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padangpadangopener…and put up a parking lot.

The inordinately long time between posts is testament to the surf-rich Bali lifestyle. We left India a month ago now and have been squeezing two or three surfs in a day, cowering from the oppressive heat in between.

Yesterday was Nyepi, marking the end of the Balinese year: the whole country banishes demons from the land on Nyepi eve and then on the day everything stops. Everything. No cars, no planes, no electricity, no cooking, no leaving the house… And absolutely no surfing. Government officials stalk the land, blowing whistles, enforcing the silence. Hence I’ve written this blog!

Bali’s long been a favourite destination of mine, but I must admit that this time the romance has dulled somewhat. The pace of development all over the island is inexorable, but special attention is being paid to the Bukit Peninsula – where the surf is. The thatched, irreverent shanty-town of Dreamlands has been bulldozed and an already crumbling, rusting steel and concrete Javanese monstrosity of a holiday resort replaced it. Every clifftop or small patch of beach around the entire Bukit coast already has or is in the process of having villas, housing estates, hotels, resorts and golf courses. And the gridlock  on the roads in the southern half of Bali is witness to the hordes of tourists being ferried very slowly around the areas sights and beaches.

But the area still has a certain charm. Bingin is a great collection of wooden and thatched guesthouses clinging to the cliffs with higher-class – yet tasteful – plunge-pooled hotels lining the clifftop, and Balangan, where we are staying, is a wonderful bay lined with affordable beach-front warungs, but it always feels like the bulldozers and tarmac-ers aren’t far away.

padangpadang

What they can’t develop (yet) is the dramatic rocky coastline and the obscenely wave-rich reefs fringing this prime hunk of real estate. We’re here in the off-season yet the surf has been relentless. Not the cutting edge, life-threatening 12ft barrels of the ‘on’ season, but that’s not for me anyhow. The waves have been consistently shoulder-high at worst and we’ve had a good few days of well overhead surf. I’ve been lazy in my wave-hunting, mainly surfing Balangan. A quick check from my beachfront bedroom window and the 20ft walk across the beach to begin the paddle out is too tempting to refuse, but on occasion I have ventured further afield, adding Bingin, Padang Padang and Keramas to my surf knowledge. The crowds and an overwrought irreverence has so far kept me from Uluwatu. I was intending to go there tomorrow morning, but the swell’s picked up and I persuaded myself it will be too big/crowded/scary for little old me, so I’m going to stumble out the front door to Balangan again… Maybe next time.

We’ve made forays inland when the surf’s dropped a little and become enchanted by the volcano-crammed central region with its huge ancient calderas filled with lakes and new-growth volcanoes. This preposterously fertile and dramatic landscape is home to less Westernised and more friendly Balinese villages, and the relief from the oppressive heat of the coast that altitude provides is invigorating. I never knew you could get so much joy from wearing socks and trousers!

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