Bagus, one of the few Balinese words that I have picked up while in Indonesia. It means fantastic or cool. Many locals utter it often in a range of circumstances. I myself blurt it out at times when I genuinely don’t know what else to say.
Bali is a mesmerisingly frantic and absolutely fantastic island from what I have seen up to now. We landed roughly 2 weeks ago into the hazy, humid heat of Denpasar. Famished and parched upon landing, we stumbled into the commotion. We got off to a shaky start when I was informed that my guitar had been left behind in Kuala Lumpur airport. The same thing happened to me in that airport en route to New Zealand. We collected what remained of our baggage and proceeded towards immigration and the arrivals area. Without warning, we were set upon by a mob of unnerving dark men yelling what sounded like obscenities and “I give you cheap price”. Tired and confused we were ushered by a small friendly local man, claiming to be a legitimate taxi driver, towards the multi story car park nearby. Agitated by the whole situation, we were overcome by paranoia that we were being lured into a sinister trap and that we were about to be the victims of an unmerciful mugging. It turned out that he was actually a really nice guy and drove us to our guest house, only slightly ripping us off in the process. The taxi drive to the hostel was rather interesting, our first glimpse of the manic Bali roads that we had been forewarned about. Helmetless scooter drivers, some as young as 10 years old, weave around cars at excessive speeds on tiny roads that are jam packed with taxis, daily commuters and tourists. Drivers communicate by consutantly beeping their horns which is deafening at times. The pavements are lined with hundreds of souvenir shops, much like those seen in France, Greece or any other European city that hosts tourists by their thousands, but only worse. Their proud owners never ceasing to harass the stand-out milk-bottle legged westerners, peddling off their counterfeit merchandise, much of which is complete junk. The musky smell of incense and smoke from the gridlocked Kuta traffic pollutes the air while the local offerings and plastic rubbish litters the street floor. A sight to behold, not the paradise one conjures up when the word Bali comes to mind. Weary and dehydrated from the 30+ degree heat, we clambered out of the taxi as we had arrived at our guest house.
We spent our first 3 nights in the bustling suburb of Seminyak. We rose early on the first morning and rented out scooters for roughly $7NZ/per day (We base everything off NZ currency, where all of our money is). After a frantic drive down one-way streets in Kuta we arrived at Poppies II street, where we both picked up second hand surf boards off a local dude who seemed pretty genuine. We had been warned by many about buying boards that had been previously snapped and expertly re-painted to hide the real story. The boards that we got had been locally shaped and seemed to be of a high quality, coming in much cheaper than what you would pick the same board up for back home. We headed straight for Kuta beach and raced to the sea for a surf. It seemed like there were decent waves everywhere, and I knew that these were on the lower end of what Bali had to offer. We returned to our home stay that evening, Omink House, bumping into our neighbour Jimmy as he was leaving his room. Jimmy was a complete nutter, but a real good dude, and we hung out with him quite a bit for the few days we spent in Seminyak. He was originally from Florida and was now living the life in Bali. Apparently working towards opening a surf school on some tropical island that I cannot recall. He gave me some great tips on the best surfing spots in Bali, mainly in Bukit, the southern peninsula. He even went out with us for a paddle at Ku De Ta which was absolutely hilarious. He talked to himself while paddling through the waves, repeating worrying lines such as “Paddle harder or I’ll blow your head off Obama” or murmuring numerous curses and one-liners under his breath. Not the encouragement I would recommend for a novice surfer, but then again we all have our funny ways. He told us how he had had some board shorts and rash vests tailored for him by the locals, using a special microfibre material that he had bought. He also shared tonnes of surfing stories from Bali which got me filled with excitement, as well as some of the tales from his younger, party days, in Bangkok. Perhaps his torrets-like behaviour could be attributed to the excessive amount of drugs that he indulged in during that time, who knows.
Keen to start hitting the real surf, the next place we stayed was Uluwatu. Uluwatu is a much quieter, more chilled out side of Bali in comparison to Kuta & Seminyak. It also has several world-famous surf spots such as Padang Padang, Balanggan, Impossibles and of course Uluwatu itself. To access the Uluwatu break, one must climb down a few hundred steps before paddling out to the break through a cave. A really unique experience. The south-westernly swell, originating in the Indian Ocean, hits the western coast of the peninsula head on, making many of the waves in the area extremely powerful. Almost all of the waves on western side of Bali are what are known as left-hander waves. These waves peel from right to left, due to the angle that the swell interacts with the coastline. There are two different ways to surf, regular or goofy. Similar to skating or snowboarding, regular means left foot forward on the board while the other foot is behind, and vice versa for goofy. Given the fact that I am a goofy surfer, left-hander waves suit me best as my chest is facing the wave as I ride down the line, giving me a better view of the wave. It also allows me to use the inside of my good, front foot, as I apply pressure to the board to pump up and down the wave. This is slightly more difficult for me when riding on my back side. The opposite can be said for a regular surfer. Obviously the better you get at surfing the more proficient you become on your naturally weaker side. End of basic surf lesson :-). My Irish friend Jack Buckley had messaged me the night I moved to Uluwatu, mentioning that he had coincidentally just arrived in Bali too and was keen for a surf with me. I hadn’t surfed over coral reef before and hadn’t been on a board much in the past 6 months so I was slightly nervous about the thought of surfing Uluwatu on my own. For me, I find surfing big swell a bit easier when I have somebody out there with me that I know. It gives me more confidence knowing that we are in it together and also that we can have a good chat about the session when it is over. We paddled out to Uluwatu together and, although quite crowded, we had a really enjoyable session. Robyn and I spent the next few days eating Nasi Goreng from the local Warungs (home/cafe), drinking a few Bintang (The local beer) and doing a bit of sightseeing. We visited the Pura Uluwatu temple, built on a cliff and home to some cheeky monkeys who stole Robyn’s camera and piddled on it . We orchestrated a counter offensive to reclaim it, shoving a backpack in the monkey’s face while Robyn grabbed the camera. During that time we surfed some of the other breaks such as Dreamland and Padang Padang before moving to a Villa-style home stay in Balangan. This was one of the nicest places we had stayed in up to now and also one of the cheapest. A huge 2-3 metre swell was on the radar to hit Bali the next day and there was a violent thunderstorm that night. I woke up early the next day and went out to surf “The Impossibles” with Joe, a Scottish guy we had met a few days before. The waves were huge and powerful, bigger than anything that I had surfed in a very long time. It took me a while to get into it, but by the end of the session I was oozing with confidence and gleaming. The biggest of the swell was due to hit the next day so me and Jack arranged to meet each other on Balangan beach in the morning. We arrived at around 10am, which was close to high tide. Huge waves were rolling in over the coral reef and peeling very quickly. Every now and then an absolute monster set would come in and surprise everyone. They were the biggest waves I had ever seen. We walked down the beach, away from the peak of the wave and begun our paddle out. It looked like it was going to be an easy paddle until all of a sudden a massive set came in. We got hit hard onto the shallow reef by a multitude of waves but dug deep and fought past them, eventually making it out to the lineup. We only caught a couple of waves each but they were insane. There weren’t as many people in the water as usual due to the wave size, meaning it was a more manageable feat to catch some breathtaking waves. There were a few hairy moments of getting caught inside, when a super set would roll in and land on my head. I was held under for what seemed like an eternity. Duck diving waves this size were near impossible. After getting caught inside once too many I struggled to the shore for safety. Jack had snapped 3 leashes during the session, testament to the ferocity of the ocean. Jack was also on the receiving end of a flurry of verbal abuse from the woman he rented the board from when she learned of the leash breaking for a third time. The woman screamed Balinese vulgarities at Jack while he tried to calm her down and assure her that the leash could be easily fixed. Eventually we had to leave as the woman was becoming hysterical, throwing a plastic bottle down the steps at the three of us as we hurried away in disgust. In fairness to Jack it wasn’t really his fault and the woman lost her shit for no reason. Balangan was an incredibly humbling experience and a great lesson in surfing.
The next morning we packed our bags once again to spend a few days surfing at Echo Beach in Canggu. The place we stayed in was built right in front of a big field of rice paddies. Women worked in small huts around the field, tugging at ropes line with flags that extended the length of the field to ward off the greedy birds. They added terrifying sounds while tugging, for effect more than anything else. This went on around the clock and was both intriguing and incredibly annoying. Canggu was quite busy and dirty and reminded us of our first few days in Seminyak. We were excited to move onto somewhere new again. We booked a place to stay in Ubud and after several attempts at ordering an Uber we were on our way.
Ubud is famous for it’s unique art, serenity and the monkey sanctuary situated in the heart of the village. Apparently it was made famous by the movie Eat, Pray, Love, starring Julia Roberts, but I was none the wiser. Nestled among patched rainforest with banana trees, palm trees, terraced rice paddies, coffee plantations and Hindu temples, it was definitely more like the vibe that we had been hoping to experience in Bali. We visited the famous Ubud market the evening we arrived, after knocking back a couple of extra strong cocktails to ease the pain of our stressful journey from Canggu. The guys at this market wouldn’t take no for an answer and I somehow left with a new pair of flip flops and a t-shirt and Robyn left with a lot of her piercings holes filled with new shiny jewellery. The next morning we went to the monkey temple. There were hundreds of them. I had nothing on me as I had been told that there little guys were trained thieves and would rob you blind given the opportunity. It was a fantastic experience walking among them and watching them mess-play and throw each other around. Feeding time was chaotic. Hundreds of monkeys dashed towards a cage full of sweet potatoes as the man charged with feeding them approached it with a basketful of sweet corn and a machete. He diced it up and the monkeys went ape-shit.
I We had a terrible experience the next day. We had decided to make the hour and a half long scooter trip up north to see the Besakih temple, one of the biggest and most famous Hindu temples in Bali. We arrived to a checkpoint roughly 2 miles from the temple and were asked to pay a few dollars each for entry and parking. We coughed up the cash and excitedly made our way to the temple entrance. As soon as we arrived we were surrounded by several men and women demanding money for sarongs, offerings and temple guides. Usually a sarong is provided free of charge for the temples, although technically not a necessary requirement to enter. We declined to pay the extortionate amount these guys were trying to charge us and brushed them aside, heading in the direction of the temple. A few steps later we came to a halt as a group of men waving sticks at us blocked the way and told us that it was forbidden for us to enter without a temple guide. Once again we kindly declined and tried to continue, but they were having none of us and begun to act rather aggressive. Fed up and outraged at this scam in the name of their religion, we left without visiting any temple. We later found out that the locals in the area were notoriously aggressive to foreigners and that guides were not necessary at all. The so called guides would gladly take your money and desert you after 20 metres of accompanying you inside the temple. Locals also sold beers and souvenirs in the temple which really says it all. I’m just glad that we managed to get our money back and didn’t foolishly give it to these scam artists.
The best part of our trip to Ubud was the sunrise hike up Mt Batur, the active volcano north of Ubud, standing tall at 1717m. We got up at 1.30am and were shuttled to the base of the volcano with a few others. We were given little to no safety briefing before beginning our hike, much to the shock of my Volcanologist girlfriend. Thunderstorms were raging in the clouds around us as we made our way to the summit. There were hundreds of people who had the same idea as us, to our disappointment, making the going quite slow. However the path widened as we approached the crater of the volcano and we made a swift line for the summit just in time for sunrise. The views were incredible, the lake below crystal clear and the bed of clouds engulfing us from below. We got back at 11am and went for a long nap as we were shattered. We got up a few hours later to go for a traditional Balinese massage to relieve the tired muscles. We were off to Gili T island the next day so we booked a boat over, got our belongings together and hit the hay for an early night. Bali had been incredible, maybe not the paradise that is portrayed in magazines, but nonetheless an amazingly unique island with remarkably kind people. I’m excited to see the more rural side of Indonesia now, with less of the tackiness and more of the authenticity.
Credits to Robyn Edwards for some of these great photos