Papa Bagus

The small studio is half hidden under more vines and bamboo and I open the French doors and part the cheesecloth curtains to the side. I don’t really know what I’m in for but being open-minded I’m pretty up for whatever might come my way. I’m here for a consultation with a traditional Balinese healer. The other night Kat’s testimony was so compelling that I implored Adriana to see if the healer can find a time to fit me in. A short solid man not much older than myself, though I’m really only guessing, greets me. Softly spoken, his English is much better than my Indonesian. Pak Bagus, or Papa Bagus as the retreat managers refer to him, is dressed simply in a once-white t-shirt and blue batik print shorts with the standard bare feet.

“Why are you here?” he asks simply.  I choose not to dwell on the more philosophical sides of the question but briefly tell him about my diverticulitis last week. Basic words and some hand gesturing later he nods and directs me to lie down. I place my iced water on the side table, untie my sarong and lay face down on the massage table. He places his hands on my back at different intervals and blows gently upon my skin. Soon the pummelling and kneading begin. Without any massage oil, his hands soon warm up even more from the friction of his movements. Over the next two hours, I am alternatively poked and prodded, stroked and manipulated sometimes to the point of discomfort. I can’t decide whether he’s trying to work the bad stuff out or work the good stuff in.

Occasionally I draw in a quick breath when he works on a painful spot. He’s quick to explain that my outer thigh muscles are tender because they correlate to my stomach infection. “Big infection” he repeats time and again. These spots have been tender for quite some time and I know our body bits are all inter-connected but it’s reassuring when these things are reinforced. I roll over at the requested time and the procedure is repeated. Muscles are held first, breath blown then long firm strokes followed up by massage and manipulation with oil. For the first time in my experience, all the massages I am receiving in Bali my stomach is getting its fair share of attention. Papa Bagus is no exception.

I’m glad of this as his ministrations certainly ease some of the tension in my belly. He closes his eyes and his lubed up hands explore, press and release sections of my abdomen. “You tell me if pain” he says and I nod enthusiastically. As he holds firmly in the certain spots just above my pubic line, I feel sharp twinges on my lower left side. I tell him straight away. He nods but doesn’t really let up the pressure. This happens a few more times and I wonder why I’m supposed to mention the pain. Most likely as a distraction technique, he asks me about my family – children, husband and so on. I answer without going into too much confusing detail. He tells me about an Australian group he was dealing with last week and I interject with “It’s my first time in Bali actually.”

“Why?!” he exclaims.  I quickly apologise and explain that I was never interested in the beach and Bintang style of holiday and I didn’t understand what else this island had to offer. I make sure he understands that I recognise my folly and will endeavour in the future to dispel this belief amongst anyone I meet. I wax lyrical about Ubud and its stunning natural beauty, the artisans we’ve seen, the friendly generosity of the people we’ve encountered and the incredible food we’ve eaten. I hope I’ve convinced him that this will not be my last visit to Bali.

Like a rotisserie chicken, I’m oiled and turned, seasoned with spices and turned again. Meanwhile he expounds on his unique skills set “Astrology, astronomy, massage, healer, ceremony “. He pauses for no doubt dramatic effect “magic..”. I leave this last one in the air.

When my time has elapsed, I slowly sit up and find my sarong. Straightening my dishevelled underwear he adds a few last minute prescriptions. “Massage. You need massage in Melbourne. Who can do that?” I reassure him that there are plenty of places I can get massages. He also does his best to explain that I need to work on my gut bacteria. This actually isn’t news to me as I’ve been suffering the last few years every now and then especially with fermented products. Digestively speaking, I’m definitely still very much a work in progress.
I thank him, palms pressed firmly together in front of my chest fingers skyward as is the custom. I slink off back to my room before I have to encounter anyone.

Bali Goddess Retreats

Bali Goddess Retreats

Fans circling lazily overhead and a large gin and tonic with lime slowly warming at my side, we four women are on the communal rattan lounges resting on large soft white cushions.  Mostly from Australia but also from further flung fields, this women only retreat draws goddesses from all around the world. And that is what the staff refers to us as although it would seem an affectation back home, it rolls off the tongue here in situ. Being lead around the crowded, dimly lit market stalls Adriana was skilful at twisting her hips left to right, ducking underneath the baskets improbably loaded on the heads of goods carriers.  Turning around every now and then, she kept a steady eye on her market goddesses. Our translator and chief haggler, she knew which way to steer us in order to locate the best value product.

Our lunch banquet was as colourful to the eye as it was on the palate. Water spinach with peanuts and chilli sambal. Coconut, bean shoot and seaweed salad with a lime and lemongrass dressing. Whole fried fish with tomatoes, shallots and chillies. Grilled chicken with traditional aromatic Balinese spices (turmeric and garlic was all I could determine). More fish, this time pounded and wrapped in banana leaves. Andini , our second resort companion, starts to talk about her family and food and her whole face lights up. She has a real spark in her eye and her smile gets even broader. With so many aunties, her chaotic family seems like it’s never dull.  She was a treasured birth as her mother had trouble conceiving. Nadine, Katherine and I are touched by the sharing of such an intimate detail. I look at her round face so sweet and child-like and I imagine her mother cupping her cheeks with affection.

Katherine has recently started working at a veterinary surgery and was surprised to discover how much she enjoys it. Puppy cuddling is a mandatory part of the job description. Tough gig! Recently moving back from the big city to her country hometown, she is a simple girl who has visited here before and wants to get more out of her trip this time.

Apparently it’s Saturday night and I only know that as other goddesses enquired of our gracious hosts when the microphone MC of a party next door started up earlier. Norwegian students are celebrating the end of their month long Bali study tour. All the required permits were sought from the local government so any complaints we might have would fall on deaf ears. The individual areas operate very much along self-determined lines with garbage collection, security and even the postal service having their own distinct way of doing things. Village life still very much being very much still village life even though the villages have blurred at the edges and become one larger busier town or city. 

An outsider could never tell where one community stopped and another began.
Sarah is a registered nurse who has recently completed further nursing study. Burnt out and fatigued, this Bali getaway is a gift to herself aimed at recharging her batteries. She comes up with the catch phrase “Art has no borders – unless it’s framed!” Mindfulness colouring book and stacks of coloured pencils are positioned around the communal area. More than a time-filler, these books seem to grace everyone’s laps at some point in time. As the hours lengthen and the women one by one have headed off to their bungalows, there remains only three hard core goddesses colouring in to their heart’s content lost in the process.

I wonder how our Yoga instructor Laura is getting along figuring things out in Bali. Transplanted from Melbourne only two months ago from a busy corporate life in medical sales, she made the leap into a foreign land. The infectious grin that is plastered across her face even during complicated yoga poses and her cool relaxed demeanour in the high humidity don’t betray any concerns. Either a complete lack of prior investigation or a hell of a lot of research would have to have been in play for me to make such a huge move.

Over breakfast the next morning, I ask her more about the move. Doubts were raised continuously by others in her life and she hop-scotched between home and here six times before she managed to shut out those other voices and relocate with true intention. The newly built house in outer Melbourne was leased and a mostly Indonesian residential area of Kerobokan was chosen as her new home base. She references a partner when talking about the move but never mentions him or her by name or feelings or reaction on the move.

For now I sit in the corner of the property on a raised bale bengong or daydream gazebo to pay witness to the morning’s goings-on. Housekeeping staff in cool white cotton pants and cyan blue batik print shirts start their morning cleaning routines. Some of the other goddesses are on a shopping crusade, navigating their way via unnamed roads, seeking out a good/known version of coffee to hopefully return with souvenirs. Later upon travel home, they will no doubt regale their loved ones with grand stories of their trek brandishing their trophies as proof of prowess. Other goddesses are already at work pampering their body with some of the selection of unlimited spa treatments. Anti oxidant scrub with green tea and jungle bee honey or ocean scrub with salt and coconut oil promise to slough away your old world, so you can be truly present in this other world. The Jet-setter hour long massage has been designed to ease any neck or head tension that may have accumulated from the commute to this island on indulgence.

Two young men arrive to complete their grounds-keeping duties. Bundles of stiff reeds make short work of the fallen leaves and flowers. The neat lawns are once again spotless. Bamboo blinds are raised on the yoga room to allow fresh air in after the morning’s Yin session. Yin yoga is calm, quiet stretching with some guided visual prompts to help focus and centre your poses. Somehow I can cope with this small demand on my body before my regular morning cup of tea. Nothing is compulsory at this retreat and seems not too much to stretch myself to try something new that fairly much all the other women here seem to value and prioritise.

A low flying helicopter flies overhead interrupting the gentle drip of the morning’s rain from the overhead foliage onto my gazebo roof. So out of place a noise here, we all stop and look up to watch it pass. It’s now gone and we are back to our activities already.  Joyce steps out of her office and talks briefly to one of the two young men about what I don’t really know. Gestures are made by both of them indicating mid-calf level but whether it’s about the length of his pants of some shoes, I cannot make out.

Our guest relation and co-ordinator, Joyce greeted us all on arrival and before she mentions it I can already tell by her friendly inclusive hug and way she speaks that it was she who communicated with us by email beforehand. “Oh, you’re Amanda” she says and immediately I implore her to call me Mandy. A note is made and she never uses anything else. I give my full name when filling in forms or to people I don’t or won’t really know. Straight away, I feel that I want to hear her call me Mandy and not Amanda. During the orientation before our first dinner together, she explains how the week will flow then starts off the getting to know session by telling us a bit about herself. She is Indonesian but not from Bali originally. She moved from Sumatra to Bali 13 years ago and by chance met the retreat’s founder, Chelsea on the beach one day.

 Theoretically I know Bali has beaches because of my mind’s singular image of a Bali holiday is bogan Aussies drinking Bintang on the beach. I will be perfectly content if I don’t step foot on a Bali beach. I like beaches generally speaking but my version of beach joy doesn’t generally involve sun or Bintang or other people. Beaches are best windswept, empty and cool. Walking slowly along the sand just at that edge where it’s not too wet and the waves get you or not too soft that it begins to feel like exercise. The reward for your wander is to just sit and watch the timeless waves roll in ceaselessly. There’s nothing more simple and direct to make me believe that I am just one small part of a very large world that exists before me and is content to go on without me. Joyce talks about Chelsea as being one of the most inspiring women she’s ever met. Perhaps she is part founder and part guru.

The sun fortunately stays behind the light grey clouded sky for most of the days so far and I’m grateful not to have to remember my hat and sunglasses every time I step out. The gentle rain adds a soft soundtrack to our days and its presence almost demands we take things slowly and adjust to island time. Shoes are optional and now only the third day in, many goddesses are traipsing around happily barefoot. Folded towels are placed on the tiled floors at the entrance of each pavilion to keep things clean. It’s a custom I’m easily converting to.

I sneak away from my bale bengong to get ready for my goddess glow facial from which I shall emerge hydrated and toned just in time to sneak in a pre-lunch nap.