We ought to be used to it by now.
Or at least de-sensitised. All these things that pop-up in our lives. Considering that we spend so much time staring at screens instead of the world. The internet does not have us by the balls, it has us by the eyes. Like cave newts, we will probably adapt to the point where we do not need peripheral vision at all. But at any rate, I think the point has been made that here in Canggu developers are busy pounding and chopping and scraping the Holy Hell out of the place. And these concrete developments pop up daily, just like those pop-up ads on our screens. That’s where the de-sensitisation probably is. The thing is, they don’t pop back down. So it really should not have surprised anyone when a giant excavator turned up on Echo Beach in Canggu and proceeded to gouge and dig and pile up a big mess of big rocks. The rumour spread fast that a jetty construction was underway that would jut directly out onto the sandstone reef of Canggu Rights, the best wave in the area. Yet again, some mysterious powers-that-be were going to destroy the only thing millions of surfers come to Bali for in the first place. And this is when all those screens turned the tide for the good for once. Out went the word on Instagram. “SAVE THE WAVE”. Soon enough over a thousand people were on the beach, many placing themselves between excavator and the sea. Locals, visitors, expats. A big Instagram party. With meaning this time. And it sorta worked. The cops showed up, of course, and started videoing everybody so that they would know who to kick off the island if any real trouble started. But here’s the hard news:
1. It was to be a jetty that was to extend 40 metres to the “water’s edge” for “sunset tourist photos and selfie opportunities”.
2. That proposal has since been struck down.
3. The compromise is that a rock wall will be constructed with a cement footpath on the berm of the beach to save the owners property from natural erosion. The rest of the development will be built right up against it.
4. The new complaint is that on king high tides this “Rock Wall” will turn the wave into the Makaha backwash.
5. The general feeling on that is that no one surfs the place on king high tides anyway. Because of the backwash already.
6. As of September 18, 2018, the rock wall is going ahead. But to really illustrate the separation between the church of the open sky and the state of the Union here in Bali, consider this: When a certain surfer paid a visit to the Ministry of Tourism and expressed his concerns about the jetty to a certain high placed official, this high placed official responded with, “I don’t understand, what does surfing have to do with tourism in Bali?”
Sunsets take all priority in Canggu and none more than the one that sizzles into the horizon out beyond “Old Man’s” surf spot. Once a refuge from the high pressure line-ups of neighbouring “Echo Beach”, now Old Man’s features a parking lot the size of a football field. And at 30 cents a spot, it’s jammed without fail every evening. But still, this is one of the last local strongholds. The Balinese people of Canggu still hold sway with warungs bursting with lurid t-shirts that blare “Up the bum, no babies!” and “I’m not gay, but twenty bucks is twenty bucks!”.
These hang next to the beer openers in the shape of foot long penises and twirling fake spinners from China. Everything the traveling surfer needs. Precariously perched on the small limestone berm is the local version of the giant nightclubs that dominate the beaches to the north and south. A plywood promenade of sorts where one can get everything from a gin and tonic to a fresh coconut to a 10-times repaired rental surfboard. Sitting on a small stool facing the sea, I take in the spectacle. A local reggae band on a small wooden stage is on the beach blasting out hit after hit. All the songs you want to hear as the sun goes down in Bali. You know, Hotel California, Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door, Cocaine, No Woman, No Cry, The Scorps: Still Lovin’ You. Which makes sense when you understand that nearby Pererenan beach was re-named Echo Beach after an eighties new wave hit by Martha and the Muffins.
From where I sat with my $3 dollar from a local esky, I could count 166 people in the line-up. When the sets rolled in, it was carnage. Like a junior varsity war between Kassia Meador and Dave Rastovich, who probably have shrines of their own built for them nearby. Upright, nose riding girl longboarders and outback-bearded guys on retro boards clunking rails all the way to their wide legged wipe-outs in the sandy shorebreak. On the beach, the entirety of the European continent was represented in a rainbow of G-strings. And that was just the men. I counted 500 hundred people on the beach. Many of them women in varying stages of gestation with children that looked like appropriate accessories. There were 18 different dogs running and pissing and crapping wild. None of these being indigenous species. Like the resort building cranes that were swinging overhead, these dogs seemed a fitting symbol to man’s need to ignore and warp his environment into his own image of paradise. Seems polar huskies and shivering teacup Mexican Chihuahuas are in high demand in Canggu. I asked the old Balinese woman who was selling me the
$3 beers where I should pee. She indicated the ocean with a vague hand. Which was absolutely correct. Because broken down toilets or no, in Canggu, it all goes there anyway. The pressure of the communal bladders here at sunset could light up a city.
I asked an old timer sitting next to me what he thought of things.
“We had Woodstock, these people have here,” he said.
And I thought about the local surfers. With their club contests here and their daily battles in the line-up with both top 10 pro’s and famous freesurfers. Except that here, it is rumoured that local club contests were once secretly sponsored by David Bowie. Bowie, who loved this place and was recently cremated and interred up in the hills to the Northeast. Which seems a perfect fit for Canggu. Truth to tell, there are a hell of a lot more creative white people here than any place else on the island. Well meaning. Looking for a groove, a quality of life that most of the planet has deemed unreasonable. Or impossible. Or just too much damn effort. People with the attitude of not just wanting to listen to a band, but of actually wanting to be in one.
The sun had set by the time I made my way back to my motorcycle past what was now the packed beer garden known as OLD MAN’S bar. Just like in Hell, every language on earth was being shouted here over the turgid mayhem. Behind me, out there beneath a purple sky, were the waves. As they always have and always will be. Hissing and crashing and pumping money into this place with the power of solar flares.
On my way back home to Kuta, I passed a dual purpose venue on the outskirts of Canggu. A rock club bar with a deep, 10foot skateboard bowl. I had to stop.
Beyond its black doors was a wonderland of contradictions. A new beat generation joint just for teens. But with vodka. The successful grown-up expats here have created an army of youth, most of mixed blood. These kids have grown up here in a culture that worships children but is not quite sure what to do with them once they hit their teens. Education here being as deplorable as the health care. There is a middle school here that offers Macramé as a P.E class. And like the adults, this young army has found their junior version of the
Canggu groove. In a place where you are allowed to drive anything as soon as you can, this is a scooter mobilised crowd. And as the grown-ups find their darkened corners of the night, so do the kids. It’s expected. Cool has a Keynesian effect here.
You couldn’t find trendier dressed teens in New York.
The club I was in had two Jimi Hendrix posters on the wall, Sex Pistols too, Blondie. The playlist while I was there included Jimi, The Who, Kiss, Led, Blind Faith, ACDC, Black Sabbath, three Doors songs and a Johnny Cash medley. I sat at the bar watching pro skater Greyson Thunder Fletcher and his crew fly in and out of the skate bowl between their vodka tonics. The guy sitting next to me sipping on a tequila sunrise was 15-years-old. Him and the 17-year-old bartender were having a real time for themselves.
I spied what had to be the owner and approached her. She looked straight out of the Haight Ashbury playbook. About the same vintage too. Asking not to be identified, she spoke: “Bali tells people who to be. It listens. These kids are finding the way. Listening. The future is theirs. This place is a sanctuary, where young people live on hugs not drugs.” That much could be true, but I doubted it. Still, I’m no narc. And mushrooms had recently been deemed illegal after a couple of traffic accidents that left a handful of these young drinkers dead in the middle of the street.
“Its a 24-hour world in Canggu!” She went on, sweeping her hand at the teenage crowd “They all love each other here! They are in this together! Canggu isn’t just a doggie day care centre for pro surfers, you know. These kids live here! “.
No shit there, that’s for sure. There is no high schoolers bumming beers out in front of the quickie mart with this crowd. They have bartenders that know exactly how they like their sundowner gin and tonics. Heaven knows where these kids get all the money for it all. Wait … sure we do. And they seem to be waiting around to inherit it. But in the meantime, drink up!
I went into the battered black unisex toilet to pee and discovered a homemade wall paper of Playboy and Playgirl centrefolds from the sixties. A lot of hair back then. Brutal looking weenies too.
Jesus, it was time for me to call it a night. I was all grown up and even I was buzzed from my Bali Bliss Mojito. How on earth do these kids get home, I thought.
Wait a minute … that’s right … sometimes they don’t.
I stepped outside and kick-started my bike. I remembered what the lady inside shouted to me over the music as I waved goodbye. “You are only old once!” I thought about that. I also looked up at the big light box over the front doors of the club that shone like a lighthouse beacon of rock and roll into the torpid night.
The marquee over the entrance blared: CANGGU: FULL SPEED AHEAD!
And I thought about that too.
This page: In July protestors gathered to oppose the planned construction of a rockwall at Canggu.
Opposite: There are still a few green-flanked veins en route to the ’Gu.
Colours and cultures collide at a bohemian temple beneath the Palms.
Marlon Gerber taunting the sun at the beach where the gods come to play.
Utopia in a bowl for a youthful tribe – just add beer and spirits.