Saturday, November 30, 2013

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Closing the Chapter on Bali: Sleepless at 3am

According to the girl I stayed with, Balian is a very spiritual place. Spiritual in many ways, and not in others, I am always sceptical about when people refer to "spiritual energies." I suppose it's my logical / scientific mind clashing with my inquisitive / creative mind that leaves me forever questioning what is reality and what is fiction in a spiritual sense.

I can honestly say, this trip, has made me reflect a bit more on spirituality.

Balian. There are temples all over the village. The local Balinese people are very devoted. When I was there they were mid-ceremony, where some of them spent until 2am in the temple praying.

When I first arrived in Balian, it did have an energy. One that I can't necessarily describe, but there was something. As turned the corner and the village and ocean appeared I did feel an overwhelming sense of relief. When Jen met me, the owner of the house I was staying, everything felt just right. The bar was idyllic, they were playing Wayne's World in the background (my all time favourite movie for those of you who don't know), it was warm, sunny, beautiful beach, peaceful. It was literally perfect. Almost too perfect.

Over my time there, as you know however, I had a bit of a rough go. A bit sick at times, not too often. The drowning experience? That set my off big time... I still haven't really been able to run back into waves above my waist.

Near the end of my stay, I started to notice the regularity of how often and when I awoke at night. Usually a deep sleeper, I sleep right through from the second my head hits the pillow to the moment the
morning sun fills the room. In Balian it was different. For some reason, every single night I awoke between 3am and 4am. Sometimes for 10 minutes sometimes for an hour.. an hour and a half. It was almost routine.

On my last couple nights there, I asked Jen about it. Explained when I woke up. And she said that everyone that stays there says that. They ALL WAKE UP between 3am and 4am. Weird?

We talked more about the village.. and she explained further how spiritual Balian is. She explained how difficult it was for her to be able to settle there. So many unusual things went on. She got very sick. There was many very very scary spiritual experiences as well.

In talking about this, we got back to the wake-up times of myself and other people that come to Balian. At was at this point, she explained that village culture they say that it is between 3am and 4pm that spirits rise. Spirits rise?

The next couple nights I tried not to think about it. I still don't know what to think about it. But... I can't come up with any better explanation for how I woke up so routinely... and how others tourists experienced the same thing. Curious. Slightly unnerving. I haven't woke up at 3am since I left Balian.

Bucket list item: Ride an elephant. Check!

via Instagram

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Monday, November 18, 2013

Last beer in New Zealand... Onto to the next one: Thailand!

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Closing The Bali Chapter: An Odd Brush With Tantric Yoga

Tantra or Evil Spirits? Yoga Barn in Ubud, Bali
On the second day in Ubud, we decided to go to Yoga again. Not paying much attention to the topic of the workshop, we just picked a time that was early enough and went.

The Yoga Barn, on a side note, is one of the hot spots for tourists to go believe it or not. The town itself is filled with Yogi's galore, sadly mostly pretentious ones, and this is where they go. To see more photos, take a look on my Facebook page. The place is beautiful! Placed in the middle of the hustle and bustle of the city, there is a hidden entrance to this little sanctuary of rice fields and jungle in the middle of the city. There, you find the Yoga Barn. A tall building that resembles an over-sized tree house, as well as other open, natural looking buildings among the greenery. It's quiet, serene... and incredibly beautiful. We actually went there twice during our time there, it was pretty great... the first day.

So, we climbed up the long windy steps to the second floor where the class was being held. A big circular room, with a large thatched roof and warm breeze whipping throughout. We dropped our shoes and bags and walked into the room where people were waiting for the class to start. A big circle was formed around the room. Silence. Meditation.

The woman at the front, a tiny Indian woman dressed in in full white, sat at the front of the room. Silent. There were candles burning behind her among the Ivory while Hindu shrine of Ganesh. She sat in a meditative position, still. Her brow slightly furrowed. She was seemingly very disconnected from those who were sitting in the room before her.

As I walked to find a seat and roll out my yoga mat, I heard some grumbles from the start of the room. Grunts. I looked to her and they were coming from her. She was sitting in peace one moment, and then then next she'd twitch and let out a grunt and intense exhalation. Odd I thought. Very odd.

Class started... she spoke loudly... clearly... and suddenly, every few section, she would twitch... grunt... or moan. Her eyes remained closed as she continued to talk to use. Talk talk... twitch... twitch... grunt.. moan. So odd. I was puzzled.. truly puzzled as to what was happening.

Then our "exercises" began. Vibrations?! We had to tap one leg against the floor as fast as we could... then when we stopped she'd go around the room asking people to describe the sensation.. the colour?! of their body with that sensation. Then we'd do the other leg, similar process. Then the stretching began... "Feeeeeeel the vibration in your vagina....!" she said as she got us to do different vibration exercises... one involving just sitting on the floor, legs extended straight in front and moving the kneese up and down while legs fully extended as fast as possible. Swinging the body in a circular motion around and around; each cycle you would try and touch your toes (or at least that's what I was doing). Everyone else seemed to be transplanted into some other altered state that made them appear possessed.

This continued for a while. I was getting more and more perplexed. The grunts didn't stop.. the shakes.. twitches.. ongoing. More and more. "Maybe she has turrets" I remember thinking.

But... she didn't have turrets... or at least I didn't think so. Why? Because other people started doing it? We'd be doing our exercises around the room and then you'd hear a loud moan... a loud grunt... people's eyes were closed.. they would shake almost as though something else occupied their body... and as they experienced an episode, their brows would furrow... and their heads would twitch to one side along with their shoulder.

It continued to get worse as more and more people starting getting "taken over." It was almost frightening.

At another point, one of the women having "the experience" asked "Should I feel the vibrations in my anus?" she said. And the instructor gladly reassured her she was doing the right thing.

Wow, I was definitely missing something.

It was at this point, that I'd honestly had enough. I looked around the room for an escape plan, it was half way at this point. Freaked out by the state of mind of some of these individuals... I just followed along to blend, but opened my eyes and watched while everyone elses were closed and they were mid-trance.

And it got worse!  More people were "infected"...grunts ...bodies shaking with head raised to the sky... one guy was even started screaming on exhalation. Ugh.

The end finally came, and I was relieved. That was probably the oddest yoga experience I've had to date. I've always fantasized about the idea of tantra... after this experience? The fantasy... not so dreamy.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Well, it was a good try

via Instagram

Closing The Chapter On Bali Series: Be Cautious With Tropical Sickness

I'm lying awake in my dorm bed. Ugh, I'm too old for this. The first night I had the top bunk, which was impossible to maneuver, and tonight... I lie awake, middle of the night, to one man snoring above us and the other rummaging through his bags for the past hour at 4am. Ugh. It's not worth the $15 saved. No more. I'm so close to moving to the couch.

The silver lining... lying here, awake... I am thinking and reflecting on my experience in Bali. I've decided to write a short series of posts for the next few days highlighting some of the odd or notable experiences I had during my time there! I'll begin with....

A Brush with Dengue Fever at the IGF, Nusa Dua
So there were a few days during the Internet Governance Forum, where I became quite ill. I'd pushed quite hard the week before and usually, as past experience has shown, I get sick after workshops like these. So, when I started to feel a bit of a fever coming on I thought nothing. Mind over matter. I can push through. But.. it got worse. The fever went up, I lost my appetite, chills, body aches.. you name it. oh! And the aches! I hurt to walk down stairs it was so painful! I had to rest for 2 days... off and on.. while attending the conference sporadically / trying to be social.

It was until the third day I was much MUCH better i.e. I could start drinking again! ;) But I started to notice an odd rash. Little red dots... all over every inch of my body. Very odd. I never get rashes!

It wasn't until I arrived in Balian that I found out what I really had. It was a little bug called Chikicunya (a variant of Dengue)! Now, I don't feel so bad for taking that time when I did to rest! In hindsight I probably shouldn't have been so hard on myself and just let my body be sick and heal. Anyway, probably the aspects key to the virus include:

  • it's a new strain of Dengue Fever to Africa / Asia i.e. travel doctors in Canada and other countries may not know it exists
  • There is no treatment
  • It's transmitted by mosquitos
  • There are little to no long term consequences, although symptoms maybe extend for months to years
  • Symptoms include fever, headache, rash, loss of appetite, chills, and aching Aching ACHING joint pain! Like bone crushing joint pain. All of these symptoms I experienced.. especially the bone crushing. Wow.
  • It lasts typically 2-7 days
  • I took prescribed antiinflamatories along with Tylenol / Advil on day 1-3... and I think that's what saved me. My friend in Balian who also caught the virus and she said she was in excruciating pain for 3 days
  • Neither of us have experienced any long term after affects from the virus
Stay tune for the next post: Tantra or Evil Spirits?!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Unexpected Departure....Again

I finished packing early last night, watched a movie, and went to bed expecting a long journey ahead but a smooth one. Boy, was I wrong.

I had a ride for 7am this morning. Woke up to my alarm at 6 and easily could have kept sleeping. I stumbled into the washroom to have a shower. *CruNCh* I felt something pop under my feet. I looked down and it was a oversized cockroach with a swarm of ants rapidly devouring it. I shook a few of the ants from my feet. Ugh, it turned my stomach. Still makes me quiver. I thought to myself, hmm… not a good start to the day, I hope this isn’t a fore shadow.

I showered, made a nice breakfast of fresh mango, banana and muesli. Jen, the owner of the house, came down and made us coffee. We sat in the warmth of the morning outside, getting in our last chats before my departure.

As it got close to 7, talking about my itinerary I realized I hadn’t looked at the details of the flight other than my departure time. So I went to grab the itinerary while we chatted. I sat down, opened it up and realized it landed at 10:15am in Sydney. “Funny” I said to Jen, “that doesn’t make sense that I should fly backwards in time if I leave at 1pm.” Then, both our jaws dropped… we both suddenly realized I MISSED MY FLIGHT!!!! My heart sank.

The driver arrived as all this was happening. I picked up my phone, “I should call see if I can work it out” I thought. But upon further discussion, my bags were packed, the driver was there and the day was young… it made sense to head straight to the airport and try my luck. Ugh. I feel like I’ve been down this track before. Sometimes I just don’t have the energy for negotiation… and today, was no exception.

And so, we said our goodbyes, I hopped in the car, and we drove away.

The next 3 hour drive I fluctuated between frustration with my negligence, the stress of the battle I knew that was coming (I wasn’t expecting it to be easy) and ongoing attempts to internally reassure myself that either way I would get there… it was just the way I was going to get there that was undefined. I would then try to enjoy the ride for a while. Then the cycle would begin again.

We arrived at the airport and my heart started beating faster. Still semi scarred from my last experience in Toronto trying to come to Indonesia, I was pretty sure I was in for a challenge beyond what I faced at home.

I went through security and looked around, unsure of where to start. My flight was with Virgin Australia, so I decided to start there. Look for the check-in desk or ticket desk. Checked the flight schedules, signs on all the gates… no sign of Virgin. Ugh.

I walked over to one of the airport helpers asking if he could direct me. The language barrier was quite large, on both of our sides, but he managed to understand “Change ticket.” He directed me to an unmarked little office at the other side of the terminal in the corner.

I walked over and waited. Waited. There were only two people in line in front of me, but I swore I waited 20 minutes. I decided to approach the office beside where women were talking… the lights in their office were off, they chatted as if they weren’t working.

I approached and politely interrupted to ask if this is where I could change my flight for Virgin. The girl stood up “We don’t have a Virgin desk here, you’re going to have to call your travel agent or Virgin Australia” she said. I explained that I had no ticket agent, and that it wasn’t easy for me to call. She said I would be out of luck then, because there is nothing they can do. Gulp!

I pointed to the office beside her, the one where people were waiting for what looked like getting their tickets sorted out. “Can they fix my ticket for Virgin?” I asked. “One second” she said, “Let me check.”

She interrupted them and they bantered back and forth in Balinese for a while.  Then she turned to me. “I think he can help you” she said. Phew! I started thinking. One of the gentleman walked out. “How can I help you?” he said.

I explained the situation and he told me to follow him to the computer where he would change my ticket.

I waited anxious while watching his eyes twitch across the screen, hoping he’d have some good news. After a few minutes, he explained the situation. “So, you bought your ticket on the internet. It was bought through Singapore Airlines and they booked your Virgin Australia flight. Because it’s not booked directly through Virgin Australia, I can’t help you. I can’t change your flight. You will have to call Virgin.”

Frustration. No wi-fi in the airport, low on credit on my phone, calling Virgin didn’t seem like a promising plan.

I tried seeing if there were more options with him. Was there other ways he could try booking the ticket? Anyone else I could talk to? Etc.  I was given the choice of either calling Virgin or waiting until their ticket desk opened in an hour. I decided to wait until the desk opened.

Meandering around to kill time, I noticed the Singapore Airlines desk was open. Hmm.. I thought. “Perhaps, if he said it was booked through Singapore airlines, I should talk to them instead of Virgin” I was thinking. I decided to queue up.

When I got to the desk I explained the situation. The woman looked at my ticket and told me I had missed my flight. Ugh. I explained that I knew that, and that I was trying to rebook my ticket. She looked at the ticket again and told me I had to talk to Virgin Australia. I explained further (again) that the Virgin flight was booked with Singapore Airlines and that I thought they might be able to help. Giving the impression she was starting to understand my situation, she walked over to another woman (who looked like a supervisor) and explained (I think) to her in Balinese. She returned a few minutes later, with her supervisor, that they could not help. She pointed to the virgin desk… which was now starting to queue up soon… to a woman in pink. She said “She’s the Virgin Ground Crew” – you need to talk to her.

“Ok, thank you so much” I said gratefully, bowed my head and walked over to the other woman. “Finally! Someone from Virgin!” I thought. My hopes were high.

I walked over and explained my situation again. She understood almost instantly and told me to follow her. She was dressed in a tight light pink business suit, it made her glow. I mentioned, as we walked over how nice the pink suit looked on her… in hopes to win her over, but also just to befriend someone in all of this, and she lit up. “I hate pink she said” and let out a good laugh. “Ah, it looks great… most people couldn’t pull it off” I said. She laughed harder and said “It’s valentines day every day!” ha ha. We both laughed together.

It turns out she led me back to the desk where I started, the ticket desk in the corner of the terminal. The man sitting behind the desk got up and took me to explain my situation further. I ended up back where I started, talking with Pram (they guy who first tried to change my flight and told me to talk to the Virgin ticket desk).

He chuckled… “You again” he said, and then continued to explain he’d done everything he can and that I had to try and talk with the actual ticket desk for Virgin when it opened. Look for the woman in red. Sigh. Looks like I had to keep waiting.

I walked over to where I thought the Virgin desk was going to be and upon arrival found a line up of maybe 50-60 people waiting in line. “Seriously?! I don’t want to wait through this” I thought. I decided to talk to the girl monitoring the line.

I explained the situation again… she asked to see my ticket. “You missed your flight” she said. Sigh. I explained that I was trying to change my ticket. She asked who I was flying with, I said Virgin. It took a while for her to finally understand the situation but eventually took me directly to one of the ticket counters and helped me skip the queue. “Thank god I talked to her” I thought.

Optimism was going up again this time. He was looking at flights. Had my passport, ticket, etc. Then looked up and said “You were supposed to fly out at 1am this morning, arrive in Sydney… etc.” He ran through the whole itinerary I had on my print out like it would be news to me. Patience waning. I explained, that I knew I’d missed my flight and was trying to change it. In response, he got up, told me to hold on and walked over to talk to his supervisor.

He came back 5 minutes later. “I can’t do anything for you” he said. He explained that I had to buy a new ticket, they couldn’t change it. He told me to go to the Ticket Office (that little office in the corner of the terminal). I explained I had already been there. He told me to hold on while he went to talk with his supervisor again.

He returned and asked me to follow him. He said he wanted to know what was going on. I tried to explain what Pram had said, but language barriers made it nearly impossible. So I followed him back to that same corner of the airport, where a whole group of people discussed my situation in Balinese (or Indonesian – can’t tell at this point). A new guy came out and wanted to try changing my flight again but I had to insist and try to explain the situation more. I was essentially buying time until Pram returned again. And so he did. We met yet again.

He explained the situation to the guy from the Virgin desk and then told me they couldn’t do anything. I reminded him that he said I could talk to the “representative” of Virgin but wasn’t able to find her. He said I could talk to her. I explained that I’d tried but ended up with the current guy that brought me over there. “Please Pram, can you just come with me and introduce me to her?” I asked. He led the way.

We got to the Virgin desk again and “Finally!” I thought, “I will be able to change it and be done with it!” We walked over to her, again bypassing the entire line, and he started speaking with her. She then turned to me and in a British accent said I would have to call my agent. I explained I bought it online and didn’t have an agent. She started to look on the computer. She spent a while. I was hopeful. She finally spoke “I cannot change your booking… because it’s booked with Singapore Air” she said. “This ticket, at this point, is useless. You’re going to have to buy a new one.” She continued “A new flight is $660 USD plus taxes, etc.”

At this point I was starting, ever so slightly, to get emotional. I explained I couldn’t afford to buy another ticket. That I had to get there tomorrow. I pleaded, to see if there was anything she could do. Her and Pram talked some more, she looked on the computer more… I was hoping the more time I spent with them, the more likely the chance of us finding a middle ground. She responded “There is another flight you could by to Brisbane, but the flight is full so you’ll have to leave tomorrow. That flight is $650” she said. Man, this flight was getting really expensive… I was started to question whether I could justify it or not. I asked if I had other options.. “Should I call Virgin and see if they can help?” I asked. “If we can’t help you, they can’t help you.” “Should I talk to Singapore Airlines then? Since we can’t change the ticket because they did the booking?” I proposed. “I don’t think they will be able to help you” she said. She subsequently told me I could check the neighboring airline for the cost of their flight but reminded me the cost of the Virgin flight she was trying to sell me could go up anytime.

I was determined – I had to be able to better than that!

So I went downstairs and bought some credit. I phone Virgin Australia (in Australia) while waiting in line to determine the cost of the flight from a different airline. Just before the front of the queue, Virgin picked up. I explained the situation. She understood. Unfortunately, however, the Virgin rep was right – they couldn’t help me. Mainly because of the fact the flight was booked through Singapore Airlines. Gah! Damn internet booking. Damn Tripsta (the site I booked with). I tried calling them to see if they could help, and either couldn’t get through on some numbers or got no answer at others. ☹

I decided to call Singapore airlines next, but when the phone picked up the message explained they were closed on Sunday. Man oh man… things just kept going wrong!

I was starting to resign to the fact I’d have to buy another ticket. I felt too far in at this point i.e. had already bought a $1200 flight, have a place booked, meetings planned, I was going even if it cost more. So I started looking online at flights. I wanted to see if I could find a flight better than Virgin. And I did! $100 cheaper, and it got me there earlier than the one Virgin was trying to sell me.

I started queuing up on my phone how I would buy it… when I decided, to try one more avenue, to return to the Singapore airlines desk and try and talk with someone more senior.

I picked an empty desk and explained the situation again. The woman I was speaking with took me over to another woman who took my passport and agreed to try and help. I handed it over and asked her if she could look me up in the system. She was the first person all day to demonstrate any empathy to my mishap.

She searched on the computer for a while, then got up to leave. She pointed to her colleague “He will help you from this point forward” she explained and walked away.

Agung sat down and asked me to explain further. He was also the first to ask why I had missed the flight. When I explained, we both had a good chuckle and he kept at it. I kept looking at flights in the meantime for purchase. He spent a lot of time on the phone.

About 10 minutes later, he got off the phone and asked me to wait 5 to 10 minutes while his contact looked to see if they could change my ticket! “yeah! Progress! Hope!” I was thinking. Maybe this time there is a chance.

I went to sit down. I was starving at this point as I’d been at it for the past 4 hours.

He came over a few minutes later with a piece of paper. “So” he said. “My contact on the phone said we can change your ticket for the same flight you had today but for tomorrow. We will have to charge you… “ and he pointed to the paper. “130USD” it said. “THANK GOD!” I thought to myself. Now that is MUCH better. I assured him that wouldn’t be a problem.

He nodded with a smile and left back to his desk to confirm a few things. “Could this really be it?” I thought. “Could I actually be able to change my ticket for that? And the flight is perfect!” Finally! It was feeling close to over. I was still holding my breath though – I didn’t feel totally in the clear.

He came back a few minutes later. He sat down beside me and asked for my card so we could make the change. I handed it to him and he started to read it out… but stopped. A pause. He then turned to me “So the flight from Denpasar to Sydney is good but the flight from Sydney to Christchurch is booked. You’ll have to leave the next night” he said. Ugh. I had a feeling something would go wrong.

I recalled from the flights I’d been looking at that they had a stop over in Sydney and Brisbane. I asked if he could check that flight. “We can’t change the flight route” in this booking he said. Sigh. More brainstorming. Perhaps I’d just have to go later… which I was really hoping wouldn’t be the case.

“Oh, wait a second” he said. “My colleague just found a flight from Denpasar to Melbourne leaving today at 10:30! You would arrive tomorrow in Christchurch mid afternoon if you can fly standby or midnight if you take the later flight” PERFECT! I thought!! Never been to Melbourne… thought having a stopover there, if a long one, would be great. Yay! This might work out well! I agreed.

Still credit card in hand, he gave the rest of the numbers on my card over the phone and then hung up. He explained I would get an e-ticket shortly. Sigh. What a relief! I still get to leave today… earlier than the other flight… for less cash to change the flight… through a city I’d like to explore if there is time. It’s all good! What a great outcome!!

Just to be sure, I asked him what to do if the email didn’t come through. He wrote down his name and his colleagues… and said to just mention our discussion when I came back later that day. No problems. Phew… was feeling so relieved.

I got back to the car where the driver had been patiently waiting. I explained the situation, he couldn’t believe it. I called Jen, and explained how things went. The driver decided to stay with me for the afternoon and drive me into town for sushi. Finally things were looking up! We pulled out of the parking spot and started to pull out of the garage… I kept checking my phone for the eticket.

An email suddenly popped up! “Yaaaaay” I said to the driver, and showed him the email as proof we’d made it. I scanned through, my departure info looked great.. and… “Wait a second… my return date… it says 13 March 2014….. really?!” I looked in more detail at the ticket. Seriously… they had changed the ticket but! They had actually changed my return date back to Denpasar to March 2014! Really?! REALLY?! Ugh. I couldn’t believe after all of that, another hurdle.

I showed the driver, we turned around, and parked again. I entered the airport again and searched for Agung again. With no luck I approach some other ladies just chatting on the bench that I had previously spoken with through all of this. One woman told me to sit down and she tried to start helping with the situation. She asked when I wanted to return. At this point I though, maybe this is a silver lining… instead of paying to extend my ticket, this mishap will lead me to a ticket extension for free! So I asked if we could just make it a day later. She asked on the phone and then told me to wait.

Wait. Wait. Wait. I sat there with the three ticket desk ladies as they chatted in the waiting area chairs… trying to strike up conversation as a means to make light of the situation. Wait. Wait. By this point I’d created quite a little posse of people I’d been dealing with.

Agung came over, we both explained, and he got on his phone. He returned a few minutes later asking for my phone number. “Our colleague is trying to change it and will let me know when it’s changed. I will call you when the change is done” he said. Very hesitant given the morning to trust this final stage to be completed with a phone call, I agreed with hope he’d follow through.

Two hours later, post trip into town, post sushi, en route back to airport where I’m now waiting for the next 5 hours (unable to check in until the ticket desk opens) I still had received no phone call. Man. Exhausted.

We get to the airport, I unload this time, thank the driver for his patience. He was truly great. I load up a cart and walk into the airport to try and finalize the last part of my ticket.

I walked up to the Singapore desk and asked for Agung or his colleague. She said they’d already left. I tried explaining the situation and, again, she said I had to talk to Virgin. I explained further.. in detail… showing her the email with the wrong date… showing the details of the previous booking.. the entire story. She turned to her supervisor and after some back and forth, he got up and told me to follow him.

Where did we go?! The ticket counter, again, in the corner of the terminal. Upon walking there, it seemed as though most of the people I’d had to deal with to date were all gathered chatting. The lady in pink, Pram, another guy that had helped later on… I almost wanted to hang my head in shame for how much of a headache I must have seemed.

The man walked up to them, explained the situation… then he dispersed. No word. Pram came out of nowhere with a piece of paper… “You might want this” he said. It was a crumpled printout from a dot matric printer. It had my name written on the top, with the old return dates but my new flight route. “That’s what you’re looking for?” he said. And yes, that was what I needed. Ahhh, the other flight had been changed. At this point, as I took the paper, I was done. The flight was now changed and I was going to New Zealand! Wow. What an adventure.

It’s been a tough venture getting to and leaving Indonesia… I hope the next stages are a little easier. I will, for sure, check my flight information 3-4 times from now one every time before I fly!

Off to New Zealand in a few hours. Wish me luck and stay tuned.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Reliving the Wake: The Story of My Surfing Scare

Since I've been in Balian, I've been having strange dreams. For the past few nights, I find myself dreaming about terrorist attacks of all things... all attacks being directed at me. They start with tranquility, then I hear gun shots as people are being killed in other rooms... then I hear them coming... to hunt me down. I run, I plead... and each time, I manage to escape. But, nonetheless, I awake in the morning feeling less than rested. They say Balian is a spiritual place, perhaps this helps to explain it.

In tandem with these dreams, I've been experiencing pretty intense anxiety associated with learning to surf. Odd, considering it was one of the main reasons I wanted to go on this adventure. I've been excited about it for so long too. But for some reason, something in me has made me feel really cautious this time around. Perhaps it's related to my past attempts at surfing… being bashed around in the waves and by the board, no instruction, a lot of pain, too much salt water, and a big scar down my leg which I think has only vanished a couple months ago. To this point I have been quite unsuccessful, yet I've always felt a draw to the ocean, to the past time... to the culture... and thus have kept trying. This time, however, has also brought its scars.

My first day of surfing was great. A short intro to the technique, some time in the white wash. I felt slightly calmer by the end of the day. The second day, I calmed down a bit more as we got a bit more aggressive in the white wash. But I had to stop abruptly after a substantial cut on the front of my shin. I ended up talking with my instructor for a while about the anxiety I'd been feeling.. about drowning.. rip tides, etc. I woke up the next morning, that was the day we were going to go past the break, and felt incredibly nervous... like unusually so. And oddly enough, almost like a premonition, I did, in fact, almost drown that day. 

We went out mid morning after a delicious breakfast of fruit with oatmeal, a shake... a coffee. We arrived at the beach, boards in hand, did a few stretches and approached the sea. Standing before a wall of waves well above the head of my two surf mates crashing against the shore, I watched them enter the ocean with confidence and jump on their boards to start paddling through. Fear tapping me on both shoulders calling me to hold back, I shrugged it away and with determination entered the water and started paddling as well. I made it out no worries and found myself floating among the waves with the community of other surfers in no time. After enough observation I eventually tried to start riding a couple waves... got partly up the first time... and bashed around a couple others. I started to realize, it wasn't that bad. That was until however, my strap broke.

It was an unintended wave that brought me down... I was awaiting one in the distance when it came, with an unforeseen power it came out of nowhere. Last minute noticing it, I started to paddle in hopes I could maybe catch it.. but I was too late... the wave swallowed me before I could catch enough speed and pushed me under... as I sank, I felt a snap and my leg felt lose... I emerged to the surface and saw my board already half way to shore. I had lost my board. I emerged in the white wash feeling… small. Out of breath. Turning my head, I looked behind me to see another massive wave right behind me, before I could get enough air I was pushed under again... under and trying to come up for air but the water just kept coming. I kept thinking... I've got to be able to come up soon... swim to the surface… the surface wasn’t coming… “hold on, it’s almost over”… I thought… surface wasn’t coming… “Uh oh, I’m actually starting to run out of air… I need to breath…  swim up… swim up… don’t panic, don’t…” and I emerged from underneath. Gasping for air, I looked around. Still surrounding it white wash I looked to the shore it was quite far and I felt I couldn’t swim until I caught my breath. I could feel the water changing. I turned around and a bigger one was coming. I hadn’t caught my breath yet but had no choice. Exhale exhale… and the wave hit again. “Don’t panic… don’t panic” I kept telling myself while under the water “you’ll be able to breath soon” but the wave kept pushing my under… “It’s almost over”… and I emerged again. This time, really gasping for air… I turned again to see yet another big wave coming… “I haven’t caught enough breath yet… I can’t….” and the wave hit me again. Bursting for air I was pushed under… this wave felt longer than the others… “Don’t panic… “ I reminded myself again “When you submerge swim out of the white wash” I told myself… “I’m not going to be able to survive if I stay here” I thought. Desperate for air, I finally emerged and started swimming as hard as I could to the side of the waves… I started to breath a bit better again.

It was at this point more panic was starting to set in… the reality that I was far out… that I was starting to get tired… that more waves were still coming and I was still panting. I started thinking, “wow, could this really be it?… I never thought this could happen to me.” Never thought this could happen to me… Really? I suppose with many things, you do them knowing the risk but in blind faith that you’ll come out alive you ignore the risk. Here I was, however, thinking and seeing my “end.” I was autonomously panicking and actively trying to convince myself otherwise. One side of my brain trying to use logic to calm down the other panicking side. It was almost as though I was being victimized as the two sides were arguing it out.

Another wave hit, under I went. “I never wanted to go this way” I was thinking. “How could it be now? I’m on this amazing vacation… and this shouldn’t be happening… not now… not over something so silly… I have to be able to make it out of this” I was scared, but optimistic. “I just have to swim, breath when I can, and get out of these waves” I decided.

So I swam… and swam… it felt like every stroke took me a fraction of an inch and a ton of energy. I tried to calm myself. Breath. I kept swimming… I have to make it to shore soon. One of my surfing mates came swimming up and I told her I lost my board. She kept swimming. She didn’t know what to do… geez, neither did I other than to try and swim to shore will being able to maintain my breath. I kept swimming.

Trying to stay calm, assuring myself it would take time to get to shore, I realized I was not only going nowhere but also being pulled out. I was, in fact, caught in a rip tide. As I realized, the panic emerged again… accompanied with fear. I’d entered another zone with waves again and was being pushed under… again… again… “Need to breath.. need to breath… can’t breath” I kept thinking every time I got pushed up and under…
I was pushed out into a calmer spot for a bit, another surfer was paddling by… she swam up and said “Are you ok?” …I told her I needed help. She said “Don’t worry… he’s coming in to get you” I looked to the shore and there was a man, a friend I’d might earlier in my stay, holding the boarding… battling the waves to come out to get me. Panic… started to calm.

I kept trying to swim… kept trying to find the perpendicular route out of the rip… so that I could get out… but remained swimming nowhere. But I could see him getting closer and closer. He eventually arrived… and told me to get on the board and that we would both paddle ourselves in on the board. But I was exhausted and could barely hold on. We tried starting to paddle and I had to stop… he paddled the both of us, then a wave started coming up behind us. We both knew the wave wouldn’t be able to carry us both. He said, you go on the board… he slid off the back and pushed me through the wave… I started to get through but the barrel of the wave took over and ripped the board from my hands. I was again left floating without a board and so was he. “Swim” he said, and showed me the direction. I tried to follow… another wave hit. Under again. So out of breath. Losing control. Pop-up. Keep swimming. Swim. I felt my toe touch the bottom… I felt a rush of relief as I went to try and stand... but another wave tossed me over… “I just need to get in” ….”Let me out!!” I was thinking. Swim. Swim. Try to stand. It’s deeper here, I can’t stand. Swim. He called over “Swim this way!” I tried… I kept swimming… but the current was getting stronger and pulling me out again. I started swimming more sideways… “Can you touch?” he yelled… and I could now, but the current was too strong from me to get a grip. He reached out his hand… “Grab my hand” he said… almost double my height, he was able to stand without troubles and was far enough over that he wasn’t caught in the rip. I swam… reaching out my hand… swam hard… and grasp! Was able to grab his hand. He pulled me in… I felt one foot be able to touch the bottom… kept pulling me… two feet, touching the bottom… pulling me… Ok, able to start walking… walk… walk… water getting shallower… Exhale. I’m on the shore. Shooken up. I was safe.

I watched him walk down and grab the board while I stood there panting, speechless, numb. I couldn’t believe what just happened. I couldn’t believe I was on land. I was… caught somewhere in between and terrified.

He came back and I walked with him… almost forgetting or in temporarily in denial of everything that just happened I thanked him… and asked him if he’d had a good surf that day.  He laughed, most likely because asking that question must have felt so absurd given what had just happened. It was absurd. I was so out of it.

I went and got my sandals and sat with him after. He ordered a lunch on the beach while I drank fresh fruit juice and we talked. Talked about everything that had just happened. Other times that has happened to surfers. It’s almost a blur really. The shock had set in and lasted most of the day. I had a good cry eventually after I left the beach bar. I still couldn’t believe that almost happened, and that it almost happened to me… me!?

I ended up having to have a nap midday and slept most of the afternoon.  The rest of the day was a right off… and the last couple days I haven’t touched a surfboard. Yesterday I started again, but in the white wash. It was tough at the start and it felt like work, but eventually I started catching a few waves again… and started to get a bit more excited again. That being said, however, surfer talks last night revealed there are both sharks and barracudas (a lot of them) in these waters… and people have been attacked. Ugh. Maybe there are just too many factors holding me back from ever really becoming a surfer.

When I reflect on the experience, I gained some interesting insight. First, the whole notion of “this isn’t supposed to happen to me” surprised me. Logically speaking it didn’t make sense to feel that way. Death happens to all of us, accidents happen to all of us… so why should I be surprised. But also, I experienced a sensation almost like “I’d been picked”?! I suppose prior I felt like I “blended in” or “was hiding” and then got a sense of “how did it find me?” I guess the “it” was death in this case. Odd.

Second, I became a little more cognizant of death. As I went through that experience, death was there right beside me… ready to take my hand if it was time. I wasn’t ready, and I wasn’t going to give up, but I had never really realized before how close it really is. Thinking about it now, it’s almost as though life is just a constant battle to avoid death… but sooner or later it will win.

Third, I found the parallels with my dreams unnerving. I felt like the terrorists I’d been running from were a metaphor for this experience… they were the waves trying to close me in… and death was hunting me. Much like I could feel the terrorists catching up to me, looking them in the eye and hoping they wouldn’t make their final move, I felt like I was battling that similar battle but within the waves. Death was the “terrorist” and life was the constant chase trying to escape it. In cases like this, however, sometimes it catches up… and I found myself negotiating with it.

I’m going to try surfing again today, but going to take it slow. It’s a battle with fear more than anything. So, we’ll see what happens. In the meantime, I’ve gained a lot of insight from this whole experience… thus far.