Archive for the 'Health' Category
Friday, October 10, 2008
The greatest benefit of our time in Bali has been starting the process of relearning what makes me feel happy. There is no agenda, and my days here are truly simple, guided by one question: what do you feel like doing today? I don’t think I realized until I arrived in Ubud how rote my life had become, how much I was doing out of obligation or mimicry, how out of touch with myself I had become. I feel like an infant who is relearning her way in the world. This trip has been a spiritual bootcamp. a slow breaking-down process that has finally bottomed out. Without any of the cues of my everyday life, I am forced to listen to myself more than I ever have before. I am beginning to see that the struggle of the first three months of this trip has been that daily process of looking to myself only to realize that I don’t know who I am: how can you rely on yourself when you don’t recognize yourself? The result was an overwhelming feeling of helplessness and pessimism. Bali has allowed me to begin filling myself up again, to remember who I am and what I enjoy about this world. I am slowly regaining confidence in myself and my choices through making simple, daily decisions based on what feels right and good.
I quickly decided that I wanted to spend my time in Ubud reconnecting with myself, and the great thing about this town is that it offers so many modalities for tapping into one’s self. Every storefront you pass advertises Balinese detox, herbal remedies, crystals, astrology, meditation, massage, yoga, baths – the possibilities are endless. Most of these treatments, which would cost an arm and a leg in the States, are so inexpensive in Bali that you’re not out much from trying something once. So Maikael and I have been running all over town trying different treatments, seeing what happens and what works best for us.
I wasn’t sure where to begin this so-called spiritual journey that I have decided to embark upon, so I started with massage, something I knew I enjoyed. Over the last week we’ve been poked, prodded, pummeled, washed, dried, fluffed, and perfumed before being sent back into the world. We’ve had a massage nearly every day while we’ve been in Ubud, ranging from $4 to $16. At Nur Salon we received treatments in small bungalows set amongst the greenery of a lovely family compound. As the cares of the world melted away I listened to, instead of a CD, nature’s soundtrack: chickens clucking outside, birds twittering on the branches above, the roll of thunder in the distance. I reclined in the stone tub, filled with tropical flowers and heavenly scents, and looked skyward through the fringe of the thatched roof and gazed on gathering storm clouds and ragged tree limbs. I was filled to the brim with pure contentment.
Maikael has always been interested in meditation, and had his first opportunity to join a class at the Yoga Barn. Of everything he tried this week, he felt this was the most effective treatment for him, and wants to continue with it when we return home. I have always been a devotee of massage, but am beginning to recognize the need for something more in my everyday life. I have visited astrologers and mediums three times in my life, and all three have stressed the importance of adopting a spiritual practice. (Two have specifically mentioned Kundalini yoga, something I would like to investigate when we return to Albuquerque.)
Shortly after we arrived, Ishara suggested a massage at Bodyworks and a session at Light Spirit with Tibetan bowls, both of which were guaranteed to get my blocked energies flowing. We were skeptical – particularly about the latter – but willing to give it a try. The massage at Bodyworks focused on triggering points down the body’s energy meridians, and when I emerged an hour later, I felt simultaneously relaxed and energized.
The next day we dipped into Light Spirit as dark descended over the slick streets, licked clean after the late afternoon downpour. Two young Balinese men lounged on great cushions, springing to action when the bells tinkled as we passed through the front door. We were placed on large divans set before a gigantic gong. A series of hand-hammered bronze bowls, looking as old as the world itself, were placed on various point on our body: hands, feet, stomach, back. A soft felt mallet struck the bowls, sending vibrations throughout our body as sound reverberated all around us. At first I didn’t feel much of anything, but I soon noticed a familiar, dull ache in my forearms. When have I felt this sensation before? I asked myself. When I used to do acupuncture, I realized, and I suddenly recognized this feeling as energy flowing through my body. As I lay quietly at the end of the session I felt a gentle tap on my forehead, and assuming it was the therapist, I flicked open my eyes. No one was there.
The next day I was sitting at Kafe, enjoying a particularly good panini, when my stomach started to toss, turn, and rumble. “Not Bali Belly,” I thought to myself. But then I remembered what Ishara had told me a few days earlier about the Tibetan bowls, that they release energy quickly and in sometimes unexpected ways. A friend of hers had been sick as a dog for three days after a session, and I couldn’t help by wonder if the same thing was happening to me. After one sick night I’m still not sure whether to blame it on suspect lettuce or those bowls, but I emerged from the whole ordeal feeling renewed and a little more in awe of the power of Bali.1 comment
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
Last week I got carded, and it had nothing to do with the fact that I look like I’m 18-years-old. We recently received our membership cards for the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travellers, a nonprofit organization that provides a network of doctors for travelers around the world. Need an English-speaking doctor and not sure where to go? Your donation provides you a directory of Western-trained medical providers around the world with a prescribed fee schedule. So no worries about language barriers, questionable facilities, or surprise charges: IAMAT has done the leg work for you. We found out about this great organization through our friends at the New Mexico Travel Health clinic. Hopefully we won’t have to use this service during our travels, but the chances are good that we will. it’s nice to know we have a plan in place when the only thing on our mind is, “Get me to a doctor — NOW!”1 comment
Things are finally starting to fall into place this week. You may have noticed that the “Rent Our House!” tab has disappeared from our page. Utilizing our “kindness of strangers” approach, we were able to secure a renter for the duration of our trip! Our friends, John and Alicia, were able to refer a great tenant our way. Our hope has always been to find a friend-of-a-friend to rent to, someone we can trust with our greatest asset. So, thanks guys: you’ve taken a real load off of our shoulders.
I’ve always said that once our tickets were purchashed and our house was rented, the rest was just details. With those big items checked off our mounting to-do list, I am able to shift my focus to some of the smaller (and more interesting) things that need to be accomplished before July 13. This week I began a photograph class. People keep telling me to “take lots of great pictures” on our trip, which is a tall order. I bought a nifty camera nearly a year ago, and thus far I’ve only mastered the automatic settings. Realizing I need to learn how to operate the manual settings to do anything cool and artsy, I signed up for a photography class. Once we hit the road we plan on creating photo galleries for each country we visit, so hopefully you’ll be able to witness the fruits of my labor. I’m not the ideal photographer; it’s a technical craft for which I find I have very little patience (I still can’t, for the life of me, understand the concept of an f-stop and how it relates to aperture- and shutter-priority). But a girl can dream! We’re still trying to figure out the best way to store and back-up our photos from the road. Our computer probably won’t store much, so we’ve considered buying an iPod to store photos. We’ve also thought about buying a number of memory cards and storing photos that way; or, some combination of those two methods. If any one has any brilliant ideas to this end, we’re all ears.
We finished our final round of vaccinations this week, and are now guarded against nearly every disease that one can be vaccinated for. We’ve spent so much time at the New Mexico Travel Health Clinic over the past two months that the nurse actually gave us a hug on the way out and asked us to send her a postcard. I’m honestly not sure what I’ll do with my Friday mornings anymore.
In other news, my backpack that’s been on order from REI arrived this week! I was excited to pick it up at the store and have it fitted on Thursday. I still feel a little panicked when I see how small it is, but that’s just the way it’s gonna have to be. I had an interesting conversation with the employee who fitted the bag for me, who had obviously done a great deal of extended international travel. It’s fun to find a fellow soul who you can debate the relative pros and cons of bringing more than two pairs of shoes with. We also discussed, at length, how to pack lightly without looking like a bum or about to embark on a safari. One issue in which he had a definite opinion was the Eagle Creek packing folders and cubes. The one commonality I’ve seen in all RTW packing lists is the addition of these flexible packing products. They are supposed to make your backpack infinitely more organized and compact. Stay tuned as The Mystery of How to Get Eight Months Worth of Stuff in One Bag continues…3 comments
Do you remember Debbie Downer? Anyone who’s talked to me lately might notice a striking resemblance between me and that down-in-the-dumps SNL character made famous by Rachel Dratch. I’m hoping it’s a case of that old adage,”it’s always darkest just before the dawn,” but everything seems to be getting me down these days. Pervasive news reports of the sinking dollar are depressing. As I was reading my Lonely Planet Portugal guidebook a few days ago, I couldn’t help but balk at the price of the “budget” accomodations; then I realized they would certainly be considered budget by euro currency standards. News of South American skirmishes has also planted doubts squarely in my mind — what if we have to circumvent our travels to Ecuador? World events can change on a dime, and I realize we might have to alter our itinerary at a moment’s notice at any point on this trip, potentially nixing a location we’ve dreamed about visiting for years. Maikael was incredibly sick last night, possibly a side effect of all these vaccinations, which doesn’t bode well for the next three weeks of upcoming shots. And the last week was filled with continued frustration over the purchase of our plane ticket. By Wednesday I was beginning to doubt if it would ever happen at all. I never knew something so simple could be so complicated.
I am a worrier, no doubt about it. In order to stay sane on this trip I will have to exercise, as the Thai say, mai pen lai, which literally translates as “never mind.” In other words, I’ve got to let it go. Perhaps this emotional roller coaster ride is strength training for the journey ahead? I had another dream about the trip this week. My leg had been run over by a train, and when I got to the clinic, I had to wait hours to be seen by a doctor. Why? A bunch of people ahead of me needed vaccinations. When I was finally seen by a doctor, he prophetically proclaimed, ” Your leg is broken.” “I know that,” I said, “that’s why I’m here.” As the doctor ensconsed my leg in a cast, he said, “You won’t be able to get around well for eight weeks.” It was then that I realized that our trip started in a week. A wave of panic washed over me. What would we do? I woke up, reeling from the dream, and spent the next few days trying to sort out its meaning. There are the obvious themes of the need for patience, as well as the worry and anxiety that are bombarding my subconscious, a sense that catastrophe is lurking around every corner. But more importantly, legs, in dreams, symbolize our perceived support and strength. Clearly, I am feeling emotionally run over, flattened, broken.
If I competed in track and field events I would be a sprinter, not a long-distance runner. I am nothing but enthusiasm incarnate at the beginning of a race, attacking the field with gusto. But I quickly peter out, spewing a plume of spent energy in my wake. A task like planning a round-the-world trip requires the tenacity of a marathon runner; someone who races at a steady pace. I am no marathon runner, but I’m lucky enough to be married to one. If it weren’t for Maikael, I’d probably be lying in a pool of my own tears by now.
It’s time to start the race again. What I need is something to get me excited about this trip once more, a proverbial shot in the arm. But please, don’t send another vaccine.3 comments
Getting vaccinated is the first tangible thing that’s signaled to me that this trip is really going to happen. All of this talk of airplane tickets and accomodations and renting our house is still just that: talk. Today, I have the bruise and sore spot on my right arm to prove that we are leaving in four months. We’ve saved and saved our money, but until yesterday, there has been no financial committment to this trip. I was warned that the vaccinations alone would run us around $400, so this felt like a big step. There was no going back now.
But lo and behold, when we checked in for our appointment, we discovered that the insurance plan through Maikael’s work covers all travel-related vaccines and medications. We were shocked, which was soon followed by a feeling of intense gratitude. On behalf of The Thomas Family, we’d like to say to Maikael’s employer, “Thank you.” So we still have yet to make any financial obligations to this trip — even the plane tickets that will be purchased in the next week are fully refundable — but I’m sure it’s coming soon.
There is a national shortage of the yellow fever vaccine. The vial, which provides up to five doses, must be used within an hour, at which time it becomes inactive. Therefore, the clinic tries to get five people in at the same time to make the most of the vaccine. We shared the lobby with a young UNM student who is preparing to go to Africa to help a team of opthamologists in rural villages; an older gentleman bound for Kenya who loudly shared his “hilarious” story of videotaping large game in Africa; and a woman preparing for a mission trip to Uganda. As always, we were the odd ones out. And it wasn’t your typical doctor’s office conversation. “So tell me, dear, where are you going that has yellow fever?”
They like to make the most of your vaccination visit. The attitude seems to be, “Hey, you’re going to feel like crap whether we give you one vaccine or four, so why not do four today?” After receiving our yellow fever vaccine, Maikael and I stayed behind for our “pre-travel consultation.” I imagine this takes your average traveler about 10 minutes. We emerged two hours later with a ream of paper, a stack of prescriptions, and a gigantic box filled with medicine.
I loved the consultation office. The walls were graced with such cheery poster as, “Asia is wonderful. Japenese encephilitis is not.” There was also a table piled high with fake food, including rubbery-looking green beans, a plastic pork chop, and a very realistic looking tortilla fashioned from a folded round of felt. I tried to prod as to why the faux food was there — something to do with nutritional education, I imagine — but never got a clear answer. Our consultation included not only what vaccines and medicines we would need, but how to handle a wide range of general travel health issues. I now know that there are jellyfish in Australia that kill within three minutes of a sting; how to remove a stingray’s barb using only a tub of scalding water; that a jellyfish stinger can be removed with a razor and shaving cream; how to use iodine to sanitize my salad greens; and that I should poke a hole in the bottom of my bottles of water to avoid them being re-bottled with local water and given to unsuspecting travelers. We also debunked some myths, learning, for example, that rabies shots are NOT given in the chest or stomach as we had always suspected (turns out, that only happened on Lassie — it’s how rabies shots were administered in the 1950s after someone had been bitten by a rabid dog).
In the midst of the consultion, I realized that, depite the amount of preparation for this trip, there’s still so much we don’t know. At one point, the conversation went something like this:
“How long will you be in India?”
“Uh, three weeks? But we’re not really sure.”
“And will you be going to Iguassu Falls when you’re in Argentina?”
“For how long?”
“Uh, maybe three days?”
“How much time will there be between India and Indonesia?”
“Um, well, it depends on if we end up going to India or not. We’re just not sure yet.”
“So how many days between?”
We also discussed our required and recommended vaccinations, which will be administered in a series of doses over the next four weeks. By the time this is all over, we will be BFF with the NM Travel Health Clinic. Our vaccinations will include: Hepatitis A&B, yellow fever, meningitis, rabies, tetanus, polio, and the flu shot. We will also receive oral medication for malaria and, my hands down favorite, typhoid.
The nurse said, “I’m sending you home with the oral typhoid vaccine.” ”Okay,” I’m thinking, as I look around the room, ”where is it?” ”It’s in that box,” she says, pointing to a large shipping box. “And don’t laugh when you get home and open it.” I’m not sure what she means: is a Jack-in-the Box going to pop out or something? But when we get home, her warning is obvious. Packed inside this gigantic box, nestled between the styrofoam walls and ice blocks, are two boxes of typhoid vaccine that I can easily hold between my thumb and pointer finger. We gingerly place them between the yogurt and spaghetti sauce, happy that this journey has really begun.1 comment