THE START OF THE AFFAIR
Broken-hearted and suddenly unemployed in August 1974, Phil Jarratt spent his last few hundred dollars on a Bali Easy Rider holiday package, and began an adventure that has lasted a lifetime. In this extract from his new book, Bali: Heaven and Hell, he describes the beginnings of his on-again, off-again, 40-year romance with the island.
Despite its many layers of crowded confusion, its mysterious worlds within worlds, its dog-shit-spattered footpaths, clogged streets and odious drains, Bali has always had a therapeutic effect on my soul, right from the beginning when most of the above did not apply, to the present day, when all this and much more is sadly true.
It started like this.
In early 1974 I came home from London nursing a broken heart. Although the special girl had said she’d wait for me while I had the mandatory year’s working holiday in Europe, she hadn’t, and it ended in tears when I caught her in bed with my rival. In a rage, I took a pair of scissors from the kitchen and cut into neat bits the Carnaby Street dresses I’d bought her with my last week’s wages in London, then stormed out of the flat and never saw her again.
I took a job on a Sydney newspaper, but then Albert Falzon, the seriously cool director of the hit surf movie Morning of the Earth and the publisher of Tracks—in other words, an absolute god in the surfing world to which I aspired—phoned and asked if he could buy me lunch. At some fancy city bistro Falzon offered me the editorship of his magazine, then the most exciting youth publication in Australia. I was over the moon. Within a few weeks I’d quit the city job, thrown away my tie and moved into a rented house overlooking Whale Beach, just a hop, step and jump away from the magazine’s office.
Then Albe dropped a clanger. Yes, he still wanted me to edit Tracks, but next year, not this year. He’d forgotten that in 1972 at the world surfing championships in San Diego, he’d offered the job to a Rolling Stone writer who was now on his way to take him up on it.
He’d pay me a retainer to write the odd article, but I’d have to find other work.
I was hanging gloomily around the Tracks office one day when ‘other work’ walked through the door in the form of a loud, jovial, chain-smoking fellow who was introduced to me as ‘the Mexican’. David ‘Mexican’ Sumpter had just made a surf movie called On Any Morning and he wanted me to go on the road with him to promote it. He said: ‘You can write a funny story
and my whole life is one big funny story, so it shouldn’t be too difficult.’ He was delighted when I used my contacts at the newspaper I had so recently departed to get them to run a feature article titled, ‘Surfie filmmaker lives on dog food and yoghurt to finance new movie.’
The Mex and I hit the road up and down the coast, with him gluing posters all over towns while I chatted up the local papers and radio stations. After the Melbourne premiere he
handed me $250 in cash and said:‘You need to go to Bali,’ the Mex said. ‘Clear your head of all that girlie nonsense and get some perfect waves all to yourself.’
I did as instructed and took myself along to the Melbourne office of Bali Easy Rider Travel, where they got me the last spot in a group tour leaving in a few days. With return airline ticket, three weeks’ bed and breakfast and a motor- bike thrown in, it cost $49 more than Mexican had paid me, but I was in.
I knew a little—very little—about Bali. In our last year of school, a surf-chick girlfriend had told me she was going there as soon as we’d finished our final exams, probably to live. I was dumbstruck. She gave me an impossibly exotic address where I could write to her: Poste Restante, Denpasar, Bali. A few years later we hooked up again in London and she told me about the huts in the jungle next to the perfect waves, the gorgeous, friendly people
and the fragrant aroma of frangipanis, satay sauce and clove cigarettes. Albe Falzon had also told me stories about the mystical aura of the place and the incredible waves that he had found on the lonely Bukit Peninsula.
I still vividly recall the excitement as the plane broke through the clouds on descent and we saw glistening waves breaking along the coastal cliffs to the south and to either side of the runway. And then smelling that intoxicating mix I’d heard about as soon as we disembarked and hit the tarmac, followed by the craziness of the tiny terminal, and waiting forever for
our surfboards to appear, and the pandemonium outside as the porters and bemo drivers hustled for our buck. I loved it immediately. My ex, my now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t editor’s job and my whole shitty year in Sydney dissolved into ancient history. This was now; this was Bali.
We sat in the back of a three-wheeled bemo, facing each other on benches on either side, our boards and bags stacked down the middle. I peered through the small barred window at the driver in the cabin, surrounded by garish ornaments hung from the rear-vision mirror and the roof, jabbering away to his offsider in the passenger seat, one eye occasionally on the narrow sealed section of road, his hand never far away from the horn.
Our unofficial tour leader was Brian Singer, the co-founder of Rip Curl Surfboards and Wetsuits, a new company running out of Torquay, Victoria, near the famous Bells Beach. Brian had been to Bali for the first time the previous year, so he knew the ropes, and this year he’d brought along some of his employees and some of Torquay’s better young surfers. When we arrived at Kodja Inn, not far from the beach on Jalan Pantai, the first thing the Torquay surfers did was unpack their boards and start waxing the decks and fastening cords to fibreglass loops on the tail that they would then attach to their legs by means of an adhesive strip.
By contrast, no unpacking of my single board was necessary. It had travelled naked, a solitary ‘FRAGILE’ sticker pasted to its bottom. The previous year, in my first international travels, I had surfed all over France, Spain, Portugal and Cornwall, but I had never seen a board bag or a leg rope. After we had all enjoyed a warm-up surf in the friendly beach-break waves at the end of the track, Singer took me aside and suggested that since the swell appeared to be rising and we might surf the sensational new reef-break discovery, Uluwatu, in the morning, it would be advisable for me to use one of his leashes so that I wouldn’t smash my only board on the reef.
‘But I haven’t got one of those thingies,’ I protested.
‘A rovings loop,’ he supplied. ‘After dinner I’ll take you over the way to meet a guy who should be able to fix that for you.’
We watched the sun set over Kuta Beach, drinking the local Bintang beer purchased from a pretty girl in a sarong who seemed to glide along the sand with an ice bucket balanced on her head, then we walked up the dusty beach track to the night fish markets where we sat on benches and ate whole fish with our fingers, washing it down with more Bintang. The entire meal cost less than a dollar. Everything cost less than a dollar!
Having settled his young family for the night, Singer came across the garden to the bungalow I was sharing with a schoolteacher from Santa Cruz, California. ‘Grab your board,’ he said. ‘We’ll go see Boyum.’ On the other side of the track, perhaps 30 metres closer to the beach,
we turned into a dark laneway and then right into a candle-lit courtyard, from which point we could gaze into a house where a mixed group of Western and Balinese men were sitting around a table. A muscular blond with a slightly protruding jaw got up and shone a flashlight in our direction.
He smiled and said: ‘Sing Ding! Apa kabar?’
Singer introduced me to Mike Boyum and explained my predicament. In an instant Boyum had issued some instructions in Indonesian or Balinese—I had no idea which—and two young men grabbed my board and took it away to be modified. ‘Take about half an hour,’ Boyum said. ‘We’re just having some soup. Join us?’
I was rather pointedly excluded from the conversation, which was mainly about the great Hawaiian surfer Gerry Lopez, who was either about to arrive or who had just left, I can’t remember, but I was handed a small, chipped bowl of murky mushroom soup that I neither needed nor wanted after our seafood binge. Noting Singer’s enthusiastic slurping, I joined in and put away perhaps half before pushing it aside. It was enough.
I can remember laughing madly about nothing as we danced back to our losmen (bungalow) in the dark, me carrying my surfboard fitted with its sexy new leggie loop. I slept fitfully and uneasily, and at one point, fearful of waking my room mate, I sat outside on the porch and smelled the night air, alternately counting my blessings and imagining large animals in the garden. I didn’t come down from my mushroom high for days, but we surfed Uluwatu the next morning, my new leash kept my board from danger, I caught a few waves that tested me, and between sessions I had time to ponder what this adventure would mean to my life.
Like so many people in those days, I had experienced a psychedelic mushroom trip upon arrival, but I had few negatives to report, other than that I would have preferred to know what I was getting myself into. On the other hand, sharing my first night in Bali with Brian Singer and Mike Boyum profoundly influenced my perceptions. I had just turned twenty-three and this was such a cool new world. I couldn’t believe how so many random things—getting ditched, meeting Albe, getting the editor’s job, not getting the editor’s job, meeting the Mex—had brought me here at this perfect point in time. I knew virtually nothing about Bali’s incredible history. All I knew was that for me the planets had suddenly aligned.
Brian Singer would go on, with partner Doug Warbrick, to become a multimillionaire surf-industry mogul. Mike Boyum would become lifestyle instructor to surfing’s superstars while bungling dope deals for the Brotherhood of Eternal Love and other drug cartels, before
dying mysteriously in the Philippines in his early forties. Practically everyone I met on that first trip was doing something interesting, on one side of the law or the other.
On my third day, someone advised me to cycle across the cow paddock to Arena Bungalows to see Dick Hoole, who could organise a fake student pass for me so that I could buy airline tickets at a discount. A genial guy who loved a chat, Dick distractedly told me to come in when I knocked. I was somewhat shocked to find him stretched out on the floor of his room stuffing Thai marijuana sticks into the hollowed-out balsawood stringer of his surfboard.
‘Won’t be a sec,’ he said. ‘There’s a thermos of tea on the porch, help yourself.’
At the time, Dick was a struggling surf photographer who needed to subsidise his lifestyle in whatever ways he could. Back then we were all into that, even Brian Singer, with whom I travelled overland to Yogyakarta, Java—a horrendous bus and train journey in those days—to buy batik print shirts to smuggle back into Australia. I had no idea, and barely made my money back on the hideous shirts I bought, but if it was good enough for the boss of Rip Curl, it was good enough for me.
In 1975, now the editor of Tracks at last, I came back to Bali with my new girlfriend, hung out with Miki Dora, Gerry Lopez, Rory Russell and other star surfers of the day, had coffees and cakes at a cool new joint called Made’s Warung, got stoned at full-moon parties at the
abandoned Kayu Aya Hotel (later the Oberoi) at the far end of the road, got to know the Windro family at Uluwatu, sat in the cave out of the noonday heat with Aussie mates Fly and Hocky, drank Foster’s beer with the rising tide of ocker tourists at places like Norm’s Bar, and pigged out on the buffet breakfast at the new Bali Hyatt in Sanur.
In 1977 I came back with another new girlfriend, now my wife, and as we hiked along the track past Windro’s village, heading for another day of perfect Uluwatu surf, the village kids began to chorus: ‘Pillip’s got new darling, Pillip’s got new darling …’ That was when I knew I’d made it. Despite some embarrassment, I felt a surge of pride, a kind of belonging. I felt like I was a Bali guy, an old hand, a Bukit pioneer. I was deluded of course, but I was also enchanted by the sense of belonging, no matter how fleeting, and that has never left me.
Since those halcyon days I’ve ridden many perfect waves in Bali, nearly choked on the brown effluent-filled water of the monsoon surf, been caught short embarrassingly with Bali belly, survived dengue fever, covered royal cremations and US presidential visits as a journalist, holed up in bungalows and villas and written books, taught my kids to love Bali, taught my grandkids to love Bali, leased some land, lost it, fallen out of love with Bali, fallen back in, seen friends prosper in Bali and others fail and die.
As much as we love to travel to new places, as much as we lament change, as all old people do, my wife and I feel that we are joined at the hip to Bali, and we will come here until we can no longer, for whichever reason.
Categories: Surf Check