Any of you remember Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, that hilarious comedy about a stiff-shirted marketing executive (Steve Martin) and a zany salesman (John Candy) trying to get from New York to home in Chicago for the holidays? What’s normally a simple three-hour plane ride turns into a three-day run of misadventures and disasters.
If you recall from the previous blog post, the boys from Bali were supposed to fly to Kupang to board the Bajo Baji, but strong easterly trades had kept the B.B. pinned on the remote island of Savu. So we had to get to Savu, and the getting there reminds me of that movie, except it was more like “Bemos, Boats, and Ojeks.” With a Susi Air single-engine puddle jumper thrown in.
We did finally get there. The swell forecast motivated us greatly. Surely Savu’s fabled but fickle waves would be working.
In this post, let me introduce the Toast Trip Boys
From left to right, and when first came to Bali and where stayed
Michael “Toast” McHugh: 16 March 1976, Losmen Sudani
Clayton “Young Man” Barr: 1989, Mutiara Cottages
Murray “Muzzah” Bourton: 1975, Losmen Jalan Pantai
Robert “Sil” Wilson: May, 1974, Losmen Lasierawati
Your Blog Correspondent, born Bali 1956
Steve “The Deve” Palmer, Dec 1974, Losmen Lasierawati
Tim “Dog” Watts, July 1976, stayed with Made Waces (Big Froggy’s uncle) at Kuta Reef
We all either still live in Bali, or divide our time between Bali and elsewhere (say North America ski slopes in Northern Hemisphere winter months), or are constant repeat visitors. Those lined and craggy mugs you see lined along the foredeck represent a lot of history, from the early “Morning of the Earth” days all the way to the present “Midnight of the Garbage Dump” (or so it seems when a mild southerly blows across Peninsula Bali’s highest geographical feature, the man-made hill that is Suwung dump, rising ever higher to spread the aroma of rotting garbage).
The boys were drawn to Bali for its surf, Uluwatu being the siren call in those early years. They arrived with a surfboard, a backpack, and a couple hundred dollars in their wallets, enough to last for months at Kuta’s inexpensive family homestays scattered around dusty lanes winding through the coconut groves. They bathed and drank water drawn from the family well and ate black rice pudding for breakfast and warung noodles for lunch and perhaps a pasta dinner at one of the few restaurants. Should I mention the papaya stem bong? Kerosene lamps illuminated the night, and sleep was on a bamboo bed and kapok mattress. After hours of surf, and accessories one didn’t didn’t feel the kapok lumps.
As we talked story of those early days, we sometimes directed our comments to Clayton, the Young Man as an Artist who first set foot on Bali more than a decade later, but that is both understandable and excusable, as he was born more than a decade later. He was the same age at us when he landed at Ngurah Rai airport. But that early Kuta we knew was already changing with accelerating and irrevocable pace.
We recalled how Kuta was in the 70s a traditional, conservative Balinese village where the villagers eked out a hardscrabble living. Surfers with dollars in their pockets were a god-send. They were welcomed into the family homestay but the parents who ran the homestays didn’t really want the surfers around their children. They didn’t want their sons to waste time with surfing and darkening their skin in the sun like the poorest of the poor peasants laboring in the fields. They especially didn’t want their daughters consorting with these big-nosed, crazy foreigners. Not that it didn’t happen. There were lots of secret midnight knocks and climbing over walls and what a romantic novelist would call “trysts.” There was plenty of drama. If a Western lad went out publicly with a Kuta lass, then marriage was pretty much the expected outcome.
It was a different era and time, when the concrete shadows of big hotels and greedy Jakarta money were still way below the horizon. Kuta today occupies the same geographical coordinates, but it’s no longer the same place.