I knew little about my destination, but by all first-hand accounts, this elevated mountain-side artist’s town sounded like my kind of place. I had no idea what an understatement “my kind of place” would turn out to be. I landed in paradise. My personal oasis from all the bullshit I’m a part of daily.
I know I just mentioned this, but I need to say it again... this place is paradise, greener than greed. Surrounded by genuinely happy locals with warmth pouring off them. Never forced, and never fake. You know, like when you go to Mexico, and someone pushes some crap on you, and you say no, and they glare and finally move on. Nope. Here, in Ubud, you say "no thank you" and they respond with "you're welcome" and then ask where you are from and where you are going, the whole time knowing you are no longer interested in whatever they are selling (be it transport, massage, tickets to fire dance, art, postcards, bone carvings, dinner, etc.). They are genuinely interested in you and your story. It’s no longer a dollar-colored finish line. It’s real. No. Strike that. It’s entirely unreal. It takes some time to convince yourself that there isn't some ulterior motive behind the kindness, but once you settle into it, you find yourself responding in like form, naturally. And you find yourself believing that you mean it, too.
As you walk this endlessly green town and navigate all the friendly smiles, you find any stresses you brought with you melt away, along with those extra pounds you added on last Christmas. The food is clean and holistic and walking is the only way. The people here are focused on art, meditation, yoga, prayer, clean and simple eating, peace and happiness. The project you left unfinished at work no longer matters. The bill you didn’t pay before barely making your plane isn’t even a concern any longer. The fight about money or dishes or the plant your partner killed on your last trip seems petty now. Things just got much, much slower. And you are surrounded by people who have very little and yet live richer, more fulfilling lives than you ever imagined possible for yourself without the newest BMW and a 6-figure salary. $20 here can last you days and a smile from a local can carry you the rest of the afternoon.
In 4 days, I hiked in the middle of a volcano, bathed in holy water at a temple, searched for the elephant dude with a body of man and head of elephant, swam in the clearest water ever and pools surrounded by foliage, danced in tourist traps of clubs, bought some local art (for dollars! freaking dollars!), filled myself with martian fruits, stole a rock that I’m certain contains a 12 pound diamond, had several near-death taxi experiences, broke some hearts, was crawled on by the inhabitants of monkey forest and nearly by a spider with a body the size of my thumb, watched the white monkey do his fire dance on a 300 meter cliff-side temple with 90 chanting monks, rode on the back of a drunk girls scooter after hours of late night dancing (hot), had great conversations with numerous ex-pats, prayed, meditated, and many other quieter yet equally significant experiences. All on one little island.
And none of this would have happened on the closest mountain from home.
You should know that if this were a world unlike the one in which I live, the one where I build binders and respond to emails and accumulate random-stacked post-it notes and push elevator buttons with my knuckles, where blank robot faces meet me in the streets and in the hallways, where food is a luxury not a necessity, where cement meets curb meets building meets yellow-grey sad sky, where I have the choice to replace it with happiness created by short walks and clean food and meaningful conversations, and endless smiles, you may never see me again. Unless you crossed the pacific. Unless you braved the bugs and the near death cab rides. Unless you craved enlightenment through yoga and meditation and holistic food. Unless you had a desire to surround yourself with people who are greed-less, selfless, and settled in their life, though comparatively living free from the luxuries you and I have grown so accustomed to (generally). Like constant running warm water (I’ve learned to appreciate a cold morning shower), and fruit free of bugs (I’ve learned to appreciate the extra protein), and air conditioned cars and rooms (I’ve learned to appreciate cold when I find it, and I’ve grown to appreciate my own mid-day musk). The things we have stopped thinking about are the same that many dream of. I shall never forget that again.
But this isn't my world. I will be back in my office soon, building binders. But these binders will be different. I will move blindly though the motions of doing what I do as I’ve done it so many times before. But in a place hidden from administrators and lawyers, this binder will be different.
In this place buried in brain fat and dream layers, my binder will be filled with local beers, and bright endless smiles, and fruit unrecognizable to the western eye, and mystery meats on sticks, and green fields that disappear into the horizon. My binder will not be indexed. My binder will have email addresses in the sleeves of people I met that day who wanted to "start a friendly relationship." My binder won't be black, but the color of the floral offerings to the gods. My binder will serve souls and minds, not lawyers and judges. It would carry local art and shortcuts through town, and street numbers to the best restaurants and galleries. My binder will be in 100 font and rainbow colors. It won't carry lined paper. It won't contain slip sheets, and numbered tabs, and plastic covers. It will be significant. On a small scale, perhaps. But far more so than documents in date order. In fact, my binder will have no order at all; it would be the index of life in any damn order it should appear. And it will be large freaking binder indeed. The binder of my life. As it is and as it should be.
When I sleep tonight, this will be the binder I dream of.
And as I head home I will swell with gratitude that my life led me to Ubud.
In short, go off and wander. It will change you in totally unexpected ways.