Up until a couple of nights ago, I was in Bali. I didn’t write much while I was there. Just a few notes here and there, and the beginnings of a post about a snippet of our trip, which took me and a friend to Ubud, on a quest for peace and yoga. The experience was amazing, and I will post it soon, but it was something at the end of my trip which has caught my imagination for the moment, in a very different kind of way.
This was from me a few days ago.
There’s a volcano in East Java called Mt Ruang, which is quite active at the moment. It’s spewing out volcanic ash which is drifting across Bali, making air travel dangerous. So we are stuck. Quite stuck it seems. We’ve been here for a two week holiday which was lovely, but now it doesn’t feel much like a holiday, and I realised today after a fourteen hour stint at the airport on standby for Perth flights…with my two boys in tow, that we have actually become travellers. Me again, them for the first time. We’ve only really been traveling for a day or so, but there was a very distinct point where things shifted from ‘luxury bali getaway’ to ‘Michelle shows her sons what real travelling is all about,’ or more to the point, ‘Michelle is inspired to show her sons what real travelling is all about.’
Two nights ago, we were looking for a place to eat along the beach. An older woman stopped to ask us a question, which turned into a twenty minute conversation, and a promise to meet the following day at noon, for her to show us the best warung (local food place) around.
As a young traveller, I met quite a few people like this. Older women whose independent spirit drew them along alternative paths. As the layers peel away through very open conversation, a life very similar to my early life is often revealed. There was Oya in Istanbul- we met her brother on a bus, and stayed with her for a number of days. There was Jen in Amsterdam – I taught her how to use email in an Internet cafe. She was emailing her brother in Jerusalem to see if he was OK. I had just left Israel because of conflict there. I stayed with her for a week, and it was as though our lives had been running in parralel. Similar upbringing, similar work, similar ideas about life and how to live, and a yearning for travel and adventure. When you are travelling free, you meet people and see things you wouldn’t ordinarily see.
Since we have had kids, I’ve had this urge to have ‘safe’ holidays, not exploratory ‘dangerous’ travel. And I do want to keep us safe, but in the last few days we’ve actually shifted gears. All because of volcanic ash and a chance meeting.
I met my new friend at noon, and we walked and talked for about a kilometre before we found the warung. The owners spoke no English, so there was lots of gesturing, pointing, and a bit of nervous laughter from the young girl serving, as she wrapped our Nasi Campur in paper and stapled it into a neat triangular takeaway packages. As we stood there choosing our food, caught up in the energy of the local lunchtime rush in this tiny little warung, I felt an awakening inside of me. This is how I always ate as a young traveller in Asia. This is how all travellers used to eat in Asia. It felt so enlivening to be a part of the local landscape, not simply a tourist tacked on the edge. As we left the warung, my new friend turned to me and said, “now you can do this on your own,” and that was exactly what I was thinking. We wandered back to my hotel, already knowing lots about each other, and we shared the food as a picnic on the grass outside. It was the first meal in Bali that both of my kids ate without question or criticism. Hours of really interesting and diverse conversation followed, and we parted with another promise…to stay in touch.
That night it was just me and the kids. We were flightless (my husband had been injured the week before, and had flown home earlier that day), we were in a cheap hotel, in a poor area of Bali near the airport, and we adventured out into the streets. The kids chose a Muslim warung with fish and chicken in the window, that they both thought looked “delicious”. We stepped inside, into a completely different world. The call to prayer was on a television high in the corner of the room. Old women were shuffling food from a back room into the dishes at the front. The kids were fascinated, and we were also an attraction. Something which was always the case for me as a very tall, very blonde traveller in Asia in the eighties.
After the meal, my youngest needed to go to the toilet urgently. I made signs to the owners that we needed a toilet, and we were led to the back room, which was essentially a very dark cave. While my youngest discovered his first ever stand up toilet, and the dangers of holes in the ground and darkness, my seven year old was beckoned over by the two old women preparing food. They were laughing toothless laughs, tickling him sweetly, and gesturing wildly about his size. He was much taller than both of them. The warmth of these women was palpable, and they lifted my spirits completely. As we left the warung, both boys skipped happily along the rough path, calling out questions to me about everything from what they’d just eaten, to what on earth that toilet was all about.
We had dug a little deeper, and experienced something so much more interesting than that offered by any of the resorts or spas of Bali. We were tasting real life. We were real travellers. Very contented, very happy…travellers.
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