What exactly does a travel writing scholarship entail? We’ve been busy finding out with New Zealander Hanna Butler, winner of the World Nomads/Rough Guides travel writing scholarship for 2012. We’re only two days in and we’ve surfed, been massaged, eaten and drunken and yes, we have driven quite a few miles.
But what exactly is a travel writing scholarship?
It’s an innovative concept to pair someone who *really* wants to be a travel writer with a bunch of people who, in one way or another, are involved in travel and writing. The hosts in this case have been Richard Lim, a Rough Guides author working on a new edition of a Singapore title, me on behalf of Travelfish.org, and then in Kuala Lumpur and Penang the hosts will be two outstanding food writers, Cho Lim and Robyn Eckhardt.
Hanna has been covering the trip on her World Nomads travel blog, so you can read about what happened in Singapore.
Now Hanna is in Bali, an island famous for its surf, its rich culture and terraced mountain scenery, so with six nights up our sleeve, we decided to take a different take on each of these.
Bali has some of the best and most reliable surf breaks in the world, with waves that cater to novice surfers through to expert professionals. Most first-time visitors who want to learn to surf in Bali try a lesson in the heavily touristed Kuta/Legian area.
But we decided to bundle Hanna and the film crew (yes, film crew) of Jesse and Peter into the car and head west to the Muslim enclave of Medewi. We picked here for a few reasons. It’s Muslim, so culturally significantly different to the Bali most visitors are familiar with; the beach break is very suitable for beginners and never, ever gets crowded (not always the case with its famous left hander); and most importantly, it’s here you’ll find Medewi Surf Homestay, a fabulous little getaway run by Ugis and Wati.
What we wanted to show Hanna was that while many conjure up five-star fancy hotels when they think of travel writing, some of the best places on earth are the smallest, family-fun, unsignposted hideaways where, true to their name, you feel more like a family member than a guest.
At a quick glance, Medewi is a great surf spot and Medewi Surf Homestay is a terrific place to stay. But on closer inspection, there’s more. Take a walk from the blue mosque down to the beach in the late afternoon light, listening to the call to prayer, sharing the beach with nothing more than a few cows. Sit back and chat with the Australian couple who were staying at the homestay with their kids, hear how they’ve been coming for over a decade and learn how Ugis healed a foot injury for one of them with nothing more than massage.
Oh I forgot to mention the massage. Ugis does massage. Well, to be more exact (according to his name card) he practises “Shiatsu, China Massage, Thai Massage, Hawaiian Massage, Balinese & Javanese Massage, Yoga Technical Massage, Reflexology, Acupressure, Chronic Problems, Chiropractic Treatment, Spiritual Therapy, Surf Energy.” You could rephrase that to say he gives an absolutely amazing massage — his card should just read “Ugis: massage”.
Hanna of course had to try an Ugis massage — you know — just for research purposes.
So should you.
There is a great catechism on travel writing (particularly with regards to guidebook writing) that “travel writers see everything, but experience nothing”. I’d agree with it — I know I’ve blown through my share of towns where I could tell you the name and price of every hotel and not the name of a single person who lives there.
This is why it is all the more valuable when the writer does have the time and flexibility to throw themselves down on Ugis’ massage deck and really experience what they’re then going to write about.
The same goes for travel in general. Slow down. Take a breath. Enjoy the moment.
Next stop: we made a *very long drive* right across the island to Sidemen, where we’re about to explore the chilli fields, walk the subak and climb the holiest peak on Bali. More soon.
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