Not because I want to. But, because I can’t move…
See, here’s the thing. I love my new Ogio Epic pack. It’s got a billion compartments that allowed me to jam it with nearly 25 pounds of technology to record and share my Hong Kong-Bali adventure.
But, it should come with a disclaimer that reads…
“Attention Over-40 Dumb-Asses: Just because this pack can take 25 pounds of gear doesn’t mean your back can, too!”
Turns out a week of traveling with a mobile TV studio on my back took a wee bit more out of my body than anticipated. Yes, my rational brain should’ve realized it ain’t the smartest thing in the world to strap a 25 pound spinal compression machine onto my 44-year old body, then add in long-haul flying and erratic (read, minimal) sleep.
At least the rest of the Fields clan is enjoying a lovely morning at Ja Juice Café while I lie hear waiting for my back to uncoil. So, with the gift of time, let me share more of our travels.
Bali first impression – interesting…
I’m realizing more and more that an important part of traveling to very different parts of the world is the ability to let go of preconceived notions. Because, the more you walk in with a vision of exactly what a place is or isn’t going to be, the more inclined you are to end up spending the first few days morning the loss of your idyllic fantasy.
And, that’s not a bad thing, because once you move past the dream, you become a lot more open to learning from the actual experience. In fact, it may well be the single biggest reason to stay in any one place longer than the time it takes for the walls of your fantasy to fall.
In Bali, we’re basing out of Ubud, also known as the country’s cultural and arts center. The world better knows it as the sleepy little, deeply spiritual town brought to life in Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray Love (her healer’s shop is #30 on the tourist map now).
I had visions of a quiet place where life moved at a gentle pace, fueled by ritual and conversation and a main street traveled by bike and lined with cafes, local artists and temples.
And, while it’s still a fascinating town, that Ubud no longer exists.
According to our driver, Ubud has undergone a fairly substantial transition over the last 5 or 10 years into a busy hub with a complex mix of locals, expats and tourists and shops ranging from Dolce & Gabana to hand-carved Buddha purveyors, roadside food stands and galleries.
From the café in the front our hotel on Monkey Forest Road, the main thoroughfare, the sound of our voices is largely drowned out by the tide-like prattle of motorbikes. I’m told that for many years, locals relied on buses to get around, but public transportation has been abandoned by many in favor or affordable automatic transmission motorbikes and scooters.
That’s led to a serious increase in the ambient volume on streets with a slight uphill bent, which Monkey Forest Road has, as riders throttle their way up the slope. And, the dozen or so streets that define central Ubud are lined with thousands of parked and moving two-wheeled vehicles.
There are also no traffic lights or stop signs (and very few street signs), so driving there is a harrowing experience I plan not to endure or put anyone else though. And crossing any given street is a bit like playing a video game. Except you’ve only got one life.
In light of all this, as I mentioned earlier, you’ve often got to look past the surface to see, then meld into the deeper cultural and spiritual energy that underlies anywhere new. And, that energy is abundant throughout Ubud, in both the people, the offerings and the pace of life.
Every morning, you’ll find small flower and incense filled coconut leave boxes lining the fronts of every store and home, infusing the early-morning town with a bit of an ethereal feel, as sinews of scented smoke filled the air.
I loved waking early to sit on a step in the middle of town and watch shop-keepers lay out the boxes, lighting their incense then gently sprinkling water, while making smoke-wafting circles with their hands in a ritualistic motion ingrained over decades and generations. On certain days, offerings were also placed on newly washed motorbikes as blessings to keep them safe. Not the riders, the bikes.
Shortly after, the occasional food vendor would amble down, carrying crates of rice flats, small portions of cooked rice with spices in folded banana leaves and other fare for the shopkeepers on their heads. I marveled at the strength they had to have built in their necks and their ability to balance the crates as they walked along jagged, undulating sidewalks barely wider than their strides.
Passing each shop, they’d look in to see if the keeper needed breakfast, stopping often to prepare a package and exchange it for what amounted often to less than $1 US. Visits to shops shortly after often found the employees sitting toward the back eating together on the floor or on a counter, the aroma of Indonesian spiced fare filling the shop.
Many shopkeepers leave their shoes at the door and remain barefoot inside the store. A lead I loved taking, since I’m genetically disenchanted with shoes and will take any and every opportunity not to have to wear them (just one of the perks of having owned a yoga studio for so many years).
And, with the exception of the newspaper kid who conned my wife out of $10 for a paper on the first morning, the people are generally warm, honest and they tend to gravitate toward kids. It wasn’t unusual for a shopkeeper to cup my daughter’s face and comment on how long her lashes were, something that would lead to an abrupt hand-swatting or intimations of inappropriate behavior back on the streets of Gotham.
One of the things my wife and I have come to learn, too, is that while we love learning about other places and cultures, we tend not to be all that experimentally-inclined when it comes to food (which is funny, since she worked in the restaurant biz in NYC for nearly 10 years). We’ll try a bit of local fare, but tend to play it safer in our gastronomic adventures. This is especially true in a place still known for the way it’s water wars with the typical Westerner’s intestinal flora. There’s a reason the term Bali Belly exists.
So, as we eased into the local restaurant scene, we were really psyched to find a few fantastic cafés, like Bali Spirit Kafe and Ja Juice Café on quieter side-streets with lush menus of organic, locally-farmed eats, reverse-osmosis filtered water…and free wifi.
And, with the wifi at our hotel being nearly non-existent, I was pretty inclined to make these my makeshift office for as long as they’d have me…or until we found a house to move into.
As our first day unfolded, we visited The Green School, which is the brainchild of expat jeweler, John Hardy and his wife. It’s stunning campus built on the dream of providing an extraordinary, alternative education with a strong emphasis on sustainability. In fact, the entire school is built almost entirely out of bamboo and boasts what is purported to be the largest bamboo “building” in the world. To stand in it is nothing less than mindblowing.
The technology to build these structures literally had to be invented as they were built. The Hardys ended up having to found their own bamboo growing and fabrication company, PT Bamboo, in order to satisfy the needs of the school. And, together with the school, they’ve started a bamboo seedling buyback program. They’ll cultivate bamboo plants, then give them to locals with the promise of buying them back at fair market value once they’re large enough to harvest for use in building.
And, though the 23-acre campus, which lies in the middle of a jungle, boasts end-to-end wifi and modern amenities, it’s electric use is minimal and it draws a substantial chunk of it’s power from a hydro-electric vortex that generates electricity by shunting water from the nearby river, swirling it into a whirlpool that turns a turbine, then pouring it back into the river. It also apparently provides a mini fun-park for the monitor lizards that line the banks.
Back in Ubud, we’ve begun looking for a house to move into for the balance of July.
Turns out trying to work from sporadic internet connections and cafes isn’t the easiest thing to do. Especially because part of the way I earn my living is by consulting. While it’s relatively easy to coordinate schedules, when folks are paying you serious money to help them grow their businesses, it’s important not to be dropping calls and skype video left and right. Plus, I need a place that I can go to both connect and write without always having to go “somewhere else.”
Note to others looking to explore a location independent lifestyle – think seriously about generating as much of your income as possible not through direct access to your expertise, but by commoditizing and distributing your knowledge on a more automated basis online. Or, if you’re building an organization, think more about building it around product, instead of service.
In any event, we anticipated this potential workflow challenge before leaving so, much to the muted horror of friends and family, we only made hotel reservations for a few nights, during the peak season in Ubud. Figured we’d wing it from there, and either rent a house or continue on in the first or another hotel.
So, this morning was spent checking out a few houses (siiiiick!). For better or worse, the only houses left tended to be much larger than what we needed, but since I plan to film a bunch of footage for some upcoming trainings and products wherever we land, I’m sure I’ll end up putting the space we have to good use. And, we’ll all be able to settle into more of a rhythm.
I hope to be able to share video from our new abode with my next dispatch.
Until then, here are a few pics from around town (click on each for full-sized image)…
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