I’ve spent the last month volunteering on a natural farm just outside of Ubud, Bali, growing vegetables, selling them to yogis, planting sprouts and getting dirtier than I have ever been before (I was pristine at the centre compared to now).
Natural farm sounds like, no shit it’s natural but as I’ve learned natural is a form of farming, who knew. It is a step beyond organic. It means no pesticides at all, and minimal intervention. The back of the sign on their farm (hand painted in earthy tones) says “we plant with love”. It sounds so cliche but it is not at all forced so it doesn’t have that eye-rolling quality so much natural stuff seems to have these days (minus when Komang the husband who runs the farm starts talking about “his friends” meaning the plants).
This project is loads smaller than WFFT (the wildlife rescue centre in Thailand), with a maximum of 6 volunteers at a time. We live in a small apartment in a local family complex with a young family of three and the semi-crazy grandmother who gets her tits out and tries to sell us sarongs at all hours and with all levels of clothing on (read: off). Accommodation is simple: thin mattresses on the floor or on bamboo bunk beds, very very necessary mosquito nets, simple kitchen where we fight ants for our leftovers (as there is no fridge), squat toilet and a bucket shower. For those unfamiliar with Asia, a bucket shower is exactly what it sounds like. A bucket of water and a pail. And, the single best bit of the house, Max the kitten (and our newest addition Oreo, both rescued from the surrounding rice fields).
For the record I love this house. I live quite happily in simple housing and I really don’t mind the bucket shower (though it is a huge challenge to wash my hair “properly” but screw it I’m on a farm getting sweaty and muddy and delightfully dirty all the time so who needs to properly wash my hair. I’ll do that when I’m back in civilization).
Farm life suits me quite well. We start work on the farm at 6 (a little later at the moment as the sun isn’t quite awake at 6 and working in the dark is a challenge), so we roll out of bed at 5:50 and take a quiet, serene walk through the back alleys and morning markets of Mas Village to the farm.
There’s something very therapeutic about starting my day in a garden and watching the sun creep up over the coconut trees at the edge of the farmland. It is the most peaceful way I have found to start my day. Once the sun is up and the garden is watered, we start the heavy labour. Komang is doing big things at the farm right now so there has been tons of planting and redesigning the beds which means tons of shovelling and hoeing.
By 9 am the morning shift is over and we either have breakfast at the Bamboo House (the farm house, made entirely of bamboo) or we head to the corner market for rice porridge and coffee that costs a whopping $0.50 in total. We went into Ubud (tourist, yoga, meditation hub of Bali) for breakfast one day and I was aghast at paying $4 for breakfast.
Because it is absolutely sweltering during the day, we take afternoons off to do as we please and come back in the evenings. My first week I tried working through the afternoon and holy man alive I have never been so sweaty in my life and I was harvesting mimosa which only involves snipping stems.
Mimosa, let me take a second to honour the love-hate relationship I have with this plant. Mimosa is a weed that runs rampant throughout the lower levels of the farm. It has nasty little thorns on it that have torn my legs to shreds. My first week I looked like I had gone through a paper shredder. But, after harvested and dried, mimosa makes an absolutely delicious tea, hence why I was harvesting it. I’m considering bringing some back with me. Well I’m going to try anyway, one of the 4 countries I’m going to might not be so chill with me bringing spiky plants into their country with me but whatevs I’m going to try. In all likelihood I’ll be locked in quarantine for ages anyway for having spent 6 months in Asia, worked with animals and on a farm. Might as well bring some tea into the mix. Maybe quarantine will clean all my stuff for me cause lord knows what I’m bringing back with me. No bedbugs though I can promise that.
I have bedbug PTSD, guys. My first night at the farm (only 12 hours after my latest run in with bedbugs), I crawled up onto my bamboo bunk and did my now routine check for creepy crawly friends and died a little inside when I saw tons of little things crawling around on the matress. They were not bedbugs though, so I assumed they were fleas or lice. So I changed mattresses and spent most of my first week on pest control. I baked all the mattresses in the sun, sprayed citronella on everything and deflead Max. But thankfully nothing came of these little things and I have no itchy head (another benefit of being unable to wash my hair, lice don’t like dirty hair woot woot). I really just can’t be bothered anymore. As long as they don’t infest my stuff, I can’t care. I get eaten daily and nightly by ants, mosquitoes and who knows what else but so long as they stay out of my belongings they can feast away. That’s my deal with bugs. Yes, I’m making deals with bugs, my life has come to that.
Enough about my latest and hopefully final addition to the Rachel versus bugs saga.
During the day, Bali is my oyster and I am free to do as I choose. Some days I would go into Ubud for wifi and coffee, juice or lunch. The beautiful thing about living in the middle of nowhere is that I only have wifi if I actively go get it, which has been a refreshing change of pace from the rest of Asia where you actually cannot escape wifi and constant connection. Though many people in my life are not huge fans of my lack of communication (numero uno being my sister who messages me daily telling me she doesn’t like Bali cause she can’t talk to me – guess she and I will have to go to Bali to rectify her opinions of it, drat). Some days I stay in the dorm and read (I’ve read more books on the farm than in all of Asia), play with Max, nap and putz around.
This has been a refreshing change of pace overall, being out of touch and able to process my thoughts, and setting myself up in a comfortable routine. I forgot the simple bliss of reading a book with a cup of tea and a purring kitten in my lap. As I write this Max is lying on my chest kneading, purring and suckling at my shirt. According to Mom and Komang (the couple who runs the farm – yes, her name is mom and it is so strange calling someone else mom), cat’s purring is very good for our health. Good news for all cat lovers out there.
It has been so nice unpacking, both my life and my bag (read: letting the contents spill out without having to shove them all back in two days later), settling in and relaxing. And it has been nice being part of family life again. Minus one home cooked family meal in a home stay in Dalat, Vietnam, I have been missing the atmosphere of a family. Here, we cook dinners together, go for movies at the local cinema, argue, run errands with each other and spend quiet evenings together.
Though I have mostly been putzing around, I have also been out touring the sites around Mas and Ubud, and by sites I mean waterfalls.
And I met up with this stinky turd again. I just can’t seem to get rid of him. Just kidding, I basically begged him to meet me in Bali.
The evening shift at the farm starts again at 4 or 5 and goes until sundown. That means I watch the sun rise and set every day on the farm. Poetic isn’t it.
A lot of the activity we do on the farm is cutting grass. The minimal intervention of natural farming means no tilling the soil, an inevitable repercussion of ripping grass out by the roots. So we cut it with a sickle. One day I tackled half a level of grass with just a sickle. I was the great liberator of okra that day (okra is a vegetable and our most plentiful crop on the farm).
During the evening shift we pick the vegetables that we will then go home and cook for dinner. This has probably been my favourite part of this month, picking the food I eat for dinner. It’s undervalued and I didn’t realize until I did it how good it feels to grow your own food. I’ve talked about having a vegetable garden with my mom for over a decade, so mom, we’re doing it now. It’s online now, it’s out there in the universe, and we are committed.
Now let’s talk about that time I danced in the galaxy. All of the volunteers decided to take a day off together and head to this beach about an hour and a half away. The drive there was stunning, even that alone would have made my day. Small, winding roads through surreally green trees with the ocean beside us. Unfortunately I couldn’t get any photos because I needed both hands on my motorbike. Yeah, I’m driving a friggen motorbike. Long way off from the girl who was nervous even getting on the back, I am driving true Asian style weaving in and out of the cars and using the rules of the road more as general guidelines (family, do no panic, it’s actually safer to not follow the rules and go with the flow). And I have the most Asian helmet ever.
The real deal happened when the sun went down. Because we were in the middle of nowhere and the moon hadn’t risen yet, the stars and Milky Way were out in full force. I was wandering along the beach idly and saw a turquoise speck when I kicked some sand. I stopped, kicked more sand and saw more glowing turquoise specks.
I had been dying to see bioluminescent plankton in Asia but didn’t get a chance in Koh Rong where it’s quite famous and hadn’t heard of it elsewhere. Here, on a deserted beach in Bali, I found it. At this point I convinced everyone to go for an evening swim to see the plankton. Did we ever see it. There were so many, when I moved my hand through the water it glowed turquoise. Treading water we all glowed. Words can’t even do justice to how euphoric I was in that ocean. And in that moment, we were dancing in the galaxy.
The evening concluded with a bonfire, chill and perfectly selected tunes, rice wine and watching the moon rise. We each fell asleep there on the beach, peacefully at our own time and watched the sunrise right in front of us on the horizon a few hours later.
Thus ends my stint in Bali and marks the end of my travels in Asia (minus a day in Bangkok). Can’t believe I’ve been here for 6 months already, absolute craziness. I see how people get stuck in Asia, this place is incredible (as my blog posts have indicated). I don’t think I have ever been so happy as I have been in Asia. But I will bring that happiness home with me, as my souvenir, and I will not sink back into complacency and routine. That is my vow, again putting it out in the universe to commit myself to it.
Now onto Mexico to visit my Mexican ginger friend Rey, cause Mexico is basically on the way back to Canada right? Shhhhhhh it is.
Until Next Time,