It was dusk as I sat in the spa lobby at Mandapa, the new Ritz-Carlton Reserve in Ubud, Bali. The space is elegant yet comfortable in the way that defines the new luxury resort on this island paradise of Indonesia. As I sipped my tea, half way around the world from my familiar life in the U.S., a breeze blew in the open door, carrying with it the aromas of incense and tropical flowers that I fell in love with throughout Bali. My view was pure perfection—the Ayung River and lush jungle that covers the steep hillside of the narrow valley that is home to the resort.

Ayung River at Mandapa by SLanierGraham

The Ayung River at Mandapa, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve in Bali. Photo by Susan Lanier-Graham

As I sat in this serene but luxurious setting, an unexpected scene unfolded that defines why I travel. I saw a man working his way down the path on the opposite shore. While I sat in the cool spa with breezes blowing across the dark, smooth mahogany floor, he was walking with the sun at his back in the humid air. On his head was a white bag that I imagine was filled with rice.


Lone Balinese man walks along the banks of the Ayung River. Photo by Susan Lanier-Graham

As he approached the curve in the river, he shifted his weight and lowered the bag to the ground, struggling a bit with the load. He pulled something small from his pocket and placed it on a nearby rock. By now I was fascinated with what was happening. He quickly stripped naked on the shore, seemingly oblivious to this luxury resort that had just opened on the opposite bank. He picked up the object—which I realize must have been a bar of soap—walked to the river and spent the next few minutes bathing. Those paying for the luxury experience at Mandapa had nothing on the pleasure this man took in embracing the natural beauty of his home.

The spa at Mandapa, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve in Ubud, Bali. Photo courtesy Ritz-Carlton

The spa at Mandapa, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve in Ubud, Bali. Photo courtesy Ritz-Carlton

I respectfully averted my gaze as he bathed, but couldn't help looking back as he climbed out of the water, shook off and redressed. The only sounds were the water rushing past, the call of birds and wind through the trees as he went about his routine chores.

Just as quickly as he arrived, he left. He hefted the white sack back onto his head and started down the path. He came to a set of steep, stone stairs heading straight up the mountainside, turned and took the stairs until he was out of sight.

This slice of life was a rare moment. I sat and observed, unnoticed. How often has he made this same trek past the river? I felt privileged to share that moment in his life. How rare that our lives, so different from each other, should intersect at precisely that moment. This is why I travel. That moment will forever be a part of why I fell in love with Bali and with travel. For more on Mandapa, visit


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