Finding Kima Surf Camp was an adventure in itself. We took a bus from Ubud to Kuta to save a few dollars. We walked from the bus stop to the camp to save a few dollars. This would have been a great idea had we known where the surf camp was located. We didn't. A 2 kilometer walk turned into a 2 hour walk that culminated in us getting a $3.00 taxi ride around the block.
Similar to Ubud; the streets of Kuta are packed with people and shops. For the first time the streets were dominated with high-end retailers and only the occasional trinket shop. Not that I've ever been; but it was like Rodeo Dr. with surf shops. Shop windows featured tight dresses, shoes, purses, and heavy price tags. For being such a small island I am surprised at how many things are made here, in Bali. The Balinese have their own version of everything; beer, wine, liquor, tobacco, coffee, soda, furniture, cover bands, and even paintings. The Balinese can paint anything. In Kuta there are a fantastic amount of art galleries, all containing large, colorful canvases. Famous faces are a popular subject matter. If you've got a wall begging for a five foot portrait of Bob Marley, Bali is a must-visit. As is customary, the streets of Kuta were filled with incense and music. The music, by this point, had begun to grow on me. I may even like it now. I think I was beginning to find it melodic, and even rhythmic. At first it reminded me of Avant Garde Jazz; playful but not peaceful. Living in its constant embrace had finally encouraged me to develop a different opinion.
We finally arrived and got settled in. We loved Kima's accommodations. The camp was in the middle of the city, but you would never know. It was back off the street and hidden by walls and jungle. We would spend the week in the top floor of a house. We had our own room, bathroom, and balcony upstairs. We shared an open air living room, dining room, kitchen, patio, and yard with another couple.
The camp had its own restaurant, with lounge, television and game area, and a pool. This spot was called The Green Room; it's open to the public but basically enjoyed by guests. The food served was excellent and reasonably priced, the beers were cold, and you could plug your own ipod in for musical entertainment. There was always a crowd at The Green Room, no matter the time of day or night. It was a comfortable, friendly, relaxed atmosphere; exactly what you would expect from a bunch of surf campers.
We spent our first day at the camp getting equipment, learning procedures, familiarizing ourselves with a couple of local waves, checking the tides, and meeting the staff. Everyone was very nice, and accommodating. As we met more staff, and campers, throughout the day we begun to notice a pattern. There were an amazing amount of Germans, Austrians, and Europeans. A lot of the camp staff was German too. In fact, we were the only Americans. Then a light bulb went off. I had researched for the camp from my Internet...in Germany. No wonder my payment confirmation came in German...and when we arrived they were surprised that we were American. It was (some what) a camp for Germans - by Germans. We decided to have dinner that first night down the street, at Santa Fe. We had tall coconut drinks and flautas; and laughed at our circumstance of leaving Germany for a vacation and ending up in a little German village in the center of Kuta, Bali.
The way camp worked was that we had five days of instruction and two days on our own with the rental boards. Ideally you'd get your five instruction days under your belt and then go off on your own. We did the opposite. Sunday and Monday were Muslim holidays and most (all) of the surf instructors had off. Monday was a solo day for us.
We walked with our surf boards to a beach breaking wave, at the end of the street that our camp was on. We surfed. Well, Phil surfed and I paddled and got pounded. I crapped out after 45 minutes. As Phil continued to catch fun wave after fun wave, I stared up and down the beach. It was crowded, but not packed. There were a significant number of surfers in the water, but it wasn't competitive. It was mostly tourists like us, and surf guides showing off on their boards. It's great to watch how naturally a proficient surfer can catch a wave and just enjoy it. If I am ever lucky enough to catch a wave I am focused too much on staying on it to enjoy being on it.
After our morning surf session it became apparent that I was going to need a wetsuit if I was going to continue surfing everyday. We combed Kuta's surf-outlet strip until we finally found a suit that would work for me. In doing so we worked up a bit of an appetite. For lunch we stopped at a local warung. Warung is the name given to small restaurants, usually serving local fare. This particular warung looked a bit rustic, but any guide book will tell you that this is where the best food can lie. So despite it's outward appearance we gave it a go. We ordered beers and Babi Gulung. I'd read many times that Babi Gulung is delicious; so naturally it was on my to-eat list. After a week in Bali we were long overdue to try some. We were served a couple of plates each, and a bowl of soup. Our lunch consisted of crispy pig skin, pig fat, pulled pork, pork rinds, greens, bone soup, and peanuts. We ate it, but I don't think I ever could order the same meal again. (For the record, Phil ordered Babi Gulung at a different restaurant later that week and said it was way more awesome than in this instance.) After lunch I need to use the restroom. I was lucky; this restaurant had one. I had to walk behind the counter and through the kitchen to use it, but it was there. If that wasn't interesting enough; there was no toilet paper. It wasn't the first time I had found myself in this situation, and it wasn't the last. After this lunch experience was over I (kinda) felt like Anthony Bordain.
Then we visited the local supermarket. It was a supermarket and a gift shop. All of the stores in Kuta have a gift shop section. I guess they'd be dumb not to sell flower hair clips, penis shaped bottle openers and incense. We spent a bit of time cruising the isles. I picked up every other item on the shelf and excitedly proclaimed, “hey, look at this!” until Phil was ready to shake me. Once we miraculously made it to the check out, with me still alive, we had handmade soap, incense, and a thirty pack of beers for our fridge. I found the beer purchase amusing. A case of beer is something you buy at home, not on vacation on the other side of the world. It's like cooking fish and chips at home. You can do, but it just doesn't feel right.
On Tuesday we surfed at a spot called Batu Bolong. Like all of Bali's surf spots, it's famous. Batu Bolong is so famous that Jack Johnson apparently mentioned it in one of his songs. The song lyrics have something to do with banana pancakes. So every (one of us) tourists that surfs at Batu Bolong has to stop at the surf-side warung and order their pancakes. I'm glad I like bananas. A day doesn't go by in Bali that you don't eat at least one. After my beer and pancakes I needed to pee. Guess what. No bathroom. How can these guys work all day and not need a bathroom? Do they walk home and come back? Is everyone peeing in the water? I guess so. Does that mean that I maybe peed in the same ocean water as Jack Johnson?
Our morning surf session really wiped us out, so for the first time yet this vacation we took a nap. Then we woke up and surfed again; for the afternoon it was back to the beach break at Gado Gado. After this time in the water I had been surfing for two days and not caught a great wave. I was beginning to get disheartened. Phil, on the other hand, was not.
Wednesday was the best and worst day I had in Bali, yet. I woke up quite early in the morning needing to run to the bathroom. Let's just say I had a mini case of what might be known as Bali-Belly. (not sever and pretty common) Unluckily, this was an early surf morning. I did my best to get right before we left for our session. I was successful. I can't imagine what you would do if you would get the urge in the middle of the ocean...in a wetsuit. ( I apologize for any inappropriate imagery this has brought to your mind.)
The morning surf session was followed by lunch and an afternoon surf session. Planning all of this surfing can get tricky; between tides, weather, current, and wave size. You spend a decent amount of time each day researching, discussing, and formulating a plan. In a surf camp environment you also have to add in a factor of each individual surfer's ability in the group when choosing a destination. Wednesday afternoon we drove to a place called Alam Kulkul, but there wasn't much of a wave so we went to Sixty Six.
Sixty Six was my first time in the water with an instructor and a class. I had a blast. I caught a ton of waves! Actually, I think I caught eight to ten waves; but considering it was day three at the camp I felt like it was a ton. I think I was more relaxed being in the water with people that knew the wave. Being around other beginner surfers also gave me a bit more confidence, as opposed to just surfing with Phil. And I also have to confess; the instructors pushed my surfboard into 75% of the waves I rode. At first I felt a bit silly about this. Then I figured, screw it, it's what I paid for and it's fun. These pushes from the instructors actually gave me the excitement I needed to paddle into a few of my own. I had all the adrenaline, and cheer, that I needed to keep surfing and surfing, and not want to get out of the water. It was during this session that the instructors helped me work on identification of the waves, lining up with the waves, keeping my legs closed, and perfecting my paddle. The current was insane and we had to paddle constantly to stay in place. It was pretty exhausting. I'd paddle forever to hold my position and just as I'd sit up to rest the instructor would say, “This is your wave. Go. Paddle. Paddle. Paddle.” I'd say “no.” They'd say, “yes.” And I would say “shit” and do what they told me despite my inability to move my arms.
I didn't realize it at the time, but the most annoying part of my day happened an hour and a half into surfing that afternoon. I scraped my foot on the fin of my surfboard. During one of my attempts of wave-catching I was about to go tail over head in a crashing wave. Instinctively I grab the tail of my board by wrapping my feet around it. The fins of a surfboard are sharp, and deadly. The force of the water rushing over the fin, and my foot, influenced the fin to slice a bit of the soft, thin, tender skin on the top of my foot. I felt the cut, but I didn't think it was serious. It wasn't bleeding. I kept on surfing. When our session was over I got out of the water and started walking back to our van. This is when the cut really split open and started to bleed. As I would soon learn, even the smallest cut, bleeding or not, is a big deal in the Bali ocean. No one told me this ahead of time, but the water in Bali is not clean, and (in Bali in general) things like cuts can get infected pretty badly, pretty quickly. In the surf camp's desire that my medical situation not escalate I ended up in the one place you don't want to end up on vacation in Bali...the hospital.
The hospital was small, but nicer than I had expected from what I read. I was seen quickly by the doctor and she was nice. Thank goodness I did not need stitches; just a couple of glorified bandaids and five days worth of oral antibiotics. This however, did also come with a recommendation of no ocean for a T.B.D. amount of time. The doctor recommended 5 days, but the camp professionals said I'd be good after two or three days. Either way, what I was looking at was maybe not surfing for the rest of our time at camp. I felt really stupid.
Phil, on the other hand, had one of the sweetest Wednesdays his life may have ever known. He signed up for a trip to Balian. Luckily, no one else had signed up for this trip. It was just him and the instructor, Mari. Everyone at camp was speculating about how lucky Phil was for this. They were all picturing the scenario as just two people in the water with wave upon wave for their surfing pleasure. Phil and Mari had fun, but they did not have the break to themselves. It was the two of them, and around fifty Australians. There were more bodies than there were waves. But that is not uncommon in surfing; especially at a world-class location. They surfed for as long as they could and when there were no more waves to be had they went ashore for lunch.
Mari is from a town near the area where he and Phil were surfing. He brought them to an awesome lunch spot. This is where Phil had Babi Gulung again. As I mentioned, this second time around it was delicious. The two of them ate fat for under $10. Phil was stoked. It was off the radar and delicious. Mari had hooked him up with great surfing and great food. After lunch waves still had not returned back to Balian. Phil and Mari decided to leave it in hopes of finding some surf at another spot. While en route Phil requested that they make a pit stop for espresso. If there is one thing that Phil loves more than his morning coffee, it is his afternoon espresso. This particular afternoon espresso was Mari's first. Phil was surprised, Mari was delighted, and for once that day the tables had been turned.
After Wednesday Phil and Mari became great friends. I think Phil was lucky to find someone on this trip that he could talk to, get to know, and be offered insight into the life of one local. They shared a lot of stories and laughs with one another. What's it like living in Bali? I'm sure I still don't know, but Mari has a great sense of humor about it. If you ask Mari why he's never had an espresso he'll tell you it's because they don't have espresso in the jungle. They only have rice.