This was my first typical Asian experience – booked on a whim because a friend of mine was going. Now what I’m writing isn’t particularly different from the usual review of Asia – from its dismal bathrooms to decadent, dreamy landscapes. So please forgot everything you’ve read – especially the love section of Eat, Prey, Love, because I’m taking you on my trip. Enjoy.
Arriving into the tropical, humid climes of Bali, I knew I was experiencing what many would automatically declare ‘paradise’. And the first views I saw once away from the airport and the road were indeed incredible. I was tired from my fairly short flight to Bali (what I refer to as my cargo class flight; no drinks, food, television, entertainment, excitement etc) and was feeling further languid from the balmy heat that stuffled the air. Mama Ketut, my first home stay in the southern tip of the island, Bingin, had the most breathtaking view yet. Perched high above the cliff with views of surfers riding the wave. On that first day, my friends, Jens, Salina and I went to the nearby Dreamland beach, constantly referenced all over the island for its waves and thumping music coming from the beach bar. Bali had begun.
Also what had begun in Bali were the monsoons, which hardly begun in earnest. In those early days they poored from the hot and heavy climate to bring about a damp and frigid explosion. I was getting back from the beach on the back of a motorcycle when I experienced the full power of nature, as you can see from the photo below. From there I was fully settled in Bali, going to warungs (the food stalls, with the varying degrees of quality), seeing the local markets and watching the people going about their daily tasks. I even managed a bit of surfing.
Yes: this was my first experience of riding the surf. Even in Cali it didn’t cross my mind to grab a board and prepare to balance. So rarely do I do a sporting activity though that it is virtually an event. This time I stood up to take the reins at the popular and expensive Padang Padang Surfing School. Having already had lunch with the crew at the first failed attempt the day before, I realised people loved their surfing. I guess I had to see exactly what the fuss was about.
Bill Bryson once described his own experiences of surfing when in Sydney for his book Down Under as ‘sinking like an anvil,’ an expression showing how much success he had on a surfboard. My original thought process on sports were to be how relegate certain ones on how extreme they were as well, so adopting the ‘I will be awesome’ attitude, especially because I was around a variety of pros, I signed up for the starters class (naturally) at Padang beach. This entailed two two-hour sections separated by an hour break. Tino, my pint-sized instructor with ample-sized teeth was very polite and informative, although no doubt slightly exasperated after watching me with a clinging wet shirt that keep riding up my body, sans glasses and a permanent look of fear on my face. It was easy to discover I needed a great deal of practise because my balance really was forever in the balance, and I felt like the Jaws theme was on loop as the waves got progressively bigger and the people seemed to get closer and closer. Perhaps though my lack of balance was all down to the melodramatic fears of falling down. It’s all scientific: you climb on, ride to the eye of the wave, then do an 180 and swim to buggery away from the wave whilst waiting for it to embrace you. Simple. But for someone who only just made the exciting step of managing a push bike, this was a cumbersome experience for me. It was also made me realise I was attempting to use muscles I never had or probably never will. Negative energy aside though I realise I was running out of excuses, grew frustated and finally stood. Admittedly I fell 2 seconds after but got praise from David in California. Getting praised from a Californian for my surfing was quite an ego boast.
The hour break only made those rarely used muscles tense further so the second half of the session was based on my coach now actively forcing me to embrace the eye of the surf. I got it into it and soon fell out of it when the surfboard bounced into my bottom left ribcage. From there, like a diseased dog I slowly pedaled back towards those towering waves but continually got knocked back by the severity of the wave. I started swearing, I starting shouting in frustation, I starting vigourously paddling towards the beach. I was done.
I could see the easy appeal in surfing. It’s not just the wonderfully melodic Beach Boys classic that makes me in the future want to conquer the sport. It’s the way you can become an adreniline junkie based on a 15 minute mediation for a thirty second thrill as your body lifts itself through the jagged sea. All over Bali existed surfboards and torso-led twenty-somethings delighted to be on the beach, topping up the tan, having fun and working out in perfect unison. If I can beat out my lack of confidence and severe lack of balance, I could be indeed be on a surfboard quite frequently in the future…
And so what about the rest of my first few days of Bingin. Well, my friends and I saw the profound Uluwatu, a temple around a monkey forest where you can see dancing, aggressive monkeys (they successfully stole food and were an inch away of grabbing my glasses) and stunning views over the edge of the cliff with even stronger waves. This was very Balinese and very very engaging to the eye, especially because of the colour and positive energy surrounding the temple. The south in general was an isolated place but I could deal with that for a few days. Especially because the next part of my trip was a reunion with friends. I was excited.