The rain in Bali is a relief after two months of sweltering heat, like emerging from the recycled stale oxygen of a cramped airplane into the sweet sun-cleaned air.
I hadn’t seen rain since I left Boston. There was beautiful fog that wreathed the shores of the Mekong in Laos each morning, and an occasional threatening cloud and clamorous wind in Koh Phangan, but otherwise it was all pure blistering tropical sunshine.
And the rain in Bali right now is endlessly interesting. Maybe it’s because of its newfound novelty in my life, or because today I’m confined to the hotel in observance of Nyepi Day, the day of silence and stillness and staying inside (no lights on, no cooking, no noise), but I’m entranced. So I just idle away on the beautiful terrace of my guesthouse room. It looks out over a patch of jungle in Ubud that leads to the Sacred Monkey Forest, though sadly the monkeys seem to stay there and haven’t visited me.
Scenes from the Nyepi Eve parade in Ubud, full of demons and light and sound before the silent dark day.
Curled up under the sheltering balcony with a cup of Balinese tea nestled in my cool hands, I watch the clouds roll in and lose their definition as the sky becomes one single shade of pale grey. The rain starts so slowly you can’t hear it, even on this day of complete silence across the whole island (no motorbikes gunning down the street or car horns tooting hello, as you can be fined or even arrested for going out of your home or hotel today).
Then suddenly, water engulfs my visible world. It’s all that you can hear as it drowns out the birdsong, all you can see aside from the trees swaying under the deluge. My world has narrowed to this little terrace, this patch of forest, the cooling tea in my hand. I’ve turned off my phone for the day to allow myself to soak in this silence and solitude fully, to rejoice in this beautiful rain and the chance to do nothing but observe it and feel its wildness, its power and indifference.
Sometimes I feel my sense of solitude and aloneness as a weight, a burden to carry like one of those sacred monkeys jumping on my back for a ride. My tedious inner monologue tells me I’m alone because I’m too different, too strange, too broken for other people, that loneliness is my fate. Being on an island full of honeymooning couples and glamorous women who swan around in tiny dresses while I pull on my yoga pants doesn’t help dispel that notion.
But other times, I feel a sense of blissful aloneness and freedom wash over me like the thick lashings of rain here. I have all the time and freedom in the world, and I’ve chosen to spend it here on this perch watching the rain fall and the white birds with orange throats winging over the forest canopy on a beautiful and strange holiday halfway around the world.
I don’t feel stuck in my loneliness any longer. My body sings with the joy that this is my life right now, my unshared and unencumbered pleasure to spend my time exactly as I please.
That’s the great gift of traveling alone: the growing sense that solitude can be beautiful and restoring, that aloneness and loneliness are two distinct feelings, that the freedom to do whatever you like without considering anyone else is exhilarating.