I continue to be humbled, overwhelmed really, by the experience of this trip. When I go to bed each night, I sleep. Like really sleep, often for ten hours or more. Now it could be the heat – it’s usually upward of 90 degrees each day – but I think it’s the experience. The stimulation of each day is incredibly touching and emotional. I still cannot believe I am here.
Yesterday, my driver, MerthaHood, picked me up at 8 am. When I got into the backseat of the car, there was a fruit basket. For me. A gift from a stranger, specially wrapped and sitting there. Now I know that fruit grows natively here, and it’s probably not that expensive, but I am also not paying him much, so the thought of his family sacrificing even a few dollars for me is so touching. He went on to explain that it is important for all of his guests to feel welcomed, and he joked the entire day about his ‘love’ for me.
MerthaHood is someone special. He does not speak fluent English, but we were able to converse enough, and he joked that every suggestion he had – where to go, what to eat, when to go – I would just say, in a chipper voice, “Okay!” I explained that I was just so happy to be in Bali, and he would smile back.
On this particular day, we were going to see some of the most famous – and beautiful – temples in Bali. They were about a two-hour drive away, up some incredibly steep and narrow roads. He would ask me every few minutes, “Are you okay? Are you scared?” I was not, but man, these were some steep hills!
MerthaHood never wanted me to feel alone, I could sense that. He was behind me to push me everywhere I went, and did so with such grace and respect. Now when we got to the first temple, up on the top of a mountain, he explained that we would have to take a shuttle part of the way – it was the rule. This was not a problem, of course, so I crawled the four steps into the shuttle and we drove further into the greenery and up the mountain. When we stopped, he conversed for quite some time with another man. I had no idea what was going on, and everyone else had gotten off the shuttle. I wasn’t concerned though, I knew he would take care of me. He finally came back and explained that we would need to walk up the rest of the way.
I didn’t think much of this until we rounded the corner, and there in front of us was a hill, a big hill. Now I am fairly strong, and hills are something I can typically do, albeit slow at times. But there is no way I would have made it up this hill. In fact, it took MerthaHood and two other men – one pulling and two pushing – to get me up this hill. They apologized profusely that the shuttle could not go up the hill, and on the flip side, I thanked them profusely for their help. Had I been alone, I would have had to either crawl or miss out on the temple.
We arrived to the top, wrapped sarongs around our waist, and there in front of us was the Gate of Heaven. Now I’ve been to hundreds of churches, temples, mosques, and religious sites all over the world, but I’ve not ever experienced anything like this. It was truly spectacular. A gate, made of stone, standing higher than any building, overlooking the mountain with clouds floating perfectly in place. I sat there, looking into the distance, and I thought, ‘How incredibly therapeutic and empowering this is.’ I felt like I could take on the entire world in that moment.
The entire time, MerthaHood was there to capture my picture, making sure I had all the right poses, and that I never had to struggle getting over a curb or into the right pose for the camera. When it was time to leave, the entourage of men gathered together to help me back down the hill. Two of them held onto my handles from the back and another stood in front of me, facing towards me and walking backwards down the hill, using his body weight to hold me back. I had no idea on the conversation they were having, but I gathered something about them being frustrated with the rule that the shuttle could not make an exception to bring me up to the top. I thanked them immensely when we got to the bottom, all of them soaking in sweat, but giving me back nothing but smiles and graciousness.
MerthaHood and I continued on to two more temples, each of them equally as calming and stunning. At each temple, he would drop me at the door, ask me to wait, and go to park the car somewhere far away. When he came back, he insisted on pushing me through the grounds, guiding me the entire way. At one temple, he asked me to sit on a bench and to be still and quiet. We sat there together for a while, the sound of the trees and music from the grounds subtly surrounding us. It was in that moment that I understood why people come to Bali to meditate. It was a perfect day.
I’ve been waking up a little before 5 am each day. I take the time to call home before my loved ones go to sleep, and then proceed to the beach to watch the sun rise. These are my most favorite moments, sitting and drinking Bali coffee, watching as the town wakes. I did exactly that this morning before returning to the hotel for a palm reading.
The owner of the hotel, who I’ve come to adore, had arranged for someone to come and read my palm. Now I’m not usually into psychics, but I’m in Bali, I had to, right? This particular palm reader came from the same location that Elizabeth Gilbert spent time in, and he’s even met Julia Roberts! He spent 15 years studying in India. He could not speak English, so he arrived with an interpreter (we used Google Translate for some of it too). He had me write my name and birthday on a piece of paper, and proceeded to inspect both of my palms. There were a lot of personal comments that were spot on, and a few things that I had to raise my eyebrow at. We spent much of the time talking about Tony, and he told me over and over that he was very special, the only one for me, that my heart ran deep for him.
He also explained that I hold many struggles deep in my heart, and that I need to spend more time praying and being still, to calm my mind. This was no surprise – my mind is quite overactive. He told me that there isn’t a problem I won’t try to solve, and that I am strong-willed.
He, like so many people, was amazed that I was traveling alone. But he again said, “You strong girl. You never give up.”
Of course, I took from this what I wanted to hear, and the pieces that didn’t really make sense I let slide. After all, why not grasp onto the beauty he was saying? The rest, well, it’s just psychic.
I spent the rest of the morning writing in the courtyard when the hotel owner offered to have lunch with me and another woman from England. The lunch was “on the house, you not pay” and consisted of rice, tofu, and some cooked vegetables. I learned more about the religion, the caste system, and the culture. And mostly, I enjoyed the laughter and smile from the owner, someone who is always happy and smiling.
For the first time in my life, I’ve taken the time to slow down, to really feel life, every single emotion, and I am humbled beyond words.
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