Shock of the new subsides in Bali

Pak Wira on the job.

By Phil Jarratt

Now that I’m over the shock of the new, and now that I’ve found a new restaurant with just two tables and old school prices, I’m getting used to the pace of life again here in our village in Bali.

Sure, the traffic is worse, the construction noise at times unbearable, the surge of people on the street at sunset difficult to manage, but hey, life could be a lot worse. Take a walk around the hood in the early morning or late afternoon and the old world is still there, if you’re looking for it.

Take our neighbours, for example, the Wiras, from whom the compound we stay in is leased. Three generations of Wiras live just behind the garden wall, and in the decade we have known them they have moved from subsistence rice farmers to rising middle class land managers, for better or for worse, without even really knowing it, apart from having the readies to pay for increasingly elaborate Hindu ceremonies.

The matriarch, Ibu Wira, who used to be our pembantu (housekeeper), passed away a couple of years ago, but the patriarch, Pak Wira, is still going strong. He spends his days looking after his grandsons, his fighting cocks and his garden, and his nights as a security guard at the posh Spanish villa compound across the way. We chat in the gang (lane) alongside the compound in the evenings, when Balinese like to be sociable.

Whenever I arrive in Bali I rent the same motor scooter from Putu, Pak Wira’s son, who is also a surf instructor. Pak Wira’s daughter, Kadek, has inherited her mother’s role as pembantu, and her husband, Made Budi, looks after the pool cleaning and numerous other chores with a smile. Their son, also Putu, is possibly the cutest little boy in Bali, who never fails to greet us with a high-five and a thumbs-up, followed by an air kiss as we depart his presence. Understandably, this cracks Pak Wira up. He cackles into his kretek cigarette, puts a hand on my arm, and once again I am reminded of why I love Bali, despite everything.

Twice a year the Wiras get dressed up in their ceremonial costumes and come with a Hindu priest to bless the small temple that sits out the back just beyond the rack that houses my surfboard. If we are in town we are always included in the ceremony, almost family.

I mentioned the new restaurant in the hood. Well, actually there are many, but unlike the garish monsters on the main street, this one is a secret, only revealed by a friend under enormous pressure. It’s down a gang beside a hideous new hotel development between us and the beach. A handwritten sign on a creased surfboard suggests there may be a restaurant down there, but most people aren’t going to take the chance.

You walk through a humble home, up a narrow flight of stairs, and there it is. A rooftop garden and a two-table café serving the best home-cooked Mex I’ve had since, well three months ago in Mex!

Made, who used to work with Bobby Radiasa at the G-Land Surf Camp, is the affable host, and Jeff, a dude from Cleveland who escaped the rat race of the car rental game, is the affable chef. It’s like eating in some one’s kitchen. Kids wander in and out and draw pictures in art pads on the floor while a surf vid plays from the corner TV, a troubadour wanders in and picks tasty Beatles riffs on a 12-string in another corner. People come and go, they have to because there are only two tables, but a steady crew of locals hang out, loving it.

You can eat well here for half the price of a cocktail at a fancy beach club, and there’s no corkage. It’s called Taco Swell and that’s all I’m saying.

Mexy memories

Speaking of things Mexican, as we were, I ran into that great flashy surfer Jared Morell in the surf the other morning, then watched him ride a few lefts at our local in his usual flamboyant style.

No, Jared’s not Mexican, but he could be, and I’ve surfed with him there too. But his styling the other morning put me in mind of our recent trip to the Mexi Logfest, and one of the few guys I’ve seen in recent times who enjoy their surfing, and show it, as much as Jared.

I’d never met Dane Perlee, originally from the Pacific Northwest, now based in San Diego, but we surfed together quite a bit in the free surf sessions at La Saladita in May, and I just loved that every move he pulled brought a smile to his face. Paddling back up the line, we seemed to spend a lot of time laughing.

So when a picture by Sarah Lee popped up on my Facebook feed this week, I just couldn’t resist.

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