Planet Hiker
2008-10-18 Good morning everyone! Bali, Indonesia

There is truth in saying that Indonesia is a surfer’s dreamland. Having been here only a few days, I have already dropped into, and got immediately smashed by, the biggest wave that I have ever seen. For comparison purposes let me mention the swell of December 15, 2007, when the cost of California was seeing some awesome waves. At Sunset Beach the waves were reaching 8 and at times even 10 ft in height. That was awesome – everyone who could surf was coming out as this sort of thing happens perhaps once a year.

There wasn’t anything special going on here at "Middles" – a reef break just in front of the airport. One of the fellows from South Africa was even asking if it’s rather slow today… On average, the waves were about 10-12ft, perfectly shaped, with rides as long as couple of football fields in length.

Perhaps it’s not even the waves that make this place so special, but the disarming smiles that the Balinese treat everyone with. For instance, surfers are generally in direct competition with each other – everyone paddles for a wave, but only one person takes it. Naturally, the competition invokes aggression. On crowded beaches of California it’s not unheard of fights breaking out right in the ocean, lots of threats and bullying, boards being broken, car tires being slashes, etc. Today I witnessed how one of the locals, a stock guy, typical with the islanders dark complexion, sun-died hair and a smile, paddled up to join the group of surfers. He yelled "Good morning everyone!" and I found myself, along with the rest of the group, replying back in an echo of "hey"s and "hi"s.

A few weeks back in Chicago, USA, I was playing a game/experimenting – I would try to make eye contact with every person who passed by and see if anyone would say hello. I did this while walking around, while sitting on a ledge of a sidewalk and having lunch, and especially while pausing in front of art exhibits in Millennium Park. It was not until the end of the week that I happen to walk through a crowd of people coming out of a theater (someplace on Michigan St). I looked at one person, then the next and the next – they were all walking in their own worlds, surrounded by an impenetrable to an eye bubble, with their own eyes gazing either down or at something infinitely ahead. But then one woman, walking towards me and no more than 5 yards away, met my eyes. My lips began to float into a smile and I only had one more moment to nod as I heard her say “hello” while passing me by. In the following moment she was long gone and again there were only empty gazes in front of me, looking away, pretending like there is something out there that they must look at.

The smile, however, stayed with me. In fact, it comes out so frequently here in Bali that I am beginning to wander about a personality shift. While most tourists choose to immediately say "No" in the annoyance of being offered something to buy or invited to come into a store, I find myself smiling and politely saying "Thank you, but not this time." This approach usually results in a mirroring smile and a brief inquiry about where I am from and where I am headed to. On occasion I end up staying for a little longer, finding out a bit more about that person and sharing a bit about myself. Having been here for less than a week, I dare to say that more than a dozen people know my name within 2 blocks of my hostel. I do my best to remember theirs.

Countesy of The Dutch Marlous, here we are posing on the Kuta beach in Bali, along with my new board!