Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Fear and Loathing in Bali - Part I

The first installment of a multi-part series, chronicling a recent surf trip to Indo. No sponsors, no pros, no boat trips. Just 5 mates, 10 days, 6 days off work, 15 boards, 1 giant swell, and enough Bintang to ensure any other numbers cited in this tale are purely estimation.

May 26th, 2004
Huntington Beach

So, the trip is looming and the news is big.

BIG.

A rather huge swell is plowing through the Indian Ocean and is expected to UNLOAD on Bali the day we arrive.

Fuck.

The waves in Indo already make me nervous...now I gotta deal with double overhead ("up to 18 feet" says Surfline) Uluwatu??? Fuck me.

I WAS planning on bringing two 6'6"s...a skinnier one with lots of rocker, and a thicker, fatter, wider one (for thicker, fatter, wider surfers, like me). But now it's the day before the trip and I'm panicked. Do I go out and buy a mini-gun? Do I buy a 3 board bag on top of that? Will I charge big Ulu even if I have the board?

So, Glenn shows up the night we're supposed to leave and, of course, I need his trained eyes to evaluate any potential purchase, so I drag him to 5 surf shops, including the Frog House, Chuck Dent, and every surf emporium in HB. I end up at Jack's, buying a 6'10" Aloha rounded-pin mini-gun, as well as the 3 board bag coffin on wheels.

Six hundo and I haven't even left the country yet. As added insult to injury, the cool/tough/tatted-up guy behind the counter tosses in a free bar of wax.

ONE BAR.

Either Jack's doesn't have to play that game, or I just got ranked on the Cool Guy Ladder somewhere between Wilbur Kookmeyer and that Arabic guy in the water last week wearing the orange spring suit and booties.

Of note, Keith reminds me that I specifically told him NOT to buy a board bag on wheels because "board bags on wheels are fucking gay" (I don't remember saying that, but Keith learns a valuable lesson that day which is - don't ever take surf gear advice from a guy who thinks the solution to dings is to buy new boards).

Maybe I didn't even deserve that one bar of wax.

Anyhow, we've got a red eye out of LAX at about 1 AM, so at around 10:30 we pile into Glenn's Toyota truck, which is the only vehicle that can hold all the boards. This is actually quite funny because my wife is driving us, and the idea of her behind the wheel of a beat-up black Toyota truck - with a stick shift - is a bit like envisioning a tatted-up skinhead HB tweaker behind the wheel of a white Mercedes convertible.

Which, come to think of it, I do occasionally see.

Luckily we got to really enjoy this odd pairing, with her at the airport curb trying to drive away after dropping us off. She keeps stalling and this cop is yelling at her to get moving. The more he yells, the more she panics. Finally he pulls out his ticket book and is pretending to write her a ticket as she's hiccuping away from the curb, Glenn's truck dry-heaving back and forth.

Bye, honey.

May 27th, 2004
LAX

If you've ever been to the Tom Bradley International Terminal at LAX then you know that once you step foot inside, you've basically gotten a head start on your overseas vacationing. It's pretty much total chaos...and 3rd world-esque chaos at that. You've got entire families from Mexico wandering around, sketchy looking dudes from the Philippines with piles of television sized cardboard boxes, all taped up with complicated looking addresses in Manila scrawled on them in that slightly foreign handwriting style. You've got smelly Euro kids looking stoned and bored, sitting indian style in some corner, reading paperbacks and listening to their Discman players.

The only thing missing is the fog of cigarette smoke that fills most buildings outside of the US, creating its own damp, hazy, mini-atmosphere. Politeness, as well as the American definition of "personal space", also gets replaced with pushiness and large-scale huddling. Heaps of huddling, which is a bitch when you're wheeling around an 8 foot long bag on two tiny wheels.

Speaking of which, few quick thoughts on the triple board bags with wheels...

- You still have to "carry" a large percentage of the weight when pulling.
- Has a tendency to tip over.
- Very difficult to navigate in tight areas or crowded places.

Bottom line: Great idea but needs more work.

So, in the amount of time it takes me to drive to John Wayne, go through security, get a coffee, and fly to San Francisco, catch the shuttle and pick up my Buick Rendezvous rental, we manage to check in, get our bags scanned and checked for explosives, Anthrax and orange springsuits, and make it upstairs for a few beers.

After that, as anyone who regularly travels internationally can attest to, it's all a blur.

Getting on the plane. Falling asleep. Drifting in and out of consciousness. Restless leg syndrome. Half-hearted picking at oddball meals only China Airlines could dream up. Fading in and out of forgettable movies...I think there were 5 or 6 on this flight. Waking up partially strangled by the headphones. More weird food.

(This is actually more than I usually remember. The last time I flew to Asia, I was so doped up on Valium that the only thing I recall is waking up over the Pacific with the plane practically being shaken to bits. I looked around at the white-knuckled people across the row, rubbing rosary beads and looking terrified, and simply smiled at my equally doped-up wife snoozing next to me and passed back out.)

May 28th, 2004
Taiwan

So, 12...13...14 hours later...we land in Taiwan. It's about 6 AM, local time.

And there, at one of the little cafeteria style restaurants, are Keith, Web and Beach...already on Kirin round 2. They'd flown concurrently from SFO and arrived only 15 minutes before us.

Turns out they'd already visited every other eatery in the terminal and had just settled down in some empty chairs when the folding security doors peeled back for its 6 AM opening and a tiny woman asked if they'd care for something to eat.

"3 beers, please."

Granted, the drunken text messages I'd received from Keith & co. while still at LAX should have been a solid indication of things to come, but this was definitely the official kickoff.

Too confused and stiff to even be jet-lagged yet, I sat down with my mates, thousands of miles from home, on a 10 day hall pass, and, at 6 AM, celebrated the moment as we usually do when unleashed upon each other.

We ordered 12 rounds of beers.

By the time we all boarded the flight to Denpasar together, we were officially ugly Americans. The video cameras came unsheathed, the iPods came out, as did the singing.

The hippie 20-something backpacker couples looked annoyed and huddled in their seats, stewing in patchouli and North Face rain gear. The honeymooners on the other hand seemed inspired and we caught a bunch of them following suit and ordering beers. The Asians mostly ignored us.

The China Airlines stewardesses were, as always, unflappable, and brought us round after round with perfect smiles and request after request to "Prease enjoy."

We did. We "prease enjoyed" all the way to Bali.

May 28th, 2004
Denpasar, Bali

One of the cool things about Bali is that the airport runways are on these jetties that stick out into the ocean. So when you land or take off, you're seeing waves breaking on both sides of the plane - the aptly named "Airport Rights" and "Airport Lefts".

Strangely enough, as we landed we noticed the clouds and drizzle, but not much seemed to be breaking. A few waves feathering up at Airport Lefts, but certainly not the giant swells we'd been anticipating.

We made it through customs more or less intact. Our bro, Beach was bringing, of all things, a 10 pound sack of pinto beans to his friend, Robert who runs a Mexican restaurant near Bingin (plenty more on Robert later).

Anyhow, the Balinese officials see a lot of stuff every day, but I guess 10 pound sacks of pinto beans ain't one of 'em. They hassled him for close to half an hour, muttering stuff about "vegetation" and "taxes" and whatever else Balinese customs officials mutter when confronted with bags of pinto beans stuffed in surfboard bags.

Finally, in a move that was eerily reminiscent of our hundred or so forays into Mexico over the past 15 years, Beach slipped them a twomp and we were on our way.

"Import tax," he said.

"Expensive fucking pinto beans," we all said.

Web got hassled a bit for not having his paperwork filled out and then blew a gasket when a half dozen or so of the official "porters" carried his board bag 10 feet from one end of the customs counter to the other, and then demanded a half dozen tips. He slipped them what, in his jet-lagged, hungover, and unaccustomed state must have looked like a lot of dough - $1,000 Rupies - which is actually like 10 cents. They heckled him and, before he started throwing blows, we helped him grab his stuff and escorted him out the curb where the rest of the crew had been standing for 20 minutes.

Funny, no matter how many times you go to the 3rd world Tropics, it's always a bit of a shock when you step out of the airport. The heat, the humidity, the smells of exhaust, spices, and animals, and the sight of throngs of people milling about, trying to get in on the tourist action.

"Transport?"

"You need transport?"

"Come with me, I will take you to hotel."

"Let me help you with bags."

"You need change? You change with me...give you good rate."

It's always overwhelming...and yet kind of exhilarating. It's just so NOT home.

Already sweating, I find our driver amongst the crowd, and we pile the boards into the back of what looks like an old ice cream truck, painted completely black. The young guy, Wayan (not that it matters, they're all named either Wayan or Made) is going to drive the gear, while our main man, Made', is going to pile us into the air-conditioned van and drive the human cargo to the Uluwatu Resort.

"Big waves today," he tell us. "Veddy big."

Turns out he's right, and either what we saw at Airport Lefts was in between sets, or the swell was sheltered right there. Regardless, Ulu is pumping...that's the word we get on the way there.

Arriving at the "resort" we find that it's partially under construction (as is most of Bali...very similar to Baja). But it's literally right above Uluwatu, with stairs straight from the resort to the cave. The rooms are nice, with ocean views, and, well, we're still drunk and they've brought us tasty pineapple drinks and are already siphoning the money from our wallets.

Not that we care.

We're too busy standing on the cliff's edge watching dark gray mountains rumble landward, heavy offshore winds blowing huge plumes of spray as they unload on the reef. Only a handful of surfers dot the various lineups that make up Uluwatu.

Outside Corners looks huge and mushy and there's no one out. Temples is walled and closed out. Racetrack is, well, racing. All in all it's hard to tell how big it is, but now it's starting to rain and the sun is starting to set.

We're hungover, jet-lagged, still a bit drunk, tired, confused, and have a pile of bags full of unwaxed boards, unleashed, and un-skegged.

And we're just standing there, on the edge of the cliff, awkwardly clutching little pineapple cocktails with little umbrellas, staring at giant storm surf like squirrels on the side of the highway evaluating approaching 18 wheelers.

"Um, well, we better get out there before the sun sets."

Not even sure who said it. Does it even matter? It might have been Beach. It might have been Web. Hell, it might have been me.

Regardless, it was the dumbest thing said on the entire trip. And, of course, it's exactly what we did.

Right about then a double overhead set cracked the reef and the little dude who had come to fetch our little pineapple cocktail glasses said, "Veddy heavy waves."

Veddy, veddy fucking heavy.