Our hostel here in Bali is on the southwest side of the island in Canggu, in close proximity to the beach. Driving there on our motorbike we pass restaurants, salons, stores. Every so often, we are spoiled by vibrant green fields of rice paddies. Brown cows roam freely, and white cranes soar in and out, looking for bugs to eat. But more often than that, the view reverts back to rows of villas and resorts.
Canggu is a heavily populated tourist area.
Trash is everywhere: On the sides of the roads, in heaps. Littered across the soft sands of the beach. The trash is left by tourists, by businesses, by locals.
It is a frustrating situation to the friends we have met who call this home. There are a great deal of repercussions the island faces as a result of this heavy tourism, and there is a lot that stands to be resolved.
Djuka, the Italian Chilean who was born and raised here in Indonesia, not only runs the hostel we are staying at, but has become a good friend here. Last week he offered to take us to Tabanan, the mountain region of the island.
Djuka, Jordan, and our new German friend we met, Kimmy, took the three-hour road trip by pick-up truck. It was the most incredible four days, and in many ways, in stark contrast to life back in Canggu.
I found that the greatest of moments contradicted one another, but in the most beautiful ways.
One moment, I felt like the world was so small — that it didn’t matter that I didn’t speak Balinese, or that the village family did not speak English. We as a human species can connect in so many ways, ways that transcend the understanding of words. As a friend here so accurately pointed out, body language counts for 55% of communication. Our tone of voice makes up another 38%. The literal meaning of words account for a mere 7%. I guarantee you will find this to be absolutely true if you put yourself in a place where you don’t understand the language, and enter with an open mind. You’ll find how little language matters, and rather, the extent to which our general needs and wants align. How alike we all truly are.
Then, there were moments were I felt like a tiny speck in this massive Universe; like a feeble, powerless ant to the crushing and preeminent force of Mother Nature; a grain of sand lost in this majestic and wonderful planet we are so lucky to inhabit. How the ocean’s currents could just pull me away and under in an instant given the order; how the jungle could swallow me whole if it cared to. I’m continuously humbled. The feeling never becomes cliche, no spectacle of nature overrated. I have found myself wordless on too many different occasions, happiness that could never be justifiably explained.
Not surprisingly, the most powerful moment that I experienced on the trip combined the two: human closeness colliding with the Earth’s mystery and vastness.
Our trip took us to Tabanan, north and to the central part of the island. After a day in the mountain, we headed to the coast to camp out on the beach.
We wanted to make it by sunset, and by the time we arrived, the sky light up with the sun’s orange glow. And aside from the one or two motorbikes of locals we passed, we were alone.
The beach was not littered with tourists, not littered with trash. The black sands ran free and clear of pollution, the deep turquoise ocean ending in a white foam of waves, washing over them in beautiful contrast. The tide was low, leaving circular patterns of small pools, alive with the creatures trapped inside.
We were parked on a bit of a cliff, and while my friends sat atop to enjoy the sun as it dipped, I wanted to get down to the waters — dig my toes into the sand, wash away the sweat dried on my skin from our day in the intense heat and humidity.
I wandered down to find local boys, ranging from around 8 to 13 years old, playing football on the beach. I watched them from a distance as I made my way to the water. I immediately felt a heavy, happy feeling of nostalgia in my heart. I miss that game so much.
After feeling refreshed from my dip, I walked back out to where the palm trees met the sand to sit, out of fear that sitting closer to the waves would prompt the tide to decide to creep back up as I rested. I set my backpack and clothes down against a tree, and sat on the cool sand. My attention then turned again to the boys playing on the beach.
Closer to me, a group of five were passing the ball around — juggling a few times, then sending it off to the next. I wanted to jump in so badly, and I felt my legs twitch as I watched, reacting vicariously through one of the boys as he received a pass.
It was only a matter of minutes before a ball was sent long, past one of the boys, and over to me. Without a moment’s hesitation, I jumped up and chased it down.
Please don’t let me embarrass myself, I thought to myself, as I geared up to kick the ball back, forcing my body to revert to now-cob web covered muscle memory formulated from 15+ years of playing as a kid.
Away the ball soared, though with a bit too much lift (I should have leaned forward more), back to the boys. And immediately, the endorphins rushed.
Rather than return to my lonely seat by the palm tree, I stayed where I was: in the boys’ game, forcing my way into the circle.
Either they would ignore me and leave me awkwardly standing, or pass it back eventually — whether by pity or genuineness, I didn’t mind.
And soon enough, the ball came back to me. My initial go was a bit pitiful — I curled my toes up under the ball, and my first attempt at lifting the ball high enough to fall back on the top of my thigh for my first juggle was a fail. I laughed, and looked up. They were all just sort of staring at me.
So I tried again.
This time, I successfully bounced it from one thigh to the next, then down to my foot, into a fair, in-air lob over the the boy to my right.
Ok, phew. Not bad, I thought to myself.
I looked up again. And they were still staring.
But as the game progressed, they kept sending the ball back. Disproportionately often, I realized.
Soon I stopped looking up to read their faces, and just started playing. My breaths grew heavy as they sent it to me repeatedly, and I was quickly reminded of how poor of shape I’m in. But I was pleasantly surprised with myself. I was definitely rusty, but holding my own.
We laughed and played, and I realized quickly that the boys did not pity me, but were enjoying my participation.
I never saw any girls playing — I’m not sure if they just don’t really intermingle with the boys, or if they don’t really play in general. But either way I think they were shocked that this random American girl in a bikini on the beach could, or would even care, to join in their game.
I looked up from our game, and the sun looked like it was on fire: the most vibrant red orange color I had ever seen, floating over the horizon. The ocean’s surface soaked up as much of the light as it could, and reflected the pink hues gathered from the skies. The lull of the crashing waves was hypnotizing, the smooth sand glistened like a sheet of glass.
This is one of those moments, I thought.
I closed my eyes and felt the breeze cool the beads of sweat formed on my forehead.
I inhaled, exhaled. Deep sigh.
This is what I live for.
After awhile, when the sweat started to pour and the breaths grew harder to catch, I motioned to them with a smile that I was going for a swim, and called it quits. I looked down and my toes to my calves looked to be stained black from the fine sand, specks dispersed around my whole body, stuck to my face and chunks in my hair.
They responded with smiles and laughter; one put his hands together and said, “You are very good!”
“Makasih!” Thank you! I answered.
After I washed off in the ocean, I returned to my backpack and sat. The boys, who had by then stopped their game, approached me, laughing and smiling. One of them spoke very good English, and told me he was practicing. He asked me for my name, I asked his. He asked me where I was from, and I said California. Los Angeles. They exchanged looks, and I said, “Hollywood, where they make the movies,” and they all nodded enthusiastically. The sweetest boys.
The sun’s light was leaving the skies, so I said good night to my new footballer friends, thanked them again for letting me join their game, and headed back to the truck to meet Djuka, Jordan and Kimmy.
That night, as I laid out at our campsite, directly beneath stars that shone brighter and closer than I have ever seen in my life, I closed my eyes and felt the warm breeze wash over my face and fly softly through my hair.
I inhaled, exhaled. Deep sigh.
This is what I live for.