“In Bali, your religion is your soul. You know when it’s good and when it’s bad.”
Putu said as he took another drag from his clove cigarette. He had asked me if I had a religion, and I answered shyly and simply with a, “no.” This response is one that will stick with me forever.
It was almost 10 o’clock at night, and I had only had just arrived after a two hour taxi from the hustle and bustle of Canggu. At Putu’s, the calm felt almost uncomfortable. The transition to a silent environment from the crowded intersections by scooter felt drastic. Those were moments I came out of alive, unsure of how, but full of intoxicating adrenaline. Though initially jarring, I adapted to the environment quickly.
Putu’s home is just north of the popular tourist destination and spiritual epicenter of Bali, Ubud. When I arrived, his mother greeted me with a strong grip on my arm and hand, using her broken English to ask if I wanted coffee or hot cacoa, both sourced from their own land. I opted for the hot cacoa and politely gestured an enthusiastic “thank you!”
Our continued for a while longer before he commented on my tired eyes. I thanked him for his hospitality and walked down the shallow stone steps to the bamboo tree house, flush with the hillside. As I walked around the porch, I could feel an eerie sense of exposure, but the darkness blinded me from seeing just how open to the elements I truly was.
In the morning, my expectations for a tree house on the side of a cliff were more than met. My eyes met the picture-esque crease of the mountainsides meeting. I don’t think the bamboo home could have been placed in a more perfect spot. A moment later I heard a tiny, yet booming voice calling from higher up the cliff side, “Nat-a-lie! Something to drink? Coffee?!” The Balinese accent was full of uncertainty in the words just expressed, but her face held a strong smile just the same.
Shortly after sipping on my coffee, I was delivered a plate of breakfast. But instead of the classic scrambled eggs and toast or the Canggu special of a smoothie bowl, I was given a fish head. And just as I gazed down at the fish face, it gazed back up at me. This awkward eye contact didn’t last long before Putu swiftly developed a plan for our day.
We decided to begin at a temple because holy water seemed like a better alternative to a second cup of Joe. We’d then move onto the intricately designed rice terraces. After, we’d share the meat of a coconut after hours in the sun on a scooter. In the afternoon I’ll have one of those, “is this real life?” moments while the colorful world swiftly moves by.
This moment will make me think back on what Putu said the first time I met him. He refers to his dream life as one where he has a good relationship with his family, his Gods and nature. How beyond these three aspects, nothing else is important.
Putu had spent a year and seven months working at the popular tourist spot in Canggu called Deus; a restaurant, bar and clothing store decorated with custom motorcycles. He’d spend Sunday, his only day off, to travel back to his wife and family up north. Though the pay was better, his expenses were also more.
In order to achieve that dream life, he needed to be back where he could nurture his relationship with his family. He needed to be where he could nurture his relationship with nature. He needed to have a space where he could nurture his relationship with his Gods. All of these needs pointed him to his home. There, the snake of smoke from the incense would slither down the valley. It would lead your gaze to see all the beauty around.
After his return home, him and his father built the bamboo tree house together. The bamboo is sourced from their land, and is used for various trades. Rooms full of bamboo roots were stacked full of carvings of gods or furniture. He said the land provides everything we need.
He and his wife soon welcomed a baby boy. One who now likes to climb Putu like a tree and grins shyly when given attention. Putu’s return home gifted him with these moments with his family, with the nature and inevitably, with his gods.
“In these years, it is a hard life. Not just Bali, everywhere.”
He emphasized, with that in mind, we need to come back to what is truly important, to each of us as individuals.
For him, this simple way of living was what made his life full. It was his version of living, more.