I've always been a bit of a big wrap on Medewi in west Bali. It's one of those places that tends to get short shrift in guidebooks as a "surfer hangout" but when I spent some time there last year while motorbiking around Bali, it struck a chord with me and I decided it was more than just a surfer hangout. And so, this weekend, I returned with my family in tow.
It's true: Medewi is a surfer hangout. But, like Balian half an hour to the east, it's also a stupendously beautiful area. The beach starts with smooth boulders and pebbles that are a bit of a challenge to scramble across. After the river, the pebbles give way to a jet black volcanic sand similar to what you see in Lovina -- the difference is in Medewi there are no touts trying to sell you wooden dolphins. In fact there are no touts at all.
To add support to the guidebook stereotype, we (or at least I) were in Medewi to surf among other things (read more about the travel writing scholarship here), and while last time I'd stayed at the decidedly fabulous Brown Sugar Surf Camp, this time we opted for the decidedly welcoming Medewi Surf Homestay. What a place. But more on that later; first a bit more about Medewi.
Like many Balinese stretches of beach, while tourists refer to the entire area as Medewi, you've actually got a series of villages skirting the surf, roughly east to west (and I'm happy to be corrected on this -- there may be more!) Pekutatan, Medewi and Yeh Sumbul are the main spots. Pekutatan marks the spot where a spur off the main road leads to a fabulous alternative route to Munduk in the highlands, and is also home to the rather fancy Puri Dajuma. Medewi proper has the bulk of the surfer digs and the only Western-orientated restaurant(s) that was open in the area. Yeh Sumbul is home to a terrifically placed mosque with terraced ricefields running down, quite literally, to the high water mark.
We don't leave Seminyak till mid-afternoon so it's just on sundown by the time we pull into Medewi Surf Homestay after calling our contact Ugis from the beach to come show us where it was. It's a village homestay on the non-beach side of the main road, a solid 10-minute walk (or two-minute drive) from the water. The family house is at the front, but as you walk back it opens first to a banana grove and soon to be garden, while to the left and right rice paddy stretches out. You cross a foot-wide, teeming canal and then look up and see the "Welcome to Medewi Surf Homestay" sign.
The homestay is a two-storey wooden house that has three rooms in total. The master is downstairs and two smaller rooms are upstairs, with shared bathroom facilities (including a bloody cold shower!) at the rear on the ground. In front is a cute little garden and beyond the rice goes and goes and goes... and goes.
The guesthouse is a collaboration between Austrian Mike (who was in Austria when we visited) and Balinese Ugis. The rooms are very simple and after one night reading the kids books by torchlight there's certainly some scope for improvement with the lighting. Otherwise, bring your book light and it's a very comfortable spot. After dashing out for a quick meal at Mai Malu (the only tourist-focused restaurant, that is, they had surfing videos on and burgers as well as local dishes) we return and I snooze on the lazy chair upstairs to a backdrop of the mosque warbling, with a light seabreeze and the distant electrical storm over the ocean making me want to put my glasses back on.
Later that night the storm arrives and I wake to the thunderclaps. Torrential rain at its best, the teeming water throws itself at the house, but there's almost no breeze, so it's like we have a bungalow in a waterfall. It's otherwise silent. Even the mosque is quiet.
Morning comes and I meet my surfing fixer, Mano. Adorned in a knock-off straw fedora hat, a pair of board shorts and, well, not much else we talk about where to surf.
Surfing is a bit like pole dancing; you can either do it or you can't. I learned long ago that overstating your ability (umm, lying) equates to gross pain for you and inconvenience for everyone else. So, yes I can stand up but no I'm not confident on a fast unbroken wave on a boulder base.
We go for the beachbreak, you know, just to be sure.
After picking a board, the whole tribe -- Mano, Sam, Lyla, Will and myself tramp through the fields and wiggle between the fishing boats and hop over the pebbles till we reach the river.
Sam doesn't know about the river, and not wearing swimmers, and not being all that comfortable with the surfer moll identity she's adopting, isn't so keen to wade across. Mano exclaimed no worries, only waist deep!
Mano is short -- but not that short.
We ferry the kids, the boards, the bags across the river and keep walking, soaked to about half way up our chests -- at least Mano's hat is dry. Perhaps another 200 metres up the beach we set up camp in front of some curious cows and off we go.
I love surfing. Which is unfortunate as I'm terrible at it. As mentioned previously, I paddle like a girl, and while I get a few rides in, we take a break while Mano goes back to get his board and I give Lyla some boogie board lessons (as if I'm qualified).
Mano returns and we head far further out. I struggle to understand why 20 years of beer drinking hasn't developed my upper arm strength -- those pint glasses were heavy I tell you. Nevertheless, with the aid of Mano-power I catch some great waves -- they're faster, and far more exhilarating, than anything I've ever caught before. But each time I ride them in too far, necessitating a painful, strength sapping paddle back out.
I snap one fin. Mano demands we keep going: "Just one more wave". I snap another fin. If he'd forced me out again I'd have snapped off the third with my teeth.
Shattered and the tide very high, Sam and the kids wait while Mano and I walk back to get the car to drive around and pick them up. The tide is peaking and the river that we previously waded across is far deeper. We have to swim across and the freezing river water cuts through the rashie and my ample padding like a knife.
With one especially cold, shiver-inducing blast I exclaim, "Shit it's cold!" and Mano looks back saying, "Get on the board and paddle!" Given at this stage I'd rather freeze to death in a Balinese river than paddle another stroke, I shut up.
Then we emerge from the river and the fishing fleet is in. Fish are everywhere. Baskets of long thin ones, stubby ones, a sting ray-like critter, crabs. Women are carting bucket loads back from the jukungs that continue to rush in with the waves, berthing on the river bank. Fishing nets being emptied, produce bought and sold.
I'm exhausted but fascinated. And free of a camera, I'm happy to point and ask and stare and inquire. The people are incredibly hospitable -- lots of laughs and smiles.
We get back, dump the boards and go to gather up the family. And this takes me back to my most poignant memory of Medewi -- the mosque run down to the beach. The blueish mosque sits atop the rise that runs down to the beach -- for a large part it is still all paddy. But walls are creeping in -- at least some put up by a Hawaiian, another a German, who take long leases or buy with a partner then start to convert the land to residential.
We pull aside a traditional plough to get to as close to the family as we can, but they're still a good 200 metres away, so Mano goes to help them while I watch the waves.
Afterwards, back at the homestay, Sam talks to Ugis about a massage -- on the website, particular mention was made of his massage skills so, well, you know ... just for research purposes ...
Ugis asks Sam if she has any problems, and she says she doesn't, so he suggests she gets a massage by his wife. I, meanwhile (who at that stage could barely walk thanks to the surfing class), have a long time back problem so I volunteer for a Ugis test case.
Ugis ain't cheap.
Ugis delivered arguably the best massage I've had in my life.
I'll wager I've had more massages than you and your entire family combined.
So, I know I started this story saying Medewi isn't really a surfer hangout and then proceeded to write 800 words about surfing there, but the thing is, Medewi is much, much more than surf.
It's a predominantly Muslim area, so you'll feel more like you're in Java or Lombok than Bali, and while I don't want to resort to the cliche of saying the "locals are so friendly", the thing is, they are.
The first morning, I said to Sam, "Why haven't we been doing this every weekend for the last four years?"
Take from that what you will.
Medewi is a three to four hour drive (depending on traffic) to the west of Seminyak. Both the above-mentioned homestays are excellent value. For those looking for something more comfortable, Puri Dajuma is a good option. There are a number of other mid and upper market places in the surrounds, see the Pekutatan section on Agoda for more well-priced hotels and resorts.
There are no ATMs in Medewi, the closest is in Negara. There are a couple of internet cafes on the main road and there is a good 3G signal in this area. Check with your hotel beforehand if you require WiFi.
Western style restaurants are very limited, on this visit in March 2012, Mai Malu was the only one reliably open, but in high season (June to September) there are more options.
By Stuart McDonald
Last updated on 6th May, 2015.