We hopped off the bus and onto the busy streets of Kuta in Bali as punters started to head out to the bars and clubs surrounding us. Everywhere we looked all we could see were westerners. The only locals seemed to be the street hustlers.
“Transport, Mister?” asked a local, motioning with two hands a rub ‘n’ tug gesture supposedly to mean a steering wheel.
Bazza grinned as he replied, “No, thanks. Don’t need a double hand job.”
I cracked up as the onslaught of suggestions rained on us like an overturned nasi goreng.
“No,” I replied with a friendly smile, trying to avoid wiping out entire shop stalls with my surf bag. “We’re just around the corner.”
“Rent motorbike, Mister?”
What? No, I just said, “We’re around the corner. We can walk.”
“No, I’d just like to get to my –”
“Happy ending, Mister?”
Happy end? “I’m happy enough –”
“Magic mushroom, Mister?”
“Thank you but no,” I have enough hallucinations with acid flashbacks.
“Ganja, Mister? Hashish?”
I can’t believe I’m saying, “No, really. Much appreciated.” I don’t wanna end up like Chappelle Corby in a Bali prison.
What are… You know what, I don’t even want to know why they look like tampons.
Via-what?!? “I’m all natural but thanks for lookin’ out.” That was a first.
Every time foot-hit-pavement we were stopped and shot at, from point blank, with the same questions from one end of the street to the other.
Then the souvenir shop vendors took their line of fire:
“Yes, boss? You come in my shop, boss. Yes, mate? Yes, bro?”
“I travel light,” I said, pushing through the crowd with my board.
I stared at the vendor through the dark lenses of the ones I got in Kupang. “I’m wearing a pair.”
“And deprive the world of my curls?” I think not, thank you very much.
I sighed, breathed in deeply, smiled, thanked the guy and followed Baz down the alleyway to look for a place to stay for the night and perhaps the rest of the week.
“Bougainville Guesthouse,” I read the poster on the wall directing to the place of accommodation. “Free Wifi, pool, hot shower, air-con, fan, breakfast. From $15. Baz,” I called out and we headed towards the peach-coloured building.
Greeted by a friendly local, he walked us to one of the rooms, passing a small swimming pool. The room itself was pretty bare. Two single beds, a closet, a large bathroom with shower and a western flushing toilet. Between the two of us it would cost $7.5 each.
“I’m sold,” Baz said even though the wifi didn’t work and the term ‘hot shower’ referred to the luke-warm water from the tap – not that you needed a hot shower anywhere in South East Asia.
I agreed. After a quick luke-warm wash, we hit the packed streets, full of Aussies from the Bogan species along with Germans and French. We plowed through the onslaught of questions and made it to Sky Garden, recommended to us as the place to go in Kuta by Pablo back on Lombok. We passed the security search and climbed up the five stories to the top level for the 21:00-22:00 free drinks.
We had arrived in Bali that morning after being on the road from 6 AM. We caught the $4 ferry barge from Lembar, Lombok where Pablo and Brian O’Brian were kind enough to drive us the two-hour drive to the port.
Six hours later, after watching White House Down with Jamie Fox and Channing Tataum on the LG wall-mounted flat screen, located above the cupboards housing the lifejackets, we arrived in Padang, Bali at about 13:00.
The bus to Kuta was leaving at 16:30 so we sat at a café with wifi, had lunch, surfed the web and then threw our gear onto the bus (I had to pay an extra $1.5 for the surfboard). The backpackers on board were hanging on to our every word, wide-eyed as we told our story of going around the world without flying, helping out various organisations as we went along.
I noticed that the roads in Bali had actual lanes, some even turning into a 4-lane highway.
“We’re not in Kansas anymore, Baz,” I said, astounded to see luxury cars like BMW, VW and Mercedes.
The full moon rose as we hit Kuta’s busy streets, passing brand shops like Ripcurl, Reef, Billabong, Nike, Zara, Dolce & Gabana, countless bars and clubs with lights, smoke and loud music blasting out to the crowded streets. There were KFC, McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, Boost, Flapjaks, resorts galore. And about eight Starbuck’s Coffee (for comparison, Melbourne only has one).
I noticed that almost every souvenir store was selling (among the hats and sunnies) key rings, bottle openers and free-standing statuettes – all in the shape of penises.
“What’s with all the cocks?” I wondered aloud.
Sky Garden, just two venues down from the Bali bombings of 2002, played the cheesiest of cheesy pop auto-tune music although the DJ (who looked like DJ Eyeball Paul from Kerry and Perry Go Large) had some classic hip hop moments.
He also looked like the poster boy as to why you shouldn’t take illicit drugs.
Shisha pipes were being smoked all around as go-go dancers danced on the bars and tables along with masked fire twirlers performing for the crowd.
The free drinks were a fluorescent choice of blue, orange and yellow, all tasting like battery acid and just as strong.
I’ve had moonshine with more flavour.
By 23:00 we figured we’d try the other recommended venue, Alley Cats. On the street we asked a French girl where we could find it.
“It’s closed. We go to the reggae bar. Come,” and she latched onto my arm, her friend leading us a few bars down.
We hit a place just off the main street called Apache Bar. We entered what appeared to be a large wedding-like reception hall with wood floors, wood walls and wood stalls. The 7-piece reggae band stood on a huge wooden stage, taking up the entire right-side of the wooden venue. They were playing under huge paintings of Bob Marley, playing covers of the reggae king’s greatest songs. The whole place looked like a shrine to the rasta man.
Between sets the house DJ played more reggae songs and even threw in Peter Andre’s ‘Mysterious Girl’ (which destroyed what little brain cells I had left by lodging itself in my head for the remainder of my time in Bali).
By 01:00 we were making our way back to the guesthouse, smiling politely to the various prostitutes, declining their propositions. Neither Baz nor I support the sex trade – also known as slavery – and I’ll never pay for it.
I summed up that Kuta may just be the Vegas of Indonesia – minus the casinos.
And strip clubs.
We had found a nearby Warung, a small eatery, in a side alley that served local food at local prices. A bowl of rice, a piece of chicken, egg, tempura, steamed yam leaves and boiled green beans with ass-burning, gonna-feel-that-in-the-morning chilli costing no more than $2.
With Kuta Beach just a 10-minute walk down the alleyway, I unsheathed my surfboard and with Baz, we headed down to see if at least the beaches might be clean enough for a swim and a surf.
Obviously, this guy doesn’t bowl, I thought as I politely said, “No,” to his offer of a motorbike with a surf rack.
Have these people no concept of walking?
The beach, with beige-coloured sand, was empty of rubbish but full of vendors trying to sell, “Bintang, Mister?”
“Too early, bro,” I grinned.
“Ice cream, Mister?”
“Really, I’m good.”
Getting de ja vu.
“Rent surfboard, Mister?”
I stopped and stared. I mean, sure, I was only carrying a 6”0 board but was it that small that he just offered me to rent a fucking surfboard?
While Baz baked in the sun, I hit the water and caught a few 2-foot waves gently breaking close to shore, closing out – over sand. I chatted with Thea as we waited for waves. She was a local surf instructor working for the Hard Rock Hotel.
“Free surf lessons on Sunday,” she informed, asking me to spread the word.
After a couple of hours of wave-catching through the crowded surf, Baz and I walked back to the guesthouse and passed the next few days in that same routine up until the day before Bazza’s birthday when the waves started to pick up to 3-foot and I spent 5-hours in the water, watching beginners catching their first waves, remembering that magical feeling of elevation when I caught my first ride almost 3-years ago.
I caught some 3-foot rides, shooing off local drop-ins and having to duck-dive deep when a newbie lost control of his board and headed straight for me. I felt my right leg, still recovering from the deep cuts of the Lombok reefs, getting sandwiched between my board and his.
I winced as I came up for air.
“Jesus! I didn’t see you. Are you alright? Oh my God, I didn’t see you. I’m really sorry –”
“Bro,” I almost had to slap him back to reason. “All good. It happens. I’m fine, really. I saw ya and ducked. All good, seriously. Go catch some waves.” Just not near me.
Baz took advantage of Thea’s offer for a free surf ride and hung out with the guys giving free lessons. We invited everyone we met to his birthday bash titled, Big Bad Bazza’s Bonkers Bali Birthday Bash.
“Tomorrow night at Alley Cats,” we informed them. “$1.5 for ‘double-double’,” a local energy drink with arak, the local name for local vodka.
As we left the beach we noticed that a large crowd had gathered further ahead. We approached with curiosity and were surprised to discover hundreds of baby sea turtles in large buckets.
“We have a program ,” he explained, “where we release baby sea turtles back into the water with a Hindu ceremony. People can buy a turtle for $10 and then release it into the water.”
Baz only had a dollar on him and offered it to the girls handing out the turtles who gave us one to release.
“Tim,” Baz named it as we joined the crowd by the water, releasing the young ones.
“What’s their rate of survival?” I asked the man in charge.
“Well, today we release 500 turtles but only 10% will survive.”
“That’s only 50 turtles,” exclaimed Baz.
“It’s not easy being a turtle,” I nodded grimly.
Bazza’s day of birth kicked off with a few hours surfing and then a full body massage for just $5. We went to Sky Garden to take advantage of the $5 All-you-can-eat BBQ buffet including free beers from 17:00-18:00.
We slammed down three Bintangs each in fifteen minutes and then piled on the food, covering our plates with potato salad, coleslaw, mashed potato, steamed potato, pizza, lasagne, pasta, bolognese, chicken, steak, hamburger, seafood skewers and followed up with a dessert of tarts and fresh watermelon and a yellow fruit which had me excited thinking it was pineapple from a distance but turned out to be a disappointing rockmelon.
We continued to chug down the beers and just after 19:00 we made our fashionably late entrance at Alley Cats.
The place was empty save for an American drowning his sorrows in his drink at the bar. We sat beside him and cheered him up, explaining our way of travels as he referred to women as “Psycho killers,” and I responded with, “Qes qe ce?” he bought Baz a birthday drink and for me an appreciation drink for knowing who Talking Heads were.
He told us a bit of his past, how he used to be a surfer on the US national surf team, competing with the likes of former world champion Tom Curren before switching to cycling and riding with Lance Armstrong back when Lance still had two balls.
Two German girls we had met the day before showed up and we played a few rounds of pool on the free pool table. Then the rest of the invitees arrived. Guests from the guesthouse where we were staying, Thea and the surf crew and other friends they had brought as the place began to fill up with punters, mostly Aussies and other westerners.
Timing it right, I approached the table behind us and asked them to sing ‘Happy Brithday’ for Bazz. Before I knew it, the whole venue was screaming at the top of their lungs, properly kicking off the night.
At around 23:00 we made our way to Apache Bar for a night of reggae. The band was about to perform their second set as ‘Mysterious Girl’ pumped the crowd. I slipped the lead singer (who had the fattest, longest single dreadlock I had ever seen, just skimming above the floor) a note, ‘Happy Birthday, Bazza’.
I was just expecting a shout-out rather than the slowest reggae version of ‘Happy Birthday’ which had the packed place cheering and surrounding Baz who was grinning cheek-to-cheek. We danced for a few hours until I couldn’t take the reggae beat any more.
I stepped outside to breath in the pungent air of sin that was Kuta, Bali. I hit various venues just to listen to music that wasn’t reggae, watching a cover band play rock songs, declining the offer of motorbikes, taxis, drugs and prostitutes.
As I yawned and made my way back to the guesthouse, I bumped into Baz and we headed out to another venue, dancing with some local girls. As the streets wrapped up their wares at around 03:00, we called it a night.