Opinion: Booze never sleeps in Bali

Matt George
Swellnet Dispatch

In Bali, surfers may be starved for surf…but they ain’t thirsty. Even though the place looks like a ghost town, the island legacy of drinking on the cheap plows on undeterred. 

Booze never sleeps. It’s still one of the Seven Pillars of Wisdom here.  

It was easy to come to this conclusion as I took my evening turn around town on my bicycle, mask in place (a nasty fine without, and Jesus, you really get to know yourself hyperventilating through a mask).

Anyway, cruising along the beach road, trying to find a place to sneak onto the beach to watch the sunset, I come across my old friend, the second most notorious surf photographer on earth who asked not to be identified, sitting on some hotel steps with a thermos full of Captain Morgan’s and Coke (the soft drink, not the alternative energy powder). 

There were other people too. Euro's. Like the Swiss Family Robinson, with splits of chilled champagne in a canvas ice-bucket complete with a cheese, grapes, and cracker plate. Hell knows where they find that type of class during all this. 

The beach was across the street. But like devotees of a sun cult, the people on these hotel steps were all watching the sunset through a massive Holy gate that had a lattice of bamboo across it and big warning sign to keep humans off the beach. Beyond the lattice barrier, empty four foot offshore waves were pulsing through like a wondrous concert, and us, sitting helplessly by, in the nosebleed section of the MCG. 

Yet, the shadow of the lattice formed a golden pattern across everyone’s face which I thought was quite beautiful. Of course that could have been due to the two pulls of Captain Morgan’s I had off his thermos as I sat down next to the second most notorious surf photographer on earth who had asked not to be identified.  

He filled me in on some of the neighborhood goings on despite the lockdowns. The night before in the darkened dining room of Bali’s favourite surfer cafe, a small gathering of expats and a few local surfers, sluiced warm wine and discussed the different global conspiracy theories of this COVID-19 business. He told me it was like a secret communist meeting in Hollywood circa 1955. 

Did about as much good too. 

Pressing on through town, it became clear that the new cultural centres of our expat Kingdom are the mini-marts. These days their tepid fridges are open, “Not late, but ‘til eight”. I found myself waving to surfers I would usually see in the line-up, now gathered around dusty glass tables, these tables teetering and tinkling with green Bintang bottles under the bug zappers of these new bastions of social distancing. 

I came upon a local market that was still open. To those in-the-know, if you buy more than three at a time, you can score the cheapest beer in town. But you gotta take off, no hanging around. Hence the backpack I wore. 

I bumped into one of our more prominent surf community members there. He asked not to be identified. Hell, everyone here is asking not to be identified. Such is the paranoia of this lockdown. Remember the days when people wanted their name in a surf mag?

So it goes here on an island that must follow the global rules if the harvesting of wallets is ever going to return.

Poppies Lane, January, 2020

Poppies Lane, March, 2020

Headed down a popular alley on my home I stopped for a mo’ at a bar for the older surfing set that's owned by a pool shark rumoured to have once been been Plucka Duck. Don’t worry if you don’t know what I’m talking about with Plucka, it was a while back. Which is my point. The place was going gangbusters. No wuckin’ furries here in this church of the dinky-di. (The Western Australians making up the toughest, most sunburned, and menacing of the group). After all, every surfer in the place had seen it all. There is a certain fatalism that comes with forty-something years of glorious surfer beer drinkin’. 

“To hell with COVID! Damn the clubbies! Gimme a schooner!”

Further on I dropped by 'Gang Star', a nickname for an alley near the beach where you can find a group of cousins who make up the hottest local surfers on the island. They all live in groovy compounds next to each other and protect the place like Fort Apache. The street scene there was all family. Parents, cousins, and little kids kicking a ball around, or spinning in circles on little red trikes. 

As it always has been in Bali. 

Which is why Bali will never fall. 

Or fail for that matter. 

The Balinese grown-ups with plastic cups brimming with the local palm wine, which they brew for free, adoringly watching their progeny boot the soccer ball around. They too have seen it all and know that the tourist economy, which makes up 80% of the economy here, will be back. Because it's always come back. Because it is a surfing economy. And it is a surfers place. Because virus or not, surfers will never stay away from the ocean for long. Especially this piece of ocean. Not even terrorist bombings kept them from it. Because we too, us surfers, have a virus. A virus we all caught in the ocean. And it is one that not all the scientists in creation will ever find a vaccine for. 

And the Balinese know it.

And so will Bali will rise again.

Anyway…these are the thoughts that come to you after an evening bike ride that turns into a pub crawl. And I agree with you. It was time for me to get home. 

After all, the beers in my backpack were getting warm...

// MATT GEORGE

Comments

Kellya's picture
Kellya's picture
Kellya commented Thursday, 7 May 2020 at 11:13am

Great piece of writing, you took me with you on that pub crawl! Had a family trip booked for October, we will be back as soon as it's deemed safe!

gcart's picture
gcart's picture
gcart commented Thursday, 7 May 2020 at 12:52pm

Nice work Matt , you took me back to a time prior to mass tourist invasion , but with the rider : inevitably they will return. Only thing missing was your sarong and your push bike pedaling down the dusty limestone Kuta Beach road.

When I Was Young's picture
When I Was Young's picture
When I Was Young commented Thursday, 7 May 2020 at 12:58pm

Balinese have always been masters at creating hands on memorable experiences for tourists, and accepting your rupiah with a dazzling smile.
The cliff jumping billboard centre of Poppies Lane photo got me interested!
Perhaps off the cliffs near the temple at Uluwatu?
Unfortunately don't have the stomach for those sort of dizzying heights.. like to stay well away from the edge..

Smorto's picture
Smorto's picture
Smorto commented Friday, 8 May 2020 at 9:15am

I'm pretty sure the billboard would be advertising a spot on Nusa Ceningan that has a platform out over the water that is far lower than anything around Ulus. I think its Blue Bay or Moon Bay something like that.

When I Was Young's picture
When I Was Young's picture
When I Was Young commented Friday, 8 May 2020 at 10:34am

Thanks. Thought may have been something like that. Don't think would have been off a cliff on the Bukit.. would be a bit terminal :)

Smorto's picture
Smorto's picture
Smorto commented Friday, 8 May 2020 at 10:43am

No worries. But agree with what you're saying and if there was a way to make money from tourists jumping off Bukit cliffs (without killing them haha!) then I'm sure the Balinese would find a way to make it happen!

memlasurf's picture
memlasurf's picture
memlasurf commented Thursday, 7 May 2020 at 3:00pm

Wondered who you were as I had heard the name over the years and always thought you were a yank....and you are. Great knowledge of Oz I will give you that, and quoting the 'G' in a post gives you honorary citizenship I reckon.

craig.lanston's picture
craig.lanston's picture
craig.lanston commented Thursday, 7 May 2020 at 5:48pm

strange dayz

Blowin's picture
Blowin's picture
Blowin commented Thursday, 7 May 2020 at 5:57pm

Nice work.

Thanks.

neville-beats-buddha's picture
neville-beats-buddha's picture
neville-beats-buddha commented Thursday, 7 May 2020 at 7:40pm

How the fuck does a seppo know about Plucka Duck?

memlasurf's picture
memlasurf's picture
memlasurf commented Thursday, 7 May 2020 at 9:20pm

Excellent question Nev. Plucka is married to my wifes cousin and loves Balter beer. They live between Melbourne and the Peninsula. Do I get the gold star for trivia?

goofyfoot's picture
goofyfoot's picture
goofyfoot commented Friday, 8 May 2020 at 7:56am

I’m thinkin the real Matt George didn’t write this.
Sounds too Aussie-ish for a yank to have written it

tango's picture
tango's picture
tango commented Thursday, 7 May 2020 at 10:28pm

Well, whoever did, did it well.

Phil Jarratt's picture
Phil Jarratt's picture
Phil Jarratt commented Friday, 8 May 2020 at 8:42am

The real Matt George is an honorary Aussie who drinks tallies straight from the bottle. Keep 'em coming, Matty.

Phil Jarratt

zenagain's picture
zenagain's picture
zenagain commented Friday, 8 May 2020 at 1:12pm

All this talk about beer...

My god, is that the time?!

(btw- fun read)

Watashi wa metabo oyagi desu.

memlasurf's picture
memlasurf's picture
memlasurf commented Friday, 8 May 2020 at 3:21pm

Nearly Zen I try to stretch it to 5.30.

the-u-turn's picture
the-u-turn's picture
the-u-turn commented Friday, 8 May 2020 at 4:25pm

Great writing, Matt. Always enjoy the prose.

The U Turn
...a little Aloha goes a long way.