Curiosity Makes for Good Stories

Today I got to scuba dive for the first time in six years. Yesterday, I had a little refresher class in the pool—how to wear a BCD, hand signals to use underwater, how to keep my buoyancy, how much weight I need to carry on my weight belt. Today, I went on a two-tank dive with three other divers to Amed. I didn’t realize how far away Amed was—an hour and a half drive in the dive van from Lotus Bungalows. It was a long, dreamy drive each way with nothing to do but stare out the window. There were three bench seats in the van. In the front, they were speaking Indonesian. In the middle seat, Swedish. And I was mostly quiet in the back, except for a few polite exchanges with the Swedish couple sitting in front of me, midway through their dive vacation.

I wished that I’d brought my little notebook and a pen along for the ride, but I hadn’t thought to bring anything but my prescription diving mask. No phone, no notebook, no pen. So I had to take notes in my head, and now that I’m back lounging on the big colorful couch at Lotus Bungalows, freshly showered, wearing black and white harem pants, bare feet, and a black linen tank top, enjoying the cool breeze while sipping on a fresh banana milkshake, staring out at the infinity pool and the East Bali Sea. I’m trying to recall what it was I was thinking about in the back of the van on all those curvy East Bali roads on the way to Amed.

I was remembering why I love to travel so much and partly, it’s that whole beginner’s mind thing. When I’m in a new place, there are so many questions. So much curiosity. And although I’ve been to Bali five times before this visit, it’s been six years since the last time I was here, and my memory sucks, so I have a lot of the same questions and curiosities I’ve had on prior visits. The same curiosity I hope my students will have when they arrive.

One of the most powerful drivers of good writing is curiosity; all good stories are trying to answer a question. Good travel writing is, too.

So here are just some questions I had flitting through my mind on the way to and from our dive site today:

  • Why are there shrines in the middle of the road, right in the center of the busiest intersections?
  • Why are most shrines, and so many other things in Bali, wrapped with black and white checkered cloth or painted in the same pattern?
  • Do you need a license to drive a scooter in Bali and is there a minimum age at which you can drive one?
  • The scruffy dogs I see along the side of the road—do they belong to anyone? Or are they just street dogs? And if so, how do they live?
  • Do the Balinese believe in pets, and if they do, what does that “having a pet” mean in their culture?
  • What roles do animals play in Balinese life? Are some animals considered more valuable than others?
  • How do the Balinese feel about monkeys?
  • What percentage of Balinese rice is GMO rice? What are the politics of that?
  • Why is everything so damn close to the edge of the road?
  • Why does everyone completely ignore the yellow lines in the middle of the road and just drive wherever and however they want to?
  • Why does the traffic flow feel relaxed despite the chaos, much like the ease of floating 30 feet underwater?
  • Why aren’t there more traffic accidents? What happens when there is one?
  • Why are the little offerings you see everywhere, made with such care, left to disintegrate and get stepped on?
  • How do the Balinese sustain their culture despite the constant influx of tourists wanting their own taste of Bali?
  • How do the Balinese really feel about tourists beneath their welcoming smile?
  • What do all the billboards along the road mean? Who is running for office—is it a Balinese election or an Indonesian one? What kind of government is running this country anyway? Who votes and who doesn’t?

Each of these questions holds a story. And one of the wonderful things about having Judy and Surya as our guides throughout Bali is all these questions—and so many more—whatever we want to know—will be answered. I look forward to relearning so much of what I’ve learned in the past and so much more about Balinese spirituality and Balinese healers—the focus point of this trip.

Scroll to Top