Dynamite Diving at GT

It is sometime in the mid-1970’s. Two men sit smoking Camels in a longtail fishing boat about fifty metres off the white sands of Gili Trawangan, a small tropical island off the North-West coast of Lombok. Looking down at the clear turquoise waters they see the coral reef that sits just below the surface. Despite the fact that the reef is teeming with fish today’s pickings have been slim.

Fisherman 1: This is Bullshit. There has to be an easier way.
Fisherman 2: Yeah. I have been thinking about that.
Fisherman 1: Well surprise, surprise. Brainboy has been thinking again.
Fisherman 2: Fuck off dickhead. You know how my brother Putu is in the army.
Fisherman 1: So?
Fisherman 2: Well I was talking to him the other day and he reckons he can get us a crate of dynamite for 15000 rupi.
Fisherman 1: Why the fuck would we want a case of dynamite?
Fisherman 2: That is what I have been thinking about. I reckon if we were to throw a stick of dynamite into the water, the explosion would stun the fish. They would float to the surface and we could just paddle around picking them up. Easy money.
Fisherman 1: Sounds alright.
Fisherman 2: Sounds alright.

A couple of weeks later the previous scene is reenacted, only this time a crate of dynamite sits between them.

Fisherman 1: Ok brainiach, what now?

Fisherman 2 selects a stick of dynamite from the crate, lights the fuse on the cigarette in his mouth, then tosses it about fifteen metres from the boat. The explosion sends a spout of water twenty metres up into the air. A couple of seconds later dozens of fish begin floating to the surface. They paddle over and begin hauling their catch into the boat.

Fisherman 1: Fuck me! This is great.
Fisherman 2: Told you.
Fisherman 1: Hang on a second. Looks like we blew fuck out of the reef.
Fisherman 2: So what?
Fisherman 1: Well we just wiped out entire underwater ecosystem, which took thousands of years to evolve.
Fisherman 1: So?
Fisherman 2: If we keep blowing up the reef it won’t be long before there isn’t any left. And no reef means no fish.
Fisherman 1:    What the fuck are you babbling about. The reef will be right. All I know is that this a shit load easier than regular fishing.
Fisherman 2:    Yeah, you’re right. I don’t know what the fuck I was banging on about.

And that is how kilometre upon kilometre of underwater wastelands were founded along the coasts of South East Asia.

Don’t get me wrong, I have built a life around taking the easy option and it’s all too easy to sit back and pontificate through the lens of affluence about irresponsible fishing (farming, logging, whatever) practices in developing countries. What would I know about hacking out an existence on the poverty line? Faced with a choice between feeding my family and preserving a coral reef, I would be putting grub on the table.

It is a sad sight though. You are snorkeling or diving the warm tropical waters expecting to see colourful coral gardens teeming with a thousand different fish and crustaceans. But a lot of what you find is large tracts of white grey coral graveyard. You have to dive down to 10m before you see anything of interest.

Despite suffering substantial damage, the diving around the Gilis is still very good. The practice of dynamite fishing has been banned around the islands and there is a substantial reef rehabilitation project underway. The water is warm and the visibility is exceptional.

We stayed at the Gili Eco Villas on the northern tip of GT, it was spartan but cool and we had some of the best snorkeling on the island at our doorstep. There were coral gardens, crustaceans, fish and turtles in abundance.

The island has a relaxed island charm; you can walk around the island in about an hour, all the locals seem constantly stoned and even better: motorised transport has been overlooked in favour of horse and cart. I really liked the place and the people there, but still no matter how many fictitious conversations I invent I will always struggle to comprehend the rationale of dynamite fishing.

A tough day in Bali for a little Aussie Battler

Mez has a little laugh about her shinner
Mez has a little laugh about her shinner

While we were in Bali Amy and I caught up with my sister Merryn and her fiancée, Glenn. Early in the trip Merryn decided she needed a good story to take home. This is how she went about it…

The day started ok. We were in Bali for a long-deserved holiday. The sun was shining, the beer was cheap, the locals were friendly and there wasn’t a profit and loss statement to be seen. We decided to go down to Doublesix in Seminyak for some sand, surf and sun.

About an hour in I decided to sneak off and get a massage. “What could be more relaxing than a Bali massage?” I thought to myself.

I decided to only take 40,000R (about $5) with me. This would put me in the power position in the bargaining stakes and I wouldn’t be tempted into buying superfluous crap.

Arriving at the Jayakarta Hotel courtyard I picked out a masseuse. The negotiation went exactly to plan…

Masseuse: “Just five Rupi more.”
Me: “Sorry, forty is all I have.”
Masseuse: “Sit down.”

I sat down, closed my eyes and silently congratulated myself on my forethought and bartering ability. The healing hands of Masseuse began to work their magic and my cares began to fade.

Things were going smashingly until a simple tap on the shoulder shattered any pretence of relaxation.

Hawker: “You want saucepan?”
Me: “No, thanks.”
Hawker: “Stainless steel”
Me (internal monologue): [They are nice saucepans]
Me: “Sorry, I don’t have anymore money.”
Hawker: “No problem, you pay later.”
Me: “No, thanks.”
[Hawker walks away]

A different hawker, selling plates, quickly took up the fight. For the next half an hour, an endless stream of women hawking various wares surrounded me.

At some point I gave in and must have whimpered something like, “Ok, ok.” thinking that would make things better. How wrong I was…

Hawker from earlier: “You buy from her and not me! Do you hate me?”
Me: “Sorry. Of course I don’t hate you.”
Hawker: “You buy from me! Pay later.”
Me: “Ok. Ok.”

I stumbled out half an hour later in a daze. As I walked back to meet the others, I took stock. I had two bags full of kitchenware and other assorted junk; my nails were painted; my heels had been scrubbed; and I couldn’t remember my massage.

Written on a scrap of paper was the IOU. I took it out and read it:

Mary: 600,000R
Annie: 600,000R
Sally: 400,000R
Tanya: 250,000R
Lucy:  200,000R

I did the math. “Holy fuck! That’s like $250!” I yelled. This was bad; you can buy seventy-five pots at the Cally for that.

I got back to the others and walked over to Glenn.

“What’s in the bag?” he asked. I broke down.
“They were all around me. I couldn’t say no. I owe them $250.” I sobbed.

Glenn wasn’t as sympathetic to my plight as I had hoped. I went for a swim to clear my head.

I knew that behind all the bluff and bullshit Glenn was a big softie. It wasn’t long before I managed to talk policeman plod into sorting it out for me. He took the merchandise back, told them how disappointed he was and paid them a token amount.

I was so relieved. We went and got some lunch and I pondered how to best spend the remainder of the day. As I saw it, there was only one viable option available.

I set about getting myself horribly, slurringly, lazy-eyedly drunk.  I drank and told the story about how, when I was in Bali, some hawkers talked me into buying a whole bag full of shit. Told it to anybody who would listen.  Then, just in case they hadn’t realised what a great story it was, I told it to them again, and again.

It was about 2am when I finally got tired of drinking and telling my story. We were back at the villa and I had just a couple of things to do before bed.

First, I went to the bathroom and picked the flattest bit of floor I could find. I tripped over and cracked my head on the sink.

With that out of the way, I crawled over to the toilet and repeatedly deposited the contents of my stomach into the bowl.

I laid my head down on the cool tiles of the bathroom floor, closed my eyes and smiled. The next day, I would have a quality shiner and a hangover to go with my story.

Seven simple steps to a successful Bali Christmas and New Year

The Christmas spread
The Christmas spread

1. Smuggle or bribe bulk contraband through customs

A US$40  bribe will get 5.5kg of prime cut Australian cryovac Scotch Fillet steak through Indonesian customs (reputable sources will later tell you that US$20 would have done). Supplement this with copious amounts of booze. Remember the one litre of duty free liquor allowance per person is just a rule of thumb.  Wine of dubious quality can be sourced locally, at exorbitant cost, from an unscrupulous English expat who for the past thirty years has been living a conscious free and highly lucrative existence in South East Asia.

2. Assemble a small pose

Ideally a collection of family, friends and haphazard acquaintances (who will soon become fast friends) aged from three through to sixty. If at all possible, source a Dutch couple (they tend to bring Bintang tallboys in bulk).

3. Rent a mac-daddy private villa at a ridiculously discounted rate

Compliment with a pool, driver and cook. I couldn’t recommend Villa Theresa more highly.

4. Set a spread that would put the last supper to shame.

Include a behemoth roast turkey, a magnificent honey ham and a proper pudding all prepared by a petty crim turned caterer from Ballarat. Add an entire ecosystem of crustaceans (lobster and prawns) prepared on the BBQ with Pak Putu’s green pepper marinate.

5. Schedule an hour-long splash fest in the pool with a three year old.

Instruct him on the dark art of the backyard bomb. Start with the classics: the cannonball , the horsie and the belly-wacker. Graduate to the honey-pot, the can-opener and the genie.

6. Eat, drink and be merry.

7. Repeat.

Baby Ray and I in Splashfest 2009
Baby Ray and I in Splashfest 2009