Bali Ha’i May Call You

Luckily, I did not fall in these rice paddies
Things I did on Bali: ate at a secret organic restaurant, swam in hot springs-fed pools at a secluded spa, photographed a misty volcanic lake, rode ojek (motorbike) on windy mountain roads in the pouring rain, fell in a rice paddy, and bribed a police officer.

And that was just one day.

At the end of our stay in Indonesia, we managed to fit in six short but busy days on the island of Bali. Even just the name of the island conjures up a hectic barrage of images and expectations: a sublime tropical isle, relaxing on beautiful sunny beaches, world class surf, fancy resorts, and swinging bars and clubs. And from our own experiences so far in Indonesia, we expected cheap local food, limited western cuisine, touristy shopping areas, and the same hot, muggy weather. Additionally, there was an unknown factor – we were overlapping our stay to hang out with Mel, a friend of my stepmom, who was traveling with several friends we had never met before.

Image by Melinda NorrisThe combination of the novel and the expected that we found was just right. The resort in Seminyak was wonderfully luxurious, especially after weeks in homestays and other relatively humble accommodations. There was plenty of shopping to be done, with great finds everywhere, such as the beautiful batik, handmade by locals in the traditional style. Sometimes it a took a little effort to find, but there was good local food all around, with the usual cheap prices. And the music scene in Ubud was first rate, with a variety of genres played live every night by seriously talented bands in multiple cool bars.

Some of the best parts were completely unexpected. There was more western food at the resort’s expansive breakfast than we had seen in the past two months combined, including many things we had been sorely craving. Mel’s clan of Aussies were the best by far, from her partner, Jason, and her sister, Sue, to her friends Toni and Simone. They were up for anything, with plenty of fun plans and ideas, but also willing to be spontaneous and able to keep smiling no matter what craziness got thrown at us. We enjoyed finding good food together, chatted for hours, and danced the nights away as if we had been at it for years.
Image thanks to Mel and Jason

Of course, there were some not so pleasant surprises as well. The beaches were not much cleaner than others we had seen on Java, and the waves weren’t very impressive either, although we didn’t look very hard for the real surf spots. The expected hot muggy weather was broken up by rain, often ending an afternoon out. We didn’t let that dampen our spirits too much, but the hassling from locals selling things was downright aggravating. The Kuta shopping area and adjacent beach were the worst – in many areas you could barely go ten steps without being set upon by hawkers shoving cheap sunglasses or sarongs in your face. Many shop workers tried to harass you into buying something, often lying to your face and inventing ridiculous stories to go along with their outrageous prices.

Yet despite having a few of the worst experiences, our time on Bali included some of my all time favorite memories of the whole trip. One of the top experiences was our trip on ojek out of Ubud to the volcanic crater lake. The sun was warm overhead but the breeze was refreshingly cool. We cruised slowly along the straight, flat, smooth road past craft shops and terraced rice paddies, with increasingly more impressive views of old volcanic cones, raising their green tops amid a perfect blue sky. The leisurely pace set by our friendly and helpful tour guide allowed us all to enjoy the scenery and for Mel to take plenty of photos. It was the right kind of adventure, just like our time in Bali – a wonderful blend of the expected and unexpected. To put it simply, I was Happy.

Bali may 2010.jpg

Days Gone Bayah (2010-05-06)

“You wear sarong. It’s good.” a middle aged Indonesian man said to me as I walked down the path to the beach in Sawarna. A day later we would meet Pa Ma’ani again at our homestay there. It turned out he was an English teacher at a high school in the nearby town of Bayah (pronounced bye-ah in case you couldn’t tell from the bad pun in the title), as well as at a private school he ran out of his home. We spent a long time talking to him about our trip and our backgrounds, and he told us about his students and school. That week while we were staying in Sawarna we made two trips by ojek to Bayah to talk to students. We also agreed to come back a few weeks later to stay at Ma’ani’s home.

Paul Taking a Nap With The Kucing

Two weeks later we were bouncing down the rutted and potholed road from Bayah to the city of Serang, five hours to the North-West. There were seven of us stuffed in to the Unsera Universitas SUV: Ma’ani; Pa Irwan, who was part of the faculty at Unsera, and who had become our guide/translator; Pa Malik, the Dean of Social Politics and our host; our driver; and a young boy who lived in Serang and was hitching a ride. The day before we had visited SMA Bayah to speak at the opening of an English speech competition, and I had unfortunately come down with my first illness of the trip with severe stomach cramps, so I was more than a little wiped out. Apparently corruption in the region has caused the roads in the area to be left in total disrepair, and we regularly have to swerve left and right to find a passable way, or slow to a crawl as we pitch and roll in and out of man sized divots. But was have many interesting conversations, about the language, the school, local politics, and differences between Indonesia and America.

A Parade Through Serang Once in Serang we went to the home of Pa Malik, where we would spend the night. After a delicious dinner of goat satay with peanut sauce and stir fried vegetables we went for a walk and ended up taking a Bemo over to the university. There we met with some students who were setting up for the opening ceremony of their “English Day Club” which we were to speak at the next day. It was with some chagrin we discovered our names had been put on the banner for the ceremony. Apparently our visit, was a big deal for the students. The students were a very interesting group of people, from many backgrounds, and with varying English ability. Some were from Serang, and some were from other parts of Western Java. Some spoke nearly fluently, others were shy and didn’t say much, although we thought they were all very talented, especially considering English is a third if not forth language for many of them. Finally we went back to Pa Malik’s for a dessert of pisang goreng, showers and bed.

Unsera English Day Club The next day is a bit of a blur; we went to two ceremonies at two different schools where we spoke with students. At the opening ceremony for the English Day Club there was a very involved and amusing skit performed by the students. There were musical performances, including an impromptu performance by Jen of Let It Be, and finally a short question and answer session. A good time was had by all, and we was very impressed at the length to which the students went to put the ceremony together.

Next we went to an Islamic university that was working to improve their English program. There we spent some time speaking with some of the faculty, and then had an involved interview and question and answer session with the faculty and students. There we received some more interesting and thoughtful questions about America and our culture and education.

Overall, our spur-of-the-moment journey as either ambassadors of the English language, or oddities from overseas on display (I’m not sure which), was a great experience. We met many fascinating Indonesian youths and teachers. We had many interesting conversations; sometimes the same one, ten or twenty times with different students. And we learned a lot about Indonesian culture, while at the same time hopefully creating a good impression of ours.

These are the kind of experiences that make traveling so worth while. The kind you don’t expect and never know quite what they’ll look like until you’re in the midst of them.


A Surfer at Sawarna Sawarna is about as close as you could hope to get to a hidden, tropical surfing paradise these days, without a boat and a lot of time on your hands. We’ve been here seven days, and the longer I stay the more I fall in love with the peeling left hand reef/point break, the expansive sandy beach, and the lush jungle  cliffs with families of monkeys swinging from the tree tops. There’s nothing quite like sliding quickly down the face of a gently curling head high wave, watching the coral stream by beneath clear blue water. The long beach is a great place for walks, offering much to explore including a bat cave, monkeys, and fascinating rock formations. And the ever changing sky is constantly beautiful from sun up to sun down.

Admittedly it isn’t all wine and roses. The wind picks up mid to late morning which blows out the surf. There is also a bit of trash lying around, which the villagers sometimes burn, but the beach is substantially cleaner than Cimaja, where paddling through garbage to get to the lineup is fairly common. And the break here is good, although it’s not the barreling world class waves of Bali. The wave tends to section or close out in spots. We’ve mainly surfed the inside section of the reef. There is a good rip current just in front of the boat launch (pictured below), which is handy for paddling out to the inside spot. For the outside spot you walk farther out the point to the southeast. Additionally there is a beach break to the west. It was only surfable two of the days we were there, but it can be fun on smaller days, otherwise it’s just shore pound.

Fishing Boats

A Local Shepherd The village gets by on rice cultivation, fishing, and income from homestays, of which there are at least three. Apparently the kepala desa (village leader) used to make and sell electric guitars and was somewhat renown, but we haven’t met him or seen his trade save for a few old pictures and some derelict, half finished guitars, so I assume he has retired or passed away. The people here are exceedingly friendly for the most part, and we haven’t had any of the problems with theft or localism that were mentioned online. The food is also delicious, although one can get tired of rice and fish twice a day. We’ve also had no trouble with illness despite the primitive facilities (the only toilet/bath is a traditional kamar mandi consisting of a basin of river water and what amounts to a hole in the floor).

Local Fishermen

On the fifth day of our stay here we were visited by a local school teacher who was interested in practicing his English and he invited us to visit his school. So the next day we rode ojek with him and his son to the nearby town of Bayah where we met with a group of giddy high schoolers. We talked about our trip and our home and asked the students about their lives and hobbies. At one point we were entreated to sing for them, so Jen sang “Alpha Beta Parking Lot” and “Adventures in Solitude” while I played along on a very out of tune guitar.

Homestay Batara Illuminated by a Lightning Storm

The Swinging Bridge The pace of life is slow here. We only keep time by the singing from the local mosque. Our ten day stay has been, by far, the most relaxing part of our travels. However, we’ve plowed through all of our books, and with only three hours a day spent in the surf, there is only so much sketching, writing, and Settlers of Catan a person can take. So in the end, despite being in love with Sawarna, we’re looking forward to our return to Cimaja.


In case some of you found this page while searching for information on traveling to Sawarna, here are some more details for you. Sawarna is in the Banten Province on the Island of Java. If you’re looking on Google Maps search for Ciantir. It is probably about a 6 hour drive from Jakarta to Sawarna. There are roads approaching from both the east (Cimaja/Cisolok area), and the west (Bayah). The roads from the west are better, but you have to get to Bayah first. Transport can be arranged by speaking to the resorts/hotels/hostels/losmen in the Cimaja/Cisolok region. Prices will be between 400K and 600K rp.

The trail to the surf spot is conspicuously marked by the swinging bridge pictured above. The hike out to the surf spot is about 1 kilometer to the inside break, or 1.5 kilometers to the point. The locals will be happy to take you out there with your boards by ojek for the usual rate (20K rp), although the ride over the swinging bridge is a bit harrowing. The bottom is coral/rock at both the inside break and the point. The inside was mostly waist deep in the wipeout zone, and so we never had any cuts or scrapes. However I heard people describe the the point as being a bit more dangerous, and I never surfed it so I can’t say. The beach break has a sandy bottom and has potential as a beginner spot, however it was hollow closed out and unsurfable most of the time, so don’t count on it. Sawarna tends to be bigger than Cimaja on the same swell, so keep that in mind too.

I stayed at Homestay Batara which is the big house across the street (incquire at the cafe right next to the bridge). The rooms there are upstairs, have locks, and are quite secure. The family is very kind and hospitable, although their English was limited, so be sure to learn some Indonesian before you go, or bring a phrase book. Meals are include and the daily rate there (and, I think, at all the homestays) is 120K rp. per person per day. As I said, the facilities are primitive. Limited drinking water is provide, but I recommend bringing a few gallons as a reserve, or having a filter, and bring your own toilet paper. The bat cave & monkeys are a 2 kilometer hike to the west along the beach, and include wading across the river mouth. You can also have the locals take you via the road by ojek. If you have any more questions don’t hesitate to use the Contact page, or go to Pondok Kencana/Ombak Tujuh in Cimaja and ask Leo. Tell him the crazy American with the longboards sent you.

Time Traveling Laundry

And Other Tales of Bahasa Indonesia

"She is useless" - "He keeps beating me"

“So will the laundry be ready by tomorrow morning?” I asked. 

“Yes,” the woman answered, “or maybe yesterday.”

‘Yesterday?’ I thought. I wondered at her comment in my head, although my surprise must have also shown on my face. At our previous accommodations, laundry had come back the next day or even the same day. But this was something new – the phenomenal return time she proposed was a bit unbelievable.

Of course, it was just a language mix-up, one of many which we have grown accustomed to. Like all the other times, it was cleared up quickly. She had obviously meant ‘today’, which made more sense, although it was not as much fun as imagining our t-shirts and underwear traversing the fourth dimension.

Plenty of people in the small towns we’ve stayed in speak a little English, mainly thanks to the presence of other surfers and travelers like ourselves. But that wasn’t always enough to get by, so Paul has been working diligently to learn Bahasa Indonesia, the Indonesian language. I’ve picked up a few things too, since it’s not a terribly difficult language. But along the way we’ve discovered a number of similar sounding words that have very different meanings. For example:

Tiga (TEE-gah) – Three
Tidak (TEE-dah) – No


Bawah (BAH-wah) – Below
Bawang (BAH-wang) – Onion

Don't forget your bucket

Kelapa Luckily, we haven’t had many problems with those sets, and mixing them up wouldn’t be a big deal. But I discovered another pair that could result in some major confusion. Most small towns have a village head, the kepala desa, whom you would ask for if you needed to stay a night in town and there were no regular accommodations available. However, it would be bad to mix that up with kelapa, the word for coconut – you might find yourself asking for The Village Coconut. And before I looked up the exact meanings of each word, I worried that a mix-up could have you calling the chief The Head Coconut.

With problems like that, it is important to be able to say what you mean. Our guidebook was a good start – it helped us learn useful phrases like, “Where is the bathroom?” and, “I’d like to order the grilled goat, please.” But it is fairly limited, and when we are away from the vast resources of the internet, and we most often are, it frequently comes up short. It provided little aid in communicating truly important things, such as: “My room has bees,” or, “There are goats in your rice,” or, “Come quickly! The third monkey is back!”

The Third Monkey

Soft Values In our quest for a larger Indonesian vocabulary, multilingual product packaging has been fairly helpful, and often amusing as well. As with many languages, translating Indonesian into English is less of a science than an imprecise art, especially when attempted by those with a limited and fuzzy understanding of the real meanings and best uses of words. The intentions are sincere, but you end up with things like toilet paper that will bring your family ‘soft’ values, or sauce that provides ‘a delicious taste of food’.

Delicious Taste of Food While most labels are useful aids to communication, they can also be deceiving. The front of a package of margarine featured the word ‘serbaguna’, which we assumed to mean ‘margarine’. However, when Paul tried  to purchase more, repeating “Serbaguna, serbaguna!” only produced blank stares and a few chuckles from various food store staff. It was only after returning home without success that he had the time to research the word and find out that he had been insisting, “Multipurpose, multipurpose!” to the baffled locals.

Sometimes, no translation is necessary – the Indonesian words are entertaining by themselves. For example, the word for water is ‘air’, the word for hour is ‘jam’, and the word for for paint is ‘cat’. We’ve gotten used to some things like that, but it’s still a bit odd to consume beverages whose main ingredients include air. Despite that sort of confusing translation, there are plenty of cognates – words that sound similar in both languages. Es=ice, botol=bottle, and so forth. And most importantly, as this image of our feline friend demonstrates, the word for tea is teh.

Overall, learning Indonesian has been an entertaining process. From bees in our room (it was really a gigantic wasp-type thing) to time-traveling laundry, we’ve experienced the joys and the challenges of the age-old problem that is multi-lingual communication. I encourage you to try it some time, with a language of your choice. For now, this is The Village Coconut, signing out.

Teh Botol Lol