Dispatch from Bali: Let’s hear it for Global Nyepi!
So I'm sitting out front of the Best Western Mini Mart again, wiping my bottle of warm beer down with a baby wipe.
I happen to be looking through the rickety bamboo beach closure barriers that still block the entrance to the very empty beachbreak line-up of 'Halfaway' on Kuta beach. The very spot where every single famous Indonesian surfer in history rode their first wave (and to this day, much to the chagrin of visitors, still surf it with the same enthusiasm). A short board away from me is the second most infamous surf photographer in the world, Pete Frieden. He’s working the neck of his bottle with a baby wipe too.
We are both thinking that it’s not such a bad thing, this pandemic lockdown. It’s like a Global Nyepi Day. The Balinese ceremony where you must stay indoors, shut out the lights and reflect on your life for 36 hours or get thrown in the slammer. Hence the need for a beer in front of the Best Western Mini Mart as soon as the lockdown rules were relaxed and we were able to roll away the stones from our self-quarantined dwellings.
The first places to open were the mini-marts. Being deemed essential services, they are the new social gathering places here. Seems everybody could use a bag of potato chips and a Have-A-Heart after all that lockdown reflection. Warm beer too (It appears the fridges were on self-quarantine as well).
This afternoon Frieden and I are watching a trickle of people making their way down to the empty beach past the Happy Face Surf School billboard. Some triathlete guy in a pair of sluggos and goggles going for a swim, and a super skinny longboarder. A pair of Russians bodyboarders strolled by. You know they are Russian because they carry their bodyboards like AK-47s and are peppered with those scary tattoos you see in movies about Russian assassins. These guys never have to worry about social distancing - no-one wants to go anywhere near them. There are a few pedestrians out, and packs of fixy cyclists dodging antiseptic spray trucks, plus some hungry hookers who are zooming around on their scooter looking for the lonely. Both male, female and…well… in between. The hookers I mean.
There is a reason this island has never fallen to a foreign power even though Bali has never had a military: the Balinese follow the rules. They are devotees to their culture. And it keeps the order. Unlike the dickhead American who wanted to 'exercise his personal rights' by jumping the barrier and sitting on the beach anyway. He looked pretty chastened after he was dragged by the ear off the beach and thrown like raw meat into a cell of enthusiastic criminals at the Hotel K.
Frieden me was telling me about what was going on over in South Africa. He owns some apartments at J'Bay that he rents out to the ...lost team during the contests, hoping against hope they don’t burn the place down or graffiti clever slogans on the walls. Anyway, Frieden’s telling me that a big J'Bay swell is coming but the beaches are still shut down. Now I don’t know if any of you have ever had to deal with South African cops, but I have and I can tell you I would rather face the Russian bodyboarders. Aside from Afrikaner cops being among the world’s gnarliest bruisers they are also really, really bright.
So, how to keep the surfers off a perfect J'Bay swell? Easy. Shake down surfers for info on where the best place is to be stationed to stop their own kind. So there they stand today, two gnarly Afrikaner cops with bullwhips, as a gauntlet in front of the J'Bay keyhole. Problem solved. One can close one’s eyes and imagine Bruce Brown’s dulcet tones about all those millions of perfect empty waves breaking right now. Unfortunately the surf in front of me was only two foot and the Polisi were starting to blow their whistles for everyone to get out of the water and go home.
Yet taking it all in, Frieden and I reckoned things were going okay here in Bali. The beaches will open soon and the Aussie hordes will return for their just rewards. So fear not for us expat sinners who are weathering out here in Bali; all is as well as it could be in these troubling times.
After all, the sunset was beautiful, and the beer, though warm, was at least in hand and somewhere a speaker was playing the music of Jack Johnson singing about a monkey named George.
There are worse places to be.
// MATT GEORGE