Travel

'Eat Pray Love' brought to life

I have a special interest in "Eat Pray Love" but don't plan on seeing the Julia Roberts movie just yet. I want to finish the book it's based on - Elizabeth Gilbert's nonfiction account of traveling the world in search of meaning.

I've started the book, but I'm a Charlotte-Mecklenburg teacher at Irwin Avenue Elementary. The semester just started and there's no telling what free time I'll have.

But I've been to Bali, where Gilbert meets Ketut Liyer - a holy man who inspires and enlightens her and teaches her to appreciate life.

In fact, I spent an entire day with Ketut Liyer, listening to him, talking with him and - among other things - reading him The Charlotte Observer's Travel section.

I was born and raised in Charlotte, and returned to teach two years ago after living in New York. During spring break this year, I joined two travel-loving friends from Brooklyn on a group tour that went to Taiwan and to Bali, the famous religious and resort island of Indonesia.

My companions had both read "Eat Pray Love" and found it inspiring. They weren't the only ones: Others in our party of roughly 100 had read it.

We spent 11 or 12 days on Bali, seeing all the sights. The three of us like to break away from large groups, and on our own we toured the island's famous and fabulous ancient Hindu temples - the Monkey Temple, Bat Cave Temple, the Temple on the Cliff and the others. We saw a religious ceremony where six Balinese were put into trances. We visited a sanctuary for Sumatran elephants and met its Australian owner. We visited a coffee plantation and a rice paddy.

But more than anything, my friends wanted to meet Ketut Liyer.

That's easier wished than achieved. The guru won't see anyone without an appointment, and he is selective about whom he meets. Where he lives is very secluded - in the village of Ubud, 21/2 to three hours outside Bali city, in a jungle-like area where roads are so narrow that most get there on foot or by motorbike.

We went there anyhow, on our next-to-last day on the island.

The day before, we struck up a conversation with a worker at our resort; by chance, he has a cousin who has a taxi. For $60, this cousin would take us to Ubud. There was no guarantee we would meet or even see the mystic. That was fine with us.

We left town early, accompanied by another couple from the resort, and just showed up in Ubud around 9 or 10 in the morning.

Liyer lives in a compound, in a thatched-roof black house made of clay and wood. It is absolutely beautiful. Inside and out, there are no doors or windows to the various rooms. Everything is wide open, including the place where he prays or meditates. There's a small meeting place where people from the village come to hang out. Liyer is a beloved figure in Ubud, and people tend his beautiful garden, miniature waterfall and his animals.

Animals were plentiful: eagles, falcons, hawks, parrots, dogs, cats, reptiles, fish... you name it.

He was sitting with a woman, giving her a "reading." Villagers say he is at least 90, and possibly closer to 100. He is short - about 4 feet 9 inches tall - and balding; his fringe of salt-and-pepper-colored hair held flowers. His copper-dark body was clad in a T-shirt topped with a sarong.

We thought meeting him personally just wasn't going to happen. But as soon as the woman rose and left, he approached us and asked where we were from.

He spent the entire day with the five of us.

He gave us a tour of his compound, and we met his much-younger wife, who is probably my age - 40 - or a little younger. We also met villagers who were there to lend a hand with chores.

The hands of Ketut Liyer are his tools. He does a laying of palms, touching certain parts of a visitor's body. He is a faith healer, palm reader and astrologer.

We knew this because my friends loved the book - and one even brought it with her. Liyer had no idea what we were talking about. She opened "Eat Pray Love" to the part where Elizabeth Gilbert was in Bali, and he was her guru.

Liyer, we learned, loves to be read to. His English is limited: He understands and can string together certain words - enough so you can know what he's meaning to say. Our cab driver helped with translations.

His face lit up when he listened to what "Eat Pray Love" said about him. He remembered Gilbert's visit but had no idea she had written of him in her memoir, nor that a blockbuster movie was being made - with actor Hadi Subiyanto playing the key role of Ketut Liyer.

He said he wasn't aware anyone outside Bali knew of him.

Liyer had never heard of Charlotte or North Carolina. I read him stories from the Travel sections I had brought along. When we left around 4, I gave him some copies to keep.

What did he give me? A reality check. Enlightenment.

He said I had a strong heart and healthy teeth. He touched my left knee and said it would give me problems later in life. (I was a track runner in my youth, and had injured that knee; I've had slight problems with it in cold, damp weather.)

He asked if I was a teacher. He said I was very smart - "You have a big head" -and said that although I was a good teacher, I needed to be more patient: "While everyone else was sitting down waiting, you were pacing back and forth like a tiger in a cage."

Liyer touched my stomach and asked why I didn't have any children.

"You don't want children?" he asked.

"No. I don't," I answered.

"Then just be happy with the two you have," he said.

That hit home: My boyfriend has two children.

He advised me to be happy and to take time to love nature.

I'm working it.

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