“Adventure Learning” is the term I am currently using to describe the kind of homeschooling we are doing. We follow a pretty simple formula: choose destination, learn about the place we are going, choose a topic that interests you, prepare ahead of time to be “expert” on location, teach others about your topic. In addition to this academic part of the trip, I think about our days as opportunities to learn and challenge us. I plan “adventures” for us.
Adventures are not just physical activities, like jungle trekking in Borneo. They can be challenges on other levels– social ones; like meeting the children in the floating villages of Cambodia, or emotional ones; like returning to Lithuania with Charlotte after 70 years absence. Sometimes our greatest challenges are internal struggles; like facing our fears and overcoming them.
This week we cycled through the countryside in Bali. It was one of the best “learning adventures” yet! We were picked up before breakfast near our house in Pengestanan. We were last to get in the van, joining up with a mother from Ireland and her two kids (ages 4 and 6) and another couple from Singapore (who left their girls ages 11 and 13 back at the hotel with grandparents).
Bang—there we were, first challenge of the day—make friends with van of people because these folks were going to be our mates for the rest of the day. I know that for many people chatting up strangers and talking all about their work is nothing (ahem Josh). But I cringe away from mingle sessions whenever possible. I hide in the kitchen at most parties when I am in new social circles. I find that Emma is more like me in this circumstance, but usually Max jumps right in to social situations and by the end of a party—he’s made 4 new friends.
But in the van this day, I was so surprised at a newfound confidence. I looked for what we had in common—a lot it turned out. The other two families were expats; the Singapore family had kids just about the same ages as mine. We all loved Ubud; no one had yet found the best place to eat in town. It was becoming clearer to me that the secret to chatting people up is to share things about myself that other people could reciprocate—a partnership. Max and the six year old in the back were chatting away, playing Guess My Animal and Ro-Sham-Bo. By the time we arrived at our breakfast lookout on the mountain we were sitting together easily and ready to take on the bikes!
When our van pulled into the compound, we passed by children wearing brown school uniforms leaning out windows and waving hello. This chorus of welcome was just the first of many during our day in the fields. Bali is an island of smiles and people are genuinely happy that you are happy. It seems to make their day better.
We chose our bikes and helmets, testing gears and brakes. After a quick orientation—“use both brakes please! Stay on the left side of road single file please!” And we were off.
Bang—second challenge—Emma’s pretty shaky on a bike. Don’t get me wrong, she can ride, she’s been riding since she was 6, but it’s not unconscious for her. She’s hyper aware of the bumps on the road. She gets spooked by cars passing her. She can’t talk and ride because it would distract her from her riding vigilance. So the act of riding a bike is a tremendous adventure for her. I opted to stay near the back with Emma.
Max, as you may have guessed was on his bike and flying down the road with the guide at his side before I had my helmet on. He was in heaven. In fact I only have pictures of him at the rest stops during the ride because that was the only time I saw him. The six-year-old girl too was a little tiger on a bike. She rode next to Max at the front of the line, never tiring or intimidated by traffic, terrain or distance from her mother. She was fearless!
We started off pretty easy on a paved side road, passing village houses, the temple, people making offerings at their little roadside shops. Soon however we came to a downhill grade. The guide called to us to slow down, downshift and prepare for the hill. Emma started to get anxious—a wobble to her ride. We stopped at the top of the hill so she could see it. Our guide said, “go go!” during the breaks in the scooter flow. Other bike riders behind us came. Went. More traffic zipped by. Emma’s face was flushed, worried, and I could see the struggle going on for her. Finally our guide said “Ok you walk” and embarrassed, she let him have her bike and she walked down the hill. At the bottom, she shakily got back on, but I could see that her self-confidence had been worn down a little.
The soft, lush hills of rice we so lovely. The breeze when we rode, as delicious as a cool drink. Soon the rough edges of Emma’s anxiety were relaxing as we took in the beauty around us. I can’t tell you how gorgeous the wide blue sky with yesterday’s storm clouds in the distance were. I hope that the photos from the fresh clear day will serve. I felt open and free. I felt like a key turned in a lock. Happiness was just simple—like the green fields and the breath in and out of my body as I pedaled the bike.
With this easiness in me, I drank in everything we saw. The little village lanes, the elaborate preparations for a cremation ceremony, the man with the pushcart selling noodles all delighted me (and required a stop for a photo). Soon we came to the more difficult section of the ride. We were going to ride through the fields—on a narrow footpath separating one flooded field with another. This required you to pedal steadily and stay balanced. If you wobbled or lost your grip on the bike you could tumble over and land in the muddy field. Emma nearly lost it. But she didn’t hesitate this time. Perhaps the blowing green hours in fields softened something in her too. She gripped her handlebars tightly and set off before I could get a photo of her.
After 26 km, we pulled into another building compound and our guides said, “Ok this is the end of the bike and now we trek to lunch.” This sounded great to me. Getting off the bike and reuniting with my backside (I had lost all feeling back there hours ago) was a good thing. We descended from the fields, gradually making our way towards the sound of water. The trail snaked through trees and roots crossed the path. It was marshy in places and narrow in others. We came around a particularly sharp corner of the trail and the hillside dropped way on the right. The Irish mother (who apologized and told us she was afraid of heights) panicked and couldn’t go on until guides helped her down.
Then we were there. At the river, at the bottom of the gorge, was a “bridge” made of two big bamboo poles strung across the water. Although not high above the river, only about a meter and a half above the waterline it was a challenge because there were no hand-lines. The brown river was two meters deep and moving fast. After a day’s ride through the country, I knew how much animal and human pollution was it the water and I did not want to take a swim in it. Without anything but steady feet and confidence in our balance, we were going to cross the bridge.
Bang—third challenge—I am afraid of unsteady heights. I know this sounds kooky, why not a simple acrophobia? Why can I scramble on a cliff top but not climb trees? Why can I ski something very steep but panic on a chairlift? There is something frightening to me about shaky heights. I am afraid of falling yes, but not afraid when I am holding onto something solid. I am not afraid when I feel I have control.
As expected Max was the first to cross the bridge—he made it look terribly easy and I was able to tell myself “that’s not so bad” and “it’s not very high” and “it is not so deep.” Emma was next—almost rushing to get to the “fun part” of the bridge. She liked the middle bit where it got really bouncy. She actually paused it the middle and posed for the guides to take photos—looking this way and that—calling to me and encouraging me across. I demurely let more of our group across. The six year old, with a quick “Bye mum!” made it across easily, then Josh (also posing for the cameras) and then the Singapore couple.
The wife asked for a guide’s help to get across but the husband said he could do it. Out he stepped, small steps at a time, then paused. He looked down and then up. Then he lost his equilibrium and began to sway. It was a small movement at first, like a low sound wave starts quietly and then begins to really move at it changes frequency. The guides shouted, “Stay there! Stay there! We come get you.” But as the guide crossed to getting out to the wobbly man on the bridge made the whole thing more bouncy and he really started to sway almost falling. Luckily the guide reached him in time and was able to take his hands and re-establish some control of his movements. But it was enough, the impression was made, and despite the good modeling from my children and all my positive thinking, I now saw how it was just as easy to fall.
My turn was next. I climbed up and told the guides across the way that I could do it myself. Once up on the bridge, I got be bearings and found my feet. The bamboo was coated with something rubbery to make it have a bit of a grip. It felt strong beneath me and although it moved I thought that I could use my knees to absorb the bounce. I tried not to look down. I chose a place to look farther along the bridge, a crack in the rubber coating and slowly stepped out. Using my spot I inched along—left, right, left, right—a rather pathetic shuffle. I shook off my self-consciousness; no one was rushing me. I made it to my spot and then had to find a new one farther along. When I looked across to find it, my eyes glanced down and saw the water moving along beneath me. Disoriented for a minute I felt myself begin to waver. This was it. I knew I could fall. But I also knew that I could stand.
I looked away; again refocusing on my spot farther on the bridge and shuffle stepped more. After another spot change I heard the kids cheering and looked up briefly and the guide got a picture of me on the bridge—rigid with concentration, but not paralyzed by fear. I can now feel the difference and perhaps (as Josh would say) make my fear a useful tool to help focus me when the circumstances require extra effort. Grateful and a little shaky I made it to the other side and took a swig of water to celebrate.
The end of this adventure was purely pleasure. We finished at the owner’s family compound where his wife and staff prepared a lovely Balinese lunch for us. We fell upon the food, and I can’t tell you if it was really good or if my hunger added extra flavor for it was the best meal we had in Bali! At the end of lunch, sweets were passed around. We all had a treat of fried sticky rice rolled in coconut and sugar–like a Balinese doughnut! The six year old wouldn’t touch it. “Try it!” the Irish mother urged, “Its really delicious.” But she wouldn’t taste it. Too risky.