As you know, I’ve just returned from a trip to Bali. I went there for the Write A Bestseller Retreat at Sharing Bali. I think I also mentioned in a previous post somewhere that I had never been interested in going to Bali, what with all the drunk Australians that are drawn to the island. Bali equalled Kuta equalled Bali, as far as I was concerned.
I am here to tell you that Bali was one of THE best travel experiences I’ve ever had. If you have been following my
escapades adventures on my travel blog, you’ll know that the retreat was everything I thought it would be and more, and that I may or may not have met a special someone: a Balinese man. A trip that I thought was going to be fairly run-of-the-mill in terms of travel experiences, turned out to be the trip of a lifetime, and—in many ways—life-changing.
Of course, I always look at things in terms of lessons learned, and my trip to Bali is no exception. So without further ado, this is what I learned from my time there:
Lessons learned #1 – Challenge your perceptions
My perception of Bali (and hence not wanting to go) was based on the hordes of drunk, bogan Australians that descend on Kuta being, well, drunk and bogan and Australian (I’m Australian—although I’m not a bogan—and I have been drunk, so I do feel qualified to be somewhat judgey in this regard). I have friends that travel to Bali quite regularly who say that it’s not like that at all, and the quieter areas like Ubud and Sanur and Kintamini and Candi Dasa and Nusa Dua are just lovely. Of course, I didn’t believe them, preferring to clasp my judgey views to my chest and wear them as a badge of honour.
[bctt tweet=”The longer I stayed in Bali, the more I appreciated what a special place it was.”]
I was forced to cast off my judgey views as soon as I hit Ubud, which reminded me SO MUCH of Vietnam—in particular, Hue—and is one of my favourite places on Earth, full stop. Ubud, which was buzzing because of the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival, was full of motorbikes and shops and people hawking their wares and the smell of incense and street food. It was hot and humid and I felt an immediate sense of familiarity and belonging.
The longer I stayed in Bali, the more I appreciated what a special place it was, filled with special people. I ended up immersing myself in the culture much more than I’ve ever been able to on any other trip, mainly because I had my own special Balinese passport: Made. He introduced me to his friends and family, took me to places that I would not have gone on my own—and I’m not talking just the tourist spots here—and generally helped me navigate Balinese culture with relative ease.
Lessons learned #2 – Say: Why the hell not?
Made was the driver sent by my hotel to pick me up from the airport. More less, as soon as I got into the car with him, he tried to hustle a driving gig out of me. I don’t blame him—tourism and the tourist dollar is the lifeblood of Bali and the Balinese. Why wouldn’t you try to organise a driving gig with someone who had never been to the island before? He offered to take me to Tanah Lot the next day for IDR400,000 (around $40), and I thought: Why the hell not? What else am I going to do? and it seemed like a reasonable price. So I agreed.
(Interestingly, I nearly didn’t go because I was super tired after a crappy night’s sleep, and from wandering around Ubud in the heat and humidity that morning. But I had a nanna nap and because I promised Made I’d be there and I keep my promises, I went. I’m so glad I did.)
Watching the sun set at Tanah Lot and chatting, and drinking Bintangs, we seemed to hit it off. So when Made asked me if I’d like to get a drink with him and something to eat and go listen to some music, I wasn’t surprised. He’d pick me up on his motor bike, he said, no charge, just two people. Sure, I said. Why the hell not? What was the worst that could happen? From what I could tell, he was kind and responsible and needed his driver’s licence for his job, so he was hardly likely to put my life in danger, let alone his own. So I agreed.
[bctt tweet=”When it was clear that things were moving quickly & he wanted sexy times, I thought why the hell not?”]
Later that night, after a few more Bintangs (me, not him—he is not a big drinker AT ALL) and he made a move to kiss me, I thought: why the hell not? It’s not like I have men lining up to kiss me anymore. And while I protested that I was an old lady, and why would a young man (he’s 37) want to kiss an old lady, he hushed my protests and kissed me some more. In Bali, he said, not old, no problem. So I agreed.
When it was clear that things were moving quickly and he intended having sexy times with me, I thought (again): why the hell not? What’s the worst that could happen (given we were using protection)? We’d have sexy times and I’d never see him again. I was used to that. So I agreed. Except it didn’t happen that way. We had sexy times, and he kept coming back for more sexy times, and we continued having sexy times right up until the day I flew back to Australia—because after my retreat, Made spent 12 days with me in Sanur. I asked him to come with me because why the hell not?
I’m going back to Bali in the New Year for a few weeks, because why the hell not? What else am I going to do? I could stay at home and do the same old thing I do at this time of the year, or I could go back to Bali, see what this thing with Made is all about (if anything) and work on my novel. Why the hell wouldn’t I?
Lessons learned #3 – Change your thinking
Regular readers know that I have an anxious attachment style. If you followed my Bali travels on the Travelling Homebody blog, you’ll know that my anxious attachment style was pretty much deactivated as I was getting to know Made. His behaviour—how he was with me and toward me—meant that my attachment system was quietened. There was no need to be on heightened alert like I usually was. This required some serious rethinking on my part, though. In fact, I found I had to abandon my Western style of overthinking and over-analysing very early on. It just didn’t work in this environment, and was potentially detrimental and destructive to what was unfolding.
When Made kissed me that first night (and I knew where things were heading), I panicked. On the one hand I was thinking why the hell not? but on the other, a nagging voice was picking at my learned insecurities and saying: what the hell are you doing? You’re an old lady, for fuck’s sake! He’s a young man! I’m glad the former voice prevailed, but it took some work.
Made had said if I needed a ride back to my hotel after the Ubud Writers Festival, just to call. He had given me his number, but I didn’t want to call him and have him pick me up, preferring to put some distance between us to slow things down (I know, right?! Who was I kidding?). We were meeting later that night anyway (and I was pretty damn sure it was going to be for sexy times). However, I couldn’t get a cab back (and it was too hot and too far to walk and I was running late), so I ended up calling him to pick me up after all. He rode up 15 minutes later on his motor bike, looking fresh and clean in shorts and a white t-shirt. I surprised myself by how pleased I was to see him. I hopped on his bike and put my hands on his hips and he moved them to his stomach. I realised that being on the back of a motor bike with this man, at this time, was EXACTLY what I was supposed to be doing. Circumstances had conspired in my favour.
[bctt tweet=”I realised that being on the back of a motor bike with this man was EXACTLY what I was supposed to be doing.”]
The day after the night before (i.e. sexy times night), Made had said he would take me to do some more sightseeing. We’d arranged that I’d meet him at 10.30, so I had a leisurely breakfast and a swim and wandered down at the agreed time. No Made. I was advised by one of the other drivers that he’d left. My first reaction was arsehole! but I quieted that reactionary voice and just called him. He picked up straight away. He’d been booked to drive a guest, he said, but he’d be back to get me up at 1.30. And he was. We went for a babi guling (suckling pig, and this would be a regular occurrence) and more coffee tasting and rice terrace viewing and then dinner, followed by more music and Bintangs, after which Made spent the night with me.
There are other examples (including when I came home) where my initial over-reaction to something was completely the wrong reaction. I learned that my thinking, in these circumstances—in Bali and with a Balinese man—was not correct. I was basing my reactions on past experiences that had no bearing on my current situation. I was forced to examine what I was thinking, and change my approach. I was forced to pay attention to my attachment style and say to myself: there is no need to be alert and alarmed. And that’s a hard thing to do.
Lessons learned #4 – Expect the unexpected
One of my favourite sayings (from the movie The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) is: you never know what’s coming for you. I expected to do Bali like I’ve done most trips: being a nanna. Essentially, this means I sight-see during the day, then tuck into my room around 6pm (often having room service or take-away for dinner) to upload my photos and check my blog and catch up on emails and social media and plan the next day’s activities and watch a movie. That sort of stuff.
[bctt tweet=”I would never’ve thought the driver who picked me up from the airport would end up being my lover.”]
I was anything but a nanna on this trip because meeting Made was an unexpected gift. I would never in a million years have thought that the driver who picked me up from the airport would end up being my lover. And maybe something more. And that I would be going back to Bali a few short weeks after being there in the first place. How can anyone predict this sort of stuff? I thought I had every kind of how to meet that special someone scenario covered, but I did not foresee this one.
The thing is though: I was in Bali doing what I loved. I was there to write and be with writers and learn more about writing. And to write and write and write. If I hadn’t have met Made, I still would have had a wonderful trip because I was doing what I loved. If things don’t work out with Made when I go back in January, it’s ok, because I will still be there doing what I love: travelling and exploring more of a fascinating culture and working on my novel. And I’ve had the most amazing, awesome experience while doing what I love.
And, in the end, isn’t that what life’s all about?
Then how about buying me a glass of wine — or even two! — for writing such an awesome essay?