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Expatriate in Kuala Lumpur – a woman's walkabout – Elizabeth Goodhue

When you leave you must remember to come back for the others. A circle, understand? You will always be Esperanza. You will always be Mango Street. You can’t erase what you know. You can’t forget who you are. – Sandra Cisneros

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Bali

Climbing Mt. Agung, Bali


I had been vacillating about climbing the volcano Mt. Agung in Bali. I had convinced myself that I didn’t want to wake up at 12:00 am to start the 2 am trek to the top to see the volcano. My inner driving force told me that I would regret it if I didn’t go – I have never climbed a volcano before. I wanted to look into the crater.

I started the climb and overtook two climbers who were as unprepared for the hike as I was – a borrowed head lamp, no jacket, no hat. At least I had a scarf, leggings and hiking boots. As we ascended from the steep jungle trail to the tree line, the guide told us we had finished the easy part. It was not easy. It was rigorous by my standards. He explained that we would climb for another two hours on a steeper trail. The last hour of the trail was rock climbing. Let me know if you want to turn back he said.

Forging ahead

I forged ahead. As long as I am not afraid of falling, I can walk or climb for an inordinate amount of time. Soon the headlamps from the other two climbers vanished, and it was me and my guide scrambling over scree in the moonlight. At 5:30 we reached the bottom of the last leg of the journey. One hour to go to the top. The night was crystal clear. Every single star that could twinkle twinkled. The moonlight lit the clouds socked into the valley below me.

Mt. Agung moon before sunrise
Moonlight on Mt. Agung before sunrise

No Fear

I started the third leg of the climb. It was still dark enough for me not to see the challenge that lay ahead of me, but I could feel it. I could also feel the strain on my butt from a hard fall that I had taken down the slippery temple stairs the morning before. But I wasn’t afraid. There was no anxiety, which surprised me. My previous rock climbing experiences fill me with painful dread, and they take tremendous effort to overcome. I force myself through them, clinging to small branches and frayed ropes, and then do the same thing in reverse. There is nothing enjoyable or gratifying about it.

Mt. Agung, Bali
Stopping point

Here I was again with no small branches or frayed ropes to help support my free climb. This time there was not one ounce of anxiety. I was calm. I climbed ten feet and stopped. No, I said, I don’t want to do this. It was if I needed the anxiety to be absent to make a sound judgment. We turned around and the beauty of the night was enough to feed my soul for a life time.

Morning Tea

Mt. Agung Bali Sunrise
The Mt. Agung moon giving way to the sun

We huddled in the cold morning air and drank tea. I watched the sun start to bathe the earth in its light as it rose on the opposite side of the volcano where I would have been if I had made it to the top. The night sky faded into pink. The moon kept its place and continued to reflect off the clouds below challenging the sun to take its place. Once the clouds turned pink and the moon gave the sun its place, we headed back, down the scree of the volcano, below the tree line, retracing our steps in the morning sunlight.

An illusion

I hadn’t made it to the top. I didn’t need to get to the top. Sometimes that’s not always your best view. Sometimes the me inside of me wants to stop, and I need to listen to her rather than scrambling through the sun rise and seeing nothing at all. This morning I stopped and watched the sun and the moon trade places. I watched the sun start to tickle the side of the mountain until it was in the right spot to capture the shadow of the volcano in the clouds. There was a black triangle of light splayed out in front of me, a play of shadow against pink. The shadow was an illusion of light. The sun had risen, behind the volcano casting a black triangle over the clouds in the valley.

Mt. Agung Bali Sunrise shadow
The shadow of Mt. Agung

 

I am in Bali


I am not sitting on a beach watching the waves pound shell and rock into sand. I am not sipping exotic drinks on a veranda. I am in between — in the mountains, overlooking rice paddies and watching six men building the second floor of a house propped up by a million sticks of bamboo. The construction here is quiet, not like Kuala Lumpur where it mixes in with the roar of traffic. Here, there is the gentle tap tap of a hammer drifting across the valley and over the river rushing down from the mountain.

Trekking to the temple

This morning after the meditation, Kurta, my guide and I trekked to a Hindu Temple high on a mountain across from the Nirarta Wellness Center. The plan had been to cross the river in front of my cottage, but it was too high, so we took to the road and crossed a broken bridge instead. The air was damp and fresh from the night rain, and the path was slimy with moss spread over muddy concrete.

Bali
Ten tiers to reach enlightenment

I couldn’t help thinking for most of the trek up to the temple, how the hell am I going to make it down this path. We reached the temple after climbing the last “300 steps.” Not a tourist in sight, just Kurta and me. I put on my sarong and wandered about the ancient temple. It was waiting for the festival of the full moon, quiet and empty. A thin layer of slippery mud covered the floor. Wooden structures waiting for offerings surrounded two platforms, and the multi-tiered tower shrine called the pelinggih meru overlooks the valley.

Dreaded descent

Bali temple steps
The 300 steps – the 10 that I slid down

Then the dreaded descent began. I tried to breathe into my fear of falling as I took the first 200 steps down toward the trail. My feet flew out from under me and sent me bouncing down the next ten steps. Bruised, but not hurt, I held back my tears, which seem to rest on the verge of everything these days. They are always there, simmering, but I keep them at bay most of the time. After my fall, I thought about bravery. Are brave people cowards running away from what scares them? Is it easier to face a dragon than it is to settle with your demons?

Maybe some of those answers are hidden in the temple on the mountain. There is a dual deity up there — part monster head with a dragon body. Is this the universal demon I carry?

Bali temple
Bali part monster

Crossing the River

Bali rice paddy temple in backKurta and I took a less slippery way down toward the river. Kurta pasted a Band-Aid on my superficial wound and pointed out a brilliant green rice paddy ready for picking. He suggested we try crossing the river. He must have sensed my adventurous spirit. We meandered through the rice paddies to find the best place to cross the raging river. Even I had my doubts, but I was thinking of how the cold water would feel on my bruised body as I followed Kurta into the river. It was uncrossable there, so we forged upstream but could not find a place that wouldn’t swallow us in our pursuit. We bushwhacked along the river, made a small crossing and eventually found the road.

Bali temple finding the road home
Finding the road

In between

Today, I am sitting on a four-poster bed by a river in the middle of this paradise surrounded by tropical plants and birds-of-paradise. Honey, the dog, barks in the distance, a group of Chinese women on retreat chatter in the background and every once in a while, a cool breeze drifts over my sweaty body. I am in between all of this before I start the next leg of my journey.

Bali school kids

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