Here I sit, all bruised and battered up, protected by the shade of Kelly’s Kitchen watching the high tide surf in Bingin, Bali, Indonesia and I still can’t decide if I like it here or not. Yeah, I decided that I needed a bit of a vacation from my road trip so I packed my bag, bought a ticket and flew out here to spend a month with Mike and Gabe. It’s a very tough life I have at the moment… Now, back to my point, Bali is supposed to be this tropical paradise. A must see destination for lovers and surfers alike, but I guess I don’t really fit into either of these categories. I should be happy. The sun is shining, the surf is amazing and there are tons of girls clad in the minimal of swimwear littering the beach in front of me. I should be ecstatic. I’m here with a couple of awesome friends, experiencing the best that this tropical paradise has to offer and I should be on cloud nine. But I’m not. I’m not sad or depressed or anything of sort. I’m just not the travel poster excited about this place. Parts of the trip have been awesome, and I’ve met some cool people along the way, but at this point I don’t know that I would come back again. I still have about 2 weeks left, and since I can’t go into the water I may see a different side of Bali, but for now, I’m not really that impressed.
I flew into Denpesar airport on the 30th of October on a series of very long Singapore airline flights. While I’m on the subject let me just say, Singapore airlines is awesome! No charge for surfboards, the plane is comfortable and the flight crew is as friendly as they are good looking. Flying into Bali I had no idea what to expect. I’d never been to Asia before, let alone Bali, and I had no one here to show me around or point me in the right direction. I was jumping into Asia for the first time with no floaties on and it did not help that as my first act in the country was to lose my phone at the airport. I was a little lost, except for one piece of advice: “Stay away from Kuta” my friend Chris warned me. The problem is if you tell me not to do something, I really want to do it. I must experience the pain and disappointment for myself otherwise I feel I may have missed out on an essential experience. I guess I’m a bit of a masochist like that. So I booked a room in the center of Kuta for the 3 days I was going to be on my own. How best to describe Kuta… For my fellow San Diegans, imagine a cross between Pacific Beach and Tijuana and you have Kuta in a nutshell. To those of you not of the whales vagina, imagine every street littered with street side merchants trying to sell you poorly made shirts, bags and sunglasses, each stand identical to the one before and each merchant very eager in vocal to draw you in. The stands are broken up by tattoo parlors, mushroom merchants, bars and surf stores. Ah yeah, surf stores. There are about a hundred official Quicksilver, Hurley, Reef, DC and other various surf/skate company stores in a 3 mile radius that is Kuta. I had no idea most of these brands even had their own stores, let alone multiple ones on the same street, like they do in Kuta. I didn’t realize it then, but I would come to understand what this mean for Bali and the atmosphere here. The only other things you will notice in Kuta are the very luxurious resorts bordered by heaps of litter and rundown buildings full of squatters. The beach is cleaner and is actually pretty full of young people nursing hangovers and “learning” how to surf. It’s also packed with merchants pedaling drinks, massages and cheaply made goods, as well as “surf lessons”. I put that in quotes because their idea of a lesson here is to put you on a board, push you into a wave then leave you in the water with no idea what you’re doing the end result being that lots of barnies with no idea of proper surf etiquette or safety are sitting one on top of another out there. This brings me to the caliber of people in Kuta. Kuta primarily has 2 kinds of people: locals and redneck Aussies. Aussies to Kuta are the jarheads to PB: Loud, obnoxious, no respect to local culture and no idea how to handle their liquor. The other side of the coin is the locals. They’re very aggressive trying to draw you into buying crap goods, like Bintang t-shirts or cheap plastic knock-off sunglasses or to give you a massage, which at times means a very special massage. All in all Kuta is a place where people can get away to party, get drunk and get laid for cheaper than in Australia. Pretty much like TJ for San Diego. I’m glad I experienced it, but the warning was just, it’s not a place for me. So I spent a few days walking around, exploring and doing my best to ignore all the merchants and massage givers tugging at my shirt.
Once Mike and Gabe showed up I said goodbye to the putrid pit of foreign capital and headed for the promise of jungle life and surfing nirvana. Little did I know what I was in for in that moment. We found more of a simple existence in Padang Padang than we had in Kuta, but it was far from a jungle life on a tropical island, and I very quickly learned how out of shape, how outclassed and how much of a pussy I am in the water. For several days I paddled out into some of the world’s most renowned breaks and all I managed to accomplish is not drown. My ego and my self-definition of now being a “surfer” both took a hard hit. Not only did I not know what the hell I was doing out there, but I looked around me and saw the people I had paddled out with. These are guys, who primarily are in much better shape than I, but also know what they are doing. The first few days of paddling out were very demoralizing. What’s more I got a little adjustment in what it meant to be a surfer these days. I have had this idea in my head that surfers were guys from all walks of life that just found peace in the water and passion among the waves. What I encountered here was the opposite. I encountered the result of making surfing a lifestyle brand. I found the reason behind 5 Quicksilver stores on a single street. Surfing here is a lifestyle brand and all the guys look the fucking same. They’re all hairless, metro, but very toned, mandatorily tattooed up the ass with hairstyles and fashion such that it’s almost impossible to tell them apart. Few and far between were the older, dirtier, grimier surfers that I know and respect. What’s more is the amount of “surfers” that don’t surf here. They talk about surfing, they look like carbon copies of the Hurley model posters and they even have a surfboard rack on their scooters, but all I ever see them doing is partying and nursing hangovers. It wasn’t until we hit up one of the less visited spots, but my favorite so far, that we encountered some cool Russian guys who were all about the stoke and not about the look or the lifestyle. Another thing that really bugs me about the surf culture here is the amount of smokers. I used to smoke. I used to smoke a lot. Almost 2 packs a day to be exact, and the thing I very quickly learned when I started surfing was that lung capacity is very important when you’re padding and when you’re being held under water. I don’t mind smokers. I really don’t but I know that each of these guys out here chain smoking while leaning on their brand new Al Merrick board are nothing more than posers.
Well, rants and frustrations aside, I actually started getting better. My morning workouts with Mike and two to three surf sessions per day get your ass in shape pretty quick. I wasn’t getting pitted or doing 180s, but I started getting actual rides down the face of some head high plus waves. Even going over the falls was getting easier. It helped that we didn’t party much either. We had actually only gone out a few times since we’ve been here: twice to a posh bar/restaurant in Uluwatu where the douche to patron ratio is particularly high, and once to a more earthy (read hippy) restaurant in Bingin for some live reggae and mingling with the young crowds. Speaking of which, I’ve met a few young ladies here who seem to be pretty cool. They’re as much gypsies as I which makes hanging out pretty interesting, but also very infrequent. There are some long term residents, mainly at Bingin, that I’ve seen a few times but they too tend to come and go around the island. One of my friends here, who shall remain nameless, has been on a mission since day one. When we met up he had just come from a month of surfing and tapping all kinds of ass but got hit with a harsh dry spell here and frustration has set in for him. He started off trying to meet some local girls, but they really don’t go out here, and the ones he’s met all either have boyfriends or have no interest in tourists. His criteria have since dropped down to the old massage ladies that if you stabbed your eyes out and had a stroke may come off as fuckable. The problem, I think is that the ratio of ladies to guys here is so skewed towards dudes that each woman is getting so much attention that they’re getting turned off. I have seen so many hot women here, all scantily dressed and preened, yet I have seen almost none swooning after the guys. The only people I’ve even seen kiss have been couples here on vacation. I could be very wrong, but in this surfing Mecca the ladies have the pick of the litter but there is not much picking going on. My apathy, and to be perfectly honest lack of self esteem, has actually saved me from such frustration. I have no desire to compete with 22 year old shaved metro “surfers” for ass, so I sit back, sip a Bintang, and watch the show and every once in a while I catch some epic sideboob.
Surfing, as much as I love it, wasn’t the only thing I planned on doing while in town and a few days ago, when the swell died down, the boys and I packed our day packs, saddled our mighty scooters and set out to explore the rest of the island. What we found was a lot of the same, but at the same time totally different places. The first day’s destination was Beratan Lake, with the idea that we would check out some sights along the way. The change in scenery that day was astounding. We went from the tropical island, through a bustling city, to the green rolling fields you see in all those Vietnam war movies, to a little mountain town reminiscent of Tibet sitting next to a lake. But through all of these scenes the overwhelming Hindu architecture and temples ran a common thread. The temples, markets and even houses all feature the similar architectural flair and the offering that the locals leave everyday littered the streets the entire way up. The long day of riding, sightseeing and even motocrossing, finally led us to a little home stay that was cheap and clean enough each of us got a room for ourselves. Turns out that place can be rented out by the hour, and we had some young, wayward neighbors for an hour or so. The next day, we descended down the other side of the crater and found ourselves being escorted by a friendly local to his resort on Lovina beach. Lucky for us, we found a hotel and restaurant instead of a back alley kidney harvesting clinic, but seeing as how Lovina was only a quick stop off for us, we had some lunch, thanked him for showing us around and headed back up towards Batur Lake and volcano on what is one of the greatest rides of my life. The road up the mountain was the most scenic, winding and just plain fun roads I have ever been on. Where it brought us was one of the most depressing places I have ever been to. The village on top of the crater is supposed to host one of the oldest and most renowned temples in Bali, but what we found was a rundown, gray town full of locals so aggressive it puts the border merchants in TJ to shame. As we were getting ready to go into one of the temples we were stopped by the only other tourists in town, who proceeded to warn us about how much of a scam the temple tours were. We still went in, paying the high fee and having to rent sarongs, and what we found was a pretty run down, small temple with only a few sculptures worth taking note of. The most disappointing thing about it was that the amazing view of the volcano from the temple was blocked off for all but the worshipers. We made the most of it though, and after a surprise monsoon rain trapped us in the courtyard, Mike’s rendition of Singing in the Rain kept us in high spirits. Shortly thereafter we tried to leave the depressing only to be accosted by 2 locals and browbeaten into seeing their rundown hotels. The attitude of the locals and the vibe of this place had my spidey senses tingling hard so we decided to push through into the night and try and make Ubud. An hour later we found ourselves in a very dark Bali standing in front of a very posh resort. None of us wanted to keep riding, so we bit the bullet and got what they considered a room and what I considered a loft apartment. The posh accommodations aside, we wanted to experience the actual culture so we put down our packs and got back on our bikes in search of a local eating spot. What we found was better than we could have imagined: an entire market littered with warungs (local eating spots), noodle carts, pancake stands and even a fried chicken vendor. A cardinal sin or two were broken that night but we did discover the greatest meal we had so far: chicken parts noodle soup. And we had it twice, with meals in between.