The Pink House Over Yonder…………

So my travels hath ended. Well, for now anyway………….. After 5 planes, four trains, 4 boats and many various variations of automobiles, I arrived back in England on a beautiful bank holiday weekend slightly jetlagged and with a bittersweet realisation that  somehow my trip was at an end.

The last destination in my journey was Bali; an island much acclaimed for it’s paradise-like qualities, friendly people and fantastic surf.  I last visited two and a half years ago after I returned from Afghanistan, and it is fair to say a lot has changed since my last visit.  Though it cannot be wholly put down to the film “Eat, Pray, Love“, many places on the island have become overdeveloped with the influx of tourists, but, that does not mean you cannot find the charm that Bali was originally famous for, because if you look hard enough it is still there.  I however, had no plans to hang out in the usual tourist spots and through another blog I came across on the internet, I had decided to drag my pretentious ass immediately up the West Coast to a place called Pulukhan, next to the small town of Medewi.  From what I had read, it was an idyllic place that apparently had great waves, very few tourists (as it is so far out of the way and awkward to get to) and what Bali probably looked like before the infestation of tourists…………and Australians……………….

I passed through Arrivals at Denpasar airport, guitar strapped to my pack and fully expectant (and now thanks to Laos, well experienced) of the elongated negotiation that would await in getting a taxi to some far off place.  It was literally seconds before a gang of taxi drivers crowded around me, offering me outrageous prices to get to Medewi. I had done my research, knew what an acceptable price would be and so refused outright to pay their prices much to their visible disgruntled discontent.  However it is all part of the game.  Though protracted, it is almost insulting to them if you do not haggle, and though the poor guy who finally accepted initially seemed annoyed, we settled at my still inflated price and Indo equivalent of £30ish.  I buckled, he buckled, and we both knew he was still the winner.  In any case, after 24 hrs plus of travelling without sleep, I was content and buckled up for a hair-raising 2 and a half hour drive that at times resembled scenes from Days of Thunder.  And if you haven’t seen this film, shame on you……………….

I had little idea where I was staying and decided to leave it up to the gods of fate.  My Lonely Planet offered little, save for a few names of places with little insight on how to actually get there. So I figured where I would stay would find me.   Fate found me when driving through Pulukhan I recognised a name on a dusty sign pointing down a lane.  It was a place in the Lonely Planet that I had initially ignored because it was about a Km from the main lane where the surf break was.  CSB Guesthouse. Doesn’t sound like much of an enticing place does it, but because we had been looking for what seemed like an age, it was the first place that rung a bell so I thought at the very least I’d check it out.

As we slowly drove down the track towards the sea, the locals studied my ride all with puzzled faces, probably asking what on earth has an airport taxi come all the way here for.  However, they were all quick to smile at me as we passed their homes and after about 300m we pulled into CSB Guesthouse. I immediately had a good feeling about the place. It was a pink building with 18 rooms that looked down and out onto the sea 150m

Top Floor facing to the left of the photo was my room

to its front, littered with palm trees and had that welcoming smell of incense that is common in every Balinese dwelling.   I was greeted by Maday and her delightful Hindu family who ran the place, and offered me the best room in the guesthouse that had the most incredible view of the sea, and it had the most incredible view of any place I stayed on my entire trip.  With that alone, I had decided this would be my retreat, where I was going to find some peace and write.

I was predominantly the only guest during my stay there, apart from one very brash Australian who stayed one night, and being low season there were few tourists even down by the surf break when I ventured down that way. I’d be up most mornings by about 8am, head down to a terrace where Maday would prepare a delicious fruit salad of banana, papaya, melon and pineapple and a jaffle, or toastie as we would call it.  I would also often have a coconut; cut fresh from one of the trees in the garden by one of the garden boys and it would never fail to be the most wonderful refreshing drink you could ever taste.

Coconuts

Climbing for Coconuts!

I would then retire back to my balcony for an hour or so, write prose, a poem, a song, or simply survey the idyllic Eden that lay naked before me.  I almost felt a bit like a king considering his small kingdom, because my arcs of view from the balcony overlooked lush rice fields than ran all the way along the mile long black sand beach that rarely had anyone on it save me, the odd fisherman, rice farmer and on one evening a group of local boys who had ventured down on their mopeds to play football whilst the girls looked on.  I only saw two other tourists on this beach for the week I was there, and so I really felt it was just mine to look at and walk where I wanted without my thoughts and footsteps being interrupted by anything other than the crash of the waves or a sudden gust of a cool Indonesian sea breeze.  It was my own paradise.  And though a black sand beach it was, it had in itself it’s own ugly beauty; isolated, vast and bare that aided me in my quest to delve into my own writing in a way that been less forthcoming in Laos.  Several times a day I would walk up and down the beach with only my bag of books, notebooks and guitar for companions, but that self-imposed isolation was utterly blissful.

On occasion a fisherman would come and say hello, eager to talk about where I came from, teach me a few Balinese words and discuss the bizarre make-up of my travel guitar.  In Indonesia or South-East Asia, often you will be pestered by the locals approaching you to offer something, whether that be a trinket, bracelet, marijuana, magic mushrooms and the like, but for the only part of my trip, this was the only place where I felt part of its make up which I think is very rare.  The friendliness here to my white face was therefore quite overwhelming.  They didn’t want anything from me, just wanted to know whether I surf-answer: “yes, but I’m not here to surf, I’m here to write”, to puzzled looks – where I was from and smile a lot at me when I would say “Apakabar?” (how are you?).  The low season obviously drains the place of visitors, with the other half of Bali and the Gilli Islands drawing the vast majority of crowds, so it was an absolute joy to have this experience.

View from the balcony

The place possessed such a serene quiet that I would comment on it silently to myself each day and it was only ever disturbed by the odd cockerel, the hum of a moped engine and in the evenings when the Mosque would call its followers to prayer.  It was a sound I heard every day in Afghanistan, and so there was something oddly reassuring about it, mainly due to the beautiful voice I would look forward to hearing each evening.  It can often sound like a bit of a drone, but the Mosque close behind my guesthouse emitted a sound that was so sweet and soothing I think even the most ardent bigot would have succumbed to its beauty.  If I was in my room when the call to prayer sounded, I would go to the other side of the house just to listen to that voice such was the magnetism of its tone.   Though the number of Mosques might suggest otherwise, Islam did not seem to be an omnipresent factor there, and apart from some girls wearing head scarfs it very much seemed to be a very unobtrusive thread adding to the fabric of Balinese life, just like surfing, the small warungs (shops) and fishing.  The Hindu family had been there for over a decade and said there was only one other Hindu family in the vicinity, to which I immediately drew the assumption that there were problems. I was immediately redressed, and that the same open friendliness offered to me was the same among everyone regardless of ethnicity.

Maday and her family

Maday and Family

It wasn’t all peaches and cream though. After two days there I was struck by a debilitating bout of chronic D&V.  On my second night I had wandered up the main road in search of a restaurant.  I suppose I ended up eating at the equivalent of a roadside cafe, but the Nasi Goreng I ate there was delicious and only cost me about £1.  After a month of eating at similar places in Laos, I thought (wrongly) my stomach was adjusted so I didn’t think anything of it.  When I woke the next morning I knew something wasn’t quite right.  I had planned to surf that morning and after breakfast I walked down the beach 900m west to where the surf point was to rent a board.  No sooner had I got there I was turning back feeling the vomit monster starting to churn his wheel at the pit of my stomach.  By the time I got back to my place, I was immediately sick and then began two very unpleasant days when the bathroom pretty much owned my soul.  Before long I was hunched up, continually hugging the loo, with things coming out both ends, my nose and by nightfall I was vomiting blood.  From previous bitter experience in other foreign climes I knew I needed to forgo eating and stick to water but I pretty much couldn’t stomach that either.  I’d also used up all my Diarorilite sachets and Imodium by the end of the first day. I ventured downstairs only to get water, leaving Maday very worried and suggesting a Doctor, to which the stubborn Englishman replied he was absolutely fine and knew what to do……….  The lack of food for two days led my brain to some interesting places and if I wasn’t lying on my bed sweating the bug out in nauseous fits of spasm, I was hunched back over the lavvy or I’d sit on my balcony and simply watch a very peaceful ocean with not a soul on it.  At the very least there is something to be said for the effect of sunshine on one’s spirit and I suppose I couldn’t have picked a more beautiful place to be ill.  What brought me back to being a human again was in fact coconut water (which is actually better than a banana believe it or not) and Maday had her nephew cut me down as many coconuts as I wanted without charging me a nickel.  By the third day I felt much better, though I still didn’t feel like eating much and didn’t have the strength to surf.  My writing on the other hand was the beneficiary which I was more than happy with.

"My" Black Sand Beach

“My” Black Sand Beach

Often people ask how I write a song. It is not easy to explain because I don’t sit down and say “today I am going to write a song” and try and think about a topic.  Somehow it is just something that comes to me one way or another.  On my first morning in Pulukhan, I woke up with a beat thumping in my head and despite going down for breakfast with a bit of a hangover having drunk too much of the local moonshine (Arak) the night before, I was humming it without knowing it.  I was set on surfing that morning but as I ventured down the black sand beach to the surf break, it kept on repeating in my head and would not leave. I knew with certainty that as I continued along towards the Point, I would not surf that day and that I would write an entire song in one sitting.  I reached the end of the beach where it suddenly became rocky and though it was high tide, I could still negotiate the rocks and boulders and work my way round near to where the main surf lane and civilisation lived.  About half-way along there was a cemented horseshoe of rocks with a palm tree growing from the middle, and it was here under the guarded shade of this palm tree that I sat for two hours and wrote this song whilst the locals (and a few intrepid foreigners) would surf with expert aplomb the long left-handers that would roll out in front of me.  Maybe I should drink moonshine more often……..

Originally I planned to stay there for 3 days before gradually make my way further East passing through other surf spots, but such was the raw beauty of the place, my duel with food posioning, and progress with my writing, I ended up staying 6 nights.  I was reluctant to leave because of what I was achieving there, and from what I understand as a fledgling writer, any spot that gives you that clarity in vision to seek what you are looking for, you’d be a fool to spurn it.  I was on a time scale however and I had a friend to meet to spend another two weeks on the other side of Bali and under the tranquil spell of the Gilli Islands.  This shall therefore be my last entry of my trip as those two weeks will be for my memory and my companion alone as they were decidedly different to the rest of my travels.

I will finish this entry by saying that my 6 weeks were a great journey.  I was not looking to go on a quiet bender or run riot with the “gap yahs” and the “gap garys” having an undeniable hoot of a time in Asia. It sounds pretentious but I enjoyed my own company and was way past them in what I was seeking, but I will say, each to their own.  I was not looking to fill my mind with the plethora cultural offerings of the spirituality, tosh and temples one finds in abundance there; much as though I enjoy history there are only so many statutes of Buddha a man can take.   Was it a journey of self-discovery then? I don’t think so, and I should think I should bloody well know who I am by now.  To be honest, I don’t think I learnt anything more about myself other than I now love coconut water and fried noodles with chicken.  Oh, and I find Australians extremely irritating.  So, does this all make me a bit of a pretentious shit?  Maybe a little, but nobody is interested in vacuous boring people.  I went away for two reasons; firstly, I was probably not looking for anything other than a beautiful setting to write in, echoing my literary heroes who sought out exotic places around the globe to write.

Caught unawares writing - Gilli Meno

Caught unawares writing – Gilli Meno

I achieved this finishing 9 songs, 3 more in mental draft, and a few probably terrible poems.  It sometimes takes a year or more for someone to write an album and I’ve practically achieved this in 6 weeks, so I’ve done OK.  Secondly, I think I went to help the mental separation from being Capt Raine, to becoming Mr Raine.  Perhaps upon reflection, I think the latter reason was probably ill-founded as that separation is not as clear cut as one or I might think.  You can never completely cut that cord.  And though I am a very happy soul at now being free, letting my hair and sideburns grow and for once getting a Bank Holiday Monday, I, with probably every individual who has served their country for better or worse, know that there is a bond to that service that will always remain with us until we are old and grey and finally knocking graciously on St Peter’s pearly Gates.  So there will always be a small part of me that is still Capt AD Raine of the Queen’s Royal Lancers, and I will always be proud of the time I had the privilege to wear that title, whatever has been the weather.

And so just as I left England still an individual under rank and file of HM Government over 6 weeks ago, I am returned back as a civilian of this country.  I am now unemployed, without a salary but full of hope about what I have declared I will do.

As my father welcomed me home with the a delightful first pimms of the season, he reminded me that this very weekend 6 years ago I was traipsing off to Sandhurst with an ironing board tucked underneath my arm, bright-eyed and bumbling, just as another crop of bright young, idealistic twentysomethings will have done this weekend past and will continue to do so every year on the first Sunday of May.  Fittingly, a WWII vintage Hurricane suddenly appeared in the sky above the Chilterns; it’s sweet and reassuring Rolls-Royce Merlin engine purring as it barrel rolled west, almost as if in memorandum to my 6 years in what is now one of Britain’s last remaining bastions of tradition.  “I organised this especially for you,” my father said jokingly with a wry smile as the Hurricane continued on it’s flight path and eventually out of sight.  And it was a beautiful sight at that.

Thanks for reading,

Antony Raine Esq.

Bali Reading list: The Wandering – Hermann Hesse      

                                  The Iliad – Homer

Bali: Songs that rocked me:

Your Hand in Mine – Explosions In The Sky

 Start a War – The National

 Storms in Africa – Enya

The Promised Land – Bruce Springsteen

Old Pine – Ben Howard

Take the Right One – Bombay Bicycle Club

Wish You Were Here – Pink Floyd

Blood – The Middle East

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. nnna
    May 10, 2013 @ 09:29:58

    Hi Ant I have just finished your writing properly all the way through. I really enjoyed it, your writing is extremely good. Keep it up and good luck my lad.

    Reply

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