The second half of my trip was much more what I was expecting from Bali. Wednesday morning the dive bus picked me up at my hotel and we drove 2.5 hours up the coast to Tulamben. We parked at a beautiful resort on the rocky shore, and the water was pure blue with a pristine infinity pool meeting it. We geared up and made the trek over the rocky beach carrying our tanks on our backs. Once you finally fell into the water, the trick was getting your flippers on.
Tulamben is the site of the US Liberty, a ship that was bombed by the Japanese during WW2. It’s just off the coast, so probably the easiest ship wreck to dive because you do not have to go very deep. The coral is beautiful and the fish colorful. This was the kind of diving I was looking for. We saw a barracuda, a stingray, and a huge clam that started moving as I swam over it and caught my eye. It was peaceful without many other divers around--only 5 of us in our group. There was the dive master I was with the day before, an Australian woman who relocated to Bali about 2 years ago, an Australian EMT who comes to dive alone every few months, and a Canadian woman who is a script supervisor for a TV series. She was in the middle of a 5-week adventure alone in Southeast Asia, so I think she was happy to have someone a little more familiar to her own culture with her for the day.
After a delicious lunch of tofu sate in peanut sauce, we drove a little down the road to another site called the Tulamben drop-off, which was a huge coral wall. Again, beautiful coral, including sea fans that were bigger than me, more barracuda, and a school of fish that I watched for several minutes that was also much bigger than me. I love diving because you have to be in the moment—you have to focus on your breath, your gear, and just your surroundings. Often times my mind wanders once I get comfortable, but usually it drifts to thinking about all of the things I appreciate in my life, including such experiences. It’s a rare occasion that I am able to just relax for an hour and reflect and experience. It made me think I should really get back to doing yoga regularly again because I feel so refreshed afterwards.
We all had plates of French fries and Cokes before getting back on the bus at the end of the day. I was dreading the drive back, but it was actually very enjoyable. The northern, less populated parts of Bali are exactly as you would expect…green mountains and rice fields, palm trees, women carrying offerings on their heads to one of the many local temples, and teenage boys who look too young to drive recklessly navigating motor bikes. We passed some sort of parade to a temple where everyone was dressed in white and yellow, singing, and some young boys were beating very large drums. Unfortunately it happened so fast I could not get a good photo.
This morning I got my stuff re-packed again and headed down the road to a little store I had stopped in the other day looking for a jewelry box. The owner had left a message at my hotel last night to call her, and she asked me to come in and look at some boxes she makes herself in the morning. When I arrived, she sat me down on a wooden bench next to burning incense while she showed me some paper boxes. I ended up buying a beautiful wooden one with a reclining Buddha painted on it. But we spent the next hour talking about our cultures, what is important in life, movie stars, and international politics. I don’t know what it is about traveling, but I often get into these deep conversations with people about life. She said to me, “Everything in America so big! Big house, big car, big people! Why are they so fat? You are medium American, but in Indonesia you big.” She told me if Americans would just be happy eating simple rice and noodle dishes like Indonesians, we would be much happier. I think she has a point—too much choice makes people anxious and depressed at times.
She then told me about Indonesian politics. She said, “Indonesia is the place for comedians! All politicians are comedians!” This sentiment of not taking the lawmakers in this country seriously has been a theme I’ve heard from many people, but she came right out and said she does not respect them and their corrupt ways. That led to conversations of polygamy (which she despises) and men who utilize prostitutes but then sit in Parliament and talk about morality (like the guys who are not allowing Lady Gaga to perform in Jakarta because she is seen as indecent). We talked about Obama and Hilary Clinton, movie stars we like (Hilary Swank came into one of her 4 shops on the island recently), and how she likes watching the Extreme Couponing show but thinks Americans are crazy. I told her she is right…many Americans are crazy, but what the world sees of us in reality shows is not what most people are like.
She then asked me a number of questions about my work and my travels and the countries I have seen. She was impressed that such a young woman could be a professional and travel the world, and I could tell that she had a feminist mentality. But what really struck me was when she said, “You are so lucky because with your American passport, you can go anywhere. No country will deny you.” And she’s right. I know so many people in the developing world who have a near impossible time getting visas to Europe or the US, but all I have to do is fill out a form and pay a visa fee at most and I can go anywhere I wish.
Aside from the diving, this hour of conversation with a Balinese woman in her little gift shop was the best part of my trip. This is why I love to travel, and this is why I love learning about other cultures. While we might dress differently, eat different foods, have different music and dance, underneath all of that we are all just people doing the best we can in life, enjoying what we can. And when you can connect with someone long enough to realize that, it is a very satisfying experience.
When I left the shop I walked back to my hotel to catch my ride to the airport. My buddy Charly was standing outside of his stand. “Where did you go last night? I see you get off the bus but not walking by!” I told him I had gotten dinner and walked right past his shop but he wasn’t there. He held my hand again and asked for my mobile number and gave me his that he had already written on a piece of paper so that I can call him to pick me up at the airport next time I am in Bali. “Maybe you are boring, we can sit talking talking,” meaning he was inviting me to sit and chat with him while he waited for customers. I declined, as I had a flight to catch. But I ran back 20 minutes later with an old pair of sneakers and a t-shirt I planned to leave behind. “Charly, do you know someone who could use these?” I asked. His face lit up, he shook my hand, and gave me a hug. “I remember you, Mee-sell!”
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