“It’s been a rather spiritual 12 hours, don’t you think?” Tom ventured as I returned from going AWOL at around 6pm. The last Tom saw me, I had popped in to see if healer, Wayan Nuriasih, of Eat Pray Love fame had any appointments tomorrow. That was three and a half hours ago. I agreed, we’d certainly embraced Ubud’s hippiness although it wasn’t something we set out to do.
This morning, after breakfast at the hotel (congee, noodles, salak – a dry fruit that looks like garlic when peeled, passionfruit and a naughty egg waffle slathered in Nutella), we hired a man from outside the hotel to take us to Tirta Empul, a temple in Tampak Siring (about 30 minutes drive from Ubud), famous for it’s holy spring waters where Balinese Hindus go for purification. We’re still honing our bartering skills, and negotiations tend to go a lot better if I don’t say anything; according to Tom, I’m like the rubbish person on Dragon’s Den who always messes up. Personally, I feel like the prices we’re getting here are already low enough for us to feel like we’re getting a bargain. We settled on 250,000 Rupiah, which is approximately £11.20 and this included driving us there, waiting several hours and driving us back.
This megamoon is the perfect opportunity for both of us to rest, relax and reset. For me, I’m also looking for direction as to what to do when I return, career-wise. I was sure purification and prayer could only help.
I was really looking forward to Tirta Empul. I wasn’t so sure about Tom; he was very concerned about what we were wearing (he didn’t want to offend) and double-checked that we’d packed his sarong and that my top had long-enough sleeves (it did. I was also wearing full-length trousers). Upon arrival at the temple, we paid our entrance fee (30,000 Rupiah / £1.35) and walked through. Now, the temples in Bali, maybe because there are SO MANY of them (you can’t go 100 metres without coming across one), are a little strange. I hardly ever see people in them, not the ones you just happen to come across, anyway. And unlike the temples I’ve seen before on trips to Thailand, there’s not much that’s ornate about them. Tirta Empul was sprawled about within the grounds. Crossing the first courtyard (I’ve no idea if that’s the right term but I can’t think of a better way to explain it), we soon reached the purification waters. There were 3 pools, each with several spurts of water gushing from stone carvings a short height above the pools, which were filled with water approximately 1 metre high. Each of the pools were different sizes. And it seemed busy, but the crowds (usually groups of 10-15 tourists) ebbed and flowed. In the water were Balinese and every now and then a tourist would venture in. Not wanting to get in the way, and also curious as to why everyone else was wearing a yellow sash around their waist, we moved onto another courtyard, this one walling in a pond filled with koi carp of all sizes and shapes. My fondest memory of koi are as a child in Singapore letting them nibble gently on my fingers and toes. It tickled.
It turns out the sashes are a sign of respect. Not wanting to displease the gods, we hurried back to the entrance and tied ours on. These were free to ‘borrow’ but a donation was encouraged. Time to explore the main temple! I must admit, we weren’t too sure whether we ended up in the main temple as there wasn’t anything, to our ignorant eye, to set this aside from the rest of the grounds. We also discovered a little garden that had a most curious stone pathway up into the jungle. We stared at it though the locked gate.
Eventually we ended up back at the purification pools. I can admit it now, I was keen to join in, but also a little hesitant. Call it fear, or embarrassment or something else, I looked on longingly but wasn’t quite brave enough to go for it. “This is one of the few places where tourists are welcomed to join in such rituals. Why shouldn’t you go in?” A conversation with a Western couple living in Bali was enough to persuade Tom and I. After all, we had a change of clothes with us. So we bought some Canang for our offering, presented it and headed to the pools.
Tom in went first whilst I acted as guardian of our bags. It’s weird watching Tom doing something like this – he appreciates it all but rarely have I seen him take part. It was nice.
Once out, Tom took care of the bags and I headed into the pools. There’s something quite thrilling about getting into the water with clothes on. Did any of you ever do your swimming badges where you had to swim several lengths fully clothed? That was by far my favourite bit. I remember enjoying the feel of wearing a vest whilst having a bath. And then having to hide the sopping wet thing from mum after. There was a short queue for the first fountain; an elderly lady was already under and there was a couple waiting who I took to be sisters. I used this time to work out what I was going to pray for and watch the fish swimming near my feet. Never mind praying at the fountain, I was praying right then and there that the fish wouldn’t touch me; I’m pretty jumpy in the water anyway and I didn’t want to disrupt people’s holy experiences by wailing like a banshee. It worked, I got to the first fountain untouched. I’m sure there’s something wonderful about praying but it didn’t come easily to me. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fantastic feeling being in the pool, standing in front of the fountain and being part of this ceremony, but I just wasn’t sure of the rules and a thousand questions were going through my head: how long do I pray for? what can I ask for? am I selfish if I don’t pray for others? are there people queueing up behind me, impatient for their go? is my head under the water enough? is this water clean? is that a frog I see? Reading this back, I definitely needed to chill out. At each fountain, I’d say my prayers, perhaps slightly desperately, dip my head so the water pummelled over me, and move onto the next. I was pretty cheerful when I came out – praying isn’t something I normally do but I really enjoyed it once I got past all my issues.
A quick change of clothes later (we were still wet despite the hot weather) and we were back in the taxi on our way back to Ubud.
Bali Buda, a cafe not too far from the SenS hotel, and which ended up being one of my favourite places to go to, was perfect for lunch and some post-temple reading. On our way, I walked past another sign for Balinese healing. My skin had been acting up a few days into our holiday (it coincided with me running out of my Chinese herbs – they had been hugely helpful in controlling my eczema and it was scary how quickly it had started coming back; the areas around my mouth, under my neck, eyes and inner arms were so itchy and red) and I was keen to see what alternative methods I could try, especially as Western Medicine had fallen short of making any difference to my skin. After lunch (soto ayam – a gently flavoured chicken broth) I left Tom at Bali Buda and went to see if I could make an appointment.
There, I met Wayan who informed me that not only could I make an appointment but I could make it now! The service she offers is a body reading and following on from that, you have the choice to go further with healing the problems she picks up on the initial reading. It made sense to start with the reading. Wayan works off a sheet that she goes through, telling you about Vitamin E levels (mine were low), charisma (good!), blood pressure (low) and more. Before the reading, a prayer and an offering was made to the gods. During it, Wayan also asked me to stand in several positions, looked under my eyes, poked my leg and examined my palms. I had flashbacks to the terrible time I went for live blood analysis but I had faith. She also mentioned that I ate too much sweet stuff (guilty, even though I’d swear otherwise), had candida (really didn’t want to hear this. And why did she say it so loudly – there were others listening! Luckily, several others were diagnosed with that too. Phew.), was a little gassy (I literally wanted the ground to swallow me up) and needed to drink more water (this I knew).
This was all helpful but my real question was, could Wayan help me with my skin? Wayan said she could but this would be extra healing. I asked how much. Wayan hesitated, looked me up and down and said 2 million Rupiah. This sounds like an awful lot but my thoughts immediately flashed back to my appointments with Marzin from Avicenna in Brighton, where I get my Chinese herbs from. I’d leave approximately £500 lighter, excluding travel costs, each time. But my skin had improved so it was absolutely worth it; when you’re desperate for a solution, you’ll pay anything. I’ve found. 2 million Rupiah is actually just under £100 and looking back on it now, I feel like we both got a good deal.
I agreed and preparations began. A canang was prepared for me with four little sausages of rice on. I was also handed an incense stick and a sheet with instructions. I was to kneel on the floor with the canang by my feet wafting the smoke from the incense whilst praying for my four sisters. I’ve since looked this up but the best explanation I got about this was from Wayan herself; Balinese believe that at birth, we are also accompanied by four sisters (brothers for men) which are part of our body – the blood, placenta, amniotic fluid and vernix (which protects the baby during birth). Our four sisters (kanda empat) protect us throughout life and eventually accompany our spirit to heaven to testify for our karma. Respect is critical and we must respect our four sisters. I duly carried out this ritual, simultaneously begging my four sisters to forgive me for neglecting me for so long and also wondering how long I’d be crouching in the doorway.
Before long, I was relieved of my prayers and hustled into the back room of Wayan’s practice. She operates from a small dimly-lit building that opens onto the street. In front is a raised bamboo platform that acts like a waiting room – you can sit on the cushions, relax and read the piles of handwritten, laminated testimonials. To the right is where all the potions and pills are made and behind a grubby counter sits pictures and jars of roots and herbs. There’s stairs that take you upstairs to a mezzanine floor where it looked like clients had been seen and children have been playing. The back room I was in was separated from the main area by a curtain; one that didn’t close that well. An older lady who I found out was a lot stronger than she first appeared told me to strip down to my pants. This wasn’t what I was expecting. But strip I did and she motioned for me to lie on one of three massage beds. I lay on my back with a tiny towel over my chest and seconds later a younger boy bustled in carrying a washing-up bowl filled with foliage. It was at this point I closed my eyes and just accepted whatever was coming. It’s very strange being in a hot and humid country, lying on a massage bed half naked with two people working around you – it felt like nothing I’d ever experienced before and what was happening to me totally roughed up my senses. The boy and woman were taking the leaves, which were hot, and scrubbing all over my body. And they went everywhere. It was like they were in competition with each other to see who could scrub off most skin. It got worse from there – scrubbing turned into scraping (I think they were using the flat end of a piece of bamboo), a rock was placed on my stomach before being replaced by a vodka bottle filled with boiling water and the piece de resistance? A long stone the width of a sausage was threaded through my toes. I have never experienced pain like it and I’d hate to see what they did to their enemies. At some point, someone (the boy or the woman? I didn’t care by that point) whipped off the towel and had a good old scrub at my boobs too. Needless to say, once my front was done, I was flipped over and they repeated everything on my back.
Meanwhile, Wayan was out the front talking to a new and unwitting customer. I could hear Wayan’s low murmuring as she went through the initial assessment and exclamations of embarrassment and disbelief as the customer discovered she was all candida-ed up. Don’t worry lady, I’ve been there. I could also hear the indecision in the customer’s voice as she debated whether to take Wayan’s services further. “Be prepared for pain like you’ve never felt before!” I wanted to cry out. But I didn’t. In a very selfish way, I wanted others to share what I was going through.
My torture was only over once Wayan had inspected me thoroughly. On several occasions, she felt behind my head and neck and prodded my stomach. This resulted in more hot bottles of water and scrubbing before she was satisfied. Surprisingly, the skin on the inside of my elbows wasn’t torn up like I’d expected it to be – even me just ‘scratching’ it with the fleshy part of my fingers can make it red and bumpy and sore and her team had scrubbed the life out of it. Secondly, the flesh just below my eye had become slightly thicker and was constantly dry. Now it seemed smooth, if a little pink. My hopes lifted. Maybe Wayan could actually help. Previously, I’d just thought I’d just try it and see.
Before I left, Wayan made me chew some herbs (the gag reflex kicked it, they were disgusting), handed me some soursop leaves and filled my hands with several packages of pills. These were small and black. She’d made these herself in the back of her shop. I had some for calcium, some for candida, some for anxiety and stress, some for cleansing my blood (no more sugar for me), some for eczema and a strip of chemist-bought pills for vitamin E. Each pills came with different instructions; take 5 every day, take between 3 – 7 every day, take 2 every other day, take 4 at night… By this time, it was getting dark and I was worried Tom would be wondering why my ‘quick stop’ had turned into something more lengthy. Before I left, Wayan insisted I come back the next day to finish my treatment. We still had work to do! There were curses from birth to be lifted, demons to be banished and offerings to the gods to be made. I agreed that I’d stop by after our Mount Batur trip.
As I left, the woman I’d heard discussing further treatment walked back into Wayan’s practice; she wanted the whole shebang. “Good luck,” I told her in passing, meaning it.
At this stage, I had no idea that she was THE Wayan from Elizabeth Gilbert’s novel, Eat Pray Love.