It’s my first full day in Bali. I’m staying in a guesthouse about 1km outside the sleepy resort town of Sanur, and there’s a supposedly haunted, abandoned amusement park just a short walk away. By visiting, it’s impossible to tell how long ago this place was open, only that now the jungle is reclaiming her land.
Another young woman from the guest house and I strolled over together, and round the park nearly empty of humans. We saw only a couple groups of young Balinese men lounging on old crumbling picnic tables and benches around the entrance.
There’s a lot of just lounging that happens in this heat.
An apparent leader figure of the pack lazily hollered “hallo, where you going?” To which we feigned ignorance, smiled, and strode with purpose past. I assumed would have tried to charge us an “entry fee” if we’d stop to let them. (I went back another day and can now confirm that attempt. It failed.)
Along with the jungle, an array of street artists seem to have made this place their own as well. Bright splashes of color, and lovingly planned spray paint relics layer on top of the once-ornate facades of falling structures. The result is an awe-inspiring half zombie apocalypse movie set, half burningman-esque art-gasm.
An especially Walking Dead-ish multi-level building beckoned to our left, with shattered glass and falling ceiling beamings shrouded in dangling, hungry vines.
“Do you think it’s safe? My travelling companion asked, and then answered “Ah, what the hell” and lead the charge up the steps inside, before awaiting any response from me. Inside, it was incredible.
It’s easy to get introspective in a place like this, once the novelty of the macabre softens into the questions of “What on earth is this place’s story?” And for a brain like mine, soon melts into the recurring “what on earth is my story?”
I learned from a PBS special once that our identities are neurologically shaped, and constantly re-shaped by our environments. I find it totally fascinating that our brains are only partially formed at birth, and their structure is, in significant part, determined by our early childhood experiences. While the physical changes are less drastic in an adult, our brains do continue to be carved and changed by our surroundings, our entire lives.
It’s part of why I travel, to stay open, to stay moldable – to let a bigger world inform the person I want to be. I don’t always know what my travels will make of me, but sometimes I get a clear sign.
Ah. So that’s what today will make of me. Okay, I’ll say yes to that. What might that mean I need to do? Fortunately, the spirits of the park had an answer to that for me as well:
Ah. Okay. So I’m here in a new country… the way to majesty in my experience is being willing to take some risks. Of course, one could argue simply closing up life at home, and coming halfway across the planet for an uncertain amount of time, is a bit of a risk. But the voices of this haunted place seem to ask me for more. Who am I to argue?
Lunchtime had crept up upon us, and the mosquitos had already made feasts of our flesh within the park. We walked out, and braced ourselves for one of the great risks that separates travellers from tourists, the hardy from the squeamish… the universally novel and fascinating challenge of….. Street food.
I was excited, but intimidated. I’m not going to lie. We found a road side warung (local food stall), that fortunately had a few pictures on a sign board, to help us through that first otherworldy attempt to order food. Lunch was served with half-English, half bahasa (Indonesian) stumbling communication, and embarrassed chuckles all around.
Once an order was placed and we waited to see what on earth we had asked for, I worked up the courage to return to the counter and ask for help with a few new vocabulary words for my notebook. With good humor and patience, the two Balinese women manning the tiny stoves helped me find a first few steps of confidence and warmth in the community around me. That little step had blossomed into a glow of accomplishment, by the time the food arrived.
The food was almost as good as my growing social optimism. What came out was a beautiful tofu and tempeh dish, flanked with roasted eggplant and fresh green veggies, with a sweet and spicy Javanese sauce, and a hearty scoop of white rice. Exquisite. They even brought of little bowls of lemon water, which I’m still not sure, but their gestures seemed to suggest, were to rinse our hands before eating. We were happy, relaxed, and feeling great about our journeys ahead by the time payment was due. The cost for all this joy? A mere 75 cents each.
You know what? That felt pretty darn majestic. And like proper royalty, we wandered the village road back home, to do the afternoon in the new Balinese way we’d learned: we headed straight for the pool, and proceeded to lounge. I think the ghosts would’ve wanted it that way.