Cantik laps up the attention as we cruise through villages in the hills of Bali. I guess it’s not often a fluffy Pomeranian passes by in his personal side car.
Zipping past spectacular rice terraces, the breeze in my face, Cantik by my side, I’m falling in love with side cars. Usually I’m on the back of a bike, trying not to slump, consciously keeping my core on, aware of my balance, with my mind switched on.
By contrast, I’m so comfortable in my side car. In fact I feel quite spoilt, sitting back, slipping in and out of easy conversations with Gusti my driver.
We chat about his life, his family and the story about how he came to be part of the foundation behind the Happy Hearts Tour.
I’m on a personal tour, happy to be cruising rather than stopping at famous spots. I wasn’t in the mood for the crowds at the Bali Swing, nor did I need to stop for coffee. We take the small back roads at a slow pace, Gusti takes no risks, I feel safe.
We stop for the occasional photo, but truthfully the phone is off, I’m kicking back, loving the freedom.
I spend most of the day at the foundation as I’m keen to know who and what’s behind the scenes of this wonderful tour.
We scoot up the driveway, parking next to the kitchen. Cantik is keen to explore and before long he’s made many new friends. He works the scene, getting a pat here, a nose rub there. I meet Ayu who invites me for tea and a chat.
I soon discover that this is a very unique place.
Ayu proudly tells me it is the only foundation owned and run by people with a disability. The strive to help their members become independent and be accepted into society.
That’s no small challenge when you consider that not so long ago disabled people were often shunned, associated with bad luck. Combined with homes, building, streets that are not at all disabled friendly, the challenges are real, but as awareness and attitudes change there is progress.
Over 15 years with the assistance of donors they’ve progressed from a single house to a property with 8 sleeping rooms, a kitchen, an exhibition/shop/dining area, kitchen, laundry and organic garden.
There is an air of busyness. No one is idle. Ayu assures me that they’re up at 5am cooking cleaning, gardening, washing. The focus on becoming independent is unwavering.
There’s a buzz in the kitchen as they prepare lunch for a tour group. The kitchen is like any other simple village kitchen, except it has been built with wheelchair access in mind. They’re whipping up a storm, happily prepping for their visitors. I take up the offer to try the ‘bergedel’ (corn fritters). Delicious.
I tour the classrooms. With the help of the members and volunteer teachers, there are classes for music, computers, sewing, and English language.
The Happy Hearts Tour is one activity created by the enterprising members to provide income and jobs for the foundation. They also make handicrafts and jewellery, hold art exhibitions and do music and dance performances.
As I get ready to go I notice some photos posted on the wall of people diving. I ask Ayu about them.
I’m stunned to hear that she has dived four times in her life. Ayu is confined to a wheelchair and has limited use of her arms, I’m amazed.
‘How did you get the courage” I ask?
“I didn’t think I could do it, but we had dive instructors who gave us good lessons, and they just said we had to believe it was possible. It made me believe anything is possible.”
I confess to Ayu that I’m too scared to dive. I have too many fears of deep water.
“I was scared too, but you just have to try.” I’m in awe.
As we leave, my heart is soaring.
Tour includes visits to rice terraces, coffee plantation and Foundation. They are flexible and will stop at places upon request. If there’s enough time they’ll take you to a waterfall near the Foundation. Starts at 9am, finishes around 2pm, depending on your itinerary.
Start/finish point: The foundation base in Siangan near Gianyar or your Ubud hotel.
Price: starts at rp350,000pp includes buffet lunch and gamelan music. Please offer to pay extra if you extend your tour. Helmets are included.
Maximum group size: 10.
Kids: minimum age 8 years
Bring: sunscreen, water, sunglasses, a happy heart.
Book online: http://www.happyheartstour.com/
Phone: +62 361 954877
Mobile: +62 8 123 662 951
Feel good knowing you’re making a contribution to the foundation with your tour or any handicrafts you buy. If you would like to contribute in other ways hit the Foundation website. They’re always looking for a range of volunteer teachers, short or long term. They do work to order for export and collaborate with outlets to sell their handicrafts.