Get Your Motor Running: Taking Stock of Bali’s Motoring Catalogue of Weird and Wonderful Delights

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After a while, you get accustomed to the unusual. Or at least it doesn’t seem as strange as it once would. Something that may have you doing a double-take anywhere else in the world  becomes “forget it, Jake, it’s Bali”.

Like the back section of an aircraft perched on the roof of a building along Jl Kerobokan and which, I’m informed by the brains trust of Bali expats on Facebook, is a new bar (I’ll report back on that one). That definitely had me doing a double-take, hastily pulling up at the side of the road to snap a photo.

Otherwise, the best WTF moments come from the weird and wonderful cars and motorbikes that can be found here. Bali traffic seriously does your head in. Compressed into the southern end of the island are far too many cars and motorbikes on far too few roads. Simple as that. And, with motorbike rentals starting at less than $AU5.00 a day, petrol at around 70 cents a litre, and the absence of a formal licence and/or previous driving experience being no legal hindrance at all, it appears that every second tourist is piloting their two-stroke alongside every other local in a huge motorised love-in.

1951 Plymouth
1951 Plymouth
Classic Kombi Van tucked away In the  back streets of Kuta
Classic Kombi Van tucked away In the back streets of Kuta
Australian 1961 EK Holden
Australian 1961 EK Holden

The extremely high incidence of road fatalities aside, the heavy traffic and rather haphazard nature of local driving culture doesn’t seem to make Bali the sort of place you’d want to drive expensive or rare vehicles. Yet, I’ve seen quite a few Porsches and Ferraris; I’m not sure how the owners cope with the inevitable nicks, dings and scrapes that every other vehicle on the road seem to accumulate like fleas on a dog. Antidepressants may help.

Night-time is when the truly interesting cars come out to play. Classics, that would have a challenging time maneuvering during the day, take advantage of the lighter traffic. Just as there’s a hard-core band of vintage Vespa fans out there, some surprising classic cars also turn up when you least expect them.

Like the beautiful two-tone 1961 Australian EK Holden that I spied late one night on Jl Petitenget nearly opposite the entrance to the W Hotel. Although brightly-painted and highly-polished, its bodywork showed the heavy toll of the roads.

The garden of mechanical delights that is known as Sanur’s Man Shed has a number of classic Holdens from Australia, along with a 1951 US Plymouth four-door and some whimsical indeterminate curiosities amongst its extensive holdings of cars and motorbikes. It was at a recent Vespa gathering there that I saw a super-cute Heinkel Tourist scooter with matching custom trailer. From the looks of it, it’s a late 1950s 103A-1.

Heinkel scooter with matching trailer
Heinkel scooter with matching trailer
Matching trailer of late 1950s Heinkel 103A-1
Matching trailer of late 1950s Heinkel 103A-1

Scooters with matching sidecars are also a reasonably common sight in Bali. There’s a wonderful candy-striped Vespa and sidecar often parked in Gang Mangga in Seminyak, not far from Café Moka. And the Red Carpet Champagne Bar, nearby in Jl Oberoi, has a scooter with a sidecar fashioned like a bottle of champagne.

Throughout Bali, there’s also a surprising number of vintage Volkswagon Kombie vans. Beautifully restored with gleaming chrome and bright paintwork, they inevitably bear the scars of traversing the traffic.

My Holy Grail, my Moby Dick, is the classic Cadillac rumoured to ply the streets of Ubud late at night. From descriptions I’ve received, it may well be the vaunted 1959 model. I’ll let you know when, and if, I find it.

Vintage scooters and matching sidecars are popular amongst motoring fans
Vintage scooters and matching sidecars are popular amongst motoring fans
A candy-striped vintage Vespa with matching sidecar
A candy-striped vintage Vespa with matching sidecar

© words and photos David Latta 2014

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Sun, Sand And Seriously Good Times: The Komune Beach Club Blitzes The Competition

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Beach clubs. Unless you’re a twenty-something with a serious gym addiction, you’ll have a love-hate relationship with beach clubs. In my previous life, my opinion would be “never”. Maybe with “ever, ever” added for emphasis. But since coming to Bali, I’ve been trying a lot of new stuff, some of which has severely confused long-time friends and associates.

Into this category I would put visiting Ubud, ground zero for all things weird and wonderful, and spending any amount of time in vegetarian cafes, especially if it involved eating and/or drinking. Yet I’ve done both several times recently; Ubud I still rank as weird but also most definitely wonderful along with fascinating and endlessly compelling. That it has some great museums and restaurants certainly helps.

As for the vegetarian side of things, I’ve had some truly tasty vegetarian meals and even been gradually getting my palate (and nether regions) accustomed to juicing. Not that vegetables will ever supplant bacon as my favourite food group but, after a couple of heart attacks, I suppose I should exercise some caution.

This has engendered much consternation and concern amongst my friends; when I’ve made such announcements on Facebook, several immediately assumed my account had been hacked.

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Never say never. Approach each new experience with an open mind. And trust people will have your interests at heart when they share their own loves and interests with you. Am I getting a little too New Age?

Then I won’t mention the recent shopping expedition to get a yoga mat. Wait, don’t call psychiatric services just yet. I’m not planning on yoga. Some things really are never, ever, ever (note to self: check back in a few months’ time to see if this still holds). I merely needed some cushioning for the hard tile floors of my room while I do general toning work (push-ups, planks, etc) between gym visits.

There was a close call during the shopping expedition when the only likely candidate I could find was a Hello Kitty yoga mat. I did consider it, however briefly, but irony can be an exhausting concept to justify, especially in a foreign country. What might have flown in the inner city of Sydney was definitely not going to soar too high in Indonesia.

Creep old guy on a yoga mat? Maybe. Creepy old guy on a Hello Kitty yoga mat? I could already hear the sirens in the distance.

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Luckily I persevered and found another mat, much thicker, much better quality, in a fetching battleship grey. Crisis averted.

Anyway, back to beach clubs. There are a few in the Seminyak area, notably Ku De Ta and Potato Head. The former I’ve visited enough times to know I’m just not cut out to socialise with the young, buff and beautiful. At Potato Head, I initially couldn’t even get beyond the style enforcer on the door. And that was when I was wearing clothes. Undressed, I just wouldn’t want to be responsible for the mass panic, the collective fear and loathing that would surely manifest.

Then a friend suggested visiting the Komune Beach Club at Keramas Beach on the East Coast, not far short of Candidasa. In the spirit of opening myself up to new experiences, I reached for my spiritual Magic 8-Ball (which, admittedly, is generally stuck on hell, yeah) and it immediately came up with hell, yeah (what did I tell you?)

It was just a matter of getting there. I’d been quoted Rp400,000 (around $AU37.00) each way for a car and driver from Seminyak to Keramas. But I also knew this could be a worthy introduction to exploring the more distant parts of Bali, so I determined that, without any previous experience, I would hire a motor scooter and ride there myself.

And that, my friends, will be the subject of another post.

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So long story short, I booked a room at Komune, charted my journey via Google Maps (a total of 35 kilometres, I was informed, about 40 minutes) and set off. The route was pretty much idiot-proof as I took the Sunset Road then the Ngurah Rai by-pass towards Sanur.  It was just a matter of following my nose until I was roughly east of Denpasar. This road was a direct route to Ubud but, taking notice of the unusually assistive signage, I branched off onto (deep breathe) Jl Professor Doktor Ida Bagus Mantra towards Candidasa.

In all, and taking into account over-shooting the Keramas Beach turn-off, I arrived in the parking lot of Komune about 90 minutes later. So much for Google Maps (and that will definitely be another post).

It’s billed as a four-star resort with 66 guestrooms and suites. The rack rate for rooms is $AU150 but on-line booking sites go as far down as $AU75. For suites, rack is $AU192, with discounts as low as $AU113. A number of package deals are also available. Eat, Play, Surf includes room, daily breakfast, five massages, two night surfing lessons or two yoga sessions, two sunset cocktails and one dinner. Packages are for a minimum of five or seven nights.

The guestrooms are air-conditioned with comfortable beds and large bathrooms. There is a well-stocked mini-bar, enough power points, loads of natural light, and the only drawback I could really note was an unusual design flaw that allowed neighbours to be heard quite distinctly, even if they weren’t particularly noisy. And it stands to reason that if you can hear them, they can most certainly hear you. You’ve been warned.

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The beach club aspect is a real winner. Walk through reception and the vast tropical gardens and you’re a grassy field overlooking Keramas Beach. A large swimming pool, bracketed with wide plush day beds, looks out on the surfers attempting to dodge the rocks and master the breaks.

At one end is an elevated two-level beach shack with a shabby-chic-meets-Ralph-Lauren vibe. Spotlights directed at the beach are used for night surfing. At the other end is an ultra-modern dining area nestled under the sloping angle of what appears to be a tropical interpretation of a 1950s Hollywood flying saucer (very The Day The Earth Stood Still, the Michael Rennie version not the atrocious Keanu Reeves remake). Just beyond that is an outdoor cinema; if there are no thrill-seekers ingracious enough not to provide night surfing entertainment, at least there’s a fall-back.

After the pricing of Seminyak’s Potato Head or Cocoon, which is much more in line with an upmarket Sydney bar, food and beverage at Komune is a delight. The Big Barrel Burger, with egg, cheese, bacon and beetroot, costs Rp80,000 ($AU7.37), the same price as the Chorizo and Calamari Salad and the Komune Roast Vegetable Salad.

Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served in the flying saucer, while lunch and snacks are always available around the pool area. Weekdays are the time to visit; on the weekends, especially Sundays, families take control of the pool.

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Komune is especially proud of their green credentials. Their solar farm provides much of the electricity, the organic garden many of the vegetables, they have a dedicated team for cleaning the beach and adjoining river, they treat their own waste water and use it to water plants and garden, and they also make their own bottled water.

Located far enough away from the tourist hordes to deter those who would frequent Potato Head and Ku De Ta, Komune is a very special experience. Did it reshape my view of beach clubs? It did. Will I return? Most definitely; I’ll be there again in a few days. Despite the distance, it’s still close enough to home (and Ubud, should I feel like a side serving of weird with my burger) to merit a day trip.

It’s in a beautiful part of the world, with Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Penida in one direction and the looming presence of the semi-retired volcano, Mount Agung, in the other, a dark sand beach and cold eager surf that carries a taste of salt to the day beds. Basking in the sun, cocktail at hand, music prickling your consciousness, there seems no better way to celebrate yet another perfect day in Bali. And, with the right company, there probably isn’t.

© words and photos David Latta 2014

A Close Shave: Strange Days and The Doors of Perception Opened at Bali’s Only Traditional Barber Shop

A  close shave at the barber of Bali
A close shave at the barber of Bali

Ah, male pattern baldness. It runs in the family, both sides, so I really didn’t stand a chance. In my late teens, I had long hair, half-way down my back, centre-parted, very David Cassidy. And a widow’s peak.

In my 20s, what I remember most is the eternal search for a good hairdresser which, as any woman will tell you, can be extremely frustrating. The late 1970s was the early days of “product”, otherwise known as gel, and a large chunk of the mornings spent blow-waving my raven locks to generate just the right degree of tousled insouciance. That was the Bryan Ferry period, mixed with a healthy dose of how Ian Fleming would characterise the dark comma of hair falling across James Bond’s right eye.

That continued into the mid-80s, and luckily I avoided the worst instances of that decade’s hair crimes; I can only imagine what could have transpired had my tastes in music veered more towards A Flock Of Seagulls than Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet.

By the 90s, when it was apparent I was being denuded by the follicular equivalent of continental drift, acceptance came fairly peaceably (although there was one ill-advised flirtation with a perm; luckily, photographic evidence no longer exists following the sad events surrounding the mineshaft explosion).

Portrait of an artist as a prat: hair in 1978
Portrait of an artist as a prat: hair in 1978

My father had a comb-over, so I wasn’t going there, while an uncle was overly attached (if you’ll pardon my pun) to a budget hairpiece that, increasingly, began to resemble a small, malnourished woodland creature that had crawled onto his head to die (he still wears it, God bless him).

No, in a sterling example of clear thinking, I decided I’d face baldness head-on (oops, sorry, another pun). Like Bruce Willis, whose own capillose complications paralleled my own, I went for the buzz cut and, eventually, shaving my head.

In Sydney, I’d have my head shaved once a week; I lived in an area that would once have been described as “edgy” back before an average tumbledown cottage fetched upwards of a million dollars and there was no shortage of traditional barbers, born clutching straight razors in their pudgy fingers.

In Bali, however, it’s another matter. I’ll rarely shave my own head. The front and sides aren’t the problem, it’s the back and neck, impossible to do with any degree of accuracy. For the time I’ve been here, I’ve used a pair of clippers for a permanent buzz cut.

Still searching for the 70s hairdressing nirvana
Still searching for the 70s hairdressing nirvana

However, necessity calls and I’m pleased to say I’ve found the solution.

The Barber of Bali bills itself as the “only gentleman’s barber” on the island. It’s located just off the extreme northern end of Jalan Seminyak. It’s the brainchild of Shierley Koval, who filled me in on the concept at a recent InterNations function. I’d like to say I made an immediate beeline for the place but it ain’t so; I stumbled across it by chance a few weeks later.

The Barber is on the first floor, Jl Basangkasa 8X, up a spiral staircase from the Rumba Bar. Koval’s Shampoo Lounge, billed as Bali’s premier salon, is on the ground floor.

The Barber offers haircuts, shaves, manicures, facials and massages in air-conditioned comfort. It’s also a bar; a cold Bintang, Russian vodka or espresso coffee goes down awfully well while the stylists are doing their work.

In 1978 with the "dark comma"
In 1978 with the “dark comma”

Walk-ins are welcome and, on the day I was there, the place was consistently busy. The music couldn’t be faulted; Beach Boys and Doors and some of the more notable corners of my music collection were in high rotation. Staff were friendly and plentiful and seemed so effortlessly familiar with cutting implements that I had no hesitation in leaving my skull in their hands.

Once seated with a strong black coffee within reach, the barber solemnly presented a new razor blade and inserted it into the straight razor. Now I should mention how nervous I am with sharp implements in close proximity to my head and there have been times (notably some years back in Durban, South Africa, where a rusty pair of electric clippers occasioned considerable blood-letting and a subsequent period of extended angst) when necessity overrode my natural hesitation.

This time, I had no such fears. The shave was expert and relaxing. I’ll be back. Not every week, mind you, but when I need a clean-up, I know exactly where to come.

The Barber of Bali
Jl Basangkasa 8X, Seminyak
Tel: 0361 843 9867 (walk-ins welcome)
http://www.xisle.me/barber

© words and photos David Latta 2014

Remembrance of Things Past: Two Strokes For Different Folks at the Man Shed

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Man Shed, Sanur

It’s amazing what you find when you’re not really looking

Sanur is like a Mediterranean holiday resort. The water is certainly cleaner and more inviting than the tourist strips of the west coast, with a calming offshore breakwater. Walkways stretch far along the wide sandy beach, past tree-shaded cafes, resorts and day clubs clustered with sun lounges for rent. The ocean breezes can be feisty at times but they thankfully temper the heat of the cloudless skies.

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The main tourist street, Jl Danau Tamblingan, is relatively mild, the area’s through traffic concentrated on the near by-pass road. There’s cars and minibuses, which occasionally tangle in what passes for a traffic jam in those parts, but quite a few tourists prefer bicycles, a mode of transport who just don’t see in many other parts of Bali. Try that in Kuta or Seminyak and you’d never play the violin again.

Just on the other side of the by-pass is a sprawling, run-down industrial space that has been reborn as the retro heaven called the Man Shed. Café, bar, pool hall, informal museum and boutique, this amazing hanger-like space is packed with cars and motorbikes, old-timey everyday examples of the internal (and infernal) combustion engine and kitschy musings on such, including bar tables fashioned from old scooters.

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I came across the Man Shed purely by accident as it was close to a friend’s villa where I stayed for a few weeks. I couldn’t quite believe what I found but took to it immediately. The motorcycles were generally of the kind favoured by the locals (or, in Australia, by postmen) and, amongst the cars, a couple of Holdens. New stock seemed to be added continually although where they were found, and how, I couldn’t even hazard a guess.

In this category, I’d place the black 1951 Plymouth, a little battered but a prime example of Detroit steel that I found the mechanics working on one day. It was taking some effort and appeared to be riding far too low to be venturing out anytime soon but I was assured that it would soon be duelling with the SUVs and millions of motor scooters driven really badly. It’ll hold its own, I’m sure.

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One Sunday, the local Vespa club held a giant rally at Man Shed. The forecourt was packed with the bright and shiny and obviously highly-prized Italian scooters, pretty evenly divided between new and Audrey Hepburn-Roman Holiday old. As part of their celebrations, there was a massed Vespa drive-by along the Sanur tourist strip. On their return, the peaceful Sunday afternoon was shattered by what sounded like a squadron of avenging lawnmowers.

Over many visits, I tried much of the menu and it’s a real bonus for visitors. Nasi Goreng is just Rp20,000 ($AU1.84) while a hamburger is Rp50,000 ($AU4.59). A small bottle of Bintang beer costs Rp20,000.

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The Man Shed is one of those places you won’t quite believe, like an automotive mirage of dubious taste, but you’ll enjoy it immensely. It’s a putt-putt down memory lane, a cabinet of curiosities that delights and rewards. And, on an island that has its fair share of the unusual, it stands alone.

Man Shed
Jl Turtanadi II No 9, Sanur
Tel: 0878 6252 2136

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© words and photos David Latta 2014

Salty Salutations: Music Makes For A Great Night Out In Seminyak

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Salty Seagull’s AKA Salty’s Bib, Rib and Crab Shack, Seminyak.

Seminyak is not the real Bali, I’m told by so many people. Usually in a most dismissive tone. That’s a “duh” moment, if I’ve ever heard one.

OK, so the rice paddies and vegetable fields, verdant terraces and rainforest are long gone, replaced by traffic, boutiques, bars and restaurants. So, too, are the paddy rats, pythons and cobras, which is just fine by me.

If I wanted wildlife of the sort that makes my skin crawl, or ulcerate or worse, I’d be calling Canggu or Umalas home. But I want to live in Seminyak and, at the moment, I am.

Since my arrival, I’ve moved around southern Bali to better assess where I wish to hang my many hats. I started in Legian although, in actuality, it was Kuta; to state the bleeding obvious, as I’m not 19, steroid-crazed and heavily tattooed, it’s not the area for me.

BBQ Pork Ribs at Salty's
BBQ Pork Ribs at Salty’s

I then moved north to Seminyak and spent a few weeks at various points of the ‘Yak compass. Following a stretch in Sanur which was awfully nice if a little too sleepy for my tastes, I had the opportunity to return to Seminyak and this is where I feel I belong.

This I pretty much knew way ahead of time, well before I left Australia, but I needed to experience it afresh and in depth before committing.

In Sydney, I was an inner city boy. It was the proximity to all the social amenities, from caffeine to gym, artisanal bread-makers to live music venues, that gave me at least a passing illusion of being connected. Living in Seminyak is pretty much the same except it’s far cheaper and considerably warmer. Living deep in the gangs or alleyways of Seminyak, I get the best of two very different worlds – as the sun sets and thoughts drift to dinner, I can decide on just about any cuisine and it’s usually within walking distance.

But no matter how fierce the traffic and nightlife becomes, my villa is whisper quiet, a canopy of stars twinkle overhead, I can sit under a frangipani tree or lounge in the shallow end of the swimming pool, and I count the very many ways my good fortune has played out.

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If, however, I do want a little more stimulus, there are any number of fine bars, many with great live music.

One of my favourites is variously known as Salty Seagull’s (as it appears on its Facebook site) or Salty’s Bib, Rib and Crab Shack (as per its own menu) in Jl Petitenget, just south of Potato Head and the W Hotel. Regardless of the name, I discovered it early on, when it was still quite new. The theme is Caribbean beach shack and, as the name suggests, it specialises in mud crabs (of the chilli, salt and pepper, and plain boiled kind) and ribs (pork in either BBQ or chilli and soy), along with a small selection of other items including hamburgers and fish and chips.

There’s seating in a variety of semi-indoor bar areas or outdoors at retro picnic tables, a number of specialty nights such as half-price ribs on Monday, half price crabs on Wednesdays and a local rockabilly band on Thursdays, the staff are friendly and quite proactive on the service front, but – for me, at least – the real attraction is the music.

Salty’s is owned by Australian restaurateur, Adrian Reed, who already scored such a hit with his nearby Motel Mexicola. Adrian is obviously a man of impeccable and highly-evolved musical tastes; Mexicola is worthy of its own mention in this blog (as it will eventually be) but the music there is as stand-out as its soft tacos with an emphasis on quirky vintage Mexican pop.

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At Salty’s, there’s an undercurrent of reggae, to shore up its Caribbean credentials, along with some wondrously obscure cuts, some of which even left me baffled. Early on, when I was there a couple of times a week, I’d while the night away with a most satisfying game of “name that tune”.

To give some small example of what to expect, here’s what I caught at just one session: Led Zeppelin, the Wayne Fontana version of Love Potion #9, Bob Seger’s Beautiful Loser, Ian Dury, a version of Free Bird I’m not familiar with, Talking Heads’ Sugar On My Tongue, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s Got To Get Ourselves Back To The Garden, The Proclaimers, The Rolling Stones’ Carol, The Hollies’ Long Cool Woman In A Black Dress, early Dionne Warwick, Elvis Costello’s The Angels Want To Wear My Red Shoes, The Five Man Electrical Band, Wilson Pickett’s Something You Got, and Peter Tosh’s Johnny B. Goode.

Now that I’m back in Seminyak, I’m eager to see if the music still holds up. Join me one night and find out.

Salty Seagull’s (AKA Salty’s Bib, Rib and Crab Shack).
Jl Petitenget 999, Seminyak
Tel: (0361) 8497 588

 

© words and photos David Latta 2014

Want To Write, Won’t Write, Can’t Write: What’s The Excuse?

How writers often see themselves
How writers often see themselves

 

You’re a writer if you can’t NOT write.

What makes a writer? To state the bleeding obvious, you need to get those words out. Out of your head and onto the page. You have to physically manifest your thoughts, dreams, hopes, desires, translate them into something tangible whether it’s pen on paper or keystrokes onto your computer screen.

The best of intentions won’t be enough to get you there. But the one thing I hear most of all, when people find out I’m a writer, is how many of them would love to do the same thing – create a book, poem, movie script.

Then comes the inevitable qualifier. Oh, they’d love to write, they say, but they’re too busy with work/family/life in general.

I firmly believe that everybody has a book inside them. And everybody has the ability to write. A writer is a storyteller and who hasn’t been to a dinner party or sat in a bar and regaled their friends with a story or two? And gently tweaked those stories in subsequent retellings to make them even better?

Hunter S. Thompson
Hunter S. Thompson

 

And if you’re a regular reader, you know the basics of what makes a compelling story. There are only so many types of stories, and each new one is only a variation on something that’s been told countless times before. That’s the tradition of storytelling. A writer doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel each time they sit down, they merely try to make that wheel look a little different from all the others out there.

So why aren’t more people writers, especially if they’ve have at least one interesting experience to share, let alone an interesting life?

The great unknown, for one thing. A book can be a particularly daunting thing. One hundred thousand words, two hundred thousand words. That’s scary to a lot of people. It’s scary to most writers as well.

It’s no surprise that writers, even the successful kind, are extremely conflicted about the craft of writing. Some, like Roald Dahl, have  gone on record about how difficult they find it. They may even hate the act of writing. Others describe feelings of frustration or disappointment; which has as much to do with living up to their own high standards as it does to what they see as the drudgery of sitting down each day, alone in a room, to do the same thing over and over again.

That so many famous writers were alcoholics is telling. No surprise that Hunter S. Thompson is in this group. Raymond Chandler, responsible for some of the most sublimely clever prose within the strictures of the crime genre, was not only an alcoholic but a mean, nasty one at that along with being a racist, anti-Semitic misogynist to top it all off.

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Tennessee Williams, Dorothy Parker, Truman Capote, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway, to name just a few who crowd my bookshelves, liberally lubricated their talents in the bottle but still managed to create some of the most enduring literary classics of all time.

They had what we now call addictive personalities. There were certainly other writers – such as Baudelaire, Coleridge, Ginsberg, Huxley and Sartre – who channelled their addictive personalities into drugs.

They were addicts because they could be; it was not as socially unacceptable as such behaviour is now. It helped them deal with any personal difficulties they had and maybe it also assisted them into “the zone”, into that area that allowed their imaginations to soar and the emotions to manifest.

As much as the alcoholics and drug addicts get all the attention, a lots of writers (most? some? who knows?) don’t need or at least don’t use such stimulus. They do it cold turkey.

My first five books were non-fiction, all but one commissioned by major publishers, the last two by Random House. They all in some way were aspects of Australian history – architecture, crime fiction, music, a company history.

Leonardo DiCaprio in Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby (2013)
Leonardo DiCaprio in Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby (2013)

 

The good thing about writing non-fiction is you know exactly where you’re going; you have a beginning, middle and end before you write Word One.

Fiction is a whole new ballgame and very scary for anyone trying it for the first time. My first novel came out of a dare at a drunken dinner party. The next morning, it still didn’t seem like such a bad idea so I began Chapter One. Which led to Chapter Two, Chapter Three, and so forth.

Not only was it my first attempt at fiction (I won’t include the period in the mid-1980s when I produced what I’ll refer to as “adult fiction”), I wrote it from the beginning to the end.

I started out with no real idea of what I wanted to do or where I was heading. Along the way, I came up with a couple of really good characters and a setting and that led to a major plot as well as a sub-plot, and I sped through it all until the last few chapters when I was hung up on the resolution. It took a couple of weeks to get over that hurdle.

In all, the 100,000 words took about nine months. It would have been quicker but I had a couple of heart attacks in the midst, which tends to throw one’s schedule off slightly.

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As a first novel, it was some hard work but a lot of fun as well. And I’d done it. I’d proved to myself that writing a novel wasn’t that difficult and maybe, with some practise and a favourable marketplace, I could make a career out of it.

Time for the next one. I love Stephen King and horror novels in general (especially those disturbing Pan horror anthologies from the 1960s). I figured why not?

So now I’m working on a horror novel. I’ve moved to Bali to work exclusively on the novel. With no distractions except the tropical weather, clear blue skies, and a swimming pool to while away the midday hours, punctuating my morning and afternoon writing sessions (my version of a stiff highball or a arm full of illicit substances; it works for me).

Living in a foreign country and forgoing family, friends and your support network in order to focus on writing isn’t a prerequisite but it’s a start. Getting rid of distractions, and being quite ruthless about it, works for those of us who are………..oh, look, a cat.

Anyway, different strokes for different folks. What works for me might not be applicable for everybody. And it gets back, after much meandering and waffling, to the original question.

What does it take to be a writer? To be cruel, it boils down to one thing. With apologies to Nike, just do it.

© words David Latta 2014

How Suite It Is: Seminyak Is Bali For Grown-Ups

Pool at Tony's Villas
Pool at Tony’s Villas

 

There’s very much an aspirational undertone to Seminyak. It’s a tropical version of the Australian suburbs of Double Bay or Toorak, with a lot of Noosa thrown in, and that’s reflected in the boutiques, bars and restaurants.

There are those who write Seminyak off as not being the real Bali, that it’s just another anonymous high-end tourist experience. Fair enough. Head north, far north, for the real Bali. Stay in a joglo or a thatch-roofed cottage with no air-conditioning and commune with paddy rats the size of terriers. Get back to nature. Just don’t stand up-wind from me on your return. I’ll be in Seminyak.

The area has a range of accommodation, from hip and exclusive beachside resorts such as the W Hotel to a staggering array of private villas tucked away in back streets.

One of the longest-established resorts is the Oberoi, once the last word in luxury; although it’s been eclipsed by much flashier newcomers such as the Legian and the Samaya, the quietly attentive service remains a benchmark for the local tourism industry. Its historic role in the area is such that the main street, Jl Kayu Aya, which runs past the entrance, is generally referred to as Jl Oberoi.

First-time holidaymakers to Bali may start out in Kuta or Nusa Dua but, if they’re of a certain persuasion, they eventually end up, next visit or maybe the one after, in Seminyak. Kuta is for the young and/or budget-minded. The $AU30 a night hotels are perfectly serviceable and offer most of what a traveller needs, but there comes a time when cutting corners on accommodation to boost the drinking budget just doesn’t make sense any more.

Bedroom at Arvina Villas
Bedroom at Arvina Villas

When that happens, Seminyak, a twenty minute taxi ride north, awaits.

(As for Nusa Dua, the best advice is to examine its origins. It was established in the 1980s as a homogenised strip of luxury resorts, with inspiration drawn from similar arrangements on Hawaii’s Maui and the Big Island; in fact, the Grand Hyatt Bali echoes the design of the Hyatt Waikoloa which, when opened in 1988, was one of the most expensive resorts ever built and so revolutionary in design that Time magazine devoted a double-page spread to it. The Nusa Dua philosophy was to attract high-end tourism and conventions in a destination-neutral backdrop. It hasn’t changed much since.)

Over the years, I’ve stayed throughout Seminyak and it’s the quality, buttressed by the value, that keeps drawing me back.

Many of the villas and resorts in Seminyak quote their rates in US dollars. Because they can. It’s a hedge against a Rupiah that provides far greater value for visitors than locals (just a couple of years back, the exchange rate was $AU1 = Rp7,500; on my arrival in May 2014, it was $AU1 = Rp10,500 and by the end of June it had reached Rp11,200; prices haven’t risen to cover the different).

No matter what currency the final bill arrives in, the price of a two-bedroom Seminyak villa, with its own swimming pool, is less or comparable than a hotel room in the Sydney CBD. I know which one I’d rather have.

Living Area with Koi Pond at Arvina Villas
Living Area with Koi Pond at Arvina Villas

Of the places I’ve stayed to date, top of the Seminyak list would be Uma Sapna, a complex of completely private one- and two-bedroom villas, each with their own swimming or plunge pools. It’s located on Jl Drupardi, a few minutes’ walk from the eastern end of Jl Oberoi. It’s equidistant to Jl Seminyak near the intersection of Jl Kunti.

Internet rates for Uma Sapna for mid-July are around $AU230 for a one-bedroom pool villa.

The Arvina Villas were a great discovery that I stumbled across completely by accident when looking for Seminyak accommodation. They are in Gang Mangga, a laneway down the side of Café Moka heading towards Bali Deli. Five one-bedroom villas, with fully-equipped kitchens, grouped around a saltwater swimming pool. The villa I rented had a distinctive Japanese ambience, with a large bedroom, dressing room, semi-outdoor bathroom, and semi-outdoor living area with a koi pond.

In the mornings, I had the choice of walking a few minutes to Café Moka, Bali Deli or Buzz Café for breakfast (usually by way of the Periplus next to Bali Deli for the International Herald-Tribune) while some of the dinner choices include Made’s Warung (which also has a Periplus as part of the complex). Prices for the Arvina Villas start from just over $US100 a night. Great value indeed.

After the Jl Oberoi focus on Seminyak, I headed a little further north. I’d never stayed along Jl Petitenget before but soon felt right at home. Oberoi is now so popular it’s gridlocked much of the time; Petitenget is like Oberoi was five years ago (in the way that Canggu to the north will, in ten years’ time, be what Seminyak was ten years ago, if you catch my drift).

Canopy Bed at Tony's Villas
Canopy Bed at Tony’s Villas

Taman Ayu Cottages, from the street, looks like an old-style Bali hotel. They still have a number of the original rooms but the best option is one of the newly-built rooms – comfortable, spacious, with bathrooms almost as large as the bedrooms, and lots of spare power points and good lighting, things traditional Balinese hotel rooms don’t have.

This part of Jl Petitenget has an enviable selection of restaurants and bars all within a short walking distance. The choice ranges from the W Hotel and the Potato Head beach club to newcomers such as Salty’s Bib, Rib & Crab Shack. I’ll cover the restaurants and bars in this part of Seminyak at a later date.

Taman Ayu was such good value (about $AU50 a night for a newer room), I stayed two weeks. The pool was well positioned, if a little shady at some  times of the day, the staff friendly and efficient and it was close to everything I wanted.

I didn’t need a taxi to take me to my next hotel. I walked the three minutes, just on the other side of the W Hotel’s driveway, to Tony’s Villas. A half-price internet special at $AU90 a night lured me in to what felt like a secret hideaway of thatch-roofed bungalows set within a sun-dabbled rainforest.

The big bed, with its enveloping mosquito net, struck the right note of tropical exotica, there was a separate dressing room and a huge indoor/outdoor bathroom with two showers and a circular stone bath.

Bathroom at Tony's Villas
Bathroom at Tony’s Villas

The pool, one of my prime criteria for choosing any Bali hotel, was well positioned and the entire experience of staying at Tony’s Villas could hardly be faulted.

It can be difficult to decide where to live when relocating to a new place, whether it be across the city or on the other side of the world. Draw up a short-list of those places you know and/or have heard good things about. Stay for a week or so in each place. Explore the side streets, and shop as the locals do, paying special attention to the supermarkets. Do everything you’d do at home and compare how each on the list provide what you need.

Also, does it feel right? Could you envisage spending the next stage of your life there? As well as outlining the upsides, make note of the disappointments as well. The list will whittle down pretty quickly. If you’re lucky, you’ll be left with a manageable number.

The right choice will be the one you have the least number of reservations about. And, hopefully, it’ll feel like home before you know it.

© words and photos David Latta 2014