Photos: Reflections on a Lombok corner

Matt George
Swellnet Dispatch

By Matt George
Photos by Federico Vanno / Liquid Barrel

Recently, Indonesia loosened the locks on its gates and if you had the money for the $1,700 sixty day visa you could've surfed Indonesia's best waves - which by default means the world's best waves -  with very few surfers in the line-up.

Of course, the 1,700 bucks and the outrageous international airfares and all the COVID protocols in the coming and the going were a deterrent to most civilians, but it seemed that the cashed up pros took full advantage. It turned the islands of Bali, Lombok, Java, and the Mentawai into a sort of wellness retreat to the stars. 

Here in Bali, one of the big innovations has been the jet boats. If you went down to Benoa, found a muscle boat, and threw enough cash at it, you could be surfing G'Land in an hour, then trade stories over a cold beer at Uluwatu while watching the sun set on the same day.

Same goes for Desert Point.

By reducing these exotic corners to within an hour's hop from Bali, where G'Land once meant a four day jungle stay and Desert Point a 24 hour mission on ferries and bad roads, the muscle boats were a miracle. Though again, only if you had enough dough. Whether or not this becomes the new normal to wealthy visitors remains to be seen. It does, after all, come with its challenges. Little things, like getting lost at sea in one of the most dangerous channels on Earth or going airborne at 30 knots as you break all the rules of big swell cruising. 

Desert Point is the most fascinating study. Considering the sublime quality of the wave, how Bangko Bangko has dodged the crushing development that one sees at Uluwatu is one of life’s great mysteries. Indonesia's diverse palate, where neighbouring regions can have contrasting values, helps explain the riddle, but no Westerner will fully comprehend the cultural depths of Indonesia, so sometimes it's better to let things be, simply sit back with an empty mind as an otherworldly confluence of swell, reef, tide, and wind unfurls in panorama. 

And so Bali and Lombok have survived another seasonal onslaught of visitors.

This year was made unique by the tiny numbers of them and the occasional pro delivery vessel with monster outboards mounted on the stern raking a glassy line-up. With the season winding down, and the memory of the pro performances still fresh in mind and inspiring, the best breaks are once again a local’s domain. 

// MATT GEORGE with photos by FEDERICO VANNO/LIQUID BARREL

Comments

NickT's picture
NickT's picture
NickT commented Tuesday, 3 Nov 2020 at 4:14pm

Great article Matt. By chance does anyone know how much it costs to hire one of these boats for the day? I'd love to know out of interest. I follow a kiwi dude who has lived in Bali for a long time and has been on allot of the trips on one of these speed boats where he has surfed G-Land, Scars and Super Suck in one day and back home in time for supper, you can check out his insty here, the boat looks like a beast

https://www.instagram.com/nickchong1/

Joshy Moore's picture
Joshy Moore's picture
Joshy Moore commented Thursday, 5 Nov 2020 at 11:41am

Hahaha shit, i was on a boat trip around Lombok/Sumbawa with that guy in 2004! Looks like he hasn't slowed down since!

davidinindo's picture
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davidinindo commented Monday, 9 Nov 2020 at 9:00pm

Kiwi Nick, been around for years, charges and was seen hanging with the Goat and Rizal recently!!!

Davidinindo

seaslug's picture
seaslug's picture
seaslug commented Tuesday, 3 Nov 2020 at 4:42pm

Bali to Java to Sumbawa back to Bali for dinner.....mmmm

Denyer's picture
Denyer's picture
Denyer commented Tuesday, 3 Nov 2020 at 4:54pm

What is that tasty looking setup to the south of Deserts?

Spuddups's picture
Spuddups's picture
Spuddups commented Tuesday, 3 Nov 2020 at 5:41pm

I don’t know it’s name but I think it does get surfed.

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet commented Wednesday, 4 Nov 2020 at 7:12am

Was the barely disguised site of a 'mystery' session filmed by an Aussie/Balinese pro a year or so ago, and was also a panoramic lineup shot for a Rip Curl Search ad.

Like Spud says, it gets surfed, but the reason you haven't heard more about it is fairly clear when the camera zooms in a bit.

dandandan's picture
dandandan's picture
dandandan commented Wednesday, 4 Nov 2020 at 2:02pm

I chatted to some dudes who surfed it, with one of them saying it was probably safer to drop in on Lombok's heaviest local on a stand up paddle board at 10 foot Deserts than to surf that wave again.

Blowin's picture
Blowin's picture
Blowin commented Tuesday, 3 Nov 2020 at 5:34pm

That was nice writing by Matt George.

Unfortunately, promoting the use of high speed boats to flood the lineups is just accelerating the death knell of many spots.

Spuddups's picture
Spuddups's picture
Spuddups commented Tuesday, 3 Nov 2020 at 6:28pm

I haven’t been to Indo for ten years but from what I hear these days if you want to get away from the crowds you have to park yourself up in front of a B grade wave in a remote location. Desert Point sounds like it’s pretty much fucked.

ringmaster's picture
ringmaster's picture
ringmaster commented Tuesday, 3 Nov 2020 at 8:05pm

Hearing ya Spuddy.

Indonesia has close to the best waves on the planet so understandably it's super crowded now in these times.

After many, many trips there since the mid 80's I reckon I'm pretty well done there but that's cool. The next generation will be having their fun for sure!

Blowin's picture
Blowin's picture
Blowin commented Wednesday, 4 Nov 2020 at 7:25am

There’s still great waves with few people to be found in Indo at even the most well known locations. I know this sounds like a tired old cliche by now but it’s true.

You know the drill : think outside the box , a little bit of effort pays dividends....yada yada . If you want waves they’re still there for the taking .

Island Bay's picture
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Island Bay commented Wednesday, 4 Nov 2020 at 11:49am

Agree. It can still be done.

wbat's picture
wbat's picture
wbat commented Tuesday, 3 Nov 2020 at 8:11pm

Only surfed it on one trip in 1982 when I was 21 years old. Went on one of the first boat trips with a bunch 40 year old guys who only wanted to surf once a day. I was a surf stoked frother fresh out of Angourie.
The arvo surf I had to myself, 3ft to 5ft and absolutely smoking. Probably still close to the most perfect surfs I have ever had and it was a solo session.

Never went back...........

Craig's picture
Craig's picture
Craig commented Wednesday, 4 Nov 2020 at 7:04am

How good, thanks for sharing! A special, special session.

goofyfoot's picture
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goofyfoot commented Wednesday, 4 Nov 2020 at 9:59am

Bottom photo gives me movement

braudulio's picture
braudulio's picture
braudulio commented Wednesday, 4 Nov 2020 at 10:18am

Makes me sad, and nostalgic for things lost, when reading articles like this. The world moves on I guess.

Did 4 trips to Deserts back in the 90s. Three hits, 1 miss. One yacht charter (on the way to points East), 3 overland. After we scored it pumping and basically to ourselves on the last trip I vowed never to go back. Seeing the tarmac, buildings etc. there now in place of dusty barely perceptible tracks and dilapidated bamboo huts makes me glad of that decision. Not to mention counting my blessings for my blind luck.

I've got a story about the first overland trip mostly written that I promised to Stu for the 'Friday Reader's Stories' that never really got off the ground. Maybe should dig it up and finish it.

‘IF YOU UNDERSTAND, things are just as they are;
if you do not understand, THINGS ARE JUST AS THEY ARE.’

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet commented Wednesday, 4 Nov 2020 at 11:26am

Do it Braudulio. If you need further incentive I've got a great stack of books from Sean Doherty here, mainly 'The Ninth Wave', which by coincidence has a pic of Rob Machado at DP on the cover.

I'll swap you a tale for copy.

braudulio's picture
braudulio's picture
braudulio commented Wednesday, 4 Nov 2020 at 11:59am

Hah, no need for bribery mate. I've been trying to finish that story for ages, those pictures have jogged the old memory bank. Will have another crack. Also need to run it by some of the co-conspirators.

Speaking of pics, did you ever get the WOTD candidate I sent through back in July?

‘IF YOU UNDERSTAND, things are just as they are;
if you do not understand, THINGS ARE JUST AS THEY ARE.’

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet commented Wednesday, 4 Nov 2020 at 12:21pm

No bribery. I've gotta get rid of these damn books...

RE photo: yeah I did. Just went and checked the WOTD folder to jog my own memory, and I think the rationale for not using it straight away was because the novelty value (I'm assuming it breaks very little?) was exceeded by image quality (windy, whitewash on the face of the breaking waves, also lower res).

It's still sitting there. Sometimes a mystery pre-dawn inspiration or a fitting caption coming to mind gets those things into the slot.

braudulio's picture
braudulio's picture
braudulio commented Wednesday, 4 Nov 2020 at 12:39pm

All good, not that fussed whether you use it or not. Mostly wanted to check I had the right email for ya.

You're right it doesn't break that often, but more than people think. By no means a mysto spot though, most crew round here have had a crack. And yeah the quality ain't great, shot in a hurry with my phone and besides I ain't no Jovic or Arklay.

‘IF YOU UNDERSTAND, things are just as they are;
if you do not understand, THINGS ARE JUST AS THEY ARE.’

gsco's picture
gsco's picture
gsco commented Wednesday, 4 Nov 2020 at 12:22pm

Camped under a tarp with mozzie nets hanging from tree branches for a week in '94 and got pumping Deserts in a great swell that started off too big and breaking wide but tapered off beautifully all week. Had to walk into the place around the rocks at low tide.

Spuddups's picture
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Spuddups commented Wednesday, 4 Nov 2020 at 6:25pm

I was there in 94 as well. Only for a couple of days. Like you said in those days you had to walk round the point to get there. No road and just a collection of ramshackle huts. There were some pretty hard core felluhs doing it tough, including some guys from Timaru of all places. I think it was the following year when that dude nearly got his arm hacked off in a machete attack. Yeah so pretty hard core.
As for me, well I wasn’t really surfing well enough to fully take advantage of what was on offer. Got some keepers though. I don’t think I’ll ever go back. Best to have the memory of how it was.

Island Bay's picture
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Island Bay commented Wednesday, 4 Nov 2020 at 7:06pm

Beat me by two years, Spud.
‘96 on the then standard Lembongan Lombok Sumbawa boat trip on the leaky old Tropical Express. Sat at Scar Reef for a week, then had two days at Deserts on the way home.
Nice on day one, but rising swell on the next was somewhat out of my league. At least I didn’t end up a mile out to sea like two of my mates, getting rescued by the tinny.
Lots of speedboats came over from Bali once that swell hit, but I don’t remember anyone paddling out from land.

gsco's picture
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gsco commented Wednesday, 4 Nov 2020 at 8:43pm

Cool! We bought a blue tarp and some very basic supplies from Bangko Bangko, and did it pretty rough as the only people "camping" under a tarp (definitely not glamping lol...). Everyone else was staying in those huts you mentioned which admittedly wasn't a lot more luxurious than our setup - but maybe that was glamping Deserts style back then!

The swell was very, very big the day we arrived and did the walk in. There was, I believe, a Billabong boat parked well out in the channel and Margo and a few other dudes (can only remember Margo) were surfing the wide ones that were mostly just spilling out beyond the break proper and not really worth trying to tackle.

That boat didn't stay and for this swell it was just us and some Aussie and Kiwi dudes from the huts. Supposedly a Kiwi guy called Nick was a bit of a Deserts legend at the time. Everyone was pretty courteous in the lineup and taking turns, no aggro or egos. People seemed well aware of the danger of face-planting and eating the reef and how remote we were if that happened. I remember our way out of there was we just told the driver who got us there to come back in a week and wait for us to walk back around the rocks...!

And actually I recall being told that story of the dude getting his arm slashed by a machete. Supposedly a local Indo "broke in" (as in just casually strolled on into the hut...) and tried to steal some stuff in the middle of the night and the dude woke to this and tried to stop the Indo... But I'm pretty sure I was told that story while we were there that year, implying it must have happened before that. But my memory is a bit rusty nowadays and we were basically drunk the whole 90s anyway...

On one of the best days of that swell, while we were all out the back, a big bushfire sparked up right behind our dodgy tarp camp, and we had to rush in and save all our stuff. It was high tide and we stuffed all our gear in our boardbags and let them float in the small waves lapping up against the land while tied to some trees. We then spent the afternoon with some buckets and wet towels fighting the fire until we won it over, and some of the other dudes came in to help out of caution that the fire would spread and threaten the huts. The guys at the huts thought the local Indos lit the fire intentionally because we were camping and not paying for accommodation in the huts. So after that we made a point of buying every coconut and bunch of bananas they were selling, and all was well.

In passing, I remember getting empty Bingin early in the mornings and at sunset nearly every day back then in the early 90s since nearly everyone stayed in Kuta. If I recall right we were sometimes the only people staying out at Bingin in the huts along the cliffs. Was a golden period to be in Indo.

NickT's picture
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NickT commented Thursday, 5 Nov 2020 at 2:58pm

Awesome memory thanks for sharing GSCO!

Spuddups's picture
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Spuddups commented Thursday, 5 Nov 2020 at 6:54pm

Yeah, great story.

Imacie's picture
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Imacie commented Sunday, 8 Nov 2020 at 10:01pm

I know the guy who got his arm slashed, he stayed with me in japan for a month. He told me he was trying to stop some other guys getting hurt and the indo guys decided to attack him instead. I believe him, he seemed like a decent guy. Did a lot of Mountain climbing.

Spuddups's picture
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Spuddups commented Monday, 9 Nov 2020 at 2:09pm

From memory I think there was an article in Tracks about him. I'd like to dig it out but it's up in the attic.

udo's picture
udo's picture
udo commented Monday, 9 Nov 2020 at 3:42pm

https://balibelly.com/robbed-at-desert-point/
A bit from Pablo on the D.S. attack

Craig's picture
Craig's picture
Craig commented Monday, 9 Nov 2020 at 4:21pm

Wow, that's so so heavy.

udo's picture
udo's picture
udo commented Monday, 9 Nov 2020 at 5:09pm
gsco's picture
gsco's picture
gsco commented Monday, 9 Nov 2020 at 8:49pm

Wow, heavy, thanks for the links.

I knew it had something to do with the guys in the huts waking up to robbers, but didn't know that was the full extent of the situation.

We were just 17yr old kids straight out of school the first time we went there.

Those pics sure bring back some memories and are exactly how I remember Deserts from back then.

I've also heard some horror stories about the middle-of-the-night bemo trip from Dompu to Lakeys - like guys getting lined up along a fence at machete-point half way to Lakeys by the drivers demanding more money than agreed upon.

We once got into a situation and got chased at machete-point out of the little township near the Sumbawa ferry terminal port of Pototano, and had to spend a rough night in the bushes back near the ferry. But that was our own fault for being drunken idiots in a Muslim land.

tango's picture
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tango commented Thursday, 12 Nov 2020 at 10:05pm

Bloody oath, gsco. A mob of us were the first to camp at the Padang cafe on the clifftop in 93, had it to ourselves pretty much every morning and Imposso every arvo when the crowd from Kuta descended. Or walk thru the paddocks up to Ulus. My bed was the timber floor of the lookout on the cliff edge and a board cover. Gold.

bigredcouch's picture
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bigredcouch commented Wednesday, 4 Nov 2020 at 2:28pm

So how are we getting into Indo for next season? What's the situation going to be?

stunet's picture
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stunet commented Wednesday, 4 Nov 2020 at 2:33pm

I turned down cut-price tix to Bobby's because they couldn't assure me they'd be held till 2022.

So I guess you could say I'm not feeling optimistic about next year.

dandandan's picture
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dandandan commented Wednesday, 4 Nov 2020 at 3:14pm

A friend is trying to get back to their family and business in Indo and in regular contact with the embassy and apparently the answer is still "we've got no idea when you will be able to go back". Grim!

NickT's picture
NickT's picture
NickT commented Thursday, 5 Nov 2020 at 3:08pm

You can go there right now. There is flights running. You can get a very expensive flight from Brisbane to JKT for about 2K each way. You can get the expensive visa to enter the country, I think they allow people who wish to conduct business in indo to apply for a visa, theres a way you can fudge that arguement and get in. I think when you come back you have to quarrentine in one of the govt selected hotels which will set you back something like 4k. Very expensive trip all round. Theres allot more tourists going there now than four months ago, just not cheap. i have heard some devestating stories about Bali and the amount of business that have gone under. I guess this will create a frenzy of buying opportunities as we all know it will eventually recover. I will be super picky about going over there during the first proper open season because it will be the most crowded season of all time one would expect

Beaver's picture
Beaver's picture
Beaver commented Wednesday, 4 Nov 2020 at 7:53pm

Biked in,and walked around point in 1986, friend gave me a map and said ive heard of waves near this village called Bankgo Bangko.Slept in boardbag to escape mozzies it was one of the old nylon bubblebags, sweated like a pig next to a local coughing up his lungs from the home made rollies.Scored 3 feet fun, had no idea if we were in the right spot or not.Going through the villages it was like they had never seen surfboards before and not many whities,so i figure we might have been some of the earliest guys to surf there.Great adventure.

Blowin's picture
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Blowin commented Wednesday, 4 Nov 2020 at 8:12pm

Nice , beaver.

https://youtu.be/wS3LWOTCW4A

Apologies mate . You’ve heard it a million times.

Seriously....good story.

Beaver's picture
Beaver's picture
Beaver commented Thursday, 5 Nov 2020 at 6:45am

Too good to miss that one!

gsco's picture
gsco's picture
gsco commented Wednesday, 4 Nov 2020 at 8:49pm

That's legendary!

Turtle's picture
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Turtle commented Friday, 6 Nov 2020 at 6:17pm

Hey Beaver, surfed Desert Point in 86 when i was 21. First trip to Indo but not the last. I surfed it from a boat. It was "King Surfaris" with guys from Cronulla. We were on the boat for 5 weeks, surfed Gland and Scar Reef in Sumbawa.

Turtle

goofyfoot's picture
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goofyfoot commented Wednesday, 4 Nov 2020 at 9:26pm

Always wondered about that other left near Deserts.
Makes for epic line up shots. Anyone on here surfed it?
Camel?

Robo's picture
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Robo commented Thursday, 5 Nov 2020 at 8:53am

They've been doing those fast boats day trips for years nothing new. 7 years ago i was staying at Keramas in December, Mitch Parkinson and Jackson Coffey were staying there with a camera guy , they did a day trip to G-Land, surf was average and they got food poisoning from a club sandwich, spent the next 2 days throwing up lol.

groovie's picture
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groovie commented Thursday, 5 Nov 2020 at 10:49am

Indo was & still is the most consistent place in the world for quality waves. After 40 yrs of surfing it there are still those magic days when it all comes together however they are on hold now till who knows when??? Fortunately Huey smiled on us this year on the East coast with consistent swells & a throwback to less crowds whilst lock down was on. As far as Desert point goes personally I much prefer G-Land on my backhand. It will be interesting to see if the Indonesian govt. allows international tourists to return en masse before a vaccine is developed & how that may work.

dandandan's picture
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dandandan commented Thursday, 5 Nov 2020 at 1:09pm

For Australian surfers, I reckon it's going to be more of a case of our government letting us leave than Indonesia letting us in.

barreldogs's picture
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barreldogs commented Friday, 6 Nov 2020 at 1:19pm

Dunno how we managed to get screwed over so bad looking at all these stories of uncrowned early 90’s... Did the Sumbawa, Lombok, Lembongan trip on Anne Judith 2 in 92, and after surfing pumping Scars with only our boat there, we ran out of time and had to start heading back. The day we upped anchor, Scar reef was easy 8-10 with bigger bombs, but when we got to desserts, we were greeted with ruler edged 4-5ft perfection.... and what seemed like 100 arseholes that wouldn’t know what sharing was if they were in kindergarten being told about dividing up a bag of jelly babies. Not one person on our boat got a single decent wave, so packed up and went to surf shipwrecks instead. Never bothered going back. Having said that, we scored a rather famous wave last year with only me and one mate in the water on one morning. Don’t get me wrong, the place was still packed at peak hour, but the early, lunch and sunset sessions were still exceptionally manageable. Wasn’t a jet boat to get us there, but it certainly isn’t a 4 day mission any more either.

rogerdodger's picture
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rogerdodger commented Friday, 6 Nov 2020 at 8:24pm

Sounds like you were rather hard done by bdogs but I got to say we too were on the Anne Judith with Cap'n Brett at the helm in May '96 who took us to all the best Sumba, Sumbawa and Lombok had to offer and we scored big time, culminating at DP. Swell jacked up to 6-8ft as we were arriving and we dropped anchor with no one in the line up. Soon as we jumped off the boat, a bunch of ferals that were camped on the beach paddled out and proceeded to lay down their pseudo local law by caving waves and blocking take offs. Really soured the vibe. It was great to see kharma shine as one of these fuckwits paddled past with his back slashed up by the reef. Hope he got a mega infection and had to go home. Hate to think what its like now.

gsco's picture
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gsco commented Saturday, 7 Nov 2020 at 7:39am

hmm I quite possibly was one of those ferals.

On the flip side, my experience back then is the camps and surf would get into a fairly relaxed and mellow rhythm and vide, you got to know each other and shared some interesting stories, and you kept a certain respect for each other.

Then along would come a boat full of seemingly completely disrespectful, pumped up fuckwits who thought they were superior to the ferals and would all pile into the lineup and try to take over and catch every wave, and like you said "proceeded to lay down their pseudo local law by caving waves and blocking take offs" etc.

That would really ruin the vibe and rhythm of the camp.

gggiiibbbo's picture
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gggiiibbbo commented Saturday, 7 Nov 2020 at 3:36pm

Lucky enough to surf Bangko-Bangko once in 2001. 1ft to offshore 4ft + in 6 hrs.
8 guys out all day. I never made a barrel but won’t ever forget taking turns watching my mates pulling in & getting subsumed by “The Grower’ section. We were all laughing our heads off at how stupidly perfect the waves were.
Right on dusk a 5 footer came through & went unridden - we were all out of position. I have not to this day seen a better wave with my own eyes. Incredible.
Woke up on the boat next morning to a misty, empty & dangerous 8ft - we bailed to Shipwrecks!
I’ll never go back - 52 yrs old & wouldn’t get a set wave with how crowded it is now.
Stoked to have the memories.

Logical's picture
Logical's picture
Logical commented Sunday, 8 Nov 2020 at 11:39am

Same Pros and Celebrities flying around in private jets, surfing via giant power boats.
In their off season will be promoting the:-
CLIMATE CHANGE HOAX when back in western cities.

dogbox's picture
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dogbox commented Tuesday, 10 Nov 2020 at 6:48am

Is that you JIm Banks lol

udo's picture
udo's picture
udo commented Tuesday, 10 Nov 2020 at 1:23pm

Mid morning Bukit..noice
https://balibelly.com/uluwatu/