Tough Love, Bali

Recently, during one late night at work, Bali called and said “come see me”.

I said OK and booked my tickets.

We have a relationship. This is our relationship. It’s always very easy. Almost alimentary.

But this time in Bali, I spent 6 days on the surfboard and 6 days in a hospital bed. You’d be out your mind to call this the golden ratio of a Mimosa. No one drinks Mimosa. The juice is unnecessary and disrespectful. So what on earth are you thinking Bali? Why did you do this to me?

It was a Tuesday morning. I flew out of Kuala Lumpur and got to Denpasar airport 3 hours later. It started raining and the traffic was horrendous. After being in the taxi for an hour, I left my luggage with the driver and hopped on a Gojek bike to go to the surf camp. Anywhere else in the world, I’d be mad. But not in Bali.

I’d done the same the last time, just a smidge worse this time.  Everything in my bags was nothing but weight. I wanted to surf so badly. I wanted to be in the water. Every now and then, we all need that little bit of fear to feel alive, to break the dementia-inducing routine. And this, I deliberated, was something a lot more reliable than an ayahuasca retreat. The risk was worth it.

I surfed in the rain that day. There was no thunderstorm. My skills improved surely, since there’s not a lot to begin with. By the time I returned to the camp, my bags were there. I dried myself and was driven back to a hut that I rented by the beach on airbnb. I had grilled pork that evening and went to bed early. I slept like a baby.

I love Bali because it can fly high and dive low with me. Always promiscuously interested, but also magnanimously understanding. It’s ok to set yourself on fire. It’s ok to stay in. It’s ok to live on street food, it’s ok to wine and dine. It’s ok if you’d like a massage, it’s also ok if you want a volcano hike followed by an all-night fiesta on the beach. On the other side of an adventure is always a pot of soothing lemongrass tea. Bali can stay still; Bali’s engine is always ready.

Ready when you are ready.

I stayed in Canggu this time and did not venture out. There’s no need to. There are tasteful beach clubs and local warungs that offer cheap and cheerful nasi campur. There are waves to surf and horses to ride. I could party. I could go to a spa. The sultry sun and frangipani-scented wind have roasted and swept and lured an overwhelmingly number of yogis and students on gap years and honeymooned couples to what they called the Island of Gods. Whatever that work for these people, surely will work for anyone. No one is special to Bali, but everyone that comes here feels so special, it’s baffling. I know, because I myself am a willing victim.

Bali nudged me to get a tattoo, twice. I said I am not ready to commit. I want to keep my body clean. So, Bali vengefully smacked me with food poisoning and acute appendicitis.

On the last day of my trip, I could barely walk. I remember waking up with a very sore throat and struggled to peel my eyes open. I sat at Sari Kitchen for ages, sweating under a fan and sipping on iced watermelon juice. I was supposed to have my last surf that day, I ended up crawling into one of the bunk beds at the camp and slept for hours. It was impossible.

When I finally made it to the airport, I was put on a wheelchair and delivered to the quarantined centre behind the swanky G20 reception. The GP refused to let me fly as they suspected that I needed an appendectomy (I thought I was only down with a Bali Belly, no biggie). What happened next happened in a flash, I was transferred to an ambulance and admitted into the hospital, put on a drip, injected with a cocktail of solutions, and pushed into a CT scan.

It was the beginning of 6 snoozy days, swimming in loose-fitting hospital gown with my fresh cut wound, swinging between pethidine and torturous pain. It was soul crippling.   

When I met Bali, I didn’t think it was perfect. In fact, it’s gritty, loud, and noisy. Some parts backward. Most parts dirty. But like I said before this drama tried to take centre stage of my holiday, I stick with my words – if I can tell you anything with a surety, it is this – amidst all the sticky heat and chaos and thunder and potholes, everything that happens in Bali is never an unruly mistake. You put it in the pockets of your heart. It will stay. It will gleam.

I’m not sure if this episode in the hospital will even flicker, but to hell with it Bali – in sickness and in health, in good times and in bad.

If this is not love, I don’t know what is.  

With love x

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