It is rare these days, and becoming ever more so, to find sanctuary from the sights and sounds of concrete, cement, bricks and stone that have become so annoyingly commonplace around once-peaceful Bali. Which is why a 3-night all-expenses paid retreat (call it an ex post facto barter) immersed in the heart of a resort brimming with the sights and sounds of nature was such a welcoming balm – and why my friend C and I didn’t step outside even once until our departure.
Desa Seni (translates into English as Art Village) is a resort situated in the western coast village of Canggu. A short walk away from the beach, a driveway bordered by towering umbul-umbul (tall and colorful satin-y Balinese-style banners) leads us towards a reception hall – the first of many traditional Indonesian dwellings dotting the property’s spacious landscape.
Once registered, we were greeted by the sight of a luscious garden beyond the reception area: circular lava stepping stones laid into the expanse of green (once used to ground corn), a tall candi (carved Indonesian shrine) with groupings of frangipani flowers hanging overhead; a gift shop and an expansive 3D view of nature’s bounty blooming up ahead.
A garden path inlaid with re-purposed wooden railroad ties led us towards our 2-bedroom home. On the way, we passed towering hibiscus bushes and bamboo shrines (sanggah) on one side, and rooms surrounded and seemingly endless expanses of plant life on the other: palms, desert rose, frangipani, cempaka, lillies, dragon fruit cacti, tomatoes, celery, kale and aloe. And so much more!
All the rooms were given Indonesian names. Our home was Rumah Majapahit, so called in tribute to the ancient Javanese-Hindu kingdom. This rumah tinggal (dwelling house) – an antique limasan from East Java made of teak – is thought to be nearly two centuries old.
Inside, an assortment of antiques, traditional vessels and artefacts, Indonesian artwork and accessories caught my attention; a living museum. Among the items on display (inside and on the front terrace) were a collection of wooden paddles, a “lazy” chair (looking very much like an ancient precursor to the Lazy-Boy recliner), a pair of kulkuls (wooden bells rung to alarm villagers of an urgent event), an ornately carved daybed, vessels for rice and for preparing betelnut rub; a Javanese gamelan instrument, paintings and, in front of the entry door, a sculpture honoring the gods of fertility.
Each morning, a staff member dressed in traditional costume, would arrive on our terrace to place offerings (canang) in the plangkiran (shrine), posted high above and in the direction of Mount Agung. Those offerings, as well as other elements sprinkled throughout the resort were refreshing reminders of the inimitable character of Balinese culture, nature and art.
As if to highlight this uniqueness, the resort’s logo – the Trimurti – symbolizes the Hindu trinity; the gods Brahma, Wisnu and Shiva.
In the shadow of the Trimurti yoga shala (or other times, in full sun), we would lounge by the pool, sip on freshly cut coconuts, dine on dishes with ingredients that were often sourced directly from the resort’s vast organic gardens. Nothing like an intensive immersion into the farm-to-table philosophy. (My favorite was the signature Desa Seni salad, spilling over with gorgeous greens, an assortment of colorful veggies and sweetened tempe.)
We both signed up for a Chinese osteopathic and acupuncture treatment, a serious bit of bodywork that was good enough that I signed up for another later this week. We were then treated to a 90-minute massage, after which I showered plein air, under a darkened sky, twinkling stars, and a glorious bunch of frangipani buds hanging overhead.
And, of course, there was a schedule full of yoga classes, different styles to suit varying tastes and levels. C pulled out all the stops, trying up to 3 classes a day; I limited myself to 1 class a day, which still left me with plenty of time to linger, write or read poolside – often with Desa, one of the 3 resident dogs, taking shade beside me.
During an afternoon Yin class, while lying on my back, listening to geckos and frogs chattering, and the wind rustling through the leaves, I sensed a hint of pain starting to escalate in my backside. Propped up on my knees, slowing my breath and gazing out into the garden beyond, I spotted a pile of dried-up, used coconut shells crowded around a tree.
When the class ended, I needed to walk my body. Venturing into the garden, I looked around, closed my eyes and tuned in. I suddenly felt the stirrings of a labyrinth gently sprouting beneath my feet. And then, as if to confirm my intuition, a gong sounded. Yes, this is where it belongs.
Sure, we heard the occasional motorbikes rumble around the resort’s periphery, and yes the siren of an ambulance or two was jarring, as were the aerial fly-bys from a quartet of military planes in formation; but when I listened really closely, the sweetest sounds bubbled forth from this picturesque sanctuary: the tinkling sounds of etched tin hearts dangling against each other, pigeons cooing, swallows and other bird life chirping, the cecaks slapping their tails against wood, the tokays belting out their recognizably guttural clucks, the palms swaying, the frogs croaking and yoga students chanting ohmmmmmm…
If you’re even mildly tempted to sign up for a stay, check out more of my photos right here (click on the Desa Seni album). Then prepare yourself wholly – heart, soul and appetite – for a memorable stay.