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When Travel Becomes More Than A Destination

The beauty of travel is it allows you to leave yourself behind.  You can be anonymous in a place you’ve never been.  By anonymous, I mean your reputation, beliefs, habits, friends, family – anything that makes you “you” where you live is behind you.  You can begin anew even if temporarily.  It is safe to say, however, the more you travel and leave yourself behind, the more you will change.  And, the more you will seek a life different than you’re accustomed to.  I, for one, love change – this is the curious gentleman in me.

The moment I walk through the security checkpoint at my home airport, I know this is the signal I’m leaving everything behind.  And no, I’m not running or hiding from anything despite what others say.  Leaving home is always an opportunity to grow more than before.  It is absolutely true my aim is to grow as it helps me become a better person.

Travel also provides the opportunity to grow your circle of friends and family.  Of course, I have blood relatives (aka family) though I can’t say I’m particularly close to any of them.  It’s safe to say I stay far away from a good number of them.  And friends?  I love my small close-knit group of friends.  Everyday life happens at home, though, and friends are busy with their own families or endlessly working to make ends meet in our uncertain times.  I don’t fault them for that.  This brings me to what I consider my real family – the ones I meet while travelling. These are the people of foreign cultures who unselfishly welcome me, share their lives, their homes, respect, talent, smiles, laughs and general goodwill.  I’ve experienced this over and over again all over the world.

Now, when I say the people whom I meet while travelling become my friends or family, I don’t mean short-term while I am at a particular place.  Contact continues and is closer than those who live less than a mile from me at home.  Strange how this works, but it does, and I’m grateful.

During my second visit to Bali, I decided to venture away from the glorious beach resort in a quest to discover true Balinese culture.  Little did I know when I arrived at the small village of Penempaham I would meet Arya Danu Palguna, more commonly known as Gede.  Gede welcomed me into his village’s Temple during a full moon ceremony.  His initial concern was the first thing I saw was the sacrificing of pigs, which I must admit was entirely unexpected.  We talked a lot and I listened a lot to Gede’s story.  His compassion drew me to him immediately.  More than this, I was fascinated to learn at twenty-two his main goal in life was to tell the real story of Bali and help preserve Balinese culture.  Seriously, I don’t know a twenty-two year old with such a lofty goal existed in any country much less a small village in Bali.

Gede impressed me so much I gave him my camera that day and asked him to email photos and video to me after I returned home.  Of course, he was speechless and surprised to receive a camera from me – a stranger he had just met a few hours before.  I thought to myself as I left the village either I hear from him or I don’t.   Months went by after I left Bali.  I hadn’t heard from Gede, and quite frankly, I put the episode out of my head.

Then one day an email arrived, then another email and another – all filled with hundreds of photos and videos Gede had captured Bali as he sees it.  He also sent nearly a hundred pages of text he had written to explain his goal.  No wonder I hadn’t heard from him in months.  He took the gesture seriously and compiled such an impressive collection there was no doubt what he wanted to do and the story he wanted to tell.

How could I not further help Gede achieve his goal?  I returned to Bali to teach him how to properly take a photo, though Gede is so talented I am more of a mentor or supporter for him than a teacher.  I’m convinced I learn more from him than he learns from me.  And, the truth is my vast education of Balinese culture comes directly from Gede.

Photography and video have been the main focus as I guide this young man, though he also writes music and songs to tell the story of Bali. One day on our way to a Temple he sheepishly asked if I wanted to listen to a song his band had recorded.  “A little song” is how I remember him describing it.  I first heard “Colon Arang” as a very rough mp3 mix on a car radio. The members of the band, Hinduisme, comprise of his cousins from his small village, Penempaham.

When I listened I heard a love song.  My Indonesian is on the non-existent side so I relied on the melody and what I know as a westerner. Long story short,  I asked for a copy of the song to take to my good friend, songwriter and partner, Richard, in America.  I did just that. Richard listened to the song, fell in love with it and six months later we were back in Bali with the band in a music studio.  

Richard’s account of the making of “Calon Arong” can be found on his blog at Cardo and Friends.

It turns out Calon Arang is not at all a love song but a story of black magic incantations, revenge, anger and deceit in Bali folklore.  The music and voices are stunningly beautiful.  Please take a moment to listen.

I’ve never met a young person like Gede whose goals are as big as the “Island of Gods,”  Each time I am with him my admiration and respect grows.  I could not be more proud of him.  He indeed is my brother and part of my family.   It is my goal to help make his dream come true.  Giving back.  It’s the right thing to do.  And yes, at first Bali was simply a destination but it has become so much more.

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