We love escaping the overwrought holidays
with their traditional obligations
Whenever we can free ourselves.
Thank you, my Sweetman,
for your irritating wisdom
about planning!
After our last trip four years ago,
we hungered for a more tropical solstice.
We flew to visit our friends Joel & Nirgrantha.
They host guests at Villa Vagra
in the village of Sebali, near Ubud,
an artistic center on Bali,
only one of the many islands collected as
the country of Indonesia
in the the south seas.

After nearly 30 hours of door-to-door travel we arrived in Bali just before the solstice… Mostly escaping the frenetic holiday energy, although Christmas is a commercial event with decor widely seen even in Buddhist & Muslim countries.

A 13 hour flight from Seattle, left for Taipei just after midnight Saturday/Sunday, crossed the International Date Line to arrive early Monday. We flew EVA Elite so we enjoyed slightly more spacious seats plus, quite nice service & good food.

Meals on the flight to Taipei consisted by our choice of multiple bowls of mostly Chinese foods, avoid the western load of gluten: pasta & bread>. I especially enjoyed breakfast of “congee”… as written on the menu, but verbalized as “porridge”… a soft rice, more liquid than not, with additions including a packet of fluffy flavoring powder delightfully, aptly called “fish floss”. I want more!

I remembered being introduced decades ago, to a similar breakfast a friend from Singapore called “jook”. I realized too late that the pickled salad was intended to be added, as Tinnee had taught me in those Sedona days. I prefer savory breakfasts.


Another 5 hour flight brought us to Denpasar, Bali where our friend Joel met & drove us… while rain threatened… an hour more to their Villa Vajra near Ubud… putting us, for this visit, in the larger guest villa, which is usually rented out, but tourist times are tough on Bali and much of Indonesia, due in part to overbuilding.

Joel had arranged to have a masseur ready to welcome us with wonderful body-work before a simple dinner. What a delightful treat to have the wrinkles of traveling deliciously ironed out! During my massage there came as well the welcome of a first delightful thunderstorm!

This was the view from the massage table on our bedroom’s covered deck looking down into the living/dining pavilion… two stories of open space with drop-down weather shades.

We had indeed leapt ahead of time by flying over the International Date Line… so we went directly to bed, quite ready to sleep into our jet-lag.

I began a journal on the plane which continued to evolve fulsomely throughout this entire travel. I have a rather checkered history with such travel journals, which often find themselves neglected in all the movement. This one informs this text.

Remember that I am rather a hermit meditating in a fast lane. I’ve become comfortable choosing to miss some excursions to enjoy instead rare qualities hovering ’round the solitude essential to savor dancing so lively in time & place. Travel has many complexions…

Waking from deep sleep accompanied by intense frog-song, we joined Joel & their sweetly aging dogs, Abelard & Heloise for their regular walk along the nearby ridge familiar from our last visit four years ago…

The grass growing along the ancient stones is what becomes the traditional material for thatched roofs, which are becoming more rare due to their shorter life span than iron-wood shingles, which, while more expensive last years longer.

A treat was to see a small, low growing, version of Passion Flower…
At the trail head is this demon’s mouth doorway,
carved from the wood of a tree root system…

Back home for a gorgeous breakfast with Nirgrantha in their delightfully efficient villa. A lovely plate of fruit: banana, kiwi & the incredible, richly flavored mango & papaya which are in high season.

A lovely wild native orchid blooms in front of their sofa:

On the wall of their courtyard garden is a zig-zagging black pepper vine, which I identified in answer to Nirgrantha’s quiz, having seen them in India.

But the rich exuberance of plant life in the tropics is exemplified by simple moss on a lovely pot…

I might wish to attend the sale of his textile collection which Nirgrantha intends, such as this jacket on their bedroom wall.

Or… this sarong patterned guaranteed to make any movement an undulation… I doubt I could afford such treasures as he has collected in his years here.

Joel suggested lunch at a vegetarian/vegan restaurant he’d recently discovered, accessible only along a rough road followed by a bit of a walk, which made it impossible for Nirgrantha to join us.

He is confined to the interior their walled villa’s two roofed sections… living & sleeping… with a garden & pool between. Such architectural incorporation of the tropical bio-system becomes lovely logic.

Moksa is another open pavilion set well above & overlooking its garden planted in the river-bed’s fertility. I was entranced by the graceful swirls creating beds shaped with puzzle-nobs of paths interlocking soil. All bordered with a staccato of coconut husks, sensibly allowing the middle of them to be easily accessed… delighting this gardener!

The plates were deliciously inventive… served in / on pottery made by the partner of the owner who runs the front-end. I got to meet the other partner, who is the chef, to compliment him on the raw squash “spaghetti” I had so enjoyed sauced with a turmeric dressing… which I finished with a spoon!

We ought to have visited the potter’s studio/store, but we had too little time… Joel wanting to get back to check on Nirgrantha. We did stop to change money, each rather instantly becoming millionaires several times over, in the local Rupia, for a $200.00 investment!

Both of us napped more deeply than intended… waking in the jungle twilight just before dinner. Grilled Mahi-Mahi & poppingly-delicious small potatoes roasted with rosemary… plus the Brussels sprouts which we’d brought from home at their request, being impossible to get in the tropics. A holiday feast!

Another deep sleep, with curious dreams, brought me to waking just before dawn, to watch the fireflies blinking like morning stars above the mosquito netting of our bed. I got-up to enjoy the coming of the light on this solstice morning.

Solstice still is important here, almost at the equator… just enough below to make some noticeable difference, according to Joel, as the longest day of the year.

Leaves from their Bodi tree… genetically a true scion of the Buddha’s… hold deep truth.

We decided not to follow our original plan to go into Ubud for lunch & to shop. It seemed it would be too crowded. Instead Joel suggested lunch at a new eco/farm restaurant higher up the road where he’d celebrated his recent birthday. The half-hour drive took us through an area frequented by tourists, so there were numerous open shopping places for all sorts of schlock around a once picturesque rice terraces… now looking too shoddy for that traffic to even want to photograph… illustrating what he explained as the rapid deterioration of local culture.

At Basanta we were met as we parked by a guy with walkie-talkie bringing a young woman who turned out to be our guide through the rather newly developing gardens, showing us the two strains of coffee which they sell as “Luwac”… which I will explain later to those not too faint for adventure. We ate in one of several typically open thatched pavilions overlooking a lush valley.

Joel & I had interesting avocado smoothies laced with chocolate, pretty, but I might prefer a spicier addition rather than such heavy sweetness. They were too much like dessert! Stephen’s drink was made with beets… a lovely color. We were put-off by the plastic straws, after having a more beautifully organic version made from stems of papaya… a clue to how clueless we ultimately found much of this operation.

One starter was deep fried spinach… a variety with large densely textured leaves. I’m curious what was the batter’s binder, making an equally sturdy crispness… eggs, perhaps. The other was a timbal made of fruit & veggies enclosed with long thin petals of sliced cucumbers, another technique I wish to try at home. Main courses were a fruit & vegetable “pate” contained in a collar of banana leaf stitched with a pick of bamboo, a similarly wrapped bundle of batter fried potatoes, perched horizontally atop, floating in an orange sauce. We shared a second preparation of red rice served with a basket of various sauces, small salads & bits of flavorful preparations & sambals, all contained in a tight composition of more stitched banana leaf vessels.

While all was fine in its elaboration, the meal did not seem so well tended as the lunch the day before. The entire experience seemed contrived toward the notion of the curious coffee, which involves collecting the beans after being processed through the digestive systems of civets which supposedly works some wonder worthy of exorbitant price. We did not like the idea, seeing the rather cruelly caged animals & samples of the the end of the process. Such curious excess of obvious & overt-marketing seemed another example of what “eco” & “organic” are not really about. The gammon music was boringly repetitive & the rackety walkie-talkies the entire staff carried at full volume were distracting & disturbingly insensitive.

We would not recommend it over Moksa… or indeed at all!
No matter,
by the time we arrived home all was again refreshed
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