Sunday 19th March 2017
After two days spent surfing the polluted waves of Kuta Beach, I headed north to the town of Seminyak and checked into Capsule Hostel, which at the time was the highest rated backpacker accommodation on the whole of Bali. Entering my assigned dorm I could have been mistaken for sneaking backstage at the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. In a fully-booked room of twelve beds I was the only penis present and, as I unpacked my dirty laundry, girls came in and out of the showers wrapped in nothing but towels. Girls pranced around in sexy lingerie whilst doing their make-up in the mirror. Girls stood around stark naked, unsure about what outfit to put on for that night. Girls. Girls. Girls.
The cause for the dorm to be turned into a dressing room was the Single Fin party that took place each Sunday at a beach club in Uluwatu. Sitting down at the long wooden bench in the hostel’s communal bar area and taking a sip of my first beer, an American collegiate rower called Nick told me that Capsule offered a two-hour party bus to the venue and back. He also informed me that he was without a bed for the night, the receptionist having apparently cancelled his extended booking, and that someone in his dorm the previous evening had pissed themselves. We raised a cheers and chinked our second beers.
I got onto the party bus carrying my third beer and found myself talking to a German dude called Soren and his older sister. I cracked a fourth beer whilst telling them about a friend of mine who once lost a large amount of money investing in Kazakh oil fields. Having held in a piss for so long that I was convinced I was going to give myself a urinary tract infection, we finally stopped for a toilet break. I pushed my way to the front of the bus, raced into the roadside shitter, and proceeded to let out a golden stream of glory with more pressure than a fire hose. I then replenished myself with a fifth beer before retaking my seat.
We got off the bus in Uluwatu and I went into the convenience store across the street where I purchased a sixth beer, proceeded to drink said beer in front of the cashier, and then bought a seventh. It hadn’t taken me long to realise that Single Fin was not going to be the type of party I’d enjoy. There were more pretentious fuck boys hanging around than in the smoking area of an upper-west-side New York nightclub. Therefore, whilst everyone else entered the establishment I ordered a pizza and got inadvertently involved in a drug deal. Some dude was looking to jack off some questionable weed to drunk westerners and a preppy wanker with swooping hair and wearing an elephant embroidered plaid shirt was being suckered in. After some deliberation and CSI forensic levels of investigation, however, it was concluded that he’d been suckered for some oregano instead of prime green. I laughed. “If you’re not going to smoke that can I have it to garnish my pizza with?” At this comment, the preppy wanker nearly swung for me so I departed and spent the next four hours trolling everyone in sight that I could find. When this got boring, I then bantered with Nick. He had met a lovely Canadian girl who had a spare bed in her room because her friend was off with one of the pre-described fuck boys for the evening. Everything resolved, I passed out on the bus back to Seminyak, woke up briefly for another snack when we stopped at McDonald’s, and then passed out in my hostel bed.
Monday 20th March 2017
Trying to stomach some food at the same wooden bench where I’d started drinking the previous day, I looked over to my left and enviously watched a tattoo-covered, beardy, guy demolishing a burger and fries in record time. Fraser was also from Glasgow, Scotland and we quickly made acquaintance with one another. We had such a good bond, in fact, that a week later we would go hunting for dragons together on the small Indonesian island of Komodo. After a full day of barely moving and talking utter shit, in a way that only Scottish people can do, we grabbed Nick and headed to a watering hole in Seminyak town called La Favela. It had, quite simply, the best atmosphere of any drinking establishment I’ve ever set foot it. And I’ve tested a lot off establishments in coming to that decision. Perhaps it was the chilled-out, foliage-covered, patio area; perhaps it was the selection of drinks on offer; perhaps it was the type of crowd that had been drawn in, or perhaps it was simply because it had polar-opposite vibes to Single Fin. Whatever it was, I was completely in my element.
The Canadian girl who had been kind enough to let Nick use the spare bed in her room, her dishevelled friend and a bunch of other people joined us in the utopia. One was a crazy Dutch guy who, after initially being rejected by a pair of lesbians, ended up necking off with a gorgeous Latina girl against the bar as we all danced around the heavenly air-conditioned dance floor. A laser light show played in perfect time with the tunes; the DJ playing club banger after club banger. I may not have been able to point a finger as to why I found La Favela so awesome, but I could certainly stomp a foot along to the beat of the music.
At stupid o’clock, Nick, Fraser, and I exited the club in search of a sensible bite to eat. The three of us had agreed to get a boat to the Gili party islands the following morning and were conscious about potential sea-sickness. The Dutch guy, however, wasn’t. “Kaasoufle,” he yelled, pointing across the street. “Bitterballen! Oh my God, frikandel!” I couldn’t believe my eyes. Directly opposite La Favela was a traditional Dutch hole-in-the-wall. I used to live in the Netherlands when studying, so for me what happened next wasn’t a real surprise, but the others looked on in absurdness as the Dutch guy marched quickly over; jammed some money in a slot between the bricks; opened a release door, and took out his fried treats from within. Fast food the traditional Dutch way. As he bit into his battered cheese sticks a look of glee spread across his face, and at that moment he must have been the happiest man on the island. It’s amazing what a bit of home comfort can do to a grown man when on a different continent 12,000km away.
Tuesday 21st March 2017
I clung onto the railings for dear life as waves came crashing over the top of the speedboat. With no seats left indoors the three of us had been instructed by the lunatic captain to sit on the roof. Little did we realise upon tentatively agreeing to do so, however, that he would proceed to lead us directly into the eye of a thunderstorm. Not that we had much say in the matter. As reggae music blasted from a crackling speaker, we were simultaneously drenched to the bone whilst being fumigated from the five outboard motors working overtime to keep us upright. “Fancy a beer?” asked Fraser, unzipping his bag in a moment of steadiness to reveal three cans. “Do I ever,” said Nick, cracking open a cold one.
“Where are we staying tonight?” I asked him as we, somewhat remarkably, put our feet on the dry sands of Gili Trawangan without throwing up our Dutch dinner. “My mate’s place,” he responded, leading Fraser and me up onto the cobbled main street and past heaps of rubble. In January 2017, the local government had come along and bulldozed all the beach bars that had been built on the water side of the road, claiming that they had been constructed illegally and without proper permission. They had never bothered disposing of the resultant debris, however, and it spread out as a horrific eyesore for the tourists and incessant reminder for the locals of who’s really in charge. “Awesome,” said Fraser. “I didn’t realise that you had a friend on the island. I thought we were just booking into a hostel.” “That is the name of the hostel,” laughed Nick in response. “It’s called My Mate’s Place.”
“What’s your wifi password?” I asked the guy behind the desk after checking in. “Go fuck yourself,” he responded. “Sorry?” I frowned, taken aback. “‘Gofuckyourself’,” he repeated. “That’s the wifi password. No spaces between the words.” I chuckled. These were my type of people.
Wednesday 22nd March 2017
Nick and Fraser went on a booze cruise where, much to the displeasure of the steroid-induced fuck boys with their sleeve tattoos and two-figure-IQs, Nick showed a Godly feat of superhuman strength that sent palpitations around hearts of the women on board by pulling himself out of the ocean and back onto the boat one-handed. As they stared at this Hulk in awe, Fraser sat back, topped up his sunburn, and simply announced, ‘he came with me’.
Whilst they were sailing the seven seas, I went for a bike ride around the island with a posse who had assembled at the hostel. ‘You look familiar,’ I said to the expressive American bloke I found myself peddling alongside. ‘I get that a lot,’ laughed Eric, getting out his phone. ‘Recognise this photo?” Squinting my eyes to focus on the screen being hit by the glare of the powerful sun, I could just about make out the iconic photograph of Angelina Jolie posing in a slit-leg black dress on the red carpet of a Hollywood premiere. ‘Of course,’ I said, puzzled. ‘Well, zoom in and you might be surprised,’ he chuckled. Eric worked as a production coordinator on large annual events such as the Oscars Award Ceremony and the Super Bowl halftime show, where his daily job involved brushing shoulders with Hollywood’s elite from Oprah to Tom Hanks to Bruno Mars; the latter who he once had to fetch a very specific tuna & cheese melt sandwich for. Sure enough, standing suited and booted behind Angelina’s exposed right shoulder, was the guy cycling next to me, a Cheshire cat grin spread across his face. “You have seen me before,” he laughed.
“What’s that cat over there doing?” asked a fucked-up Eric later that evening whilst Nick made-out with a Norwegian girl called, and I shit you not, Asshole. He’d consumed a bag of magic mushrooms right before we’d headed out to the bar street and was beginning to hallucinate. ‘That’s a bottle of juice,’ laughed Fraser, grimacing as Eric gave him an apologetic slap on his sunburnt back.
Thursday 23rd March 2017
Shaken awake by an earthquake registering 7.1 on the Richter scale, Fraser and I said goodbye to Nick (he was off to pursue a business venture in Brazil) and introduced ourselves to an English dude who was hanging around the hostel. Ben had come to Gili Trawangan on holiday; lost his passport; missed his flight home; learnt fluent Indonesian; married a Balinese girl; been adopted by a local family; set up the booze cruise which Fraser and Nick had been in attendance the previous day, and then got divorced. As we sat down to have a beer with him, a disheartened Ben told us that he was in the process of designing an app for visiting tourists in an attempt to save his marriage. He’d been on the island for three years. “Want to come to my house and smoke some blunts?” he asked, lonely and looking for company. “Sorry man,” I said. “That’s not really my thing.” He was a good bloke and I hoped for his sake that things would work out for him.
Friday 24th March 2017
Sat around the wooden benches in the common area of the hostel, Brendan, the owner of My Mate’s Place, introduced us to a drinking game called ‘mushroom cup’. It was a load of fun and as I tried to balance a beer bottle on the ass of a Canadian slut who would go on to bang an Afghan guy later that evening, Brendan proceeded to lose at his own game in spectacular fashion and became blind-drunk. A large Canadian dude in a Hawaiian shirt at the other end of the table, much displeased at the acts of his fellow countrywoman, said that he recognised us from Capsule Hostel and the Single Fin party; a miracle considering that I’d barely even set foot in the bar itself.
“I probably didn’t speak to you that night because I was in a bit of a bad mood,” he admitted. “The previous night I was asleep in my bed when I felt a warm sensation rubbing against my leg. Startled, I awoke to find a naked German girl squatting at the end of my bed and pissing on me. Her eyes were bloodshot red like she had been possessed by the devil and she was so off her face on mushrooms that when I tried to ask her what the hell she was doing she just stared through me like I was a poltergeist. I’ve had better night’s sleep.”
Saturday 25th March 2017
“I’ve got a text from Ben,” said Fraser as we lazed about on some beanbags. Both of us had decided that it was far too hot to be outside on this day, our last on Gili Trawangan before making the short trip to the more chilled out sister island of Gili Air. “He’s offered to take us on a private snorkelling trip and drop us off at our next stop so that we don’t have to worry about getting the public ferry boat.” I had reservations about this, Ben being the type of person who would probably struggle to organise a piss up in a brewery, so was relieved when a second message came through to say that his offer, unfortunately, had to be revoked because the engine on the boat he’d sourced had blown up on the way across the bay.
Fraser and I went back to Plan A, which saw us lugging our bags across Gili Air from the public ferry port on the south side of the island to Begadang Backpackers, the hippie commune style accommodation we’d booked for a few nights for the sole reason that it had a pineapple-shaped swimming pool. No complaints could, therefore, be made when we found out that our beds for the night were nothing but a couple of dirty mattresses on a raised bamboo plinth; an al fresco affair exposed entirely to the elements and with only torn mosquito nets for protection. As I dumped my bag and took a seat I spotted a familiar face lounging in one of the hammocks. “Eric,” I exclaimed as a naked Indonesian child suddenly sprinted across the clearing and dive bombed into the pool. “Fancy seeing you here. How are things?”
“Not too well, man,” he admitted, his voice shaky and weak. “I had my first ever diving lesson today and my body failed to adjust to the change in pressure correctly. Whilst underwater during training I started to bleed from my nose and ears into my mask. I looked like one of those Scream Masks that kids dress up in at Halloween. Safe to say that it will also be my last ever diving lesson.”
Sunday 26th March 2017
With Gili Air being very much a chill-out island compared to the rowdy and boisterous Trawangan, we hung around the pool all day and ate, lazily paying an extra charge for delivery even although the restaurant was literally just across the road. We also figured out that this is where the naked kid had appeared from the day before, his father clearly having turned his back on the little nipper for one second too long. Lauren, a cool New Yorker who had studied down in New Orleans, considered helping me put together a novel sports day by making the best use of the basketball hoop, volleyball court, and tightrope that were set up, but in the end, it seemed like too much effort in the sweltering heat.
Instead, I spent the day worrying about the gnarly purple mark that had appeared across my translucent white chest, morbidly guessing that I’d somehow either contracted meningitis or that it was varicose veins that had formed because I was pregnant. Fraser and Lauren told me that I was being over-dramatic and that my self-diagnosis may be slightly off.
Monday 27th March 2017
Convincing Lauren to come back to Seminyak with us with the promise of an epic night out in La Favela, the three of us got a return boat to Bali and Fraser ordered take away McDonald’s to the Capsule bar area (just because he could). In our room, we met Peter, a PE teacher and basketball star from Germany with his own Facebook fan page. He broke the sad news to us that, because it was Balinese New Year that day, La Favela was closed, but then quickly heightened our spirits by showing us a video of him doing a rhythmic gymnastics floor routine in front of his students; black leotard, pompoms, and all.
Following a rather uninspiring and extremely amateurish parade that made its way through the town centre with no real gusto, we returned to the hostel to find out that we would then be locked-in for over twenty-four hours. From 6 am the next morning until 6 am the following morning nobody on the island was allowed to go outside or use any form or artificial light as a form of respect to the Gods. As an atheist, I opposed to such restrictions, but then was reminded that the Balinese police may not see my logical protests in such a similar light; or with any light at all.
Prepared for the occasion, Peter got out a bottle of whisky that he had hidden in his rucksack and we headed to the rooftop for some star gazing. There, whilst trying to pick out the North Star and forgetting I was still in the southern hemisphere, I met a girl from my hometown who used to shag a mate of mine. Small world. As hostel management came and confiscated Peter’s whisky, we called it a night, called the next day void, and hit the hay. Two months later, Peter and I would rendezvous in Cambodia to play cowboys and Indians in a war museum with real firearms. Fraser and Lauren would reconvene in New Zealand to spend four weeks cruising around both islands on a hop-on-hop-off party bus. None of us would forget our time in Bali and the crazy people we met.
“Do you want to go and hunt some dragons?” I asked Fraser, taking a sip of export beer. We had met in the bar area of Bali’s New Seminyak Capsule Hostel approximately only three minutes before, but it was one of those awesome rare occasions where you instantly click with someone; a complete stranger who you feel like you’ve known your whole life.
“The Komodo dragons?” queried my fellow Scot, a smile spreading across his face. “Absolutely, I’ve wanted to see them since I was a kid.” Fraser and I had quickly figured out that we only lived about twenty minutes away from each other back home in Glasgow, but surprisingly had no mutual friends. What we did have, however, were very similar personalities and dry senses of humour. The perfect combination.
“Awesome,” I replied, excited at his enthusiasm. “It says here in my guidebook that the small islands of Komodo and Rinca off the west coast of Flores are the only places in the world where these big giant monitor lizards can be seen. Although there is no accepted reason why the dragons are only found in this small area of Indonesia, it’s thought that their ancestors came from Australia four-million years ago. About 4000 of them live in the wild.”
“Let’s get those plane tickets booked then,” he smiled. “I’m all for spontaneous adventures and this is far too cool an opportunity to turn down.”
With our flight being labelled as ‘delayed’ on the screens in the domestic departures lounge, we got chatting to a couple of Swiss girls waiting for the same plane to land. The blonde was a rock climber and had been scaling faces and walls all around Asia for the previous two months. As she explained the rush she got every time she dusted her hands in chalk and stepped into that first foothold, I became mesmerised. I love it when people start talking about things that they are genuinely passionate about. A cosmic energy seems to flow out of them and transfix their listeners who, regardless of whether they have any initial interest in the subject, find themselves hanging onto every word. The light in her eyes made me want to ditch my current travel plans, buy a harness and hammock, and go live out my existence in the hills and valleys of Yosemite National Park.
We also met a thirty-five-year-old freelance journalist from the States who had been solo-travelling the world for the previous four years, and boarding the flight one-hour late alongside her I picked her brain for tidbits of knowledge as to how to sustain a life-work balance when on the road. Her answer: Avoid party hostels. My response: Not too lightly.
There were only about twenty people on board the plane, and plonking my arse down in seat 1A I was given a near-perfect view of the safety demonstration. Our air hostess was a beautiful Indonesian woman with enormous fake boobies. So big, in fact, that, when she showed us how to inflate the life vest in the event of an emergency landing at sea, I thought a better option would be to just grab a hold of her artificial delights and use them as a floatation device.
As we went wheels up on the runway, however, I re-focused my attention on the staggering archipelagos and reefs whizzing by below, the country of Indonesia being comprised of over 18,000 individual islands. In what seemed like no time at all we were landing on a solitary runway amongst towering lush green mountains, and as we were taxied into the lone hanger which served as the terminal building a sign welcomed us to Flores’ western seaside port town of Labuan Bajo. I’d booked our accommodation on Flores based entirely on its name, so was delighted when I found out that it also offered a free airport pick-up and welcome drink in addition to fully air-conditioned rooms with cable television. Exiting the baggage claim, however, it became immediately apparent why. I started to laugh. At the other side of the carpark, directly across the road from the airport, a sign reading
I’d booked our accommodation on Flores based entirely on its name, so was delighted when I found out that it also offered a free airport pick-up and welcome drink in addition to fully air-conditioned rooms with cable television. Exiting the baggage claim, however, it became immediately apparent as to why. I started to laugh. At the other side of the carpark, directly across the road from the airport, a sign reading Exotic Komodo Hotel shone back at us. “I think we’ll be able to just walk this one,” I laughed.
“There’s a phone call for you, Crobs,” said the receptionist as I sat down for a cup of coffee in the restaurant area.
“For me?” I said, confused. “Who on earth would be calling me at a random hotel in the back-arse-of-nowhere Indonesia? Nobody even knows that I’m here.”
“Someone called Katherine,” she shrugged, handing me the phone. I was still none the wiser.
“Hello?” I cautiously said, putting it to my ear.
“Hi Crobs,” came a slightly familiar voice from the receiver. “Katherine here, the American woman you met on the plane. I was just wondering if you’ve managed to sort out a tour tomorrow to Komodo Island. I’ve been struggling to get on one at such short notice.”
“Ah, hi Katherine,” I said, feeling rather uneasy. I had absolutely no recollection of telling her where Fraser and I had booked to stay that evening. “Unfortunately we got the last two spaces on our boat, so I don’t think I can be of any help.” It’s moments like this what little white lies were invented for.
“No worries,” she said, sounding deflated. “I just thought I’d check on the off chance. Have a good time.”
“Well, that was fucking creepy,” I sighed, hanging up the phone.
Our alarm clock woke us up before the sound of the cockerels the following morning, and we sleepily shuffled down to the pier where our boat was docked. I felt like a fairy tale prince about to embark on a quest to slay a fire-breathing beast, saving the helpless princess in the process and having her fall in love with me. Happily ever after. The end. As the motors of the unseaworthy vessel coughed into life like an asthmatic chain smoker and revved like a chainsaw, however, I plugged in my earbuds, turned the volume up on my iPod, and came back down to reality. My stomach started to rumble. I really should have tried to squeeze in some breakfast. We had a long journey ahead.
As we chugged out into the vast, calm, ocean, a Spanish girl burst open a packet of chocolate biscuits and began to devour them faster than Sesame Street’s Cookie Monster, feeding the occasional one to her boyfriend who had decided to lock his attention into a handheld video games console. Everyone else on the boat then had to look on in disgust as she finished the packet and started nibbling on her man’s ear; clearly still hungry. This needy petting continued until she got the attention she so craved and the pair soon started necking off right there in the middle of the tiny wooden boat. I’m all for romance, but public displays of affection like that are completely uncalled for.
“That was like watching the introduction to an amateur porno,” I laughed when, five hours later, we eventually docked up at Komodo Island. Our ten-strong group had collectively ditched the Spanish couple at the ranger’s office and gone straight to one of the food stalls near the pier for a meal of breakfast; brunch; elevenses; and lunch, rolled into one.
“Thankfully they stopped halfway through the journey when he got seasick overboard,” laughed one of the four Dutchmen we’d shared the ride across with.
“He was an idiot on that journey,” laughed his mate. “I mean how else do you expect that your body will react if you stuff a packet of chocolate biscuits down your pie hole and then transfix your eyes on the bright lights and colours of a games console whilst being rocked around in a bathtub of a boat.”
After fattening ourselves up so that we would be more juicy and attractive pray for the omnivorous dragons, in hindsight maybe not the best idea, we met the park guides who were to lead us into the heart of the island in search of these near-mythical creatures. We were not guaranteed to see any, but the chances were high.
Gathering round, they gave us a spiel about the dangers involved and what we should do in the event of an attack. This was all well and good, but I couldn’t help notice that these guides who, let’s not forget, were being paid to protect us from the deadly 3m long, 100kg, tank-like animals, were holding nothing but a large wooden stick apiece. I would have felt a lot more secure if they been carrying automatic rifles than something that looked like it had been stolen from a Venetian gondolier, especially considering that there is no cure for a Komodo dragon bite. The bacteria in their mouth is so poisonous that one bite from them will lead to septic infections that will eventually kill their victim, but not before up to two weeks of miserable pain. A Gandalf staff the sticks may have been mistaken for, but I highly doubted that a shout of ‘you shall not pass’ would do anything to deter these creatures, especially considering how they treat their family members.
Komodo dragons enjoy eating their young, and juvenile dragons, therefore, have to spend their nursery years living in the trees to avoid becoming a meal for adults; only coming down when they are big enough to protect themselves. This piece of knowledge soon had me glancing upwards as well as into the undergrowth on either side of the path we walked along. Our guide was effectively telling us that they could not only get us from ground level but also by falling down from the sky. This did little to appease my nerves as the path then opened out into a clearing and we saw them for the first time. Two giant Komodo dragons lazing about in an open area where the sun shone through a hole in the jungle canopy.
“It will be safe to go close to this pair,” said our lead guide with remarkable confidence. He did, I suppose, know what he was talking about. “The dragons will feed on large animals up to 100kg in one sitting and then retire for up to one month to digest their massive meal. These two both appear to have eaten very recently so are very unlikely to strike out.
Heeding his warnings and subsequent advice, we slowly shuffled forwards closer and closer towards the dragons, each of us in sheer awe of them. To come within near touching distance of such an evolutionarily adept killing machine sent me into complete awe. And to see them out with the confines and cages of a zoo made it all the more special. Kneeling down behind one of them, I felt like I’d actually hunted down and tamed a proper dragon. All there was next was to find and rescue the princess, wherever she may be.
Sitting at a solitary table on the raised decking of a quasi-Mexican Restaurant on Kuta Main Street, I glanced out along the road and scowled at the carnage unfolding before my eyes. I’ve mentioned in a previous blog post as to why I regard Bali’s most popular resort as one of the biggest shitholes I’ve ever had the displeasure of visiting, and the view from my dinner table that evening encapsulated this in a perfect nutshell. Middle-aged, sunburnt, Australian couples stumbled along the pavement pissed out of their faces; the relentless honking of taxi driver horns directed towards people of ‘my kind’ competed for attention with the techno music pounding from every neon-signed watering hole along the tacky strip; and I choked on the intoxicating dust kicked up by the hundreds of daredevil scooter riders whizzing past, as sweat poured down my forehead. Deafened, and feeling like I’d just chain-smoked a packet of Marlboro Gold before stepping fully clothed into a leaky shower, I attempted to enjoy the chicken fajitas placed before me.
My flight from New Zealand to Indonesia had been delayed on its layover in Sydney, and it was near 11 pm when I’d eventually managed to haggle a lift from the airport, check into my basic hotel accommodation, and wander out into the hot and sultry Friday night in search of a bite to eat that wouldn’t leave my ass planted firmly on the toilet the following morning. It was St. Patrick’s Day, but the chance of getting a cold pint of Guinness in Kuta with some traditional folk music was seemingly as slim as being offered a threesome by identical twin sisters. As I pushed the food around my plate, two young Indonesia girls were accosted by a creepy old German dude on the pavement below. “You want to go dancing?” he asked them, shaking his hips in a manner that caused them recoil in disgust. “You want to fuck off?” I muttered inaudibly under my breath.
I’d been warned by everyone from my best friends back in Scotland to the Kiwi guy I passed my delay in Kingsford-Smith Airport with that Kuta was a disgusting place, but in order to cross off bucket list item number three I was going to have to stomach the seaside resort, and its food, for a couple of nights. Bali is internationally renowned amongst the surfing community for its waves, but for a beginner like myself looking to just stand up on a board the swell around Kuta was recommended as the only safe place to dip my toes in the water. The breaks around the rest of the island would be too powerful for a novice to handle. I headed back to my accommodation praying that, come daylight, the nocturnal demons would be safely out of harm’s way.
I met another Scottish guy at the surf school reception the next morning, still dripping wet from the sunrise lesson that he’d received. Giving me a tired thumbs up when I asked him whether or not the price was worth the tuition, I booked lesson for that afternoon. A few hours later I was pulling on a wetsuit top, lubricating my knees so as to avoid friction burns, shaking the hand of my instructor, and shuffling down to the beach with a longboard under my right arm. Alex was twenty-five, the same age as me, and had been teaching people to surf since his teenage years. He had that sparkle in his eyes which is seemingly ever-present in those who have managed to turn their passion into a career. Either that, or it was because he had begun telling me about the cute Japanese girl he’d managed to pick up the previous evening. If there’s anything that can connect straight males around the world, regardless of their background and beliefs, then it’s girls; girls; girls.
After drilling me on the basics and then letting me practice getting up on the board a few times on dry land, Alex led me into the ocean. He wore a snapback and didn’t take it off even when dipping his head underwater. It was as seemingly as much a part of him as the hair on his head, superglued in place. Perhaps it was a surfer style thing, or perhaps he had started balding at an early age. It felt rude to ask. Writing this bucket list post, I’ve now been in Asia for a number of months, and have been exposed to a disproportionately large number of hair-loss treatment ads on buses, trains, and in airports. It seems that it may be a real problem among Asians. Not the largest problem affecting this area of the word, mind you, but a problem nonetheless.
Now, you’ve probably heard that the beaches of Bali are among the most beautiful in the world, or have seen photos of golden sands and tranquil deep-blue seas that make you want to quit your job, book a one-way flight, and live out the rest of your existence on this island paradise. Well, I don’t want to burst your bubble, but this is a mirage; an Instagram-filtered fairy tale. If you want paradise, go to Fiji; go to the Philippines; go to the Maldives. As I pushed by the board over the whitewash hitting the Balinese shore, plastic carrier bags and sewage tickled my ankles; the ocean bed and my feet hidden from view by the murkiness of the water. Were it not for the excitement that courses through my body when crossing off another bucket list item, I would have been repulsed. Such is the importance of that 150-line list which I created back in 2008 to my continual development as a person, however, that even the yard-sale of a crash I experienced on my first attempt to stand-up couldn’t wipe the smile from my face.
It took another few attempts after this initial fail, Alex correcting my stance and tweaking my positioning on the board each time, but I was soon up. I was standing. I was conquering the ocean. I was tasting the freedom of riding a wave for the first time. I was hooked. Some find unhealthy addiction in drug use; in gambling; in drink; or in sex. I’m fortunate enough to find its healthy cousin in adrenaline. It’s what I live for, and as I rode into the shore time and time again over the next hour-and-a-half, my muscles aching, I felt more and more alive.
I so was present to the moment in fact, that it took me a while to realise that Alex had entirely stopped giving me any of the tuition that I’d paid him for and was instead staring and drooling over the gorgeous Singaporean girl stood on the shoreline, posing there in a tiny white bikini. I felt sorry for him that he’d probably never get to experience the surf off the coasts of Hawaii or the South African cape, the wages in Indonesia making it impossible for most of the world’s fourth most inhabited country to afford any form of trip abroad. He had genuine happiness, however, and what more do any of us chase after than love and happiness? Those trapped in the Western consumer cultures that sell us the great lie of materialistic happiness could learn a lot from people like Alex.
“Table for one, please,” I said to the waiter of the Indonesian restaurant that I’d selected to eat my dinner at that evening. It’s a common phrase you find yourself saying when travelling solo. The first few times it’s uttered you feel like a loser; a bit of a loner; that the other diners might be judging and mocking you. But that soon dissipates. You start to embrace your surroundings; to notice things that you otherwise might not – like the fact that most people in the world have a base emotion of boredom. My joint’s still ached from the afternoon spent on the board, but I was still riding the high of the waves. I sat watching badminton on the small wall-mounted television whilst my food was being cooked. It’s not a sport that I particularly enjoy, but I do have one fun fact to share with you. Everyone is well aware that the New Zealand rugby team is called the All Blacks, but did you know that the country’s international badminton team is collectively referred to as the Black Cocks, taken after the shuttlecock used to play the game? I’m not making that up. Google it.
My attention span wavering, I took a glance at the couple to my right. They had been eating in silence since I’d sat down, and the tension between them appeared to be harder to cut than the overcooked beef on the girl’s plate. She was smoking hot, with slicked-back blonde hair that made her unmistakeably of Scandinavian descent. The man opposite her was batting way out of his league, being overweight with an unkempt demeanour, a scowling face, and a receding hairline that made him look like he’d spent the last ten years in a wind tunnel. I thought of mentioning to him the large market of hair loss treatments available in Asia, but thought this stepping over the line of what could be classified as a social faux pas. I left them to stew in their invigorating silence, hoping that I never had a relationship that reached that monotonous stage. I’d take a table for one any day of the week over that.