“There is strong shadow where there is much light.”
― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
If you’ve read anything about Bali, you’ve heard it likened to paradise or referred to as the Island of Gods, Island of Peace. It’s deserving of all of these comparisons and nicknames. You can’t help but be at your most pure here, your absolute lightest. Things naturally unfold that way here.
As such, one might feel compelled to behave accordingly. Although there are no requirements, there tends to be a set of general rules by which to abide, in order to really have the experience you’re supposed to have during your stay: Must eat healthily. Must meditate. Must practice yoga. Must have regular epiphanies. Must not need. Must remain peaceful.
In the past, I didn’t want to break any rules. I believed it was vital to do all of the above, as well as to keep my upper body completely covered; to never use my left hand in public (I’ll let you research that one, yourself); to be spiritual always.
But part of the spiritual experience involves not only the radiance, the glow, the luminescence, the gleam, but also the shadows cast by that light.
There is no avoiding it: Wherever light presses, so do its shadows, and the harder we press against them, the deeper we move into them.
I find this true with the children of every overbearing and absurdly strict parent I know. The story is always the same: You may never try [insert allegedly bad thing here]. Child secretly does a whole lot of trying [same allegedly bad thing], sometimes to the point of addiction.
Maybe it’s better, then, to let that shadow pour over you, like standing beneath a waterfall without trying to avoid getting wet.
After all, the unknown, itself, is first shadow before it is ever alit, right?
All of this is really just a setup to justify how much we shadowed out over the next 24 hours…
It was a Thursday evening. After a very long walk, we finally found California-style Mexican food deep in Ubud. We started with passionfruit margaritas and — oh my God — everything that touched our tongues for the next 30 minutes tasted amazing. Maybe the best flavors we’d had so far. And so we were on a mission.
We had met a friend earlier in the trip and invited her to join us at this most-glorious find, Taco Casa, but she was already at dinner with other friends; she’d find us later. So, after dinner, we started walking aimlessly through Ubud for exploration’s sake and, within just 10 minutes of this, Emily spotted our friend across the street.
This entire bustling city of Ubud, and we accidentally walked directly to the one friend we’d hoped to see: Welcome to Bali.
We strolled over and joined her and the friends she’d been traveling with and then: one cocktail, two cocktail, three cocktail — more? … um, yeah, sure, okay.
While watching one of the gals on her Tinder app, I asked her to sign me up for kicks, especially since I’d recently watched Conan’s Tinder episode with Dave Franco (I’d link you, but I’m not there yet). It’s a very fun game if you’re looking for some comic relief or just another Web-based time killer. Swipe swipe swipe.
My favorite was the guy who called himself “Cutthroat” — the kind of name that truly allures a single woman to go on a blind date in a foreign country. There were also many variations of the name “Shadie,” plus guys who’d write that they were married but looking for a good time and others whose only self-description was: “If you’re not going to respond to my text messages after a while, then don’t bother talking to me!” Tinderjected!
This would have been my favorite part of the evening, except that, although our friends headed home to prepare for their flight the next day, we carried on.
Loud music poured over the second story of a building we were passing on our way home, so we stopped. We made our way upstairs to find a full house and live reggae — neither of which are our favorites, but we went for it. The bartender handed us two giant, warm Bintangs when we asked for two small, cold ones. We went for that, too.
We pushed our way to what could be construed as the “front row” and started dancing, making fleeting friendships with the locals and even the band with our charm: weird dance moves and intentionally criss-crossed Bahasa Indonesia.
After a hilarious bathroom break, which I won’t go into for legal purposes, we kept moving.
And then it was all over (it wasn’t): We found a club playing hip-hop music. But not just any hip-hop — an eclectic mix of mid-90s pop rap and some current dubstep-gangsta rap mashup, depending on which room you were in. Unfortunately, the huge tent erected for dancing (which we affectionately referred to as “the hot box”) played the latter.
I asked for popcorn at the bar, as we’d been searching for this delectable snack since week one, and they actually delivered. One small cup of peanuts first, followed by one small cup of burnt popcorn. We each threw one cup down the gullet and then followed a staff member to the hot box with a couple of Bintangs for a dance-off.
Our dance-off is never competitive; we mostly just crack each other up with our best or newly invented moves, in between rolling our eyes at the music. Emily makes special requests to the DJ, which are always met in other countries like this with “Who is E-40?”
We were getting drunk by now. At some point, a young 20-something-year-old tried to really have a dance-off with Emily (thus, with herself) and immediately dropped her cocktail, shattering glass and spilling liquor everywhere.
Perfect timing for us to step out for a refresher beer before returning for just one more song.
Leaving the lounge, we realized how late it actually was. Had we really shut Ubud down, the cultural and spiritual hub of Bali? We had so far to walk home and the whole town was shadow-dark.
We were singing and laughing through the streets on our way back — sometimes getting echoed by other visitors in the same boat — and we were hungry. Like, ferociously hungry. We found a liquor store and each bought a whole can of Pringles (yes, on purpose) and a two-liter bottle of water.
On the three-mile walk home we still had before us, we nearly finished our entire cans while negotiating our way through unlit ricefield paths, large groups of curious young men, and barking dogs protecting their turf.
We both woke up hungover and pretty much lost the whole next day to headaches, upset stomachs, and lots of naps.
It wasn’t the kind of night you’d expect to have in Ubud, but we made some good memories. Fuzzy, but good. And some dance floor videos, which we have since erased, so you will never ever see them.
Yes, I think there is something to embracing the shadow once in a while. To enjoying the full spectrum of our human experience, even when the moments aren’t easily categorized as “contributors” to our personal evolution.
In the long run, maybe they actually are.