Five weeks prior to our arrival in Bali we contacted Di and Nigel through Couch Surfing (CS). At the time, Indonesia felt like a far-off dream, and the prospect of sailing home to Australia, a ludicrous endeavour.
We had our backs bent to the task of digging rice paddies on a burgeoning eco-tourism project on Koh Phangan. The barrage of bass-line from late night doof-parties, for which the island is famous, and the bloody proclivities of the local mosquitos was taking its toll. For the first time in a long time we were at a loss: couldn’t say where we were going, when, or for how long.
After hanging up our gardening gloves for the day, we took up our laptops and pegged our hopes on a series of couch surf requests: a life-line of introductions that stretched all the way from Southern Thailand to KL and Singapore, and from peninsular Malaysia all the way across the sea to Jakarta, Kuta and Ubud.
Di and Nigel received our CS SOS with felicitous welcome. They stuck with us while our plans changed and accepted us even after the date of our stay shifted from the 17th to the 27th of April – a mere three days before they were due to depart for their holiday in England.
Fast-forward five weeks to the afternoon of the 27th of April and there we were, trussed up like a couple of Christmas turkeys on bean bags on Di and Nigel’s front porch, gazing into limpid mugs of coffee and mooning over proferred plates of door-stop sandwiches – organic white ciabbata!
During those first crucial hours of host-surfer bonding it became apparent that the four of us shared a cultural lineage: Nigel and Richie grew up within 129 miles of one another in Birmingham and Thetford respectively, whereas Di and I are both Queensland lasses, our home towns separated by a meagre 1,600km: which in the spacial-geographical terms of our country, meant we were practically neighbours.
Once we’d established the parameters of our youthful follies, we fell to that favourite passtime of refugees and migrants: laughing over the quaint traditions of our countryfolk; recalling landmark festivals, fads, celebrity-downfalls; and sharing humorous anecdotes about the inexplicable customs and idiom of our ‘host’ country – Indonesia: it was Bill Bryson’s Notes from a Small Island meets Down Under all over.
Realising that we lacked the wherewithal to sample Ubud’s costly new-age pastimes, Nigel and Di hitched us to the wagon of their Bali-enthusiasm, and over the next three days, set our wheels trundling over a network of bumpy back lanes to a number of permaculture projects, art workshops and eco-tourism ventures.
Through them, we met Bhakto, a 25-year resident of Seminyak and fellow permaculture enthusiast; tasted local mozzarella; set our hands to weaving coconut-frond plant pots; had a tour of a coffee luwak and spice-growing plantation; presented ourselves at a Russian rave (I was absent for that particular undertaking); and met some of Ubud’s most promising young artists.
After a week in ‘I love Kuta’, Richie and I were heartened by what we saw: creative, positive-projects; green-fingered entrepreneurship; and self-determination. Here was Bali-tourism reinvented and purified, having passed through the ethical permaculture filter of ‘earth care, people care, fair share’!
Following Di from project to project, workshop to workshop it became clear that in the brief month she’d been in Ubud she’d carved out a unique role for herself: part-patron-of-the-arts, part-groupie. With characteristic goodwill and humour Di introduced us to Ubud’s brightest young stars. It was her personal mission to use her holiday in England to help find a market for their wares: comfy slippers made from recycled jute coffee-bean sacks; jewellery, bags and wallets ingeniously crafted from embossed spent car tyres; and last but not least, the legendary cat-poop-coffee (coffee luwak).
In their eagerness to encompass all dimensions of energy-exchange, Nigel and Di were keen to share their latest music discoveries and resources. Fresh from the Bali Spirit Festival, they were full of praise for the positive earth-change tunes of Nakho Bear and Medicine for the People. In return, Richie infused Nigel’s hard-drive with a selection of his latest mixes. Permaculture resource swapped cyber-hands and a special screening of the trailer for Nigel and Di’s upcoming documentary, A Balinese journey through time: Exiting the Kali Juga, was screened. We hadn’t had this much fun in ages!
Warmed and gratified by the experience of being taken in and looked after, and having had our best hopes for couch surfing confirmed, we waved goodbye to Di and Nigel. It was hard for Richie to see our new friends drive off. Next stop: London. At that moment we would have gladly gone with them, setting foot inside that diabolical zone of departure, the airport, a place that we’d managed to avoid for 16 glorious months of overland travel.
As she leaned out of the window of the taxi to give us one last squeeze, Di reminded us not to worry, that the remaining leg of our journey would emerge organically and that a boat would materialise. Without a doubt, Di and Nigel have perfected the 7 Dimensions of CS hospitality, and as a result of meeting them, our dreams and aspirations have been reified. The journey will continue. Next stop: Darwin!
Overland to Oz – a gallery of our brilliant Couch Surf hosts
Malaga – Ana & Israel
Granada – Andrea
Venice – Massimo (who left us standing in the rain…)
Ionannina – Zenofon & Maria
Thessaloniki – Spyros the socialist enigma (represented here by his characterful kitchen and remarkable collection of books)
Athens – Mitsos & Emily
Shipka (Bulgaria) – Dimo
Astana (Kazakhstan) – Anna, Andrey, Pavel & Lev
Luang Prabang – Rob
Kuala Lumpur – Shukreen, Reeza & Kanoa
Ubud – Di & Nigel
Seminyak – Bhakto
Thank you dear friends! Pleas come and visit us in Australia soon!