Four colourful wooden signs nailed to a tree, immediately catch my eye. “The beach. Naked Coconut. Food + Drinks. Umbrella.” An arrow is painted on the first wooden plank, pointing us down a thin gravel path.
The ground is uneven and a big rock digs into my right haviana thong. I’m definitely not prepared for this. Lush green trees surround us. We pass three cows and a little calf. Placid, they seem to be enjoying their day.
“Hello!” someone yells. Not quite sure where that’s coming from. We look to our left and see three Indonesian teenage boys, with their faces peeping through the hole in the fence. Laughing, we say hi back. They jump around and playfully razz the boy up who said hello, making their day.
We continue down the path. Long spider webs hang down from tall, thick tree branches. I duck and warn my friend, who’s just behind me. The path weaves to the right and I start to think the sign was just a big tease. No beach. No coconuts.
Determined, we continue on. It’s starting to get dark. We’ll keep going for another minute or two, I think. But before I can finish that train of thought, the path suddenly opens up to a big green open space. I spot a dozen scooters, lined up in a chaotic way. They’re all resting to the left, on their stands, shining in the late afternoon sun. I hear the crashing waves before I see them.
“I think we’ve found a secret surf spot”, I tell my friend. There’s a green hill, but all I can see is the sun peeping our from the horizon, in the most majestic way. A huge strip of baby pink touches the water, where it turns a deep blue.
I look down to the ground to readjust my eyes. A white surfboard sits in front of a little hut. Palm trees dance with the wind and people sit on the benches, watching the sun do her thing… in awe, just as much as us. As we get closer, we make out the faces of these people.
The Naked Coconut is painted in blue, on the back of this hut. It is here. Coconuts and all. Two candles are flickering on a table for two, welcoming us. But the rainbow coloured bean bags are just too good to pass up.
I grab the beanbag, shake off the sand and plonk myself down on it. Ahhhh… this is island life. Flicking off my thongs, I rest them next to each other, side by side. I was told once, if your thongs cross, you’re going to get into a fight with someone. I always seem to remember this when I put them down anywhere. It’s probably just a myth, but I don’t want to take any chances.
A gentle looking lady comes over and says hello. Her sunglasses, resting on top of her head, in a loose, white T-shirt. “I’m Jess!” she says in a familiar accent. A man follows, which she introduces as her husband. A little girl runs over and pulls on Jess’ leg. “She’s the cutest. How old is she?” I ask. This sparks the start of a long conversation.
Jess tells us all about her life here in Bali. She’s from Melbourne Australia, but has been living in Bali for the last eight years. “Are you ever going home?” I ask. “No way,” she replies, instantly, almost before I can finish my sentence. “This is my home now.”
“Anyway, I’ll let you guys look at the menu,” Jess prompts. She places a laminated menu book down on the little wooden stool – our makeshift dinner table. Having a quick look, we settle on a coconut and nachos to share.
It’s the sort of place you could sit for hours. Dozens of surfers float in the water, waiting for the next set to come in. Many are sitting up on their boards, with one leg on either side. A few are clustered together, chatting, but still facing out to the horizon, ready to catch their ride in. Two dogs are playing with each other in the sand, and stop to chase an elderly couple, sinking their teeth into a stick of corn.
Pastel green, violet and white colour my vision, as I look around the creatively designed hut. It’s got that rustic feel to it, but without “trying” to be anything more than it is – a laid back, surfer beach bar.
Jess comes back with our food, just as I’m giggling at her little girl scrambling into the hammock. Putu, her husband joins us. “This place is amazing. It’s so relaxing. Do you get a lot of people come by?” I ask, curiosuly.
“Not really, it’s picking up but we like it just the way it is,” Putu grins, as be hands us the mozzie spray. He must have seen me scratching up and down my legs. “We just love being able to meet new people, like you two.” Humbled, I look at my friend and I know she feels it too.
I’ve always believed it’s the people that make a place – and this experience reconfirms this. I’ve found a place I can feel at home, be at home. After travelling for three months now, it’s nice to finally sit still – and find comfort in great people like this little, local family. People always talk about the pain of saying goodbye to family when you set off on a world trip.
“Don’t you miss your family?” I get asked all the time. Sure, of course I do, more than anything. But it’s the special people you meet along the way that touch you, shape you and make you feel at home, even just for a night. I leave a little piece of my heart in each place, and that sounds like a pretty incredible thing to me.
Don’t be afraid to go off the path once in a while. You don’t know what’s hiding there, waiting for you to discover it. Be curious. Be courageous. Leave yourself open to these experiences.
Forget about those top 10 lists of bars or places to visit. You’re only going to see a glimpse of a place – the part that every other traveller sees. Instead, spend your time exploring on your own two feet.
The people you’ll meet and the things you’ll see will be some of the most rewarding moments. These will be the memories that will stay with you, long after the journey ends.