A Bali Birthday: Of cold water, karma and living in the now

I had only been surfing 9 months when I decided to spend my birthday in Bali last September, and little did I know that the water was going to be cold. Their rainy season had just ended and the locals were surfing in just boardies sans rashguards or shirts-- but me?-- I had to layer on 3 rashies and could stay only up to an hour before I started turning blue. But chattering teeth aside, the trip churned out some of the most action-packed and lesson-filled days of my life.

Harold and I rented a motorbike and we filmed most of what we saw. Click on the video above for a highlights summary. For more stories, do read on. :)

Off we go! It was H's first time out of the country, and it certainly won't be the last. I'm happy to have met someone whose appetite for travel is as large as mine. 

This is Rei, whom we were meeting for the first time but we felt like we've known him for ages! We would have been doomed in Bali, had it not been for Rei. 

The awesome bachelor's pad.

The awesome bachelor's pad.

Roll like the locals.

Roll like the locals.

We first checked out Batu Bolong in Canggu, a crowd favorite for its artsy shops and overall laidback vibe. 

Kook-of-the-day move: I was taking pictures with my camera focus set to macro! The next few pictures turned out better.

Kook-of-the-day move: I was taking pictures with my camera focus set to macro! The next few pictures turned out better.


Unfortunately, my first session didn't go as I had expected my grand birthday surfing spree to be. Just as I was paddling out into the lineup, this blonde girl on a shortboard took a drop on the inside and ran me over. The 8'0" I had rented took a massive ding on the nose and I was foolish enough to let that instantly zap me out of my mood. I hadn't even reached the lineup, hadn't caught a wave yet, and the girl didn't even bother to check up on me. Could you have blamed me for losing zen then? The cold water pushed me out of my comfort zone so I wasn't able to regain focus. I got crabby and cursed a lot, which was not cool.

Looking back, I wish I had paid more attention to the present: that I was surfing a new spot in a beautiful country, and the waves were big and mellow-- perfect for that 8'0'.

Hooray, McTavish! 

Hooray, McTavish! 

Instant good vibe refill at Deus ex Machina. Soon enough, we were ready to roll again. 

This tiny cobble-street cutting through vast fields in Bali Berawa is one of my favorite places there. Somehow, it reminds me that in the grand scheme of things, all of us are just passing through.

I should have taken this sight as some sort of sign-- Bali was a place suffused with the concept of cosmic karma, that surfing was a holy act in itself because it cleansed the mind of negativity and renewed one's sense of being in the now. People here started each day with an offering, an act so simple but elaborate in its way of going out of one's self to reach unto another. This was a lesson we learned the hard way, and nothing prepared us for what happened next.

That night, our very first night in Bali, H. and I got into a motorbike accident. 

We were driving back to Rei's place in Canggu and there were very few street lamps and numerous other motorbikes zipping through the tiny roads. Roads we knew in reverse. As we were making a steep left turn, we fell into a ditch and hit cement blocks. The board rack (sans board) and H. took the weight of the fall and I was scratch-less and safe. Our bike seemed to be just fine as well. Harold, however, wasn't so lucky.

He got cut deep on his left knee and we concurred that he needed to be stitched up. But where? We were in the outskirts of town, and at 10 p.m., a lot of the households were already asleep. And why did this have to happen now, on H's first trip out of the country, on the first day of what should be a surfing spree?

Nevertheless, we were determined to find a solution. We knocked on people's doors and excused ourselves, using up all the polite Balinese phrases we could muster in exchange for what little English the locals knew. The first 3 clinics didn't have stitching tools. We apologized for waking them up. Just as we were about to lose hope, we saw this:

A birthing clinic! It was worth a shot.

Terima kasih, Dokter Sonya! 

Terima kasih, Dokter Sonya! 

Dokter Sonya and his wife, who was also a doctor, saved our sorry little asses that night. He cleaned and patched Harold's knee up with 3 long stitches, and our luck started improving from there. Dokter Sonya was a Brahman, the highest of the four social classes in Hinduism, and it was a great honor to us that the gods led us to his home that uncanny night in Bali.

I thought back to how grumpy I was in Batu Bolong when my board got dinged, and how it resulted to a fight between Harold and I in the lineup. Maybe the gods weren't pleased. Nevertheless, we now know better than to fight in the water, especially in a holy place like this. 

We got so caught up in the accident that we forgot to eat dinner. Good thing Rei knew a spot that was still open at midnight.

It wasn't advised that Harold surfed with the stitches. But did he? After a day of rest, of course he did. :)

Back to the homebase. The worst was definitely over, so we could now truly enjoy ourselves.

Hey you, thanks for being such a trooper! I wouldn't have had as much strength and patience to overcome this, had I been in your position.

Food photography isn't my forte but eating good food sure is.

Never underestimate the power of tradeoffs! Three, long stitches in exchange for a new board? This 5'9" Channel Islands custom Weirdo Ripper was just the board Harold was looking for. And it came at such a bargain that we couldn't say no. Stoked!

We stayed at Taman Dayu Villa for a night, and I must say I miss this outdoor toilet and tub everyday.

On our third day, we drove to Jalan Raya Sibang Kaja, Banjar Saren, Abiansemal (whew!) to visit the Green School, where Lorraine and Colin showed us around the bamboo fortress that championed green studies. After an hour of re-routing and checking Google Maps at every turn, we arrived at our destination. Nothing deterred our spirits to explore Bali, not even the accident just a few days before.

I wrote an article on the Green School for My Life On Board, but I left out this part. Perhaps compost toilets aren't for everyone, but I thought it was cool! 

Ummm, no. You don't want a closer look. :)

Ummm, no. You don't want a closer look. :)

And finally, it was time to just laze around and surf.

Pictures from our last session in Kuta, where Harold got to see Marlon Gerber and Rizal Tanjung in action. Slide to the next photo. :)


Sound-trippin' until the sunset.

Whenever I think of Bali, I feel like I stayed there for months even though it was only 5 days. I went there for birthday surf but got a life lesson instead, which proved to be a greater gift. I'll never forget how quick the cosmos responded to our mood swings, that whenever traces of negativity surfaced in our minds, we were knocked back down, humbled by this unknown sacredness that offered both discipline and comfort.

This must be why the locals we met were always more than willing to lend a hand: the old man who walked with us to the nearest petrol shop when we ran out, the smiling receptionists, waiters and bartenders who served us more than we asked for or expected, the surfers who let us catch more waves at their homebreak, the inn-keeper at Taman Dayu who brought me his neighbor's shears sterilised in a basin of alcohol when all I asked for were scissors or a blade to cut bandages with. It seemed that everyone wanted to help out, knowing that someone above held an immediate reward. 

Karma was only a cute word until I felt what it was like to live it in every thought.

Fun-flavored Fanta!

Fun-flavored Fanta!

Here I toast our trip with a magical drink for all the mystical events that transpired. Thank you, Bali, for the lessons, the locals, the bargains, the breakdowns, and always, the surf. Always, the surf.