Canggu is all on it’s own. Once an outpost, now a surfing colony, it’s been cut off. The natural disaster known as tourism and development, combined with a total lack of subsequent infrastructure, has resulted in a geographical isolation due to snarled traffic. From Kuta to Canggu, a bad best of an hour of breathing near pure carbon monoxide, this traffic is a result of a massive exodus of adventurers, scoundrels, criminals and vegans who have forged Canggu into the most outlandish surfing community in the world.
Astonishingly, usurping the Holy Grail of Uluwatu and the as Bali’s prime surf destination. Canggu has morphed into a miasma of every surfing creed, color and philosophy drawn to its perceived promised land of cool where any surfer on earth can re-invent themselves. And all of this minus the symmetrical blue offshore dream tunnels that has made Indonesia every surfer’s fantasy. Canggu, a hot, cool, sexy beachbreak zone with brown silty rice paddy run-off seas. A surf zone that is a trampoline park for aerialists and a Renaissance Faire for retro riders.
Canggu, the petri dish of re-discovered western grooviness, art, fashion, food and multi-nation sexual opportunity. But despite its being ground zero for the surfing hipster movement, the prime destination of the diaspora of those who long for the “way we were”, Canggu is now reaching a critical mass. Like a run-over Ibiza with rice, a place like this can only maintain its cool for so long. And the rumblings of over saturation are approaching fast from the horizon like dark cumulonimbus.
Dustin Humphrey, Director of Deus Ex Machina Indonesia, Father, Photographer, Film maker, Provocateur.
“Why has Canggu become what it is? Because it looks so easy to live here. But it isn’t. You gotta be somebody with something, anything, to offer…or it just doesn’t work”.
“Longboarding was great in the waves out here so it attracted that crowd and the alternative board crowd. And these are generally creative people who make creative commitments beyond the thruster crowd. It caused a Renaissance of alternative surfing and alternative thinking”.
I Gede Arya Eka Wira (Ayok) Dharma, Deus Team rider, member of the Canggu Surf Community Boardriders, Top local Surfer, Surfboard rental owner, activist, dreamer.
“Its hard to talk about it. Talking about the bad things of all this tourism will never end, but it’s good for our local people business. Lot’s of money from everybody in the world. But at night, its a bit too much now. It disturbs the spirits. The spirits used to whisper, now they have to yell to be heard”.
“We found naked people (translated: fornicating) in our temple on the beach. We beat them with bamboo poles. Or people peeing on the Temple walls. We bring them to the police. Would you find that in a church back in Germany or Russia or wherever they come from? Bali people are welcoming, but not to arrogant people”.
As I stepped outside after our talk, I thought of that necessary silence Ayok spoke of. Now it seems the soundtrack to Canggu is club music and jackhammers. I looked across a dusty, litter strewn parking lot to yet another club.
This one, with a cowboy theme, that features sexy local women apparently swinging from the roof on saddles. Next door to that an old building is being demolished. The rumored site of Canggu’s first McDonalds.
It’s an innocent looking place. Until you look closer. Urban, hotel, business and field drainage in Canggu is ancient and open and pungent and runs parallel to most of the sides of the narrow roads here. There are no kerbs. These ditches run anywhere from 3 to six feet deep and they wreak havoc with the endless flow of scooters, custom motorcycles, Taxi’s, Uber’s and giant SUV’s that snake around what’s left of the rice paddies. Get beered up and get loose in some gravel as a first time scooter pilot and it’s over. Usually a trip to the hospital and then home. If your lucky.
Gerhard Engelbrecht wasn’t. A friend of mine. A good natured South African photographer and full time philosopher. He was not a tall man, but he looked it. Long sunburnt hair, unkempt goatee, startling clear eyes. And that strong accent. A good surfer and an even better photographer, Gerhard was loved here. And seemed to embody what Canggu was all about for the less wealthy live-in Expats. Fit, cool talking, cool looking, connected to the place. Peaceful. Good company. The kind of guy that no matter how tough you think you were, you could not help but smile when you saw him. The locals called him friend. Not boss, like alot of the rest of us. Right down to his love beads and his cutbacks, he was part of Canggu. And like most here, he was not afraid of late, late night beers at any of the late, late night clubs. Come to think of it, like most South Africans, I don’t think he was afraid of anything.
Except maybe love.
He seemed to have been having alot of trouble in that department. Only God knows why. He was hippie handsome. Nonetheless, on the 12th of February, 2016, like a warning shot across its bow, horrific news spread through the Canggu community. In the very early hours, Gerhard had been found dead.
Under his motorcycle, in the ditch that runs smack dab through the main drag. A catastrophic crash. It was easy to see how it could happen, considering the chaos of the night life here and the total lack of road rules. Its part of the charm of the place. The thing is, nobody thought it could happen like this. Not in a place like this. Not to him. Not to them. Not to anybody.
But it can. And it did. There was a brief flurry of dark rumors, of a love triangle gone bad, a promise unfullfilled, money issues with the wrong people, the booze, the sun, the weather, the language, the rules…any number of things that can get any expat into real trouble here. The things that can drain you like a harvested rice paddy. The things that drain you. From as small as a mosquito to as big as a neck cracking motorcycle crash. The things that can drain you, tire you, if you choose to wander and settle far from your birth home. One has to remember that in Bali. Always. You don’t live here. You survive here. You don’t have any rights. Just privileges. And any broken local trusts can put you in enough trouble to send you reeling for the airport. Or worse.
But none of these dark rumors really stuck on Gerhard Engelbrecht. Memories of his smile eroded them within a week. Probably just another great night, full of laughter, sorrow and beer. And a drainage ditch on the way home. This ditch. Waiting like fate in the eastern glow of another drunken Bali dawn.
So here I was, a year and a half later, just outside the Deus Temple of Enthusiasm. Surrounded by the traffic and the construction and the growth of Canggu churning out its mighty business of tourist commerce. I was looking down into an ancient ditch that has run through this patch of land for hundreds of years. The place where my friend died. That warning shot I mentioned? It slowed things way down for about a week here in Canggu. People went home earlier, drank less for awhile. Oh, it was a warning alright. To everybody. Out here it’s not go big or go home. It’s go big and get home.
At about six feet deep, I suppose that ditch did resemble a grave.
I dropped a single flower into it. The flower caught the drainage and floated away toward the sea.
Getting on my Motorcycle, I kept to the middle of the road.
Another law of the jungle.