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A trek into Bali's iconic rice paddies

A trek into Bali's iconic rice paddies

A bridge into the rice fields that made even my guide nervous. My strategy was slow and steady. His strategy was run like hell and laugh nervously at me as I sorted it out. (c) 2015 Gail Jessen, A Series of Adventures 

A bridge into the rice fields that made even my guide nervous. My strategy was slow and steady. His strategy was run like hell and laugh nervously at me as I sorted it out. (c) 2015 Gail Jessen, A Series of Adventures 

"Just a small trek," my private guide for the day Pak Putu said. "Small trek..." I asked, somewhat suspiciously. "Small trek, to see rice paddies like the birds," he said matter of factly. We climbed up up up the side of the mountain, navigated delicately along the canal system perched along the ridge line.

At one point an 8-year old Balinese girl went flying past us, giggling, running up the mountain as she likely does many times a day. I felt pretty lame as I stopped to take a photo and catch my breath. 

Up up up up up to see the rice paddies like the birds. (c) 2015 Gail Jessen, A Series of Adventures

Up up up up up to see the rice paddies like the birds. (c) 2015 Gail Jessen, A Series of Adventures

We navigated delicately along the canal system perched along the ridge line, There are miles of canal + natural spring water running along the ridge line of the mountains. Every so often we'd run into a makeshift bridge that led even further back into the jungle, seemingly into nowhere. "This bridge, do people live up there," I asked somewhat stupidly. "Those are farmer house up there. This canal is where, at end of the day, they come down to bath," he informed me. "I didn't realize they bathe in the canal," I said, fascinated by their daily life. "Water is for everyone, so water is commune for bath. Everyone needs baths and so everyone can have water." He also told me how they rotate irrigation days, even seasons at times. One family's paddies are fertile one year and then the next, it's someone else's turn. "Because water is here for everyone and so we all use our turn," he concluded most logically. 

Maybe there are clan squabbles over water rights, maybe not. I'm not romanticizing what is clearly a difficult lifestyle, but I am challenging the western sense of space, ownership, dominion over the earth's resources. It's just so fucking arrogant and silly, all of it. The harmony with nature that governs the Balinese life is profound and omnipresent. It's teaching me (and I'm unlearning) every day.

When your Balinese guide is dripping sweat and wearing a soaked towel on his head, you know you're screwed. I don't think I've ever sweat more in my life than on this day. When we got back in the car, we laughed at our knees sweating. (c) 2015 Gail Jessen, A Series of Adventures

When your Balinese guide is dripping sweat and wearing a soaked towel on his head, you know you're screwed. I don't think I've ever sweat more in my life than on this day. When we got back in the car, we laughed at our knees sweating. (c) 2015 Gail Jessen, A Series of Adventures

We finally popped out into a vista that simultaneously took my breath away and made me cry. It was my second watershed moment that whispered, "You're in Bali. You made it. You're trekking the world alone for an indefinite amount of time...and that is no small trek."

That unforgettable moment you reach the top of the mountain, turn a corner, and realize you're in Bali. (c) 2015 Gail Jessen, A Series of Adventures

That unforgettable moment you reach the top of the mountain, turn a corner, and realize you're in Bali. (c) 2015 Gail Jessen, A Series of Adventures

Huts scattered throughout the rice paddies are shelters for the cows that help plow the field, and places where people can eat lunch + take a break from the sun. (c) 2015 Gail Jessen, A Series of Adventures

Huts scattered throughout the rice paddies are shelters for the cows that help plow the field, and places where people can eat lunch + take a break from the sun. (c) 2015 Gail Jessen, A Series of Adventures

Terraced rice paddies as far as the eye can see. We climbed to the third set of terraces, the highest on the ridge line, and found this happy man weeding his fields with a machete-sickle hybrid. (c) 2015 Gail Jessen, A Series of Adventures

Terraced rice paddies as far as the eye can see. We climbed to the third set of terraces, the highest on the ridge line, and found this happy man weeding his fields with a machete-sickle hybrid. (c) 2015 Gail Jessen, A Series of Adventures

Altars were scattered throughout the terraces (of course) and intense was burning in every one. I don't know if this is true, but I liked imagining a tiny and tiny Balinese grandmother hiking up and down all day tending to the incense. (c) 2015 Gail Jessen, A Series of Adventures

Altars were scattered throughout the terraces (of course) and intense was burning in every one. I don't know if this is true, but I liked imagining a tiny and tiny Balinese grandmother hiking up and down all day tending to the incense. (c) 2015 Gail Jessen, A Series of Adventures

Bali's rice fields are an image I'll recall vividly my entire life. I continue to have these moments, these lightning bolts of realization, sinking in further and further. "You're on the other side of the world," they say. "You're not on a vacation," they point out. "You don't fly home in two weeks. This is your life." After Bali I've lined up Thailand, Myanmar, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Latvia, Morocco...and somedays I still wonder when the muscle memory will kick in and I'll live each day knowing: This is actually your life.

Love + small moments that blow your mind,
gail

A Love Letter to Bali

A Love Letter to Bali

What will you offer in the name of balance?

What will you offer in the name of balance?