After a night of illegal cockfighting, very illegal, I bolted for the coast. My destination was a place called Keramas, about twenty minutes east of Sanur. There is a right-hand point breaking wave there, known for its power and hollowness.
Wasting no time, I shot straight to the beach where the wave is known to break. The town is not touristy, comprised mainly of locals, something that made it attractive. The wind was howling, blowing most of the swell away. I paddled out anyway after negotiating a deal for a board with a local guy called “C2”. It was nice to get wet after the night prior. All the blood had me shaken, and as I recalled the evening, it felt as if it were some sinister dream. Unfortunately, it had been very, very real.
Done with the surf, I found C2 and his gang of jolly teetotalers lazing away under the cabana, passing around cups of homemade liquor called tuak (too-wak). Red-cheeked, grinning idiots and friendly as all hell, they quickly extended a strong-armed invitation. I accepted.
They passed me cup after cup of the stuff, which is kept in water bottles and made from the sap of palms. It possesses a slightly brown, milky complexion, and really doesn’t have much taste, other than a slight tinge of palm – at least, what I imagined palm might taste like – and coconut.
Batches of tuak can be made quickly and cheaply, and most Indonesians will keep a good storage full bottles. Drinking tuak, in Indonesia, is a single cup affair. One person handles the water bottle, filling the glass cup and passing it around the circle. Clockwise, counter clockwise, and sometimes at random. The receiver downs the tuak and passes the, now empty glass, back to the controller. This goes on until the water bottle is empty, and a new one is brought out – with it, a new controller is made.
I got jolly quickly, and regaled the gang with stories from the night prior. I told them about the white bird and my many losses. One of men, a plump Asian man with large all-emcompassing black sunglasses, the kind a person wears after eye surgery, used to fight birds regularly. At one point, he claimed, he owned up to as many as ten birds, before retiring to the beach. A simpler, happier existence, he confirmed.
Forcefully removing myself, despite their pleas, I drove my scooter back to the homestay I had checked into.
The street on which it sat was inhabited by a trio of dogs, all of which barked their little brains out, on the verge of choking it seemed, whenever a newcomer came their way. I barked back, confusing them, and they promptly ceased. From then on, they showed me some respect – and if they forgot, I would charge and they would soon remember.
Aside from the dogs, the street was also filled another group of merry locals. This time, they were cousins and brothers and friends, gathered for a classical rehearsed Balinese barbecue.
It was almost dusk and they, at once, invited me to join their barbecue. "This is Bali!" they rejoiced, passing me a cup of tuak. I told you, most Indonesians keep a full arsenal of tuak at all times. They also brought bottles of arak and ginseng. Before long, several cups were twisting their way through the gathering.
Arak is tuak's stronger cousin. It's also much more time-consuming to make, which is why most simply settle for tuak. Like moonshine, it's believed a poorly-timed swig of arak can make a grown man go blind. I've never seen it*. Intended. Indonesia, although largely Hindu and Muslim, has a thriving history of liquor distillation, most notably it's long forgotten rum running.
In the 18th century, Indonesia rum was actually preferred to its Caribbean counterpart. Thick with sugarcane, Indonesia has been distilling liquor for the past 8,000 years. However, the rum market eventually shifted to the Caribbean and the industry welled up and dried out. At least, the commercial industry did. That has never stopped local Indonesians who continue to distill their own, passing around cup after cup of their bootleg assortments.
The barbecue got wild quickly, and soon it began to rain. Drunk, we didn't mind. I forgot entirely what we talked about, but I know not much of it was coherent or understood -- the arak and language barrier conjoining and exploding.
Vaguely aware of the the Indo moonshine was doing to my mind and system, I was present enough to snap photographic evidence of the affects.
Without further ado, I give you, The Bootleg Boys. I forget all their names, but their faces have forever been seared in my mind. I hope they stay in yours, too.
Now you know.
More later, as always.
After a surf with Ketut at Echo Beach this morning, I decided to hope on my scooter and head into the mountains of Ubud in search of a cockfight – I’d heard that’s where the bouts go down.
It was an hour and a half ride through crowded villages and rice patties into the mountains, but I was happy to leave Canggu. I was starting to get comfortable there, and knew that I didn’t get out then, I may never leave.
The ride was intense – there are no rules of the road, and it’s customary to pass people on the right side, veering in the lane opposite filled with oncoming traffic. Do as the locals do, they say. We do. The cars behave like assholes, speeding up and pushing right when a scooter tries to pass. The logic is flawed for scooter traffic has little to do with their estimated time of arrivals.
After several near misses and wrong turns, we finally arrive to our location outside downtown Ubud. It’s down a dirt road, surrounded by rice patties, rundown temples and homes.
Just outside Ubud, there’s no tourism. Walking down the street from my hotel, I was the only non-native. I passed a school with kids banging bells, an old contemplative man smoking and grimacing, a group of kids racing bikes, women chatting outside little shops, lost cocks rummaging through the sewers, and gangs of stray dogs fighting and barking and sleeping. Each house looked like a temple and large bamboo lanterns hung over the streets for the recent Gelungen, I’m told by our small opportunistic guide it’s the equivalent to Christmas.
Our guide’s name is Eday, and she didn’t apply for the job, rather she just took it. She’s a journalist, allegedly, from Jakarta, and doesn’t ever stop talking. She’s also very afraid of dogs and the dark. She also shies away from photographs because, she alleged, she is a little famous in her country. Other than that, it was nice to have her knowledge and Indonesian as we made our way through the streets of this little town on the outskirts of Ubud.
We stopped at a local warung and ordered Nasi Goreng and Cap Cay for 10,000 rupiah each. That’s less than a dollar for each dish. The warung was small, the entire family sitting in there with us. They were sweet and smiled and nodded, encouraging us to eat and order more. I’m in search of a chicken fight, I told them. I would have said cock, but I didn’t. I asked Eday to translate. She did and they laughed. They said check in downtown Ubud.
They also told us there was an international cock fighting festival just up the road last month. Other than that, they said they didn’t know when the next fight would be – there wasn’t a set schedule, but they thought Saturday nearer Ubud was our best bet. I’ll have my cock fight, yet.
Despite its illegality, cock fighting is still alive and well in the more practicing Hindi parts of Bali and I intend on finding one. Tomorrow we’ll find out more. The plan is to see temples in the jungle and then head to Keramas for more surf the next day. If the cock fight is found and confirmed I’ll put Keramas on hold and stay for the fight. If not, I’ll head to Keramas and then Mount Agung, the tallest mountain in Bali. A hike to the top – some nine-thousand feet – in the middle of the night, just in time for sunrise.
The temples have been viewed. We also visited the monkey forest – excuse the “sacred” monkey forest. I know, I know. I didn’t want to go, but my companions insisted upon it and so I, being the benevolent compromiser that I am, quietly and respectfully obliged.
It was a nightmare, a bullshit nightmare. Confident, brazen monkeys swarming the herds of camera-clad tourists, I’m surprised more people don’t contract rabies and die. I don’t know the statistics, though – maybe they do. There was a concession stand and each visitor must purchase a ticket to enter the sacred forest.
Not me, however. I refused to pay that admission and so I strolled around the perimeter, walking in through exits and stepping over ankle high chains, until I finally just walked through the front door. The key is to avoid eye contact, while maintaining an air of belonging.
After the monkey forest, we returned to the hotel, waiting for a new motorbike. I forgot to mention mine had refused to start this morning and so I found myself, once again, on the back of a man’s scooter.
This was lucky, however, because the breakdown led me to where I am right now, sitting in a café, talking with a sleezy man who calls himself Sam. Surely, Sam is not his real name. Moments ago, I brought up my desire to see a cock fight while I’m here. His eyes lit up and he put a small hand on my shoulder, guiding me outside to somewhere more private.
“There’s a big fight tonight,” he said, smiling and patting me on the back as if I needed some sort of encouragement. “Meet here at 11pm and we’ll take you there. Beer and everything,” he declared happily. He then leaned in close and offered me any of his girls of the night. “Good price,” he said. I believe him, too, however, I declined respectfully and told him the bird fight would be just fine.
So, eleven tonight it will be. The birds will fight. I will crow. I might also win some money.
Camera-clad like those tourists at the sacred forest, except these pictures will be bloodier.
More later, as always.
I’m sandwiched in between an English girl, seemingly drunk, dancing and trying to sing along to the song playing aloud, and a group of girls to my right discussing the best approach when formulating pitch emails for different clothing and bikini brands.
“You should always add a little bit of fluff…but always, always make sure you put your name or brand in all caps, then an X and the company you’re pitching in the subject line,” the tiny one with jean short cutoffs says as she stretches one of her legs on the stool.
“Oh my God, that’s so smart,” rebuts one her seated friends.
Your God is definitely not my God, and I’m thanking my God right now that the free-spirited English girl dancing and singing has left the café. Oh, and now the pitch girls are leaving, too. My God is good.
That’s the worst part about Canggu. There are plenty great parts, too.
I’ve been irritated all day. It started when I woke up this morning, and it was raining and ninety degrees. No one’s fault, it just irked me. It wasn’t the weather, actually. It was, and is, all the people. There are so many people bustling around this tiny, ill-equipped town – constantly. It never stops. That’s fine, but I’ve reached my breaking point and now I’m irritated and scheduled to go off like a cannon. Tick, tick, tock.
In the water this morning, still raining, I called a local guy a “motherfucker”. He was territorial and possessive. He didn't understand but he knew I was upset. I immediately felt bad and paddled closer. Offering a smile, I began to talk with him. Not much English, but after that he calmed down. Disarmed, he became my ocean guide and I happily followed him around, sitting in the right spots and trading waves for the next two hours. His name was Ketut.
Mine calling him a motherfucker was lightly influenced by an article I’d recently read detailing the death of famed Swiss alpinist Ueli Steck. A few days ago, while in Nepal acclimatizing on the Himalayan mountain Nuptse, Steck fell to his death. Later this month Steck was scheduled to attempt a route that linked both Everest and Lhotse, something never before attempted.
Steck was renowned for his speedy ascensions up the treacherous mountains of Europe and the Himalayas, holding multiple records. He was a purist, and climbed without ropes – videos of his climbs are less that of a calculate professional, more reminiscent of an abominable snow beast staggering up these massive mountains as if he's being chased.
He climbed the south face of Annapurna Massif, a Himalayan mountain that has claimed the lives of some of the best alpinists, in a mere two hours and twenty-two minutes. His physical stamina and meticulous preparation garnered him the nickname, Swiss Machine.
The reason Steck came to mind, however, had nothing to do with climbing, but rather a fight at the base of one. In 2013, he and his Italian climbing partner, Simone Moro, were attempting the route that linked both Lhotse and Everest. As mentioned before, it was a bold route that had never before been attempted, and the same route that Steck planned to attempt later this month.
On the Lhotse Face the pair came across a group of Sherpas. The group of Sherpas were repairing the fixed lines used by the many commercial guiding companies that inundate the tallest mountain on Earth each season (last week there was a two-hour wait at the Hillary Step). On “fixing days”, as they’ve been dubbed, the commercial companies have agreed that no one climbs. This agreement is agreed upon by the guiding companies, yet it is debatable whether it is also contractual for a small professional outfit like the team of Steck and Moro that day.
The Sherpas became angry with Steck and Moro as they neared the lines, several of the Sherpas above the duo going as far to kick free chunks of ice, a lethal attack. Moro, notoriously fiery and hotheaded, called one of the Sherpas a machinke, which translates to “motherfucker” – far more offensive in Nepalese culture. The Sherpas instantly stopped their work and retreated to camp two. Steck and Moro stayed behind and secured the lines the Sherpas had left unfinished. They could have continued to the next camp, however, they decided to return to camp two, as well, to try to resolve the disagreement.
Upon their arrival, a swarm of Sherpas attacked them with fists, feet, and rocks. The brawl escalated quickly. Eye-witness reports circulated that many Sherpas were asking for Moro and Steck to be killed. Steck, huddled inside the mess tent, bleeding, was attacked by an onslaught of rocks, which sliced through the tent like knife through butter. Ueli Steck thought he was going to be killed. Footage here.
Eventually, the fight was broken up and both sides retreated to their respective camps. Steck and Moro would not get the chance to continue their summit attempt, choosing instead to abandon the climb entirely and return home. It would be four years before Steck would return to Everest, just last weekend.
Anyway, that’s what I thought when I, under my breath, called that Balinese ocean guide a motherfucker. No rocks, luckily.
The ocean has been angry all day long, choosing to rain most of the day. Unfortunately, I just sent a German girl out into the night, giving her directions to a restaurant down the road. She just arrived at the hotel. It’s pouring rain.
Tomorrow I’ll either go east to Keramas or north to Medewi. By scooter for both.
More later, as always.