The Eco Lodge was built on the slopes of Bali’s second highest mountain. It was run by a pair of peaceful hippies who wanted people to share in the joys of fruit and veggies picked fresh from their food forest, cold, clear water trickling through a ferny waterhole, and the calm of a tiny mountainside community in Bali.
We’d decamped to read, drift and eat. My mother had passed away only six months’ prior, and on a scale of demented and sad, I was an 11. I desperately needed rest from the voices in my head, from the city rubbish trucks, and from the pressing feeling of sadness in my chest and my bones.
I needed calm, stillness, silence.
The eight ladies of the Silent Retreat were sitting at the next table in the little shared dining room: shawled and wrapped warmly against the tropical air; sporting artfully tailored yoga gear; thin hands wrapped around steaming mugs of lemongrass tea; oh, and there was one game gentleman who had the bland, beardly look of that guy from Northern Exposure we were all supposed to be in love with.
We’d heard of Vipassana; we couldn’t think of a limper or quieter bunch of bedfellows.
The Silent Retreaters were chattering quickly before tonsillar lockdown. They didn’t have much time to share each others’ hopes and dreams before facing the three-day onslaught of meditation, yoga, and organic food. Many had that frail, slightly injured air of people who operate under a lot of internal stress. Several of them had colds. They all had the translucent skin, fair colouring and sharp collarbones of people who spend their days thinking, talking, and dreaming about food. Over at the ceramic rainwater decanter filling up their Nalgene bottles, they’d adopted the dreamy middle-distance look of people determined to make no eye contact with the only two other people in the room.
Their Leader looked like – how can I say this in a literary fashion – a complete bitch. She stalked past us, all sharp cheekbones and billowing scarves and frizz, when our host approached us bashfully.
Despite them sitting right in front of us, the host was told to tell us that the Silent Retreat need to let some energy out. Primal scream therapy. “I’ve just been informed that they need to scream for at least 15 minutes every day,” she said apologetically.
Regardless of extensive preparations and emailing, the host had no idea this was afoot. They needed to access their painful childhood traumas and what could we do? The Eco Lodge was kilometres from anywhere (except, of course, the actual village), so we’d no hope of escape. We snorted a while and said: “Bring it on!”
One-by-one the Silent/Primal Scream Retreat drifted off into the ether. We launched into the joys of Bali: swimming in a freezing mountainside waterhole, eating raw chocolate mousse, spotting sunbirds and gorgeous tropical flowers and fruit and hiking through rainforests.
At the hour of reading and napping (3pm, as any person who knows about holidays is aware), the forest awoke. In the yoga hut in front of our chalet. This was the very hut I’d pinpointed for my post-nap fencing romp and workout, and the only flat spot on the mountain.
First it was the drumming: the djembes, the bongos, the tablas and the tom-toms. Then thin, piteous wails and strangled yelps rent the air, the choked cries of people who’d held back for a lifetime. The yelps turned into hollers, which became bellows which and finally broke down into thrumming on the floor and open weeping.
Then the techno commenced. Full bore. Rolling about the misty hills and booming down the mountain all the way to Kuta. Not only were we, the only other guests, held hostage to their spiritual evolution the entire region was in thrall to their childhood traumas. After a full hour it rolled away, and the Silent/Primal Scream retreaters rambled up the hill to nab all the prime lookouts and do their journaling.
I pulled on my sneakers and stomped down the track. I started my fencing drills, lunging and attacking amongst the scene of their crimes, and taking great delight in scattering a furious trail of sweat amongst the cushions, scarves, towels, blankets, mugs of virtuous tea, cymbals, incense and other implementata of the chronically unable to cope.
The rain pummeled down and I got my anger out in my own way.
The Balinese are renowned for being some of the most easy-going human beings on the planet, which is probably why the Silent Retreat was drawn there in the first place. On a guided ramble later, we found out they’d spooked the whole mountainside. Would they be horrified to learn what the locals thought of them?
Thankfully the owners and staff still had a soft spot for us two, and we dissected the Silent/Primal Screamers with glee. They were advised to stow their manifold issues for another day, and we chalked it up as a win.
Like a cat that knows you have allergies, the Leader had taken our spot when we returned for dinner, and was haughtily perusing her fermented rainwater. We milled about for a bit and I lit up a Kretek, fanning it towards her. She drifted away when she was good and ready, and we continued drinking our Eco-Coladas, talking about footy, and checking Facebook like the unenlightened westerners we are.