A Sudden End to Travelling

It was a sunny afternoon and I was blissfully taking in the lush balinese scenery from the back of the moped that Finn was driving. We were riding from Amed, a small diving and fishing town on the east coast of Bali, to Denpasar, the southern capital. The road was windy and hilly and our rental bike had seen better days. The breaks seemed to be wearing down from all the hills.

The view from the road.

We slowed down to follow the road around a harmless looking curve and our wheels suddenly slipped out from under us, throwing us to the ground. Our fall happened about an hour into our three hour trip. We had all our stuff with us (two small backpacks) because we were going to stay in the south for a while. We were going to find a nice beach and hang out for a few days or a week before going to Lombok to hike the second biggest volcano in Indonesia. First we had an appointment at the Immigration office to take our pictures for our Indonesian visa extensions.

But then we were on the ground. I had some scrapes, but they were shallow. I expected Finn to be in similar shape and that we would get back on the bike and drive to somewhere to clean our wounds and keep going. I jumped up before I knew what I was doing and took a look at Finn. He was still on the ground. The scrape on his knee was shockingly bright white when I expected to see red. His bone was visible.

He asked me to help him up and I considered that in an accident you’re supposed to leave an injured person on the ground and wait for an ambulance to avoid making the injuries worse by jostling them. I doubted there would be an ambulance service where we were in the middle of nowhere Bali, so I grabbed Finn’s right hand and pulled him to his feet. He was unsteady. Some local people had rushed over and asked if we wanted to go to the hospital. I knew Finn was badly hurt when he said yes. I looked in his eyes and he seemed far away, his gaze unfocused. He was in shock.

The local people kindly helped us into the back of their car with all our things. We left the motorbike in their yard and a man drove us the 10 minutes to a tiny local hospital. He said he would wait with the car and our bags while we were treated. I took his name, phone number and address just in case we needed to find him to get our motorbike back. There were dozens of people waiting in rows of chairs outside the hospital, but Finn and I were rushed past them into a tiny treatment room right away. A team of three or four doctors and nurses superficially cleaned and wrapped our wounds, but quickly deemed Finn’s injuries too complicated for their facility. We asked for pain killers for Finn, but they ignored our requests. I retrieved our possessions and we were sent in an ambulance to a bigger hospital.

 The siren was loud and the ride was bumpy, shifting Finn’s injuries painfully. I hoped we weren’t going to far from where we had left our rental bike. After fifteen long minutes we arrived at the hospital. Finn was transferred from a stretcher onto a hospital bed in a big room with curtains separating patients. We appeared to be the only foreigners in the building and few of the staff spoke English. The ambulance driver came to collect $20 in local currency for the ride. I kept asking for painkillers for Finn, but my requests were deflected. The building was run down and noisy, with the familiar bright florescent lights of a hospital. The ceiling had water stains and was missing panels. Everything seemed ad hoc, makeshift. I was wearing small shorts and a crop top, making me feel exposed compared to the conservatively dressed people, so I put my sweater on even though it was hot.

Finn was finally injected with a painkiller and felt a little bit better. The doctor, a young-looking Indonesian man with wavy hair and a reassuring smile assessed Finn and sent him to another part of the building for x-rays on his shoulder and knee. I followed Finn’s stretcher, carrying all our things, my knee bleeding down my shins. People loitering in the halls stared at us as we passed and asked what happened. Seeing foreigners in the hospital was exciting for them.

Despite the low budget hospital, we received relatively quick service. Finn was x-rayed and brought back to the big room and the doctor came over to discuss the results with us. Finn had a broken collar bone, but his knee was only scraped. Finn and I realized we would probably go back to Canada since Finn couldn’t have any fun traveling with all his injuries. He wouldn’t be able to swim, hike or surf, so what would be the point of staying in Indonesia? All our plans changed the moment we fell off the bike.

We pointed out Finn’s elbow to the doctor, which had become freakishly swollen, so Finn was sent up for another x-ray.

 In the meantime I was offered treatment for my abrasions. I laid down and rocks were removed from my knee and the scrapes on my arm, belly and hands were treated with disinfectant. It was extremely painful, but I didn’t feel worthy of complaining because of what Finn was going through.

Finn came back down and we learned that his elbow was badly broken and needed surgery. The x-ray showed that a small piece of his elbow was floating off on it’s own like a rebellious teenager. A screw was needed to attach the pieces again, but it would have to be done in the hospital in Denpasar, the capital of Bali, or in Canada.

We weighed the benefits and drawbacks of having Finn’s surgery in Bali or Canada. It would have been better to have the surgery sooner, rather than wait until we could get back to Canada, but Canada might have better medical treatments. Finn would go home to recover anyway, so we doing the surgery there would be more comfortable. Finn wanted to ask his mom for advice, so our doctor graciously offered his iPhone which had a data plan and that worked just well enough for Finn to be comforted by the sight of his mom on Skype, who encouraged him to go home for the surgery.

 On our way out of the hospital.

With a lot of difficulty we walked a block to a restaurant to eat and figure out our steps towards getting home as soon as possible for Finn’s surgery. Before leaving the country we had to finish our Indonesian visa extensions. We had handed in our passports to start the process to stay in Indonesia for another month and missed our appointment at the immigration office when we crashed. We were in the middle of nowhere, a few hours drive from the airport and immigration office in Denpasar. Our bike was left at someone’s house on a country road and needed to be collected and returned to Ubud, a town an hour away from Denpasar. We wanted to be on a flight the next night.

The staff at the hospital said there were no taxis in town. Some of the ambulance drivers who were loitering around the outside of the hospital asked how much we would pay to do the trip in an ambulance. We made a few offers, but then they said they wouldn’t do it for any price. I went to the store across the street and asked if they knew where we could get a taxi and ended up negotiating a $60 ride to pick up our motorbike and then to Denpasar with a local guy in his mom’s car.

We collected the bike where we left it and I drove it behind the car all the way to a hotel in Denpasar. It was a relief to have managed the first step towards getting home. By this time it was after 9pm and we were tired. We ordered a mediocre pizza from Pizza Hut to our hotel room and went to sleep.

Early the next morning I drove the motorbike to Ubud to return it and took a taxi back to Denpasar. The taxi driver spent the entire hour trip telling me how amazing I am and what a great husband he would be for me. I was so not in the mood. I rescheduled our visa appointment at the immigration office, so when I got back to Denpasar I helped Finn out of bed, which was covered in his blood, and into a taxi. Finn’s bandages had bled through and he looked in bad shape. Because of the scrapes on his knee and foot he had trouble walking and any nudge on his left arm caused him serious pain.

We met up with the representative of the travel agency assigned to help us with our visa extensions, Dionne, and had our pictures and finger prints taken. First Dionne said we could have our passports returned to us in two days, but we needed to leave the country right away, so he said he could have our passports delivered to our hotel that evening at 5pm. We went online and booked flights for 9:40pm, but I was worried that our passports wouldn’t be returned to us in time. In Southeast Asia things are often delayed.

Finn rested while I packed our things and cleaned up the hotel room. We had to leave in about an hour and a half and we hadn’t received our passports. I was getting anxious and tried calling the travel agency and our contact from the immigration office, but they weren’t answering. I drank the contents of the extra water bottles that were lying around the room, but when I finished the last one it tasted a little off.

Weeks earlier, some hippies on Gili Air had given us a bit of water with acid in it, but we hadn’t tried any of it. I totally forgot about it until I accidentally drank it all in one gulp. I looked at Finn and said, “oh no!” in my most concerned voice, “I drank the acid!” He responded, “puke!” I induced vomiting in the toilet and emptied my stomach as best I could. I didn’t want to be high, I had to carry all our stuff and help Finn. There wasn’t anything else I could do but stay relaxed, try my best to follow directions and not attract attention to myself. Thankfully, our passports were delivered directly to our hotel room and Finn and I took a cab to the airport. Our trip would take over 30 hours and three planes before we would land in Vancouver.

I handled tripping on acid in the airport and on the plane pretty well. Everyone was looking at us because of Finn’s serious injuries. His knee was wrapped in a bandage that had soaked through, leaving huge red blood stains with yellow around the edges. Everything looked wacky to me, but Finn said I seemed relatively normal except that I found his jokes more funny than usual. The drab airport looked technicolour to me. The posters and signs looked like video screens blinking and shifting. The words “Gate B” were probably drawn with plain black or blue letters, but to me they looked like a metallic rainbow.

I managed to go into an office and get a wheelchair for Finn. The wheelchair came with it’s own attendant to push Finn to our gate. I filled out a form for the wheelchair, but I misspelled Fnn’s name, and struggled with Cananada as well.

Finn didn’t have adequate painkillers for the flights. I could tell he was in an extreme amount of pain, especially during take off and landing. He was traveling with an untreated broken bone and massive abrasions all over his body. He looked like a bloody mess and could barely walk. Thankfully there were wheelchairs for him in the airports.

When we got off our plane for our second layover in Manila, Philippines, Finn’s wheelchair attendant took him through a door and told me to follow everyone else and that I would end up in the same place as Finn eventually. I was concerned because Finn wasn’t able to do anything by himself. He couldn’t push his wheelchair because of his broken elbow, so he was quite helpless. I was brought to a waiting room and told to sit there for a while. I asked several times where I could find Finn and was told not to worry and just to wait. I sat in the waiting room for over an hour and asked again about Finn, so one of the staff brought me down the hall, into a big, empty room where and asked if it was my boyfriend sitting in his wheelchair alone, pathetically facing a wall. A staff had wheeled him there and left without saying a word.

It gave me a taste of what it must be like for people who live in wheelchairs. The staff would ask me things about Finn, even though Finn was right there. They didn’t treat him like a normal person even though his mind was fine, only his body was injured.

 The row of people in wheelchairs waiting to board the plane.

We made it Vancouver safely and Finn’s mom picked us up at the airport. Finn was taken straight to the hospital where he spent twelve hours waiting, having his abrasions treated, getting x-rays and making appointment for his surgery. It was good for him to be home for treatment and recovery.

 Finn before surgery.

It’s taken me a couple weeks to find time to write this post because I’ve been occupied with apartment hunting and the surprise of suddenly being back in Vancouver. Finn has already had his cast removed and is doing physiotherapy. He will regain full range of motion in his arm and shoulder within four weeks.

IMG_0016Finn’s arm right after the splint was taken off.

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10 Days of Silent Self-Torture

I had never really meditated before, but I like yoga and I am kind of a hippie, so after many people told me that doing a 10 silent meditation retreat is a transformative, amazing experience I decided to try it if ever I had the chance. It sounded like a great challenge: no talking, technology, stimulation, only meditation. Nothing but being left alone with your thoughts. Who knows what could come of that? Now that I’m in Asia with no limits on time, I thought this would be the perfect time to try it. In Thailand, a monastery called Suan Mokk holds a retreat for foreigners at a retreat centre across from the monastery. I decided to choose this retreat as opposed to the many others in the region because there was 90 minutes of yoga in the daily schedule, whereas most retreats do not have any yoga. Also, you don’t need to register for this one, whereas for others you must register months in advance. You can find the daily schedule, rules and other info about the retreat on their website.

I arrived at Suan Mokk a day and a half before the retreat started. Laura and Brenden were leaving Ranong to go back to Canada so I decided to leave when they leave. I was also concerned about having trouble finding this little place in the jungle and didn’t want any possibility of missing the registration. The travel agents and bus station workers had never heard of Chaiya, the nearest town to Suan Mokk, and that made me a bit nervous, but I found the monastery without too much trouble. I walked through the gates and the lush, perfectly manicured nature of the religious space and to the monastery information booth. It said on the Suan Mokk website that we could stay at the monastery for free before or after retreats.

I walked up to the tall desk at the information hut after filling up my water bottle from a big steel container labelled “rain water – for drinking only”. I felt kind of intimidated by the monk behind the desk, with his sassy orange robe thrown casually over one shoulder, as monks’ robes typically are. I didn’t want to be presumptive so I asked if he knew where I could stay in advance of the retreat. “You can stay here,” he said with an implied “duh”. He asked me to fill out a form and give him my passport as collateral and he gave me a key to the women’s dorm along with directions on how to get there. I was so relieved that I found the place and had a free room in this beautiful natural place.

I walked across the beautiful monastery grounds filled with many roosters and a few hens, to the women’s dorm. It was easy to tell I was in the right place because of the hand painted WOMAN ONLY sign nailed to a tree. I wandered around trying to find my room and a woman came over and quietly showed me where it was. This dorm was meant only for the foreigners who were coming for a meditation retreat. There were about 30 rooms. 15 were around the outside, facing the little courtyard, and 15 were on the inside, facing a creepy, poorly lit hallway. That inner hallway looked like a prison to me. Luckily my room was on the outside. The windows on all windows had bars on them. The rooms had nothing in them but a wooden bed (no mattress) and a wooden pillow. We could collect a straw sleeping mat, mosquito net, blanket and conventional, non-wooden pillow to use from the storage area. There was a big open space without walls above the rooms for meditation or yoga. I was the first one to arrive and totally alone in the dormitory. It was just about evening when I got there, so after getting a coffee and using wifi at the western style “espresso bar” across the street and doing an hour of yoga in the upstairs dorm space I went to bed early.

In the morning a bunch of people arrived. The dorm became quite full of women from all over the world, mostly Europe. I hung out with an awesome British woman for most of the day. We walked around the little area getting food and coffee. The following day was registration day. Everyone at the dorm got up at 7am to head across the road to the retreat centre. At the retreat centre I noticed most of the participants were around my age, mostly white, backpackers. There were a few middle aged people and a group of four friends who looked about 18 years old. I wondered why the 18 year olds decided to do this. Perhaps their school encouraged it, or some other group or team that they were involved with. I noticed later in the retreat that they each had a matching bright yellow shirt. I met a volunteer for the Peace Corps who was on vacation from her placement in rural Thailand and a former hotel manager who just quit his job in Bangkok to explore other parts of Asia.

The registration process involved filling forms, reading information about the retreat, doing a 2 minute interview, choosing our chore for the week (I chose sweeping the path around the women’s dorm) handing over our passports and paying our $80 fee. We were fed breakfast and then put our things in our rooms (cement bed, wooden pillow, not much else), took a couple cushions and placed them in the meditation hall to stake our spot for the retreat and then had free time until the festivities began at 4pm. It was really happening. Starting that night I would fall silent and be cut off from the world.

After spending the day with some other women from the retreat eating and hanging out in the little town, Chaiya, and getting my last fill of wifi technology at the espresso bar, I was back at the retreat centre, excited to get my silence on. I really was excited. I had high hopes that over these 10 days I would mellow out, become ready to accept any adversity with a clear head and never get overtaken by emotion, anxiety or insecurity again.

We took a tour of the grounds and were allowed to ask all the questions we wanted before the silence began. On the tour we were instructed how to capture an insect and put it outside in case we find one in our room. We aren’t allowed to kill anything during the retreat. We hoped we would not have to try the procedure on a scorpion. At 7:15pm, everyone gathered in the mediation hall. There were about 80 of us, a few more men than women. A monk rang a tiny bell, signifying the beginning of the silence.

There were a lot more rules than just no talking at the retreat. These are the most important rules, as described on the website:

– Keep complete silence throughout the retreat
(exceptions: personal interviews from Day 3 to Day 6 and emergencies).
– Stay within the boundaries of the retreat center.

Keep the Eight Precepts, which are:
– Intend not to take away any breath(abstain from killing).
– Intend not to take away what is not given (abstain from stealing).
– Intend to keep one’s mind and one’s body free from any sexual activity.
– Intend not to harm others by speech.
– Intend not to harm one’s consciousness with substances that intoxicate
and lead to carelessness (no alcohol, no drugs, no smoking etc).
– Intend not to eat between after noon and before dawn.
– Intend not to dance, sing, play or listen to music, watch shows, wear
garlands, ornaments and beautify oneself with perfumes and cosmetics.
Intend not to sleep or sit on luxurious beds and seats.

Also, it was explained upon arrival: no jogging, no wearing revealing clothing, no yoga in public except during yoga class, no ‘sexual misconduct’ (ie nothing sexual at all), no facing your feet towards the front of the meditation hall, no laying down in public, no reading and no writing. I’ve never been constrained by so many rules, but that’s kind of the point of the retreat. It was announced that we must not send love notes. A monk told us that twice men have sent love notes to women and were kicked out for doing so.

Males and females were strictly kept apart. The assumption was that there were no gender or sexuality variations, I suppose. We had separate dorms and yoga classes, we ate on different sides of the dining hall, scooped our food out of separate pots, we sat on opposite sides of the meditation hall, everything was separate. I almost forgot the men were there.

There was no need for a watch at the retreat because someone banged on the big bell in the bell tower whenever it was time to be somewhere. The first bell was at 4am(!). It rang for about 15 minutes, just to be sure no one could sleep through it. You could hear the ring clearly anywhere on the grounds, and loudly in the dorms. We had to be at the meditation hall and ready to get mindful at 430. I had never woken up that early more than one day in a row. I have consistently gone to bed after 4, however, when I was working at the bar, Vol de Nuit, my shifts ended at 330. This early rising thing was a whole new world. I was exhausted the first day, but, surprisingly, got used to it by the third day. I appreciated seeing the sunrise and sunset every day.

My favourite thing about the retreat was the hot springs. There were separate hot springs for men and women on the grounds that we could use whenever we had free time, particularly at sunset during the ‘tea and hot springs’ time on the schedule. We had to go in wearing a sarong, even though it was a women only space. The sarong resulted in more nudity for me as mine kept floating up to my waist as I swam around. You weren’t expected to wear anything under the sarong. The hot springs were left natural, with simple cement steps leading down to them. Palm and other kinds of trees hung over them and they were surrounded by other foliage. At sunset there were usually about 7 women in the hot springs, silently, calmly hanging out together. It felt nice to swim through the hot water and float on it. I went in every night.

We were fed two meals each day. The first meal was a bland rice soup and mini bananas served at 8am. Since we woke up at 4am, I found myself starving by breakfast time. I started smuggling an extra banana out of the dining hall at breakfast to eat the following morning at dawn so that I would feel comfortable waiting for breakfast at 8. By lunch time at 1230 I was so hungry I couldn’t think of anything else. Lunch was always delicious, a coconut milk curry, brown rice, marinated tofu, green beans, stuff like that. There was always dessert of a jelly, tapioca, soy milky type thing that was wonderful. I was looking forward to lunch at all times. By the time lunch came I wanted to eat ALL THE FOOD. I was kind of hoping I would lose weight by only eating two meals a day, but I more than made up for the lack of dinner by doubling down on lunch. It was pretty much the only pleasurable stimulation in the day, other than the hot springs. But we weren’t supposed to view the food this way. According to Buddhist philosophy, pleasure of food should be avoided because it is impermanent, it has no spiritual value. Before we could eat any meal, we had to wait for everyone to fill their bowl and take a seat and then read aloud together the ‘food reflection’, which goes something like this:
—-
With wise reflection, I eat this food. Not for play, not for intoxication. Not for fattening, not for beautification. Only to maintain this body. To remain alive and healthy. To support the spiritual way of life.

Thus, I let go of unpleasant feelings, and do not stir up new ones. Thereby, the process of life goes on. Blameless, at ease and in peace.
—-
I read it with the group, but was thinking the opposite. Eating is not a spiritual endeavour, but it’s enjoyable. If I become attached to the eating of tasty food I may be sad if in future I don’t have any tasty food, but I still want to enjoy food when I have it. I love food. I was meditating on how amazing that food was going to taste and how I was going to love it. I wasn’t pushing the joy of eating out of my mind so that I could enjoy the purity of spiritual thoughts.

I enjoyed the first few days of the retreat. I was getting better at meditating and had fun trying different ways to focus my mind. There were a couple hours of talks every day explaining how to meditate, so I tried different tips and tricks all the time. I was getting better at focusing. However, things started going downhill for me on the 4th day. My focus was gone. I started counting down the days until I could leave. I started hating it.

I got so bored. I started feeling like meditation was a cage and I wanted to think my thoughts, not push them away. It felt pointless and I realized I kind of hate meditating. I wanted to lie on a bed with a mattress and have a shower. I wanted to talk to a friend, read my book and write in my journal. As the retreat progressed, the talks started becoming a lot more specific and not useful or interesting to me. They played a recording of an American monk translating the work of another monk, which included long translations of lists of Pali (the dead language of Buddhism) words that were irrelevant to me. The talks were not only boring, they became irritating to the point that I considered walking away just to think my own thoughts and not hear that yammering on. I learned to pull my knees up to my chest, wrap my arms around my shins and sleep like that. I wasn’t the only one sleeping. The monks got annoyed a few times and gave suggestions on things we could do to not fall asleep. We could focus on our breathing, we could take notes (I guess we can only write if it’s directly related to what we’re learning). The group was scolded for playing with the sand or moving around a lot when we should sit still and listen.

In addition to being boring, I didn’t like the talks because I disagreed with them. I’m not sure how much variance there is between different perspectives on Buddhism, but I did not agree with what was said at the retreat. I agree that attachment to endless materialism will leave people unhappy, but I not agree that people should never attach to anything. We were instructed not to attach to people, to love, to any pleasures at all, because they are impermanent. Because they can go away. I am okay with the pain I feel when I lose something or someone I love because it feels so good to love. Feeling happy and sad is part of life and I don’t want to shield myself from that. I’m happy to enjoy the little pleasures in life, even though they are ‘void of all meaning’. I take immense pleasure in flipping over a pillow and feeling the cold side, for example. I’m okay with that and I’m going to keep enjoying it.

Half way through the retreat almost half the participants had left. On the 6th day a friend I made before the retreat left. She came up to me and broke the silence to tell me she would rather go to the beach than meditate more. I didn’t blame her. On the 7th day another friend left, I didn’t see her leave though. I wanted to leave so badly, but I wanted to stick it out because I had already started it. My food and accommodation were already paid for, though they were really cheap, and I already made plans for afterward. I stayed until the 10th day.

I thought I would like the meditation retreat because I like yoga and challenging myself. Many people told me it’s a great thing to do. I learned that it wasn’t for me. I like to think my thoughts freely, not push them out of my mind. I already knew that taking deep breaths calms me down, I didn’t need to do it for 10 days. I don’t regret doing the retreat, however, even though I kind of hated it. I learned a lot about meditation and Buddhism (and that neither are for me). I challenged myself and got a new experience. I was curious about what the retreat would be like, and now I know.
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