Chapter 11: Bali
I was quite ready for a break when I flew down to Bali; On the taxi ride to Jakarta airport, I remember driving alongside a long, open drain storm or open sewer, I’m not sure which. A curved structure built from stone, with water running along the bottom, and bounded on the top by the occasional tree. People were actually using it as a toilet, having climbed into it, hooked their clothes around their waist, and then holding onto the stones and just doing their business in the open. I’d never seen anything like it, it made a vivid impression on me, realising for the first time the differences between this part of the world and the West. I’d never previously thought about the conditions that people here grew up in, and thought of as normal.
Another taxi from Denpasar airport. I’d booked into the Sindhu Beach Hotel. I’ve just now looked it up on trip advisor, and it has really poor reviews, but in 1980 it was a lovely hotel. Things have probably changed a lot in Bali now, but in those days only the peninsula was allowed to be developed for tourism. The 2 beaches on opposite sides of the peninsula were Sindhu beach and Kuta beach, and they were very different. Sindhu was the more upmarket development; Kuta beach was more for backpackers and hippies. Bali was famous in those days for its magic mushrooms, and these were freely available over on Kuta beach. I’d been told this by the divers on the Valerie, but I’d no interest in drugs, which was why I’d opted for Sindhu beach. I was still buzzing from the experience with Danny’s incident, and wanted to get it written down while it was still all fresh in my mind. I booked into the Hotel, and was shown to my room. All the hotels had to comply with Balinese building regs, which meant they had to be built using traditional methods, were made mainly of wood without screws or nails, and they weren’t allowed to be higher than the palm trees, I was told, which meant, essentially, they were limited to one storey. My room had a small balcony, directly onto the beach, with the sea only 20 or 30 yards away. Fabulous. I asked reception if I could borrow a typewriter, and could I order some ham and tomato sandwiches, and a large pot of coffee, enough for 4 or 5 cups please. I got the typewriter and paper, and started my log. About 15 minutes later, a knock on the door, and a waiter came in with a large tray containing some ham sandwiches, some tomato sandwiches, and 5 cups and saucers, containing coffee. I tried to explain to the waiter that it wasn’t exactly what I’d ordered. He told me it was probably because I didn’t speak English very well. OK then. I thanked him and got back to my typing.
The next couple of days I spent on the beach and round the pool, and the occasional hour writing up my log. For me, this was the most luxurious place I’d ever stayed in; the food was lovely, and a Balinese group of musicians played haunting oriental music during meals creating a great atmosphere. The pool was also terrific, with a bar that you could swim to. Drinks were served in coconuts and pineapples from the gardens, hollowed out and then filled with cocktails. There were monkeys up in the trees in the grounds. I felt like a millionaire, although the prices were incredibly cheap. I absolutely loved it.
I’d written to Graham in Singapore, telling him the details of my leave. He’d sent a post card back, saying he would try to get a visa, and if possible he’d meet me over in Kuta beach, in a well-known bar called The Pub, on a particular date. On the appointed day, I took a taxi through the jungle tracks over to Kuta beach. I’d taken a paperback with me, and got settled down in there about 5pm. No sign of Graham. I waited for a couple of hours, drinking beers, and then decided to have something to eat, as he obviously hadn’t been able to make it. I ordered the house special, a mushroom pizza, which I had with a couple more beers. When I’d finished the meal, I asked the barman how I could back to Sindhu beach. One of the local truck drivers was going over to make a delivery, and was happy to give me a lift. I got back to the Sindhu Beach hotel about 9.30. I’d intended to go to the bar and have a few more drinks, but I wasn’t feeling too well, and decided to go to my room and get an early night. I woke around midnight, drenched in sweat, having had a vivid frightening dream. I’d been stood on a beach, surrounded by a circle of frogs. The frogs jumped in unison towards me, and each time they jumped, they doubled in size. By the time they reached me, they were all bigger than me; I was surrounded by cold clammy-skinned amphibians, when I awoke in a panic, wet through. I ran into the bathroom, intending to take a shower, but when I looked in the bathroom mirror, there was a frog looking back at me. I completely lost it at this point, ran through the room, and jumped off the balcony (good job it was on the ground floor!) onto the beach, completely naked, and ran into the sea, in a panic. I stayed there probably around 20 minutes, gradually coming round from my horrible experience. I’d no idea what had happened until I got back to the boat a few days later, and told the divers what had happened. They found this quite funny – The Pub’s speciality, mushroom pizza, is made from magic mushrooms, and I’d obviously had a bad trip. No more bloody mushroom pizzas for me.
I thoroughly enjoyed my leave, (except for the mushroom pizza) and was ready to return to work. I flew back to Jakarta, and checked into the Oceaneering room at the Hyatt,
The following is an extract from my log 26th November 1980:
“Danny S has just arrived on board, with various tales of lechery from Jakarta. They had an orgy in the hotel room in the Hyatt, 4 divers and 5 local girls; 3 of the divers all have a dose of Vietnam Rose, one has gone home to his wife… Another guy, Alan C, a kiwi, chatted up a girl riding down the street on a bike, and ended up screwing her on the beach for 1000 Rupiah (about 75 pence). Fred (a Canadian) was saying that on his last trip ashore, a girl wanted to come back to the Hyatt with him. He explained to her that he had a dose, but she only wanted to sleep in a decent bed. So she went back with him, and gave him a blowjob. I’ve said there’s no chance of me getting a dose, – they all laughed like Hell. Pat H left here 3 days ago, having just cleared up a dose. He swore he wasn’t going to go with any girls, as he was on his way to Singapore, to his wife. Danny reckons that 10 minutes after he got to the Hyatt, he was banging away for all he was worth.”
This was all helped by the hotel having a “massage parlour” in the basement. If it was connected to the hotel, I don’t know, as you had to walk out of the hotel, and then walk down some steps to get there. However I checked into the hotel on one occasion, and the phone rang. When I answered it, the concierge asked me if I had a girl in my room. Strange, I thought., and told him no, of course not, I’d just arrived.
“Would you like me to send one up, sir?” he asked.
There was a quote from a John Keats poem, written on the wall as you were walking down “A thing of beauty is a joy forever”. When you opened the door and walked into the (as always) dark interior, there were usually around 20 girls lounging around, and a small bar to the left. In the back were the massage rooms. I never discovered the joys of this particular parlour, or any of the girls there, having heard how many of the divers had got their infections here. Jakarta is a huge place, and there was a well-trod route for westerners out drinking, with specific bars and clubs recommended. After doing a round of the bars, taking taxis always to go from one to the next, you would end up at either the Tambura or the Tanamour, looking for a girl to take back.
One of the best runs was Blok M, a small street where every building was a bar, some of them having another bar upstairs. At that time there were 18 different bars, which was a natural challenge for divers, to have a drink in every one. All these bars also had a horde of young girls, so it wasn’t just the drinking that was a challenge, actually getting out of each one was something of an achievement. I did another job out of Jakarta, years later, when I was far too old for all that nonsense, but took 3 baby divers with me, 2 English and an Aussie. They were great lads, and looked forward to the challenge of Blok M. I stayed in the same bar, which was owned by an old friend of mine, Chris A, and had maybe 3 beers over the next couple of hours, chatting with him (while his Indonesian wife, in charge of the bar, looked on to make sure he didn’t pay too much attention to any of the girls). Finally our 3 musketeers arrived back, completely pissed, but enervated by the experience, their first night out in Jakarta; one of them, Johnny W, told me he’d never realised how attractive he was to women, and that he’d never go back to UK. Last I heard of him, he was still over there, living in Singapore, and married to a local girl.
Back to 1980; The Tanamour was a strange nightclub. Again, in a basement, you descended a steel spiral staircase into almost complete darkness, the only light coming from a statue of presumably an Indonesian God. He was about 6 ft tall, and had an erect 3 ft penis, the whole thing eerily lit up close by the staircase. Once on the floor, you made your way over to a large, horseshoe shaped bar, surrounded by bar stools. There was a small dance floor, with loud western pop music, usually just occupied by the girls who would be showing off their wares, trying to attract the attention of any of the men stood around, or sat at the bar.
I was out on the town one night, when a French aircraft carrier had arrived. There were hundreds of young drunken French matelots everywhere in town, fighting, drinking, throwing up, it was a nightmare. I ended up in the Tanamour, which was crowded with sailors. The girls were going mad, this was an occasion to make money. When I got down the spiral staircase, it was like a scene from a western, there were fights, drinks flying about, people screwing up against the wall. The safest place for me was the far side of the horseshoe, which was reasonably close to a wall, so no one could get comfortably behind you. I found a vacant stool, and moved the drink in front of it out of the way, the sailor who owned it was occupied elsewhere. Within 2 minutes of sitting on the stool, a girl appeared, and climbed onto the stool, sitting down between my legs. She was small, but most of the girls were small. She was exceptionally small, and I couldn’t see her face, or any other part of her except the tops of her shoulders, and the top of her head. However, she made good cover – I knew I’d be left alone if a girl was with me. I bought her a drink, and asked her if she’d like to come back to the hotel. She readily agreed, and as soon as our drinks were finished, we climbed off the buffet, and started walking towards the spiral staircase. This coincided with the end of the music, and all the lights going on, to my embarrassment. The girl was virtually a midget, about 4 ft 6” tall. As we walked out holding hands, her hand was level with her head. The matelots were mightily impressed with this, and one of them started clapping. All the others joined in, and started cheering. I couldn’t wait to get out and disappear. Outside, my companion flagged down a taxi, and I took her back to the Hyatt. She was so small, she was wearing just a man’s shirt, with the sleeves rolled up to the shoulders, and long enough to cover her knees. It had probably belonged to a diver, as she was also wearing a pair of over –large wet suit bootees on her feet. This was the first time I wondered what the hell I was doing, how I had got myself into this state, and decided it was time to get back to reality back home, and change my ways a bit. I stayed out there another couple of months, before deciding to return to UK and look for work.
However, my resolution to change my ways wasn’t as easy to stick with as I’d thought. If I was on leave alone, it was no problem – I was happy enough to read, drink, watch TV, swim and sunbathe. But in company, the peer pressure was sufficient to have to go along with the lads, or you were in danger of being labelled an oddball, or even worse, a queer. As part of a diving team, you do not want to be an outcast, or you won’t last long on the team, and will be looking for a new job. Also, a policeman in Brighouse once told me that an erect penis has no conscience, and he wasn’t far wrong. I went on a new job with Oceaneering to Borneo, to a Mobil job. A small dive team of 5, our job was to locate a capped wellhead, and buoy it. When oil is discovered, the company works out the price of recovering the oil from that location. Sometimes that price is higher than the current price of oil on the world market, so they cap the hole, and wait for the price to rise sufficiently before developing the well. This was what had happened here. This was also before the development of GPS, so locating anything on the seabed was dependent on the navigational skills of the skipper, in what at best was a hit and miss operation. The skipper would lay out a 3 or 4 point mooring and manoeuvre the boat until thought he was in the correct position. At this point, we would set up for diving. Once the diver and stand by were dressed in, a heavy weight attached to a down line would be lowered to the seabed. A 2nd line, coiled up would also be attached to the clump weight. This was the stray line, generally about 30 or 40 feet long, and marked with tape every 5 feet. The diver would swim down the down line, at which point the supervisor would make a note of his depth, so that he could work out the appropriate table, and the time limitations.
The diver would report on the conditions on the sea bed, and visibility – if sandy, or muddy, he would be stirring up debris as he moved round, and so would lose visibility. He would move to the first marker on the stray line, take a heading on his compass, and then swim 360 degrees round the clump until he was back at the start, looking and feeling all the time for the well head. At this point, he would move to the next 5 ft marker, and do another circle, in the opposite direction, then continue this procedure until the object was found, or he’d reached the limit of the stray line. If that happened, we would have to move the boat, and start the whole process again. On this occasion, I was first diver in. It was 165ft deep, the limit for air diving, with a quite short bottom time. I hadn’t located the well head, and left the stray line pegged into the seabed for the next diver to continue; I ascended the down line to my first water stop at 20 ft (for decompression); as I was hanging there, I felt something snuggling up to me. I was diving in work overalls issued by Mobil, which had a herringbone pattern. When I looked down, a remora was trying to attach itself to me. They have a sucker on the top of the head, which they use to hitch rides on large creatures like sharks and whales, and feed on the debris left in the water after a successful kill. This remora was the biggest I’d seen, about 4 ft long, and I spent the rest of my decompression trying to push away the remora, and looking round frantically for the big creature that it came from. I was glad when the dive was over.
© mick binns 2018