Sadly, it’s a rare day that I emerge from a pool surrounded by beach chairs, solar panels and frangipani trees, to find a man with darkly burnished finely-tattooed skin whom I’ve never met before, waiting to rub oil into my backside. I mention sadly, because spending merely one hour captivated by the exquisitely powerful spell and limp beneath the ever-so-muscular palms of this Balinese massage maestro, is something that really ought to be experienced on a more regular basis. Even if I’m lying on my stomach butt-naked, with a sarong only barely covering parts of that which lies open to the sky. Here’s a guy who, by day, toils as the gardener of a nearby resort, and moonlights as the village healer.
My friend C and I have been invited up to the luxurious yet cozy enclave of Jeda Villa. We’re here for a couple of days, but there are a whole host of reasons to spend more than a weekend in this village on Bali’s north coast.
The pool is divine, long enough for laps. The views extend from sea up to mountainsides, close enough to hike. There’s a breeze, good food (c/o of the resort’s staff), a king-size bed (and bathroom to match), a library of books, a TV and DVD player, a yoga studio and lawn – with massive palm trees, Buddhas and lotus pond – that stretches much further than the eye can see.
And then there’s Boris. Originally a Bali street dog, turned into a domesticated, somewhat indifferent but occasionally present pet. He will snub his snout at you. And he’ll stare you down, then gallop away to play with the other dogs. But once in awhile, he’ll curl up beside you, most certainly when you’re practicing yoga (what’s with these pooches that they’re so interested in asanas?). Then, when you’ve settled into savasana (corpse pose), he will find the perfect excuse to tiptoe towards your head and place his paw ever so stealthily and strategically… right on your chin.
But, the real treat was the soundscape that greeted us. At first there was silence; a perfect antidote to the ruckus that is Ubud. But soon after, the village sounds took over; and they were not what I expected at all – the tinkling of bamboo gamelan. No, here’s where I was introduced to the phenomenon of Dangdut music, a mix of Indonesian traditional and folk music, popularized in Java (a short drive and ferry ride westwards). I was stopped in my pool-side tracks, caught off-guard by the unexpected sounds… I felt immediately transported into a Druze tent or Moroccan restaurant, so distinctly Arabic / Oriental were the rhythms and tones.
It was to the sounds of Dangdut, the chants and prayers of the Imam at the mosque a short drive away, and the sounds of roosters and dogs that I awoke those mornings. With great piles of newly-fallen frangipani buds scattered across the lawns, a heavy mist coating the mountain sides and a sunrise that glimmered on the water below, there was nowhere else in the world I would have rather been.