Thursday, 15 November 2007


I’ve been back home for nearly 2 weeks now. After a respectable 36 hour journey from Brisbane to London involving delays, flight cancellations, lost & found baggage and as much standing up as I could muster Ma and Pa were at Heathrow to greet me and ferry me home. The fact that I entered the arrivals hall under my own steam was almost a disappointment to my distraught mother, who despite my protestations half expected me to be wheeled prone atop an airport milk-float-mobility-vehicle(MFBV) with a gaggle of wretched neuro-surgeons weeping at my side. But I was glad to see them and in surprisingly good fettle despite my confusion at having endured two airport bound halloween’s in both Australia and the U.S. without the tonic of a trick-or-treat.

The last fortnight has been a whirlwind of nhs doctor’s appointments (I can see a specialist within a year they promise), endless prone calls to insurers (they have been no help whatsoever), standing, prostrate cancellations of various trip components, sofa-based laptoppery, horizontal lunch visits, sit-down dentist appointments (bad), stand-up meetings at work, lying down, swimming, physio appointments, lay-down reflexology, more lying down, planning, plotting, scheming, a stand up buffet dinner party, an evening standing in a pub, more standing, a very expensive sit down in a private neuro-surgeons office, odd lie-down business meetings at home, pilates instruction, intra-city walking and stand-up/lie-down house husbandry (which I really rather enjoy…hmmm, one day…). Resting is exhausting.

I’ve enjoyed coming back to the crisp clarity of autumnal England, and I think it’s the luck of my celtic ancestry which imparts an affection and enthusiastic anticipation for the rapidly approaching winter — but I’d still rather be bobbing about in Bali.

Thursday, 25 October 2007

Towel Throwing

"Well, I've come to the end of the road.... " as Boyz II Men so poignantly opined.

I've been in Brisbane since Tuesday with my Brother, Sister-in-Law, 2 Nieces and Nephew–which has been great— but the majority of my time has been spent enjoying the facilities at the Royal Brisbane Hospital. I've had X-Rays, Blood Tests, The Glasgow Coma Test (though not as a result of a Glasgow kiss) CT Scans, Reflex Tests, MRI Scans (shown below)and even an anal probe.

On arrival I was upgraded from the Emergency waiting room to the Fast Track assessment room and had my case referred to the Neurological department — this still took 9 hours, straight after a 17 hour journey from Bali with little sleep. I've got to know the Emergency department pretty well since then and everyone seems genuinely concerned except me. The debate is whether to operate on my severely herniated disc to remove some of it from my spinal column or whether to leave it and hope the dangerous bit of loose disc disintegrates over time. I should be in excruciating pain with the problem I have and it's only the fact that I'm not that's keeping me from the surgeons knife. I'm seeing them again on Monday for a further assessment, but they're keen, as am I, to avoid surgery if possible.

With or without the operation I shouldn't be surfing again for a few months, in fact I can only lie or stand, no sitting, for the next few weeks at least so I'm coming home. It's a terrible shame, but it's the right thing to do. There's a chance I may never get the use of my foot back properly, but more importantly if I exacerbate the problem I could easily do much worse permanent damage.

The silver-lining is that the Neuro-doctor recommended I get my insurance people to fly me back business class to allow me to stand and lie on the flight home.

Friday, 19 October 2007

Sick Bay

Time drifts by hear at the aptly named Dreamland, although not for much longer. I’m flying to Brisbane on Monday for an MRI scan on my back in order to properly assess the damage, and the Dreamland warungs are being demolished in December to make way for a 5 star golf resort. “The fat cats whacking balls have pushed out the surf rats whacking bowls” to paraphrase my cowabunga stomach-churningly naff surf guidebook.

I hung out with a ‘spunky’, to use the colloquial, Aussie woman called Polly for a couple of days. She owns a villa in Bali and when she lets it she holidays at Dreamland or Bingin donw the coast. She surfs as badly as I do so we watched out for when another in the bigger swells we’ve been experiencing recently and the night before last we walked along the beach to Bingin for a drink a new bar down there. We had a good evening in the usual U.N. congress kind of way with Yanks, Aussies, Kiwis, Balinese and a Colombian fella eating some good food and drinking beers, timing our return to beat the incoming tide which would strand us in Bingin. Having never made the walk before I was relying on Polly’s judgement that 10pm was our curfew, but during the evening I talked to an older Kiwi gentleman who did the walk at 9 that morning and the tide then was pretty close to making it impassable. I managed to lure Polly from the clutches of an All-American Huntingdon Beach surf dude by 9.30pm and we set off bare foot and with my head torch illuminating our way. The higher tide meant that much of the easy beach sections of the walk were submerged so we had to resort to more rock scrambling than on our outward journey, and someone had been busily sharpening the rocks whilst we were eating and drinking. Yet we made good progress and all seemed well until we rounded a rock to be confronted by a 3ft green and black striped sea-snake in our path. Both snake and humans froze trying to assess who was in the greater danger and we made a slow retreat. Once out of the torchlight the snake disappeared and we proceeded with haste. From here-on things became critical. The rapidly incoming tide was compounded by the growing swell which sent waves crashing in to the coves we were trying to traverse. Timing our progression between wave sets we edged closer to Dreamland aware that a retreat was now more difficult than an advance. We just made it round promontory after promontory each one promising and then failing to deliver us to the safety of home until we both recognised that the cove we were in was definitely the one before safety. By this stage we were literally clinging to the cliff face as huge rollers crashed in to the rocks below and a delirious panic had set in. Spying the opportunity of a rare lull between wave-sets we lept from the cliff to the beach below and made a run for the final promontory making it round just in time for the next set to wash us up the beach to the safety of Dreamland. Crikey!

Last night I surfed (or rather, bobbed about) until I saw the large flame-red sun melt into the watery horizon. In this last hour of the day the wind drops completely leaving a mercurial quality to the ocean. It’s a magical time; even as the waves roll in there’s a tranquility about this transition zone between ocean and land. I hope my back, nerve and foot combo recover in time for me to fully experience the incomparable pleasures of surfing before returning to work.

Saturday, 13 October 2007


I can’t remember when I last blogged. That’s the effect ‘Dreamland’ beach has on you. Everything slows to the pace of the waves metronomically rolling on to the beach. There’s absolutely no way I could squeeze breakfast, lunch, dinner, two surfs, a snooze, a bit of reading AND write a blog. Never mind having to leave the suspension-of-reality that is Dreamland to embark upon the 10 minute slog up to the main road where the internet lives. I’ve only just managed to prepare myself for that expedition.

On the second night here I joined a beach bonfire party and began generating my first hangover since departure. The party’s instigators where some a-whoopin and a-hollerin american frat-boy types who despite being in their mid to late 20’s displayed the full gamut of intoxicated masculine emotions I thought had been confined to my mid-teen forays into the magical world of booze. We were treated to arm wrestling, fire-jumping, chase-me, and other such acts of bravado deigned to alert the local females of their presence, followed by cringe-inducing awkward jerky shuffle-dancing to gangsta rap whilst following no discernable rhythm before the overly desperate lunges at anything remotely feminine culminating in a brother on brother fist-fight — the result of which was their heartfelt vows to disown one another — and the rest of the fraternity passing out in the sand.

Backdropped by this diversion I met some funny, well-balanced English lads, a Swiss man, an Austrian, some French folks, 2 German girls and a gaggle of English traveller-trail girls who almost equalled the americans in ther national stereotypical displays and were therefore equally entertaining to engage; the pretty one who was desperate to liase with an equally attractive other, despite gary-back-home, who frowned and stropped and needed attending to by her courtiers when her advances on a french surfer were rebuffed. The chief courier, a plump, older geordie lass who was actually very nice and some assorted other girls from the Isles clinging deperately to the diminishing dregs of the wine box.

I’m staying in an amazing bamboo-built losmen at the south end of dreamland beach, terraced into the hillside. My room is open on two sides and if I prop myself up n my elbows after one of my naps I can see all the way down to the southernmost prominentary of Uluwatu, a temple site and the most famous surf break in Bali. Before that is Padang Padang, Bali’s Pipeline, Impossibles, Bingin and closest to home the fast shorebreak right of Dreamlands. If my foot was alive I would be dangerous.

By the way, do any medical types out there know what I can do to help regain feeling and movemenet in my foot. The action I can’t do is drawing the foot up towards the shin. I have no control or power there so I can’t stand on my heels, for example. Any ideas greatly received.

I’m moving up the beach today by about 250 metres which will be a bit of a struggle but I’m sure I’ll manage it. It’s a bit of a shame because this place is spacious, the views are jaw-droppingly good and I know a few of the local residents, but it will be a bit like going home moving to Eric’s place. Some of the English inmates and I are going up to the ‘big road’ to watch the footall this evening in a bar which should be fun. I’m now off to mentally prepare myself for the big move.

(btw - i surfed Uluwatu today for those who know)

Saturday, 6 October 2007


I’ve been in Bali a few days now, but I’m not quite having the beach-bum existence I had planned.

The sweet intoxicating smell of incense welcomed me back as I took a taxi from the airport to my hotel in Legian. My left sciatic nerve/back/leg/foot issue was still debilitating as I tried a surf on Legian beach the following day which left me annoyed and frustrated. A cut on my toe, which I thought had healed, turned septic swelling and discharging a beautiful sherbert-yellow ooze and I discovered I had left my bank card at the airport when I withdrew cash on arrival, although lost-property yielded nothing.

After a day of wallowing in a mire of self-pity I changed my frame-of-mind and began some positive action. I, using the proverbial, was going to kick some ass.

I checked myself into a beautiful ‘boutique losmen’ down the road from the perfectly nice hotel I was staying in and have sheathed my surfboards until I sort my sciatic nerve out (pesky blighter). Antibiotics have sorted my unruly toe out and a Chiropractor has diagnosed a recurrence of an old slipped disc injury as the cause of my buttock/leg pain and semi-paralysis of my ankle. He’s cricked and crunched my back and neck around and done some pretty deep, discombobulating massage combined with some electric current therapy. I’ve got a chiropractic appointment every other day until I get the use of my ankle back, meantime I’m going to lie back and relax.

Those waves can wait just a little bit longer for me to teach them a lesson…

Monday, 1 October 2007

In transit

As i sit in my sanitised, air conditioned, westernised, safe hotel in singapore on route to Bali I look back on Aragam Bay with fondness. It took a while for me get over my middle-class shock, fascination and squeamishness with Si Lanka's extreme poverty and was on edge for the first week or so. But once I got used to that I realised they're not all there to rip you off. Most are trying to make rupee or two and that's fair enough, but many are just going about their business — it's not all about me!

My walks up the beach to the point for a surf were peppered with shouts of "hellowhereyoufromgoodwavetodayno?" from the fishermen mending their nets in the shade of their bamboo huts. My pre or post-surf warm up/down took the form of helping drag a fishing boat up the beach beyond the reach of the high-tide.

I gravitated towards a nice geriatric crew of westerners: Jason (43) an Aragam Bay veteran of 7 years does 6 months in Sydney and 6 months in Sri Lanka and Mark (42) does 2 trips a year to Sri Lanka from the Gold Coast. Both are great surfers and have an almost comatose dryness about their humour which seem typically Australian and very funny. And then there was Tim (50) an Hawaiian surfer with a surprising, rich musical past taking in part time membership of Throbbing Gristle with Genesis P Orridge, producing dancehall and Dub with California's Jamaican ex-pats and making records and playing live on San Francisco's early rave scene.
Finally I feel relaxed in the place and the next phase of my travels beckons.

My overriding memory of Si Lanka is the locals pride, practice and proficiency in the ancient art of spitting. They are truly world class. I'm talking a loud, rolling, guttural drawing up of all the throats phlegm followed by a spit which could knock a bird out of the tree.

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

Aragam Bay

I’m only 5 surfing-days into this trip and my decrepit old body is already giving up. My sciatic nerve has become painful again and the bodily contortions I involuntarily do to protect that area has pulled a muscle further up my back. I stayed out of the water yesterday in order to recover and am having some physio this morning to help loosen things up. Fingers crossed that this doesn’t become an extended sunbathing holiday. I’m not very good at sunbathing.

In this small sleepy village you get to n ow the characters pretty quickly. Derek, the reluctant caretaker of his brothers tsunami ravaged Siam View hotel, holds court every evening. His casual colonial-style racism can’t mask the warm heart within and he really does love Asia and the Asians having lived in Hong Kong, Thailand and Sri Lanka for the last 25 years or so. He just doesn’t like Sri Lanka. His trusty monkey-keeping German sidekick Wolfgang prepares food and lures newcomers to his safari tours, whilst quietly despising Sri Lanka too. It’s more amusing than it sounds and many an hour can be whiled away in their company. On some evenings when there’s a couple of Aussies, an American or two, a couple of Germans, an English contingent, some surly Israelis, the odd Sri Lankan driver and some UN and NGO folks in I can imagine myself holed-up in a Baghdad war correspondents hotel.

The polar opposite of the Siam View is the place I tend to eat every evening. Sooriyas is presided over by a wonderful Tamil Hindu man called Ram. This slight, unassuming bare-chested man has a long grey beard from which regularly emerges an infectious almost toothless grin. His quiet, caring, generous, open-minded character is the antidote to the cynical ex-pat westerners and his cooking is sublime and at £1 for a meal and 50p for a beer it’s embarrassingly cheap. Ram was in London during the 60’s hippy revolution, in New York for part of the 70’s and in Berlin after the wall came down so his ego-less innocence is born of practice rather than ignorance.

Right, I’m off to be cured by a Danish woman. Wish me luck…

Sunday, 23 September 2007

Surf... of sorts

I’ve surfed every day since I got to Aragam Bay, in fact I’ve surfed 3 times every day, although surfings probably too strong a term for what I’ve been doing. I trapped my sciatic nerve a couple of weeks ago. The pain in my lower back has gone but the ball of my foot and the my toes are still numb and I have limited ankle movement. It just doesn’t do what my mind is telling it to. This all adds up to a pretty good excuse for why I’ve neen so useless out in the water.

Aragam Bay is set up with a pretty good reef/point break at the southern tip (which I’ve been avoiding so far), the wave then wraps into the bay providing a much weaker ‘beginners pool’ wave close to shore and full of local kids. I’ve been thrashing about down in the kids section, swallowing my pride to get some waves. It’s a bit weird because I’m having to learn a new technique for standing up on the board. My limited movement and sensation below the knee means I have to kind of throw my left foot from the knee to try and hit the board, and if I do get it in the right spot I don’t have the flex in my ankle to turn easily. But I’m getting better, I had a really fun session this morning, and I’m enjoying being in the water.

Aragam Bay is an intriguing place which I haven’t really worked out yet. But more of that later…

Friday, 21 September 2007


My drive from Hikkaduwa to Aragam Bay was remarkable for two things.

Firstly it was remarkable how the climate changed from winter on the west coast to summer on the east coast. As soon as we crossed the mountains running down the spine of Sri Lanka the sun shone and the temperature increased by 5 degrees. It’s only 300 miles from coast to coast yet the difference is more like travelling from the northern to southern hemishphere.

The second transformation on this crossing was more profound. The journey began brightly enough with Udara my driver pumping the sounds of Shaggy at full volume. A couple of hours in it became apparent that the van was only equipped with one Shaggy tape. My smile faded as I endured rotation after rotation of sunny ragga-pop, the imbecilic choruses and banal lyrics grating deeper and deeper into my mind. After the 10th rotation, however, a remarkable thing happened. The braided nincompoop’s lyrics begin to reveal hidden depths. The, once tinny, digital reggae began to resonate on an altogether more spiritual plane. By the 20th repetition Shaggy revealed himself as a true shamanic guide for the modern-day male. “It wasn’t me” recalls ancient Sparta’s testosterone fuelled code of ‘take no prisoners, give no quarter’ — admit nothing, deny everything. The rhythmic pulse lifts the soul, on a molecular level, up to a celestial plane to become one with the very fabric of the universe. By the 21st listen this farbic is thrown over the table of consciousness and nirvana is close.

Once my ‘self’, my ego, had seeped into and become consumed by the omniverse the once distinct boundaries between ‘I’ and the ‘other’ had been broken down by the hypnotic, mesmerising pop-ragga beats and Shaggys bewitching mantras, then and only then did Udara drop the bomb… BOOOM! — UB40.

The world exploded in shimmering translucent shards of joy. It was then I realised Udara had been leading me on this ‘journey’ as my spirit guide. Opening my eyes to that which adolescence closed….

The drive was otherwise uneventful apart from seeing an elephant by the side of the road.

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

Rice and Curry

With curry's strong associations with weekend treats back at home yesterdays curry for breakfast, lunch and dinner was a good way to get over the no-surf blues.

I had a traditional Sri Lankan breakfast of string hoppers and curry (potato and dhal), a standard rice and curry lunch (beef curry, dhal, mixed vegetable and beans) rounded off by gthe most amazing one yet at my hotel: a sweet brinjal bhaji, spicy coconut fish curry, fried potato curry, juicy green beans with deep fried ginger and chilli, an unidentified vegetable in coconut sauce, rice and poppadoms. And all rounded off later on with a spicy Sri Lankan omelette and a bottle of Arak, the coconut based spirit, shared with 'the lads' watching the 2020 cricket.

Monday, 17 September 2007

I, the brave adventurer, walked away from the tourist area into town and had lunch in a cafĂ© packed with locals — 50p for rice and poppadom with 4 (small) curries and a drink!

Walking back, feeling like the cat who got the cream, I was soon brought down a peg or two after being persuaded to part with 800 rupees (£4) to help a bloke buy some concrete (yes, i know...) to rebuild his tsunami-destroyed house. With hindsight I think concrete was the last thing on his mind.

I ended up getting a tuc tuc inland to a jungle lagoon. From there I pootled around on a leaky dugout canoe and saw a buddhist temple, some blue jellyfish, a dirty great lizard and some bats. And now I’m off to watch Sri Lanka play Pakistan in the 20/20 world cup with the hotel crew.

No surf.

Right Place, Wrong Time

The lyrics to Ghost Town keep spinning around my head: "all the clubs have been closed down...". Hikkaduwa is the centre of Sri Lanka's surf scene... but only from November to March.

I arrived after a typically torturous journey of a 13 hour flight — no sleep, a 3 hour wait in Singapore — no sleep, 4 hour flight to Colombo — 30 min snooze and a 5 hour drive to Hikkaduwa — van broke down outside Colombo but had a surprisingly swift transfer to another van laden with a Bob Marley tape which on the fourth repetition lulled me into a sleep-like trance state. My bank had handily suspended my cash card which took a £7 phone call en route to reverse, but finally I arrived at my hotel able to pay the taxi and check-in. It was 5pm and I was keen to explore and even keener to get into the sea. My hotel is directly on the beach so I braved the torrential rain and walked up and down the shore looking initially for a surf opportunity — the sea was a blown-out churning grey-blue mess with no discernable peaks and absolutely no-one else in it so I decided to give it a miss, and then for any other signs of life — there are none! All the bars, restaurants and hotels that line the beach are boarded up and derelict looking.

I am the only guest at the hotel so the staff of 6 seems a bit over the top. I have an early dinner of Tuna with a great spicy salsa and a papaya salad, a couple of beers and a quick chat with Chaminda the hotel manager who tells me there's currently only a handful of foreigners here in Hikkaduwa , and then I turn in.

I'm asleep by 9pm and have a well needed 10 hour kip.

Thursday, 13 September 2007

I've not left yet...

Here's my first post. I thought I'd post an image to remind me of you all back at home in england as autumn turns to winter and also an scene for me to look forward to greeting on my return. See you in Sri Lanka.