27 April 2010

Honeymoon, Part 1

Kathleen and I set out on our honeymoon to Indonesia early on the morning of Thursday, April 1st. Roughly 22 hours later, we were at the Indonesian border pleading with some sketchy looking immigration officials to let us into the country. Kathleen had been doing a ton of travelling for work and space was running thin in her passport for stamps. For some reason, US passports reserve the last four pages for ‘amendments and endorsements.’ Despite the fact that other countries had used this area for stamps, the officials were claiming there was nothing they could do. They would get in trouble if they used these pages. We were shuffled in front of a few equally risk-averse officials and brought into a back office that was filled with armed men drinking tea and chain smoking cigarettes. All shook their heads one by one, and we were again brought back out front. At this point, I realized what being married is all about. I have been in similar sketchy situations in third world countries, and have always felt relatively calm and assured I would make it out with no issues. Not this time. I was sweating profusely, my hands were shaking, and my voice was trembling. My imagination was running wild and the thought of my wife getting trapped in the Indonesian penal system was kinda occupying my thoughts. It was pretty obvious these guys were looking for some cash, but I was worried that they would use any offers we made, against us as a way to extort more. Anyhow, Kathleen was cool as can be and after about 20 minutes of us not giving into their subtle (and not so subtle "We were hoping you could give us something for our trouble.") demands, they finally stamped us and away we went.
We eventually emerged from the airport and were hit with the heat immediately, which kinda felt amazing. At the exit, there were hundreds of people standing behind a barrier holding signs up with people’s names on them. The place where we were staying had sent a driver to pick us up and somehow we managed to find him. He whisked us away to his car and we settled into some much appreciated air-conditioning. Within the five minutes it took us to go from the exit to his car, Kathleen and I were both drenched with sweat. The next two hours were spent driving through the streets of Bali to reach our first destination: Balian Beach. Despite being totally exhausted we managed to stay awake for a lot of the trip, and I’m glad we did. The roads were pretty amazing to watch. There was only one lane going in each direction and it snaked up and down the hills of the lush green countryside. Balian drivers seemed to have developed some calm sort of etiquette and order to the chaos of the roads. Despite near misses virtually every second with oncoming traffic and crossing people/animals, horns blaring in all directions, and traffic doubled up passing each other regularly, I never saw any anger or ‘road rage.’ Everyone accepted and anticipated each other’s movements and two hours later we arrived at Balian Beach and where we were staying, Pondok Picses.
Upon arrival we were led to our river side villa and served fresh mango juice:
After checking out our new digs, we took a quick walk down to the beach. At this point I should say that although I initiated the idea of Bali for our honeymoon, Kathleen did most of the research into where to go. She knew I wanted to surf a mellower beach break and that we were not really interested in crowds or any sort of party scene. She did absolutely perfectly with this first stop. In fact she did so well, that people we met in the days ahead were shocked that we had found the place on our own and were not told to go there by others. 100 yards from our doorstep, we emerged on the black volcanic sands of the beach. Balian resides in a cove of sorts with the Balian River on one side, and cliffs on the other. To our backs were the 3 or 4 establishments making up the ‘village’, and straight ahead was a perfectly shaped wave. This was exactly what we were looking for.
For the next 5 days we settled into a very mellow routine: surfing, eating, drinking beer/milkshakes, napping, watching the surf, and more eating. The only reason people really came here was to surf or to relax while their family members surfed. There was nothing touristy about the place and everything was super subtle and mellow. Despite the fact that it was so surf-centric, it did not really attract your typical party dudes. There were people of all ages and everyone was super friendly. You met the same people eating breakfast, at the bar, in the line-up, and at dinner. All of the locals seemed to appreciate the visitors and there were a lot of people from the ‘village’ surfing as well. I was able to rent a board from Pondok and paddled out a number of times to catch some waves. The line up was mellow and most people seemed to be very friendly. Since these were my first sessions in a number on months I was a bit rusty and was definitely challenged. One day it was actually way too big, so I was on the sidelines. This was totally fine, because watching the amazing level of surfing was so much fun. The main restaurant/bar sits right on the beach and they had built the whole thing to allow for prime spectating. While I was surfing, Kathleen was happy to bury herself in the numerous books she brought along, or to sip milkshakes and take photos. One older surfing couple we met explained to her that in order to become the perfect surfer’s wife she needed to bring a long tripod and a video camera. I seem to remember someone getting a tripod for Christmas…
The surf:
The views:
The other amazing part of where we were staying was the food. We had delicious tuna, steaks, shrimp, chicken, rice, and a whole host of vegetables while we were there. The kitchen where we stayed served up all sorts of super fresh dishes at ridiculous prices. This place was not only cheap by UK/US standards, but as we found out by Indonesian standards as well. We loved coming here for breakfast and dinner. I was usually exhausted from the surf, and we would both drink a few beers, eat our grub, and play a few games of cribbage. Here is the view from where we ate:

I would say that within the first few hours of being in Balian we felt totally relaxed and so far removed from all the stress of work. I believe it was the morning of the first full day where I started talking about our savings and dreaming about how far it would take us down here. It was an amazing first stop on our honeymoon and I think if we were to have only been to Balian, that in and of itself would have been a perfect trip. However, we had much more in store for us and we were looking forward to the next stop. So we packed up and woke up at 4:30 the morning of our departure and walked up to the dirt road to meet our driver. On our way up we ran into an expat who seemed to be in his fifties and was married to a local woman. With a warm greeting he trotted by with his board under his arm and his dog not too far behind, to get some pre-sunrise waves. Amazing…

No comments:

Post a Comment