All troubles float away on Gili Air. The small island surrounded by white sands, decorated with coconut trees, is free from cars or motors, makes life travel at a leisurely pace by foot, bike, or horse. The locals run the bungalow hotels, all laid back and friendly, displaying the nice manicured tropical gardens, palm tree huts, and tables right on the sand. After the initial search leading us far away enough from the expensive harbor, we find the beach bungalow of our dreams and within our budget of $18/night. Our nice host Dune quickly becomes our friend and makes sure we have everything we need to enjoy the island paradise.
“The sequence of events is less important than the continuity of perception.” SFJW
“The limit of ability is the beginning of fear”SFJW
After 3 weeks on Bali, a big swell hits Uluwatu, we anxiously return for our second time to try and catch some epic waves…
Waking up at the home exchange with our friend from Vienna, Max Hersey and his awesome family in Sanur, Bali, I greet the day next to the pool and the already warm sun shining above. After my morning stretches we share a nice breakfast with Balinese coffee, toast and eggs. Our 3 days with them has been amazing-greeted with warm smiles all the way through -we shared beers on the beach, cards, pool- both solid and liquid, some moped marketplace adventures, dubious encounters with the Indonesiantraffic police, nice local home cooked dinners, movies and good times.
The time has sadly come for us to move on and we pack up our belongings and prepare to depart. Loading up all of our possessions onto our trusty steed Donny-the Indonesian moped -my backpack is crammed in between my legs and Sabine is hoisting her backpack behind me, we wave goodbye as we slowly cruise on down the road .
Heading out onto the streets of Sanur packed and ready, we navigate the crazy flow of zigzagging traffic once again with a relatively steady pace, fueled now by some experience and determination to reach our destination. Our motor purrs beneath us as we drive on-over bridges up and down hills, through the city and finally through the simi dry tropical landscape of the Bukit peninsula. Now two and-a-half weeks on the road from our initial start, the landscape already seems a bit foreign and at the same time vaguely familiar.
After the tropical mountains of Ubud and Tirta Gangga, we are struck at how the once lush landscape seems a bit more dry and tame. Feeling like we are on a new road, we unmistakingly pass by the same landmark of the shopping mall leading to where our journey began at Balangan beach. We continue on further than memory serves, past seemingly endless one way road constructions to finally reach the Uluwatu temple. Turning right we inquire a few locals,for Mamma Jenny’s place and soon arrive at our destination. Checking in and utilizing our sharpened bargaining skills, we get a discount rate in a nice room with patio, ready for the hammock to be set up, a big bed with mosquito net, and small kitchen for about $12/night.
With a big smile(except for the camera), mamma Jenny remembers my friend Roee Salem, who recommended the place during his stay a year ago. I promptly head to the beach to once again indulge myself in riding the awesome Balinese waves.
At Uluwatu, I am struck by the surfer driven scene, and the normally smiling carefree faces, are a bit more hardened from the endless grind of appeasing and making money from the surf tourism. Having rented boards for $5 a day thus far, I have only $15 in my pocket, which I assume will secure a two day rental and a possible after surf meal. However the prices are elevated by supply and demand, and the first spot wants initially $75, and the lowest he’ll consider is $35. Moving on to two more spots and dropping the name of my host who seems to be well known and respected, I finally settle for what I figure the best deal possible of $20 for two days- after about 30 minutes of haggling. With a descent 6’4 yellow painted epoxy board I’m finally ready to hit the waves.
Skeptical of my abilities, they constantly warn me of the heavy surf today, which I arrogantly shrug off as their own ignorance . Eventually they recommend to try Padang Padang given the high tide, yet the spot I see has nothing going(later found out not that it was not the real Padang Padang despite the signs and local’s confirmation), so I return to try my luck at Ulu’s. Getting ready to paddle out, I’m already struck by the heavy backwash storming in between the rocks and into the cave. A bit less fearless and asking some advice, I follow out a seasoned surfer through the strong rips and choppy seas.
As I finally make it out, I realize the waves are a bit more intense than I imagined. 12-16 foot waves with spraying off shore winds and a heavy late drops leave the less than intrepid surfer paralyzed. Watching and feeling out the situation, I soon realize I’m in quite literally way over my head. Trying to catch a smaller wave more on the inside, suddenly a big set comes and as I struggle to make it out, I’m caught by the 3rd wave and propelled backwards bouncing, turning and sucked under.
I decide to cut my losses and head back to safety and just as I’m about to make it into the cave, the side current catches me carrying me far away again, out in front of the cliffs and into the powerful surf. With no other option in sight, I must paddle out once again, tirelessly making my way back into the line up. There a guy with a half a Brocken board floats and another one who met the same fate as me trying to paddle back are brought to safety by a rescue lifeguard boat. I contemplate taking the easy way out too, but my sense of pride prevents me, and I determined I must at least run away like a man. So finally a smaller 8 foot waves comes my way and I paddle for it, take the drop, leaning back on the almost vertical section, barley landing and riding away, looking for my turn, only to see a wall of white wash already ahead of me.
This time I make sure to steer towards the right rock as much as I can all the way back to avoid a second repeat, and am just able to make it into the cave and back to safety. Well I didn’t have the surf of a lifetime, but I’m in one piece to try again. Quickly returning to the hotel to pick up Sabine, we drive to Bingin beach.
Walking down the long path and many stairs I see much smaller manageable waves, looking good but with a southern Californian crowd condensed into one spot. Nonetheless I make my way out across the shallow reef and fight the pack, picking off a couple small waves, and finally get in position for a descent 5 foot ride.
On the new board, and wave, I’m not quite in my comfort zone yet, but I make it down the line with a couple turns, trying for the barrel at the end only to get heaved forward. As a tumble through the water I feel the sharp reef on my back and elbow and catch it with my right hand. Now I go in to inspect my wounds, extensive crapes but nothing too severe, and contemplating giving it another go, I finally content myself to chill and wait for the next day.
We still enjoy the scene and watching the sunset from our room, we then drive out to find some local food. The place recommended was never found and heading back up the main road, we finally find a little Warung far away from the other tourists. With local prices and fare we get a delicious Cap Cay “Spesial”, with fried shrimps, calamari, and fish. Washed down with fresh mixed juice and avocado with chocolate smoothie, it was the perfect dinner to end the day. Back in my hammock, meditating the final moments, months later obscure metaphors come to mind: The charging bull may have escaped my grasp today but I will be back with a herd of wild horses…
“The greatest pictures exist only in our memories”
“A rough journey makes for an interesting story”
Disclaimer: Like many great stories, an element of the unknown always remains, and with this is mind please enjoy the following adventure in which unfortunately no photo evidence remains- save one sunset photo…
After some successful negotiating I convinced Sabine to join me on a mission to surf the legendary Desert Point (Banko-Banko) in Lombok, renown for being one of the best waves in the world. The wave is very inconsistent and requires a monster swell to start working, but when it does-it really does. Australian surfer magazine called it the best wave in the world -a left hand point break over a shallow reef with a perfect barrel running for hundred meters. Enticed by the dream, we teamed up with a friend we had made, Levi to try our luck. Levi is originally from Montana and while now in Australia, true to his farmer roots, works in landscaping. Levi says his expat Brazilian friend Benny has researched it and in three days it should be working.
Levi and Benny were supposed to pick us up at Sally’s place back in Denpasar. Having traveled down the coast for 3 hours by motor bike from the last surf spot in Balian beach, through mountains traffic and rain, searching for a bank to take our credit cards, we were already a bit exhausted and awaited the 9pm pick up, gratefully with money in our pockets. But by the time they arrived, and we are in their van heading out for the overnight ferry to Padangbai, Lombok (a neighboring island to Bali) it is 11:30pm. Now Benny’s on edge, flying through the traffic to make it to the boat in time. They explain not only did they get lost but also got into an accident with a women on a moped. Supposedly she ran into them, and was on the ground crying until they paid her $25, and then she was fine. Bennyis on his phone coordinating some other plans in between shouts of “mierda” and then I suddenly see waiting on the side of the road another van with two more Brazilians, who are apparently also along for the mission.
Now our small convoy makes it to the dock just in time at 1am. Levi and Benny quickly change seats so Levi can show the inspector his international drivers license. The inspector is a bit annoyed to see all of the papers in order and thus can’t ask for a bribe- he waves us forward with a fake smile. Thus Levi’s $45 paperwork saved us $2.
Loading onto the large ferry, our car is sandwiched in between large trucks packed inches apart. Dazed and confused we walk three stories to the top to a small enclosed room with some benches. A big burly Indonesian pronounces “VIP,” asking for money. Too tired to argue about being scammed we walk in past him and claim two of the last remaining benches to lie down and sleep. Surprised by our candor, he somehow leaves us alone. However the benches are separated, and Sabine is calling me over, and by the time I tend to her “urgent” needs, my bench which I failed to secure is now gone. By the time I return from the car with her headphones, the $4 mattresses they’re selling to sleep on the outside floor are all gone as well. So I lie down on the ground squeezed in between two benches next to Sabine knowing it is better to have a happy girlfriend than a comfortable bed.
5:30 am we arrive in Lombok and hit the road again. Winding up and down the coast past villages and people on their way to maybe farms or schools, Muslim prayers are blasting on loudspeakers and colorfully decorated miniature horses are transporting people with the sound of bells, strangely reminiscent of Christmas. Eventually the paved road stops and Benny is worried about the conditions the dirt road will be in given the heavy rains the night before. Sure enough it is rough and bumpy and slippery.
Coming around the bend, we carry our speed up the steep incline, bumping up and down, tires spinning, mud flying, fish tailing from side to side, on the edge of control, inching up higher and higher, until the spinning wheels are now throwing only dirt and we are stuck just inches from the top. We back the car back down 100 feet to try again. Another van pulls up with some other Brazilians and they say “no man you have to get more speed”. Coming in fast and hard, catching some air on the bump halfway, giving and letting gas at just the right moments, sliding side to side, they have just enough momentum to get over the top. Our other van tries.
The driver is Brazilian body builder and just like his size he drives the big van up the road strong and hard, but he gives too much gas and the tires are spinning too fast, burning rubber while almost flying off the side and inevitably gets stuck at the top. Now the locals are offering to shuttle us in on motorbikes, but we are determined to get our big vans up the steep muddy hill. After about 10 attempts most of the tread on the tires is gone and the vans suspension must be totaled. Still they don’t relent. Now 15 villagers are being employed to help push. We tie surf racks to the front to pull as well. Tires spinning, mud flying, feet slipping, pushing, struggling, heave and hoe we inch up higher and higher and finally we make it. Repeating the dirty procedure with our van we are finally over the hump and as we get to the top over an hour later, we see another surfer coming back the other way saying “no man the waves are shit.”
From our viewpoint it looks small and choppy but we’ve come to far to turn around now. Coming into the small village we check it for ourselves. The bitter sting of irony already thick in the air, we look and see in fact there is a 10 foot wave just around the corner with a surfer pulling into a barrel. Not perfect but pretty damn close- we take in the scene. It is some of the nicest longest rides I’ve ever seen, and after studying the hollow fast waves racing over the shallow reef, I prepare myself mentally and go to paddle out.
In the water it sounds like carnival with 90% of the guys speaking Brazilian Portuguese. I guess it is super hyped in Brazil and Desert Point must be a pilgrimage – the holly grail of surf spots for them. With the 50 other guys in the water, it’s hard to catch a wave. Yet I am patient and one finally comes through, well overhead, I bottom turn, moving back up the step face coming back down gaining speed, I turn around the corner of white wash forming in front of me, turning off the top spraying, lining up and gaining speed the blue culprit growing and peaking climaxing down around me, I pull in encircled by blue swirling motion transparent to the world around in my green cave of ocean bliss. One good wave and all is right in the world. I stay out a couple more hours getting a few more waves while the crowd slowly dies down and eventually the waves too.
Our mission was a success and maybe not the best conditions ever but we got a small taste of the perfection and the legend was ours for a moment in time.
Life on the beach brings happiness, beauty, fun waves, and romance. The days seem to blend together in one extended memory. Tales of adventure and excitement are mostly limited to lazy breakfasts with banana pancakes or jaffles (egg, tomato, cheese in a grilled sandwich) fresh fruits and coffee, long sessions surfing, exploring deserted beaches near by, chatting with fellow travelers, and delicious sea food at the local market.
The bench on our balcony overlooking the coast is our castle and we quickly turn through the pages of our books (at that time Shantaram- I could write a whole post recommending this book of the excon from Australia who falls in love with Bombay India and inevitably enters the underworld there).
Inspiration comes in the form of powdery black sand that stretches endlessly to the horizon. Like baking powder made from volcanic rocks it embraces your foot with each step leaving a fading memory of our temporary imprint.
A reluctant excursion from the beach brings us one day through local villages up a steep rough road with wild coffee, bananas, and cacao overflowing onto the road, creating a tunnel of foliage, as we slowly cruise by every child smiles and yells hello. Open fields with palms and cattle, overlook the coast below. At the top of the mountain descending carefully by foot the winding steep path into the valley we find a twin waterfall.
An invitation from Boi brings us back to his parents village for a special roast suckling pig feast (Babi guilling), at the request of some other tourists he is guiding. Not wanting to miss this special occasion usually reserved for weddings or significant ceremonies, we gratefully join in. His entire village and local family have come to take part in the occasion and we share plate after plate of roasted meat and incredible side dishes local style, licking our fingers in between bites. These are among the moments we travel for-getting deep and dirty with the locals in a small village.
We want to travel further up the coast to the remote north west for its famed scuba diving, but obtaining more money becomes an issue after our ATM (bankomat) cards stop working. Having only credit cards, we return 2 hours to Denpasar, where we drive around with ponchos through the rain tirelessly being redirected to the next bank that also can’t offer us cash advance services. Beginning to become desperate and tired, we see a yellow shining light in the form of a Western Union sign. We stop by an internet cafe to sign up and wire money to ourselves, which we picked up quickly at one of the many Western Union offices that suddenly have seemed to materialize everywhere. Our potential money crises adverted, we take a deep breath and the salty fragrant air fills our senses in quiet anticipation for for next beach adventure…
Back to Bali
Even with the cultural richness and nature of Thailand and Laos-the mountains, jungle, waterfalls, rock climbing, hiking, biking, motorcycles, temples, ruins, monks, meditation, rivers, boats, rafting, elephants, caves, markets, food, cooking, and adventures, Bali was beckoning me to return to its beauty, beaches, and waves. One word was missing on that list of amazing activities and that was surfing. The indescribable joy of riding fluid energy in a state of clarity and instantaneous harmony with the liquid medium which lies within and connects us all.
Returning to Bali, I have a feeling like I am back home. The streets that were once so exotic just two months before now feel welcoming. The rush of moped traffic that seemed so dangerous and chaotic now flows with intention and ease. The glowing green rice fields that mystified me are now staples to my daily life and a comforting sight of purpose and nourishment.
We find a place in Denpasar near Changuu, not too far from Kuta, so I can buy a surfboard for the next months adventures, yet far enough away from the hustle and bustle of the busy crazy overcrowded party town. Booking on air bnb at the dragon pyramid we are pleasantly surprised with our room.
Waking up the next day, the dark stained wood fills the spacious room, light filtered though the hanging white mosquito net, outside the blue sky peers through the mango tree. Luxuriously big, up in the air, intricate stone inlays on the four doors with two leading out to tiny private balconies, the high ceiling is tented to the top with a skylight. Fresh tropical air flows through, in a place of harmony, zen and tranquility. The bridge below our room, across the swimming pool moat leads down to our host where we enjoy Balinese coffee and fresh papaya, banana, watermelon, yogurt, and nut muesli.
Chatting with the nice honeymoon couple from Kuala Lumpur and our wonderful host Sally we wait for her partner Boi to start our journey to the sea. Playing with the dogs and cats, we take the monkey named Magic to play and swim. Sally and Boi have set is up with a motorbike with surfboard rack, room to store our extra bag, and even her friend in Balian Beach who is giving me an incredible deal to rent a surfboard for one month.
Driving on small winding streets through rice fields we keep pace with Boi passing trucks, cars, and motorbikes. Dark clouds appear overhead and as we speed forward it seems we might be able to race past the storm. Yet the few drops of rain become more frequent. We put on our ponchos, but the heavy downpour grows to a steady stream of water, stinging and wet on the face, and combined with traffic, a pit stop at a market is a wise decision.
Boi shares his local wisdom and even the insights to the tourism business, along with his relationship situation. We listen to the complicated and confusing stories understandingly and with a new bond between us, Boi offers us a free place to stay at his parents home in a small village 15 minutes out of Balian beach.
We hit the road again, squeezing past the deadlock, where two trucks are demolished in a potentially fatal head on collision. We cruise the open road on the other side as the clouds lift and the sun guides us the rest of the way to Balian beach. There Sally’s local friend Made, displays an old school 6’7 surf board that was supposed to be a 6’2 thruster. Following him back to his house on my bike down a sketchy muddy dirt hill he shows me his sons old 6’0. It’s a bit shorter than I wanted for the big Bali waves, but it looks like a good board, in descent condition, so I decide to sacrifice the paddling power in exchange for high performance. Also for $115 with the promise of selling it back for $100, it’s a great deal. I’m stoked. We chat with some nice expats over a pink horizon and set off to meet Boi’s family.
Bringing recommended presents of massage oil and clove cigarettes we are greeted warmly and shown our simple nice room. Although they speak no English, we communicate with our limited Bahasa Indonesian and smiles and gestures during our two night stay with them, where they would treat us each morning to Balinese coffee grown own their own farm and a breakfast of rice eggs and mixed vegetables. We appreciate the generous hospitality and the unique opportunity to get acquainted with the family, spending the mornings and evenings playing games and teaching English to Rama and his cousin.
We head to Boi’s cousin’s restaurant on the beach for the most delicious BBQd fish-a feast complete with tangy lemon grass salad, spicy sambal sauce, steamed rice, healthy greens, and fresh squeezed lemonade, all for under $5 each. We drive back with Boi’s 6 year old son Rama nestled safely in Sabine’s arms.
More than just the surfing and the beautiful beaches, the spirit of Bali brought us back. The heart felt open smiles. The free laughs and inviting sense of humor. The proud parades of people singing and dancing to Gamelan music. Their humble, honest and appreciative voices. The soothing smell of incense bringing attention to meditative offerings being placed. Life seems to flow in Bali in a harmony and balance and we are grateful to return to share in the joy and love for life that makes this island resonate.
Trees fly by, swerving to avoid elephant footprints, ducking under vines, splashing through mud, monkeys howling, birds singing, lions prowling, the mist of waterfalls obscuring, colorful flowers and fauna, descending the dirt path on our mountain bikes in Khao Sok National park, one of the most bio diverse places in the world.
Leaving our bikes we descend deeper into the wild. Occasional downpours evaporate as quickly as they come. Winding up through the hidden trails, keeping an eye out for lurking leeches. From the dense under layers we emerge through a clearing to a peaceful jungle river below.
Sitting on the bank, watching in awe and amazement, the lush tropical rainforest across the banks, rising high up into to the sky, radiating light and life, varieties of plants, trees, bamboos, vines intertwined, competing for the top, creating 100s of different Eco systems, catching only a glimpse of the edge of a seemingly endless world, incredible diversity and life flourishing, impossible to fully comprehend. Watching and meditating it all seems to blend and mix together, pulsating life, millions of greens, make their way into my brain bringing peace and tranquility. The sounds of the water trickling down the stream, the endless cacophony of insects chirping, gibbon monkeys howling, birds singing, blending into a constant pulsating rhythm. The incredible smells intoxicate me, bringing me further into trance, the sweet ripe fruits, the floral scents, a perfume of nature, pure with goodness and life. All other thoughts are removed, the jungle encompasses my beig from my sight, smell, thoughts and feelings. I am content to sit and just become absorbed into my lush surroundings.
Deep water solo
High in the air, towering above the sea, I hang on with the tips of my fingers, reaching for the next handhold, I slip and fall plummeting down to the water below…”We didn’t fly half way around the world just to do normal rock climbing,” thus began the rationale for going deep water solo (DWS) bouldering. DWS as the name implies involves climbing over deep water, solo or without a harness and partner, so that when you fall or reach the top you simply jump off into the water below. This is the next frontier for rock climbing and bouldering, and combines the technical skill of climbing, the adrenaline of cliff jumping, and the beauty of sea landscapes. Krabi is one of the world epicenters for DWS with its massive limestone cliffs rising out of deep warm aquamarine waters.
We booked a full day out of Railay for about $25 with Hannah a nice English girl we befriended, a couple from Las Vegas, and two Israeli girls. The sail boat that was our mode of transport, due to a lack of wind, carried us at a leisurely 5mph only to breakdown in the middle of the ocean with smoke from an electrical fire. Luckily the guy from Las Vegas was a motorbike driver and mechanic and managed to rewire the ghetto boat engine in about 45 minutes.
Reaching our destination, unreal stones tower from the seas like a mystical fantasy land, the orange and yellow rocks with green trees contrasted by the turquoise ocean below.
Making the way out of the water from the hanging ladders was harder than expected, and climbing up, the realization of height is much more real when your not attached to a rope. The challenge of climbing new routes with wet hands was as much physical as it was mental, as I pushed myself to climb higher and higher until I reached a point, that seemed higher than I wanted to go. Although there is liquid below, i know that a fall from 30 feet is still going to hurt if I land wrong, and this adds another level of tension, adrenaline, and reluctance as try to figure out difficult maneuvers on rocks unknown. Eventually, I accept my position suck up my fear and jump off.
After a few routes we took the boat to beautiful secluded beach for lunch where we made a nice sand castle and climbed some boulders on the sand then set off for some more. The next route took us 15 meters high (~50 feet)! That was my highest jump and really put me on the limit. Flailing my arms like a featherless chicken on the way down I landed with a big splash, luckily unharmed. We climbed a bit more then set off to do some snorkeling and slowly headed back home. It was an amazing and unforgettable day, and I would recommend the sport to anyone daring or lucky enough to try!
The toughest decision we are faced with while traveling is where to go next? While this may seem trivial, our rough travel plans inevitably come to the point where there is simply not enough time to do everything we wanted and we must cut something out. Surely we could rush around marking each spot off the checklist, but as the time progresses, we realize that we’ll get more out of our experience if we truly enjoy a few places rather than skim the surface of them all. So do we stay in Laos and head south to the Mekong delta and the 4,000 islands or travel to the beaches of southern Thailand? Everyday seems to offer another compelling reason to change our minds. The unspoiled beauty of Laos, the pristine beaches of Thailand… In the end we realize there is no wrong decision, and we go with our guts-southern Thailand here we come!
Two consecutive mornings starting at 5am -after minimal sleep on overnight buses, half a day in Bangkok, and a water taxi-we finally arrive in Railay. Seeing the white sand, blue green water, swaying palm trees, and limestone towering out of sea, we are not disappointed with our decision. Besides reading and relaxing on the beach, swimming in the warm ocean, lying in our hammocks, hiking through the forest, spotting wild monkeys, and hanging out at the reggae bars at night, there is bouldering right on the sand and over 600 bolted climbing routes. It is a climbers paradise and paradise for the less adventurous nonetheless.
The crazy times are not reserved only for tourists, the Laotian people only need a good festival (and a few tons of gun powder) to get the party started. Homemade rockets explode (and usually) fly sky high into the clouds, piercing the invisible rain barrier, and beseeching the gods to bring down the rain. Live music playing folk, rock, blues, reggae music. Countless beers being consumed, dancing singing, and smiles all around. The people claim their own party, the only thing missing to completely reverse the roles, would be when the tourists would be the ones to pick up all the trash afterwards.