Saturday, June 5

Two and a half months in Indonesia: Alila

I remember the twins who were my classmates throughout elementary and high school. Our graduating class was small enough that they could divide all of us between three teachers in each grade. Since the two of them were never allowed in the same class, the odds strongly favored my sharing a classroom with them each year. I remember every spring they would leave for a week and return to show us a home video of their travels in Mexico. Every year.

I remember being jealous. My family never went to Mexico. It did go to Canada on occasion, but that was hardly noteworthy. I could walk to Canada. Neither did we spend our vacations in hotels. We eschewed cities entirely and spent our vacations in tents and sleeping bags on grounds of varying levels of hardness. When I was younger, before Boy Scouts and Little League and part-time jobs and all the rest put certain demands on my time and that of my parents, they were weekend trips throughout the state parks of Minnesota, Lake Bemidji, Old Mill and all the rest. When those certain demands were being made of my time and that of my parents, these weekend trips were consolidated into two-week spectacular journeys through the Canadian Rockies, Banff, and Jasper and all the rest.

I appreciated these trips only sporadically. Having plenty of time for reading on the days it took to drive out and back. That was appreciated. Not spending our nights in hotels and days visiting museums was less appreciated.The rest of the time I was too focused on the misery of the current hike to have any other opinion. Within a three-day span we could spend the day going up a mountain which may have challenged several regions of Hell for searing heat, another day moving from boulder to boulder to protect ourselves against whipping snow on the way up another mountain, and the final day, otherwise very pleasant, being chased up by German and Japanese hikers twice my dad's age. A body of water of a temperature and size and cleanliness appropriate for human entrance would have gone a long way toward alleviating some of these complaints, but these were necessarily limited at such high altitudes and where the buffalo roamed.

Nonetheless, years afterward, nigh on a decade by this point, the experiences have left something of a mark on my personality. Mostly in that my vacations are frugal affairs. I have not managed to arrange camping trips of my own, but this past year, whenever I left Nakuru, the nights were always spent in the cheapest rooms. The bathroom and shower in our Mombasa hotel were shared among the entire floor, and our Nairobi rooms were shared with roaches. If we paid more than five dollars for a full meal, we were paying too much.

Sometimes, though, I grow weary of these austerity measures. At those times, I am especially glad that I am now in Bali and not Kenya. When the feeling edged along the edge of my consciousness earlier this week, Demetra and I walked to Alila, a boutique resort not more than ten minutes from the center. Our destination was its Seasalt Restaurant. For near three hours we moved from side to side in our megibung, a shared dish. A cone of turmeric rice rose from and the center and dishes of green beans tossed with bean sprouts, pork soup, chicken on a stick, green beans with duck, fish grilled in a banana leaf with a brown paste, pork on a stick, sliced jackfruit surrounded it. Salts of three essences, lemon, chili and sesame seed, were available if the seasoning left something to be desired. I dearly wish I had memorized the menu because the full names of the accompaniments with their three-sentence descriptions do the meal more justice than my words. The meal was completed with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream and pieces of durian and a cup of black dark Balinese coffee.

It was, in a word, wonderful. There was time to nestle comfortably in the chairs and reflect. So I reflected, sipping soda water with ice and looking out on the manicured lawns of a green to rival that of the Emerald Isles. Past them was a clear pool surrounded by lounge chairs and sun umbrellas. As the sun set and darkness grew, hidden lights singled and illuminated tended palm trees.

I reflected, even given the time and funds to do so, would I spend my vacation in a place like this? I thought no. I still think so. I think it may be that there are two drives that push us on our vacations. The one is relaxation, an opportunity for rest and pampering. Not only are the stresses of the daily grind of work and career left behind but the very need to care or plan for ourselves. The restaurant serves your meals. The people clean your bed and clothes. At a place like Alila there is no real need to leave the resort's confines but should you ever feel the need to leave its pool and spa and culinary school behind, it organizes bike rides to its organic farm in the mountains and scuba trips. The people at the courtesy desk have your life handled.

The other impulse to vacation is adventure, the chance to explore a new city, a new land. It's about not knowing what you will find. When something is found, it is different and new. Adventure takes energy and an acceptance of inevitable frustration, but it comes the closest to gnawing clean the marrow of life. Alila is replaceable throughout the world. There were resorts in the same style outside Mombasa, and I am sure there are others in Costa Rica and on the coast of the Mediterranean. The only difference between them being the color of the skin of those serving you.

I am not going to say which is better because we all need something different at different times, but I will say that one does offer the opportunity for much better stories.

So, thanks, Mom and Dad, for teaching me this impulse and making my trips beyond the borders of the United States that much more interesting.

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