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  • Writer's picturevanlafaxine

week 53, 54: bali, indonesia


bill: indonesia feels a lot more like vietnam than thailand. chaotic. developing. traffic. noise. scooters. very few sidewalks. a nation of islands, indonesia is composed of more than 17,000 islands along the indonesian archipelago. it is actually a huge country. it is actually the 4th most populous country in the world, and has one of the world's biggest economies, but despite this the state of development is still on the lower side overall. the difference in bali is that unlike vietnam, due to insane levels of tourism, bali is rapidly gentrifying. there is no place where this is more apparent than canngu, my home for the next week.

like many other places in asia, the roads are insane, but in their own indonesian way. the roads in canngu are approximately 1.5 lanes wide, no sidewalks, but do have 2 lane traffic. there are a lot of scooters, but also a lot of cars, which means that cars and trucks are constantly having to negotiate how to pass by each other on these narrow roads, usually coming to a full stop and squeezing by centimetres, or driving fully off the road onto the sidewalk (if there is one), jungle, or even into storefronts. there are no traffic lights. you just bully your way into intersections. people die all the time from driving scooters without helmets. the easiest way to get around is to get a gojek, basically a scooter uber, but every time i do, i am certain that i am going to die. even walking down the road, because the roads are so narrow, cars regularly pass by at 30km/h literal centimetres from you, ruffling your clothing as they pass.

the gentrification here is insane. the worst i have ever seen. it is either rice fields or vacation villas, hole in the wall shops or multimillion dollar yoga school complexes. the infrastructure can't keep up, the local population can't keep up. income disparity here is the most pronounced that i have seen in all of asia, there are million dollar condos literally right next to plywood shacks. throughout pretty much everywhere else we have been in asia, i have not seen this level of poverty.

classic canngu: full sleeve steroid plastic surgery influencer lady, local guy on a scooter, tourists, corrugated steel, litter, and the "atlas super club"

i did experience some significant culture shock on my arrival to bali. and not from the indonesians; they are great, hilarious, lovely people. no, it was that bali is absolutely chalk full of this one specific kind of guy: 6'3, british, full sleeve tattoos, full neck tattoos, big gold chain, shirtless, 275 pounds of steroid rage and a ufc subscription. i didn't even know these guys really existed in large numbers, but in bali they are everywhere. i was wondering why this exact type of person is so prevalent here, until one day i was at the pharmacy buying sunscreen and i saw a guy buying a 3 foot tall stack of steroids. seems like there are all the douchebag creature comforts easily accessible: over the counter steroids, cheap tattoo shops, gyms, free tanning, and mega beach clubs. i thought bali was going to be more yoga influencer smoothie bowl avocado people, and for sure they are here, but the douchebags out number them 20:1.

because of the narrow roads plus the volume of cars plus antiquated infrastructure, traffic here is insane. i have spent more time in cars in bali than anywhere else in asia. i spend an average of 2.5 hours per day in a vehicle, just sitting in traffic.  getting from the hostel to the beach is about 10km, but would routinely take 1.5 hours of just sitting still in dense, barely moving traffic.

classic bali gentrfication villa

there are also just a tonne of dutch people here. the dutch used to colonize indonesia, and it seems like in some way they still do. almost everyone at my surf camp was dutch. nice people, but very, very blunt. takes some getting used to.

new years eve traffic - not even enough space to walk

because of the sheer volumes of douchebags, yoga influencers, dutch people, and australian gentrifiers, canngu is a cultural wasteland. it is actually harder to find indonesian food than western food. i ate more tacos than rice. and the tacos are made with good intention but by someone who clearly has never eaten actual mexican food before in their life. all of the stores have been turned into upscale designer silk shirt stores where it costs a local's entire years salary to dress like a jersey shore cast member on vacation.

mie goreng from a shack restaurant (warung) on the beach; fried noodles with egg. super good.

the sun here is no joke. my hostel was full of stories of people getting 2nd degree burns from not applying sunscreen often enough while surfing. the flipside of this is that there is a relatively inelastic demand for sunscreen here, and the pharmacies know it, so sunscreen costs about $37 for a tiny tube. economics 101.

despite it being hard to find in canngu, indonesian food is insanely good. immensely flavourful. the curry sauces are absolutely loaded with spices, hot and otherwise, it probably has to be some of the most flavourful food i have had. then they serve it with sambals- chili and garlic sauces on the side, to bump up the spice and flavour even more. what is disappointing is that i don't think there is a single indonesian restaurant in ottawa, it seems nobody from here is looking to move away from the beach and the sun and go to the cold. hmm.

based off of all of this, i imagine you are thinking "it sounds like canngu really sucks, why would you go there?", and you would be right, it does suck. but the main reason i am here is to surf.  bali is one of the most premiere surfing destinations in the world, and canngu is one of the best surfing spots in all of bali. so it is worth tolerating all that comes along with that.

this dog's name is "goofy"

i have done a lot of surfing this year, but learning to surf is really, really hard, even more so when you are doing it on your own, so i came here to go to surf camp and get some real instruction.  i stayed at surf camp for a week, surfing almost everyday, getting video analysis, lessons, etc. but learning here is hard for one main reason:

the waves here are massive. normally i am pretty stoked when the surf report reads 0.6-0.9m, about waist high.  that has been most of the surfing we have been doing in mexico, california, and bc.  but here basically everyday the waves are 1.8-2m or more.  overhead. huge. there have been many days where it is barreling.  as has been pretty thoroughly established in the earlier sections of this blog, i am a baby.  getting on a wave that is towering over my head is terrifying.  the amount of force involved in a wave that big is massive, and it almost always punts me, throwing me for a spin cycle and holding me down underwater for what feels like forever (even 5 seconds is a long time when you can't breathe and you don't know where the surface is).

we had one small day, luckily that was the day the photographer was there, otherwise it would just be photos of me drowning

after watching me on the first day, the instructor said “you don’t belong in the beginner group, tomorrow you go with the advanced group”.  so the next morning i got up at 6am to go out to kedungu, a reef break up the coast.  i am normally used to surfing beach breaks, which are close to shore, shallow enough that you can still touch bottom sometimes, and not too big.  but kedungu is a whole other ballgame.  the first step is intentionally hopping in a rip current, paddling yourself probably 600m from shore to find the reef.  the people on the beach look like ants from this far out. reef is much more dangerous than sand, even touching it can cut you up really badly.  cover your head when you fall.  and the swells.  the swells are huge.  you paddle out to the outside (the place before the swells break into waves) and sit there as these massive 2m+ deep by 6m wide swells just roll under you.  then you hear the instructor yell “further out! further out! paddle! paddle!!”, and look back to see that an even bigger, humongous rogue wave is coming in, ready to break right on your head and drown you.  so you paddle as hard as you can to get further out past it, only making it about half of the time, the other half getting totally pummelled, losing your board, getting lost in the whitewash, tossed around like a ragdoll.  it had been about 45 minutes since i left the shore, and between the 600m paddle, the waiting, and the constant need to paddle in and out to dodge rogue waves, i was completely exhausted and i hadn’t even caught a wave yet.  then of course the those massive swells turn into waves which are also massive. it’s all super intimidating.  i caught one wave, rode it all the way back to shore and called it a day.  nope.  too big. the next day i went back to the beginner group to ride beach breaks. 

bayu is probably one of the best surfers i have ever seen in person

learning to surf is really hard.  i always thought since i grew up skateboarding, snowboarding, and wakeboarding that surfing would come easily. it's just another board, right? learning to snowboard took me half an hour, how hard can surfing be?  it turns out that surfing is a total other ballgame.  if you ever watch professional surf footage, you’ll see the best guys and girls in the world - turning.  back forth up and down the wave. snowboarding and skateboarding have become these insanely technical sports, meanwhile the best surf pros are - turning. just real good at turning a surfboard. 

no wetsuits here, only rashguards, the water is about 30c

surf camp is pretty cool. it is a hostel, but very different from the party hostels in thailand - everybody here is up at 6am and doing intense cardio all day, and surfing generally attracts a specifically chill demographic. a couple beers in the pool at the end of the day and off to bed by 10, much more my speed.

i give bonita my bacon every morning

i did go out drinking with the dutchies one night, got dragged to a beach club and had the worst guinness i have ever had in my life; i thought guinness was already "smooth" enough


after a week of surf camp i was starting to see some improvement, but also starting to get some pretty bad shoulder impingement from the hours a day of constant paddling, so i took some time off to explore the rest of the island. about an hour drive from canngu is a town called ubud, famous for generally just being a lot more chill than canngu, but also for yoga retreat tourism.

classic indonesia - intricate beautiful hindu statues/consumerism hell

7 veg wulan rice

i took an afternoon to explore the sacred monkey forest on the outskirts of town, a dense jungle filled with temples and crab-eating macaques (that is the species name, i think they mostly eat sweet potatoes). pretty cool to see the monkeys climbing all over the mossy jungle temples.

canang sari - ubiquitous offerings left in the front of every business and household daily, said to maintain balance on earth. unlike the rest of indonesia which is muslim, bali is majority hindu.


one things i love about bali is the architecture here. temples have this very geometric appearance, with these narrow gates that lead through the elaborate outer fences to courtyards that contain the worship areas. most households in ubud have a similar structure, and it becomes hard to tell what is a temple and what is a household, especially since both can contain statues of gods. they do call bali "the island of the gods" for a reason. land on the island of bali is not bought or sold - it is passed down through family, usually with multiple generations living in the same complex. if the land has nobody to go to, it isn't sold, its ownership is transferred to the village.

giant staghorn fern

this is the general view on every block walking around ubud, insanely intricate statues and facades. very beautiful place.

northern bali

i left from ubud to see the northern reaches of the island. there isn't much up here, the population is fairly small and rural, but there are a bazillion tourists here looking for the perfect instagram post. it kind of sucks tbh.

another classic balinese architectural mainstay - the candi bentar (split gate), built to resemble a temple split in two. this is "heaven's gate", on a clear day there is a giant mountain visible through the gate. it was almost impossible to get a shot of this without somebody doing a dumb yoga pose in the middle.

the ska temple

spooky demons

the best part of the northern island was a hike that led up to a mountaintop temple. the temperature was probably 34 degrees celcius and very few people would be willing to hike an hour uphill in the sun so this was one of the only times i was truly alone in all of bali (except for the monkeys). extremely peaceful and beautiful views of the island and coast.

lombok in the distance

i also went to go see one of the famous waterfalls, which were pretty mediocre, and absolutely chalk full of influencers trying to get the best posed shot for their instagram. i left about 30 seconds after getting there.

but it really looked like this:

overall, northen bali may have been cool at one point but is now a bit of a tourist nightmare.


a peninsula way down the southern part of the island, uluwatu is famous for its massive cliff faces overlooking the equally big waves. this is one of the most famous big wave surfing locations in the world. otherwise it is relatively less touristy, pretty poor and dusty. except for the famous temple on the cliffs, which is a popular day trip from canngu. really beautiful place.

it is thankfully much easier to find indonesian food here, lots of warungs (roadside shacks) serving standards like mie goreng

the monkeys at the uluwatu temple are something else. super habituated. they will steal just about anything they can from you - sunglasses, water bottles, phones, jewelry, it is generally very funny

one thing i wanted to see while i was in uluwatu was this statue that stands about 21 stories tall in a part of the world where the tallest building is 3 stories. you can see this thing from everywhere. it dominates the skyline. it turns out it is part of a government funded 'cultural park', and is a statue of vishnu riding on a geruda (bird warrior). medium cool.

old man's

my shoulder is starting to feel better and my days left before i go home are getting numbered, so it is back to canngu for more surfing before i go.

pretty fitting that my favourite surf spot in all of bali ended up being a place called "old man's". old man's is a reef break, so it is still a long paddle out, even using the rip current, but this time only about 400m from shore, which feels a little better than kedungu. the waves are still very big, but the thing that makes this break my favourite is how gentle it is. while many of the beach breaks have been very steep, powerful, hollow, and punishing, old man's is slow and gentle. it doesn't fold over or barrel, it just sort of peaks for a second then goes back to being a green wave for quite a while until it hits the shallower reef. this means that you have to paddle a lot harder to get the speed to get on it, but once you are on it it feels a lot smoother, slower, and doesn't send you flying. when the rogue waves come in and smash right on top of the lineup, you can just turtle roll and slide under them, you don't get tossed and drowned. i booked into a different surf camp and surfed this break everyday for 4 days, and without having to worry about not drowning in the lineup or getting punted by the massive waves, i was finally able to focus on my real ambition in coming to bali: turning a surfboard. after a few days of instruction on a great wave and some video analysis review, i can finally turn a longboard. yahoo. goal for the year acheived.

pino, my favourite guide

it is worth mentioning that the surf guides here are some of the coolest people i have ever met in my life. all local indonesians, they are usually about 5'5", 95lbs soaking wet, with giant, flowing, long black hair down to their chests, usually with the occasional blonde highlights. they are extremely chill, just surfing all day and hanging out, playing guitar, singing, smoking cigarettes, and drinking beers around the hostel all night. they are hilarious and outgoing, very rad, very chill, in real life i am probably not cool enough to hang out with them. also they all absolutely love linkin park and 90s skate punk for some reason.

and they absolutely shred.

what canngu used to look like 10-15 years ago

nasi goreng

beef rendang - beef slowly stewed in coconut milk and spices until it falls apart in your mouth

this camp is a lot closer to the beach which means a lot less time stuck in traffic and a lot more spare time in my day, which i am running out of ideas what to do with. i usually walk down to the beach to watch the sunset every night.

on my second day of being back at surf camp, the thing i had been dreading and trying desperately to avoid happened: bali belly. food poisoning. amy had it really bad in thailand, but i have been pretty okay since we got to asia, but this one finally got me. it seems as though if you spend enough time in bali, you will get sick, it is just inevitable here. for 48 hours i did not get out of bed except to use the bathroom, wasting my last few precious (and expensive) days of surf camp. major bummer.

cafe racer with a board holder - sick

i managed to get out for one last surf session the morning of my flight home, which was probably the best session of my life, i am finally understanding how to turn a longboard down the line, back and forth to follow the pocket, and ride these big bali waves. but overall i think i am done with bali, the local culture is very cool but it is so diluted in whatever bali has become now. i think i have had my fill of surfing and i am bored with canngu. i am ready to stop living out of hotel rooms and worrying about every meal i eat getting me sick. the beach is nice but after weeks of it, it gets kind of boring. i miss amy. i think i am ready to head home. i headed down to the beach to watch one more sunset before i got on my 36 hour flight back to the cold.

goodbye bali

one more blog post is coming to wrap everything up, but here is the last video:




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