kute, lombok – holga
if i could have any superpower, it would be teleportation. to be able to blink or snap my fingers or hold my body *just so* or click my heels together three times and be somewhere else. that’s what i’d wish for. see, indonesia is nearly as far away as physically possible from home for me. in actuality the antipode to nags head is somewhere just to the south of bali in the indian ocean off the western coast of australia, but i was pretty close and it was the furthest i have ever been. so, i’ve thought a lot about teleportation and how it would affect our bodies, souls and minds and i imagine the experience of air travel is in many ways similar…ripped from the grip of earth and hurled through time and space to find oneself in some completely different place.
and hurled is the key word. travel is really hard for me personally. as a strongly earthbound soul/creature i find the sensation to be like an uprooting. subtly violent and painful. i suffer jet lag terribly, become weak to the mid-day seductive caress of sleep, and while my intellectual and curious mind battles with my body, i sit in the middle full of malaise and guilt.
yes guilt. lots of it. for the first three weeks of my journey i’d say that was my number one, go-to emotion. guilt for being on vacation, guilt for working (i had to finish a few projects), then guilt for not working, for having the money to travel to the other side of the world, for being an american, for not buying that sarong or bracelet, for not staying in touch better, for being so lazy, for not wanting to go exploring today, for not wanting to go surfing, for not checking email, for being afraid, for feeling shy, for not liking the hotel, for being so self-absorbed and then for the self-loathing. the list goes on, and worst of all — i also had second degree guilt. guilt over feeling so guilty. it was fascinating.
so i stepped back and let myself consciously observe my process. i noticed that i was unimaginably cruel to myself. shockingly so…my inner monologue was downright abusive. and the questions – am i a workaholic? why can’t i just relax? what’s wrong with me? do i work so much subconsciously to avoid listening to the workings of my own mind? is this what it’s really like in here?
in addition to the guilt, i also felt frustrated and betrayed. as this malaise and depression set in, it marked the end of the longest period of uninterrupted happiness and good spirits in my life and i felt like a character from awakenings, or flowers for algernon. i felt i had been given a reprieve from my own personal demons only to cruelly have them all come flooding back. i kept reminding myself that gratitude is the antidote, and would spend time counting my blessings and gazing around, pinching myself in essence to remind myself that i was in paradise. but the guilt and depression lingered.
gerupuk, lombok – holga
gerupuk, lombok – hipstamatic
then came the meltdown, 21 days after i left home. we were on lombok – an island to the east of bali – and bryan rented a boat and boatman to take him out to a surf break called gerupuk. for the first session i sat on a little man-made beach in front of a home-stay kitchen and read my book. after lunch, motivated by my guilt over my laziness, i opted to take the boat out with him. it was a gorgeous day with a light breeze and i’d never had that particular viewpoint of surfing. i swam a bit around the boat and then crawled in and got comfortable to watch the conveyor belt of wave after wave.
gerupuk, lombok – hipstamatic
it wasn’t long before the swells were messing with my equilibrium and the nausea of sea sickness set in. i felt icky but it was manageable. i waited as the sun set over these gumdrop headlands until finally as the last light of day snuck away, bryan paddled back to the boat. i felt immense relief until we realized our anchor was stuck in the rocks below and bryan, usually so calm and even-tempered, had a moment of seriously urgent dialogue with the boatman. all the other boats were leaving and we would be stuck alone with no one to help us. i reacted with a wave of fear and panic, the swells suddenly seemed immense, and all i could imagine was us capsizing in the (to my mind sharky) dark, water. but quickly the boatman dove in to cut the line to the anchor and within a minute we were on our way. i gripped the side of the boat and gritted my teeth against the metallic taste of fear.
safely back on shore, we started up the scooter for what felt like an insanely long and terrifying ride back to our hotel. it was dark and the road was covered in potholes, the other scooter riders were beeping and swerving around us and i was still nauseus and freaked out. at last back to our hotel, i ran to our room where i think my tears filled the tub faster than the shower. then i shut down. became mute and went to asleep.
in the morning i fell apart. i screamed, i cried, i threw my earrings at my reflection in the mirror. i cursed my guilt, my fears, my abusive monologue. essentially i lost it. and then…
it was over. the dam broke and my spirit was set free…
canggu, bali – holga
i’m still trying to process what happened…why it took so long for me to break free and settle in. why letting go was so…violent. why i was and am so hard on myself. but the good spirit returned and is still with me, and i was able to enjoy the balance of my trip and the one following.
but i need to remember:
beauty. i need something beautiful to rest my eyes on…i can rough it with the best of them, but i need something of comfort and beauty to support me. staying in cell block surf hotels is a disaster for me.
jatiluwih valley, bali – holga
jatiluwih valley, bali – holga
expectations. this is a big one. my expectation of bali was of rolling rice terraces and people on bicycles a la the eat pray love trailer**. in reality the places we visited were far more urban, far more crowded. and this was a big adjustment for me. i love cities, and by the time we arrived in ubud i was more adjusted to the traffic and people and i totally fell in love with that city. we stumbled on to this amazing hotel – which far exceeded my expectations – and all my hopes and dreams about my time in bali were realized here.
ubud market, bali – holga
i’m shy. it was crippling actually how shy i was when out of my element. and the balinese couldn’t have been kinder or friendlier people. but i learned to start with the children…whenever i was in a situation where i felt nervous but i needed to connect with people, it was easiest for me to start to make friends with the little ones first. it softened my shyness. we would smile and play and laugh and as i became less guarded it was easier to connect with the adults.
kuta, lombok- holga
padang-padang beach, bali – holga
and i learned that i really love to take pictures. everyone does in some ways, right? but somewhere along the line i stopped worrying that “i’m not a photographer” or that my photos wouldn’t be good enough or like bryan’s or david’s or any of the friends of mine who are professionals out there. instead what i came to believe is that my images are a record of what I saw…and felt. the holga i got for christmas opened a new world for me and i loved getting lost in my viewfinder, observing not just as an anthropologist, but as a documentarian.
uluwatu monkey temple, bali – holga
i want to wrap this all up in a nice little package and put a bow on it…but i can’t seem to find the lesson that ties it all together. because there isn’t one.
it was messy.
i am messy.
and essentially it was a beautiful disaster…like so many of the things and people in my life that i love.
**i just watched the eat pray love trailer again since i was linking to it and lo the irony. i had forgotten the tag line from the movie…let yourself go… maybe that is part of the magic and the lesson of bali after all.