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.

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