Riders on the storm
Riders on the storm
Into this house we’re born
Into the surf we’re thrown

Surfing is tough. And not even the standing on the surfboard part but just paddling out to behind the waves to start trying to catch them. I took a lesson when I got here, managed fine on the small breaks near shore and then the instructor said I was ready to go on my own. Yeah right. The next day I was getting knocked around like something that gets knocked around a lot. It’s been raining a lot here and that means lots of wind and lots of wind drives the waves crazy. I spent most of my time battling the waves, facing breaking waves head on, holding my board tightly but to no avail as I’d get blown off it and knocked back ten feet. It was frustrating and I hate to admit it but several times I wanted to quit. But I made myself stick it out and I’m really glad I did. I’ve learned that anything worth having really requires you to work hard at it and surviving the early trials. I’ve now learned how to paddle much better but I’m still working on my standing technique. All in good time.

We stayed at Hotel Sorga in Kuta which is a quiet super-friendly place in the main touristy area, but it feels away from it all when you’re there. The nightlife in Bali is endless and while I’m not about clubbing or really even drinking much on this trip, Daniel is another story. And for the first few nights I accompanied him on his tour of Bali’s night life. We saw the sunrise the first few nights, including the first night when we saw Timo Maas, a well-known DJ from Germany, spinning at club Double Six. Tickets were just $10 and that included a drink. Damn. After the third sunrise I decided that was way too much and I toned it down to pretty much zero.

We rented scooters for $3 a day and drove them throughout most of the southern part of Bali. The roads are surprisingly really good and after I got comfortable on the bike I was taking it over 80 kmh, with coconut and banana trees blurring by on either side of me. I’ll say it right here and now; scooters are the best mode of road transportation in the world. I’m definitely buying another one when I get home.

I left the craziness of Kuta after a week and headed over to a small island called Nusa Lembongan. A Dutch couple I met in Australia had recommended it to me as their favorite spot to surf in Indonesia and a great place for beginners. There’s a spot called Playgrounds which is just that, a playground for learning how to surf. The waves are a good size but even if you get thrown around the reef is gentle enough that it won’t tear you up. Lots of the reef is covered in seaweed and helps ease the spill. Daniel had planned to join me to Lembongan but alas yet another late night to sunrise kept him in bed while I made the one hour boat trip over solo.

I got a ridiculous bungalow with a view of the waves and spent most of my time surfing, eating and reading. I even had a pet dog who I named Susie who would always be chilling out on my patio. Every time I’d step out of the room she’d be lying out under the table, and her tail would start thumping when she saw me. I’d feed her a couple of cookies as treats since I hadn’t brought any dogfood along with me in my backpack.

Lembongan is a small 3km by 4km island with less than 4000 inhabitants, no stop signs, no police and hardly any cars. It is where you go to get away. And that was just what I needed after Kuta. But even getting far away gets old after a while and after four days I decided to head back to Kuta.

And my timing couldn’t have been better.

I called Daniel once I arrived in Sanur where the boat drops you off, and he was leaving in an hour to drive up to Ubud with his cousin Gary. Perfect. I took a taxi over to Kuta, met him and Gary at McDonald’s and we were off. We first drove to Denpasar, the capital of Bali, and had lunch with Gary’s mom and grandmother before continuing the drive up to Ubud. The whole driving journey took less than an hour.

Ubud is an artsy kinda place. Countless shops selling sculptures and paintings, some of which are really beautiful. It’s times like this I wish I had a home so I could buy some art for it. The main part of town is noisy though since it is quite touristy but luckily we have found an amazing place to stay. Gary’s dad built an amazing house about a 15 minute drive from Ubud, and also built a guest villa right next door. So we’re staying in this absolutely quiet, marble floored villa that overlooks rice paddies and coconut trees. We’re living in nature. We saw a snake coiled up on a tree branch right near our porch this morning and at night there is an orchestra of frogs, crickets and cicadas each trying to outdo the other. Gary has a lot of time on his hands now as he’s finishing up an Economics at the university in Denpasar and only has one class this semester. So he’s been showing us around. And last night we bought some Bintang, the local Bali beer, and sat around and played Rummy, which I’m happy to say I won. The big reason why I wanted to win so bad was so I could claim victory in four continents now after also winning the one game I played in Australia. Maybe I’ll put that on my resume when I start looking for a job.

Bali has definitely changed since I was last here in 1998. It’s way more commercialized and that’s never a good thing. But the people are still the same, friendly people and it’s great to see that. There is one downer in all of this though. Many of the locals talk about how business has plummeted dramatically since the three bombings in 2002. And it’s a shame too because I’ve never met friendlier people in a very touristy area. While the touts do their part to lure you into their shop or rent you a motorcycle, even if you decline their offer they are more than happy to shoot the breeze with you and joke around. “I like Obama! He is my best friend!” is something I hear a lot. I got to know everyone vendor on my little alleyway and would always stop in to talk to Nyoman and Komang, the two brothers who rented us our scooters every time I went by their shop.

It’s dark out now, the orchestra has begun and I’m about to run out of battery juice.