It was beautiful, with its thin snakes of broken tarmac writhing through the green, valleys contoured with rice paddies, bamboo architecture, flower-filled offering boxes littering the paths. As with everywhere nowadays, a traveller has to scavenge for hideouts from the oily, red belly of mass tourism. But it was still beautiful. Beautiful to feel the heat on my skin in February, to dive with manta rays, beautiful to eat tofu, beautiful to smell difference, to be transported from a life of familiars to the wilderness of the hitherto unknown. Slowly, I shed my earthy layers until I was almost Mudless.
I love travelling for many reasons. One of them is that it rips The Self out its context and plants it somewhere new. It offers the opportunity to glance over your shoulder at your world back home and view it from ten steps removed. Without our houses, our jobs, our friends and our dogs, which can at any time be taken from us, who and what are we? Who was I without The Mud?
There was a time when I loved my land so intensely, I actually thought I couldn’t live without it. It was my best friend, and I felt a visceral need to be connected to it. Perhaps this is the same with all love affairs. In the beginning we lose ourselves in the union, which allows it to transform us and thus we evolve. But over time – unless we become addicted to the rush which tends to bring about a more cataclysmic end to the relationship – the bond relaxes. We find we can enjoy our time to ourselves as much as our time with our lovers. We appreciate them through togetherness and separation in equal measure.
In Bali, I enjoyed simply sitting with my soul and hearing it speak, hearing the whispers and callings that were beyond The Mud, feeling my imagination roam in new directions and allowing the fingers of Another Place to leave her prints on me. Soon The Mud receded almost out of view. Then it was time to return.
Returns can often be difficult; the soul is still in the old, while the senses have arrived in the new. The first impression of home is informative because of this. It is a virgin wall uncoloured by the ideas, emotions and memories we will soon tack over it. It takes a couple of days to ‘settle in’, for the soul to return and plaster the walls of now with its associations. In this small temporal gap, we have the chance to see our homes momentarily devoid of ourselves.
The day I returned, I walked down my path, already overgrown after just less than a month. My dog stopped maddeningly often to smell this rock and that stick, trying to catch up on what she’d missed. The slope was covered in a lush green down. My leeks and onions were lost in a mesh of burgeoning grass. But it was the mountains that forced me to pause. Their massive grey heads formed a circle around me. They held an exquisite view in their forested arms, and then let it slide between them into the sea. The sky seemed to go on forever, the blue rising higher and higher. The hairs on my arms bristled. I was transfixed.
Next, I walked over to my little house of Mud. I smiled and dropped my backpack on a kitchen chair. Sliding my key in the lock, I pushed the door. It opened onto a rustic, nobbled world of Turkish carpets, bookshelves and mud sculptures. There were little alcoves and pretty mosaics, painted stones and glass beads set in plaster. I gasped at the sight of it. Oh my God! I said to myself. What a lovely little house! Who could have made it?’ It was strange. I saw nothing of the cracks that needed filling, nor the boards needing a new coat of oil, nor the dust collecting in the corners. All the ‘faults’ that I normally bothered myself with, had mysteriously vanished.
I kicked off my boots and stepped inside. The smell of the juniper floor was dizzying. The air cool and fresh. As I ran my eyes over the bumpy walls, they oozed with spirit and warmth. Jumping onto a kilim cushion, I let my Mud home hold me as I stared out at view.
I shook my head. I was just as besotted as ever.
Sorry Bali, this is beautiful, I thought. Yup. There ain’t no place like home.