There’s nothing brash about Canggu that really captures your attention. Not the bold beaches with crashing waves, the serene rice fields, or even the mountains lifting off behind you. To be honest, I’ve seen it all before. It is, however, the community of surfers and backpackers which the town fosters that really makes it appealing. Still far from an authentic Indonesian experience, it’s probably as close as you can get on the west coast of Bali.
The hostel I stayed at, aptly named “Wave Hunters”, was a great hangout where everyone extended their stay so that all faces soon became familiar. During the day we would disperse to our chosen beaches, before returning at the end of the day to find a place to eat and drink together. Whereas on the beach, Bob Marley’s greatest hits hum through the network of bars, streets further back are occupied by a mix of local and modern restaurants. A Warung (or “Waroeng”), is known as a family run establishment, and therefore inevitably translates to good cheap food. The local Balinese have adapted to a bustling life filled with tourists, but still remain open and friendly all the same.
Nights out would revolve between various bars, and the whole hostel would squeeze into a few taxis to carry us to our first stop. The early hours would generally be spent dancing on the beach before grabbing a barbecue roasted sweet corn with satay sauce for the wobbly journey home.
The days are quiet, with a regular routine of surf, coffee, food and beer rotating through the hours. Surfing is best achieved around sunrise or early morning, when the waves generally break without any interfering wind. Tide was high around 9am too, which submersed any rocks near the shore. The main beach you hear about is “Old Man’s”, where golden sands meet black rocks next to the shore. Surf board rental and teachers sit waiting at the entrance, where eager beginners turn up (including myself) without any knowledge of where to start.
6 – 9 ft waves consistently greet surfers at all times, and Old Man’s predictability is its greatest strength. Once a wave has crumpled into a foaming mess, beginners catch what is left on their large foam boards (or foamies). Catching the wave is the easy part. Repeatedly swimming back out against the waves on a board the size of a small battleship is more of a challenge. Muscles strain and burn in order to reach your starting point, as you aimlessly paddle against the flow (local experts who know the correct channels make a much easier task of this).
After a few days I was getting used to the set up, and as my read of the sea improved, so did my confidence. I changed from a foamy to a shorter board so that I could manoeuvre across the waves with greater ease. Like starting new things, my strongest memories are the earliest moments of success. It’s a great feeling to catch and ride a wave towards the shore, tentatively making small adjustments before eventually collapsing into the turbulent water beneath.
In theme with the relaxed environment I found myself in, I even spontaneously bought a hammock. My initial thoughts were that I would find myself a remote beach in the north of the island, where I could stretch my hammock between two palm trees to enjoy a quiet night under the stars. However, it unexpectedly came under more immediate use as there was a mix up with rooms on one occasion, and I found myself without a bed one night. And so, my hammock was christened in the garden of my hostel. With a tarpaulin strung up above me, and a cocoon of mosquito net surrounding me, I managed to find sleep relatively easily once I found a comfortable position. I feel I’m just at the beginning of my hammock adventures.
I’d recently recommended Canggu to another backpacker, who also confirmed to me shortly after she arrived, “You don’t do much here do you? It’s pretty great.” The traveller within pulls your mind and body towards the next destination from the whispers, tales and pictures from friends on the road. But on the surface there’s always a search for familiarity and comfort which places like Canggu provide. Extend for an extra night? Maybe three? Always.