Sundays in Uluwatu center around a party at Single Fin, a bar with a panoramic cliff view of the impressive and punishing surf break below. I woke up with the sun around 6, had my oatmeal breakfast with dried jackfruit, and drove my moped from Bingin beach to grab a coffee at that evening’s designated party spot. It’s funny how watching the waves from far above while sipping coffee makes them seem so friendly and approachable. After the last crunchy sip of my Bali coffee, another name for unfiltered cowboy coffee, I rented a board and descended the cliff to the narrow cave like access point to the reef break. As I paddled out into the channel the raw power of the ocean current pulling me away from my path was a reminder of how deceiving the placid appearance from restaurant above had been. Huffing and puffing I arrived in the group of surfers scattered along the surf break to try my luck. These waves were unquestionably larger than those in Bingin and Kuta. After several failed attempts or bails to yield to surfers with the right of way I managed to drop in on a medium size wave and briefly ride along the face before ungracefully eating shit.
When a decent wave breaks on you it forces you down and then rolls along almost allowing you to reach the surface before forcing you down once more. If you haven’t taken a deep breath and mentally prepared for it, that second, unanticipated trip to the bottom can be disconcerting to say the least. Not to be overly dramatic but to be in the ocean is to be surrounded by potential death. On land if you get knocked out or tangled up you can still breathe, in the water if you can’t get your face to the sweet, life-giving air death is eagerly waiting in the wings.
I dislike being publically mediocre at stuff but that is the only way to improve at surfing since finding a decent wave to practice on without others around is nearly impossible. As I paddled back out another rookie surfer dropped in directly at me. I paddled as hard as I could towards the peak of the wave to avoid him and almost made it but instead of cutting along the left break he came uncontrolled directly down the face of the wave. In the last second I pulled my leg away just as his fins sliced into my board. I felt the impact as the wave gave me the washing machine treatment. Thankfully I was unscathed but my board had a significant gash it it. Holy shit, if that had been my leg I’d be heading to the hospital for sure. Enough for one day. I paddled in and barely made it back to the cave as the current threatened to pull me past the narrow opening to the far side of the channel where waves were crashing against a sharp rock wall. My shoulders were screaming with the lactic acid as I dismounted my board in the shallow protected cove. I can see why sailors in the old days used to kiss land when they made it safely ashore. I bit off more than I could chew that time.
I brought the board back with a shamed, apologetic expression on my face like a dog that tore up the garbage can in its owner’s absence. The friendly old man running the board rental directed me to the ding repair shop next door to right the wrong. The guy that hit me split the cost of the repair and I accepted the old man’s peace offering of gross, dry, chew tobacco as we waited for the board to get fixed.
That evening I had dinner and a few beers at the Single Fin with other travelers from the UK, US, and Australia that I struck up conversation with. It was mesmerizing to watch the local surfers rip down the waves reflecting the setting sun from the safety of our bar stools.
I set an alarm for 5am to get on the road at sunset in hopes of beating the insane crowds on the main roads for my moped journey up to the the central Bali town of Ubud. I upgraded my navigation game with a gopro mount and iphone clamp next to my speedometer so that I could view my route with google maps as I drove. Without a coastline, Ubud makes its mark by being a cultural center defined by chilled out vibes, temples, and traditional architecture.
The Yoga Barn is the creme de la creme of Yoga studios, nestled in sprawling tropical gardens with two floors of open air thatched hut mansion to soak up while practicing alongside other travelers seeking enlightenment. So as soon as I got settled into my lodging, a homestay style compound with six bungalow set back from the main drag, I ventured over to line up a vinyasa flow yoga session. It didn’t start for a few hours so I walked through the monkey forest, a mandatory tourist trap filled with primates monkeying around for the amused masses before having an afternoon coffee while partially submerged at Folk Pool and Gardens.
The next day I rode along the back roads out of Ubud up to the water temple of Pura Tirta Empul, where Balinese Hindus go for ritual purification. The place has a Indiana Jones, Temple of Doom feel to it minus the doom. All of the old stone architecture has moss growing on it and incense wafts continuously from countless small offerings laid upon plates woven out of palms. The locals are very welcoming and happy to share their religious customs with you. As you enter the holy areas visitors are given two sarongs, one to wear dry while walking the temples and a second one to don while taking part in the water purification rituals. I’m not a religious person but I couldn’t help but get swept up in the effortless spirituality of the place.
On the drive back down from the temple I noticed a large group of people congregating under an open air pavilion next to the road and pulled over to investigate. The cultural juxtaposition couldn’t have been much starker. Still on a spiritual high, I had just waltzed into a cockfighting event with other gambling opportunities scattered about. Now I’m no proponent of animal cruelty but I do advocate taking part in cultural experiences of all sorts, even if they involve chickens with three inch razor blades tied to their legs. This didn’t seem to be a spot for foreigners since I was the only white person there, so English wasn’t going to get me too far. I tried to put 50,000 rupiah on the cock closest to me by waving money around like everyone else and shouting incomprehensibly into the cacophony. I saw a guy collecting money and we both spoke our own languages and gesticulated until it became clear that he wanted to bet on the same bird. Having no idea how to size up a winner I agreed to take the other rooster and I handed him 50k. The birds fluttered around, striking at each other and the crowd moved fluidly to create a circle around them as they fought as might happen with a street fight. When both birds were taken apart it was unclear to me which one had won, until the guy I bet with squeezed my arm and pressed 100,000 rupiah note into my hand. I nodded my thanks and plopped down at one of the food vendor stalls to enjoy my winnings.
Video Compilation: Southeast Asia (part 1)
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