When I was little I so desperately wanted to be a mermaid; now I think it’s happening.
After two days in Ubud, I head to Pecatu which is along the southwest coast of Bali. Putu (the owner of Astiti House where I was staying in Ubud) and her husband drive me, along with four of Putu’s friends who want to see Padang-Padang, the neighboring beach town. I’m grateful to have hired them rather than a random taxi, as the drive isn’t exactly short (about 1.5 hours), and it takes some careful navigating to find our way. Finally, we get to the entrance of the villa, which is totally nondescript, as the house is tucked away on the beach, nestled between cliffs, trees, and hotels on the neighboring Bingin Beach.
The rock/stone path up to the house from the beach
As Putu’s husband [thankfully] helps me with my bags down the stone steps and path, I realize this will be a very new experience. The winding path is surrounded by trees and rock walls and takes about three minutes (six with a heavy bag) to walk up, down, around. When I arrive, I’m awestruck. It’s totally worth lugging the heavy bag. The two-story villa is unlike anything I’ve ever seen: all rooms except the kitchen and bedrooms are open-air with the ocean right below. Insane views. The bathroom I get to use is half outside, the toilet seat still wet from the rain earlier that day (a great natural sanitizer!) and the shower allows for a full view of the ocean (and stars at night). I am beyond grateful to be sharing this house with Elie. It’s like the universe showing me how worthwhile it is to take a chance; I should mention this is the first time I’m meeting Elie in person!
The partially-outdoor bathroom
View from the shower
Elie posted this space on Couch Surfing literally right when I decided to check out the site for the first time. Couch Surfing basically connects travelers with people happy to share their homes and free couches, beds, etc. I was hesitant about using the site at first, wondering who on earth (other than creepy men) would take in random travelers, but friends have had success so I decided to check it out. I filter my search for female hosts and private rooms. Elie’s post is one of the first I read and it sounds like a dream so I message her immediately. She responds quite quickly and we set up a Skype call where I get to “meet” her. She is warm, kind, energetic and generous, giving me tips of useful things to bring that I can’t find here and answering all of my questions attentively. She even offers to Skype with my parents so they feel comfortable with me going there. I start to realize that people can just be very generous and giving without an agenda. The world is inherently good. This stay with Elie becomes my first set plan in Bali, making the trip seem more real to me than ever. And I’m so comforted knowing I’ll get to spend time with someone so like-minded and receptive.
My bedroom with an ocean view!
So, anyway, soon into my stay with Elie, I discover quickly I’m sharing this house with more than her! First, there are the animals: lizards, moths, nats, mosquitos. I open the kitchen one day to see a little hermit crab scuttling across the stone floor. I made breakfast while a 3-inch spider watched from the wall this morning. A mouse walked past me last night without a care in the world, even braver than a New York rodent. We have to take care to close the kitchen when we’re not around, lest the monkeys break in and trash the place (yes, it has happened). The gecko couple (who Elie has fondly named Ike and Boss Gecko) snuggle on the ceiling (yes, geckos spoon…who knew?!) Gone are the days when I used to scream for Mom to come kill the ants on my bedroom wall. Now I talk to the lizards and greet the hermit crabs as I’m careful not to trample them. We just learn to live with them; they were here first anyway.
Snuggling geckos in the ceiling
Creatures aren’t the only thing we share space with here. Being that the open-air villa is literally right on the ocean and it’s rainy season here, we are ever-conscious of water. The house requires constant maintenance and upkeep, so there are often workmen coming in and out to fix leaks in the roof, along with a housekeeper who cleans out leaves, dirt, water that comes in. I walk around gingerly, avoiding little puddles on the stone floor, another great reminder to stay present. It’s also evidence of nature’s power. If the house were left alone, nature would take complete control very quickly.
In fact, nature has somewhat taken me over. The humidity is like a constant detox, as I’m always sweating, jumping in the ocean, rinsing and repeating. Makeup doesn’t really work with that. My once-always-perfectly-painted nails are chipped with just little flecks of gold polish remaining. My skin is getting darker and darker. My hair which was smooth and straight is now totally curled and wild. Hairdryers are a thing of the past. It’s probably the dirtiest and stickiest I’ve ever felt, yet the most radiant and alive.
My morning “bathtub”
We do share this home with the Indian Ocean too, which we are always observing. In the morning and evening during low tide, I can walk out to the “front yard” beach and easily wade through the clear water, avoiding the coral. The warm ocean is like a giant bathtub. During high tide, the bathtub becomes a wave pool, which is a lot of fun. At the same time, the sandy path to Bingin Beach (where the hotels, restaurants and smoothies are) becomes unwalkable. The noisy high tide also makes following a yoga podcast a bit difficult, but it’s the best yoga “studio” view I’ve ever seen (the ocean becomes the sky when you do any kind of inversion!). I am ever-aware of the ocean’s aliveness: she is not some stagnant thing; she is always changing and we love to play with her in her many different states!
The living room which we turn into the best yoga studio
Mother Nature is quite the noisy roommate too. I love the sound of the ocean waves. But the wind and rain make things creak and slam, and I’m often convinced as I lay in bed that either monkeys have invaded or strangers have trespassed. The latter is quite unlikely, though, given how hidden the villa is and that the village and fishermen know we’re here and look out for us. Nonetheless, I find myself jumping when I hear a sound at night, my chest pounding. Little by little, I’m learning that I’ve traded New York City street noise for nature noise; and, just like it took me some time to get used to car horns and yelling people, I will slowly adjust to the wind’s powerful breath and the trees’ creaking joints.
I realize some of this could sound like a complaint! Far from it! I love the connection to nature here, the literal back and forth with the ocean and how it lulls me to sleep, the company that the critters have become in this house, how it’s all forcing me to become braver and own my power, the cooling breeze that comes and goes as it pleases. Nature is the real owner of this home; we are just guests, grateful to be in this space and constantly learning from all of the life around us.