This begs for a caption…what’s yours?
TWAS THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS IN BALI
(after Clement Clarke Moore)
Twas the night before Christmas
And in the villa on Rubbish Lane Way
Not a creature was stirring, not even a tokay.
The listrik was mati and all the candles aglow
The flying ants were swarming and the kids were suspicious
For they believed that St Nick was somebody fictitious.
They were huddled together on one bamboo bed
Trying to stay awake but their eyes were like lead
The Mrs. and I listened to the sudden barking of dogs
Joining the chorus of big-throated frogs.
Then there came from the garden such a loud clatter
I sprang from the tikar to see what was the matter.
The banjar returning from a ceremony afar?
Or a happy tourist gotten lost from the bar?
The moon on the lake that had been the front lawn
Glowed with a light that was brighter than dawn.
And what to my wondering eyes should I see
But a miniature dokar rolling past the lime tree
The driver was chubby, wearing udeg and sarong
And the dokar was pulled by eight little barongs
But was this St Nick? I admit I was doubtful
He looked an awful lot like the Australian consul.
The little old man was lively and quick
And pulled from his mouth a worn toothpick
To yell at his charges tugging his ride
Prancing and dancing with high-footed pride.
“Now Meester, now Seester, now, Toris and Bulé
On, Mas! On Gus! On Sambal and Gulé!
To the top of the porch, to that hole in the roof!
Get along quick, chop chop and hoof hoof!”
And then overhead I heard such a hard landing
I was surprised the walls were still standing.
As I drew in my head and was turning around
Through the hole Pak Santa shot through with a bound.
His beard was matted and he was shiny with sweat,
It’s humidity that gets you, on that you can bet.
He unslung his sack with almighty crash
Just like a picker who’s been through the trash.
“I don’t like the wet season,” he said with sigh.
“But your children have been good, at least since July.”
I wasn’t sure about that, but I wasn’t going to argue
In fact I was hoping there was a toy for me too.
He filled the kids’ baskets with all kinds of goodies
And surf school “The More the Merrier” hoodies.
“I must be off,” said he, “for there is still much to do.
Can you believe there are good children out there in Canggu?”
Up he sprang…and got stuck in the hole.
I pushed him through with a long bamboo pole,
And heard him exclaim, ‘ere he drove out of sight,
“Selamat Hari Natal to all, and to all a good night.”
(Mark on left with Rob Nichols on the Nusa Dewata, Telos, circa early days God knows when. Classic Mark, always upbeat with that delightful and sometimes mischievous grin and full of hugs)
After many moons and two shoulder surgeries, I’m back with occasional posts.
Shall we talk about Bali’s surf schools?
The Snake Lady lived high on a sinuous ridge, her lair hidden by day but illuminated at night by bright lights. The background hills looked straight out of the Stone Age, but a shiny road wound through them, lined by poles bearing a power line.
“I reckon we should pay her a visit and find out where this wave is,” Robert said, gazing up at the glowing bubble of light high above. The Bajo Baji was anchored in a small bay at the foot of the ridge, and the wave he referred to was Albert Taylor’s Mystical Wave of Legend that we had not found. We were starting to think it was a hoax.
“How do we get up there?” Steve asked without looking up from the card game he was playing on his cell phone. There was a gap in the 3G cell phone tower coverage. He’d been a full day without Internet. These card games were his methadone to stave off withdrawals.
“There’s a trail from the beach,” Murray said. A few canoes and fishing huts huddled under the front rank of coconut palms, catching the last rays of the sunset afterglow.
“One heck of a long steep hike,” Steve said, his fingers tapping away as if they had an intelligence of their own at their tips. “Now if there was snow, I’d haul my snowboard gear all the way up to the top.” Steve’s a snowboarding fanatic.
“Albert also says she gets a cell phone signal up there,” I said. “A lot of backpackers trek to her place to use it.”
Steve blinked, his ears pricked with sudden sharp interest. “Oh, yeah?”
“Albert says we should her bring a gift,” I said.
We all glanced at young Clayton, seated in the corner of the boat’s salon and doodling his crayons on his art pad. He stopped in mid-draw, glancing at us in alarm. “Not me,” he said. “I’m too scrawny. I’m married.”
Robert said, “We’ll give her a couple fish.” It’d been a good day of fishing if not surfing.
So early the next morning, an entourage of Robert, Steve, Clayton, Murray and Mike took the dinghy to the beach, bearing a cooler of fish.
I did not go. I had bad feelings about this and a good book to read. Tim Watts did not go, either. Being a man of rampant action, he went kiting instead.
The boys returned hours later, stumbling through the palms and onto the beach, boarding the ship in a dazed trance. Glazed with sweat, they sat in the salon’s air-conditioned comfort in silence, sipping chilled drinks.
I put down my book. “So?”
“The horror, the horror,” Clayton whispered.
“She told us where the wave is,” Robert said.
“She told us how to find it,” Murray said. “It’s complicated”
“Through worm-holes and space-time gaps,” Steve added.
“She had a couple surfboards on her porch,” Murray said. “Left by surfers passing through.”
“Or maybe they ended up in her place for good,” Clayton murmured. He seemed distraught, his perpetual cheer on tilt.
“I wonder if she could sell a few of my boards,” Murray said. Constantly looking for ways to grow his biz.
“But she didn’t want us to leave,” Robert continued. “She wanted to keep us. Fatten him up,” he said, nodding at Clayton.
“You boys were dicking around,” Mike said. “Good thing I got us out of there.”
“She didn’t like that,” Robert said. “And Steve, she didn’t like you not paying her any attention. You didn’t look up once from your phone.”
“The Internet signal was good,” Steve protested. “I had a lot of posts and messages to catch up on.”
Robert frowned. “When we were leaving, she said something strange. She said be careful about smashing into things at high speed.”
“A curse,” Clayton whispered.
Tim chuckled his patented amused and sardonic Wattsian chuckle. “Come on, guys. Snap out of it. Action! Let’s go find this wave.”
And find it we did. I won’t tell you how. I’m not sure I could tell you. Aquatic blue birds, swooping up from deep water, double-overhead and smooth. Mike was in a froth to get out there but Murray, from wisdom born of experience, advised us to sit in the dinghy and watch for a while. (Sidelined by shoulder operations, I was going to be watching the whole session). Good advice, because it soon became clear that there was a deadly trap. If you got caught inside, you had one narrow tiny niche of a chance to paddle through the section soup before you were smashed and splattered onto an outcrop of rocky fangs. This caught inside business happened to Tim, and even though he hadn’t gone to see the Snake Lady, for a tense minute I thought he’d been cursed at a distance and was going to get impaled. Smashed into a hard thing at high speed. But he knows the sea as well as Murray, does Tim, and floated on his board just off the beach for a lull and then paddled like hell.
Later, I asked Clayton to draw a picture of the Snake Lady. That image has since unfortunately been lost, but it was something like this:
“Mate,” Robert complained, “she didn’t look like that at all. She was gorgeous.”
“That is true,” Steve said, “but she was freakin scary.”
From what I gathered, when she was a young woman, an anthropologist had swooped her up from her village near the ridge and carried her off to Europe, where she soon gained fame as mentalist and fortune-teller and esoteric magician, performing astonishing feats of legerdemain that led to her to stardom in Las Vegas.
What brought her back to that ridge in the wild southern waters of Eastern Indonesia, I don’t know. But once one has traveled and tasted the world, the lure of home, where one was born, rises strong. Maybe that was it. Or maybe she was hiding out from certain underworld folks who hadn’t taken kindly to her vanishing a few million dollars (or so went one story I later heard).
The swell died. We moved on, into the less magical waters of a certain well-known Bay, with a small village homestay for surfers. The Snake Lady no longer dominated our thoughts and conversation. The curse? What curse? We had an excellent wave and a new swell to surf.
And now, a word from your blog correspondent, a strictly commercial and crass and tacky appeal for you to click on the sidebar photo for a peek at my novel Bones of the Dark Moon. I have had many people come up to me and say “I loved your book, a friend lent it to me.” I am happy and pleased they enjoyed the book, but an author makes his or pittance from royalties, and not from lending. Buy copies for your relatives and friends and enemies. In other words, I am blatantly trying to guilt trip you into buying my book. Help motivate me to write a sequel.
On New Year’s Eve, when the midnight firecracker bombs of the village youth were exploding all around the house and rattling windows and my brain, something shook loose and plopped into both my consciousness and conscience. Why, it was a New Year’s Resolution: to finish up this damn tale of the Toast surf trip that I’ve been fitfully doling out over the months.
So, with determination and will power, I’ll get cracking on it…next week.
This is weird. Truly, a weirdliness beyond words.
For several days now, I’ve been trying to get this post written on the Mystical Wave of Snake Lady Ridge. I know we were there. This is an absolute fact. We did find Albert Taylor’s mythical wave and we surfed and rejoiced in it. Surely we did. I know this and I believe this as surely as I believe there is a God, or at least a Kelly Slater, both of whom have been in Bali but neither of whom have I met in the flesh, only in the spirit.
But yet as I try to write this post, as I try to summon my memories of the Wave, they rise close to the surface of my consciousness, and for a fleeting moment I glimpse it, empty blue perfection. My soul stirs with excitement. But then a mist comes over the memories and wisps away and I find myself instead grimly remembering Serangan Island of the past few days, the westerly winds blowing every surfer and surf school to the spot, soft tops and longboards and short boards and SUPS flying every which way, and my soul shrivels.
Was the Wave a left? A right? A peak? I cannot recall. What is vivid as blood is the horror of a Russian surf school instructor shoving a shrieking student over the falls and directly at me.
And where exactly was this Wave? The Kupang to Flores Trip was a long journey threaded through many islands. Sumba? Flores? Sumbawa? Rinca? I do recall a Komodo dragon on a beach, and I do recall a sinuous ridge where the Snake Lady dwelled in her splendor, but were they the same place?
None of the boys on the trip remember, either. Except Clayton did draw this from one of his fevered dreams. “I think it was somewhere around here,” he said.
Or maybe that’s just what they say and don’t want to tell me. The Snake Lady put the fear of fangs into them should her wave be revealed to the swarming masses. Perhaps Albert Taylor is her vassal of doom. He will cart away anyone speaking publicly of the holy place and feed the offender to the wild civic cats slinking through his coffee-plantations slurping ripe coffee beans that they poop out and you drink as $10 luwak coffee.
And the Snake Lady herself. Did we meet her? Some of us. Mike did. This is the lad before he entered her lair. Notice those original Ripcurl Bali booties, possibly the only extant pair left upon this earth, but more importantly notice that beaming smile. Little did he know that he would not be smiling for long.
I did not meet her. Certainly not I. I stayed put upon the boat for I feared what I might find, the magic she would weave, as evidenced by the jabbering chatter of the others and their darting eyes that would for an instant go still and glassy.
No, I did not set mine eyes upon the Snake Lady. I most certainly did not.
And yet, dear God, what is this that appears from the mist? No, no, oh have mercy upon my soul–
The Kupang to Flores Toast Surf Trip: In Search of Albert Taylor’s Mysterious, Magical, Mystical Wave
If there be any one surfer on the planet who’s cataloged all of Indonesia’s world-class surf breaks, and most of the B-grade ones, then I’d say that person would be legendary surf boat charter skipper (and coffee plantation entrepreneur) Albert Taylor, he of the sun-leathered skin and bushy eyebrows and maniacal grin that gets grinning most maniacally when he’s at the helm heading into the dark eye of cyclone or when he’s dropping into the Cyclops eye of a mutant slab beast on some god-forsaken Indo reef. East and west, north and south, he’s skippered surf charters everywhere and around and through every nook and cranny. But he doesn’t mark his maps, and no matter how many brews you ply him with and knees you bend in begging, he doesn’t spill the luwak coffee beans on where and when and what. His grin gets sly, but his lips stay sealed.
(Unlike mine. I’m not a blabbermouth, but my lips have leaked. Some folks aren’t entirely pleased about my comments on the Savu waves in my previous posts. Too much information. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. But to tell the truth, I’m not burdened by excessive guilt. I’m a bit too jaded for that. After decades of surfing through the archipelago, after years of witnessing a multitude of unknown surf breaks overrun by the masses, if you’re today planning to enjoy a remote reef break that is supposedly hush-hush, I don’t think the question is how hush-hush it really is or how many underground surfers know where x-marks-the-spot, the real question is how many lads and lasses are gonna be there when you show up. The X that marks the Savu spot has been well and truly marked by the grapevine and Internet for many years. Plus, in my humble opinion, it’s not one of those waves you drop everything and spend a few days of your life getting there to surf).
So. Back to Bert. Some years previously, I had heard Albert murmur something about a wave in a neighboring region, a mystical, mysterious, magical wave that only appears to those who are righteous in spirit. So a few weeks before our Toast trip, I made a point of catching up with him.
“Hey, Bert, what about this mysto right?”
Bert grins and waggles his brows. Like he does when he ain’t sayin’ nuthin’.
“Come on, mate, it’s just us old-timers. You can tell us.”
“How do you know it’s a right?” he asks.
“It’s a left?”
Bert didn’t reply. His waggling eyebrows could have scrubbed a potato. His sly grin could have skinned a skunk.
Then, as I left, he said, “The Snake Lady of the Ridge.”
“Mate, bring her a gift.”
“Who on earth are you talking about?”
“The Guardian of the Break. Bring her a gift.”
“Jeez, a boat of manly men show up and and you have to ask? But if that doesn’t work out, then something fresh and bloody should do.”
On our last day at Savu, while in the line-up Clayton the artist chatted with one of the Europeans from the surf bus charter boat. For one reason or another, Clayton gave the Euro his email address, which has “LoveBigArt” in it.
The wind must have muffled the words and the Euro misheard. His eyes lit up.
“Me too, my friend!” he exclaimed. “I love big ass, the bigger the better.”
Then the next wave, the guy rides too far onto the shallow end bit and smashes his face up on a coral head, requiring some emergency field-dress stitching.
Late that afternoon, with trade winds moderated to a steady breeze and the Savu harbormaster’s sailing permit signed, the Bajo Baji set off for a sunset fishing cruise around the islet of Raijua and hence on westward. Alas, despite Robert Wilson’s expertise, the trolling lines did not sing, but no matter, for we had our Bintangs and our Prost and our stories (and Steve Palmer his iPhone).
What we did not realize, as the sky’s colors faded to the velvet sparkle of starlight, was that the Snake Lady of the Ridge was already singing her siren song. The compass heading held steady, the GPS unit spat out its orderly coordinates but yet all around us, and unbeknownst to us, the cosmos was shifting.
A large chunk of the history of Indonesia surf pioneering consists of unknown adventurers hiring local fishing boats out of grungy scummy harbors to find along islands and coasts what they could find where no surfer had gone before. In the pre-charter boat era, there wasn’t much of an option. Damned uncomfortable, those cockroach-y boats, the sun searing down on you, the deafening beat of the engine boring a hole in your head, the stink of diesel fuel and miasma of black oily exhaust smoke adding to your misery. It seemed to be a law that on these boats, one could try to get away from the diesel fumes or one could try to find shade from the sun, but one could not successfully do both together. And if it wasn’t the sun, then it was a deluge from the skies, rain so thick it got into everything, even your waterproof gear stowed below deck. Nothing like mildewed T-shirts.
And these boats were not particularly safe, either. You know the saying, an adventure doesn’t start until something goes wrong, and on the local Indonesian fishing boat you chartered, the probability of something going wrong in a very bad way was about equal to the probability of you at some point in your charter chucking up your dinner of Super Mie instant noodle with boiled egg.
But this is now the good year of our Lord 2016. Half of the Toast Surf Trip crew were safely on board the safe and luxurious Bajo Baji, with nary a roach scuttling in a dark and hidden corner. Part Owner Robert Wilson makes sure of that by Baygon nuking every box and carton that comes aboard. The boat was holed up at Savu, with trade winds gusting at 30 knots plus and shutting all harbors. We had flown in to Savu from Kupang. The other half of the Toast Surf Trip crew, consisting of Steve Palmer and Tim Watts and Murray Bourton, were on a local fishing boat they’d chartered on the quiet, and which had slipped out of Kupang in the dark of night. By dawn of morning, they were somewhere out at sea, hopefully heading downwind and our way.
Or were they already starting the adventure of a lifetime, even before they had a chance to go surfing? Well, they wouldn’t go thirsty, at least not for a while. They had five cases of Bintang beer to sustain them.
At least we had some waves to surf as we waited, sporadic head high sets that we shared with the land locals and the other surf bus boat guys. The modern Indonesia surf experience: no island too remote. You think you’re going to have an epic solo session and then, wait, what’s that I see scuttling out of the jungle, or looming on the horizion?
Savu’s one of those tropical languor islands, where time’s measured by sebentar (soon) or nanti (later) or mungkin nanti (maybe later, which pretty much means never). On Savu, only mad dogs and surfers stir in the mid-day heat.
When would our boat boys show up? Who knew? Nanti. The island’s cell phone tower signal extended a dozen or so miles out to sea. When would the boys get in range to make a call? Sebentar.
By about two pm, though, Robert Wilson begins to fret. Robert’s not a nanti or sebentar sort of person. He’s a sekarang man. Now. As in, right now. Finally Robert’s cell phone does ring, and Steve Palmer says, “Hello, where are you guys?” His voice is faint, shouting over the dong-dong-dong of a very loud diesel.
Robert’s relief is short-lived, turns quickly to exasperation and frustration as he tries to explain to Steve where the Bajo Baji is anchored, because Steve’s sense of direction is determined by the intricacies of his tesseract brain, where north is indicated by a random cosmic ray stirring the mental gyroscope.
“No, mate,” Robert growls, “you go around the top of the island and then head south – that’s to your left. You turn left. No, no, you don’t turn left now, you have to clear the top tip of the island. The tip, that bit of land that’s as far out west as you can see, west where the sun sets …oh for *!!# sake, let me talk to Watts.”
Tim Watts. Tim’s sense of direction is spot on. He’s stoic and calm, about as flappable as a manhole cover, yet paradoxically he’s also a man of rampant action. Not in the sense of being continuously restless, but always doing something, whether in the surf or the snow or running his business empire. An early Outside Corner and Padang ripper, and also G-land when the getting there was damn tough. Paid the price with malaria. In the early years of the 80s his business was batik and clothing, and then he branched out into exporting vanilla beans. This was ballsy, a white bulé invading vanilla fields across the islands, trying to teach the farmers to let the beans mature on the vine, for goodness sake, and get better value. In doing this, he pissed off a lot of middlemen who for decades had a monopoly on the crop. Ballsy, I say again. (You want to read more about Tim The Dog Watts, he’s been profiled in Surfer’s Journal
Thus it was that our boat people finally show up. The Toast Surf Crew is complete. The five cartons of beer haven’t been raided. Robert Wilson sprays the hell out of the Bintang cardboard cartons with Baygon before they so much as touch the Bajo Baji
And Tim immediately gets into rampant action:
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.
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.