This piece is aimed at surfers who have been to Bali, but the casual tourist might like it too.
Fight your way out of the terminal past the porters, touts and taxi drivers. Don’t give them a second glance; they will latch onto you faster than a Sumatran leech and suck you dry before you’ve even made it to the ATM. Don’t worry too much about trampling the odd package tourist, just get out of that terminal and things will improve rapidly.
Once you’ve drawn enough cash, drag your board bag out of the parking area, while still ignoring the clamouring taxi drivers. Continue walking along the road until your bags start weighing you down. The further you walk, the cheaper the fare will be when you eventually hail a cab. Keep going, you’re a sportsman after all!
When the time is right, nod at one of the hovering taxis and it will screech to a halt. Now you have to negotiate a price to the Bukit. Remember, taxi drivers are not like ordinary, friendly Balinese citizens, these rapacious parasites will sell their mothers as sex slaves at the right price. Don’t let them take all your hard earned cash.
Be firm, try to smile, but don’t bare your teeth, you don’t want to piss your driver off. Remember, you’ve just completed a twenty-plus hour plane ride, with stopovers in some pretty unholy places; you probably look like hell. Your eyes are blood-shot, your hair is matted from sleeping with your head wedged between seats and your face is hanging down to your knees from the jet lag. You smell like lemongrass hand towels mixed with bottled-up farts and old sweat and your breath reeks of chicken-or-beef and stale beer.
Take it from me, young man, your appearance will make people nervous. But this can be to your advantage; it may give you the upper hand when it comes to negotiating the fare with the taxi driver, although only up to a point. Remember what your mother told you: too much of a good thing can be dangerous. So don’t overdo it. Try not to foam at the mouth, keep your hands in your pockets and don’t lean in too close. Who knows what a nervous taxi driver will do? You don’t want him to speed off with your surfboards hanging halfway out the passenger door. Stay calm, keep your cool and get the good price.
Now climb in behind him (remember, the surfboards are lying on the front seat that’s been folded down), fasten your seatbelt (forget the plane and its constant seatbelt warnings, you definitely want to buckle up here), grip the seat in front of you firmly with both hands, choose your deity (there are thousands in Bali, this is a Hindu island) and pray. Pray long and hard and be sincere. It’s never a good idea to get on the wrong side of a god like Ganesh, who has the head of an elephant, four arms and carries a broken-off tusk as a dagger.
Under no circumstances should you get involved in a discussion with the driver about how he is handling his vehicle on the road. Don’t do it! Just concentrate on not soiling your seat or vomiting down the back of his neck. This will only make him turn around to see what you are getting up to while still screeching headlong into the traffic on the wrong side of the road. Luckily for you, Balinese road users are very forgiving. They always let the idiot that has overtaken on the blind rise back into the lane just before that oncoming truck mows him down. He will really have to behave like an arse to enrage them. So relax. The out of body/ near-death experience technique of hovering just above the seat and observing events in a detached and far-off kind of way always works for me.
Keep an eye on the landmarks, though. You’ll be coming back to Kuta soon enough, so you want to know the way. Like flies to flypaper, surfers are drawn to Kuta. Even though it will cost you entire surf sessions and countless barrels, you will be pulled towards Kuta like a lemming to a cliff. Every few days the fleshpots of Bali’s deepest tourist trap with all its Australian girls, Bintangs and Benchongs will lure you in. You will not be able to resist for very long. And when you wake up the next morning in that god-awful cheap room you got for the night, hung over or not, alone or not, you will regret the whole experience and swear to yourself never again. But before long you’ll be back.
However, I digress. Keep an eye out for the landmarks. Don’t be alarmed when the driver skips the first traffic light, they all do. Just make sure he turns right. If he carries on straight, he’s taking the long way round. At the T-junction opposite Wank Internet Cafe he should turn left. Carry on past the signs for “knalpot” (silencer workshops). When you get to the Ladies Room Boutique, you’ve gone too far. The Kak Wok Warung on your right might look interesting, but try to resist the urge to stop and see what is in the wok. You want to reach your destination as soon as possible. Stay focused.
Don’t panic if you see lots of tanker trucks on the road with “semen” written on their sides. Bali does not suffer from an infertility crisis and you won’t be abducted to a local stud farm and be forced to donate yours every six hours by big hairy guys holding up tattered copies of Hustler to help you along. Semen means cement in Indonesian and there is a lot of construction happening on the Bukit. The developers are trying their best to turn the place into another Costa Del Sol, so hurry along to see it before you’re too late.
By this time you’ve passed the Jimbaran turnoff. You want to come here one evening to feast on the best seafood in Southern Bali. The night market is something to behold, but leave the Chinese girls alone. They are pretty and very petite, but their relatives are always close. Have you heard of the Triads? They are not to be messed with at any cost. Knee caps are good to have. Hold on to yours.
Soon the turnoff to Balangan will be on your right. The chilled out beach and mellow waves are a welcome escape for those who got too cocky at one of the shallower reefs and then paid for it in blood, or for those who just want to get away from the ravening crowd at Uluwatu for a while.
When you see the signs for “Full Blooded Aussie Burgers and Cold Piss”, you know you’ve almost arrived. This is the favourite hangout for our cousins from the land of Bruce and Sheila, so brush up on your Aussie rules football. Try not to mention the rugby, you want to make friends with them, remember. As much as you might like to deny it, us South Africans are pretty much just like the boys from down under, so just get on with them. Anyway, you’re the only Saffa in a sea of Oz.
Now Padang Padang, Bali’s own Pipeline, is approaching fast and beyond it, the legendary Uluwatu. Can you smell it yet? The scent of clove cigarettes and incense from roadside shrines mingle with the sea air, a prelude to the offerings that happen daily at the reef-temples of the Bukit. Thousands of surfers come to worship there every year, to sacrifice themselves to the demons and gods of the deep. Like faithful sheep they wait in the line-ups for a chance to take off on a big one, to be flayed on the reef and to be dragged along the coral, so that they might be given a chance of getting that once-in-a-lifetime barrel, if the gods so wish.
When you get to the bridge where a little stream runs into the sea, climb out of your taxi, grab hold of the railing and congratulate yourself. You’ve made it! Now look towards the ocean. This is what you have come for: translucent water framed by chalky-white cliffs and emerald green foliage, white coral beaches full of tanned bodies, bright bikinis and low slung board shorts. And the waves! Perfect tubes, ruler-like walls, line after line stretching from Padang Padang through Impossibles, all the way to Bingin. Some of the best waves you’ll ever surf. Waves that you will remember for the rest of your life. And waves that will make you eat your pride raw.
Can you see it yet? Can you smell it? Can you feel it? This is the Bukit. Welcome to Padang Padang.