Bali seems like a long-ago dream but fragments of our trip still pop into my head almost every day and I am still contemplating the effect the trip had on me.
In some ways, with hindsight, I can barely believe I did it. Old neural pathways, as plastic as they apparently have the capacity to be, can be deeply entrenched grooves and some days I wonder at how I had the courage not only to go back but to take the kids and my parents.
I think in some ways I had to kind of shut down a bit in the lead up to the trip in order to be able to do it. And in the aftermath, even now almost 6 months later, I’m still examining how I felt and how I feel now.
As blissful as it was, I have to confess, that not all of the trip was smooth sailing for me. After the high of arriving and reaching our beautiful villa, I kind of slumped a bit around the third day. Long-time readers here will know the harrowing back story to the this trip you’d be forgiven for wondering why I didn’t anticipate that. I’ve been asking myself the same question. But after such a euphoric arrival and a strong sense of “I made it”, I don’t think I wanted to concede there might be more hard work to do. But there was. And the ferocity of the way in which it manifested was, frankly, a pain in the arse.
I spent large swathes of my time attempting to control the negative thought loops that played on a never-ending reel in my head. The noise was not always Bali bombing-related but equally horrifying; terrifying fears of loss and pain writ large in the silent pre-dawn. This usually started around 3am when I would be jolted awake by an amorphous but powerful anxiety. It didn’t really abate until 8am when we all met for breakfast and the distractions of the day gave me an opportunity to divert myself from the internal cacophony.
I tried to summon peace. To coax calm. To meditate through it, around it, despite it. To reason it away. To surf it. To accept it and allow it to take its course. None of which really worked. And yes, I know effort and meditation are diametrically opposed but I just could not let go. I felt deeply upset that despite the beauty and serenity of my surroundings I could not make my inner landscape reflect the outer one during those blue hours.
I read a quote recently that resonated with me. In a nutshell it said “the only zen you find on the tops of mountains is the zen you bring up there.” My zen, as it turns out, did not really come along for the ride.
But that’s okay. I’m not surprised or conceding failure or judging myself. I just felt a bit disappointed that there was such a mighty daily struggle.
One day, Olive developed a pretty severe and sudden infection the pain of which made her hysterical and not an hour after we had calmed her with pain relief medication and started a swift course of antibiotics, Sophia stepped on a wasp the size of a small bird. These big black Balinese wasps do not muck around my friends. They fly semi-vertically, dragged down by their weighty, poisonous behinds.
Thankfully, she did not have a severe reaction, but she had some pretty serious localised swelling and if her screams were anything to go by, quite a lot of pain.
The utterly heavenly staff at the villa were amazing. They quickly retrieved necessary medicine, calmed anxious parents and, most importantly, soothed upset children with some kind of magical, relaxing massage to the afflicted areas.
I found though, I guess unsurprisingly, that my capacity to cope with these relatively minor stressors was severely diminished. Even though I knew in my rational mind that they were okay and their lives were not endangered, I had felt, even if briefly, that they might have been. Just as I felt all those years ago in the immediate aftermath of the bombings. That made me freak out. Later. In the privacy of our bedroom. Not in front of the kids. So, yeah, that bit was not relaxing.
But if I’ve made it sound as though it was 10 days of pure mental anguish then I’ve misled you. When I wasn’t trying to deal, I was absorbing with wonder our very beautiful surroundings at Villa Vajra and, paradoxically, loving every minute of being back in Bali. I was relaxing and laughing with my family.
In spite of the pretty robust processing going on in my mind, I couldn’t fail to be soothed at certain times by the breathtaking beauty of our immediate surroundings.
The staff, as I’ve alluded to, were beyond perfect. They became a part of our family.
Joel and Nirgrantha, who own the villa and live nearby, were beautiful hosts. Recently Joel sent me pictures of the stunning new ironwood boardwalk they have just put in through the rice paddies. They are also in the process of bedding down an extensive organic garden.
The fact I am still in touch with all of them should give you a sense of how amazing they all are.
If you want a little more detail about the villa, you can read my review on trip advisor here. I review there as ‘trovamiqui’. Which means “find me here” in Italian.
Meals were extraordinary. The brilliant chefs prepared whatever we felt like ranging from Balinese dishes to fish and chips for the kids when they craved something familiar. After the first 5 days or so we just gave free reign to the chefs to prepare whatever Balinese specialities they thought we would enjoy. Each meal was a veritable feast. An abundance of fresh, locally-sourced, authentically Balinese food. We were in heaven.
Other highlights included getting some young, beautifully-costumed Balinese dancers into the villa one night, some traditional rindik musicians the next and of course the wonderful Galungan parade I talked about in this post.
We also had classic family times, the best of which was Pool Olympics. We spent a whole morning competing individually in such little-known events as “swimming with pearl earrings” (an event inspired by my elegant mother who swims with her neck thrust high out of the water using delicate strokes to keep both her hair and pearl earrings from getting wet) , “canon bombing”, “water pistol target shooting ” (no fun unless the target is a human face) “creative diving” and “underwater smooching”.
Andrew and I even performed an opening ceremony in the pool. Seeing the combination of amusement and embarrassed horror on my kids’ faces as their father and I did (badly) synchronised swimming, generally thrashed around like dead weights and concluded with a spectacular finale complete with high lift was hilarious. For us. There is a video of it. That I will never show you!
I have so many hilarious photos and videos from that morning but given our antics and the fact we were all in our swimming costumes, the rest of my family would kill me if I posted them here. I choose life. So here’s one of Olive’s medal-winning canon bombs instead.
Frangipani medals were awarded at the end (I won swimming with pearls, btw, like mother, like daughter) and Sophia cites pool olympics as the highlight of the trip. It’s the biggest little things, yes?
So an amazing trip overall. Not as relaxing mentally as I would have liked but, as with everything I’ve ever done, I wouldn’t change the experience one iota. I suppose because I trust, with the benefit of hindsight at least, that that is how my experience at that time and in that place was supposed to unfold. Now if I could just learn to do that in the present…