Sunburn and Surfers in Uluwatu

Having spent almost all of my time in Bali in Ubud, where it loves to rain, I decided to head to the beach in search of a tan.

I met up with a group of yoga mates on the South coast of Bali, in Uluwatu. It’s a surfer’s paradise with stunning cliffs that plunge into the Indian Ocean and a sunset that fills the whole sky.

After an intense month, we decided to treat ourselves and checked into a luxury yoga retreat. Our rooms were seriously chic recycled joglos from Java, surrounded by beautiful open-air yoga shalas, a gorgeous pool (which we seemed to have to ourselves) and an awesome health food cafe, which served delicious raw triple chocolate desserts. All in all, a dreamy place to stay.

We visited several beaches in the area, but the tide never seemed to be in our favour. It was either so low that no matter how far you waded in, the water never seemed to get deeper than your knees (tricky if you need to pee), or was so high that the beach had completely disappeared and the cliff steps lead directly into the sea.

Despite liberal applications of SPF 50, I could feel my skin tightening in the blistering sun, as we waited for the tide to do its thing and create a more conducive swimming environment. I was gasping for shade! With none in sight, I had no choice but to forego any sense of style and sophistication and swathe my whole body in sarongs.

Eventually the heat was too much and we waded in. The sea was so strong that each wave knocked us off our feet onto the sharp rocks under foot. We emerged with bloody hands, feet and bums.

Dehydrated, cut and definitely burning, I retreated back to the sanctuary of the hotel pool and spent the rest of the day lying in a hammock under the shade of a coconut tree.

We tried a couple of yoga classes at the retreat. The first class was led by a seemingly deeply religious woman, who opened the class with a 15-minute “meditation” while she prayed aloud to God and thanked Him for any number of random things that seemed to pop into her head. After so many months of talking in terms of the “Universe”, such a Christian reference startled me. Feeling unsure, I kept my eyes open and eyebrows furrowed as I glanced around the room for signs of having accidentally entered a church gathering. I waited for her to throw her hands in the air and shout: “Hallelujah, Amen!”. She never did.

The class continued in several languages – I recognised English and Sanskrit, but the others were a complete mystery (perhaps the local Balinese language, possibly Indonesian, maybe gobbledegook?). Hard to tell. I think she was counting how many breaths we had left in each pose, but I couldn’t be sure.

Later, we also tried Fly High Yoga, where essentially, you hang upside down from something that resembles the girth of a horse’s saddle. I spent most of the class trying to stifle giggles – sometimes because it was gimmicky, other times because I’d never moved my body in this way and it felt funny, and occasionally because watching my friend writher on the floor like a worm as she tried to free her leg from the horse girth was just too funny.

From then on we gave the scheduled classes a miss and led our own practices. I realised just how spoilt I’ve been to have had so many wonderful teachers over the past five months.

On Thursday nights, the retreat opens up its spa for “Detox Night”, where Western “locals” descended on the sauna, steam room, ice bath and outdoor herbal bath, before drying off under the stars in front of an open fire.

I watched open-mouthed as liaisons seem to unfold before my eyes. Hunky male surfers spoke to women in scant bikinis with sultry voices across a steaming Jacuzzi. The male surfer boasting how long he could hold his breath underwater, while the woman caressed her chest and made noises that encouraged him to continue. My gaze followed the conversation from one person to the other, back and forth like a tennis match. As I reached for the proverbial popcorn, I suddenly realised that it wasn’t actually an episode of “Love Island”, and I became acutely aware of the fact that I was sitting directly between the soon-to-be couple. The hot tub now felt awkwardly small. Not wanting to disturb proceedings, I engaged 100% stealth and slowly backed out of the Jacuzzi, leaving them to it.

The yoga retreat was just down the road from Single Fin – a famous cliff-top bar that overlooks Uluwatu surfers playing in the waves. It’s a seriously awesome place to watch the sun set, provided you’ve brought sufficient suncream and a wide-brimmed hat.

Having been deprived of alcohol and all things naughty for a month, the girls were keen to head to Single Fin’s “Sunday Session” for a Big Night Out. It was fun getting ready altogether, listening to music. I put on my favourite dancing dress and tried to remember how to use make-up. It had been so long since I’d worn any, that once I’d finished I hardly recognised myself.

We arrived at Single Fin’s around 10:30pm and the place was heaving. I mean seriously packed. The sunset-watching deck had become an open-air dancefloor that pulsated with bodies, all swaying to the blaring music. I figured I wasn’t coming out of this wearing just my own sweat. If I was going to do this sober, it was time to invoke all my ecstatic dance training, close my eyes and let my body feel the music.

Any time I opened my eyes or flicked my hair back (it was pretty sweaty and kept sticking to my face), the nearest guy seemed to take that as a green-light to make his approach. Before he managed to slur out much of a greeting, he’d already got distracted and grabbed the bum of the nearest pair of hot pants walking past.
“What’s your name?” he asked as he turned back to face me.
“Don’t have one”, I responded flatly, before smiling sweetly, closing my eyes and getting back to my dancing.

Despite the pervy men, I actually had an awesome time dancing under the stars (and close to the fan) until the early hours. As we left at closing time, there were women with one flip-flop missing, bodies stumbling into wheelie bins and, rather alarmingly, half the bar rolling straight onto their scooters and driving off. I hadn’t seen such drunken scenes for a very long time.

Over the next few days, one by one I waved my friends off to the airport. Uluwatu had been fun, but I was sunburnt and had developed an unhealthy addiction to raw triple chocolate desserts. It was time to move on.

On my way back to Ubud, I decided to stop in Sanur, on the East coast of Bali, to check out a more relaxed beach town. While I was there, I signed up to take a short course in Balinese massage (and yes, I am looking for volunteers to practice on).

On the basis I would be out for most the day, I booked a “cheap and cheerful” hotel online. I arrived to find that the hotel was being renovated. The first room I was shown had no windows, smelled of damp and clearly hadn’t been cleaned in a while. We returned to reception to pick up a key for a second room. I spied that the key had a sign next to it that read: “Warning. No use”. Hmmm, that’s odd.

We arrived in the room to find that literally every single wall had enormous cracks in it. The cracks over the doorway had been duct taped over. I wasn’t convinced that duct tape was going to hold the room together.

A further two rooms later, I decided which was the best of a bad bunch and settled in for the night, being careful not to touch any of the open-wire sockets.

It was hot and I needed to take a shower. The wall behind the shower knob was missing, but I gave it a whirl anyway. Nothing happened. I looked up at the shower head. At the same moment the shower head erupted, spurting brown water all over me. There was nothing for it but to wait for the water to run clear and try not to cry.

Thankfully, the massage course was much more of a delight and was almost worth the hotel horror. I spent two days squeezing, kneading and gliding my hands over a sweet, voluptuous Balinese woman, learning how to give a 90 minute Balinese massage.

At the end, my teacher gave me the same massage I had just learnt to do. Never before have I paid so much attention to a massage! I tried to work out where she was applying more pressure, was it her finger tips or the palm of her hand? Despite my best efforts to pay attention, it wasn’t long before I’d slipped into a glorious state of total relaxation. Ahh, Bali Bliss.

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