After the feverish brain-dump of my last post, I’m going to turn it down a notch and re-visit my holiday to Bali in 2012. It was a short eight day ‘learn to surf’ trip, but in that time the island gathered me in its nurturing arms and forced me, a busy no-time-for-a-toilet-break Melbournite, to slow right down.
The first thing that struck me as I existed the Bali International Airport in Denpasar was the smell. Bali smells sweet: of incense, fruit and the heat of jungle flowers. Having never visited Southeast Asia (or any Asian countries apart from brief stop-overs) I was confronted by the apparent lack of order, the crowds, the litter and the seeming disarray of the island, but it didn’t take long for these jittery and naïve judgments to vanish and I was soon enchanted by my colourful surroundings.
I landed in Bali late on a Saturday night and looked forward to seeing my name held up on a trusty card as a driver from my accommodation was due to pick me up. But my name wasn’t amongst the sea of makeshift placards. Shit. I stood there too exhausted to think about trying to rectify my situation when I finally spotted a smiley young guy holding up my name. He kindly apologised for being late, no stress, just get me to my bed please. This is where my adventure really began. Muscling into the traffic of Denpasar I honestly thought we’d hit another motorist – were there any marked traffic lines? Cars, motorbikes, scooters and scraggy dogs all jostled along, making their way to their own destinations. Maybe it was because I was so tired, or maybe I instinctively knew to chill the f%*# out, but I soon relaxed and settled in to watch the unfamiliar Life outside, fascinated by the motorists ability to not crash into one another, almost like a well-choreographed dance. Then, without knowing how far we’d driven, I arrived at The Chillhouse.
I found The Chillhouse in Canggu, searching for surf retreats on the web. Surfing—one of the many things I’ve always wanted to do but never got around to practice growing up in Australia… look, we don’t all live on the coast near perfect surf breaks, and OK, I just didn’t get around to it as other areas in my Life clambered for attention, but anyhow, the place was a haven. The accommodation ranges from bungalows and villa rooms that interweave through a serene tropical garden which houses two outdoor pools. The rooms aren’t air-conditioned, or weren’t then, but have mosquito nets and are in general very comfortable—I especially loved the outdoor bathroom, not accustomed to bathing starkers under the open sky it made me feel just a little naughty (I obviously need to live a little more dangerously). The Chillhouse is definitely for those looking for comfort in atmosphere as everyone, including the owner, Alex, who greeted me the next morning and organised my driver for the day of exploring, were genuinely friendly and helpful. However, throughout the first full day of visiting the Bali Bird Sanctuary, seeing how traditional coffee is made,¹ being driven to the Mt Batur volcano and passing quintessential rice fields, all I could think about was waking up the next morning to my first surf lesson. Which I did. At 6 am.
I won’t say it was easy, I hadn’t exactly trained my shoulders to paddle out against the current again and again, but when I stood up and rode my first wave to the shore it was worth it, possibly something you have to try out yourself to understand (admittedly I did love the moment I got to collapse back in bed after each lesson—I’m pretty sure half the time surfers are waiting offshore for the perfect wave, they’re also taking a long blessed break from paddling out). We had our lessons at Canggu beach where the waves were ideal for beginners and even for the more experienced further back. The beach was a bit rocky here and there and, sadly, littered from exposure to tourism but it didn’t detract from our goal. Surfing. Our coaches, mostly or maybe all locals, were patient and always laughing—fun to be around whether you were included in the banter or not (or if you were the subject of it), and there was a maximum of one coach to two students. It was also fascinating watching the Balinese prayers held on the beach each day as a large congregation would gather close to shore, a peaceful site if you allow yourself to let go and absorb the unfolding tradition.
Being such a short trip that revolved around early morning surf lessons, I spent most of my spare time relaxing back ‘home’: getting massaged, lazing by the pool and ordering smoothies. One night a few of us, a brilliant group of women also travelling by themselves, visited Seminyak and sipped cocktails by the beach at Ku De Ta as we watched the sky blush pink with the setting sun. Bliss. On my last day I woke up with the flu. I think it must have been my fevered brain and the onset of Bali belly that hit me ferociously a little later, but I decided I would kill time before my flight by getting a tattoo. Don’t do that. After the job was done the tattooist directed me to a nearby chemist to buy Band-Aids to slap over it. Needless to say I ended up with a patchy swallow on my side. Luckily it’s very small and relatively hidden.
Bali ebbs and flows with the rhythm of many things: the jungle, different races and traditions, of the weather, calm and fierce, and it goes on with its Life day in day out as it always has. The island knows itself and does not need to justify to anyone. Be a smart and respectful traveller and hopefully we can continue to visit there, and other wonderful places on this remarkable planet of ours. I will most definitely visit Bali and The Chillhouse again, and recommend it as a unique travel destination.
Travel safe or have fun planning your next trip.
¹The most expensive coffee being the Kopi Luwak coffee, derived from the beans the native civet eats and, er, poops out… but as I’ve recently learned, it has now become yet another Western fad that has encouraged the cruel mistreatment of these animals. I’d avoid purchasing or trying any!