A Love Story: Part Eight

Finding a moment of Balinese Bliss on the Campuhan Ridge in Ubud. Self-portrait by Our Visual World.

Kyle begged me to come home.

I could tell he was losing sleep over this and I carried an intense guilt putting him through something so atrocious. Time and time I refused his requests.

I would receive better medical treatment at home, no doubt, but for what? If the outcome of the test reaches the peak of accuracy at the three-month mark, what was I really coming home for? A more daunting waiting game than the one I was playing now? And by home, I wouldn’t be going to San Francisco to have the support of Kyle to get through this. I’d be heading to San Diego to deal with this in a forced isolation.

The only thing that helped me get through the darker moments of the overall trip was the dream of spending three weeks together in Bali to bring in the New Year. It was so important to me at this point, I didn’t want to lose out on the chance to show him such an incredible part of the world. I wanted Kyle to experience the immense beauty of Indonesia, which captivated my heart in my first few minutes of arrival in South East Asia. I wanted Kyle to see me in a brighter place; a more stable place in a better mood. I wanted him to see me in my element; the only comfort zone I’ve ever really known.

Most importantly, I didn’t want something so devastating to overshadow the profound experiences I had while living here. I refused to allow my greatest dreams come to such a bitter end. Leaving meant giving up. To me, that meant admitting defeat. Going home meant my assailant stole more than my body, my trust, my sense of security, and my peace of mind. If I agreed to go home, it meant he stole my future, too.

I told Kyle he could cancel the trip if he wanted, but I was still spending the New Year in Bali. I was determined to start 2016 in a new and exciting light, even if that meant without him.

After 119 Days of being apart, we were reunited at the arrivals terminal at Denpasar International Airport. I glued together some Christmas wrapping paper and made his welcome sign in thick black ink.

On the outside was his name: Mr. Meshna
On the inside: I’ve waited 119 days for this. Now get over here and give me a kiss.

And my god, was it a magical kiss.

We checked into Sanur, a resort town on the eastern coast of Bali. Kyle booked a small villa with sliding glass doors that opened up to a private pool. There was a slight charm to the coastal town, but admittedly it was mostly retired Australians having Bintang delivered to their tanning chairs on the beach. Nevertheless, it was so wonderful being back in the safety and comfort of his arms.

That night we went on our very first date. I was finally able to give him the letters I had been writing since my first few days in Sumatra. The box I carried them in was hand carved from Tibet; I purchased it from a Sound Healer in his little shop in Penang. Each letter was sealed in antique paper envelopes with the date and location they were written on the front. On the inside flap, I inscribed a quote foreshadowing the theme of the letter. The contents of the box also included a poem, a handmade card from Vietnam, and postcards from every country. This box had traveled almost as far as I had. For months, it sheltered my most vulnerable thoughts. This must be what it feels like when you give someone something as precious as your heart. My entire world was now in his caring hands, but I knew that is where it was always meant to be.

His Christmas gift was also very touching. When we were 18, I picked up a giant leaf on one of our walks. I was always collecting pointless knick-knacks and assigning them significant meaning. I gave him the leaf as a representation of our friendship and made him promise he would keep it for as long as we were friends. I found it crushed in his glove box several months later and gave him such a hard time for destroying something as precious as our friendship leaf. He spent weeks before Christmas researching the types of trees in the area we took our walks and found the species. He then tracked down and ordered a replica leaf necklace. It’s one of the most thoughtful and precious gifts I’ve ever received.

On New Year’s Eve, we watched thousands of fireworks being lit, often by children, straight off the beach. It was something spectacular as strict firework regulations in the US made it impossible to get so close. We then lit a paper lantern and released it in the night sky for good luck the coming year. With it I released every bad feeling I had been carrying since November. The only thing that mattered now was building a new life in a new year with him.

Top Left: Congestion was a regular occurrence on the two-lane road serving Ubud city center. Top Right: A gray sky hangs over Pura Taman Saraswati Temple in Ubud. Bottom Left: A Macaques takes a pause on a banister at the Monkey Forest. Bottom Right: A fortuitous find, this stunning ravine hid below a bridge and behind a school.

Bali was amazing, but mostly because I was able to share it with Kyle. We both were a little underwhelmed by our experience in the country. After following so many travel and photography accounts on social media, we were so excited to experience the close proximity to nature and the Balinese culture.

The truth? Rubbish accumulates on the side of the road and there doesn’t seem to be infrastructure for removal. In the central tourist hubs, the traditional Balinese garb felt like more of a costume show. It wasn’t the first time I experienced a cultural façade, but I didn’t expect to see it in Bali. The sounds of nature were drowned out by chainsaws and heavy machinery working on the construction of new guesthouses. Traffic on the narrow two lane road in Ubud was at a standstill for at least an hour. It was overwhelming and sort of claustrophobic; not at all what I perceived Balinese Bliss to be.

Then there are the rice fields; the tiered hills of endless photogenic green wonder. During a cooking class, the owner explained how the rice fields are actually going extinct. The climate in the region has destabilized, and the number of successful harvests is decreasing more and more each year. Factor in the rapid influx of tourism, the only place to build is in the rural patches that were once home to plentiful farms. We walked away from the class with an awareness we otherwise wouldn’t have achieved. It’s easy to crop the beauty of Bali within a perfectly manicured Instagram frame, but ultimately the truth lies outside of those parameters (here’s to you Little Bow Wow).

Some moments from our Balinese cooking class.

The highlight for us, besides our cooking class, was the Campuhan Ridge Walk; a glimpse into what Bali looked like in the recent past.

It’s a long, paved road surrounded by tall grass. Rivers run parallel on either side and the steep ravine offers clear views on the surroundings. I think this was the first time we both felt at peace in Bali. The humidity was still stifling, but the immense beauty of the walk almost made us forget our mild discomfort.

After an hour or so of walking, we stopped for a snack at Karsa Kafe. We sat on the second story and enjoyed the views of the sweeping landscape. We finally found the tiered rice fields we had been dreaming of and their tranquility did not disappoint. We played in the tall grass on our way back as the sun began to set. We were soaking in the brilliance of our final day in Ubud, still unsure of where we wanted to go next.

We heard about some remote islands off the coast of Lombok and thought we’d give them a try. Perhaps we would find the endless stretch of unpopulated beaches we had been promised. Even if we didn’t, I was so excited to be spending these final beautiful days with Kyle by my side.

Images owned by Our Visual World.

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