taking them out of their natural environment, so this experience came with mixed emotions.

I had lunch overlooking the rice fields of Ubud and ate fried noodles with chicken – a common meal in Bali – and some Bali coffee.  I am loving the food in Bali.  Everything has been spectacular so far.

One of the major touristy activities in Ubud is the Bali Swing.  It’s a large swing where you are strapped in, and then pushed out over a cliffside.  It’s a very Instagram-able moment, and the venue even offers dresses that can be rented to make the perfect picture.  Again, I’m not big on the traditional touristy events, so I was a bit hesitant of this to begin with.  Plus, it was $35 USD for a single push of the swing.  That’s quite expensive for Bali.  None the less, we arrived, and two men carried me in my chair up a short flight of stairs.  We were on a platform that overlooked the cliff and the swing, and to get down to the swing were two flights of sketchy and difficult stairs.  I figured this was a sign that I should probably just opt out, but my driver was adamant that we try another swing in Ubud that might not be so difficult.  So, we drove again to another location.  The situation was similar here, although much better.  At the end of it all, I didn’t experience the Bali swing.  The staff wouldn’t let me get on the swing, and there are just some things that aren’t that important to me.  After all, I was in Bali, what more could I ask for?

We drove the hour or so back to the hotel and when I paid the driver, he put his hands together and said, “My family thanks you.”  The day had worn me out, coupled with the 90-degree weather, so the air conditioning in my room was calling.  I sat on the bed, wondering if the air conditioner had broken, sweat running down my face and chest.  Shortly thereafter, I fell asleep and slept for 12 hours.

And when I woke, the not so appealing bug encounter ensued.

~~~

During my chat with the owner this morning, he asked what my plans for the day were.  I told him I wanted to sit by the beach and then go to a warung, which is a local, mom and pop type restaurant to have babi guling.  This is one of the traditional dishes in Bali.  In these warungs, an entire pig is stuffed with spices and then roasted on a stick over a fire for several hours.  It is served with rice, a piece of the crispy skin, a sausage, some meat on a skewer, and spices from inside the pig.  From what I understand, almost the entire pig is consumed by the many guests.

When I told the hotel owner that this was my plan, and I had chosen a place nearby, he said, “No, no, no.  I buy you babi guling and you eat here with me.  What time you be here to eat?”  There was no taking no from this man, so I told him I would be back at the hotel at 12 pm.

I sat at a table outside in the courtyard promptly at noon and waited for about 40 minutes.  He must have forgotten, I thought.  And then suddenly, a woman appeared carrying a plate with food wrapped in paper.  She placed it in front of me and I knew it was the babi guling.  I opened it, spread out the contents, and thought, “Well, here goes nothing…”  There were several chunks of crispy, fatty skin, and other chunks of very soft meat that appeared to be fried fat.  There was a crispy piece of something that I could only assume was the tail.  Seriously, an entire pig and I got the tail?  I figured it went well with the fear-facing day I was having, so I dug in.

The flavor was phenomenal, and the skin, fat, skewer, sausage…they were all delicious.  Everything was going well until I grabbed another forkful and put it up to my mouth.  A piece of meat with what was very clearly pig hair growing out it was staring straight at me.  I had to draw the line somewhere.  Fried skin and meat, I can do that.  Cooked skin with hair, it was just too much.  I placed it to the side, skimmed through the dish for any other hairy meat pieces, and finished it the best I could.

As I was finishing, one of the hotel workers told me that the owner apologized that he could not eat with me today.  In Bali, each regency (and there are several) has a Hindu ceremony on a different day.  The regency that he lived in was holding their ceremony today, but he wanted me to know that he would have lunch with me another day.  Perhaps I’ll stick to the fresh papaya or coconut that grows in the courtyard here, or perhaps I’ll be brave again and embrace the Bali tradition.

None the less, here’s to a day of embracing life!

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