Amed: Bali’s Next Honeypot?

Not a bad spot for a swim.
Not a bad spot for a swim.

“Where are you staying, Mister?”

 

Our inquisitor sat serenely on his motorbike, sarong dancing in the breeze and cigarette smoldering in his lips.

 

I’d been here twenty minutes, hiked one kilometer down a lonely road, and already he was the tenth person to ask me this. I paused for a moment to adjust my pack and wipe my brow; Andy trudged on. “Up ahead,” I sighed. “We’re at the next beach.”

 

“You have room already?”

 

I walked away.

 

Amed's unique coastline--waves and reefs and plenty of black sand beaches.
Amed’s unique coastline–waves and reefs and plenty of black sand beaches.

“Ah, already have room.” and he puttered down the tiny asphalt lane, the thrashing breakers of the ocean to his left, the jagged cliffs of Amed to his right, the blackened ribbon of highway curving up and away before him.

 

“Why do they keep asking me that?” I whined aloud.

 

“Maybe,” Andy huffed from up ahead, “they’re just curious.”

 

“Maybe,” I said, “I’m never coming back to Amed.”

 

With lunches like this, would it really be possible not to return?
With lunches like this, would it really be possible not to return?

 

Backstory

It wasn’t like we were dying to come back to Bali. But when our friends came calling for a week-long holiday on the island of the gods and demons, we gladly promised to ride along—we had a four-day weekend to burn, and Bali’s just an airport-hop away.

 

The best laid, plans, however, gang aft aglee, and leave us naught but blah blah blah. The friends cancelled last minute; Andy and I were caught in the cold with a brace of plane tickets. We decided there are worse fates in the world than being confined for a four day weekend in Bali.

 

“Besides,” I consoled her, “we can see somewhere new—remember we kept wanting to try the snorkeling at Amed? They say it’s great. Supposed to be quiet, off the tourist track, local life and lots of fish. Beachside massage. It’s the next honeypot of Bali tourism.”

 

The allure of Balinese culture--plenty still available in Amed
The allure of Balinese culture–plenty still available in Amed

That’s precisely the hype you here about Amed—a twenty-mile stretch of coastline draped in other-worldly coral reefs, mystic black-sand beaches, and undiscovered charm of traditional Bali. Far removed, through mile after mile of lush rice fields and staggering mountains, from the spring-break flings of its western shores. Volcano-draped backgrounds and quiet, rustic, peaceful, green Bali. We’d read it often, we’d googled some pics, we’d even spoken of visiting on previous trips.

 

Enough said: Andy was on board, and we were already taking off.

 

The allure of the waters--would the reefs meet the hype?
The allure of the waters–would the reefs meet the hype?

 

Ants and Flies.

Yes, Amed sounded great—until we rode a bus twice as long as our airport ride to get there, until we stepped off that bus in the middle of an empty intersection, surrounded by swept-but-still-not-sparkling warungs, a half-dozen idlers sizing us up, and a grimy guy with ponytail with a Bemo minibus rushing toward us.

 

“Where are you staying?” He jumped out of the rickety minivan and rushed over. “Alreadyhavearoom? Itakeyou. Handmeyourbags. Hoprightin.”

 

Get used to scenery like this--plenty of rainy ricefields on your journey across the island.
Get used to scenery like this–plenty of rainy ricefields on your journey across the island.

His gray ponytail hung over a leather jacket that ought to belong to a Harley rider, and gold hoops dangled in his earlobes. Hold your horses, buddy: we weren’t jumping in just yet. It’s best to be wary of the bemo guys—good advice for all of Indonesia, and Amed is no exception.

 

Here are the highlights of the next five minutes: He quotes a price six times higher than a Jakarta ride of comparable distance. We refuse. He lowers slightly. We pick up our bags and start walking. He chases and lowers slightly again—still triple the norm. We walk away.

 

“It’s only three kilometers,” Andy whispered to me. “We don’t need him.”

 

“Yep,” I grunted, hefting the pack to my shoulders, “and the scenery looks nice for a hike.”

 

Would it really be that tough to hike over such hills?
Would it really be that tough to hike over such hills?

Lesson one of honeypots, Balinese or otherwise: they attract ants. And flies. And maybe bears. Whatever category you want to toss him into, the biker-style Bemo driver was just the tip of the iceberg, so to mix metaphors.

 

That iceburg rounded out with every passing scooter that knew someone with a room at a good price, and even with little Wayan.

 

Oh yeah, let me tell you a little about a little guy named Wayan.

 

Here’s the scene: it was a couple days later. Andy and I had just climbed up the rocky beach, dripping wet with saltwater smiles, and thirst. Divide and conquer: I spread the beach towels and she ran for a juice. We settled back in to the gentle shimmer of sun radiating through the hazy clouds.

 

“Hello Mister. You want buy something, yeah?”

 

Somewhere down there, little Wayan is waiting for you...
Somewhere down there, little Wayan is waiting for you…

This was Wayan—a twelve-year old entrepreneur with two arms full of trinkety bracelets and papery kites and plastic sail boats. Sad, deep eyes and a hangdog gait and sullen edge to the words he mumbled.

 

OK, fine. Let’s have a look.

 

We sat up and glanced through the goods. They weren’t good. Neither were his prices. A few souvenirs for friends might be nice, “But,” Andy reasoned, “we can get better stuff than this for a cheaper price.” Sorry, Wayan, not interested.

 

“But…” he started his pity-me sales pitch and puppy-dog eyes, winding a tale about his Dad making the sail boats—the same sail boats for selling (get it) across twenty kilometers of roadside giftshops—all night by light of a candle.

 

Sorry, not interested.

 

Breakfast balcony -- a view worth waking up early for
Breakfast balcony — a view worth waking up early for

How about more sad faces and a story about the money going to help his school?

 

Sorry, Wayan, now you’re laying it on a little too thick.

 

Wayan reacted as any good salesman would: he turned his pitiful eyes indignant, cursed us to our faces in Balinese, stomped off through the black sand in search of his next victim. It’s not an uncommon scene at tourist magnates in Southeast Asia; I’d fully expect this at the beach outside the Hard Rock Café across Bali. But Amed is supposed to be… undiscovered, uncorrupted, unlike the beer-bash at Kuta. It’s supposed to be pristine and… well, Amed.

 

 

Amed Olympians

Not all of Amed’s youths are turning to manipulation and lies, though. It’s also got its future Olympians.

 

If long jump with a front flip ever becomes an Olympic sport, count these kids in.
If long jump with a front flip ever becomes an Olympic sport, count these kids in.

We met them a couple days later: we, again dripping from the surf after a snorkeling session, and they, a ragged dozen kids stripped to their undies, sprinting full-bore to the sandy shelf of beach dropping down to the low tide. At the last moment of decent footing, they hurled themselves, in surprisingly professional long-jump fashion, off the tiny cliff and into the tropic air. A cheer erupted with each contestant’s splash into the black sand. Each quickly scrambled aside to avoid the human missile careening in behind him.

 

Andy and I watched and sipped fruit juice. “Not bad,” I thought.

 

High jump? This girl's got it covered.
High jump? This girl’s got it covered.

Next, they started flipping. Just like Olympic gymnasts launching from the vault—they hurled themselves surf-ward, twisted a nice, pretty flip, and crashed back to the beach. Cue the cheers from the crowd of fellow participants, and the scrambling out of the way of the latest jumper.

 

“Impressive,” Andy said.

 

“Better start working your Romanian gymnasts,” I replied between sips of guava-banana, “to keep up with these guys ten years from now.”

 

Definite style points for this guy.
Definite style points for this guy.

And that’s when I realized that I’ve never seen a fat Balinese. Chubby, yes. Portly, also. Big-boned, maybe. But those are the adults I’m talking about. Take a gander around any Balinese playground, er, uh, open space serving as a playground, and you’ll see kids. Yeah—kids are still on playgrounds. They’re still imagining and competing. They’re not in front of TVs or on IPads or being ferried to and from soft-drink dispensaries on a whim. It’s strangely odd to see photos from the states with so many obesity poster children taking shape before puberty, and here in a tiny village with as many fishing boats as inhabitants, kids were high-jumping a makeshift bamboo rack as tall as their necks, and splashing into the charcoal-dust of the black-sand shore.

 

That’s right, by the time Andy and I had meandered to the far end of the beach, a full-scale high-jump competition was in order, with the kids following all the rules of a regular contest. The only thing irregular about it was the reckless abandon with which they launched themselves at and over that tiny bamboo reed.

 

Unorthodox form, but irresistible charm.
Unorthodox form, but irresistible charm.

I had to get in on this. So I stepped on up, cracked my knuckles—possibly that would help with my vertical—and took a sprint through the sand. Visions of glory and applause were already flitting through my mind; scenes of being carried off the sandy beach on the shoulders of the future Olympians skipped in; a ticker-tape parade down the one-lane, jungle-crowded road of the village snuck in there, too. And as I floated gracefully over the stick, contorting my body into gangly twists for effect, smacking my flank to the sanding ground for aesthetics, I listened to find…

 

Only the sound of a wave sliding onto the shore.

 

“I made it! Yes!” I threw my fists in the air and waited for the rush of adoring fans.

 

DCIM114GOPRO
DCIM114GOPRO

A girl of eleven shrugged. “Yeah, but you’re already old.” She ran back to take her spot in line for the next round.

 

A Balinese in the next Olympics? Does it seem far-fetched? Well, yes. They’ll have to do something to amend the national sports of cigarette smoking (training of which typically starts around twelve) and a local addiction to kite flying (which garners no Olympic medals, sadly enough)—which together rob most of Bali’s athletic talent from the arenas and highlight reels of the world.

 

Well, at least they’re not plunging into obesity by the barrelful.

 

Give that one a try.
Give that one a try.

 

The Motorbike Trail

Throw the brakes on that train of thought, though: it was time to board the motorbike and blaze a new trail down the coast. Mixing metaphors again, you say? Think again, I’ll retort—and then twist that accelerator and scoop off down the road in a blaze of one-cylinder glory.

 

All this is to say that Amed specializes in the lazy coast cruise with a scooter. Honestly, there’s not much that’s more pleasant than loading your little wifey on the tail end of that contraption and humming off and over the blooming hills and fecund fields of Amed. It’s the perfect chance to gaze across the flowing channel to the saw-ridge of Lombok’s mountains, to breathe in the dewy, wholesome blossoms lining your way, to wind and climb the volcanoes’ spiny ridges interrupting the crescent bays of blackened sand and white-washed fishing boats.

 

Cruising in style--Amed's style, not ours.
Cruising in style–Amed’s style, not ours.

No sarcasm here: it’s breathtaking.

 

Try it yourself—take a freedom-ringing spin up and down the Amed coast and just try to make yourself not stop for photos, or not feel your pulse quicken with each new valley of wonder and ridgetop of glory and passing van that nearly runs you off the shoulder because the road is scarcely wide enough for a Volkswagen.

 

The motorbike ride, simple as it sounds, is a highlight of any trip (if I may be so presumptuous to assume that everyone’s trip is identical to my own). Throw in the added thrill of a backpack full of snorkel gear and new coral garden in every bay, and, well, you have the next section of this article.

Motorcycling it beats hiking it.
Motorcycling it beats hiking it.

 

Snorkel Choices

Junior Olympians and pushy Bemo drivers aside, most foreigners show up in Amed having heard of the reefs. And there’s no shortage of dive shops and snorkels rentals spread out along the kilometers of coastline strung up and down the mountain-splashed beaches. So when we loaded up the motorbike, cranked the 100cc engine, and asked the hotel clerk which way to the best beach, we got a shipwreck.

 

Another beach, another snorkel opportunity.
Another beach, another snorkel opportunity.

Literally, a shipwreck. “Go down this hill and over the next. You will find Japanese shipwreck,” our hotel clerk told us. “Very nice beach.”

 

“Yeah, but we don’t dive, only snorkel. We won’t be able to see the wreck. Is the coral OK?”

 

“No. You will see the shipwreck. He very close.”

 

We shrugged and sped off—I don’t want to say we doubted him, but, well, we were pretty sure he was lying. But it was on the way, so we gave it a shot. What we found: a rocky beach nearly impossible to walk over barefoot, so many fishing boats that you could hardly find a place to set down a backpack, and waves churning up mini-whitecaps every few feet. And supposedly, a shipwreck was sitting out there a little ways, just waiting to be investigated.

 

Somewhere out here is a sunken ship... supposedly
Somewhere out here is a sunken ship… supposedly

We limped across the stony beach, readied our masks, and glanced at the pounding surf at the end of the beach. “You think it’s really out there? You think we’ll be able to see anything?” Andy asked.

 

“Eh. Let’s at least look around.”

 

And looking around was precisely half the draw of the Amed beaches. Day after day, Andy and I would hop on the bike, scoot off past jungled volcanoes on one side, wide sweeps of sea on the other, and if the haze would clear on the horizon, the crocodile teeth of Lombok’s ranges. Maybe the biggest challenge to snorkeling was convincing yourself to stop the bike and swim.

The reefs come calling
The reefs come calling

 

Well, that and deciding on a spot: ask any local, and it’s the same response every time—every new sweep of sand offers a bustling garden of coral hidden somewhere out there, somewhere beneath the waves. They all tell you that. Always the same, every beach—Good coral here, mister. Very good snorkeling, Mister. Yes yes,, right here, swim here.

 

We all know, though, that when tourist Rupiah are on the line, locals lie. And we all know that, amazing as it may be, Bali gets undue hype.

 

The red plant--it's one of Andy's favorites aquatic creatures
The red plant–it’s one of Andy’s favorites aquatic creatures

Given the honeypot claims—and accompaniments of flies—Andy and I wanted to know, had to investigate, whether all that talk of Amed’s dozens of miles of wandering coastline really was harboring a ribbon of rainbow just out there, just under the waves, parallel to that rugged coast.

 

Our search started with a dubious shipwreck not far from our lodging.

 

Winds were up, and waves were choppy. Sand and silt filtered thick through our vision. Our doubts were growing. We were becoming convinced it was just another exaggeration. But we struggled on against the choppy surf, and soon the sand floor dropped down a little shelf, the swirling sand dissipated a bit, and there, lurking off in the distance, was a strange, bulky shape in amongst scattered outcroppings of coral.

 

It's a shipwreck all right.
It’s a shipwreck all right.

It was our first shipwreck: a small vessel hailing from Japan, its metal hull split apart in the shallow coral during a fierce squall a few decades back. As we flippered in closer, we found we actually could see the thing in some detail: rusty hinges and empty windows, steel ribs sprouting coral, swarming fish slipping in and out of metallic arcs and corners. They even say—I couldn’t confirm for myself—that the barnacle encrusted toilet is home to an opportunistic Moray Eel.

 

Some places have nearly been reclaimed entirely by the reef
Some places have nearly been reclaimed entirely by the reef

The whole shebang lies about five meters beneath the surface, I’d say—close enough to peruse from the top, reasonable depth to scout around while holding your breath.

 

We circled the wreck and moved further off—a few major pieces had busted off and lay a tiny swim away, among the jags and crowns of intermittent coral. Nearby, in a sandy swath, a bashful flock of garden eels poked their sleek little heads from the sand, sashayed in the current, and nervously drew back inside as I drew near with the camera.

 

A shy lion fish goes back to his hiding spot in the old boat
A shy lion fish goes back to his hiding spot in the old boat

On the whole, the ocean life proved prolific enough to eat away at the vessel fairly effectively—already it’s been reduced to a skeleton, and strangely enough, the metal bulk seems to anchor the coral, whereas the shifting sand of the surrounding floor provides no real footing to speak of. Fish seem to enjoy the shelter that the busted boat provides, and all in all, well, it makes me want to sink more boats for some coral restoration projects.

 

I’ll bring dynamite to the next vacation.

 

But in all honesty, the shipwreck is something of an addicting experience—suddenly the bulbous yellow, red and green “normal” corals seem rather tame and bit mundane. This is a shipwreck. This is where human minds and hands fought back against the pounding waves, where mouths shouted prayers and curses, where the rains lashed and the thunder crashed and somewhere in the howling wind that metal hull was ruptured in a pitiful collision of mankind’s engineering and nature’s naked force. Navigation and will pitted against the unthinking brute fury of the tropic waves. The waves won.

 

Looking around the reefs a little more.
Looking around the reefs a little more.

And now you witness the ocean slowly claiming its prize.

 

It wasn’t easy leaving the shipwreck behind. But we did.

 

The long stretches of Amed’s coast kept calling, and in the mornings and the evenings, alone or with Andy, I kept that bike rolling down the coast, pulling into warung parking lots for a fruit juice and a chat and a dip around the premises. Sometimes Andy swam along, sometimes slept in, sometimes she chatted up the restaurant owners, sometimes sunbathed, sometimes got massages, sometimes just drank in the folded hilltops looming behind the beaches, melting away like an overworked candle and dripping into the cool blue of the Bali-Lombok channel.

 

The fish are nice, but the coral could use a boost--that's most of Amed's coast.
The fish are nice, but the coral could use a boost–that’s most of Amed’s coast.

As for the rest of the snorkel, here’s the deal: it’s sweet.

 

Coral is present, but the gardens are a bit busted and fragmented; these noticeable gaps pock rocky holes in the snorkel experience. The drop-off lies a bit further out, and don’t quite offer the same stunning cliff-faces that divers prize. Fish-wise, the species are varied, and they show up in size and plenty of curiosity, flitting around you, eyeballing you, showing surprisingly little inhibition.

 

In a nutshell, here’s what Amed offers—decent coral, good fish, shipwrecks, and wildcat exploration up and down long kilometers of the rugged shore. It’d take you weeks to snorkel it all.

 

But here’s what it lacks: the jaw-dropping gardens and turtles and sharks and drop-offs seen just a few miles away, just across the channel, within easy sight, of the Gili islands. And the gorgeous sand and easy vibe of Lombok—again, just across the channel.

 

Going in for a close look.
Going in for a close look.

If you come to Amed, you’ve got to realize that there are plenty of better reefs around—and not so far at all. Come for the mountains, for rural Bali, for the mountains plunging to the see, for the views across to Old Man Rinjani, and yes, for the underwater circus too. Come for it all, not just for the snorkel.

 

 

The Digs, Or, You Have Room Already Mister?

Three miles and one hour after ditching the ponytailed swindler in his Bemo, Andy and I had successfully trudged over three steep ridges and three long, crescent sweeps between them. We had sweated ourselves silly and sizzled our skin a bright tomato hue. What had we gained? The right to keep our five bucks in our pockets, and a much greater intimacy with Amed’s lovely shoulders of the roads.

 

Our swimming pool at sunrise--it's tough to beat Amed's scenery.
Our swimming pool at sunrise–it’s tough to beat Amed’s scenery.

Our digs sat high on a steep hill, a series of bungalows and buildings connected by concrete foot-paths meant more for mountain goats than beach-goers. On a wide, wooden, sea-breezed veranda lounged a half-dozen teens in hotel staff uniforms giggling and texting. They were the only ones, in all our long hike, who didn’t turn and ask where we were staying.

 

Customer service in Indonesia usually falls into one of two classes: the kind that giggles and pushes someone else toward you to try their English, and the good kind.

 

After the timid overtures and glances at one another, one of the guys scooted off to the office and returned with the manager—a shorts-and-flip-flops guy looking two years older than the rest. He had thick hair, chubby cheeks, and never smiled. “Oh, you’re here already?” he asked hesitantly, glancing at our sweat-soaked shirts and sautéed skin, our backpacks heaped unceremoniously on the veranda floor. “How did you get here?”

 

The cool guys next door.
The cool guys next door.

An inconspicuous welcome, to be sure, but Putu—that was the 23-year-old motel genius—smoothed things over by listening intently to our complaints of the overcharging drivers and frustrating price-haggling, of the long march over the hills to reach here, and then said flatly, “Oh. I could have picked you up.” Then he shrugged and sauntered off to find some room keys.

 

Andy sometimes reminds me of episodes like this, mostly when she’s trying to convince me not to be so cheap, to spring for a few extra bucks for some quality lodging.

 

Indulging a little--a few pictures and a meal
Indulging a little–a few pictures and a meal

Take, for example, the place next door—a five-star country-club kind of place, replete with gentle bows and soft smiles and tidy uniforms. Well-swept pathways leading through manicured gardens and soft-spoken hostesses who glide in and out of rooms and silkily reveal the way you’re supposed to go. Private pools sparkle over vistas of volcanoes and sea and flowers and surf. Wait staff constantly poof into rooms with crisp, icy fruit drinks. Gentle bings and strings of gamelan float through fragrant plumeria trees and waft into the ripples of the pool.

 

How do I know? Because I took Andy there for dinner one night.

 

The entire time I was self-consciously fidgeting in a hopelessly wrinkled shirt I’d just pulled out of the dusty backpack. I’d showered the saltwater and grime out of my hair in a cold trickle from our shower while Andy fluttered and breezed about the room, ecstatic.

 

Customer service.
Customer service.

“Five stars. I can’t wait to see it. I mean, our place is good. It’s mostly clean, you know, and I love the view. But can you imagine what it will look like over there? Five stars!”

 

Over there was right next door—literally—so the jaw-dropping panorama was pretty much the same. The difference lay in the care for the gardens, in the lack of cell-phone playing by the staff, in the smiles and bows and confidence to at least speak up in English—even if imperfect—rather than giggle and shove someone else to the front.

 

So I ditched our hotel’s veranda with sketchy fruit shakes, squirmed in my not-so-glamorous jeans and (sort-of) collared shirt, and self-consciously strolled into the mouth of the pompous five-star, the dazzling beauty of my wife—who had packed a stunning dress for the occasion—by my side.

Bring on the fish.
Bring on the fish.

 

Smiling hosts in starched collars and pressed sarongs slid out from the alcoves, bowed, and guided us through a lazy, winding path up the hill, to a swanky open-air diner oozing chilled music and coolness. We sank into a plush sofa under palm trees, the wide rim of clouds above and around, crisp drinks already appearing from nowhere.

 

“You see the difference?” Andy was at a loss whether to take pictures or soak in the luxury. “You see how it ought to be? Finally some great customer care.”

 

The sunset spread before us across the horizon. We ordered a five-star meal. It cost as much as Applebees back in Missouri. They threw in a Balinese dance for free: live gamelan and twinkling princess finger-flicks and head-shakes of the isle.

 

Don't forget dessert.
Don’t forget dessert.

I gulped and wondered if I looked like a bumpkin for taking photos here. These are luxury levels that work against their purpose; they actually make me feel uncomfortable.

 

Even so, it ended up awesome. It was even better than the fifty-cent bowl of ramen noodles and fishy meatballs we’d had for lunch—Bakso and kecap manis dipped from a suspicious cart affixed to a motorcycle’s back seat.

 

“Yep,” I smiled into her starlit eyes. “It’d be nice to stay at places like these.”

 

But behind her, I saw the stretch of beach with the Olympians and the Bakso, with the motorbikes instead of Mercedes, with the barefoot men climbing palms for coconuts. I saw Putu and his rough-around-the-edges wait staff, little Wayan on those same beaches as the shipwrecks and reefs and barefoot juice vendors.

 

Contemplating Amed's contrasts.  Or maybe just enjoying the scene.
Contemplating Amed’s contrasts. Or maybe just enjoying the scene.

And I looked at the five star staff—so crisp and clean and put-together—and I wondered when they went home, what it was like. Folding up the immaculate sarong and changing to old jeans and a knock-off soccer jersey? A dusty motorbike ride with a cigarette? A foot-path through a weedy narrow trail with Indomie wrappers dumped out the windows? No one bowing them welcome as they walked through the door? Do they sigh in server-class comfort and dream of the honeypot service they offer their guests each evening?

 

 

Traveling With Free Time

One of the sure signs that I’m aging is that I went to dinner at that place. Another is that we didn’t travel anywhere outside Amed. Our first trip to Bali—nearly two years ago exactly—consisted of five days of frenzied go-go-go sightseeing: expensive drivers clunking us through endless traffic jams along the tried-and-true tourist trails, three different location a day, meals on the fly and overdue, gigabytes of pics crowding the hard drives. Late nights and early mornings.

 

Getting to know some of our neighbors.
Getting to know some of our neighbors.

This trip, we had a four-day weekend, and we went no further than an easy-going motorbike jaunt down the beach. We woke for sunrises and settled into afternoon naps. We made time for massages and morning snorkels and sunsets without a camera. We looked through the day’s pictures each evening and reflected.

 

We relaxed.

 

And that’s kind of a big deal for us. Either we’re growing up or we’re growing old.

 

Plenty of beaches need visiting.  Plenty of fruits need juicing.
Plenty of beaches need visiting. Plenty of fruits need juicing.

Here’s another case in point: rather than jet up the coast for a glance at the famous Tulamben—renowned for another shipwreck—we opted for a quiet evening in town with a plate of fish curry. I ran upstairs for the bike helmets and came back to not find Andy.

 

“Hey, over here!” she shouted and waved from down the street, standing next to a couple strangers.

 

“Guess where I’m from!” the tall man boomed.

 

Andy was grinning and pointing like mad to one minor clue: his hulking, bulbous, and completely authentic wooden shoes.

 

“Yah, from Holland!”

Looking across to Lombok
Looking across to Lombok

 

And the next thing you know, we were being escorted toward the surf by an oversized Dutchman clunking in his wooden shoes and working through a beer at Low-Country clip.

 

“I retired, you see,” he was telling me in perfect English, “And this is my retirement project.” He swept a thick hand around the spacious lobby—walls open to the palms and the stars, sea breeze drifting in, soft LEDs spotting light over minimalist lines and primitive wooden masks from islands even further off in the archipelago.

 

“I just landed this afternoon,” this was part of his guided tour, I suppose, “and I need to keep the buzz going, you know.” He was grabbing another beer from the fridge. “Look what I brought with me from Holland.”

 

The water and the mountains meet at Amed.
The water and the mountains meet at Amed.

And out came the cheeses and the wine, precious rare items in Indonesia, and the sailing equipment—not from the fridge, though, that stuff was lying on a workbench around the corner. I saw the office and the library while his fiancée—a native of Sumba—led Andy through the guest rooms.

 

And we chatted—about politics and about history and colonialism and retirement and work. Two years ago at this hour, I would be just rolling back into town, salty and exhausted and not knowing whether to shower or eat first. Or to simply collapse into sleep.

 

Some time to reflect is nice.
Some time to reflect is nice.

“I made my money back home, and now I like to spend my time here. Or going back to visit grandchildren. You see, I…” Two minutes later I realized that I was spending a Friday night in Bali talking about grandchildren with retirees.

 

And I was having a pleasant time.

 

I didn’t always travel like this, listening to stories, letting weary hours drift in and slide ghostly by, staying in one spot long enough to let roots sink in and draw out the essence of a place. Resting. Feeling the store of health and energy within me refresh, quicken, leaf, and bud, and grow. Another couple months and I’ll be wilted. I’ll need another stretch of hammock days and sunshine naps on a beach, evenings with stories of grandfathers fighting for the Dutch in a foolish grasp to maintain colonial power years after the rest of the world knew that the system had to end.

 

Doesn't that make you want to go for a swim?
Doesn’t that make you want to go for a swim?

“Many people died needlessly. We killed them. I think we must admit. It was not a proud time for our nation.” He finished his beer and clunked his wooden shoes across the lobby of earth-tones, masks, and open air, and into the kitchen for his cheese. Tomorrow morning he’ll be baking bread and getting cheap massages from local girls.

 

Tonight he’s drinking beer and clunking through impromptu tours in his wooden shoes.

 

Tomorrow morning I’ll be drifting in the ocean current, the waves crisp as an autumn day, clear as a bell jar of spring water, sunshine spilling wavy rings of brightness over the coral and its denizens.

 

Feeling the Bali vibe.
Feeling the Bali vibe.

Andy will meanwhile be back in the hotel, languidly chatting up the in-house masseuse—a forty-ish lady who brings along her daughter of eight to the sessions. The daughter sits in the corner and colors; the mother regales Andy with tales of Amed life: her grown son and teenage daughter have gone off to work in hotel laundry service. “I hope my little one,” she whispers over stubborn knots of a sore shoulder, “will learn to be a masseuse. It’s a much better job than washing so many sheets. You get to meet people.”

 

The daughter, meanwhile, is silently tracing invisible designs along the walls: no voice, no footstep, scarcely a breath. She’s learned long ago that in order to stay with her mother, to sit in on in-room massage sessions, absolute silence in absolutely necessary. Now she sits and quietly thumbs through an arithmetic book.

 

Oh yeah, and there's a shipwreck.  I mentioned the shipwreck, right?
Oh yeah, and there’s a shipwreck. I mentioned the shipwreck, right?

Her mother is trying to explain to Andy about the system of Hindu sacrifice-packets left on sidewalks and thresholds.

 

By now I’ve already found another beach to peruse from beneath.

 

 

Amed in the Crystal Ball

So is it a honeypot? Is that what is all this adding up to—the Dutchmen and the five-stars and the vistas and the corals and the masseuse?

 

Plenty of reasons to return to Amed
Plenty of reasons to return to Amed

“It adds up,” Putu tells us while sipping pineapple juice on his wooden deck. “Property is not cheap here anymore. We built this five years ago, and we couldn’t have afforded that if my father’s friend hadn’t helped us.” He gazed off into the distance, watching the rainy-season waves smack the black sands of the beaches. “I don’t even want to know what a hectare here costs now.”

 

I glanced across the channel to Lombok, hazy in the distance. Last time I was there I got offers from three different beaches to score beachfront real estate for cheap. Maybe I should before it gets—

 

“So expensive,” Putu kept muttering.

 

And it’s that expense that is morphing Amed from backwater diving honeypot to a bustling next-great-thing hullabaloo. Already you feel the first cold drops of the coming downpour. Guys like the ponytailed bemo scammer, manipulative kids like Wayan.

 

This is the island’s touted snorkel-and-soak-in-culture place. This is the coastal escape from the weed and ecstasy of Kuta and the 4-digit resorts of Nusa Dua. This is supposed to be Ubud with a beach.

 

And it still is, in parts.

 

I'm a sucker for a good sunrise
I’m a sucker for a good sunrise

Kids in their skivvies still dream of the Olympics and spend their sunsets high-jumping bamboo poles. Fishing fleets still sail before every dawn. You still find plenty of simple warungs with a single page menu of laminated paper, a simple ibu with a wok and a pot and a couple live hens pecking around the floor. Amed’s views are still spectacular, the corals still cool, the sea still clear and clean and digesting shipwrecks.

 

Will I really make good on my threat to never return?   Let’s just say that at this point, I’m certainly not opposed to another dip in Amed’s waters.

 

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