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Bacolod City, Philippines Monday, April 15, 2019
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Holy water and science

Rock & Refuge

I had a relaxing week in Bali with friends – Noel Iligan, Toks Lopez and Lulu Abelido. It’s our annual getaway that started four years ago and usually during the Lenten Season. But because prices are steep in the coming week, we decided to advance our trip.

Except for a few notifications in email or social media, I didn’t get much news which was by choice, just so I can savor the sights and sounds (not so much the taste) that this island has to offer.

I must say, Bali is one destination I will not mind visiting again and though our beaches remain a far cry from what it has to offer, the people, particularly their guides, make the visit to touristy spots worth your while.

Speaking of guides, you’d be surprised at how fluent Balinese guides are in foreign languages. They speak French, Italian and heavily-accented English very well. I was listening to one Italian-speaking guide and it was amazing to hear him talk, not in schooled Italian language, but in conversational Italian interspersed with northern Italy dialect.

We had an interesting and funny experience in Tirta Gangga, a former royal vacation palace in Northeastern Bali with our guide, Gusti. He is endearingly patronizing, calling us “good family” and when our eyes would wander as he was explaining things, he would call your attention to look at him and to verbalize if you do understand what he was talking about.

The place is really breathtakingly beautiful with giant everything (except the people). Giant taro, giant lily pods, giant birds of paradise, and yes giant kois, even bigger than what I saw in Japan – probably because of the non-ending supply of water which Gusti explained, come from the Ganges River.

Within the palace grounds are bathing pools, one for the locals and one for foreign visitors. Gusti explained in so many adjectives the healing elements of the water including the belief that it is similar to a fountain of youth which is why they frequent the place, bathing and drinking water from the source which comes behind a huge stone at the bottom of a 200-year old Banyan tree.

Since the source is a sacred place and only Hindu believers are allowed in, we were content with dipping our feet in the so-called “holy water.”

We actually arrive prepared with our bathing suits but decided not to take a full dip after listening to Gusti’s story. He prepped us up with the wonders of the holy water and asked us to take a good guess of his age, which he so convincingly described as a wonder.

Not wanting to sound rude, I asked, 57? He gave us a side to side headshake which meant no. Toks then guessed, 70? And he looked at us incredulously and just gestured much lower. We were laughing by then at how slighted he looked at our responses and we just gave up and asked how old he was.

Gusti proudly said, “I am 50!” When he said that, we all died and went to heaven. Which of course did not happen, but definitely, we nearly peed in our pants.

Gusti is a dark-skinned wrinkly guy and nobody would have guessed at all that he is 50. I am more inclined to believe he is in his late 60’s except for the fact that he is indeed sprightly which I supposed we should have noticed.

We were a bit rude and so we explained why, pointing to myself as having just turned 50 and to Noel who will also soon turn 50, but pretends he will just be 30.

When you are among friends, you can actually afford to make fun of yourselves and Noel told our guide not to take offense because while Gusti is a believer of ‘au natural,’ Noel on the other hand is a clear model for “au science,” with some explanation as to what procedure he has to go through to attain a more youthful face that doesn’t tell his age.

Noel is as vain as anybody can get. He has been at me for ages to try botox as a way to get rid of the “11” on my forehead! But my fear to be gifted with needles poking at my face just makes me blanch and for now, I don’t care if that 11 turns to 12.

Armed with that fact, we declined to bathe in the pool but, so as not to offend Gusti more, we dipped our feet in the cool holy water, just to sooth our tired legs from the previous climb to the “Gates of Heaven” in Lempuyang temple, which by the way is ‘instagrammable’ but seriously, not worth the long drive and the steep climb.

But at the end of that wonderful day, Gusti had the last laugh when he asked me with a straight face if Noel is my son after hearing him call me “mother.” It was my turn to look incredulous.

Really, if stares could kill, he could have been dead on the spot! But clearly, he was joking (or was he?) just to get back at me for laughing the loudest.

Gusti is one hell of a guide and for 100,000 rupiah, he was more than worth it and we tipped him generously. After all, there is no price for the laughter we shared and the moment we will forever cherish. And yes, I know I will never hear the end of the story of how I ended up being Noel’s mom.*

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