Though we found ourselves in the midst of several ongoing projects: Sonrisa repair, back repair, a children’s book, and maybe the start of even bigger writing projects, my next experiment in accepting a more relaxed state of being is right around the corner. Our first ninety day block of time in Malaysia is due to expire, and we had no choice but to take a vacation.
Each country we enter is different, but here in Malaysia, as American citizens we are welcome to have a social visa on arrival that lasts ninety days. As a boat, Sonrisa has no limitation, and she can stay here in perpetuity if she likes. If we need more time than ninety days, Malaysia makes it pretty easy to leave an return. Before our ninety days are up, we must exit Malaysia, visit somewhere else for one week to ten days (depending on how long we were in Malaysia to begin with), and then we are welcome to return to receive another ninety days. Getting a “Visa on arrival” means we don’t have to apply or do any paper work in advance. All we need do is arrive at a Customs and Immigration offices, fill out the paper work required there, and we are good to enter. The ease and longevity of the visa on arrival and the allowance of letting Sonrisa stay in perpetuity is one of several reasons we chose to stay here and do the boat repairs in Malaysia.
I think Andrew and I both had dreams to accomplish far more frequent and wider land travel adventures while Sonrisa is up on the hard. But, that was a silly idea. Boat repairs like this are a full time job - there is no dilly-dallying off in Bhutan, Napal, China, Vietnam, Laos, or Vietnam for us just yet. But, with our visa time growing short we had no choice but to schedule a trip.
“Where should we go?” I ask Andrew.
“Somewhere cold and easy.” He says. This is rather unlike him. He’s a tropical boy these days, and he never wants to adventure somewhere ‘easy’. But, the boatyard is draining his reserves and he was looking forward to ten days of nothing but relaxation.
Some sailing friends visit town and remind us there is snow in Australia this time of year. This is tempting, but we quickly realized that we do not have the clothing available for managing snow, and besides, Australia is having a nasty flu season outbreak. The last thing Andrew and Sonrisa need is ten days off to catch the flu and take more days off. We peruse the options for other travel destinations. China and India have complicated visa requirements, Bhutan requires us to hire a guide for the entirety of our trip and we are already spending all our dough on Sonrisa, Vietnam and Laos do not sound easy or cold. So, we decide to go “backwards” and return to Bali.
A quick five hours of airports and airplanes later, we find ourselves being fetched from the airport by our own Taxi Cab Guru, Wayan.
From here, we direct him to spirit us away from the gorgeous and more well known surfing towns of Bali along the narrow ridge lines of dormant volcanoes until we are in the highlands. We stop at a roadside stand for a spot of Babi Gouling (crispy pig), “to go” wrapped in little brown paper packages. Living in Malaysia, a delicious pork dish is a little harder to come by.
Upon arrival at our hotel, we step out into a starry clear night with a sharp bite on our tropical skin. “Ahhhhh! The perfect temperature!” Andrew says, goosebumbs rolling down his knees. It’s almost midnight, but as we walk the lantnern lit path of our little getaway, we are greeted by Balinese style bungalows framed in tropical flowers, sleeping butterflies, and singing frogs.
We spend the morning hours tucked in the mist of clouds rolling over the mountains and eating a breakfast delivered right to our little patio table: tropical fruit, yogurt, honey, poached eggs, toast, strawberry jam made on site from strawberries grown in the hotel’s garden, and freshly brewed Balinese coffee.
Much to the irritation of all Balinese taxi drivers, we commit to make the pace of this trip much slower than our last whirlwind tour of Bali. That afternoon, we make the half mile journey to the closest village where we do nothing but find a lunch of our favorite foods from Lombok (the island next door) and walk around and among the neighborhoods. We find bird cages hanging on the horizon, lots of gardening, and more friends who want to participate in a photo shoot.
We explore an incredible village botanical garden where I find a begonia garden my mother and grandmother would love. I had no idea there were so many varieties of begonias, or that their leaves could be the most interesting part of the plant!
We hear traditional Balinese music, and when we draw nearer to see what is going on, we find beautiful Balinese dancers chasing school principles and young lads to drag them before the crowd and make them dance.
“Oh, we have to get out of here,” Andrew says. His 6 feet 3 inches “bule” body waving like a white surrender flag in the crowd. Before we could scurry away, he is spotted, and indeed, he is dragged into dance. Then, I am dragged into dance! Everyone watching simultaneously laughs at us and cheers for us.
We explore the bamboo selection which is beautiful and mysterious with the backdrop of gongs and chimes still singing along the grassy hills. The peace is only interrupted by cheerful and outgoing Balinese teenagers inviting us to join their style-shoots, and Andrew declaring he has found himself a “Pope’s Hat”.
It’s a Muslim holiday, and so Bali is filled with local Indonesian tourists all visiting from their home islands. We meet people from Lombok, Madura, Java, and Sumatra. They are all laying out blankets for picnics, kicking balls across the grass, playing with their children. It reminds me of celebrating the Fourth of July at city parks growing up as a kid in Utah. The only difference is, these people can spy Andrew and I from a mile away and they won’t let us pass without exacting their favorite toll.
This is just a smattering of the Family Photos we were invited to join!
“Ahhh….” I say, “I’ve missed Indonesia.” As we take in a lake vista after having a group selfie with a family visiting from their home island of Sumatra.
That afternoon, we return to the hotel and settle in on our patio for tumeric boiled peanuts and our pre-dinner cocktails: the Bintang Andrew has been looking forward to. These mountains are delivering on the exact perfect level of “cold” we were looking for. The perfect level of relaxation, and a feeling of being “on vacation.” It’s rejuvenating Andrew’s spirit.
That night, it’s even cold enough to enjoy Chicken Satay and an Indonesian yellow curry “lamb” stew by the fire.
“Have you ever once seen a sheep in Indonesia?” I ask Andrew as I order. He shakes his head, “they must mean “goat.”
While Andrew’s boat work is on pause, back repair projects can travel. After dinner, I take the hotel up on their offer of a hot water bottle to snuggle with, go back to the room and let the “lady on a cloud” guide me through an hour of my Hippie Exercises. I lay on the floor atop my Indonesian batik sarong and following her instructions to the “T.” Suspending any disbelief and paying attention with that internal eye, I notice the twisting fibers of the package that holds my bones together softening, and maybe even unraveling just enough to let light and space in. In addition to that, I decide to soak up as much of Indonesia’s happy heart (or “Hati Senang” as they say), a spirit we loved so much the whole time we were sailing this area.
It all seems to be helping.