Bali is smoke and chaos and colour, ancient and dark and so beautifully alive.
Our wedding went by in a blur, and I don’t truly think I will be able to reflect on it properly until we see it captured in photographs. I remember the good omen of heavy rain, feeling like a warrior-queen in beads and furs and precious stones, my husband taking my hand from my father at the willow altar. But that, of course, is a story best saved for another time.
We arrived at Nandini after 30 hours of travel, a clutch of ylang-ylang roofed villas nestled in the middle of the jungle. We’ve never stayed in a resort before, and likely never will again, so this was a rare treat and a true luxury. The head of staff, Mr. Iwan, reminded me distinctly of M. Gustave of the Grand Budapest Hotel, an almost startlingly warm, eccentric, resourceful individual running an extremely tight ship.
We indulged in punishing massages, candlelit dinners, and a private river at the bottom of 200 precarious stone steps. And when we craved something less luxurious, we weaved our way through the mayhem of traffic into the nearest town, Ubud.
Ubud is a masterpiece, full of woodcarvers, painters, and clever shopkeeps cajoling tourists in three or four languages. It is crispy duck and sate lilit charred on stalks of lemongrass, kopi luwak brewed from coffee beans that are harvested whole from the droppings of wild civet cats. It is the oppressive heat and noise. It is the ubiquitous goodwill of the locals, who I’m convinced are some of the nicest people on the planet.
There are more temples than houses in Bali, where Hinduism bleeds seamlessly into the ancestral religion of the land. The heavy air is perfumed with thick, sweet incense, every moment steeped in ritual and prayer. Even the birds and insects seem to sing adorations, adding their voices to the utter cacophony of the crowd-choked city. The temples are jungle-green and volcanic-orange, furnished with sacred waters and elaborate split gates. Every surface is littered with woven leaf boxes filled with offerings of flowers, fruit, and incense.
We visited temples overrun with macaques, temples nestled into holy lotus ponds, temples emerging out of the jungle after a 400-stair descent, housing the remains of ancient kings.
We also visited an elephant sanctuary in Taro, after a little hesitation. We both have such hearts for animals, and it was only through extensive research that we decided to pay this incredible place a visit. These complex, intelligent, compassionate creatures are so loved and so responsibly cared for by their individual keepers, who are bonded to their elephant for life, until one or the other passes. They are thriving, very clearly happy – playful, curious, friendly.
Bali is unforgettable. So different from the wide, cold, peaceful expanse of Alberta. We’re home now, richer for it, a husband and wife. A new sort of normal, one with a deeper tone to it. I so look forward to sharing our wedding when I can.