“Bungus Beach. Huhuhuhuhuhu. BUN-GUS. Huhuhuhuhuhuhuhu.”
This is how I imagine Butthead of Beavis and Butthead fame riffing on the name of the place that we’ve called home for the last four days. It is a funny name, one that could cause snickers among millions of American middle school boys, and in some ways, it’s a funny place.
Where the hell are we, exactly?
Go to the map and find the city of Padang, on the west coast of the island of Sumatra (the big long one in Indonesia – huhuhu – he said ‘long one’) and skip down about 20 kilometers. That is where we are.
Sumatra has tons of coastline, but very little of it is developed for tourism. Most of the coast, including Bungus Beach, is just made up of communities of very poor people doing there best to make ends meet, which means they grow rice and other crops inland, and cast nets into the water, hoping to catch dinner, with a bit left over to sell for real cash money.
Bungus is a working beach. It’s mainly humble homes and fishermen, who every day save Friday, stand in the sand and pull in gargantuan nets containing small piles of even smaller fish, though yesterday, in front of the place we’re staying, the got a nice stingray. Score! Steve Irwin is avenged! There are currently just four losmen (Indo gueshouses) here. I’d guess that, in total, there are about 20 foreign tourists currently doing what we do here.
The beach itself is sandy in parts, and coral in others. A fair amount of trash and plastic bags litter the place, but it’s pretty mild by Indo standards, where you come to expect a lot of crap wherever you go. There is absolutely ZERO awareness ecology and the effects of littering in this nation. They got a long way to go… The main reason people come here is to chill out, though the water here isn’t exactly clean, and you see almost no travelers taking a dip. What they do instead is take boats to the cluster of idyllic islands south of here, where they can stay in basic bungalows, or, as we elected, visit as a day trip. The snorkeling is mighty and the water as clear as it gets. In our outing I saw a shitload of fish and even spotted a massive, blue moray eel. Showpiece sealife.
We’re staying at a place called Carlos Losmen, run by a long haired guy whose name graces the place. Carlos sports a shower of a ponytail and chainsmokes kreteks, which is what the locals call clove cigarettes, the carcinogen of choice in Indo. EVERYONE smokes here. I’ve started again. If you don’t smoke in Indonesia you feel like an asshole. When in Rome and all that.
The mosquitoes are brutal here. Our first night was spent at the lower rent TinTin Losmen, where we slept without a net and were terrorized all night by what must have been hundreds of the little black fuckers. We got well ‘et, chawed to bits. Our current digs are set up with a net, but it has a few holes and a couple smart ones always manage to sneak in, though the eucalyptus oil I slather myself in before turning in seems to do the trick. I did bring 90 percent deet, but the Indonesian skitter quakes not in the face of such power. You gotta use the local shit.
We’ve met some great travelers here, most all Euros, of course. Places like this get the best breed of traveler. It’s a cunt to get here so it weeds out the lightweights and whiners. Everyone’s been nice as can be and we’ve had a number of good meals and good company, washed down with Bintang Beer, Indo’s main brew, which is tasty enough when cold but rather dear at about $3.50 USD a bottle, which is two or three times the price of beer in other countries. I’m told it’s a Muslim sin tax. Beer is a major cost to factor in when I travel, so, fellow boozers, take this into account when you plan your trip to Indonesia.
We’ve met a lot of Dutch people here. This is their old colony and I think they want it back.
Bungus Beach has been good to us. It ain’t glamorous. There are no techno parties. There are no bikinis. There are no fire shows. There is Bob Marley’s Legend however, which is on autoplay on every beach restaurant or bar in the tropics, including sleepy little Bungus.
We fly outta here tonight, but to shitty old Medan, but in the morning we head up to the jungle town of Bukit Lawan, where we’ll head into the bush and see real, live ORANGUTANS. I am actually really excited about this. I have nothing cynical to say, really.