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March 11th 2010
Published: March 11th 2010
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Stepping off the plane onto the palm tree-lined tarmac and into the moist, warm air of tropical Bali, the hypnotizing chimes of Asian music dance into my ears, and I realize I have stepped into another world⎯ and I like. Motorbikes buzz around the narrow, winding island roads, beeping as they go⎯ a friendly warning to say, “hey, I’m passing you, don’t freak out and run off the road.” My taxi passes thru trash-lined streets cluttered with Hindu temples standing next to Circle K’s and roadside food carts. Not 100 meters further and we pass five star resorts like the Four Seasons with it’s guarded entrance and meticulously maintained, green landscaping. Finally we enter the Uluwatu area in the southwest corner of the Bukit Peninsula⎯ clean, uncrowded streets with a few scattered home stays and warungs. I’m staying at Tete’s Homestay: four thatch-roofed bungalows and a small store. My room consists of just 4 thin walls and a white tile floor, a big bed covered with a mosquito net, a smaller bed for my boards, and a filthy bathroom with no roof. To flush the toilet I fill it with water from the hose that I also use to shower with. Tete has rented me a room for the week at 60,000 Indonesian Rupiahs and I pay him another 40,000 for my motorbike⎯ about $11 all together.

In the morning Tete’s wife, Ayu, makes me a very sweet “cappuccino” and later I meet Connie, who also introduces herself as Tete’s wife⎯ interesting, but I decide not to pry. I’ll have to read a bit about Hinduism to find out if polygamy is acceptable in Hindu dharma. So far, Hinduism seems to be a pretty relaxed religion⎯ lots of offerings for good luck⎯typically a palm leaf shaped into a square that holds orange and pink flowers, dried grass and burning incense on top; I find them all over the island⎯ in the street, on the stone steps down to a surf spot, and on my front porch every morning.

The infamous Uluwatu surf break is a short walk down the road. Though quite tame in the wet season, Ulu’s consistently pumps perfect double-overhead left-hand barrels in the peak swell season from May to September. All over the Bukit Peninsula of south Bali, consistent surf breaks over the surrounding shallow reef. Though the surf is small during my first week, I can still walk down to Uluwatu at any time of day for a wave. At mid-tide I ride my motorbike about 20 minutes to a spot at the south end of the peninsula called Greenbowl. If the tide is high I descend the 1000 steps down to Nyang Nyang. When the wind is strong out of the west, I head east to Nusa Dua to pay a boat to take me out to the offshore reef that serves up heavy right-handers. After cutting my feet a couple of times on the reef, I had to buy some reef booties, which are especially helpful for walking over the sharp coral to get to the surf at low tide. It may be the low season, but damn there are still a lot of guys in the water.

In the evenings, I have to decide at which of the cheap warungs (restaurants) I want to have a tasty meal for dinner. Most nights I ended up at Yeh Yeh’s⎯so many choices and they’re all so good⎯curries, sates, pizzas, burgers(not so good), traditional Indonesian dishes like Nasi Gorgeng (steamed or fried rice, fried egg, peas, chili pepper, garlic, some chicken, sometimes a few prawns). One of my favorites is Gado-Gado: steamed rice with vegetables, egg and a peanut sauce.

One night after a lonely dinner and a surf movie at Yeh Yeh’s, I paid the bill and started to leave just as a heavy rain came pouring from the night sky. Couldn’t leave in the downpour, so I walked back in and my eyes caught a familiar face⎯ it’s Cochise! I met the Frenchman in Santa Teresa, Costa Rica at the Wavetrotter Hostel about 2 years ago. After Santa Teresa, I met up with him and his buddies, Cesar and Max, again, in Bocas Del Toro, Panama and hopped in their rental car for a road trip up the Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica to Tortuguero before making our way to San Jose. Wow, what a small world. Got to hang out with Cochise and his friend, Thierry, for a couple of days before taking off to Lombok, the predominately Muslim island, east of Bali.

After a 4-hour ferry and 2 hours in a taxi, I arrived in Kuta on the southern coast of the island. I checked into the Seger Reef Home Stay, right across from the water. 100,000 rupiah per day affords me a really clean, modern room with a comfy bed and first-world bathroom, and breakfast every morning. My neighbors are some young surfers from Cape Cod, Mass., Kian and Mike, and a Canadian girl they’ve met along the way, Rachel⎯ a.k.a. Ling Ling. The Shore Bar, next door, had a live band playing, so I headed over and got to know my neighbors a little better over a few Bintangs. The cheap hard liquor of Indonesia is called Arack; Shore bar has a special drink called the Arack Obama⎯ it’s just frozen pineapple and orange juice with arack⎯ no real significance to Barack, but a clever name, nonetheless. There are about 10 restaurants to choose from around the small town, which basically consists of one street parallel to the beach and one street perpendicular. I’ve been dining with the neighbors every night, usually at a place called Bong’s, where we order from extensive menu and play Rummy or Asshole until the food comes⎯ but at every restaurant we go to, they bring out each person’s meal at a different time⎯ the first person to receive their meal is sometimes finished by the time the last person gets their dinner.

Lately, I’ve been craving bananas. They’re a great snack if I’m out surfing in the middle of the day and don’t have the time to eat lunch. Two bananas and I’m refueled for a while. It’s strange⎯ as a kid, I absolutely hated bananas⎯ not as much as I hated and still hate mushrooms, but I disliked them very much. In recent years, I started to like them and now I have banana cravings? Most mornings in Kuta, I ordered the banana pancakes (which are more like crepes in Indonesia and freakin' fantastic) and throughout the day I would ask for a banana a couple of times from the homestay. After my first few days, they ran out of bananas on account of my large appetite for the potassium-filled fruit. So Martin, the waiter, took me down to a fruit and veg stand where I bought a bushel of about 14 mini bananas for 50 cents. With those devoured in a day, the home stay just started giving me bananas for free-laughing as they did.

Seger Reef, the closest surf spot, is a couple of kilometers to the east with a right and a left breaking over the urchin-infested coral. Gerpuk is a small fishing village about 7 km further east, where we can pay for a longtail boat(similar to a canoe) to motor us out to the offshore break named after the town. To the west of Kuta are the surf spots, Air Gueling and Mawi. Cruising on the motorbike on narrow roads, lined with palm tree forests, children smile genuinely and stick out their hands for high fives. If I stop, they want to know my name and where I’m from, to tell me their names and sometimes, to sing to me, “give me moneeeyy”, letting the “e” carry on for a few seconds. Most people here are warm and friendly. But there are some exceptions: Just as they are all over the world, some of the young surfer guys who work at the surf shop are punks⎯ pissed off that all of us westerners are here crowding their waves⎯ but still rocking Lil’ Wayne and Chicago Bulls jerseys⎯ I get it. There’s also a bit of a Lombok mafia feeling from some of the men: Mike and Kian were leaving Gerpuk after a surf one day, when a guy informed them that Mike’s tire was flat. It didn’t appear to be flat, but sure enough, it was leaking and the guy knew just where Mike could pay to have it fixed. Then as they were leaving the repair shop, the guy warns Kian about 5 times that he should be careful driving his bike. A few kilometers down the road and Kian’s tire goes flat, too. I guess you can’t hate the player, just the game, as they say. And it’s all a game: how much I pay for my room, my motorbike, transportation, souvenirs and surfboards⎯ all negotiable. Away from the towns it’s much more peaceful: farmers pick beans stalks, plant rice, and herd water buffalo. Goats and chickens run across the roads. The landscape is lushly green and rugged with cliffs.

Though a swell was predicted, it didn’t really come thru until my fourth day in town. Kian, Mike, Ling Ling and I hopped on our bikes and headed for Gerpuk. I gave Ling Ling the duty of filming our adventure with my camcorder. I’m dying to use my new Final Cut Express editing software, but I’ve lost the USB cable that connects the camcorder to the computer and it’s a special Sony cable that I can only buy from them⎯Sony sucks and I’m never buying anything from them again. A boat ride out to the reef put us into some nice over-head waves. But it wasn’t long before a pack of 20 Japanese surfers descended on the break, as they do. I came to Lombok in hopes of finding uncrowded waves, but uncrowded they are not.

Headed back over to Bali on the ferry and checked into a home stay at Padang Padang, not far from where I stayed before at Tete’s. When I left for Lombok a week pryor, Tete drove me to Padang Bai to catch the ferry and told me he would take me to a good friend to arrange my passage to Lombok and transport to Kuta. But Tete’s friend who was supposed to hook me up was asking about $50 when the cost is normally closer to $25. The ferry was leaving so I had to deal with the guy and ended up paying him about $35. To sum it up, I wasn’t happy with Tete and decided not to give him my business when I returned to Bali. Now that I have a better idea of what you can get away with paying, my bargaining ability is a bit better⎯ I was able to get my room for 50,000 IDR and my motorbike for 25000 IDR this go ‘round ($8 all up).

The wind picked up that week and I therefore ended up not surfing as much as I would have liked. But I had an incredible evening session at Nusa Dua one night. After riding around the island all day looking for the right place to surf, but not finding anything, I bumped into Thierry who was heading out of town for a couple of days to check out some temples. I contemplated going with him, but decided to check Uluwatu’s surf one more time and we agreed that if it was no good I would meet him at Swell Café in one hour. The surf was crap at Ulu’s and it was already after 4 pm⎯ seemed like the best option was to hit the road with Thierry⎯but something told me I needed to ride across the peninsula for half an hour to check Nusa Dua⎯ and that something was right. Took the boat ride out to the reef and hopped in the water to find only a handful of other surfers and overhead waves. The sky began to fade into darkness when some really big sets started coming thru. As one of these terrifying monsters approached, a guy closer to the peak than me started paddling for it and as per proper etiquette, I turned away to let him have it, but I guess he decided he couldn’t make it and screamed to me to paddle for the wave. I thought about nothing but catching the wave⎯ so focused that I wasn’t thinking about what a massive wall of water I was trying to catch and ride⎯ there was no fear⎯that would come later. I paddled hard, digging in with a few strokes and the next thing I know I’m standing on the board flying down the face, making a bottom turn to the top, coming back down and then the wall of whitewater behind me catches up and I remain balanced for a few seconds, thinking everything is ok until I fly off the board and in what seemed like slow motion, get turned around in the air so that I’m looking right at the wave just before it collapses on top of me, hurling me into underwater summersaults and holding me down for what seemed like an eternity. I finally reached the surface, gasping for air and somehow had the strength to paddle back out, taking some more sets on the head before getting back to safety.

Another frightening experience took place a few days before when I was surfing with a Mexican friend named Omario. I had just told him about a spot I liked to surf called Greenbowl the night before. We didn’t plan to surf there together but happened to be two of the few surfers out there the next morning. I was paddling back out after a wave and saw Omario surfing a nice one before losing his balance in the rushing whitewater behind him and going down fast and hard. He surfaced and whistled for me to help him. As we paddled toward each other, I realized he only had half of a board, which he threw his leg on top of to reveal a deep gash on his calf. He was scared and I told him it wasn’t that bad, but that he should take my surfboard to paddle in and go to the hospital. He took my board and paddled in fine. I tried to follow him paddling his half of a board, but was stuck in a strong current. I tried to swim for it with his board still attached to my leg as I’m sure he still wanted to keep his leash and fins⎯ but I was going no where. I know that you’re supposed to paddle parallel to the beach to get out of the current, but I just couldn’t manage to free myself no matter how hard I swam. After about 20 minutes, I was losing it, screaming obscenities and a bit panicked. Finally I decided to paddle in the opposite direction and made it to shallow water, where I was able to walk back to the beach on the reef. It often seems like fun and games when out surfing, but now and then the ocean shows you who’s boss and the realization occurs that you could easily drown to death.

Cochise came back to town from spending time in the Gili Islands with his girlfriend who flew over from France, and his friend, Louis(Luey), flew in a couple of days later. The four of us took off on a motorbike trip north to the town of Ubud, famous for its Monkey Forest and rice terraces.

Cochise is irritated by areas heavily trafficked by tourists, so he is always searching out the authentic experience, void of other westerners⎯ with his oh so French ability to never take no for answer, you’re guaranteed an exciting adventure.

Our first afternoon in Ubud, we visited the Monkey Forest, where Borany, Cochise’s girlfriend, was accosted by every monkey in the place, trying to grab for the bananas she bought at the entrance to feed to them. Sometimes they sat and waited patiently for her to hand them a banana, but, more often, they jumped on her back or stood on their hind legs to grab her long tank top. The monkeys were hilarious⎯ grooming each other, with the groomee so satisfied with his plight as to wear the expression of a donut and Duff-drunk Homer Simpson. They jumped on our backs, chased and slapped each other, and captured a kitten, making the little fella their pet.

Louis and I shared a room for the night and spoke on the front porch until late in the evening⎯he is a journalist of sorts, which is an interesting common bond between us as writing this blog has developed a desire to possibly (still haven’t fully committed) become a journalist⎯ I’ve been accepted to return to either Georgia State or UGA⎯ at UGA I will still have to apply and hope for acceptance into the journalism school. Louis learned Spanish and met his wife while teaching French in Colombia. He loved the country and its people⎯not the first time I have heard someone describe Colombia as their favorite country in South America. Louis agreed to help connect me with the school he taught at if I want to teach English this summer. I love, love the Spanish language and want to become fluent, so I am seriously considering the opportunity.

In the morning we had an excellent breakfast brought to us on our porch with fresh fruit, eggs and French toast. Then we set off with Cochise and Borany on the motorbikes, discovering vibrant, green rice terraces, a long-abandoned home with bright red window borders that we had fun taking photos of each other in, myriad temples, and smiling, friendly rice farmers tending to their crop.

We were forced to stop riding as the road became blocked with Balinese people performing the Hindu tradition of walking together to their respective temples after a day of celebration with people from many other temples. We continued on in the direction the people were walking from and found the street blocked off and lined with food stalls selling the traditional Babi Guling (suckling pig) and numerous other delicious Balinese eats. We met some incredibly friendly people who invited us to return in the evening for a religious dance performance. When we returned, as during the day, we were the only tourists around. Walking up the temple stairs, we were dressed in sarongs by the friendly men at the entrance so that we could enter. Inside, a man sung Hindu chants into a microphone while people sat on their knees praying and bowing below a golden structure. Around 10:30, the performance began⎯ 50 shirtless men sat together forming a circle, surrounded by the light of burning torches, chanting and moving in unison. The lead performers danced down from the temple stairs dressed in ornate costumes of shining gold, blues, greens and pinks. The performance seemed to depict a battle between good and evil. It was amazing to experience this traditional, authentic religious performance and celebration. In many places in Bali, including Ubud, traditional dances are performed specifically for tourist dollars; we were lucky enough to experience one for the Balinese.

In the morning, I left my French friends and returned to Padang Padang. The following day I caught a flight to Bangkok and another to the northern Thailand city of Chiang Mai, where I’ve met Twitch who I stayed with in Melbourne. We’ve had some relaxing days touring the city, hanging out with his friend from school, Damien, at his bar, Crank Tavern. Damien also owns and operates Crank Adventures, a mountain biking tour company, with which we were able to do a 2-day ride thru the mountainous countryside and to stay for a night in a hill tribe village. I’ve been getting my ass kicked for the last couple of days doing some Muay Thai training. Paul is off riding a dirt bike up north. In a couple of days, we’re making the grueling journey into Laos, bussing to the border and taking a slowboat down a river for a couple of days to Luang Prabang.

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