Saturday, April 25, 2009

Sunny, My Ass

One of the pitfalls of being a global nomad is the visa process. Over the last nine months I have spent a ridiculous number of hours in embassies, visa agent offices and surfing the “Internets” for the rules and regulations of each particular country. I have blown hundreds on visas I never used (e.g. Vietnam) spent days in cabs traipsing from one government office to another and died a little bit each time I had to lose a day to a boarder run simply to procure a stamp and return to my point of origin eight hours and a hundred dollars later.

One of the biggest struggles with the visa process is that unless your dates are hard and fast you have to apply while on the road, often this requires finding an embassy in a major city and surrendering your passport for three-five working days, effectively trapping you in a metropolis while some bureaucracy shuffles papers and stamps and collects your fees. This is how I ended up spending a combined month in Thailand’s capital city last year.

Indonesia provides Visa on Arrival for US citizens for a fee of $25, but it is only good for 30 days and is not extendable. If you want to stay longer you have a few choices… the best option is prior to arriving apply for a 60-day visa from your home country. This is still not extendable, but buys you an extra month. Unfortunately, not an option for me, given my current lack of home.

Option two is to leave Indonesia for a day, or even just fly to another country for an afternoon, get stamped out and return to Bali in the same day. This is the next best option as it keeps you legal, but time and costs are major deterrents.
Then there is option C – the one most of us here seem to take. Option C requires disobeying every impulse in your mind and body. Option C is how I came to relinquish my passport and 1.5 million rupiah to a teenager on the back of a motorbike at 10pm in front of the Polisi stand in downtown Ubud almost three weeks ago. That night as I watched the boy drive off with my identity the words of Wayan, the first healer I visited in Bali, rung in my head “you smart, but you used to be smarter.”

With my passport goodness-knows-where, I began hosting my first solo retreat. Six months of planning, fretting, and mustering up the confidence that I was indeed up to this challenge and the moment of truth was finally upon me. I am beyond thrilled… I am jubilant to report that the retreat went perfectly. The women with whom I shared this experience could not have been more beautiful or gracious or adventurous.

We began the week by seeing Michael Franti and friends play in a very small coffee house to a crowd of not more than 100 people.

Throughout the retreat we had twice-daily asana and meditation classes, attended a holy water purification ceremony, practiced Surinamaskars (sun salutations) at the volcano to help the sun take his place in the sky, rode bikes through the second oldest indigenous village in Bali, spent a day in silent reflection, were healed by Tjakorda Rai, attended a Legon and Barong dance, were massaged and finally shared an afternoon cooking class and multi-course dinner at Mozaic, recently rated the best restaurant in Asia. The entire week was bliss and now I have a new happy place, retreat leading.
After the completion of the inaugural This End Up – Bali retreat I headed down to the beach with Beth and Angie for a few days of hedonistic tanning. Nothing tops off a week of soul searching, cleansing and spirituality like a day of over-priced mojitos and surfer boy gazing.

The girls’ last morning was spent conspiring with the sun to age our skin, and generally basking in our final few hours together. I caught a few waves – assuming you consider shore-break whitewash to be a wave – and tried to be thankful for the gift of this time together rather than sad for the impending loneliness that would be with me in a short while.

I said goodbye to my beautiful friends, my sisters, and strolled around Seminyak for a while, stocking up on provisions one can’t find in Ubud. That night back in my apartment the loneliness hit as did its soul-mate anxiousness. My round the world ticket is up in July and I still have three countries to visit. The time has come for me to make some decisions about the end of this part of my journey and all these decision require my having a passport.
The blue book containing my printed identity and I were supposed to be reunited on Wednesday, it was now Saturday and every time I called the agent, Mr. Sunny, he assured me he’d be bringing it to me in a hour, two hours, tonight, tomorrow early … each date passed with Sunny a no-show. I began stalking him, sending a text every hour on the hour and calling every half-hour. Three days no passport … “you used to be smarter.”

Four days.

On Saturday night I hit panic mode. I tried to focus on my breath, tried to visualize Sunny handing me my documents, tried to manifest a new visa, none of it was working. The logical part of my brain started taking inventory – you are now illegally in Indonesia and you have no documents. My only hope was that Sunny would come through or that the love Indonesians feel for my new president (who attended primary school in Java) could somehow make the immigration officers take pity on a stupid gringa like me.
Five days late.

I called in the big guns, my two girlfriends here who have both employed Mr. Sunny before. Finally after each of them left him messages he called me back. I put on my tough girl/anti-Rachel voice and said, Sunny get your ass up here NOW or else! Of course this was a hollow threat, my ‘or else’ pretty much ended at having my friends call, I am sorely lacking in Indo government contacts or US State Department friends, but it was all I had left. I had tried to woo him with a friendly carrot for days, but now I had to bring out the stick. He once again promised that his delivery boy would be up in a few hours. I hung up, out of options but with my fingers crossed.

I was so preoccupied by the predicament I found myself in that I could not shake the impending feeling of doom. My breath, my meditation, they were powerless to dissuade my fear and feeling of complete idiocy.

On my way to the opening of this week’s retreat I almost wrecked when a taxi veered towards me and clipped my handlebar with his side-view mirror. I stopped the motor bike, waited for the world, or maybe my knees, to stop shaking and decided to accept that my passport was gone. Fine. This is bad, really REALLY bad, but it is the reality and now it is time to deal with it. Tonight I let it go, tomorrow I call the embassy.

I went to the class and I finally did let it go. I managed to put it out of my mind for the first time in days, hours went by and I didn’t glare at my phone willing Sunny to call. When the class was over I chatted with the students for a while and then I walked past the reception desk on my way to dinner. Katut, the office manager, said to me “Miss Rachel – man came, left this for you.” And in his hand he held a small blue book embossed with the words United States of America and Passport.

Either I managed to intimidate Sunny with my booming anti-Rachel voice or he was starting to do the cost-benefit analysis on paying for my SMS blitzkrieg campaign. Whatever finally lit a fire under him, it resulted in my getting my passport back five days late and three weeks after I had originally sent it off on that motorbike. I think Wayan was right, I used to be smarter.

Now it's a week later and I have just completed my final Bali retreat for this cycle. It has been a month of amazing growth for me as a teacher and a yoga practitioner. I have had the honor of meeting beautiful new friends from Singapore, Holland, the UK, Australia, Taiwan, France, America and of course Bali. The final week Iyan was back from his bicycle accident and we had the opportunity to lead the retreat together which was great fun and I learned so much from him as well. This yogic path of mine continues to rise up to meet my feet, continues to lead me to the most amazing experiences and the greatest people.
I live in gratitude.

Special thanks this post to Lara Beth Mitchell, Angie Alleman, Iyan and Claude, Gabby, Kore, Charlie, and the entire staff of Kumara Sakti. Om Shanti my friends.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Julie McCoy, Cruise Director

For the last week I have been blessed with the company of two of my dearest friends. Getting to see Bali through their eyes has been like experiencing everything again for the first time. It fills me with such joy that they love this island as I do and it has been my sincere pleasure to play tour guide to them. I love the challenge of fulfilling their vacation wishes, Angie requested diving and the beach, Beth requested monkeys, fine dining and getting to see Michael Franti. I aim to please.

Along with my Julie McCoy, Cruise Director duties I am leading a retreat for 13 people from around the world. In the morning I teach a two-hour asana class, each focusing on a different type of yoga, Hatha, Vinyasa, Ashtanga ... giving the students a taste of the various paths and hoping they will discover their kind of yoga along the way. Our evenings are filled with a restorative or Yin Yoga practice and meditation.

While I may be the one sitting up front, I feel as though I am the star pupil in the classes. My primary teachers are my mat and my students. I am beyond grateful for the opportunity to share yoga with so many this month.

Beth and Angie arrived the same night the retreat began and they have covered a ton of ground in their first week here.
Our first outing was to the Sacred Monkey Forest Temple in Ubud. I am not new to the Monkey Forest, I have been terrorized, pick pocketed and generally molested by the monkeys many times now. My first visit there I bought bananas and made it about 15’ before I abandoned the fruit to a flock of too-friendly juveniles. Now I am an old hand at the art of monkey coaxing, one bunch of bananas can last me hours, each piece a photo op or a hands-on encounter for my companions.

While Beth and Angie wore out the memory cards on their cameras, I took inspiration from the inhabitants to practice Hanumonasana, the monkey god pose.

Tick monkeys off the list.

The next day we met for coffee, a trip through the local market and then a walk through the rice fields to my favorite lunch spot, Sari Organic. The girls marveled at the aquaculture, the various stages of the rice and the overall slow pace of life here. Each comment they made reflected a thought I have had, or a question I asked during my first trip to Bali and I was honored to be able to be a resource for them as their wide eyes soaked it all in.

That evening I went with the retreat students to the Tirta Empul, Holy Water Temple. As each student bathed in the sacred waters, purifying whatever they were prepared to rid themselves of I reflected on my last time there, the day my divorce was official. I feel so far away from that now, so clean, so centered, so peaceful and sure of the decisions that my still-best friend an I made last year. It’s like this whole week has been a chance for me to visit the past and to see how far I really have come.
Wednesday morning was a sunrise yoga session at the base of Mt. Batur with the retreat and then I joined Beth and Angie for a ride through some of the most picturesque terraces in Bali and to a few of the artisan villages for a bit of shopping. No matter how yogi I become I am still a consumer, I still want and on occasionally I still buy.
That evening we were invited to attend a performance by the first women’s Kechak group in Bali. My landlady, Rai, is in the group and she was very excited that we would come to support her. I have seen Kechak before, performed traditionally by men, and it is always an amazing event, but to see these women so proudly breaking down a barrier was truly beautiful. At the end of a Kechak performance there is a fire dance, where the performers and a priest lead a man into a trance state, which allows him to dance barefoot on hot coals. This part was still performed by a man, apparently in a trance or not, the Balinese women are still too smart to dance on burning embers.

That night we ate dinner at Terrazo, one of the fancier local eateries where a huge piece of seared tuna will run you about $7.50. It was a beautiful meal.

Fine dining checked off the request list.

Thursday I sent the girls off with Pande to the mother temple for the full moon celebration and from there on to Amed for some beach time. I stayed behind wrapping up the retreat and completing my first of three weeks of full-time employment.

Trip to the beach checked off the request list.

The Escape the World retreat was a fantastic learning experience for me. Thirteen students of varying levels, some completely new to yoga, others who were quite experienced. The retreat I have been working months to plan is geared more for intermediate students and so it’s curriculum didn’t really translate to this group. As a result, I got to piece together new lessons, which was a great and rewarding challenge. I really, really love leading retreats, getting to spend so much time with the students, discussing all the limbs of yoga, tailoring the practices to their styles, desires and daily energy levels, it is a completely new experience each time we hit our mats.
After our closing ceremony I hopped in Pande’s car and headed for Amed to meet the girls and have a mini vacation after my first week of ‘work’ in months. Beth and Angie greeted me with cold beverages, a $5 massage and a sunset stroll to a beach front dinner. It was blissful and one of those moments where you stop to realize that everything is absolutely perfect. Lately I have a lot of those moments, I am finding it hard to want for any more than I already have, and that is a truly wonderful state.
Saturday we went diving at a shipwreck site. The USS Liberty was torpedoed by the Japanese in WWII and then towed to the beach near Amed where it stayed until the 1963 eruption of Mt. Batur which shook the ship free from the island and sent it down to the sea floor. It was Beth’s first dive and she had to hold her regulator to her mouth the whole time out of fear that her huge grin might set her oxygen source floating away, it was so much fun to watch her have the experience. Angie proved to be an excellent diving buddy and together we explored the various rooms of the ship.

Diving … check.
That evening we enjoyed a bonfire on the beach and an impromptu karaoke session with some local troubadours on a street-side bale (outdoor platform). Beth led us in a somewhat strained, but nonetheless, complete rendition of Hotel California, and the song has been in my head ever since ... my head grew heavy and my sight grew dim, I had to stop for the night.

Sunday we retraced our steps back to Ubud, stopping for lunch Tirta Gangga, the water palace. As we strolled around the fountains I felt a bit sad that I had been able to fulfill all but one of their requests. Just then, I got an SMS from my friend Gabby – Tonight. 9pm. Benefit for local clinic. Michael Franti and Friends. Flava Coffee House. Pass it on.

Check!

Wow, I am good!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Singing in the Rain

Last week during a mountain bike trip my friend Iyan took a nasty, nasty fall. I believe the technical term for what he did is going ass over teakettle. Mercifully, all that was donated to the asphalt gods that day was a fair amount of skin and 30% of his MCL. Iyan and I taught a class together last fall when he broke his ankle and I am beginning to take it personally that he gets hurt whenever I arrive in Bali.

Iyan is now in a full-leg cast, which makes asana practice a bit challenging, so I have been offered the opportunity to teach his two retreats as well as mine. Today I began my month of employment by teaching a class to a lovely group of beginner yoginis from Canada and it was bliss for me.
To my surprise and sheer delight one of my favorite artists had a gig here last week. Years ago I got to see Michael Franti play at a private party/mini-festival in Golden, British Columbia, it was a magical night and it solidified my status as a die-hard fan. Just a couple of weeks ago I sat on my rooftop in Mysore with two of my favorite woman watching the documentary he made about the war-torn areas of the Middle East and we each professed our adoration/admiration for him.

The Bali concert was equally as magical as the Canadian one had been. My new friends and I made our way to the front row, we danced until we dropped from exhaustion and after Franti finished playing he came down into the crowd to dole out hugs, laughs and generously share his energy with all of us. I had the opportunity to meet him and I told him about the rooftop movie night. For me, it was a really special event and one I won’t soon forget.

The very next night I got to wrap up the yoga/music path that Shiva had introduced us all to during the retreat by attending one final Dave Stringer Kirtan. Through Shiva’s workshop I got to meet and befriend some amazing artists who filled my first weeks back here with beautiful music. Dave, Patrick, Daphne, Maya, Steve and Anne Emily, thank you for the gifts of your harmony and rhythm.

The final Kirtan was attended by over a hundred people, (including Michael Franti). It seemed as if every musician in Ubud was in attendance and with their beautiful voices there to drown out my own cat screeching I felt free to belt out Govinda Jaya Jaya, Gopala Jaya Jaya at the top of my lungs and found the energy to dance around the room even though I had been too exhausted to sit upright most of the day.

I knew a big crash was coming. Five weeks in Mysore followed by Shiva’s retreat, I was certain that the moment I stopped moving I would be rendered useless … Sunday the crash hit like a ton of bricks, trying to get up in the morning my back protested, my hips laughed at my feeble attempts to rise from my bed and my mind went completely blank. This state lasted all of Sunday and well in to Monday. I almost allowed my dead-girl-walking status to prevent me from accepting an offer to see some new parts of Bali, but mercifully my travel partner was up for the company of a non-communicative tag along.

Kim is a yogini from California, she and I became fast friends once we discovered we had both been raft guides. She was staying on in Bali for a few more days so we packed up and headed to Amed. Pande, my friend and resident Bali-know-it-all drove. For three days we let water be our guide, visiting holy water springs, black sand beaches, underwater coral reefs, dolphin-infested lagoons, waterfalls and hot springs. After the fire of Shiva’s retreat, a water week was just what the alchemic doctor ordered.
Once we arrived in Amed I took a big sigh and breathed the life back into my bone-tired body. After a sunset snorkel and a dinner on the beach I felt almost human again. In the morning a full Ashtanga practice, a massage and a sunrise snorkel led me back to the world of the living. Amed was the perfect calm after my six-week yoga torrent.

From there we ventured north and west along the coast to Lovina Beach. All of the things I adored about sleepy, quiet Amed were absent from Lovina. It is a resort area catering to tourists and famous, or infamous, for dolphin viewing tours. We of course hired a boat and set out with the masses at 6 a.m. It quickly became obvious that this was not going to be my kind of deal. The tour boats are hollowed-out coconut trees with outriggers and while I loved being in the boat, I did not love the 30 other identical boats jockeying for position in the dolphin hunting melee.

The best way I can describe the boat frenzy was to liken it to little league soccer, you know like when the kids are too young to understand plays, or defense and so they all just swarm around the ball. This was how the boats reacted, when a dolphin surfaced. After about five minutes my concern for the dolphins mounted and I had to just meditate on their safe passage through the plethora of spinning long-tail props until the swarm dispersed and we were returned to the shore.
After breakfast we went back out in the boat to do some snorkeling and to generally lounge out in the sun, this part of the tour suited me just fine.

While in Lovina we visited the local holy hot springs and bathed in the opaque blue, sulfur-tinged waters with dozens of Balinese families. Back in Colorado I am a hot springs junkie. Here sitting a few degrees from the equator, hot water is a bit less appealing, but nonetheless it was a special experience.

On our return trip to Ubud we stopped at the base of a 100’ waterfall and visited a few palatial temples. The drive took us through terraced rice fields, panjor-lined villages and coffee plantations, the beauty of Bali continues to amaze and mystify me.


In Mysore my friend Shueb described a trip he took to a sea-side village by saying that the town “redefined beauty” for him. For me Bali has done that. Bali is now my beauty litmus test. I have said here before that is the most aesthetic place I have ever been, the feel of the air, the smell of incense and flowers, the color palette, they all combine to overwhelm the senses and create a state of beauty bliss for me. I really do love it here.
Nine months ago I set out to travel for a while through yoga, always assuming that I would circumnavigate the globe and then return to the states to set up my life again largely like how I had left it. But the more I travel, the less I identify with what was my stationary, US-based life and the more I love being nomadic.

The longer I am away from ‘home’ the harder it becomes to answer questions like, where are you from and where do you live. Should I say I am from Colorado or Ohio? And really, where DO I live???

I am trying on a few new answers for size:
I am from America – period.
I am splitting my time traveling between India and Bali.

Yeah, I like the sound of that … I live half the year in Mysore and half in Bali. That suits me very well. So in order to make this statement my reality, I have made plans to return to Colorado in June, to move my collection of Tupperware boxes to Ohio for safe keeping and then to set out once again. I think I am now officially a traveler, a homeless nomad, a wandering yogic gypsy. Yeah, those labels suit me too.