Monday, October 6, 2008
As some of you know, I am slightly obsessed with Eat, Pray, Love, and find myself on the Elizabeth Gilbert Pilgrimage Tour. For those of you have been hiding under a rock the past year, EPL was a publishing phenomenon that rocketed Elizabeth Gilbert to literary fame, a chronicle of one woman’s journey to find herself over one year and three countries: Italy, India, and Indonesia. As I meet other women travelers all over the world, the conversation inevitably veers at some point to EPL. “Have you read it?” we eagerly ask one another, the next question naturally being, “Did you like it?” More times than not, I find that people disliked the book. Specifically, it made them want to gag.
I freely admit that I am in Bali as a direct result of reading EPL. It’s a place that never crossed my radar screen until reading Gilbert’s enchanting descriptions of a country that seemed lost in time, maintaining its traditions even against the incursion of ever-reaching Western influence. (I am learning on this trip that these are the places that captivate me most, and I wonder why I ever gave up pursuing studies in folklore, my favorite courses in college.) Gilbert spent four months in Ubud, and I knew that when I came to Bali I had to spend a chunk of time there.
So here I am in Ubud, and it is much bigger than Gilbert’s description. What I imagined to be a Podunk town is actually a collection of villages that stretch for miles, disappearing into spring green rice paddies. After three days I still haven’t even grasped beyond central Ubud, which is bursting at the seams with more spas and spiritual centers than I have ever seen. There is even a place called The Yoga Barn, which sounds more like the Walmart of the wellness world than the chic facility that it is.
I love the whole spiritual vibe here and couldn’t wait to begin getting daily massages, most of which run between $10-15. But not forgetting my pilgrimage, my first order of business was to visit Wayan, one of the starring “characters” in Gilbert’s book. As a third generation traditional healer, she is the Balinese woman who Gilbert befriended during her stay in Ubud, and on her website Gilbert encourages readers to pay Wayan a visit at her healing center. “Her vitamin lunch is still the best deal on Bali.”
Using Gilbert’s directions, I located Wayan’s place on my Lonely Planet map and set out for lunch. My heart leapt when I saw the post office and Bali Buddha — “It’s supposed to be really close to here!” I yelled to Maikael over my shoulder as I raced ahead. Then I saw the hand-lettered sign in robin’s egg blue, “Traditional Balinese Healing. ” We had arrived at Mecca.
I’m not quite sure what I expected, but a small storefront opened onto a collection of medicinal plants: it felt more like a flower nursery than a healing center. A faded board in the front showed a picture of Wayan smiling, explaining her services, next to a menu for the vitamin lunch. There were only two tables inside, and we took a seat next to another American couple about our age. Maikael and I exchanged a knowing look. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one on the Elizabeth Gilbert Pilgrimage Tour.
I ordered lunch, and a woman brought out tiny dishes in courses. I studied her face carefully. It definitely wasn’t Wayan. At least, I didn’t think it was. A smorgasboard of healthy-looking plates were placed before us, each bearing a sign that explained the predominant vitamin found in the dish and its healing properties. A sign boasting “No MSG Fresh Organic” was wedged into a thick slice of cucumber. Maikael frowned, especially when he saw the ivory seaweed. “I think the idea is that you get all your daily vitamins, all in one lunch!” I exclaimed, cheerfully.
The Americans were playing cards and sipping amber tea, clearly biding their time until the woman herself made her grand appearance. I always imagined that Wayan ran her shop independently, and that I would find her scurrying about and mixing concoctions when we sat down for her famous lunch. Instead, a staff of three clanked around the kitchen. Suddenly, a teenage girl bounded down the stairs. “Oh my god,” I urgently whispered under my breath to Maikael, barely moving my lips, “it’s Tutti.” Wayan’s daughter. I smiled and said, “hello,” quickly returning to my steamed water spinach. The Americans pounced on this opportunity like white on rice. “Hello!!” they cried enthusiastically, pretending like they were meeting a perfect stranger. Tutti asked what game they were playing. “Would you like to play with us? Maybe you can teach us a new game. Do you know any card games?”
Maikael and I ate in silence as we listened to them butter Tutti up. “What’s your name?” they finally asked, acting completely surprised when she responded, “Tutti.” The card game continued. “So, Tutti,” they asked, nonchalantly, “when’s your mom gonna get here?” Maikael and I looked at each other, and I rolled my eyes. “Actually, maybe in like one hour?” She was engrossed in her card hand. “Oh, okay!!” They were in for the long haul.
I wasn’t going to wait an hour for Wayan, and I certainly wasn’t going to compete for an audience. What would I say to her, anyhow? “So, you’re Liz Gilbert’s friend, huh?” I had a sneaking suspicion that the Americans felt like they knew Wayan, that they would try to have a conversation like old school chums, even though they – nor I — didn’t know a thing about her.
When the bill came, we were shocked: $12 for lunch, our smallest and most expensive Balinese lunch yet. Most meals are twice as big for half the price. It was obvious what had happened; the onslaught of pilgrims had precipitously raised prices. “Best deal on Bali,” I muttered. “I’m famished.” I took a final look at the Americans, still fawning over poor little Tutti. They would go home and report what an amAzing experience they had meeting Wayan. This wasn’t a race I wanted to compete in. The whole thing made me want to gag.
As we walked down the street, a flyer stopped me in my tracks. “Do you want to meet Medicine Man from Eat Pray Love Ketut Liyer?” Some enterprising soul had started a tour that brought pilgrims like myself to meet Gilbert’s other Balinese “character,” the one who had given her spiritual guidance and direction. Suddenly, I was so over EPL. Wild horses couldn’t drag me to Ketut’s place, if for no other reason than the fact that I knew the Americans would probably be there having their amAzing experience.3 comments