the one that got away…

Richie peeping through the window at the Bali Marina as our boat-dreams sail away

Richie peeping out the window of Bali Marina as our boat dreams sail away…

I write from Bali Marina where Richie and I are staging a stake-out (steak take-out?). We’ve been here three consecutive days for 3-4 hrs at a stretch. Today we’re pushing out the boat, clocking up a total of 9 hours, and counting…

Today we have our sights set on Churaki, a sturdy-looking catamaran. Onboard, 3 middle aged fellas from the Gold Coast/Tweed Heads area. All surfers in their day. Only one continues to ride his board, the other two have resorted to boogie boards and body surfing. No shame in that.

The skipper, Peter, is the founder of Kirra Surf. He and his ‘boys’ limped into port on monday to attend to a couple of engine filters that had become clogged by ‘dirty fuel’. Today, with their engine troubles behind them they’re out shopping for supplies in Denpasar, and tomorrow, after breakfast, they sail for Darwin via Komodo Island. Headlong into trade winds. Will they or will they not take us with them?

We watched slack-jawed from lounge chairs on the open-sided deck of the Bali Marina this morning while they loaded their boat with yellow jerry cans plum-full with fuel. Shirts off. Naked brown skin and bulging beer bellies. A brightly painted timber boat drew alongside and pumped their 800Lt tank full of diesel. We wished we were onboard too, scrubbing down the deck, checking charts; caught up in the muscle, hustle and bustle of preparation. Out of limbo and into the deep blue sea.

try and look casual... stake-out in the Marina cafe

try and look casual… the stake-out in the Marina cafe

We waited breathlessly as the sailors re-robed and marched purposefully off the pontoon toward us… straight into the black 4WD which was waiting, we guessed, to take then to Denpasar for one last attempt at having their sailing navigation program, Sea Map, installed on their brand-new computer. Silently, forlornly, we watch as they walk on by… barely a glance in our direction.

Last night, over a couple of beers, we had a good ol’ laugh with Peter and the Churaki gang. We sat for two hours on the blue settee in the Marina lounge sharing nightmarish travel stories and playing a game of cat and mouse: will they, won’t they, will they take us with them. They knew what we wanted, that much was clear. 

Peter, the skipper, proved himself quite a renaissance man. Knowledgeable about a whole range of topics. Richie proved himself useful ironing out a few technical glitches on the boat’s ancient IBM. I sat and chatted to Ken (one of the crew) and Lenin (one of the wait staff) while Richie went aboard to fiddle with the computers and talk with the blokes. Later when they returned, Richie looked smug and hopeful. We’re in baby he whispered as he plumped himself back down on the cushions beside me.

By the end of the night we were choking with excitement; thrilled when Peter began throwing offhand comments into the conversation like: If you were to come with us… or …nothing to it [sailing] but common sense. We even got a few impromptu lessons on where to find port [there’s no port left in the bottle] and starboard, as well as the ins and outs of nighttime navigation. It felt like we were being groomed for the job! All the waiting was finally paying off, we had a meal ticket home!

night sets in... and we're still here

night sets in… and we’re still here

9:30pm the following evening, the night before the Churaki sails, we’re still here sitting on the blue settee: no sign of our friends or the big black 4WD. 12 hours until they sail.

Having one last Australian rib-eye steak dinner I suppose, and knocking back a few celebratory bottles of Bintang I suggest. It doesn’t bode well. Oh for a spot upon that deck!

Richie reaches for a pencil and writes out a little note which he then folds into his palm before walking out onto the pontoon and jamming it in the door of the lovely untouchable Churaki.

Richie's note... never was a more hopeful message penned!

Richie’s note… never was a more hopeful message penned!

We’re not getting on that boat he tells me gently when he returns, pushing aside the cups of coffee that we managed to keep current for three hours that much is clear. He knows it. I know it. But neither of us want to admit because we don’t know where that leaves us: 12 days out from the expiration of our Indonesia visa and not a hope in sight. Barely enough money for a flight home if the occasion calls for it.

At least Rich and I still have one another, ‘and our health’ we joke without much conviction on the ride home. The traffic is mercifully thin on the ground and the sound of the wind through my helmut drowns out the sound of my heart sinking.

Which is actually a bit of a fib, our health isn’t that great, which is partly what is funny. 

4 days prior to our last-ditch stake-out at the marina we came down with a weird lurgy that had us laid up in bed for days, barely eating, complaining of swollen glands, headaches, body aches, fever and sore throats. Platitudes, hopes, fears and groans of encouragement flittered feebly back and forth between the narrow twin beds in the darkened hotel room. Privately, we considered the many forms the end of our journey may take.

Today, neither of us is fully recovered but we’re putting on a good show of it. Fighting fit, if anyone asks! Tomorrow, if we’re not onboard the boat, we’ll be on our backs again, licking our wounds and groaning about the one that got away! At least we’ve got some good footage for our documentary: the climactic ‘dashing of hopes’ scene. That’s bound to win a few pity votes! 😉

It’s not really as bad as that… when Richie is boss, even ‘sick time’ is productive time. On the day of our greatest dis-ease he kept us merry with a seemingly endless supply of Geoff Lawton permaculture videos. Don’t tell him I said this, but one person’s freedom fighter is another person’s terrorist!

watching Geoff before bed

watching Geoff before bed

In spite of my preference for sumptuous British period melodramas, I must admit that Geoff is good value. His new videos (which you can stream online) on ‘crisis survival’ never fail to raise a smile. I don’t think it’s necessary for permaculture to pitch itself in quite this way: disaster; fear; apocalypse; survival. A good philosophy needs no hard-sell. But I get his drift, and the information is valuable in regards what Richie and I intend on doing once we get back  to Australia. If we ever get back to Australia!

The most interesting video, to me, consisted of a property purchase checklist. Geoff was on the ground looking at aspect, topography and vegetative features to consider when purchasing a new property. In it, he discussed how to use the principles of permaculture design to transform degraded and poorly-utilised land into abundant, well-watered, easy-to-maintain, biodiverse living systems. 

graphic demonstrating the principle of how swales help  water to plume and sink into the landscape

graphic demonstrating the principle of how swales help water to plume and sink into the landscape

One of the points, which I haven’t previously given much thought to, is how important ‘access’ is to a property; ensuring that driveways and footpaths are design features rather than liabilities that require constant (expensive!) upkeep. By placing driveways and footpaths on contour it becomes possible to use these surfaces not only as thoroughfares, but as water harvesting catchments, heat sinks and natural dividers to enhance various spaces within the property. 

Access, along with water, is high on the ‘scale of permanence’ insofar as these are some of the hardest things to affect, and therefore, the first things you should address in your design – certainly well ahead of soil, trees, gardens, even structures (houses/sheds). Patterns to detail. Mega to micro.

The third video in the series is all about using permaculture design to get maximum productivity out of urban micro-spaces. A 60 square metre home-garden in Melbourne served as the case study. Angelo, an Aussie-Italian student of Geoff’s led a tour of the garden, discussing the design principles and techniques he’d put into play to create his beautiful and abundant growing space: 60 fruit trees (all heavily pruned), berries, perennial vegetables, herbs, medicinal plants, annual veg. All in all, over 250 Kg of produce annually. 60 kilos alone from one mandarin tree! Good on you Angelo! Good on you Geoff.

So, between our rigorous schedule at the marina and bedtimes with Geoff, we’ve have little time for much else. We still haven’t managed a swim at the beach or a night out at one of Kuta’s reggae bars. We haven’t got the heart. We haven’t got the pennies either.

I’m afraid, but not entirely surprised, to say there’s not much about Kuta that appeals to me. It’s a Goliath that has outgrown its welcome on the island. How the locals can abide the inundation of tourists, the drowning out of local custom and tradition, the traffic, the noise, the drinking culture, is beyond me. Do they have much choice or are they making the best of a bad situation?

zoom zoom zoom Kuta = motorbikes

zoom zoom zoom Kuta = motorbikes

yes, boss, yes? / massage? / transport? …the endless parroting of services, transactions, trades, trade-offs is all we hear when we walk to breakfast or leave our hotel to pick up washing or a hand of bananas.

Over breakfast at our favourite eating joint there’s a big-bellied Australian expat who entertains and enrages us: sitting bare-chested, stooped over his second bottle of beer for the day (this is 9am), shouting commands down a phone. 

breakfast smoothy, Richie tries to ignore his surrounds and dream of greener spaces

breakfast smoothy, Richie tries to ignore his surrounds and dream of greener spaces

I’ve wanted to say it to other foreigners, people we’ve met in China, Laos, Cambodia and Thailand and I want to say it to him, Go home! Any foreigner who chooses, out of self-interest, to live and do business in a foreign country and then has the bad manners to declare the locals incompetent, incomprehensible, dishonest and uneducated, in public no less and on a mobile phone, really pisses me off. Go home mate, Go home!

And where does that leave us? Me & Richie: two starlight starbright wide-eyed permaculture backpacking wonderkids on our mission to travel overland from England to Australia. Where does that leave us? Quite literally, Bali: Kuta.

It can’t end like this, this can’t be our final travel experience Richie whispers, wincing with pain as we pay our breakfast bill, turning our backs on the belligerent topless businessman. We don’t like him. He reminds us that as long as we’re here, we’re part of the problem and not part of the solution.

yes, boss, yes

massage, hello, massage

you like something look my shop?

The chorus clips at our heels as we walk through the courtyard of our guest house and into our room, closing the door behind us. We haven’t felt this harassed since India. I fall into bed hoping that tonight I’ll dream of happier times, happier places, where flowers, not rubbish bloom on corners and buffalo, not motorbikes, remain the preferred mode of transport.

dreaming of happier places...

dreaming of happier places…

To be fair, we have seen places like that. We saw them out the windows of trains and buses in Java and western Bali. We saw them in northern Laos and in eastern Georgia too and as much as we’d like to be in one of those places now, our work is here, at Bali Marina – at least until the 10th of May when those yachts from Fremantle come flying in from the open sea. There should be close to 35 of them, and as many as 100 crew. Perhaps one of those boats will have a place for us; two homesick hopefuls with pocketsfull of seed and big visions for a better life in Australia.

seeds glorious seeds

seeds glorious seeds

new season raised beds at The Old Chapel, where Richie's parents are solving the world's problems (in their garden)

new season raised beds at The Old Chapel, Norfolk (England) where Richie’s parents are solving the world’s problems (in their garden)

wish us luck

wish us luck


Filed under Culture, Earth Care, Permaculture, Travel

12 responses to “the one that got away…

  1. Kay

    Oh Nina we wish you all the luck you deserve and truly hope you conquer your dreams,K and S xx

  2. Linda

    Oh I have everything crossed for you finding that ride home ASAP! When you guys want to come to sydney you have a place to stay here!

  3. Holly

    Oh Sissa, feeling your pain. Shedding a few tears for you. Wish I could do something to help you both. Try to keep the faith my darling. The end is nigh…. xxxx

  4. Rita

    Hi Nina. Reading about all the seeds that you have collected has me wondering if you have given it some thoughts yet of how to bring them into the country. Have you been in touch with the quarantine department to find out what the requirements are? You probably have already got all this worked out but just in case you haven’t then it might be good to be prepared. It would be so heart-breaking if all you treasured seeds get taken off you as you arrive in Australia. We found the Quarantine folks to be quite organized and curteous and to be as helpful as they could – but of course they have their regulations that they have to abide by. And we had quite a few seeds taken off us when entering the country over the years. We noticed that our best chances to bring them in was that they had to be absolutely clean, no soil or chaff (definetely no bugs) and seperately labelled with their botanical name. And as I said we had to hand over quite a few seeds on arrival and as far as I recall we were given the option of having those fumigated or treated somehow at an enormous cost and we decided against that. Perhaps all that can already be done cheaper in Bali and then vacuum sealed – or something. Best to find out now, if you have not done so already. I am sure your network of permaculture friends would be able to advise you better how to go about it.
    And if you need a place to stay when you get back – we are away for 4 weeks in August and you are welcome to stay in our house if you like.
    Happy travelling on your last leg of your journey and hope you find a yummy luxury yacht any day now that will take you back to Australia.

  5. fran

    Hi Nina…soooo near and yet so far away 😦 Somehow, somewhere someone must be waiting for your help enroute to Aussie land 🙂 I was also wondering about the seeds and customs…hope you can have it successfully sorted …. c u soon!

    • Nina Gartrell

      Hi Fran! So lovely to hear from you. Yes, won’t be long now until we’re back. We’re very excited. Thank you for lending your prayers to our cause. We need all the help we can get 😉

      Sending you and Phil lots of love X

      Nina & Richie

    • Nina Gartrell

      Hi Fran, it’s so lovely to hear from you. Yes it won’t be long now until we’re home. Very exciting! Thank you for lending your prayers to our cause. We could do with all the help we can get. I hope you and Phil are in good health and enjoying the cooler weather. Looking forward to seeing you both! Richie & Nina.

  6. Lea

    Hi guys are you still looking for a lift? We will be in Lombok in about 10 days heading to Darwin.

    • Nina Gartrell

      Yes Lea we are still looking for a lift! I’m going to email you pronto… thank you for getting in touch!

  7. Sarah Baleiza

    Wishing you sweet winds and good companionship to fill the sails and speed you on your trip home soon! And hopefully not too many more hours in the company of beer bellied swill bucklers! x

  8. Hi Nina and Richie, Have you been up to Nusa Dua ROLE project. Michael O’Leary. Saff’s contact is
    She may help with some health advice. Keep strong! Love and best wishes

  9. Pingback: Inna Bali | Patchworks

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s