My love-hate relationship with Bali

BLOG/ TRAVEL

Bali Impossibles ©thefreesurfer.com

This could easily be your own story. It could also just as easily be the story of a stranger you met the other night at Old Men’s, on top of Uluwatu cliff, or somewhere else on the island… Coming from different corners of the world and having our own destiny, many of us on this island share the same path for a while.

I left Switzerland, my home, in the beginning of 2005 to learn English in Australia. It was a fun five-month stint with new friends, too many Tooheys, and my first shortboard.

I’d planned to have one month in Bali before flying back home to my “normal life” in Switzerland, but once I arrived, I quickly learned how great (and cheap) life is on this island. The waves weren’t too bad either. I dove into Indonesia’s diverse culture and I fell in love with the place in many ways.

Benesari was my base, Bounty my camp for the night way more often than healthy, and Nasi Bungkus the chosen fuel for my body. I surfed up and down the west coast, and when the first rain started in September, I moved my search for waves over to the east coast. Coming from a colder climate filled with reserved people, it was liberating to spend time in a place where everyone seemed to be so interested, open, and talkative.

West Coast beauty

But at some point, I was just over it. No more “Hello Mister,” “Mau kumana?” “bla bla bla”…I had to leave.

On one hand, because my bank account was telling me I had to go home. But on the other hand, I felt it was time to say goodbye. Time to go home with no plans of ever coming back.

By this point, surfing had become an essential part of my life. I couldn’t imagine just leaving it all behind. Surfing had become more than a “been there, done that” kind of thing for me. I needed a way to make surfing a regular part of my life! But the painful truth was that home happened to be a 12-hour drive from the nearest decent wave.

I’d start to work in surf camps, eventually becoming a Surfcamp Manager, surf teacher, and guide. I’d gotten to know France, Portugal, and Morocco pretty well in that period. After that, I took my first big trips to Africa, back to Australia and then Latin America. Needless to say, I’d covered a lot of ground and came across a lot of waves.

But five years after my first round in Bali, a second Indo chapter unfolded for me. (That was actually on my way back from Australia once again!)

I was shocked how much it had changed in those five years. I can’t imagine how wildly different Bali must feel now to the people who came here in the 80s and 70s looking for untouched waves?! 

Benesari , Bali 2005 ©thefreesurfer.com
Jalan Benesari in 2005, when Naruki was already well known and trusted

Some of my favorite formerly secret spots close to Kuta were suddenly packed with 70 people each and every day. Luckily, I remembered that Indonesia has thousands of other islands waiting for me. So I set out for West Java, got a taste of Jakarta, and some of the waves around that corner of the archipelago.

I knew Indo had changed, but I also knew I could deal with it. A few more years passed and I had another chance to come back. I went to Nias and found some incredible places that are still intact like you’d imagine Bali once was. In fact, Bali had become more of a shopping stopover for me now. Even going out wasn’t what it used to be. But then again, maybe going out hadn’t really changed, but I was not the same person as I used to be? (We’re all getting old, don’t we?)

After traveling the world for 15 years it’s safe to say that Indonesia is still one of my favorite places! Coming back always sounds like a good plan. With thousands of islands, I still haven’t seen it all and never will!

And somehow, I always find myself making another stop in Bali.  I go back to some of the less famous places on the island and love them as much as I used to do. And there are still empty waves in between those places!

As much as I hate the traffic jams and madness on its overcrowded streets, as much as I’m over certain parts of life there, I just can’t stay away. I love how people come from all over the world, hoping to start something for themselves here. I love how people feel inspired and brave enough to go their own way and Bali is where they choose to explore that own way. Whatever that might be?

I love how people you meet for only a few minutes will remember your name weeks later. I love how people are genuinely curious about where you’re from and aren’t afraid of foreigners – something I see in too many other countries, unfortunately. I love how it’s still possible to drive to the less touristy parts of the island and find kids running after you, yelling ”Bule, bule!” I love the restaurants and the intense taste of the local fruits. And I love how the local people found a way to combine their own culture with tourism in a balanced way.

Balangan , Bali  ©thefreesurfer.com
Local people before a ceremony in Balangan, while perfect waves roll in behind them

And of course, every time I go back and find myself one of those waves, I’m instantly reminded of what brought me (and many other people) to Bali in the first place. For better or worse, I also have to remind myself that all those crazy traffic jams and the crowded lineups are a product of all the travelers like myself, making Bali what it’s become today.

But you know what? It’s still always nice to be back in Bali. Every time.

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