Mecca and the Soul Brother (Our first trip to Uluwatu and Balangan)

Our weekly day trip and this time we’re headed south. Moped fueled up, supermarket sandwich for breakfast and we’re off.

We followed our well known route all the way down the main road. Turning right at McDonalds and then wow! It’s hill time. Huge long hills and the bike is huffing and puffing. We spot the sign for Balangan beach, our first destination.

We make it to the beach around 11am. It is ridiculously hot. I take my board off its rack. It just fits under my arm. Today in its board bag for sun protection, it is the most awkward thing I could wish to carry. Prior to the trip I even talked to Jen about leaving my board and renting one at the beach to avoid having to babysit. After my first wave I’m glad I brought it.

As we arrived at the beach, the bay opened up. Headlands at either end and a big crescent of yellow sand. The tide is in, the beach is thin and there’s only 20 surfers out. What is most apparent is the amount of plastic on the beach. Tomorrow we will be part of Bali’s biggest beach cleaning event to date. Today, right now, this ocean paradise is covered in plastic.

We progress through a familiar ebb of ‘plastic’ despair and find a spot where Jen can chill while I get my surf fix. The Bukit is the centrepiece of Balinese surfing. The southern end of Bali ‘The Bukit’ is practically it’s own island; linked to the mainland by a narrow northerly neck. I bodyboarded at Balangan 16 years ago. It was so-so. I remember likening it to a powerful UK beach break. Today was completely different. It was certainly doing its thing and from what i’d read, it was only just getting started. Thank god.

There were two groups of surfers out. The first were right out by the southerly headland. The second were just in from there, sat further down the line of the reef where the waves were breaking. I sat outside the second group, feeding off their scraps. It worked well to get a few quick waves and boost my confidence. These were steep waves. I’d been surfing fatter waves recently up the coast at Canggu with the Longboarders. This was different. I got nailed by some bigger waves. My board being whipped out of my hands as I attempted to duck dive through them. I pulled on my leash to reach the surface and take a new breath. Later I felt the grip of my fins catch into the face of the wave as I notched up a couple of intensely fun, short fast rides. It was beautiful. There was an eddy of plastic flotsam floating nearby.

Buzzed off my surf I came in to find Jen on the beach. In need of shade we walked towards the raised wooden shacks that lined the centre of the beach. The waves were breaking between their head high stilts. We timed our move carefully to reach an entry ladder.

Overlooking the sea we had a perfect view of the waves. 2 big Bintang beers and some Nasi Goreng (vegetable fried rice) equals a pretty sweet setup. We must have sat there for an hour and a half at least. Playing with the zoom lens on the camera, watching the surf, and talking somewhat passionately about nothing I can remember. Looking back now, I want to call it Vibing. That’s what we were doing. You might say we were chilling. You could say that. But it was more than that. Vibing. Off my tits on happiness. Of course I can’t answer for Jen.
The energy waned, we paid our bill and headed back up the hill. We explored the empty roads of a bizarre complex of holiday resorts behind the beach. It felt alien and a bit soul-less, compared to where we’d just been.

ULUWATU
Finding the coast road once more and I realised we had managed to divert past the beach where I had stayed 16 years ago. We kept on, knowing that we’ll come back another day and have a look.

We passed Padang Padang, another legendary wave and carried on all the way to Uluwatu.
Built into the cliffs, numerous cafes offered incredible views over this impressive setting. Stretched out across maybe 200-300 metres, four groups of surfers were catching what can only be described as massive waves. And It was a small day in comparison. ‘Everybody’s just so freaking good out there’ replied the guy in the carpark as he put his board back on his bike.

For now, I am strictly in research mode. Yes you can surf Uluwatu at any level of experience. Anyone can enter the water. It’s just that I’d rather get a bit more clued up. There’s a lot of water shifting around. Further, entry to the sea is through the infamous cave. And you have to get back in through the cave too. Miss your timing and you have a long paddle back around the currents. It’s a serious venue. Not too mention the reef sitting beneath the waves.

As we passed a monkey eating a banana we made our way to the top of the cliffs. Our zoom lens did us proud and we witnessed some incredible surfing.

Driving back, we found a dirt track that led to an empty beach. We floated in the sea as the sun went down. It was lush.
RETURNING HOME

Bumper to bumper the whole way. We stopped at a mini supermarket after an hour to down a red bull AND a coffee and then inhale a bumper pack of chilli tortillas. That lot sure got us home. Knackered we slumped onto the bed. The next morning we woke up with the sun as per normal. It was beach cleaning time.

 

JenderBender go to the mountains. (“It’s a bit chilly in vest and shorts”).

It was so good to get on the bike and go. We headed off around 8am, ponchos in hand. You never know quite what the weather’s going to do here. It’s our day off. Let’s go and find out.

Over the years, and in everywhere we’ve lived, we’ve found that we share a love for exploring. Quite simply, all we do is set off with a direction not a destination. We have a look at the map, get orientated and then go. We love it. Simple discoveries that may have been taken for granted become memorable discoveries. And decisions of which turn to take at a junction become full of intrigue. We can always retrace the way we came anyway.

So we set off from the coast and headed towards the centre of the island. That was it. The whole plan. As we motored through the first set of rice fields we caught sight of our first Balinese mountains. Neatly laid out across the horizon. They looked as if they each stood alone like a monument. Llittle did we know how far we would climb through them later on.

One of the beauties of the bike is that it’s even easier to stop and check things out. Far from whizzing along we found ourselves ‘pootling’ through these fascinating new landscapes. A roadside river with a small waterfall. The back gardens of houses sprawling over a hillside. The endless roadside temples and ornate balinese family homes. It was sunday, and every village was making huge temporary statues of Ogres! Guessing this is part of the upcoming new year festivities (which includes an entire day of silence for the whole island!) Huge 20- 30 foot statues were being made of gruesome Ogres. I can’t wait to see them in procession.

A pet love (is that the opposite of a pet hate?) of mine are the words and phrases you come across when travelling. I love to roll new unfamiliar words over and over. Guessing meanings and pronounciations, and laughing at what it could possilby mean if you took it literally in english. We saw a guy at a birthday party later on in the day wearing a t shirt with a cup of coffee on it. It simply read ‘Fuck Cups’. Love it.

We carried on toward the mountains and all of a sudden there were tourist buses everywhere. And massive fruits. I mean huge. Like the size of 3 year old kids. Seriously, google ‘giant jack fruit’ and you’ll see what I mean. Literally the size of 3 year old humans. They were everywhere. Stall after stall after stall of these gargantuan beasts. Slightly intimidated we kept on rolling by. If I find out what all the buses were there for I’ll let you know.

From then on the road bent uphill. And it didn’t stop. Our little moped handled the entire trip courageously as the long straight roads started folding into excessively steep hairpins.

And then came the view. Looking southeast, a wide expanse of lowlands. Two volcanic peaks in the distance to the left and the coastal islands of Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Penida straight ahead. It was hazy and the air temperature was starting to get very fresh too. Time to switch from vest to t-shirt. It wasn’t yet time to double up my layers.

APEX

Switching to downhill is always a strange experience after a consistent climb. The wheels roll freely, there is an absence of engagement in the engine and everything gets quieter. This vacuum was soon replaced with an instant heavy downpour. It was time for a break. The ponchos can wait. We saw a sign for a farm/restaurant up a track. It turned out to be incredible.

The restaurant was a wooden structure that jutted out over a playground with a wide view of a lake beneath a mountain. All around were trees, tall bamboo and small huts. It was proper junglistic.

There was even, to our amusement, a birthday party in full swing. The MC was rocking the party beats and the crowd were loving it. In a post lunch digestive haze (best chips so far in Bali!) I suddenly jogged into cognition: I know this tune! It was only one of the first keyboard pieces I learnt to play a couple of years ago. So that’s how it’s meant to sound. It’s called Sakura which means cherry blossom in Japanese. Cherry Blossom is one of Jen’s absolute favourite things…..

We wandered the orchid garden, Jen got attacked by a massive turkey, (no really, we were beating it off with our bags and we had to be rescued!) We found Buddha statues throughout the grounds and then a beautiful nest of yurts that were big enough to accomodate a lot of people. It would be an epic place to have a party. Even a wedding. We called the place Bali Matara as it struck parallels with our wedding venue back in England.

More Buses

Back out onto the road and within 5 minutes another congregation of buses appears. We roll past slowly, eyes wide, what’s it all about? The flash of a sign for a water temple. Looks pretty cool. Let’s do it.

Western Superstars

‘He’s my husband’, Jen replied. ‘Wow!’ Came the reply. We laughed as we remembered that now we too were part of the tourist attraction. By now I imagine we are all over Indo facebook 🙂

The Lake and the Temple

A badass temple sits in the lake just off the shore. It’s a beauty, with many ‘meru’s’ or layers of roofs stacked high. I think this indicates the level of spiritual importance. This is one of the lakes that drains into the irrigation channels of the island. I’d say that’s pretty sacred. The heavy black clouds that darted instantly over the adjacent mountain only added to the ambiance.

The Homeward Bungee

We decided to head back towards home. Retracing our tracks down the mountain would be fine. Still a new experience. A quick check on the map showed a possible new route that would lead us back toward a main road on the west of the island. It was 2:30pm loads of time before it gets dark. Let’s do it!

There is a completely different experience between heading away from, and heading towards home. That instant fear that the fun is coming to an end can only be played with through distractions. We took lots of little detours to delay the imminent return home. This IS our day off after all!

The change of direction was amplified by the mountains. The persistent effort of gaining height into the mountains was now completely inverted. It was like the mountains couldn’t wait to get rid of us. Now the breaks on the bike became a constant necessity as these smaller back roads warped and weaved down mega inclines. I am glad its not raining right now.

The quietude and the views all made it worth it. Breathe it in. Smile it out.

We wound down the back roads through villages of open mouthed and then spontaneously-happy-to-see-us locals.

Tanah Lot

The roads got bigger, the houses denser. We followed the main routes toward Tanah Lot, the well photographed island temple just 30 minutes north of our house.

We heard it was touristic and they were right. Maybe luckily it was cloudy and there would not be the epic sunset that this place is famous for. It was beautiful. And busy. Our second ‘tourist attraction’ of the day started to weigh heavily. After being whipped along the conveyor belt pathways, we took a back seat to gather our rapidly fraying patience and goodwill.

Spirits in tact we recalibrated our raison d’etres and were able to enjoy it more. Enjoy the crowds. Enjoy the hanging bat with his lil’ cock and balls hanging perfectly for all to see. Enjoy finding out what Luwak Coffee is. (No thanks!) Enjoy watching the big python (from a distance).

We had a quiet beer overlooking the temple as the sky darkened and the crowds dispersed. A short ride home, some local food and an epic video call to Sarah Boo. I love my adventure days.

 

A letter for Lilian – it’s her funeral today.

I am writing as an urge, an expression. Not out of guilt or fear, or anything that may usually compel me in to action. Quite the opposite. Peace was involved.

In the past two weeks, My grandmother in law, Lilian Blackshaw, passed on. Today is her funeral. I am sat next to her granddaughter on the other side of the world, as other relatives and friends are en route to gather together in a day of remembrance. As I sit here, it would be easier to be there, to be with everyone. As it stands, with 8 hours to go and in today’s current age, we would only get to middle east by the time the funeral started. Okay so we might make the end of the wake. Maybe you’ve got an inkling that that is not my point.

We are here alone. So what can I do.

Firstly, I can take care of Jen. We can talk and commemorate Lilian and her life, share our memories and honour her existence. We are about to finish work for the day and indeed this is what tonight will be about.

The question is: How do we honour her? How do we honour all those that passed before us? This is a question that interests me because it requires an active answer. Even if that is an active thought rather than action. It is still an activity. Something to do. An hour ago I took a break from my computer and compulsively got my yoga mat out and did some badass yoga. Some heavy breathing, rapid movement, body fizzing yoga. Some call it Kundalini. As I sat there at the end, body rippling and deepening into something of a rapture I answered my question. I honoured Lilian. I am at peace with her. To me, she smiles.

What happened then? Let me try to offer a little bit of detail. Posing myself a question is all about timing. The same question asked at different times in different ways will get different responses. Simple stuff. As I asked myself ‘how am I going to honour Lilian’ when I was at the end of my yoga session, I found an answer that I would not get at other times of the day, during other activities.

As my process of thinking is non-linear and most of this happened instantaneously, it provides a challenge to write things out in order. For the sake of grace, I will do my best.

The Indonesians that I live amongst instantly came to mind. I thought about their connection with their ancestors. They deify them. They turn them into their gods. How would that work for me?

A vision and a feeling of her movement into nature. And the spirit, her spirit being everywhere in everything. I can choose to remember Lilian. I can choose to see her everywhere. And in the same breath I can choose to forget her. This is a handy skill to have at certain times. This is not one of them.

For me, Lilian did not simply leave. She passed on and joined the others who were here before us. And you guessed it, for this strategy of belief that I’m figuring out; all of us will join her one day in the future.

I saw a vision (you can read: I imagined) that she went and gathered with our other ancestors. She was smiling, naturally. The wind blew through the trees and I was aware of the universal existence of nature. Everything is connected. The timing of the experience worked. I don’t think my answer would be the same on a scaffolding shift.

Lilian was a success. Everyone is. Lilian birthed, nurtured and protected a family that flourished. Even if she hadn’t she would have been a success. But she did. And this is what we will remember. We will talk of the stories and memories that defined her character, her individuality. We will sigh at the gap she leaves between those of us that are here, and it will bring us closer. In more ways than just location.

In short, to me now, Lilian is in the realm of spirit. Aha! I remember what happened just before this question came up. Deep in meditation I realised that I had neglected the possibility that my spirit can keep on growing. ‘He of big spirits’. The language, the visions and the accompanying feelings had all escaped me up to that point. A conflict of daily grind and stress, casually mapping over what for this instant gladly became exposed. And now, as I recall it is these are the very challenges that triggered this yoga session in the first place. These very stresses that I ponder during meditation in an effort to make them easier. How can I handle this differently. How can I celebrate, honour and enjoy every part of my life, beyond the toils, emotions and dramas that will always occupy the surfaces of my life. Yes, I can be of bigger spirit. ‘A highly spirited individual’. And fuck! Now that doesn’t even sound religious to me. Just Straight Badass.

Thank you Lilian. Thank you for being part of my life and thank you for helping create this wonderful lady sat beside me and the rest of her beautiful family. I could thank your ancestors too and all the way back. I could thank the stars and what not. All the way until I exhausted my imagination. For now though, the focus is on you. Yes you are connected to the bigger picture. We all are. For now, the focus is on you. Play on in spirit and we’ll remember you. And you’re cheeky smile. I’m going to go and get a whisky.

Garden Giants

First day of sun in a week and all the nature turns up. It’s Bee day at the web. 10 and counting so far. Still haven’t named our resident spider but she’s a personality. She’s going out with a guy who, at a conservative estimate is at least 50 times smaller than she is. We can’t work it out. Either she’s a bully or he’s a feeder. Our flatmate reckons he forged his Tinder profile pic.  She’s a big web builder, one of the best in  the industry according to wikipedia. This morning’s highlight was watching her bloke try and score some of the bounty. As these crazy Bees are literally diving into her web it was almost as if they thought they were going to get another go. Like those fairground attractions when you bounce up onto a velcro wall in a fluffy suit. Sorry guys, you only get one go on this one. As for the husband, well she was literally booting him away with her big ‘flicky’ feet as he tried to get some of that wonderful bee juice that she was sucking on.

A few metres to the right and there’s a snail parading across the outdoor shower. I’ve never seen anyone wear Grey so well.

 

It’s raining so we’re going to make Hot Sauce and Casa Melon Cocktails!

Growing up in England, Jen and I are skilled at rainy day fun.  We are in our element here in Bali cos it been raining all day and night. Checking the satellites and weather charts just shows more of the same. Ain’t no sunshine coming our way. On the bright side we haven’t spent any money on sun lotion for about 3 weeks now. Every cloud.

Last night we had one of them rather fun evenings where you’ve got bugger all food in, but just enough to whip something up. Real life ready steady cook. Gin on its own is rank. Whizz up a watermelon and you’ve got this alcoholic sherbert dip dap esque cocktail bonanza. All Jen’s idea.

How hot are those chillis then?

We go to the local market every other day. Our staples are ‘Bawans’ – Onions, Corn on the cob, ‘Buncis’ – green beans, ‘Wortels’ – Carrots, and Tempeh, (we steam/dry fry it in Soy- my new favourite thing).

And there’s always this HUMONGOUS basket of mixed chilli’s sat right next to the till. Everyone’s getting bags of the things. Apart from us. Until now. There’s a threshold for everything and here we now find ourselves with a huge bag of chillis.

Having never made hot sauce before, a quick google and we find the simplest recipe.

Fry the chillis with garlic and salt. Add a load of water, reduce it down. Leave it to cool. Add a load of apple vinegar and whizz it up. Job’s a good ‘un.

Check the photos out, I wasn’t sure about the colour, plus you’re meant to leave it for 2 weeks in the fridge. We had it on our rice for lunch and you know what. It is Badass! Yeah, probably actually Badass……

So far in Indo, all we’ve found are the thicker, gloopy hot sauces. There good but I miss Franks, (please tell me you know Franks!) You can get tabasco in the supermarkets but my tabasco days have passed me by. I think what works with this is the apple vinegar. It’s fruity, acidic and its got a ‘good heat’. Jen and I both went back for more which meant it didn’t ruin our taste buds, or the rest of our meal.

The rains eased off for the past 3 hours and it’s gone dark. The lizards are having a field day above our heads, catching flies attracted to the ceiling lights. The hot sauce sits quietly in the fridge, perhaps slowly plotting its maturation (and our demise)…….