I’m home now, but I wanted to write about some of my experiences during my last week in Bali. The highlight of my month-long stay was my series of interviews with victims from the Bali bombing in 2002. Thanks to an extraordinary organization, YKIP, http://www.ykip.org/, I was able to meet with three women who lost their husbands during the bombing and two people who were seriously injured then. The bombing is an important part of my novel and I needed a deeper understanding of what happened in Bali. But I never expected to get this experience! An intelligent young Balinese woman organized these meetings and served as my interpreter. She also helped answer my many questions before and after each interview. The people I met with were extraordinarily open and honest about their traumatic experiences. I was so touched that they were willing to share so much with me. I am very grateful to them and to the folks at YKIP.
After those two days, the “vacation” part of my trip began. Neal arrived, and we met at Desa Seni, my favorite resort in Bali. We spent three days there and four days back in Ubud. We explored the island with a guide — visiting the temple at Uluwatu, the beach at Jimbaran, the East Coast of Bali, including the Bat Temple and the Floating Palace. All gorgeous and fascinating.
And then we made the long trek home — two travel days, 20 hours of flight time. I am very glad to be home — and yet I’m already missing Bali.
So I’ll find Bali again as I write about it. I have so much more to bring to the page.
I’ve now been here for three weeks and Bali seeps under my skin. It’s fascinating how complex this island is — both the Balinese culture and the ex-pat culture! Yes, the more I learn, the more there is to know.
I spent a great deal of time talking to ex-pats about their take on Bali and got a remarkable range of responses. Some ex-pats mix right in — they have Balinese friends and participate in village life, attend ceremonies, practice Hinduism. Some live only the ex-pat life — I’ve even heard some anti-Balinese sentiments by people who live in their midst. Everyone has a strong opinion — it makes for such great discussions! And it will all inform my novel.
I participated in two celebrations this past week. One was an Earth Day music festival — almost all ex-pats — a fabulous concert that lasted long into the night. It was a wild blend of hippie, new age, world music, eco-fest, and it rocked. I loved it. Then the very next day I attended a Balinese cremation ceremony. Everyone is invited — the village prepares for days. Because of their strong belief in reincarnation, the Balinese do not mourn death — they honor it. The village builds gorgeous enormous structures (one is a bade which looks like a tower and the other a bull) which are set on platforms. The corpse is put in the tower structure and teams of men lift both platforms and then they run through the streets with the temple and bull overhead. Music blares, a parade of people form and everyone cheers. Finally after a long run through town, they reach the cemetery. The body is taken down from the tower and put into the body of the bull. Finally, it’s burned. (I missed the burning — the first part took about three hours!)
I will try once more to upload photos. I so want to share these images — it’s a gorgeous country.
After a week in Ubud, I feel like my experience here is changing. The pace of my day is slower and quieter. It’s so hot that I’ve even learned to walk slower — an amazing feat for me. And unlike the first week, when my novel characters were chattering non-stop, I feel like the writing process is different — I seem to be absorbing Bali instead of poking at it from every direction.
I start each day with a yoga class — there’s a terrific studio right in town. And then I walk, take photos, wander, explore. I find some fabulous place for lunch (which will cost anywhere from $3 to $10, beer included) and then head back to the hotel to take notes. In the evening I usually meet someone for dinner and an interview. The people I’ve met have been very generous with their time and information — it’s so interesting to learn Bali this way.
Did I mention the $6 massages?
I can’t get my photos to upload — will try again tomorrow.
Yesterday I hired a driver and went out into the countryside, watched a couple of ceremony preparations, visited a typical house and school, and gazed at the rice paddies and spectacular tropical vistas. I love this country.
I’ve moved to the mountains! When Neal and I first visited Bali five years ago, we spent the entire time in Ubud and loved it. We had skipped a stay at the southern beaches because we were here right after the second bombing (2005) — in fact, it was on that vacation that I got the idea for the novel I’m now writing. (Both bombings took place in the beach area.) So I’m back in Ubud, and so happy to be here. I didn’t like the crowds of Seminyak — this suits me much more. I’m staying at a small inn (huge beautiful room for $50 a night), walking distance to town. The town has grown so much in five years — I think the Eat, Pray, Love women have been on a pilgrimage here! (The Balinese always ask what I do — when I say I’m a writer, they then ask: did you write Eat, Pray, Love?) Ubud is busier now but still retains its charm. I’ll be here for two weeks, because the majority of my novel takes place in Ubud.
So glad I switched hotels — I’m now at a gorgeous place in Canggu on the western edge of Bali, just north of Seminyak. It’s an eco-resort and the owners have created a kind of Balinese village, with individual cottages, all built of old wood and original materials. It’s called Desa Seni — I love this place. (by the way, the hotel I stayed at in Sanur was La Taverna. They have an interesting history of being part of the first international wave of visitors to Bali who partied there. Elizabeth Taylor, John and Yoko, Sophia Loren, lots more. Those stories will also make their way into my novel!)
The research took a somber turn here. I knew I needed to stay near the southern beaches to learn more about the bombing in 2002, which is an important part of my novel. Yesterday I met with a couple of Balinese people who work with a non-profit that supports the families of people who died in the bombing. They were very helpful and will set up interviews for me with some of those families. That will be very difficult, but I’m so appreciative to have the opportunity. I’ll also meet with a psychologist who has been working with these families over the years.
Another friend of a friend in Bali introduced me to an ex-pat couple from New Zealand who have lived in Bali for 20 years and were here during the bombing. I had lunch with them and heard their stories.
I have figured out that traveling alone is very good for me as a writer in a surprising way — my characters spend a lot of time talking to me! If I were with Neal or friends, I’d probably be so busy that I wouldn’t hear them. I find myself taking notes day and night because they’re so chatty. And the story has grown deeper and more complex — I’m glad for that. Now I have to prove to be up to the task of writing this big story!
I’m feeling better, too. Still coughing but I no longer worry that they’re going to take me away and put me in a sanitarium.
I love skype — have talked to Neal and the girls each day which makes travel much easier. more soon…
I thought I’d be able to post here more frequently but I couldn’t get on-line very often. Bali is spectacularly beautiful! I started my month-long trip in Sanur, a quiet beach town, far from the wilder Kuta/Seminyak area. I thought part of my novel should be set there — and once I spent five days there I was fairly sure I had found the right place. Somehow I had discovered the perfect hotel on-line — it’s an old boutique hotel, about 40 rooms built into balinese cottages, right on the beach. $70 a night. I’ll try to attach photos later. The restaurant overlooked the beach and I spent a good amount of time sitting there, taking notes, settling into Bali. Along the beach there’s a stone path that runs for miles – it’s a lovely way to see the area. On the other side of the hotel, there’s a road with lots of shops — nothing fancy but all interesting. I found a yoga studio where I took a daily class. (One was called Japanese yoga, which I thought would be really interesting — oops. Turns out it was yoga taught in Japanese!) The other classes were taught by Balinese instructors — much more focus on the spiritual practice, meditation, energy. Interesting!
I had made one contact in Sanur before I arrived — a friend of a writer friend who lives there — and she was wonderfully helpful. She introduced me to a couple of Balinese people to “interview” for the novel — and we visited her Balinese doctor so I could ask questions about the hospitals and clinics after the 2002 bombings. (all for the novel)
I took tons of notes — the characters in my novel seemed very perky and talkative while I was there, checking out their surroundings. Can’t wait to dive back into the writing again soon.
Also had fabulous $20 ninety minute massages, great meals, lovely swims in the sea. This is work?!!
Then yesterday I got sick. Couldn’t sleep the night before. Neal had been very sick when I left California a week ago, but I thought I had passed the point that I might still catch it. No such luck. Within a day, I was feverish and coughing terribly. Bad timing, too — switched hotels to a different area and this time the hotel was awful. I changed my reservation to one night and spent one day sick in bed. Just woke up, feeling better, and will head to a different place that promises to be better.
I’ll post again soon and try to add pics.