Saturday, April 11, 2015

Peeling Back the Layers


Sometimes the tourist packages are a good idea. This one began with a photo stop at the most exquisite terraced rice fields, followed by a visit to a small coffee plantation and the astounding story of Luwak coffee. A weasel-like creature eats coffee beans, people retrieve them (somehow) from their poop and process them into an expensive gourmet coffee. Hmm. How did they ever figure that one out? Then up to breakfast looking out at Mt. Batur, the still-active volcano near the center of Bali.

And then the point of the whole venture—bicycling downhill on the back roads of Bali.
A San Francisco biker, I actually missed pedaling— literally some three hours downhill! But there were two challenging uphills, one which I aced and the other where my gears failed me. (Yep, blame it on the bike.) We stopped occasionally to walk in a rice field, to see if the woodcarvers were working (they weren’t), to learn a bit more about the temple structure in Bali. (There’s the family temple, the village temples, the large public temples. The Brahma temples are at the highest point, then the Vishnu ones, then the Shiva temples. If there is a place on earth more spiritually integrated between religion, nature, ceremony, ritual, music-dance-theater, daily life, I’d like to see it.) The trip ended with lunch in a family compound and a short little dance by three girls there. (If you think you’re reasonably coordinated, try Balinese dance sometime. Fingers, eyes, shoulders, rhythmic footwork, all working independently yet together in one of the world’s more complex dance forms— and this done by 8-year old girls.)

The greatest of the pleasures was getting mostly off the motorcycle-infested roads and into the peace and tranquility of the countryside. Having started up high, the air was cool, the day was mostly overcast, but when the sun came out, the bike-induced breeze felt lovely. And finally I could feel myself shedding all the burdensome layers of self and just release into the simplicity of life lived close to the elements. Warm weather always helps me, but it also has been the great gift of my brief lives in various cultures—most notably, India, Bali, Ghana— where complexity has not gone into machines, but into music and dance and culture. The social conventions can be as multi-layered as Downton Abbey, but the people themselves are not so tightly wound and buttoned up and repressed. Well, don’t want to over-romanticize yet again, but I just find more affability, more humor, more smiles, more flowing water, less rigid ice.

And that helps me peel back my own layers, get out of my own Medieval fortress of Self and wander this earth lightly, barefoot or with flip-flops, recover some childlike innocence, float in the pool post-biking for an hour recalling some ancient memory in the womb before the harsh world made me start to build my defenses. Writing this on our little verandah peeking out at the rice fields, the day closes in a twilight hush and I am part of the music. Blessings from biking back roads in Bali.

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