This blue marble

– and yet it spins


10-point routine for earthquakes on Bali

canggubeachclub-1The ground keeps shaking. Last night I was so tired I slept through two aftershocks of more than M5.0.

Today it turns out Bali can get cold, too. Cold enough for hot tea. As I warmed my feet in the sun and sipped my green tea, I thought of my new, post-earthquake routine. Better to have one now than never, right? The routine is as follows:

  1. “Program” yourself before going to bed to wake up and to be ready for an earthquake. With “programming” I mean consider the possibility that it might happen. That way your mind will be more ready for it.
  2. Never sleep naked in an earthquake danger zone. Or even in nightwear that can’t be seen in public (you know, too sexy or too hideously old and mangy).
  3. Have a sweater either near the bed or near the door, to be grabbed on the way out. Do not try to get your shoes on – grab them with you.
  4. Keep your phone, wallet, passport, laptop, and keys in the same place always, one that you can find even when drowsy with sleep.
  5. If in a hurry, leave wallet and laptop and prioritize mobile phone. Never mind about the passport. As long as you can be contacted you can get help.
  6. Keep the door key in the lock, always. And if you must evacuate, lock your door even if fumbling with keys while the ground shakes it is the last thing you want to do. Apparently houses on Bali are looted during quakes.
  7. Wake up the neighbors if possible.
  8. Never trust the structure of a house unless you trust the country’s construction regulations. Run into the street instead of taking shelter under a table or in a doorway. If you are not sure, do what others do. Ideally, follow the example of a Japanese. Any Japanese.
  9. If you run into the street, try to find open sky between all the electric cables and power poles. This is easier said than done: in Canggu one may have to run for dozens of meters for cable-free skies.
  10. Do NOT go into a bar after a big quake to get drunk… seriously, Aussies of Canggu, this does not promote survival.

(Canggu, Bali, Indonesia; August 2018)


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Cracks in the crust

canggu-5On August 5th I was fortunate. The big earthquake on Lombok was only 100 km away. Those 100 km saved lives on Bali – while over 500 lives were lost on Lombok. Most houses in the North are now in shambles, and over 400,000 people were left homeless.

I already wrote about how our salvation is in our short memory and quick ignorance of danger that passed. But our salvation can also be in reaction speed. I was up on the second floor balcony when our house started shaking. To my surprise I quickly realized it was an earthquake, even if I had never felt one before. For one second I was confused about whether I should put my flip-flops on or not, and in the end I decided on not, grabbed them and my phone, yelled to my neighbor, and ran downstairs. The people of the homestay were ushering everybody into the street, and the ground was shaking for quite a while. Twitter quickly told us the epicenter was close and the magnitude was 6.9 thus it was quite a shake, bigger than what had been felt on Bali in decades.

An hour later all of Canggu was out on the street again, scared and nervous because of an aftershock. Our guesthouse is new and built according to local standards, which do not perhaps mean too much. I decided to stay awake for a  minimum of 6 hours after the main quake. Thankfully wifi was good and Designated Survivor was my company that night. I tried to not look at the cracks in the white walls, tried not to guess whether they were new or old.

Out on the street the party commenced at 11 pm, just two hours after the main aftershock. The bars pounded their music on as usual. People drank and danced. There were many aftershocks that night, but ignorance is a good friend. So is music and alcohol and company. We are fortunate here in Canggu. My neighbor from Hungary was worried but sleep got the best of her. My neighbor from Australia just gave a little hoot, shook her head, and went to bed. The people in Ubud and on the East coast were awake the entire night, rattled by each aftershock. The people in Lombok must have been helplessly exhausted each time the ground shook.

After a sleepless night, my morning yoga practice turned into a walk on the beach. Surf school was on, like any other morning, earthquake or not. Dodging the boards, I looked down – and for the first time properly noticed the volcanic sand and rock, traces of fire and brimstone, all Bali beaches are made of.

Even here on the Ring of Fire it is easy to forget that our lives are played out on the cooled crust of a hot clump of metal and magma. Until the Earth shakes its feathers a little.

(Canggu, Bali, Indonesia; August 2018)

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All the solo female travelers on Bali

balifood-2Bali is the perfect place for health food and raw food lovers. And for people who love to take pictures of everything they eat. Healthy living, spas, yoga, and surfing draw adventurers, life-lovers, and solo female travelers. The beach club waiter of yesterday found it surprising that I was here all by myself. Guess he must be new in the profession, as it is impossible to not run into loads of solo female travelers that come to Bali for yoga or in search for themselves.

If you are a single man looking for company, go to a yoga class or to an organic restaurant. I promise you will find solo traveling women. But beware that such women are here for a reason, which means they could very well have mental baggage to carry, or other thoughts weighing so heavily they seem unreliable or self-focused. Unfortunately I too have been let down by people during previous travels to Bali (and I wasn’t looking for anyone to date, just social company!). It is infuriating when someone simply cancels dinner or an activity just because they feel tired – or even worse: they simply never show up.

I arrived here from Singapore, where I slept in a capsule hotel. Two out of three nights there I heard someone in my section of the hotel cry inside their capsule. One was so loud I could not help the mean thought that she wanted someone to knock on her blind and give her attention. It sounded almost like something quite big and acute, like a loss. Unfortunately, jet-lag got the best of me in the middle of the night and I did not do the kind thing: ask a stranger how she was doing.

If I spent a longer time here I would love to arrange gatherings of solo-traveling women, perhaps through a restaurant or a yoga center. They could be called Soul Sister Nights. The word would go out via posters, on-table adverts, and Facebook. People would come for a bite to eat and to share their story; to meditate if they wished to; or to watch a movie and to get to know other solo female travelers.

Perhaps one day I will host a Soul Sister Night here on Bali. But this morning I will have a striped dragonfruit and kiwi smoothie. Just because I can.
balifood-3(Canggu, Bali, Indonesia; August 2018)

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Beach club day

canggubeachclub-2I stumbled into a beach club this morning and bought access for a day. The staff must have felt they had to emphasize on me how exclusive my experience would be. Everyone is very nice and yet, as a walk-in, I feel like a hobo. Two guards patrolled the beach front and when I asked for a day pass both the hostess as well as the beach boy asked if I was aware of that the minimum spend was 500,000 IDR (in addition to the sign stating the same, at entry where i stood).

This hobo clearly did not look like she had credit. In addition to pointing out cost they also asked for my card before I had ordered a thing. It was confiscated and the staff intended to keep it for the entire day, handing me a slip with the number 19. I asked if I could just get the card back and pay whenever they wished me to, but this was not a preference. I negotiated if they could charge the minimum spend of 500,000 IDR to my card and I’d order something later, on that credit. This was also not possible. Finally I had to insist that I felt uncomfortable with handing them my card for the entire day as it was also not necessary. After some exchange via headsets, I got my card back and very politely indeed. Uncharged.

I must assume there is a reason for such mistrust. People walking in without means to pay. Or else I do look like a Homeless Bohemian on holiday.

But it is quiet here: one of the few places in Canggu with no blaring music during the day. The sea is roaring up front: heavy surf crashing into black lava rocks scattered like huge lego bricks on the beach, or rolling onto the nearly black sand. The pool is turquoise and fresh and peaceful, and the lawn is barbered to perfection, especially around every round stepping stone. And the best thing is the cabanas: huge platform beds with a sun cover, fitting three people. And I have one just to myself. canggubeachclub-3Canggu, Bali, Indonesia; August 2018)

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About safety on Bali, at sunset

canggusunset-2Enjoying the sunset with two lovers. They do not even know I exist. It does not matter. We all look at the ocean, where surfers float on their boards in the last light of day like a colony of seals. It is a beautiful night, and yet I drift into thoughts less beautiful.

I missed my first yoga class this morning. It is shameful, but as I would only have got 3 hours of sleep I decided sleep was more valuable. The diagnosis is jet-lag. I lay in bed listening to the creaking little geckos outside, but mainly I was struck by the loudness of the traffic down the street. It is as if the later it became, the faster people sped on their scooter. The amount of traffic here in Canggu between 10 pm and midnight is astounding.

It seems that going to Bali, renting a scooter, and partying until dawn is some kind of growing-up rite for Australians. Unfortunately (Google told me), a handful die every year here on Bali. Most often the cause of death is a scooter accident. Drunk fights and drugs are a second common cause of death. Gede, whose family I am staying with, told me that 70% of scooter accidents late at night are fatal. “If you crash you die” he said. And the worst is that a drunk driver can cause the death of a (sober) bystander. Last year one Australian woman was killed here in Canggu. Thieves also seem to snatch bags from people sitting on their scooters, causing them to lose balance and crash.

There are no ambulances here. If you end up in an accident, someone kind will have to take you to the hospital – and move your possibly broken spine. Nobody calls the police, either, as the police is not trusted the same way as in Europe. Rumor is that clinics may refuse to treat you if they are not sure you have insurance. And if you are unconscious, how can you speak up and say you do?

Tough words about this beautiful place. And yet, the little personal experience I have of the Balinese is that they are honest, kind, and helpful. I feel safe obtaining a ride from anybody selling their scooter taxi services at night, knowing that I will be taken where I want to go and at a price we agreed up-front. Perhaps it is an uncomfortable truth that a foreign young woman receives kinder treatment than a foreign young man?

The sun has nearly set. My drink is some kind of mysterious essence of forest. Even the color is a mossy green. There are no scooters and nobody is in trouble, so here and now have priority. And yoga will have priority tomorrow morning. canggusunset-1(Canggu, Bali, Indonesia: August 2018)


Bali dogs everywhere

canggu-2Two very tanned men passed me on the beach today, along with about a dozen Bali dogs. Each had perhaps four dogs on a cluster leash, and both were surrounded by free-running, collared dogs. Many looked mangled and scarred, but all were filled with joy to the brim: running around in the sand, goofing. If dogs could smile, all of these most certainly did. People photographed them as they went, and the whole bunch got much attention from beachgoers. What a life. And what a job for the dog walkers.

Here on Bali, dogs are everywhere. Red, white, brown-speckled. Often with big ears and short hair. It seems as if every house has a dog, and then there are houseless dogs, too. A dog may belong to a house, but it is not owned by anyone. Nobody may pay it any attention, and certainly not take it to the vet. Some dogs get food and attention, others just share a home with people, alerting to danger and strangers in exchange for safety and a territory to call their own.

The dogs weave in and out of houses, between people on the pavement, and between cars and scooters on the street. Vehicles watch out for the dogs and politely honk or stop to let the dog get out of the way. The dogs are everywhere, and part of society just as people are.

The Balinese dogs have, according to ancestry genetics, been around for a long time. Some claim that the Balinese dogs were among the first to form connections with humans. As a breed they are said to be older than dingoes, and related to not only dingoes but also akita and chow-chow, other old Asian breeds.

The Bali street dog seems to be on its way to becoming a recognized breed, just like the Kintamani dog already is (the other Balinese breed, from mountain villages). It is a race against change, as expats bring their own dogs into Bali since the pet import ban was lifted a few years ago. The Bali street dog may become an official breed at the same time as it becomes harder to find on the street and one must resort to a breeder for a purebred dog.

I am curious of the development of the Bali street dog’s character, if it becomes a recognized breed. Today any dog you meet on the street on Bali is most likely not used to being touched – and it might bite. And one must earn its trust for it to obey at all. It also barks at anything strange and unexpected. Will these traits, today so inherent for the survival and function of this dog as part of society, survive? Or will they be “developed” by breeders?

(Canggu, Bali, Indonesia; August 2018)

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Canggu beach

canggu-3The waves on Canggu beach are so powerful and foamy one needs a surf board to join them – and one must know how to use it. Many do not, and it is entertaining to see the surfing students tumble in the breakers like colorful seaweed, arms and legs flailing.

At 11 am it was still quiet on the beach, which says a lot about the rhythm and culture here. Only now, nearing noon, are people finding their way down to the beach. The street I live on gets busy at around 8 pm and quiets down by 2 am. In the morning at 9 am it is still very quiet. Canggu is a party place for many it seems. Not like Ubud, where half the town wakes up with the sun for yoga and the other half heads to the market to buy fresh produce.

The beach here is several kilometers long, and littered with surf shacks covered in graffiti art. Surfboard rental shops, surf schools, and beach bars make up most of it. The shacks are still proper shacks, with weathered paint and leaky roofs. But give this place another 3-5 years and it will be different. Up the main streets one can find both plots of wasteland and  glitzy lifestyle shops. Raw food restaurants and spas and a few yoga shalas give this place an “Ubud” vibe. Perhaps in five years this will be an Ubud for health conscious surfers. Or it will go down the same god-awful route as Kuta, Seminyak, and Legian. I hope not -although if one only walks some 15 minutes down South one finds Seminyak style bean bags and loud music from noon onwards.

Upwards and past the wave-battered Pura is Echo beach, which still has a surf shack feel: rickety, 2-storey beach huts with board rentals and low-key bars and warungs. Perhaps the choppy seas will help this place defend its surf feel from the worst beachgoer chaos.

But today it is only me, a fisherman, and a few surfers.
canggu-4(Canggu, Bali, Indonesia; August 2018)

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Dear Bali, I am back!

balifood-1Apologies for the food photo, but I am on Bali (yes, again). Thus this will not remain as the only one from my stay. You see, the healthy, locally produced (and mostly raw) food trend is on another level here.

Today I spent a few hours on a packed Air Asia flight from Singapore to Denpasar. It is astonishing how people cannot stay in their seats for as long as the seatbelt sign remains on due to bad weather. The crew patiently called for people to sit down, for a total of four times. Even children were out of their seats. I cannot quite understand such parenting, as the risk (while rare) is real that the children damage their necks and heads in the turbulence.

The weather was cloudy and choppy as we made our way towards Bali. After waiting for an entire hour in a congested immigration checkpoint, I was met by Gede, the owner of the homestay in Canggu I am staying at. Finally I get to stay in a traditional Balinese house.

But first, this delicious dinner in Betelnut Café.

(Canggu, Bali, Indonesia; August 2018)

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What it takes to appease the divine

offeringTens of thousands of baby chickens died last night. Each Balinese house sacrificed one along with a bigger evening offering placed outside of the gate, by the road. Some houses had deemed pierced eggs to be enough, but most houses slaughtered a baby chicken. A holy man dressed in a white gown and turban squatted by the offerings at each house, making hand gestures and plucking fluff from the scared, cheeping chick and spreading it over the offering. Then he splashed holy water around. I did not see how the chickens met their fates but as I walked to yoga class this morning I had to dodge a tiny, dead, decapitated chicken by nearly every house.

I understood the ceremony was to pacify the gods after the earthquake. Unfortunately the lives of the poor innocent chicks were not sufficient, as we experienced another substantial quake today: M6.2 or 5.9 depending on who measured it, and Lombok was again the epicenter. The gods are obviously not content. My heart hurts for the scared baby chickens – as it also hurts for the 300+ people who were lost in the quake and the tens of thousands left homeless.

Balinese Hinduism is strongly influenced by animism and animal sacrifices are common. It is even in the name of this island: the word “bali” actually means animal sacrifice. Indonesia is a Muslim country and Muslim law does not allow animal sacrifices (or gambling for that matter) but here on Bali it is allowed as a way to keep people satisfied.  All sacrifices are linked to highly ritualistic practices, including one cockfight per year per temple (this is oftentimes not the case as cockfights and betting are a blooming practice for example in Ubud). Most of the times, smaller animals such as dogs and chickens are sacrificed, but sometimes the gravity of the situation calls for goats and even buffalo. The Balinese believe that animals sacrificed in the name of gods will be rewarded and reborn into a higher order of being as their way of departure from this life was sacred.

Once one has got to know the peaceful nature of the Balinese today, it is difficult to imagine that their ancestors were fierce tribal warriors, a little like the maoris of New Zealand. Sometimes even human blood was shed. Not always an enemy’s, either, as a successful cremation ceremony for the dead of the village would include nothing less than the sacrifice of a few women. Thankfully cremation was (and is) arranged only once every few years, and collectively for all deceased ones.

When it comes to life and death, Bali strips one to the core of the matter.

(Bali, Indonesia; August 2018)


When the earth shook (and about human resilience)

canggubeach-2Dear guesthouse, thank you for proving yourself earthquake-worthy. Dear Canggu beach, thank you for no tsunami. Dear Bali, thank you for softening the shockwaves shooting off your sister island. We had a proper scare here on West Bali, but it was nothing compared to those in Ubud and on the East Coast. Not to mention the unfortunate ones on Lombok and Gili Islands, who bore the main burden of our planet rearranging its scales.

After less than five hours of sleep (fully dressed, the door to my apartment unlocked and key in lock) I gave up on the idea of rising with the sun to go to mysore class at 7 am. Instead I chased slumber for another hour and a half, when I began to feel I have an earthquake in my head: surely the bed and my hands holding my iPhone were not shaking. Ridiculous, I told myself, and got up. It turned out to be yet another aftershock all the way from Lombok, over 12 hours after the primary quake.

Nothing broke here in Canggu but locals thought the quake was bigger than anything felt on Bali in the past 13-15 years. Yet by 10 pm last night, two hours after the primary quake, the bars were booming with music and people again. This morning the shops were open like no window glass would ever shatter. Surf school was on, like no tsunami warning ever was last night. And people lived on, like nearly a hundred people never died last night on Lombok.

It is not our adaptability that is our greatest salvation; it is our short memory and our quick ignorance of danger that passed. Unless we witness true direct horror and trauma, it is as if our minds are like those of children: we forget so quickly and go about playing again. Or sleeping. Or doing what we always do. Perhaps this is how we stay alive: not remembering all the dangers that might occur? Especially, if one lives on the Ring of Fire, with a handful of moderate earthquakes felt every year.

I truly hope those who lost their loved ones and their houses on Lombok will be remembered long enough to be helped on their feet again.
canggubeach-1(Canggu, Bali, Indonesia; August 2018)