I’ve been travelling the world for almost 30 years, and while I have always missed those I love, only now do I know what “homesick” really means.
Our simple surf cottage in remote West Bali has become the home I haven’t had since I went out to “see the world” at age 19, and while Narina and I travel to some fascinating places (as I write we’re cruising along the Ganges), I now look forward to going home. In fact, I begin to miss the place before we even leave.
Our quirky home, with its recycled boat-wood furniture and make-shift art, evolved from the three barren backpacker rooms that we rented from our good friend Eddie. We’d been spending more and more time in the village and after living on the road for three years we decided it’d be fun to be still for a while; to have somewhere to leave our books (and a growing collection of surfboards) while we travel on assignment; and to have some place to return to. And so one afternoon early this year I shook hands with Eddie and Narina and I moved in.
The thing is, we didn’t actually have anything to move in, apart from the contents of our kitbags. The rooms we rented were simple: each had a double bed, a cold-water shower and a toilet… three times as many as we needed, but we loved the view from the balcony of the upstairs room and the open, airy space between the two downstairs rooms. And what most appealed to us was that instead of being part of the hotel Eddie owns, our rooms were tucked away in a little riverside kampong inhabited only by Balinese families. Plus they’re a two-minute walk from the beach.
Because of the life we live, ours would be an impermanent home so setting it up became an experiment in recycling. Almost everything we have was once something different: the four-foot length of brightly painted bamboo that is the soap stand in our outdoor shower was the ballast of a local fishing boat. I found it washed up on the beach one evening and somehow carried back, balanced precariously on my old Honda scrambler. The sunburst mirror Narina made for our room was once pieces of driftwood washed up along the sand. We had no place to cook so we bought an old bakso stand that had been abandoned under the palms, evicted a large rat, cleaned it up and refitted it as very quirky open-air kitchen. It once belonged to old Pak Arohman, who sold bakso soup from this stand when the first travelling surfers came to pioneer Medewi’s now legendary wave.
At first we slept in the downstairs bedroom until we fitted a stronger floor in the upstairs room and replaced the collapsed roof on the bathroom. In most countries this would have been be a major building project but with the use of a few bamboo poles from an old fishing boat and a heap of coconut thatching (delivered by moped) we acquired a beautiful natural roof for less than it cost to buy the battered old watering-can that we hung from the rafters to serve as a quirky shower. Our neighbour Komang, a fisherman who’s become one of our closest friends, carved out a driftwood log then waterproofed it with the same resin that he uses on his boat – and that bathroom now has a “dugout” basin. (And that evening his aunt cooked us a delicious fish dinner over the shavings from the basin.)
Other recycling projects followed. We found old tyres on the beach, painted them and hung them as suspended plant pots. We collected driftwood for shelving and to make picture frames. A piece of old boat sits on top of a washed-up tree stump and serves as a coffee table; on it, an old coffee jar is a pot holder. On one wall, we’ve hung baskets I’ve collected on various assignments around Indonesia; we both prefer baskets that have had a life of their own, so often I buy new ones and swop them with people I come across on my travels.
When one neighbour’s fishing boat was smashed during a storm we bought the wood he couldn’t reuse and other neighbours made our dining room table, Narina’s small desk and our bedside tables. The old wood is beautiful, with sun-bleached paintwork and ridged with deep marks from 30 years of having nets hauled over the edge of the boat. Our surfboard rack, coffee table and wardrobe (which recently served as a nursery for five kittens) were also made from boat wood, as was a daybed that fits onto the upstairs veranda. It is my favourite writing desk (unless I’m working from my hammock on the patio).
On our garden gate there hangs a sign that reads “Adeng-Adeng”. It means “Slowly-Slowly” and sums up the way that life is still lived out here in West Bali. The gate leads straight onto a sandy dirt-track and into the coconut grove where elegant Balinese cows graze, and it takes two minutes to reach the paddle-out point for the left-hander that is now famous as Bali’s longest wave. Crowds are almost unknown here and I often surf with only two or three friends in the water. Sometimes I ride my motorbike for almost 15km along the deserted beach and marvel that few visitors to Bali will ever imagine that such a place could still exist on the island. This is the real dreamland.
Now that we’ve created our quirky two-bedroom surf cottage, I have my first reason for real homesickness. I sometimes joke that if we ever have to leave for good we can take the furniture to pieces and fit them back together as a boat. But really, I hope that day never comes.
PS this is Arik, super-chilled future grom whose parents own the beach cafe where we hang out every morning and evening. What a life, right?
PPS Interested to stay in our place when we’re away? You’ll find more info here.