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Buddhist Blessings (and Hidden Charges?)

I would guess Buddhists don't really fly either.

You know when you are driving down the road, and someone in another vehicle does something completely absurd, which then causes you to tell out the phrase “who taught you how to drive?!” Well, in Bali, the answer to that question would be NO ONE. I would bet that no one on the roads of Bali has officially been taught how to properly handle a motorized vehicle. If you’re bothered by vehicles swerving into your lane, vehicles driving towards you head on, motor bikes weaving in an out of the smallest breaks in traffic, or if you’re so anal retentive that you choose to go around the roundabout instead of just straight through it, then the roads of Bali are not for you.

To get around the island of Bali, tourists have a few different options. 1. You can walk.. but that only gets you but so far, so quick, and the island isn’t THAT small. Not to mention, walking paths are not really built into the system in most large areas, and you’ll be constantly dodging traffic and risking your life. 2. You can rent a motorbike, which many people do, or even rent a vehicle. It’s pretty inexpensive to do so, but then again, be prepared to risk your life (see above paragraph). 3. You can hire a private driver or taksi (yes, that’s how it is spelled). Private drivers will give you a flat rate for the day, according to your premeditated adventure and distance, and they’ll drive you anywhere you like, wait for you- all day if need be. Taksi’s are metered, but only available in certain, limited areas. Just, again, be prepared to risk your life (there’s just no way of escaping that one).

I chose to hire a driver out of Ubud, and he took me all over the area, showing me places that I wanted to visit, but also took me to places that I didn’t know about. He was great, and acted as a tour guide, just as much as a driver. Goa Gajah, the elephant cave, dedicated to the Hindu god Ganesh, was one place I really wanted to go. The ornate cave is carved into the side of the mountain, and was built in the 9th century. It’s pretty wicked to look at, and musky and dark inside- but it was great to see in person. I had to wear a traditional sarong to enter, as is customary at any temple or sacred place.

On the grounds on Goa Gajah, just down a pathway after leaving “Hindu country”, there is also a Buddhist Temple. Now, I found this quite odd, that the two religions would share this sacred land and live in peace and harmony together- but they do. And, after asking a local, it’s actually a fairly common occurrence for two religions like that to share such close proximity with one another. Even though everything a Balinese person does somehow reverts back to their religion, they seem to be pretty good at cohabiting.

The Buddhist temple was tucked away in the back, near the tree line, and wasn’t much to look at. Its pretty simple style and appearance would only allow the passerby a quick glance, before they continued on their way- which was exactly my plan. However, an old Buddhist man, who appeared to be AT LEAST 100 years old, popped up above the wall and made a quick hand gesture followed by uninterpretable squeals and grunts- which I took to mean “follow me.” So, what did I do? I followed him, of course. I walked onto the grounds of the Buddhist temple, where he stood before an altar, which bore flowers and something burning.

He put his hands to his head, prayer hands against his forehead, and bowed towards the altar. He looked at me and smiled, and that’s when I noticed the two teeth that he still had to his name. Two lonely, jagged teeth, complete with his wrinkled face, hunched and dwindling body, and kind eyes. At that moment, I couldn’t help but picture myself as Elizabeth Gilbert- in the form of Julia Roberts, of course- standing before Ketut Liyer in the movie Eat, Pray, Love. The phrase “Ketut cannot fly, because Ketut has no teeth” just played again and again through my mind.

The old Buddhist man then drank from a cup of sorts, which he then handed to me. I, the southern raised gentleman that I am, pretended to drink from it (but really just let the water run down my chin) and handed it back to him and smiled. “Mmm”. He then stuck his finger into a bowl and put rice on the center of my forehead. It was definitely a Lion King moment, as I was baby Simba getting my melon blessing from Rafiki. The old, still smiling Buddhist man finished by putting a fresh frangipani behind my ear, and bowing again, hands to the forehead.

The whole occurrence was very interesting, and a grand experience, for sure. Standing there with that century old Buddhist and his questionable drinking water. (I probably didn’t get the full blessing because of that, but it’s a risk I was willing to take). He then upped his little mat and pointed to the rupiah that lay there- insinuating that I should offer money for the blessing. When the dollar I pulled from my pocket didn’t match the one that lay there, he fashioned a sign of “more,” but my tourist instincts didn’t give in. (I also probably didn’t get the full blessing because of my greediness, but hey, a boy has to eat- not to mention, I’m not even Buddhist).

My trip has been full of amazing, once in a lifetime experiences, just like this one. It has allowed me to see people and culture in a brand new light, and has given me a fresh, new, perspective on life, on the busyness, and the chaos, and the unfair judgement… that unfortunately I’ve carried with me for so long. Being here has pushed me to love and break down barriers that I never even knew existed within me. And that’s really what exploring is all about.

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