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In Bali, I was reminded that there are all kinds of people who transform a ho-hum trip into a magical memory.

We ran across a few bridges like this on our walk through the jungle.

We ran across a few bridges like this on our walk through the jungle.

One morning as the roosters announced a new day, my husband, two daughters and I met Mahdey, our hiking guide, in the hotel lobby in Ubud, Bali. He grinned widely, and enticed 9-year-old Annalyse and 12-year-old JC to follow him like a Pied Piper with irresistible promises of a magic place in the jungle. We parents tagged along behind.

From the hotel, perched on an escarpment high above the winding Ayung River gorge in the central highlands of Bali, led us down unmarked trails into a thick jungle.

Women work hard in the highlands of Bali.

Women work hard in the highlands of Bali.

Mahdey skipped ahead, leading the way through a maze of frog-green rice fields and down a steep embankment to a muddy river where young boys were skipping stones and bathing. The boys frolicked in the nude, and old women worked hard dredging sand from the riverbanks with small buckets. They carried the wet sand in woven baskets on their heads up steep trails, to be transported to construction sites. With Mahdey as our guide, we left behind the “tourist” Bali of beach resorts, trinket shops and visitor-chocked temples.

Boys swim in the river as their mother haul mud to sell to a cement factory nearby.

Boys swim in the river as their mother haul mud to construction sites nearby.


Through the intense heat and humidity, he led us up and down dirt paths through the jungle. He told mythical tales of protective Gods and he promised, “Because you are my American family, I will take you to my special place”.

On the other side of the gorge, we climbed though thick bushes until suddenly the jungle opened into a neatly manicured compound consisting of two stone buildings and numerous shrines – Mahdey’s home. He explained he lives here with his parents, three brothers, two sisters, grandparents, aunts and uncles.

“And now,” Mahdey ceremoniously announced: “you walk by my family bank”. Looking around we noticed a fenced pigpen with a squealing hog with a flat snout, small eyes and large ears. Mahdey was exceptionally proud of the stocky animal, which represented the family’s wealth.

Beyond the family bank we came to a clearing where three women sat on the ground weaving little banana leaf baskets. “All the women of my family, from grandma down to the teens must make regular offerings to the household spirits. Every day they weave tiny banana leaf containers, no larger than an iPhone, for offerings of rice, coffee, hibiscus or orange flower petals and an incense stick. Before each meal, they carefully place this exquisite array of food and flowers at their shrines.”

Madhey and his Mother

Madhey and his Mother

As an elderly woman stood to greet us, Mahdey bowed to us and said: “Please meet my dear Mother.” There was much hand shaking and smiling as she arranged woven mats for us to sit on.

Mahdey’s father and brothers were working in the rice fields, but Mahdey’s Uncle, a barefoot, bare-chested, muscular man appeared from the bush. With much fanfare he carefully positioned his feet around the trunk of a tall coconut tree and scampered up to a hanging cluster of coconuts far overhead. Taking his machete from his waistband, he chopped off two

Madhey's Uncle climbs a palm tree to cut down some fresh coconuts for our enjoyment.

Madhey’s Uncle climbs a palm tree to cut down some fresh coconuts for our enjoyment.

green specimens and dropped them to the ground. Then he shimmied down the tree and with one forceful swing of his machete, he cut off the tops. Ceremoniously he and Mahdey presented us the coconuts. Mahdey’s sister ducked into the stone building and returned with four straws and we, the honored guests, sipped cool, fresh coconut juice as everyone in the compound watched us and nodded approvingly. After additional explanations about family life and Balinese customs, it was time to go. Madhey refused payment for the coconuts, insisting it his great pleasure to share his magic kingdom with an American family.


With more smiles, hand shakes and words of thanks in a language they couldn’t understand, we left Mahdey’s home and hiked back to the resort. All in all, we only spent a few hours together.

Like most visitors to the artist’s colony of Ubud, we browsed the art shops, workshops and galleries. We saw a stunning selection of carvings, textiles, masks, crafts and European-inspired designer quality clothing.

We sipped fresh mango smoothies, munched on prawn satay and feasted on the elaborate Indonesian Rice Table of duck roasted in banana leaves and spicy curries.

Rice fields dotted the landscape.

Rice fields cover Bali’s landscape.

But the most lasting memory of our time in Bali was our afternoon with Mahdey and his family in the jungle. We realized he gave us everything he had, and he did this with absolutely no expectations of anything in return. That’s all. A small gift of inviting us into his home touched uhe world is so much smaller to us now. Bali seemed so distant and is much closer now that we have a friend in that corner of the planet. Thanks Mahdey.

Thanks for American Express Travel for inviting me to share two of the many special people who inspired my travels. You can find more and add your own #Journeymakers here. 

Marybeth is a Brand Ambassador for American Express Travel