Sunday, December 5, 2021

Bali Part 1


Bali Is Crawling With Aussies

“How many minutes left in the match?” 


There are places in the world that are so dominated by one group of foreigners that you don’t even need to go to the mother country. You can skip the States and just go to Cabo San Lucas. You can skip India and just go to Fiji. You can skip Australia and just go to Bali. Bali is crawling with Aussies, and they look more Southern Californian than the Southern Californians. Their appearance is nearly identical to the Americans but with logo’d sportswear from teams you’ve never heard of: sports fans from a parallel universe. 

The Brits invented white trash, but the American’s won the belt and wore it proudly around their expanding bellies for decades until the Aussies snatched it from us with an “Aussie! Aussie! Aussie! – Oi! Oi! Oi!”. I could make a living cracking Aussie jokes about their “cashed up bogans” but the truth is I really do love ‘em. And then there’s AC/DC (pronounced “Acadaca”). AC/DC are so dirty and good and rock so hard that Australia could nuke Papua New Guinea and when the world court brought charges against them their only defense would be, "yeah, but...AC/DC" and with a collective murmur the world would sigh, "yeah… fair enough, but don’t do it again." 

We spent many hours drinking and staring at the sea in Sanur

I’m of course referring to “The Before Times”. It used to be crawling with Aussies, and when we first got here, it still was, but most left in summer 2020 and what I used to refer to as “convict island” is now referred to as “prisoner island” – They haven’t been allowed to leave their continent. When they leave Bali, they aren’t replaced with another Aussie.

They Were Replaced With Soviets!

Ah....The sleet blasted lizard faces of the Soviet bloc. Now when you travel Bali you hear Russian everywhere. When I started traveling back in 1990, you never heard Russian. You never met a Russian. There weren't any Russians outside of Russia. And if you met a Russian, you didn’t know it, because he was a spy. But now – they are everywhere. And if you meet a rich one it’s perfectly appropriate to ask how many people he’s killed with his bare hands. Because he has. And if you should ever find yourself depressed, just ask to see a Soviets childhood photo album. The sepia toned tenement blocks devoid of joy should put your problems into perspective instantly. 

I lived here in Bali ten years ago and we used to say, “Aussies will not wear shirts.” Now we say, “Soviets will not wear masks.” The mask thing really steams me up. You don't wear the mask for you; you wear the mask for everyone else. Like an eye patch.... It's not for the wearer. It's so everyone else doesn't have to see your dead socket. Even pirates were more polite than modern Soviets. I use the term “Soviets” because it’s more inclusive than “Russians” and everyone knows I’m an inclusive egalitarian and lover of culture. I have politely deferred to the blanket handle of “Soviets” for everyone who sounds like a record playing backwards. Those deadeye Soviets found Bali and vowed never to return to the tundra. They taught themselves how to market their social presence to their ilk trapped back home and are making up for 100 years of lost time as fast as they can. 

Yes Bob, But When Are You Actually Going To Write About Bali?

Right now! 

A pile of offerings to please the gods

Here's an example of marketing. The following statements are both true, but only one sells it, "I'm stuck in Indonesia". Vs: "I'm quarantining in Bali"

I landed in Bali on March 14 2020 and Aleja was one day behind me. The next day they closed the borders for 19 months. Whew! – We just made it and yet we had no idea how lucky we would be. Bali normally gets 7,000,000 visitors per year. As of July 16, 2020 there were only 7,000 foreigners on the island and they were leaving daily. It became a once in a lifetime opportunity that will probably never happen again. We found ourselves in paradise with 40% off, no traffic, no lines, and no crowds. Not one Bluebird taxi honked at me. The Dutch, the Japanese…and ultimately the Tourists just become another occupying army. But in this strange parallel universe it felt like we had paradise all to ourselves. If Elon Musk could write a check and reduce the number of foreigners by a factor of 1,000 how much would you expect that to cost? Billions right? Our experience was priceless. 

We had many great restaurants all to ourselves

It reverted to the crowds of the 1950's, the pricing of the 1990's while retaining the infrastructure of the 2020's. The health of the reefs rebounded, the air quality improved. We felt we won in every way … and all the while, the locals slowly starved. One of the employees where we lived was laid off. Shortly after, he had to unplug his fridge because he could no longer pay the electric bill, and shortly after that he sold it. Everyone knows a taxi driver who had to sell his car. It isn’t fair, and you can’t help everyone. We shared and donated but it would never be enough. We adopted a restaurant and the workers there. We bought bags of rice and cans of tuna and boxes of face masks but it’s never going to cover it. Many families dipped deeply back into poverty after their savings were extinguished. It was the same story around the world. 

I got sick

There were no Covid tests in March of 2020 in Bali so I can never say definitively that I had it, but I had never lost my sense of smell before and my lungs haven’t been the same since. 3 X-rays, 3 radiologists and 3 doctors later - the diagnosis is COPD, which is a blanket term for permanent scarring in the air sacs of the lungs. It won’t get better and my life quality has certainly been impacted. Do you remember as a child in the predawn frozen winter when you had to run to catch the school bus and that cold air seared your lungs? That’s what they feel like: scorched and bruised and I cough constantly. That never helps to make friends during a pulmonary pandemic. 

We quarantined for months. Aleja never had any symptoms. Go figure. This was March to June of 2020. We got small, lowered our expectations and like everyone else, wondered how long it would last. 

We took up an old hobby of mine
and made lots candles

By July we had declared that Sanur wasn’t where we wanted to be and moved up to Ubud. I’m fond of saying, “If you get lost in Sanur you end up in Denpasar (the filthy capital of the island). If you get lost in Ubud you end up in a beautiful rice paddy.” When we were driving in South America I was hyper conscious to never make a wrong turn because it was so difficult to get big LC turned around or backed up, but when I'm on the scooter with Aleja, we try to get lost. We knowingly take wrong turns. 2 wheels in Bali is real freedom. I lived here 10 years ago and I drove a little Jeep like vehicle. It was good. It felt safe. But traffic was an issue and parking a constant problem. This time around I opted for a scooter, which means you have to time your breathing. You hold your breath when you see the belch from the truck. Then you exhale and inhale the next lung full before you meet the smoke from the hundreds of mini fires that burn everyday as the locals rid themselves of rice chafe and plastics. Ahhh – the developing world!

Hindu Magic Force Field

Driving in Bali is an adventure. Start the car and test the horn. You're gonna need it. Merging into traffic on this island is tantamount to holding your breath and jumping headlong into a swift river. The cars and motorcycles ultimately do part like a school of fish interrupted by your rude introduction, and I've yet to hear the crunch of plastic or the grind of metal. Just before driving straight into the mass, which looks like a guaranteed collision, I say out loud 3 times, "Drive on the Left! Hindu magic force field!" It works. I wouldn't recommend it back in the States. The locals drive a scooter like there's no tomorrow and they drive a car like they've never been in one before. Which, based on the socio economic ladder is probably true. They are incredibly reckless with 2 wheels and more cautious than your grandma with 4 wheels. If you are wondering why Asians have a terrible reputation as drivers – go to Asia.

Driving can be a lesson in more than just road rules. Here are 2 things I’ve learned driving a scooter in Bali:

1. There is space for everyone / they can fit, you can fit, people can adapt, share and share alike. 

2. Chaotic systems sometimes work

That’s about as spiritual as I got during my 2.5 years in SE Asia. Should I open a wellness center?

Stay tuned for more on Bali in part 2 coming soon.

Your man on point,

Captain Bobby

Friday, October 8, 2021

Thailand Part 3 with Diego & Ana

 The World Changes

It was Jan 2020 and I was lounging in the yacht early one morning reading the news of the world on my phone when the Covid headlines finally became too loud to ignore. There can be no safer place than a seaworthy boat during a viral pandemic. But alas, we were restless and willing to roll the dice. We bought airfare to Chang Mai and set our sights on Northern Thailand. 

Goodbye Phuket

Chang Mai

The first thing an American does when arriving for a lengthy stay in a cosmopolitan foreign city is to locate the Mexican Restaurant. It happened to be around the corner from our apartment and was always filled with other Yanks. Then I joined a gym (because – tacos!). High on Aleja’s list is finding Salsa dancing. We did that too. This place is better than I remembered from ten years ago. The temp is divine and the delicious restaurant options are plentiful. Fredrik - - -A Real Reuben Sando!!

Remnants of the ancient walls of Chiang Mai

We visited every tourist attraction

Reclining as the Buddha but completely oblivious

The attention to detail always astounds me

Childhood Meditation

Adult Meditation



This is a term of endearment for Argentines since their default setting for every other letter in Spanish is “Sh”. Diego and Ana are our Buenos Aires family. They housed us and fed us and toured with us and drove 2000 miles to visit us in Brazil. They are some of the best people I’ve ever met. They arrived one evening in time to witness us win at trivia and then we celebrated our reunion. The next day we rented scooters and buzzed around the ancient city and enjoyed the archeological ruins and each other’s company.

It's Thailand, of course we went to a drag show!

Chiang Rai & Chiang Dao

Thumbs up on Rai and thumbs down on Dao. Your results may differ. There is the “sweet-spot-o-tourism”; the narrow timeline in which a place has outgrown its dirt roads, added espresso machines & international cuisine yet still hasn’t become Bangkok. Chang Rai is in the perfect Goldie Locks zone, Chang Dao hasn’t graduated yet. We went back to Chang Mai and got in a few more nice days before the farmers started burning off their fields. The air pollution quickly became so bad it made Bangkok look appealing.  

A Week In Bangkok  

This is not my favorite city. The only reason we came was to get our visas for Indonesia. No luck for AB. They told her she would need to go back to Colombia to apply. It’s not easy traveling on a Colombian passport at times. However, there was another way: She could fly to Singapore, and hire an agent. It was the only chance we had. We bet the farm on a maybe, tried not to think of the negative potential outcomes, and left the filthy metropolis of Bangkok to return to the islands and Diego and Ana. 

Seems redundant right?

Koh Lanta For a Third Time

A couple months before this pic we were anchored with the boats in the background

We got 3 nights on this island (we’d anchored here twice before) with the Shargies and then we had to say goodbye. We got almost a month in total with these two. Diego and Ana – Argentinians are categorically wonderful and these two are a couple of the best. We miss them constantly.

Nothing wrong with Krabi!


The plan was for her to fly to Singapore, spend the night, and early the next day pay the visa agent to get everything processed and then hop a flight to Bali that evening. She was feeling guilty for all the extra costs. We kissed goodbye at the Krabi airport and she whispered, “People think they want an exotic pet but do they imagine how much more they cost?” Everything about her is worth it.

Got to party with Matt Lewis for a night. He sailed with me 10 years ago

I arrived in Bali and checked into a dump for the next 3 nights. It’s really hard to know how thin the walls are from pictures. Aleja joined me 24 hours later and the cough started the next day. We moved into a different place that was much better and then I lost my sense of smell. I’m pretty sure I’m one of many who brought Covid to the Island of The Gods.

But that’s in the next dispatch.

Your man on point,

Bobby Guling

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Thailand & Malaysia Part 2


We hopped a short flight from Penang back to Langkawi (a large island off the mainland of Malaysia). We rented a scooter and explored the island. The sweating never ends. Ice cubes and aircon are humanities revenge against the elements and we took more than our share of both. The yacht and her purring aircon got us thru the midday kiln heat in that breathless marina.

Evenings were spent watching the sun set thru masts as the ice cubes softened the adult beverage of choice. Eventually we provisioned the galley and tanks and slipped the lines to sail back across the border into Thai waters.

The women can only expose their faces to their husbands. How do they eat?

In cloistered mini dining chambers.
The waiter knocks and averts his eyes while passing thru the food

Our tranquil exit from Langkawi

Koh Lipe

We loved it the first time and it lived up to its memories the second time. We picked up the same mooring ball we had hung on a few weeks before, launched the dink and buzzed back over to the islands east coast, drank deeply, hid from the sun and gorged on massaman curry. Veteran tip - Never order any protein other than seafood on a small island. 

Cocooned in the hard acorn of Great Sensations we were routinely lulled to sleep by the gentle undulations of the sea. We would awake to her melodic gurgles lapping at the waterline. If you are roused from slumber with the sunrise you’ll get maybe 2 hours before the tropical temps flip the perspiration switch. 
Beautiful Koh Lipe on the south side

What a glorious breakfast it is without the burning orb forcing one into the shadows. The heat of the day was vanquished with a backflip off the gunnel, and in the evening the twinkling stars grinned at us with no city glow to diminish the shine in their smiles.  

Koh Muk

We motored to Koh Muk and anchored in 25 feet of water. We were still really far from the rocky cliffs. Most all of these anchorages are rolly open roadsteads. The wind blows 18-22 knots all night and even if the fetch is short the ground swell rolls around these little islands and rocks us. 

Hanging on the rope that marks the entry

We’d come to explore a hidden cave that one had to swim to through a long sunless black tunnel. It was a little gripping since it curved and the end wasn’t in view for 50 meters and it was too deep to walk. The locals had placed floats with reflective tape so our headlamp could bounce the light against them to mark our path in near total darkness. 

Ahh...daylight and the way to land

Koh Lanta

This was a repeat anchorage for us. It’s a beautiful cove but shallow enough that we were still too far outside its protection to save us from the rolling swell.

The wind stayed at 20 knots and it was a crowded anchorage. I didn’t sleep well. The next morning the windlass made only a clicking noise and quit. I had to haul it off the bottom by hand in 20 knot winds in short quarters with a lumpy sea. Aleja helped by driving into it but that came with its own complications since I’m facing forward, we can’t hear each other, and hand signals are impossible while I heave. The chain section was rather easy but once the anchor came off the bottom it got tough. With Aleja’s help we got it on deck without me getting a hernia. 

Dodging nets and boats in my self imposed race to the slip

The Race To The Slip

I picked a waypoint 45nm away at Koh Yao Yai. For only another 15nm I could be back in the slip, plugged in for aircon and sipping fine Venezuelan rum. My stiffening back was my inspiration for perfectly trimming the sails endlessly and accurately hitting every waypoint so as to shave down our time enroute. 

I didn’t want to haul that anchor again but I promised Tobin I wouldn’t be in motion after dark. My old skills didn’t betray me and we beat sunset by ½ an hour. I sent the following pic as proof to my friend and we both slept soundly. 

Nothing wrong with phenomenal Phuket

Marinating In A Marina

I compiled a to-do list of all the things I felt Great Sensations could benefit from. I sent it to Tobin and got started the next day. I spread the chores over 2 weeks and we savored our life of luxury onboard a comfy yacht in a marina.  

I may have betrayed the brotherhood by teaching Aleja the secret life of old white men. We played bingo at the yacht club, shopped in chandleries for boat baubles, and scootered to ancient English pubs for trivia night. She is definitely having a cultural experience living with me, just not the one she thought she was going to get. 

We got a personal tour from the French captain who had a crush on my girlfriend

There are certain demarcation points in life that make effective tally lines in which one can score their existence. I ranked high enough on another man’s friendship list that he entrusted me to sail his boat back to his slip and call it home for 40 days. I’m far from perfect but Aleja loves me and Tobin Alexander trusts me with something as momentous as this. I’ll shut up now and take the win.

Your salty man on point,

Captain Bob

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