A Bountiful Bali Birthday

There was no more prosaic way to be awakened than by a pair of roosters cawing at each other right outside my high-on-the-wall, can’t-see-anything-outside window: Yes, it is her birthday today! No it’s not! Well let’s have a cock-fight over it, shall we? Even if it is shy of 6 am, how can you really get angry at a fowl (sounding!) duo that doesn’t understand the concept of a much-desired sleep-in on one’s birthday…

Ah well, the joys and pitfalls of living on this island. I succumbed to their ongoing cries and went out onto the terrace, curling up on my padded bench. The sun was elbowing its way through the clouds, as if a sign that, with a little patience, its light would shine.

First stop: Yoga with Eka. He always radiates such joy and calm, it makes my insides smile. Especially when he guides us through belly-breathing.., which sounds like Bali-breathing. Or when we’re reminded to enjoy our breathing because it’s the most important thing going on for us at that time. Eka, will you come to my party next weekend and SING?

As I leave the studio, I turn on my cell phone and it rings. I hear OJ sing Happy Birthday, which sounds surprisingly clear even if she is outside D.C. and I am walking down through the thick grove of trees on the Campuhan steps. I share my birthday plans: I’ll be spending it all on the west side (of Ubud)! She is too far away…and I need to head over to Murni’s Tamarind Spa for my bi-weekly ‘massage.’ I hang up and sift around the inside of my bag for my iPod before the tears can well up.

What will make me happiest, I ask my heart as I scroll through the menu? I know: Earth, Wind and Fire. By the time I reach the spa, I’ve been listening to September so many times that I am hooked for the day. I dance my heart out waiting for Kadek to arrive. I’ve already warned him that our regular therapeutic (read: uncomfortable, pain-inducing kind ‘o healing) is verboten for today; Please pretend that I’m a tourist who’s here for the first time, wanting a spa-like, relaxing, deep tissue massage.

He’s not sure he can comply… but then, a brainstorm: Since nobody else is around for a treatment, he hooks my iPod to the spa music system… and with a boatload of frangipanis scattered around the room, an entire Earth, Wind and Fire album blaring all around us, Kadek indulges me in the most hilarious and blissful (dare I say therapeutic?!) boogie-dance massage.

Off to another spa, a short walk away: The Grotto at Tjampuhan Hotel. A hideaway, tucked into the hillside of the hotel (where the artist Walter Spies once lived); a cavernous space with mythical creatures sculpted out of stone; massage rooms overlooking the river and valley.

When I arrive, Alexsandra is luxuriating by the pool, reading Paulo Coehlo. We settle into the bubbling hot pool, jets shooting water at our backs; we heat up just in time to hop over the rocks into the insanely freezing cold pool. I shiver to the bone, but I’m convinced that my nerves and blood circulation are grateful to me for the shock of extremes. In the eucalyptus steam room, I can barely see Alexsandra – even though she is lying inches from my head.

The sun’s beginning to set, a sure sign that it’s time for a rice field walk… over to Sari-Organik (aka Sari-O’s). The fields are thigh-high in green leafy brilliance, offering us a spectacular vista as we meander towards the restaurant. Settling onto pillows at a table, we debate the many menu options, choosing finally to go with guacamole, baba ganoush and grilled vegetables.

We’re deep into our meals when Tarra shows up with her friend, Matt, who has just arrived from California. I’ve completely forgotten about what Tarra offered me the other day, but am quickly reminded by the surprising sight in her hands: a bag of Trader Joe’s “Simply the Best Trail Mix” and a tube of Tom’s spearmint toothpaste. Even though we’d never met, Matt (via Tarra) brought them for me – a gift like no other…

And so, when the waiter sighs, apologizing for no more chocolate cake, we dig instead into the bag of trail mix, acknowledging that it’s a good enough, unplanned-for, minus-the-candles, substitute for birthday cake.

By flashlight (and the light of motorbikes sweeping past us), we follow the silent dance of the fireflies and a nearly-full moon on our walk back to the lights and noises of downtown Ubud.

All in one day, in the most natural and self-ful way, I took care of my soul, my sacrum, my stomach. Amen to all of it. And thank you Bali.

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