Bali, nirvana or neurosis?

Tomorrow we sail into Bali, and for the next three weeks, there’ll be no protocols or transport negotiations just to step ashore. I will slip my feet into sandy running shoes, tuck a roll of cash into the secret pocket in the lining of my shorts, and step, yes step, off the catamaran and run until my 7:30 a.m. date with two soft boiled eggs and shredded cabbage tossed through whatever leftovers are in the fridge. Gone is the pre-departure checklist of the last two months. Step one: Choose the morning exercise-beach yoga, kayak around an island, run along the sand, or trek up a mountain. Step Two: Identify available and suitable modes of transportation-kayak, paddle board, or swim. Step Three: Find the captain to ask permission. Can I go to the island that looks like a sleeping camel? I’ll head to the 2nd hump, where that smoke is. I promise I’ll be home by 7:30 a.m. Step Four: Take a radio. Step Five: Keep my promise. Indonesia has thousands of islands, each unique and harbouring its own set of perks and dangers. A few weeks ago, I found a jungle distillery that used fermented palm fruit to create 40 percent alcohol for the townspeople. The “factory” was hidden halfway up a hill on the outskirts of a village at the end of a goat track. Rotten fruit lured me through the rainforest to a clearing centred by a marble-run of bamboo and grimy bottles. In the corner stood a tarp draped over two sticks where I presume the distillery owner was sleeping off a round of product testing. I didn’t stick around to raise the mixologist or his suspicions and spent the trip down the mountain glancing over my shoulder. Back on the main path, young boys traipsed by, chests bare, guns slung over their shoulders and machetes at their hips. Whether they were going hunting or guarding, I don’t know, but I smiled, and they smiled back. I came to Asia ignorant, thinking that isolation bred savagery. The people, however, are gentle, curious, and joyful. The biggest danger is nature and lack of resources to combat it. There have been earthquakes almost weekly, the last big one flattening half of Lombok. Then there is the risk of the anchor failing at night and our boat drifting on the current as we sleep merrily in our cabins until crunch, we hit a coral outcrop, puncture the hull, and sink to the bottom of the Flores Sea. Or worse, we could float into the path of an oil tanker. The boat’s mood shifts in murky waters. The captain sets the rules, the path, the curfew, and temperament, not because he is a tyrant, but because if there isn’t order, there is disaster. On all but the smallest islands, cell towers sprout like fingers reaching for more. Connectivity should mean safety, right? There’s 4G, but there isn’t clean drinking water. There’s Tinder, but there is no organized garbage disposal. Sail guidebooks for most of East Nusa Tanagra are unreliable with little information on safe anchorages or what towns are well enough resourced to fill our cabinets with long-life milk, flour, eggs, and dark chocolate. Although we have charts purchased from England for macro navigation, most anchorages are decided upon through chatting over the radio, reading through the PDF sailor’s guide purchased from Amazon, making friends with boat captains in bars and flying ahead with the drone to check out the bay around the corner. Our ignorance is a danger. Bali, however, has a nautical dossier. Mopeds, spiked drinks, diarrhea, rabid monkeys, sunburn and tourists are the major dangers and if you google sail Bali, hundreds of boat charter companies, travel blogs and holiday discounts jostle for the top spot on your feed. Millions have been before us. Because Bali is still Indonesia without the third-world risks, tourists rarely venture east. Beyond Lombok, isolation, thick jungles, corruption, disease, and tattered infrastructure make holidaying hard work. For me, however, it’s the dangers that made it exciting. It also helps that my accommodation is a boat equipped with clean drinking water, pallets of sparkling water, a wine fridge, three lounges, flushable toilets, a deep freezer, two refrigerators, shelves full of books, a washing machine, and flat-screen television. When the adventure gets too adventurous, there’s always air-conditioned comfort to recuperate in. Bali offers what the boat can’t-freedom. I don’t have to worry about falling out of the kayak after an afternoon of lying in a sling back chair on an endless beach sipping on mojitos as surfers zip across the waves in front of me. I long for soy lattes, a wax, current affairs, GMO-free chips, communicative ease, space, but most of all, I crave control. Location and schedule will be set, and although the cook has been fabulous at catering to the Vegan, the Gluten Free/Dairy Free, and the Pescatarian on the boat, I’ve missed strolling through streets and being tugged into a restaurant by the wafts of fried garlic and chatter. I’ve missed the ease of just saying, going for a walk, be back in ten. Sure, I sound like a privileged toss, but I’m a privileged toss whose missed the privileges I’ve enjoyed since leaving home ten years ago. Imagine not being able to just walk out your front door. The paddle board gets me to shore dry, but parking it unattended on the beach for an hour’s a risk. I get a soggy bottom with the kayak which also must be left with the keys in the ignition. Swimming to shore with a dry bag floating behind ballooned with shoes, clothes, air, a sarong and a wad of local currency is the safest, unless there’s trash, faeces or jellyfish floating by. A soggy bottom is preferred to Hep C or cholera. For the first month, Australian Salt Water Crocodiles made rinsing out the coffee plunger a risk. Even on dingy rides to shore, I scanned the water, mistaking every dark patch or piece of driftwood for a 12 ft. croc that wanted nothing more than to take me for a death roll. In Wini, a village on Timor Island, the locals told us that a boy was recently killed. Looking for retribution, the townspeople went out, machetes at the ready and killed over 100 crocodiles in a week. It turns out, there isn’t just a small croc problem. I signed up for this trip because of the adventure, and the respect I had for the people I’d be sharing it with, but after two months of sailing, I’m ready to park, to know what to expect, to be able to plan tomorrow and know that that plan will stick. Is the village Muslim, Christian, or Buddhist? Should I cover my legs or pack a sarong. How bad are the mosquitoes? Again, should I cover up or is bare skin safe? Can I eat the food? Is there a place to fill up my drink bottle or buy water? Will the 20 km car trip take six hours or 20 minutes? Does anyone in the village speak English? Now, I’m only a day’s sails from Bali Marina, our first dock since Australia. The day before we arrive I take my computer to the top deck and do a virtual walkthrough of the suburb surrounding the marina. There’s a grocery store, mie goreng hut, police station and swath of decaying houses. The marina, from my virtual vantage, has a cluster of small boats moored to a dock that looks more like a toddler’s domino game than a marina. I hadn’t been expecting an infinity pool, shopping mall, three cafes, 4 luxury restaurants and a two-story fitness centre like the swanky marinas of Europe and the Caribbean, but I was hoping for Wi-Fi and a warm shower. The construction vehicles and sprawling demolition site look like Lombok a month after the earthquake.

We depart the Gili islands mid-morning with the hopes of beating an approaching storm and arriving in Bali with enough time to check out the local surfing spots. A rough passage, however, postpones school and gives me the chance to head to my favourite nook on the boat. I grab my life vest equipped with heli lift out clips, a whistle, LED lights, GPS tracker and possibly a cliff bar tucked into the lining and head to the bow for a hit of adrenaline. It takes three seconds for the boat to climb from the trough to the peak of the wave. The freefall over the other side takes one. Spray gushes up through the boom net soaking me to my cells. Seated at the tip, I clutch the metal railing and dangle my feet over the dark water like I’m strapped into the front carriage of a rollercoaster. I feel the captain’s eyes on my back, urging me to head inside. I glance back and he is shaking his head. I get it. I grew up hearing stories about fishermen swept off rocks from freak waves. But, they were fishing alone without life jackets or a railing and this catamaran has more floats, beacons, and emergency protocols than a light aircraft. The first day on the boat, Captain went through every procedure and safety equipment before I’d even packed my underwear away. If a wave knocks me overboard, Jonbouy, a personal self-inflatable, will be tossed over after me. MOB (man overboard) protocol is something even the kids get taught ensuring that the head floating into the distance will be joined by a bright orange raft. Even if the MOB can’t reach his Jonbouy, they’ll be swept along on the same current making the search and rescue zone a little narrower. These waves aren’t big enough to sink the catamaran, but if we did go under, there’s a raft equipped with a desalinator, flare gun, fishing gear, emergency medicine, and one month’s supply of food. Knowing the extensive protocol and safety equipment on-board makes me slightly reckless. As I free fall down another wave, my only real discomfort is feeling the Captain’s uncomfortable and if he is uncomfortable, his partner- the cook and first mate- certainly is. I turn back to the waves and wait for one last whopper to grow from the horizon. I close my eyes and listen to the boat’s creaks, the wind, the ocean spray, and distant thunder. This is a thrill that I will miss most once the adventure is over. Benoa Harbour is both the mouth and anal cavity of Bali. Sailing into it mid-afternoon on a sunny summer’s day is like driving through Times Square on your way to hell. The harbour is on Denpasar’s southern tip and accommodates joy riders, shipping tankers, rusted fishing boats and a whole lot of trash. Parasails web the sky. Speed boats zoom past towing inflatable bananas or whales topped with screaming tourists. Jet skis weave through it all like sparrows in a locust swarm. The captain slows then stops. Our first taste of civilization in 2 months is a mouthful of pop rocks mixed with excrement. We take it slow, straight through the gut of chaos. Once we are clear of the thrill zone and the shipping yard, the captain’s eyes flick between the water depth reading and the spidering estuaries to our right. The water is brown, and the air’s thick with rot, petroleum, and cancer. The waterway is lined with resorts, restaurants and white mansions on the left and mangroves and knee-deep fishermen to the right. I google-map the marina and almost click the reviews attached to its 1.5-star rating. Don’t get distracted, Renae, it’s the red dot you need. According to the map, the marina is just ahead beyond the fishermen at the mouth of the two-pronged inlet. The red dot sits on a rectangular island that was certainly not Pangea made. Ahead, a lattice of tilted electricity towers and tarp-patched houses sprout from cuboidal land. It seems home for the next three weeks will be more nausea than nirvana.

Quick Question: If “fishermen” gets flagged as being inappropriately gendered then why has MOB not entered the non-binary fight? POB works but I think SOB befits the mood of the situation. Any suggestions?

4 thoughts on “Bali, nirvana or neurosis?

  1. Hi Renae
    What an adventure I went to the Gillie islands from Bali on a large sailing boat with two of my Grandaughters so have an idea of where you are. A very different adventure than yours. Keep safe and love Auntie Merryl


  2. Renae, Based on June 21 Strole, you are now away from Bali, paddling toward Singapore! I must admit confusion re your agenda and progress on drafting first-ever floating occupational therapist memoirs. Did that end with Taos interval? I’m also a bit sad you seem a bit under-appreciated or uncertain. You are the best and I pull for that recognition! Bud

    Sent from my iPhone



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