My First visit to Bali
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by kawaakibb @ Friday, Mar. 14, 2008 – 09:36:48 pm
I have one word to describe how I feel after visiting Bali earlier this week: RESENTFUL!
That was the first time in my life I visited Bali, despite the fact I had been living only some 900 kilometers from the “Island of Gods” for 25 years (which is my age).
I have heard people, not only Indonesians but also foreigners from distant countries, talking a lot about Bali over and over, but I had never had the chance of visiting the so-called exotic island myself.
I sort of saying to myself, ‘Hey! It (Bali) is located in Indonesia, my very own home country, but how come while millions, perhaps billions of people have visited the island, I have not?’
So, when finally my editor told me that I would be assigned to cover a ministerial meeting in Bali, I turned of course tremendously excited. A poor person like me can never afford such Balinese visit, well at least not while I’m still in my current economic condition. It is the invitation to cover stories on the meeting that gave me the chance.
It sounded okay on the first day as I stepped my foot on Bali’s Ngurah Rai Airport. Even though I didn’t have so much leisure time as I had expected, I thought I still had the chance to have sightseeing around Bali’s famous beaches on the next three day of my staying in the island (I had a four-day visit, in total).
But, well, I was wrong; totally wrong. I got even busier and busier on the day two, three and four! So busy I was that even though in fact I stayed in a cottage located only some 200 meters from the beach, I could not walk along the shore even for some minutes, as I had earlier planned. I could only see the blue color of the sea in the morning from distance before leaving my room for Bali Convention Center, which is a located in another hotel in the Nusa Dua Beach area.
Can you imagine that? I stayed only a few meters from the beach but I could not take a closer look at it even for some minutesll!
The ministerial meeting was very strictly scheduled, that is why. And it was such difficult situation I couldn’t leave it (to do what I badly wished I could have done) when I had some leisure time.
The only thing I could enjoy was the view of the night sky, which was uncommonly starry and beautiful along the four days. But poorly, I could not enjoy it for more than a quarter of an hour either as I could only get back to my cottage after so late at night and had to go to bed immediately because I had to wake up early in the morning next day.
I also had a quite wonderful culinary tour, and still had the chance to buy some souvenirs for my family at home on the way back to Ngurah Rai Airport, before departing to Jakarta.
Well, Bali, you should welcome me a little better next time I visit you. I wish for nothing but some leisure walks along your shore in the morning, when crowds of nude people haven’t jammed the beaches, and at nights when I’ll be able to see millions of enchanting stars at your clear night sky. It must be so beautiful seeing them right above the sea, as there won’t be any boundaries like trees or tall buildings, right?
As a matter of fact, nowadays there is no way for stars’ lover to see a starry night sky in the light- and dust-polluted Jakarta.
So fond I have been of the stars that I wrote this poem when I was at high school some 10 years ago…
If I Could be a Star
If I could be a star
If I could be a star
If I could be a star
Oh, how I wish I could be a star
I f I could be a star
— The End —
Nusa Penida, travel story
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First published 7th October, 2012
That flash of white cliff you see from Bali’s Sanur hulking in the far distance shouldn’t be ignored if you have a sense of adventure and want to get away from the busy south part of the island. Nusa Penida, which centuries ago served as a gaol for the less desirable characters of the Gelgel dynasty, is easily reachable by boat from Bali or neighbouring Nusa Lembongan. Its mostly natural attractions can be seen over two days; here are some of the rugged limestone island’s highlights.
Looking toward Bali’s Gunung Agung from seaweed-rich Nusa Penida.
First up you’ll need to hire a motorbike and we’d suggest a driver as well. Expect to pay 70,000 rupiah a day for a bike, or around 120,000 rupiah a day for a bike plus driver, including petrol. You’ll be met by a few eager guys at Toyapakeh, where you’ll alight from your boat; English-speaking Rod is the key fixer, but a few other guys offering their services, including the helpful and lovely Dayat, whom we used on our last visit — he speaks just a little English.
Zip around first toward the market town of Sampalan; just before you get there is the Friends of the National Park Foundation, which runs a conservation programme for the dwindling Bali starling population. A few of the birds are in a large cage on site but the foundation’s focus is on trying to get the birds to breed in the wild on Nusa Penida, and they’ve had some success to date with several of their wooden boxes holding eggs during our visit. They told us the birds are not released on the Bali mainland as poachers snap them up too quickly; they’re worth about 20 million rupiah each on the black market.
Continue next to Pura Goa Giri Putri, a temple attached to a massive cave with a tiny triangular stone entrance way (it’s also known as Karangsari cave temple). If you’re claustrophobic you may freak out at just how miniscule the entrance is. I didn’t think I’d be able to do it but one of the guys there went ahead of me and insisted I try; once you’re down on your haunches you can see the cave opens up and it’s not so difficult to skedaddle in. Behind is a huge, dark, chilled interior with concreted footpaths and various Hindu shrines; it feels like quite an astounding discovery.
Next stop is Tanglad, a traditional weaving village where you can see looms in action and buy some fabric as well. It’s a very low-key set up, and on our last visit it was a ceremony day so everything was shut up, though the temples were dressed very nicely.
It’s quite a drive next to Guyangan waterfall, which you can scramble down 200 metres of cliff face to see up close if you’re a little bit of a daredevil. We viewed it from the top of one of Nusa Penida’s cliffs, then walked up some safely concreted stairs to sip on the chilled fresh springwater, pumped up to a water station nearby.
If your butt muscles are holding up, it’s time for a swim at gorgeous Crystal Bay where daytripping snorkellers and sunbathers are shuttled in from Bali — sunfish can be found in the bay at the right time. Half the grass off the beach is petitioned off with facilities for Bali Hai cruise tourists, while the rest is a coconut grove with a warung where you can sip a coconut and catch your breath.
Head back to your digs for a good sleep and on your second day you can do a spot of sunrise birdwatching — arrange it through the FNPF — it’s all very informal. Then it’s time to head to Nusa Penida’s highest point, about 520 metres above sea level, where wind turbines have been installed. To and from this area you’ll have fantastic views and scoot through some more desolate but beautiful landscape of the island: think cassava, papaya, bananas, breadfruit, coconut palms and teak trees.
Then it’s off to Manta Point or Banah cliffs, where your breath will be snatched from you as you realise how very close you are to falling to your death over the edge of sheer soaring rock. Manta rays are known to congregate in this bay when conditions are right, but on my visit I missed out.
You’ll find much of Nusa Penida a little unpredictable — will you find a guide who knows their way? will a ceremony shutter the cave temple? — but travelling across such a stunning landscape is more about the journey than the actual attractions you see necessarily along the way. Wear a helmet, take water and savour every minute.
Ubud bird watching: From waterhens to witchcraft
First published 24th January, 2011
Su stands before me, hand far too close for my comfort to a four-inch St Andrew’s Cross Spider. “Here in Bali, we don’t have dangerous animals — just dangerous traffic,” she quips. And so we begin our four-hour birdwatching ramble through the padi enveloping Bali’s cultural heart of Ubud.
Sumadi (Su to friends) has been leading birdwatching walks around Ubud along with resident Brit Victor Mason for the last 17 years. Victor was unable to join us due to a bout of flu, but Su has eyes enough for two people as she leads up Jalan Raya Ubud from our meeting spot at Murni’s Warung. With me is Theodora, her son Z, Brooks and one more, rounding out the group nicely.
Not ten metres into the walk, Su darts to the left and points up. “There, to the tree, eleven o’clock: white bellied swiftlet!” But before I can even find the tree, never worry about the darned bird, we’re under attack from the right. “Three o’clock!” Some kind of bulbul, from memory. I missed that one, too. We catch bemused looks from passing cyclists as the five of us strike poses with binoculars all cast in different (and invariably wrong) directions; Su of course hasn’t even drawn hers.
But the frustration evaporates when you finally see one. My first was a yellow vented bulbul, and I couldn’t help but exclaim a “Got one!” as if I’d just trapped an elephant which, by the way, I reckon I’d do a better time of spotting. I watched it sitting there, doing nothing actually, but it did nothing for long enough for me to stare at it.
The number of birds is surprising. Once you start looking, they really are everywhere. I ask after the effect of Ubud’s fast-paced development on bird habitat, suspecting it would have reduced the population. But according to Su, the number of birds has increased dramatically since her childhood. “No more people with guns. Every morning in my village people would walk through with guns to shoot, shoot, shoot,” she says.
Leaving downtown Ubud behind, we meander along a footpath. Padi canvasses out left and right. Water careens down the canal beside us. Big skies. Birds asunder.
In very short time we score what for me is the most beautiful bird of the walk, the Javan kingfisher. With an oversized crimson beak, sultry blue chest and a black dinner jacket with light blue finishing, this guy poses against the shimmering green padi. We ALL catch him through the binocs. While Su claims the golden-headed cisticola as her favourite, this bird in a dinner jacket gets my vote.
Walking further from Ubud towards Sari Organic Restaurant, the padi is occasionally interrupted by small houses. This is “green zone” land and legally speaking, nothing should be here, but, as with many things in Bali, many shades of green make a green zone. Su laments the development, wondering how much padi will be left for the next generation.
She elaborates, saying the land doesn’t belong to this generation to sell; it remains a possession of their ancestors. One of the group asks why it does get sold. “If someone dies and life is very hard, perhaps then you can sell some to help you eat and live… ” the sentence sort of falls off and it’s not lost on us that the conversation takes place to the backdrop of a large advertisement for a luxury housing development — the ancestors can’t be too pleased.
We pass Sari Organic and around us farmers till the padi under the beating 11:00 sun. Knee deep in viscous mud, they feel for weeds. It’s back-breaking work, yet only a slight resting of one’s weight on one hand on the mud’s surface gives away the exhaustion. The process unearths many nibbles including crabs, frogs and insects that the White egrets, startling against the green of the padi, feed on. There’s so many about Su stops pointing them out.
Like the farmers no doubt wish they could, many of the birds are taking solace in the shade. Su distracts us with a diversion from fauna to flora. Plucking everything from lemongrass to turmeric and a mouth-shattering, eye-exploding chilli pepper that takes us all by surprise, she morphs the walk from a birdwatching tour to a culinary and bush medicine exploration. The purple leaf is good for bleeding after childbirth, another is handy for filling your mouth with saliva (useful in the desert apparently). We sip nectar from a hibiscus in the grounds of a small temple. My favourite tip? Rubbing a skink (a small lizard) on the skin is good for eczema. Noted.
We reach the apex of the walk and kick back in the shade for a coconut and some cassava chips. A side trail leads down to another pathway and en route we pass tunnel entryways. Bali is famous for its rice irrigation system, known as subak, but I never realised the waterways also coursed under the ground — testament to the effort required to allow year-round rice cultivation.
The walk is now a gentle run back down into town. We’re shaded on both sides by tall palms, but under the beating sun the surrounding ricefields glow. I’m no newbie to glistening padi, but the scenery and its bucolic vibe is just breathtaking. As we walk, Su chatters away describing the colourful mozaic of Balinese life: the caste system, her upbringing, village life. It’s fascinating yet delivered in such good humour that in a way it’s even more memorable than the birds.
Last stop, we pop out of the padi and into the grounds of Puri Dalem, one of Ubud’s myriad temples. A banyan tree is surrounded by glowering stone demons, but it is the overbearing statue of Shiva (the Destroyer) standing above the main stairs that really strikes me. Foot atop a skull, babe in hand, fury belching from mouth, Su says that Shiva can get very angry. She then segues into a story about a puppeteer in Sukawati (a town halfway to the coast) who, invoking black magic, brought a dead child back to life.
It’s a dour note to finish on, but illustrative of the volumes of knowledge Su imparts. From waterhens to witchcraft, she has a tale for every encounter however mundane and this walk is far from mundane. Yes, we saw some beautiful birds and lovely scenery but this was beyond just a walk in the wilds; we all walked away with something more than a few pretty pics and a case of sunburn (treat with baby palm leaves, unravelled and laid on affected area).
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Mountain biking in Bali: A ride in the woods
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First published 14th December, 2010
“Make sure you have good brakes. Like life, it’s mostly downhill.” So said John (Jack) Daniels of Bali Discovery when I tweeted to say I’d be off to mountain bike from Kintamani to Ubud in Bali. And it’s true, save a single near vertical 100 metres or so, the ride was almost all downhill — and you know what, that was good.
Looking for a slice of Bali far from pulsating Kuta Beach, four of us had engaged Wayan of Mountain Bike Bali to guide us on a half-day pedal, slide and roll from Kintamani to the tourist heart of central Bali, Ubud. Unlike Balinese Wayan who had ridden around Bali (or 420km of it) in a mere 20 hours, not one of us had a cycling bone in our body, save the occasional pedal to kindergarten, so it was with some trepidation that I jumped on the bike after a 1.5 hour drive uphill from Sanur.
The road started fine, smooth, sealed, next to no traffic, clean air and fruit and vegetable gardens off to each side — scenic and easy — but then Wayan paused at a dirt trail (I’m being generous here) that ran off to the left and we were in business! In just a short time the trail, I mean goat track, was barely wider than the bike’s handlebars and it was taking all my concentration not to get hurtled into one of the nearby paddocks of cauliflowers, oranges, chillies, mangoes, bananas and dry rice.
Every now and then we’d bounce out onto a sealed road for a couple of hundred metres only to dart back onto another dirt trail. The only constant was, as JD forewarned, it was all downhill. Every now and then a house, smiling waving kids out front, would surface from within whatever crop we were riding (I mean rolling) through, then just as quickly we’d be back among the Kintamani greenery.
I’m not a novice to emerald rice paddies and fruit orchids, but I have to say, this was really an impressive kind of a ride. Wayan would pull us aside here and there to give us a walk through on what we were looking at. At one point, on a devilishly tight goat track corner, he pointed out coffee, cacao, mango, jackfruit, bananas and jasmine — and I think if we’d asked him nicely, he’d have prepared us something out of the lot of it.
And this comes to an important point. With the right guide, Bali can be a beautiful, fascinating place, but with the wrong guide it can easily transform into a tragic tourist trap. Wayan most certainly fell into the former. When we pulled up at a village with mud brick houses that one of our party enquired after, he volunteered to search after a mud-brick artisan. Later, at a dry rice crop, he went into a depth of information I wouldn’t have expected — it’s all rice right? My point is that it’s one thing to have a pleasant downhill roll in the sun, quite another to learn as well.
While Wayan had been talking us through the surrounding edible fauna, a warbling had started up in the distance. As friends in Jakarta had joked, Bali in Indonesian means “land of festivals” and true to form, somewhere further downhill an Odalan festival was underway. And so on we rolled, eventually emerging, somewhat scratched (the plantlife can be nasty!) onto a broken up road that ran down to a temple enclosure. Locals and a bunch of kids were out, kitted out in their best bleached whites and udengs. To our right the temple’s wall ran along, behind it, shrines topped by alang alang roofs. It was a six-month ceremony for the village — these happen all over the island, all the time — but there was no way you could reach this one unless you were on an off the road trip.
And that’s the rub. On Bali there are mountain bike tours and there are mountain bike tours and just as with tours of Ha Long Bay in Vietnam, this is very much a case of you get what you pay for. When we had first started out, another, larger, group arrived just after us. Wayan explained that they would stay on sealed roads the entire way (probably not a bad idea as there were some youngish kids in tow). Doing that keeps the price down, but they wouldn’t have stumbled upon the ceremony we did.
While the day had started out with crystal blue skies, after a couple of hours the weather closed in somewhat (it is, in theory, wet season) and we got a touch of rain — just a tease understand — a precursor to what was on the way. The sprinkle made the roads that bit slippery and the dirt trails more so, then, before we knew it, the crops gave way to towering forest. The temperature drops and the surrounds became impenetrable rather than impressive. We were in the midst of a “village protected forest”. Decades ago, forest like this would have covered vast swathes of Bali, but today, just slivers create a memorable memo between fields of paddy.
We were nearing our lunchtime stop just outside an elephant camp and pulled aside on a glistening lawn of moss in front of a local temple and lunched under a towering banyan tree and the watchful glare of the temple guardians. Midway through lunch, Wayan points out a lumbering elephant just behind us taking tourists on a loop around the park. Lunch was probably my one criticism of the trip. The prepacked Western-style lunch (from a cafe in Sanur) was edible but I’d much preferred to have tucked into a nasi campur at any one of the villages and townships we’d rolled through.
And onwards we rolled. Finally the rains really came down. We took shelter under the eaves of a stonemason’s shop for the half hour it took for the worst to clear, and then onwards again.
And what a different sight! Lush, lavishly wet paddy, pulsing irrigation canals, birds aloft, and, as we neared the outskirts of Ubud, the villas began. Like designer droppings from some alien spacecraft, these dot the ostensibly greenbelt landscape outside of the town.
But riding straight into Ubud would be too easy for Wayan. His personal preference is for “hardcore” mountain bike tours within the volcanic crater of Gunung Batur, but given Ubud lacks a volcano, he opts for the Campuhan Ridge Walk, a lush, grassy ridge with big skies overhead that runs parallel to the better known Jalan Campuhan running out of Ubud. There’s just a few spaceship poos along the ridge, and most of it proffers spectacular valley plunges and views across to upmarket digs on the opposing valley walls.
Before we get started, Wayan points out that the valley, covered in tall, privacy-granting grasses, is a hit with canoodling Ubudian couples. Sure enough we spring at least three giggling couples and groups along the way. Wayan offers one a ride on his bike and we all break into laughter.
We’re at the last stage of the ride, a steep muddy and very slippery descent down towards the Ibah Hotel. By the time we emerge onto Raya Ubud, we’re mud and sweat encrusted to a degree that a steaming shower and two-hour massage couldn’t fit the bill any better … but that’s another story.
Sanur, Learn to surf in Bali
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First published 15th June, 2010
It’s been a full 24 hours since I finished my three-day “Learn to Surf” course and I’ve got most of the sand out of my ears, the abrasions on my knees are healing and I can just about move without wincing. Better still I can ride a wave all the way into the beach without completely embarrassing myself and best of all, I’m a good deal closer than ever before to being able to surf.
I’ve tried to surf on and off for years and just never really got it. I could stand up … for a short while (counting in seconds) but I’d invariably spend most of the time getting pummelled and plum tuckered out. So last week, when I saw a post in the Indonesia forum asking about learning to surf in Bali, I gave some advice and thought, perhaps I should follow my own advice and go do a few lessons.
So that’s what I did.
A quick Google search found me 222,000 results and in the end I opted for OBB Surf Adventures over the bigger corporates like RipCurl and ProSurf. In comparison, OBB’s website looked so bad one could only assume they spent all their time surfing rather than building websites and that’s good right?
Turns out it was. I signed up for a 3-day surf clinic for US$175. Tuition was one on one and they’d take me from Sanur (where I live) to Kuta (where I’d learn) every day. While the classes were listed as running from 10am to 4pm, in practice we ended up doing around 8am to 1pm — which, by about midday, was more than enough for me.
My teacher, Budha, was a very no-nonsense instructor who spoke great English thanks in part to a stint in Australia, and his mission was to have me up and riding in hours.
The first class commenced on the sand, laying on the board and doing pop-ups (where, in theory, you go from laying down to standing up in one smooth motion). Budha started setting me straight from the get go:
Within 10 minutes I’d learned the reason I hadn’t been able to surf — I got up waaaay too slow, stood in the wrong position, stood tall rather than almost squatted and generally did everything wrong — and I wasn’t even wet yet!
Budha quickly dispensed with the sand session — “It’s a waste of time. The water is where you will learn!” — and we headed into the small Kuta break.
True to his word, this was where the learning really began.
We waded out into the whitewater and Budha instructed me to lay on the board. Then he spun the board around, holding onto the rear of it. Then, when a suitable wave came, he’d push me onto it. This was great as I didn’t have to worry about paddling or picking the right wave. All I had to do was concentrate on standing up.
And I did.
For about five seconds!
But, if you fail the first time, head back and try again. Budha’s commentary was succinct, to the point and absolutely instructive. I listened and learned.
Two pushes later I rode the wave all the way into the beach.
Now I’m not suggesting I’m going to start saying “Rad dude” and talk about “carving stuff up” but I was pretty impressed.
The next two hours were spent doing this over and over and over again. As time wore on, the tide dropped and the waves got a bit bigger. Budha stopped pushing so hard and instead I had to paddle myself.
It was a learning process. Budha would retain control of one part of the process so I could concentrate on others and by the end of the day I paddled myself, onto an unbroken wave and rode it a fair way into the beach — something I’d never managed to do before.
And there ends the upside. When I got home, I could barely walk. Every joint in my body ached. I was sunburned. My ears were full of sand and everything I ate tasted like salt.
I went to bed early.
Day two was better. I remembered to stretch beforehand and used more sunscreen. I started catching waves immediately. As the day progressed, Budha held the board less and less and I paddled more and more. I stood up more and fell over less.
All the while Budha explained why things are how they are. Why waves close out, where the current is and how to get out of it. Why some waves are fast and others slow. Who gives way and why surfers fight a lot. It was an all encompassing experience, and the entire thing delivered between catching waves.
Day three was the best yet. I caught lots of waves, but Budha also drilled into me what needed to be improved. My paddling sucked — too weak. I was still taking too long to stand up which meant I was missing the speed and power of the wave.
Through all three of the days we were surrounded by other students, mostly doing classes with Prosurf. Their classes are in groups, with one teacher to every four students. Cost is less than a one on one, but most of the time the teachers were not even in the water with the students. Instead they’d yell at them from the shoreline. While cheaper (a 3-day group course with Prosurf costs around US$100 while Ripcurl charge US$100 per 75 minutes of private tuition), the Prosurf option in particular seemed a poor substitute for one on one tuition and Ripcurl was well out of my budget.
At the same time, by coincidence a friend was also learning to surf further down the beach. He’d arranged private classes from one of the lifesavers (who probably should have been saving lives rather than teaching Jez) for Rp 200,000 per hour.
So there are a few different options available depending on your budget and how much time you have.
At the end of the day, regardless of which option you go for, there is only so much you can be told about how to surf — you have to just get out there and do it. The best thing about that is that it is a lot of fun.
I’d highly recommend Budha as a teacher. You can either arrange for classes with him through the OBB website, or contact him direct by telephone (Tel: +62 81 338 591 023) once you’re in Bali — I’d recommend the latter approach if it works for you.
Medewi: A great Bali getaway
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Updated on 25th January, 2013. First published 10th March, 2012
I’ve always been a bit of a big wrap on Medewi in west Bali. It’s one of those places that tends to get short shrift in guidebooks as a “surfer hangout” but when I spent some time there last year while motorbiking around Bali, it struck a chord with me and I decided it was more than just a surfer hangout. And so, this weekend, I returned with my family in tow.
It’s true: Medewi is a surfer hangout. But, like Balian half an hour to the east, it’s also a stupendously beautiful area. The beach starts with smooth boulders and pebbles that are a bit of a challenge to scramble across. After the river, the pebbles give way to a jet black volcanic sand similar to what you see in Lovina — the difference is in Medewi there are no touts trying to sell you wooden dolphins. In fact there are no touts at all.
To add support to the guidebook stereotype, we (or at least I) were in Medewi to surf among other things (read more about the travel writing scholarship here), and while last time I’d stayed at the decidedly fabulous Brown Sugar Surf Camp, this time we opted for the decidedly welcoming Medewi Surf Homestay. What a place. But more on that later; first a bit more about Medewi.
Like many Balinese stretches of beach, while tourists refer to the entire area as Medewi, you’ve actually got a series of villages skirting the surf, roughly east to west (and I’m happy to be corrected on this — there may be more!) Pekutatan, Medewi and Yeh Sumbul are the main spots. Pekutatan marks the spot where a spur off the main road leads to a fabulous alternative route to Munduk in the highlands, and is also home to the rather fancy Puri Dajuma. Medewi proper has the bulk of the surfer digs and the only Western-orientated restaurant(s) that was open in the area. Yeh Sumbul is home to a terrifically placed mosque with terraced ricefields running down, quite literally, to the high water mark.
We don’t leave Seminyak till mid-afternoon so it’s just on sundown by the time we pull into Medewi Surf Homestay after calling our contact Ugis from the beach to come show us where it was. It’s a village homestay on the non-beach side of the main road, a solid 10-minute walk (or two-minute drive) from the water. The family house is at the front, but as you walk back it opens first to a banana grove and soon to be garden, while to the left and right rice paddy stretches out. You cross a foot-wide, teeming canal and then look up and see the “Welcome to Medewi Surf Homestay” sign.
The homestay is a two-storey wooden house that has three rooms in total. The master is downstairs and two smaller rooms are upstairs, with shared bathroom facilities (including a bloody cold shower!) at the rear on the ground. In front is a cute little garden and beyond the rice goes and goes and goes… and goes.
The guesthouse is a collaboration between Austrian Mike (who was in Austria when we visited) and Balinese Ugis. The rooms are very simple and after one night reading the kids books by torchlight there’s certainly some scope for improvement with the lighting. Otherwise, bring your book light and it’s a very comfortable spot. After dashing out for a quick meal at Mai Malu (the only tourist-focused restaurant, that is, they had surfing videos on and burgers as well as local dishes) we return and I snooze on the lazy chair upstairs to a backdrop of the mosque warbling, with a light seabreeze and the distant electrical storm over the ocean making me want to put my glasses back on.
Later that night the storm arrives and I wake to the thunderclaps. Torrential rain at its best, the teeming water throws itself at the house, but there’s almost no breeze, so it’s like we have a bungalow in a waterfall. It’s otherwise silent. Even the mosque is quiet.
Morning comes and I meet my surfing fixer, Mano. Adorned in a knock-off straw fedora hat, a pair of board shorts and, well, not much else we talk about where to surf.
Surfing is a bit like pole dancing; you can either do it or you can’t. I learned long ago that overstating your ability (umm, lying) equates to gross pain for you and inconvenience for everyone else. So, yes I can stand up but no I’m not confident on a fast unbroken wave on a boulder base.
We go for the beachbreak, you know, just to be sure.
After picking a board, the whole tribe — Mano, Sam, Lyla, Will and myself tramp through the fields and wiggle between the fishing boats and hop over the pebbles till we reach the river.
Sam doesn’t know about the river, and not wearing swimmers, and not being all that comfortable with the surfer moll identity she’s adopting, isn’t so keen to wade across. Mano exclaimed no worries, only waist deep!
Mano is short — but not that short.
We ferry the kids, the boards, the bags across the river and keep walking, soaked to about half way up our chests — at least Mano’s hat is dry. Perhaps another 200 metres up the beach we set up camp in front of some curious cows and off we go.
I love surfing. Which is unfortunate as I’m terrible at it. As mentioned previously, I paddle like a girl, and while I get a few rides in, we take a break while Mano goes back to get his board and I give Lyla some boogie board lessons (as if I’m qualified).
Mano returns and we head far further out. I struggle to understand why 20 years of beer drinking hasn’t developed my upper arm strength — those pint glasses were heavy I tell you. Nevertheless, with the aid of Mano-power I catch some great waves — they’re faster, and far more exhilarating, than anything I’ve ever caught before. But each time I ride them in too far, necessitating a painful, strength sapping paddle back out.
I snap one fin. Mano demands we keep going: “Just one more wave”. I snap another fin. If he’d forced me out again I’d have snapped off the third with my teeth.
Shattered and the tide very high, Sam and the kids wait while Mano and I walk back to get the car to drive around and pick them up. The tide is peaking and the river that we previously waded across is far deeper. We have to swim across and the freezing river water cuts through the rashie and my ample padding like a knife.
With one especially cold, shiver-inducing blast I exclaim, “Shit it’s cold!” and Mano looks back saying, “Get on the board and paddle!” Given at this stage I’d rather freeze to death in a Balinese river than paddle another stroke, I shut up.
Then we emerge from the river and the fishing fleet is in. Fish are everywhere. Baskets of long thin ones, stubby ones, a sting ray-like critter, crabs. Women are carting bucket loads back from the jukungs that continue to rush in with the waves, berthing on the river bank. Fishing nets being emptied, produce bought and sold.
I’m exhausted but fascinated. And free of a camera, I’m happy to point and ask and stare and inquire. The people are incredibly hospitable — lots of laughs and smiles.
We get back, dump the boards and go to gather up the family. And this takes me back to my most poignant memory of Medewi — the mosque run down to the beach. The blueish mosque sits atop the rise that runs down to the beach — for a large part it is still all paddy. But walls are creeping in — at least some put up by a Hawaiian, another a German, who take long leases or buy with a partner then start to convert the land to residential.
We pull aside a traditional plough to get to as close to the family as we can, but they’re still a good 200 metres away, so Mano goes to help them while I watch the waves.
Afterwards, back at the homestay, Sam talks to Ugis about a massage — on the website, particular mention was made of his massage skills so, well, you know … just for research purposes …
Ugis asks Sam if she has any problems, and she says she doesn’t, so he suggests she gets a massage by his wife. I, meanwhile (who at that stage could barely walk thanks to the surfing class), have a long time back problem so I volunteer for a Ugis test case.
Ugis ain’t cheap.
Ugis delivered arguably the best massage I’ve had in my life.
I’ll wager I’ve had more massages than you and your entire family combined.
So, I know I started this story saying Medewi isn’t really a surfer hangout and then proceeded to write 800 words about surfing there, but the thing is, Medewi is much, much more than surf.
It’s a predominantly Muslim area, so you’ll feel more like you’re in Java or Lombok than Bali, and while I don’t want to resort to the cliche of saying the “locals are so friendly”, the thing is, they are.
The first morning, I said to Sam, “Why haven’t we been doing this every weekend for the last four years?”
Take from that what you will.
Medewi is a three to four hour drive (depending on traffic) to the west of Seminyak. Both the above-mentioned homestays are excellent value. For those looking for something more comfortable, Puri Dajuma is a good option. There are a number of other mid and upper market places in the surrounds, see the Pekutatan section on Agoda for more well-priced hotels and resorts.
There are no ATMs in Medewi, the closest is in Negara. There are a couple of internet cafes on the main road and there is a good 3G signal in this area. Check with your hotel beforehand if you require WiFi.
Western style restaurants are very limited, on this visit in March 2012, Mai Malu was the only one reliably open, but in high season (June to September) there are more options.
Honeymoon Destination: Bali
We got engaged in June of 2011. So much needed to happen to plan the wedding, but the first order of business was deciding on where to go on our honeymoon. We knew that we wanted to start a family soon after our marriage so we wanted to go somewhere we thought might be harder to go to once you have kids. I am a California surfer girl so a destination where surfing could take place was a must. Nicholas grew up on the beach as well but on the opposite coast, so the beach was a must for him. Both of us are goofy foot so going somewhere where there were lots of waves going left was preferred. Put that all into the honeymoon machine and you get Bali, Indonesia.
We knew the South Pacific would be a trek from California, but we had a feeling the adventure would be worth the 30-hour travel day. Once the destination was chosen we had to figure out how to get there. Not a cheap trip but we had heard that some of our other married friends had used websites where people could contribute towards your honeymoon. We did some research and decided that Travelerʼs Joy was perfect for us.
We had a wide range of generations attending our wedding so we wanted to create a registry that was friendly for everyone. The older generation wanted to give us things that were “practical” for a newly married couple starting out. The younger generation was completely fine with giving us “elephant rides.” Travelerʼs Joy enabled us to do both.
We were able to put up pictures like linens and flatware as well as activities such as elephant rides, and parasailing so that whatever people wanted to give it was available. We knew we didn’t want to ask for cash directly, so using this site enabled us to use the money however we wanted to. Most of our honeymoon fund from the Travelerʼs Joy site went to our honeymoon in Bali, Indonesia.
We left for Bali a few short days after the wedding. It took us three flights to get there. We left from San Francisco and headed to Tokyo, Japan. Had a few hours there before boarding a flight from Tokyo to Singapore. Eighteen hours later with our days and nights completely flipped, we boarded a flight from Singapore to our final destination, Bali.
The first two flights were about 12 hours each, not exactly a short travel, but we thought if we could use gifts from the registry in combination with some saved up miles, that we would be able to go first class. Well, mission accomplished. With miles and funds from Travelerʼs Joy, we were able to fly the first two (and longest) legs of the trip first class, which really helped with being on the plane for 24 hours.
Once we arrived in Bali we still had plenty of funds from our registry to do all the things we wanted. We decided since we had traveled so far that we should stay as long as we could and make the most of it. I work in the school district as a speech pathologist, and Nicholas has saved all his vacation time working as an engineer, so we stayed for three weeks from July 31 through August 23.
That is actually the end of the summer season in Bali, but we had plenty of hot days. We decided to stay at a few different places in Nusa Dua, Bali. That way we could keep a home base and travel around the island from there. It was perfect. There were so many highlights from our honeymoon that whenever anyone asks, “How was Bali?” our simultaneous automated response is, “How long do you have.”
During our three weeks in Bali we split it between hanging out at the beach reading and relaxing and traveling around to different places on the island. Regardless of the dayʼs agenda, our first adventure
We were able to relax and have a little downtime before heading out. Our first outing we took a taxi to Jimbaran to visit the Ayana Resort & Spa where they have a bar that you get to via gondola. It was called the Rock Bar. It was balanced on the edge of a cliff looking over the ocean. They had great drinks, great appetizers and it was by far the most beautiful sunset we have ever seen. It was the first time we were able to sit and be together after the chaos of the wedding and chaos of traveling and just be. We watched the sun slowly set while holding hands and sipping drinks. It was a perfect start to our honeymoon.
A few days later we took a taxi to Seminyak to check out the many beautiful temples that are there. It was amazing to see the amount of detail that goes into each tile that surrounds the platform where people go to pray. Balinese people are very spiritual, regardless of religion, and it felt to us like it brought a certain level of happiness to them. It was incredibly contagious.
Ubud was our next adventure. Since it was a little further away we decided to hire a driver to take us there. We totally lucked out with a driver named Eko. He was our age, spoke English well, and ended up being such great company that day. Ubud was lush green and roughly ten degrees cooler then the rest of the island. Our driver first took us to visit the monkey temple where monkeys will sit on your lap and take bananas from your hand. It was incredible being so close to them, watching them with each other and with their young. There were literally hundreds of them all around as you walked the path of the temple. Luckily, we were with someone who has great knowledge of the monkey temple and he told us to take all food and drinks out of our pockets and bags. The monkeys can smell any food or drink through bags and will jump on your back, unzip you bag and grab whatever they would like. We also heard many pairs of sun glasses have been taken off peopleʼs heads there, so we left everything behind in the car.
Afterward the monkey temple we went to a restaurant called Suri Organik. It was a self-sustaining organic restaurant, and we got to visit the garden they draw from afterwards. It was a 25-minute walk through rice patty fields and well worth it. We sat outside looking over the expansive rice patty fields. We felt as if we had never seen anything so green and lush. It was easy to enjoy the incredible food and get lost in the beauty of it all. It was the best food we had on our trip as well.
Our next adventure took us a little bit further north to Taro, Bali. An hour or so car ride and we were there. We went to the Elephant Safari Park and got to ride, feed, and watch elephants. The elephants are all rescued and cared for very well. It was an incredible experience. We took a 45-minute ride on a beautiful elephant named Maggie. We went on a path through the green fields of Taro. Maggie stopped a few times to snack on bamboo, but we eventually made it back to the park. After our ride we were able to feed many elephants. There were adult and baby elephants and they were so gentle and beautiful for their size. They take the food right from your hand and they look directly into your eyes. We felt like we could see their souls, beautiful peaceful animals. We felt like as if we never wanted to leave, felt so at peace just being around the animals. Eventually, the shuttle called our name over the loud speaker and unfortunately before we knew it we were headed back to the hotel.
A few days later we visited Uluwatu, where the oldest temple on Bali is located. It sits on the edge of a cliff that looks over the ocean. Itʼs stunning. We hiked up to the temple and looked down onto the expansive ocean as the sun started to set. The views that Bali has to offer just seemed to be getting more and more breath taking. Before the sunset we took our seats at the temple to see the traditional fire dance called, Kecak fire dance. Young talented local Balinese men and women show off traditional Balinese dancing while acting out a Balinese fable. It was fantastic. The costumes and dancing were incredible and there was lots of real fire and singing. We sat and watched the fable play out while the sun sat over the ocean.
Between many of these adventures we were also able to walk across the street to the hotelʼs beach for some perfect surfing. We rented boards from the local surf kid and enjoyed hours of warm water consistent left wave surfing. Coming from a place where the water temperature averages are in the mid 50ʼs the 80-degree water was more than welcome. We got to know the surfboard renter and spent many days out with him enjoying the water.
Our last night of the trip we decided to go to the local theater to see Devdan. It was a sort of Balinese version of cirque du soleil. Once again the talent and beauty of the Balinese people blew us away. The costumes and dances were all traditional so we were able to learn a lot about how the customs were started.
Overall the trip was above and beyond anything we ever imagined it to be. Our total honeymoon cost us about $5,500. We used as many miles as we could but knew we wouldn’t be able to go without the help of our wedding guests contributions. Travelerʼs Joy made that possible. We would hands down recommend Bali and Travelerʼs Joy to anyone looking for a little more flexibility with their registry.
Bali exceeded all of our expectations. We were expecting yoga, surf and massage and ended getting all of that and lots more. There seemed to be so much beauty not just with the physical parts of the island but within the people. Everyone was so kind and caring, warm and friendly. We would love to have another chance to go enjoy all that Bali had to offer.
The Kuta Krawl, the year-round Australian frat party
Posted on December 6, 2012 by John Henderson
KUTA, Bali — The Balinese dancer wore hotpants.
She and her co-worker stood above me on a dance platform with skin-tight black short shorts and matching jog bra, both adorned with strategically placed Christmas lights. They were both gyrating to rap music with moves that would cause Shiva, Vishnu and every other Hindu god to roll over in their heavens.
These dancers I never saw on Bali tourist posters.
They may as well. As much as “Eat Pray Love” has made Bali the international center for healing and their smiles have made the Balinese among the friendliest people in the world, the town of Kuta has become just as big a part of the Balinese experience.
Kuta is Bali’s version of Cancun. It’s a year-round Australian frat party where young blokes and blokettes take the three-hour flight for a weekend of massive drunks, gropes and dance. It’s where Hinduism stops and capitalism begins in Bali. After all, nothing says spiritual healing like Viagra shots atop the Sky Garden Lounge.
I spent most of my 1993 Bali trip in Kuta. My Irish PR friend had a flat she shared with me right outside of town, which is an overgrown beach/fishing village near the southern tip of mainland Bali. Every single night we trooped into town, met the gang who had set up temporary roots for the winter and drank and danced til the sun came up. Back then, Kuta was a series of low-end taverns with nothing fancier than a couple neon signs. I remember dancing under the stars and sitting languidly outside the dance floor, talking about dreams, regrets and the total tranquility that is Bali.
Last night Bali was as tranquil as Vegas on New Year’s Eve. Jala Legian, Kuta’s main drag, has become one long neon strip of techno bars, each one with big-screen TVs showing old Australian Rules Football (footie) clips and advertising their special drink. (Viagra shot: vodka, Red Bull and blue Curacao — to replicate Viagra’s blue pill. Get it?).
Looking at the clientele, no one was within 30 years of Viagra. I sat in the rooftop bar of the Sky Garden Lounge, a four-story nightclub that rocks til dawn and is the epicenter of the Kuta Krawl. I took a seat at the bar and ordered a steady string of Bintangs and chilled vodka from the only hulky Balinese men I’ve seen. They wore head scarves like sushi chefs. You could tell how long they’ve worked there just by their Australian-accented English.
The rooftop was huge, a massive sprawl with trees growing up through the middle and ferns looking strangely out place near the outer walls where men lured women to padded chairs for their first wayward hands of the night.
The music was a mix of Australian pop, American rap and very few oldies — and none of them good oldies. When about 300 Aussies started waving their arms around to “YMCA” I wanted to put in a request. But I doubt anyone but me was old enough to remember Iron Butterfly’s “Ina Goda Davida.”
I felt horribly overdressed with my white cargo pants, yellow Tommy Bahama shirt and Italian loafers. In fact, I felt horribly overdressed because I bathed that day. The men wore nothing more than baggy shorts and torn tank tops. The women wore the shortest shorts that would keep them from being thrown into a Balinese jail. They all pulled it off. If the Sky Garden Lounge was any indication, Australia is the healthiest country on earth. Every single person was in shape. I think I saw one fat person and she was probably from New Jersey. It’s like Australia is the birthplace of a master race of some kind. How do they stay in shape drinking beer from dawn to dawn?
Some Aussies came as a group. Four guys showed up wearing tight blue tanktops reading ”Buck’s Bali 2012″ and each had a nickname on the back: Stinko, Rando and one merely called himself Group Sex. The Aussies speak English but I don’t think their dictionary includes the word “subtle.”
After a second rendition of “Who Let the Dogs Out?” I split. I wanted to see why Kuta had made international news almost exactly 10 years ago. On Oct. 12, 2002, a bomb blew up the front of Paddy’s Bar. A few seconds later, another leveled the Sari Club next door.
Both were right next to where I was drinking last night.
More than 200 people died, all reportedly due to an Islamic terrorist group called the Jemaah Islamiyah who hated the fact that an island in their country hosted such filthy Western traditions as drinking, dancing and laughing. Dozens were arrested and three were executed in 2008. But many received light sentences, including Abu Bakar Bashir, a radical cleric who was allegedly the ringleader. The Indonesian Supreme Court overturned his convictions in 2006, sending Balinese and Australians screaming to the heavens.
As I walked out of the Sky Garden Lounge, a giant two-story memorial stood where the Sari Club once did. On it, under an elaborate Balinese design, are the names of the 200-plus victims. Nearly half were Aussies. Many were Balinese with a few Danes, Canadians and English thrown in. I saw three Americans. They were basically the makeup of the crowd I’d just left.
There is no Sari Club anymore. It’s now an Indomaret convenience store and a shop selling Balinese handicrafts. As my taxi pulled away, the music on Jala Legian seemed to get louder.
Shark Attack in Bali, the story of a survival
Click to Enlarge !
The shark attack in Balian we reported on April 12th, 2011 has a new update. And now we have the true story from the victim, Joseph Ferrar, with more pictures and video to illustrate what really happened.
I’ve been putting off writing this blog for some time. Probably because it’s not an experience that I’m too fond of reliving. However, watching the Nat Geo video clip forced me to come face to face with the memories, and I wanted to capture my thoughts of what happened that morning in this blog.
The attack took place at Balian Beach, on the west coast of Bali. Having spent four or five days at Uluwatu on the south coast, we were keen to explore different parts of the island. We’d read fantastic reviews about this place and we weren’t disappointed, as we settled into a great little wooden shack with views out across the surf.
On the third morning of our stay in Balian, I headed out for a surf before breakfast. The waves were perfect for a chilled out early morning session – clean, long right handers at 3ft – 4ft. The only downside was the water. Whilst it was warm, the flood water from the nearby river mouth had brought with it a brown murky colour with zero visibility below the surface. Deep in my mind a thought registered that this might not be the safest place to surf. However as anyone who is addicted to surfing will testify, these quotes are quite quickly suppressed and hidden by the thoughts of how great it could be.
After turning off the back of another great wave, I began the slow paddle back out to the line up and my mind turned to breakfast. I’d been surfing for about 90 minutes and the thought of the eggs and toast back at the hotel was a big pull. “Just a couple more” I thought to myself. It’s always just one more wave.
In hindsight, I wish I’d turned and paddled into the beach right then.
The end of the wave was roughly 150m from the beach. I was paddling slowly back out to the lineup. As I dipped my right arm methodically into the water I felt the quick shock of a huge pull at my forearm. Instinctively I yanked my arm out of the water. Just as my arm came free, the back of a shark broke the surface, and disappeared down into the murkiness below. From memory, I saw the grey skin and a back that was about 30cm wide. At first, I thought I’d seen a pointy nose and my initial thought was not that I’d seen a shark, but for some reason, a dolphin.
I stared at my arm to see a lump of flesh hanging off and blood everywhere. Immediately I panicked. I grabbed my arm with my left hand in an effort to hold it together and at the same time I started shouting for help. I’m not sure exactly what I was shouting, from memory words weren’t really forming properly and I guess it was more just a garbled noise. But it must have been clear that I was in distress as immediately another surfer started paddling towards me. I heard an American accent shouting “I need some help over here!” and could see the startled and confused faces of the other surfers in the lineup.
I knew that I needed to get out of the water quickly and was bracing myself for a second attack. All I could think about was how much blood was in the water.
I started to try and paddle with my left hand. Luckily Mike, the American voice I had heard, was moving quicker than I was, and arrived by my side in no time. I could see the concern on his face as he approached, I must have looked a real mess. In hindsight this must have been a pretty scary experience for Mike also, paddling into bloody water to rescue someone when you know that there is a hungry shark in the vicinity. It was fantastically brave act and one that I am eternally grateful for, and will never forget.
Mike waited for a wave to come through and pushed me onto it. I rode the wave into the beach and it suddenly hit me whilst I was lying on my board that I should check my arm and see how bad it was. I released the pressure that I had been applying with my left hand and my arm simply flopped open with my hand. The flesh was hanging off and small jets of blood squirted out. This was when it really hit me. I was immediately convinced that I was going to lose my wrist and hand.
Many people have asked me at this point if it was painful. The honest answer is that I can’t remember. The pain definitely kicked in later, however I think in the initial stages the adrenalin overload largely suppressed any physical feeling.
Once I got out of the water Mike helped me free from my board, tournaquet my arm below the elbow with the leg rope and helped me up towards the hotel with my arm above my head. By this time a crowd had gathered and I could hear various conversations about what had happened whilst the crowd watched me with a mixture of apologetic and almost suspicious looks on their faces. There seemed to be discussion over whether it was a shark or more likely a fin cut. I remember feeling extremely frustrated and I vaguely remember telling someone that “I saw the f*cking thing!”
At this point in time Scott, who was to become a real hero for us, took control. With the help of his friends I was temporarily bandaged with a towel, laid down on the road with my feet held above my head to prevent me from going into shock and a car was organised to take me to hospital. Meanwhile, an Australian girl set about tracking down Penny who had gone out for a run that morning. “Don’t tell Pen” I told her, “this will really upset her”.
“I think she’s probably going to find out mate” replied the girl in a fairly comical tone.
Scott managed to find a car to take us up to the local medical centre in Balian village and I laid down on the back seat. He jumped in next to me, together with Pen, who had arrived at the scene to find a crowd of people and talk of shark attacks. Later, Pen would tell me that she thought I had lost my hand. The towel bandage covered my whole lower arm so it must have looked like the whole thing had been bitten off. I remember at this point feeling bad for the guy who’s car I was in. I was covered in blood and I’m sure that by the end of this short journey, so was the back of his car.
The medical centre at Balian village was a nightmare. They laid me down on a bed and unwrapped the towel to look at the wound. At this point the pain really kicked in and I could see by the look on the doctors face that the prognosis wasn’t good. He looked scared and this fuelled my mental anguish. Scott quickly set about arranging how we were going to get from Balian village to a hospital in Dempasar and meanwhile the local Doctor bandaged my arm as best he could and Pen did a fantastic job of keeping me awake. I remember feeling incredibly tired and just wanted to close my eyes for ten minutes. This seemed like the only way that I could escape the mental anguish and throbbing pain that had been building since the towel had been removed.
An ambulance was out of the question. It would be three hours before one could get to Balian and we were told that the quickest way for us to get to the hospital was by taxi. Scott tracked down our temporary emergency vehicle and before long I was laid on the back seats and we were on our way to the Hospital. The drive took three or four hours. It felt more like five or six to me and my thoughts were filled with all sorts of doomsday scenario’s about what the end result was likely to be. Surely if they didn’t operate soon the risk of me loosing my hand would increase? How am I going to get by without my right hand? What about the trip? How will I drive!?
Pen and Scott did a great job of keeping me talking – this can’t have been easy for them as my conversation skills were at an all time low and they too must have been fairly scared about the whole situation, especially Pen.
We found out during the journey more about Scott. He’d been in Bali for a few months from memory and had experience with the hospital that we were heading to. He’d worked as a school teacher and amazingly was from Mansfield, a mere 30 minute drive from my home town and end destination for the year. The pain had become almost unbearable during the early stages of the taxi ride however luckily the doctor in Balian had given me a valium before I left and this helped keep the pain in check.
Scott had called ahead to the hospital that we were heading towards, informing them of what had happened and asking them to be ready for our arrival. We arrived at BIMC hospital, where many people had been treated following the Bali bombings in 2002, and I was quickly into a wheel chair and through into and examination room. It would be another nine hours before I was taken into the operating theatre for the stitching to begin. For me the nine hours were filled with answering the questions of the medical staff about what had happened, if I was allergic to any drugs and when I had last eaten. I went for a couple of X-rays to assess whether the bone had been broken and endured a couple of closer investigations as the doctors tried to asses how bad the damage was. These were pure agony. As soon as the bandages were relaxed from my arm, the pain was almost unbearable.
During this period Pen was juggling the administrative side of things whilst trying to keep my spirits high and keep her own emotions in check. I am eternally grateful for how she dealt with these two difficult tasks. I never once saw her show signs of fear in front of me, when I’m sure she must have been wrought with anguish inside.
The one thing that made all of this a little easier to deal with was that we had good travel insurance policies. We had chosen World Nomads travel insurance as they specialise in the more adventurous side of travel and the comfort of knowing that they would cover the costs of my medical bills up front was a huge weight of our minds. The cost of the surgery alone was expected to be over AUD$10,000 and so paying for this out of our own pockets would have finished the trip before we started it. This really made the AUD$650 that I paid for my 12 month policy seem worth while.
I am eternally grateful to Pen for being adamant that we should purchase travel insurance before leaving Australia. I have always understood the necessity for travel insurance, however, have a tendency to let these things slide as I get caught up in the more pressing aspects of travelling like packing, planning where to go and generally celebrating being on holiday. I’d never had any problems on any previous trips that I’d been on and I think these experiences helped to lower the urgency in my mind for preparing for the worst. However as we sat in a pub in Fremantle having left BOB with the shipping company, Pen insisted that we go online and buy our policies and it was probably one of the smartest moves I have ever made.
Finally the surgeon arrived and with everything sorted on the finance side, it was time for the surgery to begin. I was wheeled into the operating theatre at around 9:30pm, with a strange feeling of excitement that we were going to make some progress after nine hours of waiting and thinking. The operating theatre was a strange experience for me. Firstly I hadn’t expected there to be music playing! And I was surprised by the number of people in the room, all of whom paid me no attention. The anaesthetist got me to lay down on the bed in a crucifix like position with both arms extended on surfaces either side. Pen had been telling me how they often give you a countdown during which the anaesthetic kicks in before you reach zero. I remember waiting for someone to start counting and then the next thing I remember I woke up with tubes up my nose and a huge bandage on my arm. I had been in surgery for four hours and luckily things had gone well.
Only during surgery could the true impact of the wound be properly assessed. The prognosis didn’t sound good. Five tendons and all of the muscle controlling the lifting of my fingers and thumb had been completely severed. Damage to the muscle controlling my thumb was particularly bad as most of it had been ripped away. The good news was that my wrist bone hadn’t been snapped and the surgeon was fairly positive about my recovery. He expected that the vast majority of movement in my hand would return and that it shouldn’t take much longer than six weeks. His advice was not to continue travelling, the risk of infection was too high and there was no chance of me driving, but instead to fly home to UK and wait for healing process to take its course.
I was shocked the first time my bandages were changed. It was the first chance I had to properly look at the damage and it looked much worse than I imagined.
There were 120 stitches on the outside and my arm looked like a patch work quilt! It was also really swollen and misshapen and I hadn’t seen the lacerations on the underside before. I spent another four days in the hospital on a wicked cocktail of painkillers and antibiotics whilst Pen made arrangements for us to fly to the UK. During this time Scott and a few of his mates visited which was a real nice touch (and a real mission when you think that its a eight hour return trip from Balian Beach!).
Amazingly the anaesthetist also doubled up as an amateur photographer and was delighted to tell us that he had taken a series of photo’s through the operation. It took me about a month before I was ready to look at them and they still make my stomach turn even now. Check out the photo gallery if you want to see them.
My recovery was painfully slow to begin with. I was supported by the physiotherapy unit at The Northern General Hospital in Sheffield who, as you can imagine, were somewhat surprised to be dealing with a Shark bite! Not too many of those happen around Sheffield. For the first six weeks I was asked to do nothing except wear bandages to bring down the swelling. This was hugely frustrating for me as I wanted to be taking actions to make things better. To take the healing into my own hands. However as the old saying goes, sometimes the best course of action is to take no action. Finally at around six weeks the swelling had gone down significantly, the stitches had been removed and I was ready to begin physiotherapy. Its a strange feeling when you think about trying to move your fingers but no matter how hard you try, they don’t move. But slowly over the next few weeks the movement increased and with some heavy massaging, the scar tissue began to break down a little.
During this period Pen & I were adamant that the trip would continue. It was more a question of when we could restart it and how much time we would have to cut out of the journey. We’d be planning for so long and no shark bite was going to ruin our year off work! Plus we couldn’t just leave BOB stranded in Singapore on his own! On that front we were very lucky. National Geographic have an office there and a few of the girls there kindly offered to get the car through customs for us and store BOB at there house. Lucky for us as the storage costs at the port would have killed our budget!
On our seventh week in UK we met with the hand surgeon at The Northern General who gave us the news we’d been waiting for. We could get back on the road again! I would need a 2nd operation when I return but that could wait and I couldn’t do any additional damage in the meantime. We flew back out to Singapore eight weeks after the attack took place full of excitement. Continuing with the trip has been a great way to recover as we have had so much to focus our attentions that we quickly forgot about the whole experience. I have had very few nightmares or uncomfortable moments thinking about the attack. I’ve been back in the ocean surfing and kite surfing without too many worries and my arm has continued to improve, almost to the point where I don’t notice it.
It feels unbelievable to be reflecting on a shark attack so candidly, but I think it’s fair to say that I’ve learnt some important lessons this year, and I’m truly thankful of the help I’ve had. If there’s some advice I can pass on to make sure this doesn’t happen to someone else it’s this:
•Think about where you surf – A muddy river mouth early in the morning increased my odds of being attacked significantly. And unfortunately it can happen to you.
•Try and surf with someone else around – If I had been on my own I would have been screwed.
•Get travel insurance – when this sort of thing happens the last thing you want to be worrying about are the finances. In my scenario the total cost came close to $15k.
And finally, a huge thank you to:
Pen – you were truly fantastic throughout this whole nightmare experience.
Scott – Thank god you were there! From Mansfield to Balian to help a fellow Northerner in trouble. I won’t forget it and I still owe you that pint!
Mike and the guys at Balian Beach – when this sort of stuff happens, you can only hope that people around you will help. I was very lucky that you guys were there for me.
My family and Pen’s family – for being there when we most needed you.
BIMC and The Northern General – Fantastic treatment and fantastic people.
World Nomads – These guys really change your opinion of insurance companies. We were never in any doubt that we would be covered and the personal touch was appreciated.
The teams at National Geographic AU and National Geographic SG – Huge thanks for all your support through this and for sorting out BOB for us. Much appreciated.
Getting Lost Means Cooler Stories, Bali
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“Oh, yeah, that reminds me of this one time when I got totally lost, but found something really cool!”
Many of my travel memories start this way because I get lost; a lot. Navigating the streets of a new city, hiking in forests, driving cars and motorbikes. Doesn’t matter, I will get lost.
The elaborate fruit offerings at a Balinese temple ceremony outside of Ubud
On a motorbike ride through a dusty Balinese town outside of Ubud, my friend navigated while I rubber necked from the back of the bike in search of any signs indicating a path to Gunung Kawi, an (allegedly) gorgeous temple complex carved out from the rock walls.
We searched for at least an hour. Then, instead of Gunung Kawi, we slowed down at a fairly nondescript temple smack dab in the middle of this sun-bleached town. The temple wasn’t on our map, and it definitely wasn’t Gunung Kawi, but a steady line of worshipers rapidly filed into the temple, fruit offerings delicately balanced on the heads of the Balinese women.
Hopelessly lost, but quite happy to get off the motorbike and deviate from our plan, we parked the scooter and respectfully joined the thin line of Balinese locals climbing the temple steps. Inside, a festival ceremony was in full swing; traditional dancers, music, children, food, and dogs intermingled haphazardly in the inner courtyard. The adjacent courtyard held the incredibly intricate devotional offerings like the one above.
I never did make it to Gunung Kawi, not that day nor any other since I left Bali a mere two days later, because I instead found a shady spot in the corner and spent a solid two hours as the sole tourist quietly observing a Balinese ceremony and enjoying the curious smiles from locals.