“The poetry of earth is never dead.”
– John Keats, ‘On the Grasshopper & Cricket’
Last December, I went from walking around Šiauliai bundled up in -3 degrees weather in the heart of the Baltic, to sweating a bucketload in the +33-degree tropical heat in the island of Bali within a week.
I loved Indonesia — and I believe I’d written enough of it here. But Bali was perhaps a whole different level of awesomeness. When I decided to go home for the break, Indonesia was not even in the itinerary; I’d planned to fly into Singapore, then cross the border by land into Johor where my family is based, then spend a couple of tranquil weeks by my mother’s side, literally lazing about the house.
God clearly had other adventures planned for me. When I found out that my mother was in Indonesia and was planning a trip with my aunt and cousins to Bali, I (kindly?) offered to book an Airbnb villa for them, while secretly also booking my flight to Bali on the same plane as my mother. I confessed everything to her upon my surprise arrival in Jakarta of course, and my mother was thrilled that I would be joining her — she said she would have felt guilty to have fun in Bali without me. I was quite touched.
I thought Bali was a little overrated, but later I could see what all this fuss was about — it really is a piece of heaven on Earth. Breathtaking beaches and lush green tropical rainforests graced the island, which was also heavily saturated with a calming sense of deep spirituality. Even their houses were built to look like places of worship:
It occurred to me while on this trip that I had literally been stuck in (and around) Europe for the past 15 months, and so it was such a pleasure to walk through the lush Southeast Asian jungle and to breathe in the humid air, constantly pregnant with the expectation of a tropical rainstorm (another of those wonders of nature I’d sorely missed). I never did tire of the green that greeted me beyond the window of my passenger seat as we were driven deep into the heart of the island. And what a relief it was to be able to leave the house in just my batik top, a skirt, and a pair of espadrilles instead of three layers of sweaters, a down jacket, my Toms boots, and two layers of socks! (And gloves! Not to forget my fuschia pink angora-wool hat!)
Our Airbnb villa too was made to feel like a secure, private enclave within a forest. Balinese landscaping really could inspire calm and tranquility in a space, as it tends to use plants with minimal but large leaves, which facilitates maintenance. There were literally no walls dividing what’s in or outside the house — one could literally jump from the living room into the pool (which I did indulge in, many times).
The highlight of my trip however, was Gunung Kawi, pictured below. This was a millenium-old temple popular — at least, according to my aunt, a Jakartan native — among worshippers seeking fortune in this world (“mahu cepat kaya”). The temple was carved directly from the mountain, and to reach it we had to descend many, many stairs, passing through a rice terrace and a massive rock with a doorway-shaped hole carved right through. Apparently it was situated at an intersection where two rivers converged, usually considered an auspicious site. When we arrived, all the signs forecasting a heavy storm were in the air, and the isolation of being in such a space with few else around, accompanied only by the sound of the river in the background, sent delicious chills down my spine.
Coming home this time around, I could appreciate so much more the riches of Southeast Asia where, despite my nomadic upbringing, I still claim sentimental attachments to. One thing is for sure though — compared to Europe now, where spring is just about to set in and the flowers are still taking their time to bloom, the grass definitely seems greener in that other part of the world than here.