The Luxury of a Staycation

Wow

When was the last time you stared at the sky?

I used to think that a staycation was something that I would never, ever do.  Why would anyone choose to stay home on their vacation instead of jetting off to an exotic locale to see the world?  Well, because I moved to a new place right before a busy work schedule lasting three months, and I didn’t have enough time or the energy to organize all my stuff after I got off work each day (maybe I’m just lazy?), I decided I would take the time off to sort out my boxes, organize, and decorate my new apartment.   Besides, I needed to follow up on many doctor’s appointments which I had to miss because of work.   So before I knew it, I was officially succumbing to a staycation.

There is nothing more luxurious than time.  Time to sleep in and linger on the weekends, time to sip  your morning coffee/tea slowly, while reading in bed, time  to just stare out the window or look up at the sky for no reason at all…these are so luxurious because  in our busy lives we usually don’t have the time for such frivolous activities during a typical weekday.  Getting up without an alarm, especially for several days in a row, is absolutely delicious!  Who knew?  This is something that I can’t or won’t do when I’m on a traditional vacation.  I must set the alarm, usually in an international city, and I will have museum tickets or some fun event planned at some ungodly hour in the morning.  But on a staycation,  the freedom of going to bed knowing that there is no commitment in the morning is priceless.  I didn’t realize how much I loved sleeping in but maybe it’s because during the work week I don’t get enough of it.    I even took naps without feeling guilty which is something that I can’t or won’t do when I’m traveling for the fear of missing out on something wonderful.

Having more time meant that I did strange things that I have never done before.  Like I  bought an iron.  It was a German brand that was the most expensive one at Bed, Bath, and Beyond.  I bought a new ironing board (made in China, damn it) to go with the German iron.  And I did something that was foreign to me.   I ironed the sheets!  I ironed the fitted sheet, the top sheet, and four pillow cases for my four pillows.  Who does that?  The luxury of the crisp yet smooth 1,000 thread count sheets allowed me to sleep like I was floating in a heavenly cloud puff.  I’m unsure if I’ll iron on a regular basis but the luxurious experience was absolutely worth it.

Another strange thing I did while on my staycation was watch Netflix for hours on end.  I don’t do this sort of thing as I hardly watch TV.   I much prefer to read.  But when you do something that is not your usual routine, you’re strangely attracted to things that are new and different.   And when you do something out of the norm with time on your hands, it leads to other strange behaviors.  I ordered food from UberEats for the first time during my staycation, and I ordered from them for a few days in a row while watching Netflix for, again, a few days in a row.  Something about the UberEats App is strangely satisfying as you can see the time line and a map of where the food is, who is delivering it, and what mode of transportation your food is being delivered:  a bike or a car.  I might have even used UberEats not because I wanted the food as much as I liked the tickle of seeing the whole food ordering and delivery process on my iPhone screen.   Again, who has time for this except on a staycation?   As if all the binge watching of Netflix and the fascination with UberEats didn’t make me feel like a lazy stranger to myself, one night I even had a scoop of mint chocolate chip gelato AND wine!  🙌  The last time I had gelato and wine in the same day was when I was in Rome and Florence, and I felt happy for the flashback of the feel-good travel memories.  Clearly,  I would have to work out more often to get rid of the extra calories I was consuming…lounging around watching numerous hours of Netflix and all.

So I worked out every day.  I had to.  I wanted to.  For the first time in a long, long time I felt like I could clearly and truly hear the words to the music while I was working out.  When you have more time on your hands, everything slows down and you appreciate life way more.  So much more.  Things like the smell of the fresh basil that I bought (that was so green!)  to put on my salad, the taste of a new Italian olive oil (in a hand-painted jar with a picture of a bright and happy fish against the color the Mediterranean sea),  the sight of a young orchid bud (virginal white and so perfect that it looked fake)  that magically blossomed overnight after I bought it the day before, and the realization that things that make us happy are truly, so simple.  Perhaps it’s not the simplicity of enjoying the small things but having the time to actually take notice of life.   All my senses were heightened, and I began to feel like a kid again, which is the feeling I get when I travel.    The feeling when you were a kid that time was eternal and you wake up everyday happy because all you did was play…this was how I felt during my time off.   How great it was to have those feelings again!

But I am beginning to worry about myself.   Instead of traveling to exotic destinations like Bali, Machu Picchu, Marrakesh, and Angkor Wat, for example, I am finding beauty in the mundane.  The joy of seeing the morning sunlight kiss my plants by my window,  seeing the changing colors of the blue lake as the sun shifts  (who knew there were so many shades of blue?),  the taste and smell of fresh baked bread dipped in Italian olive oil, the simple exchange of a complete stranger passing by who smiles and says hello, the Whole Foods’ deli clerk who smiles every time I see her who often blurts out that I’m her favorite customer, and reading and being so moved by an article in the New York Times that actually made me cry because it reminded me to WANT to become a better writer so that I can be closer to my dream of being a published author one day.   All these seemingly mundane moments were experienced and appreciated because I had much of a very, very precious resource.  Time.  Time with a capital “T.”

So the next time you want to feel the lap of luxury try slowing down a bit.  Take the time to rest well and catch up with yourself by trying something new, noticing or discovering life again , and staring out the window for no reason at all.   Your inner child will reveal itself to you, and your spirit along with your renewed energy will bring out the very best version of yourself.

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The Agony and Ecstasy in Bali

Lunch with a view!

Lunch with a view

One of the most exhilarating feelings of travel is when you finally see in person that iconic structure or image that you have longed for years, maybe even decades, to see one day.  You dream about that day and wonder what it would be like.  The excitement is akin to  seeing a lover or a good friend after a long time apart:  in other words,  you can’t wait.  So when the morning came of the day that I would visit the Jatiluwih Rice Terraces, a UNESCO heritage site, I felt like a kid again.  I couldn’t wait, and the two-hour car ride along winding roads made it more anticipatory.  My driver, Alex, took a few minor wrong turns as he mentioned that he’s been there only once maybe.  I felt a little nervous, also, because it looked like it might rain, and I couldn’t bear the possibility that the picture that I have been longing for years to take might not be picture perfect after all.  Each time I travel to a place, I dream of taking that perfect shot that I could enter in a photography contest.  Of course,  I would be  the winner.  And Jatiluwih would be the perfect place for a winning shot with it’s expanse of nature, and perhaps the greenest I would witness other than Machu Picchu.  It was pretty cloudy that morning and I was a little worried that my photo might not be contest worthy.  But you never know.  Anything can happen when it comes to the weather.

When we finally arrived, the sun came out!  We got out of the car to a lookout point overlooking a part of Jatiluwih, and since there was a restaurant right there we decided that it would be a good time to have a quick bite.  It was perfectly sunny with blue skies and white, puffy clouds (as the above picture shows) and I was so happy I was finally there.  I was a little nervous about how hot it might get in the rice fields as I only had a hat with me and not sunscreen.  Our lunch was only about 45 minutes long and when we were finished it started to rain very lightly, although it was still sunny.  The entrance was within our view, and it took us less than a minute to drive up to it.  Then suddenly and immediately it started pouring rain.  I wondered why things turn out the way they do sometimes.  How is it possible that a few minutes ago we were having lunch while it was perfectly sunny, and then a few minutes later it is pouring rain? I was hopeful that the rain would pass, and just as quickly the weather turned from sunny to a deluge of rain, I hoped that the weather would reverse again.  To pass the time I asked Alex to pull up to the outdoor cafe that was right by the entrance to the rice fields.  When we came out of the car, the pools of rain on the ground were numerous, and I was so glad I had flip flops on.   We each ordered a Balinese coffee.  What a perfect way to watch the world go by, I thought.  But it rained so hard that I can still hear the sound of the harsh rain as I write this, and I can still feel the cool mist on my face from the rain.  My chance of taking a good photo really didn’t look good.   I ordered a second cup of coffee while Alex preferred a cigarette instead.  Sitting across from me Alex had a certain look on his face.  I didn’t know it then but in looking back at this moment it was the look of pity,  I believe.  He knew the weather wouldn’t get better but he was obliging me with my childlike enthusiasm as well as hope.  When it became depressingly clear that I would never get that perfect shot, I confessed to Alex that I wanted to cry.  As he paused to inhale his cigarette,  he said that if I felt like crying that I should go ahead and cry.  As he exhaled, I, too, exhaled but with tears.   I told him that I have been wanting to see the rice terraces for a long, long time.  I was a little girl again as I ranted about spending $1,600 in an economy airfare, taking a 22 hour plane ride, and never, ever coming back to Bali nor having the opportunity to see the rice terraces ever again.  And is it too much to ask, I ranted, for just ONE nice picture after all this trouble?  Alex looked at me across from the square wooden table while still smoking his cigarette, and he was silent.  He listened and he understood.  I was glad that he was silent because I think I would have cried harder if he tried to make me feel better.  As we drove away from Jatiluwih,  that feeling came over me, consumed me rather, like when you are saying goodbye to a loved one forever.   I didn’t care about where we were going next, actually.  We were supposed to try to catch the sunset at Tanah Lot Temple but we weren’t quite sure if we would make it in time.   I didn’t want to expect much for fear of being disappointed again.   Besides, who knows if the rain would stop, although Alex seemed to think that the weather would be much better where we were headed.  I didn’t know if he was just trying to make me feel better as I would have none of that.  My day was ruined, and I couldn’t imagine my day getting any better.  As we drove off, I kept looking back wishing for the miracle of the sun to shine through.

Those moments of driving in a car, on foreign soil, with foreign signs, and being driven by someone you hardly know are one of the greatest treasures and adventures of international travel.  You are entrusting someone with your life since the rules of the road are unknown to you, traffic might be on the opposite side of what you’re used to,  and you have no idea where you’re going.  You have no control.  The crazy scooters and motorbikes in Bali, dodging and weaving in and out of traffic, especially when raining, added more danger  (although it was nothing in comparison to Cambodia).  The near misses that I have had in Peru on a dirt road where the car, I swear, could have skidded off the ridiculous high cliffs, the crazy snake-like roads on my way to Marrakech while riding in the Atlas Mountains, and riding on the back of a stranger’s motorbike in Cambodia without a helmet were all moments in my travel life that were far too dangerous, and far too amazing that if I died, I wouldn’t regret for a moment.  At least I would have died while doing something that I absolutely loved.  And just like that, after about an hour and a half in the car with Alex (and only one near miss of an accident), we were parking.   I didn’t feel sad anymore.

While we were getting out of the car I noticed how quickly luck, as well as life, can turn on a dime.  Levity was in the air as the entire sky had a glow and warmth to it.  I felt welcomed.   The somber mood and darkness from less than two hours earlier was replaced with light and an anticipation of what was to come. Luckily, we made the right timing to catch the sunset at Tanah Lot Temple.  As we approached the main gate, the bright sunset glistening over the ocean was blinding and stunningly beautiful.   We passed through the gate and entrance toward the sand and we were met with the sound of the rolling waves of the ocean.  We were then greeted by the large rock temple, and the vision was spellbinding.  But then again I was in Bali after all!   There was certainly excitement in the air as everyone around were there to catch the sunset.

We climbed up to the edge of a cliff where restaurants and cafés lined up overlooking Tanah Lot Temple.  Feeling so lucky and blessed to hear the sound of the ocean’s waves while looking at the illuminating colors of the perfect sky and sunset, I wondered what I did to deserve such an honor.   How rich I felt at that moment was a humbling experience on how temporary everything is in our lives.  The ecstasy of that sunset would be a memory just like my upset from a couple of hours earlier.  As the absolutely stunning beauty of the sky faded into darkness, our Balinese dinner arrived.  The glow of the sunset was replaced with the gentle flickering of candles on our table, and Alex and I had dinner (along with a Bintang beer, of course) at the edge of a cliff with the sound of the cascading waves serenading us.   Some things cannot be captured with a photo.   That’s when we use our hearts.  ❤️

Catching the sunset...

Catching the sunset…

Amazing...

Amazing…

The magic hour...

The magic hour…

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A Weekend in Bali

IMG_0442I am not sure why I decided to do a yoga class at 7:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning in Bali, especially the day after the mountain hike and being up at 5:00 a.m. the day prior.  It was a spontaneous decision, and I was glad about it.  Although it was supposed to be a group class, I was the only one who showed up.  When the instructor found out that  I couldn’t do a lotus pose, he made me feel bad so it wasn’t a happy beginning.  Then, I got a bit angry that I couldn’t understand his English that well because I didn’t want to concentrate that hard.  My calves and thighs were sore from the waterfall hike and the mountain hike, and because the poses took SO long to hold, I wasn’t really enjoying it.  The best part was the Savasana.  LOL.  The instructor gently played the gong, and while lying there with my eyes closed, it was a beautiful experience.   I believe he was slowly circling around my body with the gong, and while lying there it felt like the gong was ginormous in size.  (Upon opening my eyes I was surprised at how small the instrument was).  Then when he was done playing, I saw a vision while still lying there with my eyes closed.  I saw the Buddha, bright red, glowing on what felt like my forehead.  Somehow it felt like it was my third eye.  Anyway, I don’t know what to make of this experience.  When I came down to the breakfast area upon finishing my yoga, one of the hotel guests said that I was glowing.  The gong experience was so beautiful, and “seeing” the bright red Buddha made me feel so very special somehow.

After breakfast and a shower, Margy and I went on an art and culture tour.  Our first stop was shopping for the beautiful Batik, a special cloth dyeing process famous in Indonesia, and we had so much fun!  I bought a blue sarong, a yellow dress (I have NEVER bought anything yellow in my life), and some souvenirs for others.  Then on our way to the wood carving show room we stopped for some fresh coconut water.  The wood carving artwork is everywhere in Bali.  You see them all along the roads when driving, and it was amazing to see SO many gorgeous hand carved pieces being treated like displays at a garage sale.  Because the show room turned out to be too hot for us to stay for long, we decided it was time for lunch.  It was a very hot, sunny day as we sat outdoors under a covered cafe.  I ordered an icy cold beer which was unusual for me.  I don’t drink beer.  And just like from the day before, I am drinking things that I don’t usually drink.  There’s something about Bali…

The next day, Sunday, I went to the Tirta Empul temple, a Hindu water temple famous for its holy spring water.  Although it was just cloudy upon driving there, when we arrived it was pouring so hard that we stayed in the car for awhile hoping the rain would pass.  When it did not, my guide and driver asked if I wanted to head back.  Since we were already there, and I really didn’t see another window of opportunity to return back, I suggested we just go in.  Although we each had our own umbrellas, the very large pools of water on the ground along with the torrential downpour drenched us immediately.  When we got to the temple part, everyone was seeking shelter from the rain under the roof waiting for the rain to pass.  But the rain wouldn’t stop.  At all.  So I went toward the holy spring to purify myself.  It is amazing how our perspective might change after the fact.  While my amazing guide was helping me with the ritual of the purification process, I only now realize HOW amazing he truly was to me.  While holding his umbrella in the harsh rain, he kindly took out my beautiful offering basket of flowers from the plastic bag, gently placed it on the ground, and proceeded to light the incense.  As the matchbox was wet, it took several tries to light the incense.  He then asked me to pray for all the wishes of my life.  And boy, did I pray.  As I was no longer under an umbrella getting ready to go into the pool,  I prayed so hard that I must have cried, only I couldn’t tell because the copious rain and my tears merged into one.  I was soaking wet by this time, and it seemed silly to go into the pool at this point.  Thinking that the water was only waist deep, I was surprised to find that after I stepped in, I embarrassingly and loudly splashed deep inside the pool.  When I came up for air, I was told by my guide (who wasn’t bathing with me) to go to each spout to make or think about my wish and douse my head under each.  I could also drink the holy water, he said.  The cool water was deliciously seductive to my taste and my senses.  To completely bathe in the purity and at the same time taste the perfect water was an experience that is indescribable in words.  As I bathed in the luxury of  holy purity,  I felt completely clean and whole as if all my imperfections (inner and outer) were washed away.  As I emerged out of the water,  I felt reborn again, and my skin and spirit felt like a baby’s.

By the time we drove back to the hotel, the weather was clear, of course.  I guess it was a blessing because the hotel I was staying at was having a party by the pool with traditional Balinese dancers, music, and food.  I was eager to wear my new white Balinese lace dress to the party.  Although I was barefoot instead of wearing high heels, without any makeup at all, and without a blow dryer to my hair, I felt beautiful.  Maybe it was the holy spring water.  After tasting the delicious food, listening to beautiful music, and seeing the young Balinese dancers, we witnessed the most gorgeous sky above us.  There was a beautiful rainbow, and everyone stopped to look up.  Then, just a few minutes later, we all witnessed the most stunning sunset.  The sky was purple, orange, and pink all at once, and it reminded me of the spectacular sunset I witnessed in Amsterdam a few months ago.  The glow in the sky was simply gorgeous.  Then it was back to watching the dancers, only this time they lured the guests of the hotel to take turns dancing.  Pretty soon after my turn at dancing I decided to go to bed since I had another full day ahead.  The next day would take me to the rice terraces of Jatiluwih, a UNESCO site.  I have seen the gorgeous pictures of the rice terraces for many years, and I couldn’t wait to finally take my own personal photo of its beauty.  It was so easy to fall asleep when I felt so very blessed.

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Purifying myself at the holy spring

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Young Balinese dancers

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Rainbow in the sky!

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A stunning sunset!

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Bali: Island of the Goddesses

A Beautiful Blessing

A Beautiful Blessing

I have some sort of a connection with mountains.  Maybe because my father’s ashes are spread up there.  Maybe it’s just the fact that mountains are visually stunning, and being high up in the sky makes me feel like I’m closer to all the Gods.  So when I was given the opportunity to participate in a charity hike up Mount Batur in Bali as a way of seeing the culture as well as the beautiful landscape, I didn’t hesitate.  The opportunity came to me on my second day in Bali, and even though my legs were sore from the day prior of hiking toward the waterfalls with jet lag and without much sleep, I felt the urge to take on this challenge as well.  Besides, it was a way of donating to the local culture.

There was a woman at the table while we were both having breakfast at the hotel in Bali, and although it was her first day there, she agreed, also, to the Mount Batur hike the next day.  Her name was Margy, and we connected right away.  We got to know each other a little bit by shopping and having lunch with the owner of the hotel the day before the mountain hike.  We had SO much fun being girls, and because she was so open with me when I asked her to join us to tour the town of Ubud on her first day in Bali, I knew Margy was an active and adventurous woman: the kind of woman I like!

Margy and I had to be ready at 5:30 a.m.  The amazing hotel owner, Putu, got up early to prepare us breakfast and tea to take with us, and as I write this I am so, so grateful for her kindness.  It was dark still, and while in the car driving through the town I was reminded of the morning of my Machu Picchu ascent.  It was way too early back then, and it was way too early for this mountain climb.  The car ride took almost two hours driving through many unpaved roads, and while driving through the local markets, Margy and I couldn’t believe the huge crowds of Balinese people getting their fresh produce of the day as it was still dark outside.  The quiet, long ride in the car toward Mount Batur, was far from mundane.  It was a seduction of the senses before the climactic event, and the day would prove to be one of the most memorable moments in my travel life.

When the car stopped we got right to it.  I put my hat on along with my long sleeved shirt as it was chilly, and Margy and I each got a long stick to help us maneuver the mountain. The first few steps seemed rough, and I could feel the soreness of my calves from the two days prior when going to and back from the waterfalls.  As with all new experiences, there is some doubt, and the first few steps for me were the hardest.  My mind and body were still adjusting to the almost 24 hour journey from Chicago, and with the time difference of 15 hours ahead, I didn’t feel quite ready.  But when are we ever  ready with the perfect set of circumstances in life?  I was about to experience my greatest adventure in Bali.  The beauty of a brand new day, the fresh mountain air, and the exhilarating feeling of an adventure made me feel SO alive!

Our mountain hike and tour was the route that local village women took to fetch their daily water in the mountain area of Muntigunung, northeast of Bali.  That is, until a Swiss banker a dozen years or so ago was hiking this area when he saw local village women hike for some hours to fetch their drinking water.  He also noticed that some were beggars, which he didn’t see in the beautiful area of Bali.  Determined to take action, the Swiss man started the water reservoir project as well as community based projects to sustain the livelihood of the local village people of Muntigunung.  So while Margy and I were hiking the mountain, we were also doing a very good deed by donating toward this worthy cause.

Some hour or so later, I didn’t notice the soreness in my legs at all.  I was getting used to the terrain by now.  I was getting used to the unknown nuances of maneuvering on the mountain (thank goodness I had the walking stick!), and I was thoroughly enjoying being one with the mountain, its cool air, and the bond that grows with Mother Nature when completely immersed in its beauty.  The mountain air was slightly cooler than when we started the climb,  and it looked like it might even rain.  By now the sky was one with the misty fog in the distance, and our guide told us it was time for a break, as well as breakfast.  When we came upon a stone carved  structure of what seemed like the perfect spot to observe the mountain’s beauty, we were met by some others.  As we saw cameras focused on a brightly dressed couple, it felt like we were walking into some movie set or play.  It turned out that a couple were getting their wedding photos taken, and they were dressed in bright colors of green and gold in their traditional Balinese garments.   As our guide laid out our spread of the fresh fruit and bread, I noticed he made an offering of the bright, hot pink dragon fruit on the raised mantle, or altar, that you see everywhere in Bali.  The Balinese make offerings several times a day so you see the remnants of the flowers, incense, and the little baskets everywhere in Bali.  Our guide spoke to the bride and groom and their entourage and even offered them fruit.  The group accepted and they started to engage with us.  Margy was beside herself in disbelief thinking that this was some sort of an elaborate show as part of the tour, but she quickly learned that it was a genuine bride and groom getting their wedding pictures taken.  Even our guide thought it was highly unusual to witness this on the mountain, and he suggested that this was a sign of good luck.   So after exchanging our excitement and enthusiasm for the marrying couple, the whole group moved on while Margy, the guide, and I finished our breakfast with a smile feeling good about interacting with the beautiful bride and groom.

When the three of us were alone, our guide got up to the edge of where we were standing and was calling out, asking and wishing for coffee.  He mumbled something about how we might get our coffee but he wasn’t sure.  I then joined him near the edge and was looking out and below.  I was thinking, WTF?  Was he kidding?  I saw no one and nothing except for the green of the mountain below.  Was he trying to test how stupid we Americans were?  I just didn’t understand what he was doing at all.  I was thinking that maybe it was some Balinese thing where one wishes for something and later the person gets the wish somewhere on the mountain.  Again, I had no idea if he was just joking or just wishing out loud for his morning coffee.  Then, out of magic or thin air some woman with a pink hat, a pink zip up, and a red shirt appears out of nowhere below the mountain with her one hand carrying a tray (expertly, like a professional waitress) and then carrying a large carafe with the other hand climbing, almost floating, up that mountain towards me with the most glowing smile.  I will never, ever forget her amazing face and her beautiful smile, and I could hear her panting from the strenuous climb up the mountain.  I had no freaking idea HOW she could do that!  I was so out of my mind with gratitude and disbelief that I was just standing at the edge, and I knew not what to do because if I reached over to help her, I would have fallen to my death down the mountain.  Luckily, the coffee angel knew what she was doing.  When she served us, I couldn’t refuse even though I am not a coffee drinker.  But her kindness was worth tasting.  Besides,  I thought it might give me a little boost of energy for the rest of the mountain hike.  Well, the thick, rich Balinese coffee was freakin’ delicious!  Perhaps it was the ambiance of being on the mountain, in another country, on the “Island of the Gods,” but it was a damn good cup of coffee.  After I took a photo of the coffee angel as well as a few more pictures to preserve the moments forever in my memory, it was time to continue with our hike.

By now the rain was getting harder.  Our guide decided we might want an umbrella so we stopped by a little house where a young pregnant mother was outside with her shy son who was about two years old.  Our guide started talking to the young mother, and seconds later a man comes out of the house, a lit cigarette hanging out of his mouth, with a large curved blade in his hands.  He steps down to where he is surrounded my huge leaves all around him, and as I’m watching him it looks like he could be in a photo from a National Geographic magazine.  He cuts one large leaf and then moves a bit little looking for another.  Our guide tells us he’s looking for another big leaf.   As the man comes out with the two leaves, Margy and I realize that these would be our umbrellas, and the looks on our faces were that of pure joy just like the looks on smiling kids when presented with the most amazing toys!   We couldn’t believe how warm the Balinese were toward each other, let alone to complete strangers.  Margy and I didn’t care at all that it rained because it kept us nice and cool.  And with our new, fun umbrellas the rain at the time was more warm and welcomed than the splendor of the sunshine.   I swear we were so happy!

The quiet moments of hiking on the mountain in the gentle rain without any words exchanged is a spiritual matter.  You begin to feel what love is as you hear God’s whisper, the sound of birds, and the sounds of silence all at once.  Imagine an expanse of dense green all around you while the white of the sky effortlessly blends in with the delicate white puffs of fog.  It’s as if the sky and fog are slowly seducing and dancing with one another.   I was in a trance at the quiet beauty and the simplicity of the moment when we were just walking, without words, when I heard something ahead and below the mountain.  I heard a familiar sound in the distance, and when I realized what it was, I stopped in my tracks and had to share it with Margy who was ahead of me.   The sounds were coming from the harmonious chanting of monks, and with the ever gentle echo among the mountain, I was brought to tears at the exquisite beauty of the moment.  The experience was sublime, beyond words, and as you can’t imagine falling more in love with  someone because you absolutely, deeply love the person so very much, I fell deeper in love with the beauty of travel and how moments like these were just far too beautiful to express in words.  At that moment I wanted nothing more than to stand still for hours, listen to the rain, the birds, and the chanting of the monks reverberating on God’s mountain,  but I had to follow the lead of our guide.  Margy was behind him and I was behind her along the narrow path, but I allowed myself more distance so I could linger a bit longer to listen to the  sounds of the most gorgeous orchestra of the universe.  And as I trailed behind I cried harder, surprising myself even.  As my tears fell on that mountain a part of my spirit was left there because for the next few nights in Bali, I had various dreams and visions.  I saw the Tree of Life, enormous but floating and rooted in mid air.  There were people under the tree, including myself, and there was a wedding.  I was wearing the Balinese linen white dress that I bought the day before.  These dreams and visions kept reoccurring for several nights, and I’m not sure what to make of them.  I only know that they took place on that mountain and the sky was white and foggy having an ethereal quality.

When we stepped under the roof of where the working community gathered, a deluge of rain missed us within seconds.  The people looked at us like some angels from heaven because they really needed the rain, and the fact that the heavy downpour came immediately upon us stepping under their roof seemed like such divine timing.   A frail old woman wearing dark sunglasses greeted us and blessed us with holy water.  She was trying to speak English, and although we didn’t ask why she was wearing sunglasses in the pouring rain we understood it was because she lost an eye somehow.  She was the village healer, and Margy and I were grateful for our very first blessing with the holy water.   It must have been about 40 minutes before we could move on as the rain wouldn’t let up so we finally continued our hike after seeing the water reservoir and engaging with the workers who were making the straw baskets and hats.

The very next stop was where the cashew nuts and the rosella flowers were harvested, and we were presented a tray with 5 different kinds of cashews, rosella flower snacks, and tea.  I didn’t realize I was getting hungry.  Then it was time to tour the factory where they made beautiful hammocks made by hand.  I really wished I had a need to buy one, but just like that time I was in Turkey and was close to buying a carpet, what was I going to do with a hammock if I lived in a high rise in the city?  But at least I contributed to their community by donating, and I was having a great time being immersed in the culture.  Their project actually won an award one year for sustainable development, and I was really, really proud of this fact knowing that my donation was for a very good cause.

After I don’t know how many hours since the start of our 5:30 a.m. adventure, it was time for lunch, the last part of our tour.  We were driven to a place from Mount Batur maybe about 20-30 minutes away, and when the car pulled up Margy and I were beside ourselves at the beauty.  As we walked through the lush garden path of the Poinciana Seaside Resort, flowers adorned some of the statues as well as by the pool where we were being seated.  And right in front of the gorgeous pool was the view of the perfect beach!  As we ate a delicious Balinese meal with a stunning scenery before us with the sound of the ocean waves surrounding us, I could see why they call Bali the “Island of the Gods.”  Only I think they should call it “The Island of the Goddesses!”

As we drove away, the simple beauty of the open road looked so gorgeous to me.  Since we were away from the mountain there was no more rain.  Motorbikes passed us, as usual, and the countryside was just a simple, quiet beauty.  My body was sinking into the car seat, and I felt a combination of complete fulfillment, nirvana perhaps, and just absolute and complete happiness.  It was only my third day in Bali and I had five and a half more days left.  How blessed I felt knowing I had more blissful days ahead of me!

Just when we thought our day was over and we were on our way back, the driver ended up taking us to a coffee plantation.  Again, I don’t drink coffee.  But this was a lush, tropical garden sheltered from the sun and heat.  Margy and I were seated on a dark wooded bench, like a picnic bench, along with our guide, and I would experience my very first coffee tasting presented to us by a pretty girl.   There were a few teas, too, but the coffee was the focus.  This was where I had my very first cup of Kopi Luwak, THE most expensive coffee in the world.  It is very rich (ha ha), very smooth, and very delicious.  After the tasting when I was in the little shop, I wondered if I could get the Kopi Luwak in Chicago as I passed up buying it, although I bought a coconut flavored coffee as well as vanilla flavored, and I also bought some perfume and three different scents of incense.  While waiting in line to pay my mind already fast forwarded to the day I would remember  this amazing, absolutely spectacular day in Bali:  I would be staring out my window in Chicago, sipping the Balinese coffee, smelling the burning incense, and smiling at the good fortune that I was blessed with on this unforgettable day.

I was too blissed out to remember the long ride back to the hotel.  When I came to my room to unload as well as change my clothes for dinner,  I realized that my beautiful umbrella would be withered by the next morning.  I wished there was a way to preserve it, especially for the great memories.  How great the gorgeous leaf would look in my Chicago apartment, I thought. But no.  It would never be.  I was a child again wanting so desperately to hold on to my toy, my happiness.  And just like a child I slept so soundly that night with dreams and visions of being on that great mountain, floating on air under the Tree of Life.

Just a View

On the Mountain

The Colors of Childhood

Village Life

Number One!

She’s determined to be Tops!

Coffee Tasting

Coffee Tasting

Namaste...

Namaste…

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Bali Life

Bali LifeI am in Bali.  My first trip of the year and my first day in Bali was certainly an adventure.  It rained all day.  Pouring but I didn’t care.  Somehow I ended up going with another woman from the hotel toward the waterfalls.  We stopped at a temple on the way where I captured the above picture.  The trek was about two hours in a car in the rain on a winding road.  Then we had to walk about 30 minutes including some steep sets of stairs.  It was a bit dangerous in my opinion but I was excited as well as a bit angry that I was doing this trek.  I’m not sure why the anger.  It’s probably because I was mad at myself for going along when I wanted to be resting after a ridiculously long flight without much sleep.  But, in hindsight, I was really glad I did it.  Along the walk toward the waterfalls I smelled the wonderful fresh air, something that I wasn’t used to in Chicago.  It felt great.  Being surrounded by the lush greenery with vistas of the grand beauty of Mother Nature felt healing, nourishing, and spiritual.  Then I actually saw a rice terrace along with a farmer down below, and I wanted to get closer but I couldn’t.  My day at a rice terrace will have to wait as I had to go along with the others toward the waterfalls.  When we finally arrived, I was still a bit angry as I had to walk knee deep across the river (I had long Lulu Lemon pants on), taking my shoes and socks off to borrow my guide’s flip flops so I wouldn’t hurt myself with jagged rocks or who knows what at the bottom of the river.  I was grossed out that I was borrowing his flip flops but at the same time I was so, so grateful at his kindness.  The Balinese are very kind and friendly, and I truly felt lucky that he offered his flip flops.

When we reached the waterfalls, I wasn’t impressed for some reason.  Probably because I was still a bit angry (LOL) at the difficult trek that I wasn’t prepared for, along with my wet clothes, and my damp spirit (another LOL)!  I am laughing, of course, as I write this because my day was actually amazing!  But sometimes when we are immersed in something , we don’t realize at the time and can’t appreciate things until after we reflect on the day.  So as I write this on the morning after this took place, I am so grateful for the other solo traveler at my hotel who asked me to come along.  And for our two guides from my hotel who were kind, gracious, funny, and just simply amazing!  I am humbled.

It is 7 am here in Bali.  My second day of adventure awaits me.  I have no idea yet what I am doing.  I will go have breakfast and ponder.  I can’t wait…

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Happy Thanksgiving!!!

Food Coma!

Food Coma!

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Happy November!

Fall-ing for November...

Fall-ing for November…

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Happy Halloween!!!

Boo! from the Bone Church at Kutna Hora

Boo! from the Bone Church at Kutna Hora

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Of Tea and WanderLust

Moroccan tea time...

Moroccan Tea Memories

If I wrote about everything in my daily life that reminds me of travel, it would be impossible, and you would think I was absolutely crazy.  Almost every moment of my waking existence are thoughts about travel.  For example, every time it rains here in Chicago, like today, I think about the places in the world that I have been rained on.  In Istanbul it was absolutely pouring when Carla and I got out of the cab from visiting the Chora Museum.  We ran like hell for cover, and because it was a deluge we were soaked within an instant.  We laughed our hearts out, and although I ruined my white pants, I was thankful for the everlasting memories of that day being drenched in the Istanbul rain.  Then in Rome, when I was walking with my umbrella in hand while it just started to rain lightly, I cried at the spectacular beauty surrounding me while walking along The Forum because I could not believe I was actually in Rome!  Also, in Florence by the Ponte Vecchio bridge, it rained really hard but I did not have a care in the world.  I made the best of it by finding a cafe nearby as I sipped on a beautiful glass of Montepulciano while sitting outside under an awning while listening to the Italian rain drops fall.  I truly experienced what “music to my ears” meant that night as I listened and watched the world go by.

And on and on my mind goes.  I link almost everything in my waking life to travel, and this morning I was made to ache for Morocco.  I bought a new kind of tea, and when I was preparing it, my mind and my spirit instantly went back to Morocco.  After every meal when I was staying in Safia’s house, we were served tea in her beautiful veranda overlooking the green grass and the palm trees.  Every day was sunny and beautiful, and every tea moment was a guilty pleasure, especially because I wasn’t used to servants tending to our every wish and need.  The Moroccan tea was served with a pretty linen napkin wrapped around the handle of the silver tea decanter, with pretty cookies on pretty plates, with pretty colorful tea cups.  Some jasmine flowers were often served to flavor the tea, and I can still smell and taste its wonderful aroma along with the fresh mint smell of the Moroccan tea.  While the maids served us with a gentle synchronicity weaving in and out of the veranda, I felt like a true royalty!

While my mind and body are back in Chicago as I sip my tea, my spirit is still in Morocco…and Istanbul…and Rome…and Florence.  I wish to be traveling the world again making wonderful memories.  But of course, my upcoming travel days will never be soon enough…

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An Amsterdam Short Story

Sunset in Amsterdam

Sunset in Amsterdam

In Amsterdam I saw the above sunset…

Pretty Amsterdam

Pretty Amsterdam

Saw pretty architecture…

Museum selfie

Museum selfie

Went to the Rijksmuseum…

Quiet beauty in Amsterdam...

Canals galore

Walked along the pretty canals…

I love Amsterdam!

I love Amsterdam!

And fell in love with the city!

The End.

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