Some friends have been in touch, asking about the silence of the blog. Am I okay?

It’s called writer’s block. Trying to write anything these days is like clawing through granite with my fingernails.

I’ve been surfing, going prone on the bigger days on my longer board and stand-up paddling on the smaller days, but my post-surgery shoulders twinge and I have inflammation of the toe bones of my feet, so either way it aches and session times are limited.

Writer’s Block. Another name for it is Life. I’ve been writing a series of blog posts on the Toast Surf Trip, a nostalgic boat cruise through Eastern Islands, a bunch of old Bali hands in our advanced middle age. We all commented, in our various ways, that at this point in our lives things should be getting easier as we head toward the golden sunset of our years, content in the saddle or on the surfboard or dangling from a kite or reeling in the fish, but in truth? Such is not the case. Problems keep coming, toil and trouble. It’s almost like the saying, life’s a bitch and then you die.

Almost, I said. Because an old Sunday School song comes to mind: “Count your blessings, name them one by one…” I had five such blessings on the Surf Toast Trip, and I count them one by one: Robert Wilson, Mike McHugh, Clayton Barr, Tim Watts, Murray Bourton, Steve Palmer.

the boys

And there are other friends I count as well, naming them one by one. For a hermit like me, why, far more than I deserve.

Okay. Silence the maudlin violins. Cue the trombones of the Marching Band.

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The Kupang to Flores Surf Trip: Yes, there is surf in Savu

It seems to be a cosmic law that every feral surfer who pops out of the remote shoreline jungle upon the unexpected arrival of other surfers is named Dave. In thirty years of careening through Indonesia’s outer islands and along their unpopulated coasts, I’ve met more skeletal, malarial, thirsty, and socially (not to mention hygienically) deprived Daves than I can count. There was Scratchy Dave, Super Dave, Stinky Dave, Speechy Dave (couldn’t get him to shut up), Sorrowful Dave (he’d accidentally stepped on his beloved pet hermit crab).

And this being a tale of a surf trip to remote islands, there will inevitably be yet another Dave. Whom I’ll get to in a minute.

But first, the other half of the Toast Crew, had first to get to Savu from Kupang by fishing boat. The last we heard from them was the evening they boarded, with all other supplies and board bags and five extra cases of beers. Then they went dark upon the wind-tossed sea, with no more word. We weren’t really worried – Tim Watts for one had decades of traveling the islands by land and air and sea on various modes of transportation, and he hadn’t lived to his ripe old age of 60 plus by taking unnecessary risks, such as chartering sketchy boats that barely looked capable of floating in placid harbor waters. Our main worry was for Steve Palmer, who would be without Internet for more than 24 hours. Could he cope? Would he have a breakdown? Would he arrive gibbering and whispering, “the horror, the horror”?

During the day that we waited at Savu, the swell arrived without much fanfare, just a few desultory head-high sets, but the boys were out there. Yes, boys and girls, Savu does have surf, its main right-hander a fairly technical barrel that at the end gurgles over shallow reef. Clayton showed us all how it was done, surfing like he was drawing a picture, the same smooth and easy lines, seeing it in his head and making it happen without hesitation, an organic process.


Then from the distant shore appeared a surfer, knee-paddling a longboard, a floppy hat perched upon his head. “G’day,” he called out to us as he cruised by. Grizzled and weathered and sun-beaten. I guessed about our age, sixty or so.

He ripped. His familiarity with the wave was clearly evident.


A couple hours later, as he headed back to shore, Robert Wilson invited him on board for a cold drink.

“Hello, fellows,” he said, “my name is Dave.”

Thus we met Savu Dave, who was not sixty but in his seventies. When he was younger he’d wandered the Indonesian islands looking for a place that called to his soul. It happened to be Savu, a lovely yet mostly arid island, where to this day the locals still drink palm juice when their wet season wells and cisterns run dry. He’d been living there for many years, married to a local princess and running a farm and traveling around the small island showing locals the skills he’d learned in a lifetime of farm and handyman work. Also popping into schools for impromptu English conversations and demonstrating basic computer skills.

He lived up in the hills with an eyeball’s view of the right. He surfed it every time it broke, which wasn’t often, he said. The biggest? Double-overhead, which for that wave is big and throaty enough.

The trouble, he said, is that surfers and surf charter boats know when the proper swells are coming and will show up.

And sure enough, in quick succession, there paddled out these guys from shore. (Thus we would meet Arno — in the back — who was doing some sort of on-the-quiet surf resort development in Sumba and snuck over to Savu for this swell, staying in a villager’s home and renting his canoe).


And then, in the distance, we could see a surf charter boat puttering toward the bay, a regular bus route charter boat crammed to the gills with Europeans eager for some uncrowded waves after a few days of packed Rote Island, but the inescapable trouble with surf charter boats, of course, is they bring their own crowd with them.

Meanwhile, Tim Watts and Murray Bourton and Steve Palmer were still dark somewhere on the Savu Sea.

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The Kupang to Flores Toast Surf Trip: The (Almost) Curious Case of the (Nearly) Missing Artist

We have lost the plot.

The Kupang to Flores Toast Surf trip has already receded into the mists of time billowing over this blog correspondent’s wonky memory. As I recall, I’ve written a dozen posts and we haven’t even boarded the Bajo Baji. Where was I last? What happened next? All mist and haze, fog and vapors.

But I shall persevere! Use dental drills on the old neurons! Jackhammers! Or perhaps memories will flood back on a tide of Prost beer, which I tasted on the trip, in lieu of Bintangs. But it is only ten in the morning, and beer o’clock does not come until the sunset hour.

So. To help us get back on track, here are the dramatis personae:

the boys

L to R : Mike, Clayton, Murray, Robert, Yours Truly, Tim, Steve

According to what I have written, Michael and Clayton and I were at the Kupang hotel, waiting for the next morning Susi Air’s flights, while Tim, Steve, and Murray were arriving the following day to find a fishing boat willing to slip under the harbormaster radar, downwind with 35 knot gusts to Savu Island, where the Bajo Baji was waiting.

So, what happened next? Ah. Of course. How could I forget. The artist who vanished (almost).

This below is the Susi Air plane, just big enough for eight passengers including Mike and Clayton on the first flight, and boxes of food including Steve’s chilled tofu burgers kept overnight in the hotel restaurant’s kitchen fridge, and one small surfboard Clayton pulled out of his coffin bag.


This is the Wings plane, which flies about the outer islands but is considerably larger than the puddle-jumper.


Now it must be admitted that the departure lounge at Kupang’s airport is scrum mixed with chaos, overlaid with screeched boarding announcements. The Susi Air flight was among several called. Mike charges to the front across the tarmac to get the best seat on the single-prop plane (of which he has experience from his sky-diving days). Clayton toodle-doodles along in the absent-minded way of an artist tracing cloud patterns in the sky, following by instinct a group of fellow passenger to a “small” plane. There he shows his Susi Air boarding pass to Savu to the flight attendant, who glances at it and waves him aboard. As he sits down he is somewhat puzzled, because the plane is large and spacious, and so why all the fuss about full flights and very limited cargo space? Why couldn’t they have loaded all his boards? Why, look at all these empty seats in the back.

In the meantime, at the Susi Air plane, everyone boards, including Mike…but not Clayton. Where the hell is he? The Susi Air manager races around trying to find him and double checks with the Wings flight staff, who then do another count of their passengers and sort out the confusion. Lo and behold, Clayton was just about to fly off to Bima. The manager hustles our awol artist across the tarmac to the right plane. Mike and the Western pilots in the cockpit are cracking up with laughter.

I was on the next flight two hours later. The same pilots, still chuckling. There’s a number of these foreign contracted pilots based in Kupang. Apparently a number of them are surfers as well. I’m pretty sure that these pilots at times deviate slightly from direct point A to point B flying to check out reefs and coasts and take note. When we flew over Savu, my pilot banked around the Bajo Baji at anchor a thousand feet below. The pilot was filming his airstrip approach on a mounted Go-Pro, and he swiveled the camera to get the Bajo Baji in on the footage.

A beautiful sight, the blue sky and blue sea and green palms and a boat riding the iron in a channel, a gentle swell breaking on either side in white triangular swaths. No boards in the water, so it was obviously too small, but the real swell was due the next day.

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Kupang to Flores Toast Surf Trip resumes shortly, in the meantime

Your blog correspondent hasn’t been posting lately, initially jet-lagged upon returning from a trip attend his son’s wedding in San Diego, followed by an attack of acute laziness, compounded (today) by lack of wind and rising swell on Bali’s east side. I know this account is dragging out longer than the luggage screening at Bali airport customs when four flights arrive within a half hour of each other and everyone is scrambling from conveyor belt to conveyor belt to find out where one’s luggage will be regurgitated, (although I was delighted to find upon our return this trip that customs has suspended the silly and tedious x-raying of all one’s bags — but one surfer was pulled aside for the full monty for some reason).

So in lieu of more verbiage here’s a depiction of what the whole toast trip was pretty much about:


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Kupang to Flores Toast Surf Trip temporarily suspended until 12 Sept

This boy is getting married in San Diego. As father of the groom, and not in the custom of wearing suit and tie, I have my full-press batik shirt packed and ready.

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The Toast Surf Trip Kupang to Flores, Part 8 — the Kupang Beer Crisis

(Part 1) (Part 2) (Part 3) (Part 4) (Part 5) (Part 6) (Part 7)

There he was, waiting at the doors of arrival hall of Kupang’s El Tari airport, his porter’s uniform neat and tidy. Good old Nathaniel. He’d been porting my surfboard bags and gear for nearly thirty years now, ever since I started flying to Kupang to get on the surf tramper Hati Murnih. Never pre-arranged, never phoned ahead, but he was always there, as reliable as the January monsoons, the August trade winds. We greeted each other, I gave him our baggage claim stubs.

ye olde hati murnih crop

Mike said, “Take care of things for me, I’m going to hassle the Susi Air manager about getting our stuff on board tomorrow morning.” He blasted through the throng.



The poor manager had no idea about what was to descend upon him. Mike in his hassling mode kind of reminds me of that Biblical story about the poor widow who kept harassing the judge until the judge finally says, “Okay, okay, you win, just leave me alone.”

Nathaniel collected our gear. Thirty years at this job, always there, his once black hair having turned gray, his handsome face wrinkled. Remember that novel and then television series “Roots”, about a black American searching for his African heritage? Nathaniel doesn’t have to do any searching. His roots are all around him, ancestors and family and land and his steady employment as porter at El Tari airport.

el tari 1el tari

And what about us, the Toast Trip crew—Robert and Steve and Michael and Clayton and Tim and Murray and me? All of us having wandered far from the places we once called home, settled down in places that have become home, even myself in a way for all that I, as the son of missionaries (and my mother having been born and raised in Tibet as daughter of missionaries) have lived my whole life in Bali apart from university years. What are my roots? I think I might have to write a novel about this, but a blog post is not the place.

Also waiting for us was Noven, ever reliable taxi driver, although for him I’d called ahead for the pickup. We loaded up and waited for Mike, who reported that the Susi Air manager was a very nice fellow who said he’d do what he could. What couldn’t get on the flight would be handled by Steve, Tim and Murray, who were arriving the following day and still weren’t certain how they’d get to Savu as there were no Susi Air flights and the harbormaster was not allowing any vessels to leave ports in this high wind (which was why, you recall, the Bajo Baji was stuck in Savu).

In fact, there were a number of surfers on the same Garuda flight headed for Rote who were hoping to catch the next day’s ferry. (One woman had checked in an stand-up paddle board double-taped clear round nose to tail with cardboard — but that wasn’t the sturdiest surfboard bag I’d ever seen — in the early 80’s Mike had a Balinese carpenter make a three surfboard shipping container out of plywood, and the thing literally did look like a coffin and weighed a ton but in those days outer island spot were unknown and few surfers were hopping on Merpati so there was always plenty of cargo space). Anyways these surfers were going to be stuck in Kupang for a few days, which is not a good way to spend a surfing holiday, this below being a typical Kupang beach front property:

The shoreline at Kupang

The shoreline at Kupang

“So where’s a good hotel?” I asked Noven, as we hadn’t booked one.

He took us to the newly built Aston, and fortunately there were rooms. I sent Noven off to sniff around a fishing village just down the coast for a boat that would be willing to sail under the radar, so to speak, for some of that Magic That Must Not Be Named.


Mike hassled the receptionist for a superior deluxe with the stunning panoramic view of Kupang Bay, and then went about hassling the hotel staff to get the three boxes of food, including Steve’s soy burgers, into a hotel restaurant fridge.

Clayton and I waited on the lobby sofa as Clayton doodled pictures and I read my Kindle.

the blogger

Mike reappeared to re-hassle the receptionist into changing his rooms from the deluxe superior to the standard. The stunning panoramic view of Kupang Bay was through a glass plate window that didn’t open, bathing the room with light and tropical heat. His cell phone rang—Steve, asking if his soy burgers were in the fridge. Mike rushed off to check again.

Finally we all settled in, decent rooms, meaning the sheets were clean, the air-con worked, toilets flushed, and the room fridge with its beers was cold.

Noven phoned me, said he’d found a skipper willing to run dark, so to speak. Tim Watts, old Indo hand experienced in the Magic, would be settle the details when he and Steve and Murray arrived the next day.

Later that afternoon my room phone rang, Mike asking me if I wanted a happy hour beer at the hotel bar. I wandered down to the second floor, where the bar was just opening up. Mike was on the cell phone, talking logistics of gear and boards with Steve still in Bali, and with Steve, it’s risky to talk logistics because that’s not how his n-dimensional tesseract mind works.

“All right,” I heard him drawl, “will do. And how are the soy burgers? Keeping them nice and cold?”

Mike assured him, hung up, sat back and sipped his chilled Guinness stout. He got that pensive-slash-irritated look he gets when he’s fretting.

“How many beers did you order for the boat for yourself?” he asked me.

I told him. His frowned deepened. “That’s not going to be enough. You’re going to be dipping into my stash. You’re always dipping into my stash.”

I assured him I had ordered enough and would not be dipping into his stash, but Mike had beer on the brain and he fretted and calculated and fretted some more and so it was that the Beer Crisis raised its head again.

He got on the phone again to Steve. “We’re going to buy four more cases of tall Bintangs,” he said. “We’ll leave them at the hotel lobby with the other gear. You’re going to have carry that as well.”

“Okey-doke,” Steve drawled. He’s as unflappable as a manhole cover.

Mike finishes his Guinness, orders another, frets some more. He gives Steve another call. “We’re going to make that five cases.”

“Okey-doke. No problemo.” And this from a tee-totaler. Gotta love the guy.

That evening, Mike and Clayton and I used a hotel taxi to take us to the Restoran Nelayan down the road, a beachfront establishment which isn’t quite La Lucciola, and certainly not the Potato Head, but which serves a terrific barbecued prawn dish. There’s also a small mini-market attached, so after dinner we bought five cases of Bintang and Mike some of his chocolate nibbles (“and stay out of this stash,” he barked at me) and loaded them into the taxi. Many Kupang locals are Christians, and the driver had a cross sticker on his dash with the words “Jesus Christ.”

“Ah,” I said in Indonesian, “Yesus Kristus, Juruslamat Dunia.” Jesus Christ, Savior of the World.

The driver gave me a startled look and then a smile and when we disembarked and unloaded the extra cases, gave me a thirty percent discount on the fare.

Sometimes, it pays to drop a name.

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The Toast Surf Trip Kupang to Flores — I think part 7?

So far, I’ve left a lot of threads hanging regarding our surf odyssey from Kupang to Flores. What about the lurking beer crisis? And the snake lady, what of her? Was one of us lured to her lair by her siren song to be sucked dry, turned a withered husk who will one day stumble out of the jungle to startle a beachcombing surfer from a surfer charter boat passing by chance, whispering hoarsely “the horror, the horror”?

And the surf on Savu: well, is there any? I hear mutters leaking through my WiFi: For God’s sake, can’t you just tell us?


savu left

So there were three of us on the Garuda flight from Denpasar to Kupang, Mike, Clayton, and your blog correspondent. Mike fretted about getting the boxes of food, including Steve’s soy burgers, onto the next day’s connecting flight, the tiny single-engine Susi Air plane to Savu. Mike fretted about getting his Outer Island surfboard on the plane. Clayton hadn’t trucked his boards, trusting the Bajo Baji to be in Kupang, and Mike fretted about getting Clayton’s boards on board the puddle-jumper, too, although Clayton himself didn’t seem too bothered about the serious possibility he might be without surfboards on a surf trip as he doodled more carefree sketches on his art pad.

And I believe in the back of his mind, as he fretted about the logistics of getting lots of big things on a small plane, Mike began to subconsciously fret about the beer supply on the Bajo Baji.

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