Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Paradise doesn't have a white sand beach.

Sometime last week Kimee turned to me and said “sometimes I feel like some people don't exist until the moment we need them to..”

In this case, she was referring to Nana – a surfer, West-Javan native and the architect, builder and owner of Villa Monyet. “Monkey Villa” has been our home for the last two weeks as we have bunked down in the small fishing village of Batu Karas.

Hedge and Aria playing cars vs underpants
We met Nana (and his lovely Australian wife, Marianne and their two crazy little boys) soon after being dropped off on the beach-front main street of Batu Karas. After looking at a few places, he appeared beside us, still wet from the surf, a board under his arm.

“You need a place to stay?” He didn't wait for a response.. the perfect sell! Instead he walked off the road behind us. Neither of us had noticed the Bungalows set back from the road behind a small 
Warung and a colourful garden of palm trees and 
bright hibiscus.

We joked it probably didn't exist...until just now.

Through the garden Nana nodded at a smaller bamboo A-frame thatch-roof bungalow – sheltered from view by a high garden frontage, it was open air with a comfy bed, a stereo and a hammock out the front...just what we'd hoped for.

 “We'll be here for a few weeks”, I say. “...130,000 a night?” (sounds a lot – it's actually under 15 bucks Aussie).

“ah yeah...sure” he says. I look to Kimee - this'll do :)

Batu Karas had been our ultimate destination in Indonesia since reading about it in on a some blogs and surf forums a few months back. It's been “on the map” in a broader sense for over ten years, but we were hoping it was still a little rustic and not too developed, and we weren't disappointed.

In fact, many of the hopes we'd had for Batu Karas were quickly realised. A dark volcanic sand beach stretching into the distance, the small village feel, uncrowded surf and a perfect wave. Throw in a little home cooking, a free surfboard from Nana and a scooter to explore with... we were set.

Cooking up a nutritious feast in our outdoor kitchen

 The 'headland' is a small rocky outcrop covered in trees – we surf right below it in the morning, then later climb the short path to the top and look right down on the surfers catching waves directly (just a few metres) below us. 
Top-down at the point

Penning some sweet rhymes over a pineapple smoothie
There's a smattering of small beach shacks around the point that have the same basic menu of cheap Indonesian staples, including pineapple juice smoothies – these things shouldn't be legal. About 75c each, I know I'm going to be shaky-handed looking for one in Bangkok. Other than that, there's a couple of board rental joints and that's it. As one local put it: “Yeah...Batu Karas man... nothing to do here but surf, smoke and siesta.” So that's what they do.

Hedge and Kimee with Marianne and Nana

Monkeying it up at dinner
A couple of days in, Nana tells me, with a glint in his eye, that 'Villa Monyuet” got it's name, not because of the recently released resident monkey, but “..because sometimes, we like to get together and eat and party like monkeys”. In this spirit, we enjoyed a great dinner Saturday night after Nana went out and bought a bunch of fresh reef fish, cooked it over an open fire and laid it out on a banana leaf with piles of rice, crunchy stinky beans (nicer than the name suggests), wilted water spinach from their garden and homemade sambal. Everyone sat around the low table and got stuck in - monkeying it up with their hands. 

It's definitely the tropics here – most nights we lie in our bungalow and listen to violent thunderstorms, occasionally making the midnight trip to the bathroom through the warm rain. After such heavy rain, there is a type of ant here that grows wings for just a few hours before they fall off again. In those two hours they rampantly envelop any source of light in plague proportions (imagine how excited you'd be if you grew wings for two hours). Seriously... any light. If you brushed your teeth too well that it. Lights go off everywhere and an hour later they're gone – eaten by FAT geckos and other ants – with millions of tiny wings left everywhere as their calling cards.

Surfing's what we came here to do, and in the first week, we did plenty. There's a reef break right out the front of our bungalow that works every day at lunch time, but the atmosphere at the point is the best thing about this place. The local guys set the tone – mostly around our age, they are great surfers but they're just out there for pure, unpretentious, goofball, all-out-and-in-it-together fun.

Fresh fruit smoothie: 80c. View - priceless.
When it's bigger, they are dropping in behind the rocky headland, getting barrels (metres from the bubbling rocks), popping out, grinning like fish. Awesome to watch, but it's even better when it's smaller: the longboards and the real characters come out to play. Lazy hang 10's, surfing backwards, 360 top turns on 10ft longboards... and tandem (2 guys catch a wave on one board - one forward, one backward – they stand up and start wrestling - trying to push each other off - all the while riding the perfect rolling wave). Every set is pure fun.

Kimee's out with us too and she's doing really well. She sits just outside the point and picks off the set waves that slip through the lineup at the point. She's choosing her own waves, paddling and standing up (all her freckles are out from the sun and she's just a total surfer babe..)

Heartbreakingly, by the start of week two, just as she was really catching a groove, the swell disappeared, leaving a silky-flat, beautifully clear swimming paradise. Unfortunately, that was the end of our surfing. As the swell disappeared, so did out main source of entertainment in this little town. We could've gone fully native (take up smoking and laze around looking longingly at the beach), but our itchy feet and insufferably humid bungalow inspired us to scope out something else. 

Sans surf, week two was the week of the scooter! 

...over here, it's the only way to fly.

We took plenty of trips into the nearby town of Cijulang, not least to get a cheap thrill using the locals' shortcut - a shaky, narrow bamboo bridge over the river. Here's a little point-of-view:

Nana had also told us about a waterfall and cave an hour away called Green Valley that was worth a look. We took a cruise en route along a neighboring beach, through coconut groves, rice fields and huge tables of nose-tickling sun-dried shrimp and fish. A rough ride along a rocky road and a short hike later, we stumble into a pretty picture: a jungle lined river running out of a cave and over water-smoothed boulders to a small waterfall. The cave disappeared back into dark nothingness, the walls covered with thick vines that lead all the way up into the jungle canopy. We swam back into the depths of the cave – creepy as, high ceiling, deep water and black as the inside of a cow. Totally worth the trip!

A few days later the surf was still flat. Those who know Kimee know she's irritatingly stubborn when she wants something (like a late-afternoon swim), which makes it very hard to plan surprises like romantic sunset river cruises. But I am pretty good. One of the locals who I'd chatted to in the surf owned a long boat, and I was able to arrange for him to take us down the palm-lined river that led to the lagoon. It was a beautiful, warm late afternoon – perfect for the easy boat ride past mangroves, palms and camped-out-fishermen with their massive net contraptions before taking in a stellar sunset at the lagoon.
The palms growing along the banks are harvested to make thatch roofing.
River fishing - Indo style
Our romantic sunset cruise

The haunting end to our time here was our chance passing of some modern-day ruins, right by where we were staying, left in the wake of a tsunami that hit this town only a few years ago. Set just back from the beach, these were clearly well-built, resort-style structures; now just empty shells slowly being reclaimed by ferns and the pristine surrounding grasses. It made me admire (albeit a little bemusedly) the love, energy and resources Nana was investing in Villa Monyet, just a few hundred metres away - right along the beach.

I think this very fact speaks with crystal eloquence of the nature of Nana and his community. Easy going and very human.

  • Cowrie shells on the beach: 100's
  • Cold showers: 3 daily
  • Bugs consumed: Unknown thousands
  • Pineapple juices at Jesfa's: Dozens (conservatively)
  • Cow sacrificing ceremonies: 1
Please send...
  • An instruction manual on how to use Indonesian squat toilets – start finish. We're 4 weeks in and still making it up as we go.
  • More mosquito spray!

Things we will and won't miss about Indonesia (at least from the parts we saw).

We will miss Indonesians.
We won't miss squat toilets.
We will miss the call to prayer (broadcast on a loud PA next door, 4 times plus, daily)
We won't miss the call to prayer at 4am.
We will miss Rambutans (we can peel and eat them like locals now)
We won't miss burning garbage piles (incineration is the norm here)
We will miss Indonesian TV ads (words can't describe)
We won't miss smoking...everywhere. Busses and confined spaces especially.

We're now in Thailand, after a long, smoky, music-y and sleepless bus ride half way across Java. Stay tuned for a post from Bangkok.

Love, Kimee and Hedge


  1. we have everything for sale and will be on our way over!!!

  2. so great- thanks for sharing it keeps me a live in the 70 hours work week drudgery! keep living the magic friends! love u kim!


    h to the davies

  3. Wow, this place sounds amazing. Makes me have itchy feet.

    Maybe I should get that looked at....

  4. Hahaha ahhh Wehlow.. thanks for the feedback everyone - this is great fun :)