“Paddling out at Keramas can feel like crossing a ‘no-man’s land’”
A few days ago “Nyepi” was celebrated here in Bali and as I think back on it, it was the calm before the storm. A profound, surrounding silence in startling contrast to the scene I witnessed tonight at the Atomic Fireball.
Now before you get all twisted up and race to your childish, uninformed, caustic comments, listen up, school is in session.
- Nyepi is a Balinese Hindu observance of silence that lasts exactly 24 hours.
- This year it ran from from 6am Thursday March 3rd to 6am Friday March 4th.
- In the run up to the observance, the night before features a chaotic parade where giant hand-made effigy’s of gruesome monsters are carried through the crowded streets and traditionally torched at midnight.
- Starting at dawn the next day for the following 24 hours, no one is allowed on the streets, everyone must remain indoors, curtains drawn, mouths shut, no streetlights or city lights of any kind when night falls, house lights must be kept as low as a London blitz, preferably only candles, of course no internet, no TV, no surfing or beach walks, no public appearances at any time, absolutely no noise is allowed and the International airport is utterly shut down.
- It is the only International airport on earth that is shut down for a religious holiday.
- Yet, extraordinarily, this 24 hours of silence is a ruse.
- The Balinese Hindu believe that evil spirits scour the earth looking for colonies to torment (at the moment, think Ukraine). So the chaotic parades and effigy’s and their eventual torchings are designed to catch the attention of these evil spirits and draw them to the island of Bali.
- Then, by the time the evil spirits arrive at dawn, they find an island that’s seemingly deserted with no sign of human life.
- Bored, with no one to torment, with no souls to send into despair, these evil spirits depart for more fertile hunting grounds (at the moment, think Ukraine), leaving the island cleansed and evil-free for another year.
So that explains the profound silence I was surrounded with a coupla days ago and how it became a metaphor. Why this 24 hours of silence was like a deep, deep breath before the floodgates of Western Australia and God knows where else opened up in anticipation of the proposed March 14th opening of Bali to all and sundry.
It also explains the astonishment at the sight of the Atomic Fireball tonight after over two years of Kuta being a place where packs of wild dogs roamed through the empty streets of the apocalypse.
With Nyepi a fading memory, tonight the shutters of Jl. Legian and the Hellzone of Kuta’s Skygarden corner were thrown open once again. Nightclub music was dialed to eleven and a dress rehearsal for the triumphant return of harvesting overseas wallets was taking place in earnest.
All in the shadow of the 2002 Bombing memorial no less, t rising sentinel, newly festooned with blinking Christmas lights and new electric palm trees.
The memorial, lording over the festivities to come that attracted the 2002 disaster in the first place. As well as the empty lot of the proposed “Peace Park” which has been locked in the jaws of hopeless negotiation for almost 20 years at great expense to the Australian taxpayer.
And yet, dwarfing the Bali Memorial these days, tonight rocketing early Western Australian holiday makers 50 meters into the night sky at 200km/hr and pressing them back into their seats with the G force of five times their body weight, is a contraption known ‘round the world as a reverse slingshot amusement ride.
Located not 50 meters from the 2002 Bombing Memorial.
But locals around here just call this crazy erection the Atomic fireball.
And well they should.
It was the shrieking that first captured my attention. Sitting three abreast, our early W.A. female holiday makers were sent aloft in such a state of alarm that I doubt they were able to take in the spectacle of Bali’s famed nightclub Bermuda triangle jangling back to life below.
But I am sure that at least two of them were reminded of the effect of what too much fun in this famed tropical danger zone has always had on its devotees. When unbuckling out of their night time space capsule, they both promptly vomited up their three-dollar Margaritas.
Good ol’ Kuta.
But don’t worry, it’s not going to be all madness.
The Bukit peninsula, home of the almighty Uluwatu, having reveled in a downright bucolic coupla years thanks to Covid, has fallen into a rhythm not seen since the premier of Morning of the Earth (That would be the 1972 premiere, by the way).
And with the weeds being cleared away from the the Bukit’s hardcore surfer ground zero, the White Monkey Surf shop, and their warehouse of brand new Mayhems and Pete Matthews upcoming Pandemic surf film, only being able to be seen in the back yard of the shop, any early surf arrivals are going to be able to get their soul boogie on at Uluwatu and it’s barreling neighbors down the line.
And Padang Padang?
It’s just itching to start its season of breaking overseas boards. Karma still being a measurable force up in the Bukit.
(More on the wild monkey wars at a later date).
And Canggu, having never skipped a beat, still firmly on the global Dharma bum trail, has maintained its juice as the grooviest place on earth. Despite the attempted and failed hostile takeover from the Russians. Especially when Jared Mell takes off on any wave he likes and makes the act of surfing crowded sandy sand bars look like the most beautiful Goddamned thing to do in the world.
But let me tell you, all of you who are on the way here, what you are going to find as a post covid Bali surfer: An island changed forever in more subtle ways than you are ready for.
As bruising as the 2002 Bali bombings, this island will bear the scars of the Covid era forever. Economically and philosophically. The economic scars are obvious. But thanks to the efforts of underground angels like the boys at Project Nasi, we got through it together with good ol’ elbow grease and hearts in the right place.
But more sublime are the philosophical effects that have taken hold of the island. A mist of vulnerability, far different from the tailings of the bombings.
Aside from tourism numbers, the vibe that the outside world has had little effect on this island has been shattered.
And you can see it in the far more wary smiles from the Balinese, both masked and unmasked. Having been convinced that any acts of close contact and friendship with foreigners could get you and your olds and your children killed, there is a certain physical distance being kept these days. A sad development that may or may not erode as the evolution of the island’s recovery continues.
Let’s face it, Bali’s greatest appeal has always been the open smiles and the join-the-family vibe and the acceptance of all visiting creatures great and small.
Today, it is perceived that our madness in the world beyond these shores went a bridge too far. This is not a place you bring the folly of mankind. This is a place you leave it behind. And we have given you all the cheap booze and the yoga retreats you desire to confirm that.
So let us remember to tread lightly these new days.
To understand that the people of this island have been through exactly what the rest of us have. And quite often worse. Let us remember who we are and who they are and to respect the difference.
As we know, the Balinese are incredibly resilient, witnessed by the fact that even with no military the island has never fallen to any permanent occupation despite the best efforts of the Dutch and the Japanese (although the global surfing empire gave it a good shot).
But this recent collapse of tourism and subsequently the island’s economy had nothing to do with Bali.
Remember, Bali took complete and meaningful blame for the 2002 bombings. But when it comes to the Covid pandemic, none of this was Bali’s fault. It was the fault of a Chinese “wet market” in Wuhan selling endangered species for profit and a world paying no attention to its over-population crisis.
And so, Pangolin conspiracies aside, forever seeking balance between good and evil, the Balinese are ready to welcome international travelers with open arms and thousands of freshly printed Bintang singlets and the warm beers to go with them.
But with a decidedly more leery approach. After having suffered this Covid disaster, as no fault of their own, the one-day-at-time frequency has been dialed to a more watch-out-for-these-guys radio setting.
Hence, the new Bali trip.
A few facts:
Don’t even think about it unless you are fully super-vaxxed.
The good news is that Bali has reopened for quarantine free travel ahead of schedule. It’s happening now. Still, do your research and get the pandemic phone apps and get your shit together before you show up. It’s a real logjam at the airport for the uninformed. And maybe even a trip home. At your expense. And again, that would be your fault, not theirs.
Now to the surfer part of the equation:
Western Australians, set free from their prison state, are already pouring in (and the the few South Australians here never left in the first place), so you East Coasters might want to ante-up before both these species plant their flags as apex predators.
The lineups have been empty since 2019. Which means that a whole new crop of Balinese surfers not only have become really good surfers in a very short time, but that they have no concept of international crowds. This is already causing “confusion and cursing”.
For example: The Eastside Keramas locals are tougher and less tourist tolerant than their Westside brothers. This is due to having the Komune Resort plunked down directly in front of their their best wave, and due to not financially benefiting from Bali’s seasonal tourist invasions nearly as much as the Bukit or Canggu crews.
Hence, the proverbial line in the sand has been drawn. Paddling out there can feel like crossing a “no man’s land” , an attempt to get into the trenches of the opposing forces of the other side. Good luck gettin’ across before getting cut down at the knees).
Gentlemen, the smart money is on approaching these lineups as if for the first time. You know the rules. We all do. Approach a new lineup like it’s a lion’s cage. Ease your way in and never, ever miss the first wave you paddle for.
And your first wave?
Ride smooth, calm and controlled with a really cool kickout and maybe a tweak of the nostrils of your nose. Forget the fucking air attempt and the contorted mug, that’s where the cred fails on the first ride. (Teach your children well, please, you veterans in the know).
And in this way it is a chance to begin again and ensure your surfing dreams for years to come in Bali. Instead of showing up like the taller, louder, more experienced Bali surf soldiers that you are and launching an offensive that we all know you could win. But at what price?
Affection and smiles and expectations of cash from the international surf crowd has dipped here in the absence of them. This will be an era of rebuilding trust. Think about that when you wax up or just be another fucking asshole.
Is it too much to ask for you to bring your better angels this time? To rebuild the Bali experience with more of an enlightened approach as opposed to the Aggronaut- beer-swilling-rape-and-pillage of the past?
Think of the benefits …uh…down the line?
Wouldn’t that be nice.
Hot Tip: Mushrooms are still illegal here. And stuffing your bodyboard with really good weed will still get you ten years of crapping into a coffee can in the corner of a crowded, moldy, Hotel K jail cell. So look in the mirror before you get here and ask one question: Am I that fuckin’ stupid?
After years of relative peace the cops are more eager than ever to bust offenders of any kind. And they have Carte Blanche when it comes to deportation for even the lesser offenses. You can thank the Russians for that. But as Newcastle’s number one expat Mick Lynch says, “In Bali, you can keep your chin up, but just don’t fuck up”.
Good news. With the lack of the hotel and the tourist infrastructure’s massive water use, the rivers and streams and creeks have been running full tilt. Which means the sand banks of Kuta and Canggu are as good as they once were in the 1930’s. So get here quick if you want to hit the beachies before everything dries up again. (Again, Jared Mell has been having a field day in your absence. Please, God, do NOT drop in on this deity).
As for the rest of the surf on the island, somewhere, it has never stopped being absolutely perfect every day of the calender year.
Hot tip: I don’t give shit how old you are, go watch Morning of the Earth in it’s entirety before you land here. It’s the world’s greatest re-set for the new Bali.
And, thanks to the WSL you can drive in to G-Land now.
I have to ask you to stop reading and stare at the ceiling and think about that for a count of ten.
So they needed a new road and a big parking lot if all the broadcast equipment was gonna make it in. (And a little extra for Joe Turpel’s new reefside throne.)
Please..God…let us genuflect and think about that once again.
Land. Driving in. Parking lot. Good Lord.
The Boats still remain your best bet, Saints be praised, and still make you feel like more of a man. Last boat trip I took there, Charlie Quesnel was onboard. He’s the Surfrider foundation’s Maui Chapter lead activist and the 1970’s alpha cosmic children’s era survivor of Honolua Bay. The stories, man, the stories. You are not gonna get that in a overloaded crappy rental car with your mates and the air-con not workin’ .
On to our neighbor islands beyond Java:
Desert Point is under threat of a massive development. Think Keramas on steroids. Get it while you can, man. And while your are thinking about it, you can help out the locals who are raising a legal defense fund against the intruders by contacting Budi at B[email protected]. Go on. Give a little. You’ve been there.
Sumbawa, which like Antarctica, has never been affected by this whole pandemic mess, hasn’t changed a whit. So over there the adventure continues for the I-am-not-a-sook crowd. Doing it tough at Lakey Peak never felt better (Did you know that it is said that Lakey Peterson, runner up in Portugal, was named after that wave by her father? Now that is real commitment to surf travel, uh?)
And in more good news, I am informed by expat salty dog Captain Eric Lee that the ferry’s to get to Sumbawa just renewed their third world lifeboat certs, so there’s that, I guess.
But watch out for the mudslides on Sumbawa. The island is being scraped down for corn oil production. It’s the “new palm oil” apparently and just as environmentally disastrous. And always expecting large water buffalo in the middle of the road while swiping around suicide curves in your rental is always prudent.
And so it goes from Bali, the great survivor. The only Hindu island in an Islamic nation of 17,500 islands.
Stare at the ceiling and think about that, too.
Think about how the appeal of Bali has always been its tolerance and freedom to be whoever you want to be here. A chance to rip around on your scooter with the wind in your hair and the sand between your toes and the cheap beer in your belly as the sun sets over the whole fantasy.
But remember, you have no rights here on Bali. Only privileges. And so it should be.