Bali Goddess Retreats
Fans circling lazily overhead and a large gin and tonic with lime slowly warming at my side, we four women are on the communal rattan lounges resting on large soft white cushions. Mostly from Australia but also from further flung fields, this women only retreat draws goddesses from all around the world. And that is what the staff refers to us as although it would seem an affectation back home, it rolls off the tongue here in situ. Being lead around the crowded, dimly lit market stalls Adriana was skilful at twisting her hips left to right, ducking underneath the baskets improbably loaded on the heads of goods carriers. Turning around every now and then, she kept a steady eye on her market goddesses. Our translator and chief haggler, she knew which way to steer us in order to locate the best value product.
Our lunch banquet was as colourful to the eye as it was on the palate. Water spinach with peanuts and chilli sambal. Coconut, bean shoot and seaweed salad with a lime and lemongrass dressing. Whole fried fish with tomatoes, shallots and chillies. Grilled chicken with traditional aromatic Balinese spices (turmeric and garlic was all I could determine). More fish, this time pounded and wrapped in banana leaves. Andini , our second resort companion, starts to talk about her family and food and her whole face lights up. She has a real spark in her eye and her smile gets even broader. With so many aunties, her chaotic family seems like it’s never dull. She was a treasured birth as her mother had trouble conceiving. Nadine, Katherine and I are touched by the sharing of such an intimate detail. I look at her round face so sweet and child-like and I imagine her mother cupping her cheeks with affection.
Katherine has recently started working at a veterinary surgery and was surprised to discover how much she enjoys it. Puppy cuddling is a mandatory part of the job description. Tough gig! Recently moving back from the big city to her country hometown, she is a simple girl who has visited here before and wants to get more out of her trip this time.
Apparently it’s Saturday night and I only know that as other goddesses enquired of our gracious hosts when the microphone MC of a party next door started up earlier. Norwegian students are celebrating the end of their month long Bali study tour. All the required permits were sought from the local government so any complaints we might have would fall on deaf ears. The individual areas operate very much along self-determined lines with garbage collection, security and even the postal service having their own distinct way of doing things. Village life still very much being very much still village life even though the villages have blurred at the edges and become one larger busier town or city.
An outsider could never tell where one community stopped and another began.
Sarah is a registered nurse who has recently completed further nursing study. Burnt out and fatigued, this Bali getaway is a gift to herself aimed at recharging her batteries. She comes up with the catch phrase “Art has no borders – unless it’s framed!” Mindfulness colouring book and stacks of coloured pencils are positioned around the communal area. More than a time-filler, these books seem to grace everyone’s laps at some point in time. As the hours lengthen and the women one by one have headed off to their bungalows, there remains only three hard core goddesses colouring in to their heart’s content lost in the process.
I wonder how our Yoga instructor Laura is getting along figuring things out in Bali. Transplanted from Melbourne only two months ago from a busy corporate life in medical sales, she made the leap into a foreign land. The infectious grin that is plastered across her face even during complicated yoga poses and her cool relaxed demeanour in the high humidity don’t betray any concerns. Either a complete lack of prior investigation or a hell of a lot of research would have to have been in play for me to make such a huge move.
Over breakfast the next morning, I ask her more about the move. Doubts were raised continuously by others in her life and she hop-scotched between home and here six times before she managed to shut out those other voices and relocate with true intention. The newly built house in outer Melbourne was leased and a mostly Indonesian residential area of Kerobokan was chosen as her new home base. She references a partner when talking about the move but never mentions him or her by name or feelings or reaction on the move.
For now I sit in the corner of the property on a raised bale bengong or daydream gazebo to pay witness to the morning’s goings-on. Housekeeping staff in cool white cotton pants and cyan blue batik print shirts start their morning cleaning routines. Some of the other goddesses are on a shopping crusade, navigating their way via unnamed roads, seeking out a good/known version of coffee to hopefully return with souvenirs. Later upon travel home, they will no doubt regale their loved ones with grand stories of their trek brandishing their trophies as proof of prowess. Other goddesses are already at work pampering their body with some of the selection of unlimited spa treatments. Anti oxidant scrub with green tea and jungle bee honey or ocean scrub with salt and coconut oil promise to slough away your old world, so you can be truly present in this other world. The Jet-setter hour long massage has been designed to ease any neck or head tension that may have accumulated from the commute to this island on indulgence.
Two young men arrive to complete their grounds-keeping duties. Bundles of stiff reeds make short work of the fallen leaves and flowers. The neat lawns are once again spotless. Bamboo blinds are raised on the yoga room to allow fresh air in after the morning’s Yin session. Yin yoga is calm, quiet stretching with some guided visual prompts to help focus and centre your poses. Somehow I can cope with this small demand on my body before my regular morning cup of tea. Nothing is compulsory at this retreat and seems not too much to stretch myself to try something new that fairly much all the other women here seem to value and prioritise.
A low flying helicopter flies overhead interrupting the gentle drip of the morning’s rain from the overhead foliage onto my gazebo roof. So out of place a noise here, we all stop and look up to watch it pass. It’s now gone and we are back to our activities already. Joyce steps out of her office and talks briefly to one of the two young men about what I don’t really know. Gestures are made by both of them indicating mid-calf level but whether it’s about the length of his pants of some shoes, I cannot make out.
Our guest relation and co-ordinator, Joyce greeted us all on arrival and before she mentions it I can already tell by her friendly inclusive hug and way she speaks that it was she who communicated with us by email beforehand. “Oh, you’re Amanda” she says and immediately I implore her to call me Mandy. A note is made and she never uses anything else. I give my full name when filling in forms or to people I don’t or won’t really know. Straight away, I feel that I want to hear her call me Mandy and not Amanda. During the orientation before our first dinner together, she explains how the week will flow then starts off the getting to know session by telling us a bit about herself. She is Indonesian but not from Bali originally. She moved from Sumatra to Bali 13 years ago and by chance met the retreat’s founder, Chelsea on the beach one day.
Theoretically I know Bali has beaches because of my mind’s singular image of a Bali holiday is bogan Aussies drinking Bintang on the beach. I will be perfectly content if I don’t step foot on a Bali beach. I like beaches generally speaking but my version of beach joy doesn’t generally involve sun or Bintang or other people. Beaches are best windswept, empty and cool. Walking slowly along the sand just at that edge where it’s not too wet and the waves get you or not too soft that it begins to feel like exercise. The reward for your wander is to just sit and watch the timeless waves roll in ceaselessly. There’s nothing more simple and direct to make me believe that I am just one small part of a very large world that exists before me and is content to go on without me. Joyce talks about Chelsea as being one of the most inspiring women she’s ever met. Perhaps she is part founder and part guru.
The sun fortunately stays behind the light grey clouded sky for most of the days so far and I’m grateful not to have to remember my hat and sunglasses every time I step out. The gentle rain adds a soft soundtrack to our days and its presence almost demands we take things slowly and adjust to island time. Shoes are optional and now only the third day in, many goddesses are traipsing around happily barefoot. Folded towels are placed on the tiled floors at the entrance of each pavilion to keep things clean. It’s a custom I’m easily converting to.
I sneak away from my bale bengong to get ready for my goddess glow facial from which I shall emerge hydrated and toned just in time to sneak in a pre-lunch nap.