Bali and beyond . . .

Hello, and welcome to my first attempt at an official blog.  I often write when I travel and send it to people close to me.  I thought I journey out into wider waters and see if anyone else might feel called to read, and/or comment . . .

Feel free to share as you’re called.

Thanks for joining my journey. Bali and beyond.  January, 2018 . . .

Johanna Courtleigh


January 9, 2018

I came to Bali with a shopping agenda. I wanted to buy a carved piece to have made into a headboard. I had an idea of what I wanted, and ventured out with my driver, Gede, to see what there was to see. We stopped at one place, and he suggested the quality of wood wasn’t good. But he got an idea of what I wanted, so more of an idea of where to take me.
We pulled into a long driveway and into a large barn-like showroom. Lots of Elephants and goddesses and families of monkeys. Lots of Ganeshas and Buddhas and Quan Yins. An life-size erotica piece of a man going down on a woman. And carved panels. I spoke to one of the workers. How much, I ask. He says, each piece, $250. I would need two. I say No! Too much. “How much you want to pay?” he asks. I don’t want to be disrespectful, but I tell him a price. No! he says, and on we go. Gede suggests to me that this is good wood, and so I ask if they have two, identical. One of the men takes two similar pieces under his arm and rides off on his motorcycle to see. A little while later he returns with more wood under his arm. Two identical. Okay, so how much? We dicker a bit, and the woman who seems to be running the place tells me $350. For both. Is a good price.
Meanwhile, I am looking at Novica online, just to see what their prices are. They don’t have anything similar, so now we are talking shipping. They say, “You carry home.” No, I say. Too hard. “No, no, we pack for you. You carry.” I am not going to be carrying this home, especially since I will be traveling for a while, and Gede suggests, when they tell me shipping will cost more than the pieces, that we can go to a DHL in Ubud. I’m not sure about the whole thing, and we start driving away, having given up. So much money, when Bali should be cheap, non? Then I tell him, wait, stop, and we turn around and go back. Okay, I say, and there are smiles.
I give them my credit card and a worker takes the pieces to pack up. We will take them to DHL. I go to watch him pack. Has he ever done this before?! He is pulling out flimsy, ragged bubble wrap that is so thin it pops at the slightest pressure, and is not positioning it properly to cover the piece and the ends well. I tell him, I will help, and get in there, trying to protect my investment. Meanwhile, when the owner isn’t around, he looks at me and says something about her that I can’t understand, and then, “You got good price. You give me some money.” I say, “You want me to give you money?!” “Sssh,” he tells me, looking around, hoping his boss hasn’t heard. But now this is feeling bad. He’s actually doing a rather ghastly job and wants me to tip him.
More bubble wrap, and some thin brown paper. I do not feel confident.
The boss comes and sits with another woman and a little boy, watching the worker wrap. Suddenly he is trying very hard to look official and skilled about the whole thing. Meanwhile, I am clear I will not be giving this guy a tip and hope he doesn’t pursue me.
Gede and I eventually drive off with my prize in the back of his van, and a teetering case of buyer’s remorse. He says, if not DHL, FedEx. Lots of places in Ubud to ship. But it is late and they are closed, and the next day is New Year’s. Maybe we go the day after that.
Gede isn’t available, so he sends another driver. A well-intentioned man who does not speak much English. FedEx is still closed, so we go into the DHL office. A single room, a lone woman. She is lovely, as are so many of the Balinese. I tell her she has wonderful reviews on the internet. She smiles. “People really like you,” I say. It’s true. Glowing reviews. She weighs the package. She says they will build a box for it. It will get there in four or five days. I await the verdict. $667 US, she tells me. Wot?! Almost double what I paid. She says, “You can go to the post office. I will wait here till five, if you change your mind.”
And off we go.
They must be used to folks like me, sending their treasures back home. Apparently shipping is very expensive in Bali. I am sent to a back room and a man weighs it. “Carving?” he asks. Then we go into a further back room where he starts to tear down a large cardboard box to pack my piece. It is a bit of a grueling task, and the flimsy tape he’s using is not cooperating. He has put a thick layer of shredded newsprint around the whole thing, and is struggling the cardboard to bend in the right places. I get down onto the floor with him and help.
He asks me how much I paid. I tell him and he sadly says, No! I was taken. Oh well. This is what happens. He is sorry, he says. And then it will be, I don’t know, another $150 or more for shipping. It is hard to figure the money here. One hundred thousand is about $7.50. A million, $75. I have to be conscious and careful when I pay. Counting the zeros.
Another man has come, a French guy with a huge nose who sits anxiously, biting his nails. I ask him, what did you buy? And he begins to tell me about his process, taking a good two hours going to many shops to find the right three masks for a good price. Eventually he gets three for what they were asking him to pay for one. Two for other people and one for him. He seems very pleased with the whole thing, and comes over to show me photos on his phone.
He is on the road, homeless, traveling. He may go to Thailand after this. “I have a wandering computer,” he tells me. He can work from anywhere.
He is the second such man I’ve met here. The other, Archie from Australia, who is staying at my hotel and attending the Panchakarma program next door at the Aryuvedic clinic. He has traveled all over the world and taken treatments in various countries. This is the best, he tells me. He is not sick. Just wants to detox. Health is the most important thing we have, he says.
Archie is an interesting character. He hasn’t had a home in years, hitting the road after an upsetting breakup he’s not quite over. “When things get difficult, I leave,” he tells me. He hasn’t seen or been in touch with his family for seven years. He seems to be somewhere in his thirties, maybe a young forty. He is wearing a cap, and we sit out in the night together, so I can’t get a good sense of him—i.e., does he have hair?!.
He tells me about having gone to Burma to be with the Buddhist Monks. Shaved his head, slept on the cold hard floor, wore a robe and took his begging bowl to town every morning, after meditating at four, to collect whatever the community might offer. Including an occasional donut, he tells me! He left after a month, realizing he wasn’t going to find what he hoped—Awakening, Enlightenment—through this process.
He is so driven because he thinks this is his one and only life. He wants to experience it All. I tell him I do past life regression! He’s heard about it and experienced something like it himself once. I leave him my copy of Miracles Happen by my teacher, Dr. Brian Weiss, before I leave. I also leave him my email address. Perhaps he’ll let me know how he liked it.


January 8, 2018

There is a monkey rumble going on next door. Great growlings with bands of monkeys chasing, fighting, tumbling, crashing from tree to tree. Many jump the fence between the official Monkey Forest and our property and start running up the long driveway that leads from the hotel to the main road. Others come scampering into the compound for safety. I hear a man’s voice, loud. Hup! Hup! Then growling as he walks the long driveway, Hup, Hup, banging a stick. The monkeys are intimidated, but continue their warring. Then, as quickly as it began, minutes later, the world is calm.


January 7, 2018

The world is alive here, just at the edge of the monkey forest. Cryings and scratchings and howlings and callings. Someone is sweeping. Mourning doves coo. There is the sound of water and a soft drone of traffic. The world awakening to itself.
I awakening tired and heavy. The tropics dropping my body into itself in various, unfamiliar ways. Always the heat. And the slow pulsation of the belly, reminding me to focus in and take care, be aware. Slow. I have had few calories to fuel this creature. She has lived on rice gruel and watermelon juice for the last many days. A luxurious bowl of mashed potatoes for lunch yesterday. She wants to eat and doesn’t want to eat. She wants to go out into the world and she wants to hunker in. She wants to stay and she wants to leave.
The question the mother of the beast asks is, what is best? Time creeps. Time has its way with us. As it is just the passing of time. Just moments in a life that in the long run matter like the sun and are as familiar and sometimes dreary as rain. Where to go, what to do, when there is nothing to be done but to be.
Monkeys dart tree to tree. The sun opens its face to the sky. Ants find their way through dark crevices and hiding places, ruling the world. And I look forward to my morning tea. It all comes to pass. As shall I, and as shall you.
This is how time begins. Weaving its story, every cell a tiny blister in the fabric of creation. A song that the body hums and calls into symphony. Are you listening?
Small leaves cascade down. Fronds are still in the no-wind of morning. The lizard who scuttled the wall last night has perhaps now settled in to dream. Tropical dreams. Of rich papaya and the slim sweet blood of mosquito. The world feeds on itself, one into the other. All creatures feast.
The hibiscus ready themselves to open their faces to the sun. Tuberoses begin to unfurl. Tall wide-leaved fronds slowly inch their way deeper into the sky. An egret glides the rice paddy. Ducks shiver the water from their wings.
There is a stilling. Even as all this life begins. Quiet in this bowing, beginning the dance of today.


January 6, 2018

It’s been a long time since I’ve spent a day in bed, but that is what I have been doing. Sick with one thing and another. A bad ‘summer head cold’. And then yesterday morning, Bali Belly. Tourista. I lay low. Hoping to build my stamina for my time soon in India.
The world out in Ubud is hot, crowded and chaotic, and I feel I’ve been there, done that.

Things I wish I’d taken pictures of.…
Two grown men sitting outside a little store front, each holding and stroking a rooster!
A section of rice paddie with a gaggle of beautiful brown ducks, hanging.
The “neighborhood” where the gold and white egrets live.
The long wall covered with large frog statues.
And so much art, so much art, so much art…
Every home has a large Ganesh in the entryway. And a temple. This is the land of both gratitude toward and appeasing of the Gods. Ceremony is part of daily life. Family is the highest value. When a child marries, the wife comes to live with the husband’s family. Everyone helps take care.
Early new year’s morning, I go up to the top floor of the Om Ham retreat center where I’m staying and look out over rice fields, gently swaying palms and the graceful flight of egrets. Not even six a.m. The world is crying out to the sky in welcome. Roosters, the great loud hum of whatever calls. Last night, a dream of many vibrantly green grasshoppers, just hanging out together. A good omen? From the internet: Symbol of freedom. A totem that appears for people who are wanting to progress in their lives. It often appears as inspiration to musicians, artists and dancers, with its amazing jumps and melody. Security, stability, patience. Freedom, song, balance and creativity. Great changes are on their way. In the Chinese philosophy, grasshoppers are associated with enlightenment. A nice way to begin 2018.
A few days earlier, after two hours sleep, I brave the town of Ubud. Driving in on the shuttle from the hotel, I chat with Pricilla, a woman from Brazil who now lives in the US. I had met her the day before and liked her instantly. She is going off on an adventure, and wants to rent a motorcycle. We walk the narrow crowded sidewalks, looking for a place to rent a scooter. Through the marketplace, full of cheap trinkets and clothing, to another street where she finds a man who will rent her a bike at a good price. Will I come with her? The idea of being on the back of a bike in this chaotic land, no leathers, skimpy helmet, is daunting. But what the hell! I climb on and we’re off. Through the maze of exhaust and trucks and other scooters darting and dancing. I am nervous, but delighted. We have a blast. Up into the hills, through cool valleys, past rice paddies and statue shops, to a temple for a water blessing. People are there from all over the world, and it is festive and colorful. We have to wear a sarong to enter, and pick up our cotton ones from a dour man who I imagine is so tired of the same thing day after day. All these people. By donation only. We enter the temple grounds. Statues and trees wrapped in checkered cloth. A sign of respect. And make our way to a place where we pay to rent another bright green sarong with a red sash. To wear in the water. We stash our things in a small locker and wrap ourselves up in green. Enter the pool which is inhabited by beautiful large coy. The rocky bottom feels comforting against my feet, the water refreshing. We are here to receive a blessing from the water.
Later, changing, I speak with a woman from South Africa. She asks me, ‘Why are you here?’ I say, because it’s interesting and a friend asked me to come. I ask why she’s here. “Enlightenment!” she says.  And floats away.
I am silenced by this. Something I have forgotten, now reminded. Why am I here? Here? Enlightenment. Not to pass time. Not to find something amazing to buy or eat. But to more fully Awaken. To Be in Love. To Live.
We head on back. Pricilla has wifi and we follow Siri’s directions. I keep saying, ‘This isn’t the road we came in on!’ We are lost, being guided, over narrow roads that are more like bike lanes. Through cool canyons and up wooded hills. Where are we?! And does it really matter? I have a massage scheduled soon. I imagine us, lost, out in the middle of nowhere, sending out our SOS. After a while, a familiar road. We have been taken the scenic route, the side roads, and find our way back easily. Full of joy and grace. The highlight of my trip, so far.
I had a great driver the other day, Gede. Handsome, warm, well-educated. Spoke English well. I tell him that where I come from, parents look forward to their children leaving home! We talk about all sorts of things, including esoteric spirituality. He has somehow found his way to the top of Google. I was looking for a travel agent and his site popped up. A good marketer.
There’s a bit of a desperation here, as many of the tourist have canceled their holiday plans because of the volcano. There’s no evidence of it where we are. There are official “Taksi’s”, and unofficial guys sitting on the sidewalk holding signs saying Taxi. Some of them will just put you on the back of their scooter. I have gotten into a car with a couple of these fellows and they were very very nice. One older man sincerely thanked me for giving him ‘a job’. So sweet. There isn’t the sense of danger here that there is back home. I’ve been thinking about this, and how especially with the Me Too movement, we have all been led to believe that men just can’t grab the reins of their hormones and behave. That this is just the way of nature. I don’t get that vibe at all from the men here. There’s warmth and respect. A sense of care and protection.
Curious how people vary from culture to culture. I may have seen one person begging since I arrived. There isn’t the sense of degradation we now have in our society. Our version of the ‘untouchables’! People help each other. That’s just what you do.
I tell Gede about all the people living on the street in the US. He is shocked. The government doesn’t help? No, not really. How do they live? I point to the entryway of a shop. There. Or on the sidewalk.
I’ve heard more than one driver mourn the loss of their land to buildings, hotels. Traffic creeps along. One shop after another sells the same kitchy tourist stuff, pretty much. The great western ‘we’ having taken over.  Rice paddies used to be everywhere. Now, commerce, homes.
I went to a full moon ceremony the other night at a place called Pyramids of Chi, out in the country. An Australian man has built two exact replicas. The space is beautiful, they have a lovely café, and they do a sound healing ceremony inside one of the pyramids every full and new moon. After calling in the four directions we went into the pyramid to find our spot. Full-length mattresses arranged in a coordinated design along the floor, each with a pillow and bolster for behind the knees. Forty or fifty of us hunker in, to rest and listen. There was a woman there, who I encountered in Portland last fall, who sings some kind of ancient Lord’s Prayer in Aramaic. This just came to her. She’d never sung before. The beauty and intensity of her voice were amazing, the acoustics exquisite. She took her time, savoring every note. Then gongs and chimes and singing bowls. And a guy next to me who snored through the whole thing! Afterward, they served us a lovely vegan curry dinner.
There has been drear and sweat and torrential rain. Yesterday, much thunder, dark skies. The other day, in a matter of minutes, the roads were flooded. Feeding the rice fields and the palms and the frogs and the geckos.
I left my room at the Om Ham retreat center a few days ago, to stay at a hotel next to an Ayurvedic clinic. Hoping to heal my insomnia, etc. Apparently my Pitta is out of whack. I had a consultation with the Ayurvedic doctor on new year’s day, a gentle, well-contained man from India. He told me I did not need to detox. I need to build my stamina. Clearly! He suggested a ten-day process.  But I do not feel called, and many people, including the Australian, have suggested that you need weeks to rest deeply afterward. I just wouldn’t have the time for that. So my body is forcing me to rest now.
I had signed up for three days of treatments. Amazing dousing of oils. But being ill, I had to cancel.
The place I’m staying, next-door to the clinic, is a bit of an obstacle course. It certainly would not be a place for anyone in a wheelchair or disabled in anyway. Pavement levels go up and down with steps here and declines there. Perhaps it’s artistic for them. My bathroom is rife with potential dangers. There’s a little step down to the bathtub area, which is where I can bathe in hot water. There’s some solid central tile on the floor, and then a perimeter of small white stones. I crouch and use the hand-held shower head. On the other side of the sink is a shower. This has only cold water, which I haven’t used. Again, you step down and there’s a central area that’s solid with a little foot-width sized, perfect-for-tripping moat around it! Then to the left, there’s another little step up to the toilet. It’s all rather unnecessary. One level could work quite nicely!
Three young men come to clean the room. All mostly standing around as one person mops, another empties the trash, one exchanges the towels. You see this everywhere. Three or four employees just hanging around, with nothing to do.
Yes, the bed looks regal, with its cascade of mosquito netting. But this place is funky. I found (lizard?) poops in the shower upon my arrival. The curtains are ripped, the walls dirty, and there are bugs. The lighting is so dim, it’s hard to read at night even though I had them bring a better bulb. And the little fridge outside is filthy and filled with old, caked-on ice.
I have a mosquito zapper machine but the mosquito netting around my bed isn’t quite long enough and doesn’t quite cover the openings in several places. I have been a virtual feast for them, even though I spray myself. The good thing about the mosquitoes here is that the bites don’t itch as long as mosquito bites do in the states! I will be taking malaria medicine the entire time I’m gone, just in case.
It’s a strange phenomena to live in a land of no plans. I think I’m starting to sink into it a bit. If I feel better I might go to Australia for a week to visit a friend before I come back up this way to go to India.
The tropics are exquisite and there is amazing nature and beautiful statues and architecture everywhere. But the heat is a real challenge. This little body sweats like a maniac! How dainty, how feminine! There is literally nothing I can do. I had a Keratin treatment done on my hair before I left, leaving the salon looking like a scrawny-haired surfer girl, and humidity be damned, I can’t look decent, smooth for five minutes before the wet has it’s way with me! It’s all an act of surrender. The body has its own will and it’s own personality and even I think it’s own karma. Everyone in my family has normal hair but me! A lifelong battle with wave and frizz.
I’m always in awe of especially the Japanese women in India who glide all gossamer-like with their beautiful long hair cascading down their backs. Not a drop of sweat. Not a millimeter of frizz.
The people here are so kind and full of authentic joy. There is a warmth and a light you just do not see in the west. I was going to meet my friend Niki a couple of nights ago—a woman I met in India several years ago. The driver didn’t know where we were going, and stopped to ask a man who was digging a ditch. The radiance in his face as he gave the driver directions was exquisite. I don’t think I would see that radiance back home in somebody who had won the lottery! He just took great joy in helping. I see that all over the place. The really sweet authentic good mornings, how are you’s. People are happy here. The traffic is crazy, the roads way too narrow. But no one honks, no one gets irritated, as we inch our way along.
Even at the clinic next-door, my first day going in to speak to them, the woman running the place was full of light. I felt loved. I think of so many people who are so committed to being in some kind of upset or suffering or resentment. Holding onto the past, when it’s just a story they’re re-running, ruining their own lives!
I have had my moments of funk and distress here. Confusion and conflict. Loneliness. And have been learning more about just being in the moment. When I call my energy back to now, all is just fine.
Niki and I met at one of the most exquisite places I’ve ever seen. A green hotel that sits high on a bluff with a beautiful wild river below. Natural pools from clear mountain springs. A lovely restaurant. I am going to see about staying there a few nights before I leave. Bambu Indah.
I first stayed at the Om Ham retreat center, about 15 minutes outside the city center, edging the rice fields. They have a magnificent statue of Ganesh that reaches a couple of stories high in the center of the compound. The place is run by the sweetest people. As I left there to be near the clinic, one of the women at the front desk was so sweet and sad to say goodbye, she came and gave me a hug! So beautiful how simple it can be to be loving.