by Georgie Day
I have just placed my order at my go-to brekkie spot, Crate.
As I look around at the half-empty cafe deciding where to sit, I reminisce about the ‘old times’ when I probably would have just queued for 15 minutes to order my food, and it would be more of a game of looking for who might be leaving soon and hovering around them so I could take their seat. Crate has always been an incredibly popular brunch destination in Canggu, renowned for its reasonable prices and generous portions of fresh and delicious food. While notoriously edgy and ‘cool’, Crate is widely but mostly favourited by Instagrammers, surfers, tall-iced latte-drinkers, bucket hat-wearers, loud dirt-bike drivers, the sunburnt or hungover, brunch culture enthusiasts staying in the ’Gu.
Now as I look around the cafe, I must remember that over the past year the demographic of Canggu as it stands today has become one it has never seen or been before. Having said that, the signature ‘hipster’ vibe and current population of Crate still remains intact, although equally reflecting the ‘new normal’ community, and today is (from what I can estimate) predominantly populated with individuals like myself; digital nomads ‘stuck’ in Bali.
I have chosen a large table inside to the edge of the open-plan simply-designed industrial-inspired building, with the breeze blowing through onto my back from the rice paddies.
It has been incredibly hot and a little stuffy during the day here recently, so this breeze is welcome. It’s the rainy season at the moment, so it is generally very (almost unbearably) hot in the day time, and towards the evening will chuck it down. (And when it rains in Bali, it RAINS.) This rain is lovely to cool the air temperature down overnight, giving that crisp freshness to the early daylight hours.
I wake up with the rising sun most mornings (around 6.30am), and felt inspired this morning to dust the gecko poop off my surfboard, unscrew the handmade metal racks attached to my Honda Vario motorbike to fasten on my board, and go for a paddle at Old Mans, Batu Bolong.
I haven’t been for a surf for a few weeks now, as during the rainy season here in Bali the waves are not as good as mid-year, and also the sea water is notoriously dirty as the heavy rains wash all the dirt, trash, god knows what else, off the streets into the ocean, and offshore storms bring more plastic and debris onto the beaches. (A strong gut microbiome is something I have definitely developed in my year and a half living here, but I still wouldn’t test my Bali Belly tolerance by repeatedly surfing in smelly water amongst floating trash.) Beach and river clean-ups happen daily, organised by various charities who dedicate to simply removing the never-ending gutter-blocking and sea-life-restricting, likely single-used items, and awareness seems to be increasing of the root cause – not using so much single-use plastic here – with more recycling initiatives also on the rise.
But early this morning was a good surf! Calm; no wind yet (which also makes the surf much less appetising at this time of the year), quite a large swell out back but some cruisy reforms on the inside perfect for my MiniMal, and nowhere near the ‘high season’ kook carnage of fighting for waves and dodging the flying blue foam boards scenes that the popular breaks of Batu Bolong used to see.
I tie my salty-stiff hair up into a top knot as I’m starting to feel beads of sweat tingle on my dry skin through the ever-persistent but half rubbed off brown zinc on my face (my exhausted shoulders start to ache even as I do this), and I am reminded that I really do miss surfing as much as I did a lot.
But since I guess ‘living’ in Canggu, I have also found other things to do and have really enjoyed finding and living in my simple, slow and effortless (arguably repetitive) routine. The community of expats I have formed a close relationship with over these strange and uncertain times has become my Bali family, and this my home away from home. Therefore, I have adopted a less ‘holiday’ lifestyle and mindset and instead my day-to-day is a more modest attempt at a ‘normal life’; a combination of working from my laptop (either in coffee shops/cafes/co-working spaces (either ‘co-working’ with friends; fellow ‘digital nomads’, or solo), or at home), gym or activities. But now writing this out basically does sound like I am working on a holiday-life, as in between my self-designated working hours and the gym classes with friends, I’ll also perhaps lie in the sun for an hour, do some yoga, have a dip in the pool or ocean, a sunset beach walk, a cheeky surf, brunches and some healthy meals throughout the day, read or do some journaling, listen to a podcast.
Despite this global pandemic, widespread anxiety and fear, I do, however, feel out here that my life has become incredibly uncomplicated and very simple. My mental load feels exceedingly stripped back and I seem to have found clarity and direction in the stillness of allowing myself to not be stressed, pushing, doing, thinking.
The Bali lifestyle can be frustrating at times. But the ‘expat’ community, to date largely comprised of ‘digital nomads’ – a new term referring to the nomadic (non-locals) with digital occupations (jobs/work/income that relies almost entirely on functioning wi-fi and a laptop) – maintain the buzz of a semi-Western ‘societal norm’ in this eclectic fusion of creative, tropical paradise Neverland. The traditional Balinese culture sings through in the beautiful acts of faithful devotion, frequent ceremonies at the religious temples, daily offerings to the spirits, respectful dress and appropriate uniform. However, the beautiful third-world nature during this time can sometimes miss the mark, as in order to dodge a hefty monetary fine, we can do push-ups or sing a song if caught by the Banjar (local mafia/police) driving around without a mask on.
I’m still not sure what to make of my current reality. Despite needing to wear a mask, sanitise hands and temperature check at the entrance of every establishment, to have access to the amazing world created for transient Bali holiday-makers here in this tourist town, with no traffic, queues, and at discounted rates and daily food deals as businesses battle to maintain their customer flow off the remaining Westerners of Bali. Currently, lockdown laws also enforce a 9pm (just moved from 8pm) curfew, where everything must close, hence the early to bed, early rise routine (yes, happy hours now just start at 2pm!).
I have to often pinch myself, as Bali right now really is a scene in itself. Only here could I be sitting in a Swedish inspired and owned cafe sipping an almond Matcha latte whilst cows roam the streets and the neighbouring plot of land, or driving my motorbike across the island to a New Moon ceremony after shooting for a bikini label on the beach all day. Where I get my need-to-know news updates from Instagram profiles and Tinder is obsolete if you have an Amo Spa or Body Factory membership.
I must admit it continues to surprise me that despite all the creative talent residing here currently (photographers, videographers, designers, branding and marketing creatives, models), and all the #content available, that there has not yet been a Netflix Originals reality series created on The Life of a Digital Nomad in Bali during COVID-19. (Any takers? I’ll hook you up!)
Despite the sometimes-feelings of discombobulation, I know I am so grateful to be in Bali at this time, feeling supported in a home-from-home, where life seems to continue in the way I feel it should. I need to often remind myself of the beauty surrounding me; the majestic volcanoes on the horizon, the musky humid air, the smell of rice and frangipani incense, the warm sand, hot sun and salty breeze, as living among and within anything can numb the intensity of its effect.
I have learned also though, that it is not about comparing your life to another, as comparison is the thief of joy. There have been times this past year that have been very tough, despite living in Bali. Yes, life is not always positive, and living in a foreign country away from your family sure has its trials and tribulations. I feel this can be a lesson to anyone right now, that happiness is not conditional; you can find things to be grateful for, positive about, and you can find warmth inside and smiles on your face. So long as you do not compare and concentrate on what you do not have, you will feel positive and light in your own life.
Sending Bali vibes around the world to whoever reads this!