Toro Toro and a Bali Fish Market

On May 24, 2013 by Sarah C. Geraci

In August of 2012 my husband and I traveled to Bali. We were there for two weeks. I took a lot of notes. Since this trip I have been journaling the experience. As life has gone on, and there have been a plethora of things to write about, the pauses in between my Bali entries has grown. I apologize.Pink Fish Boat Bali SurfingWe were entering our final days at the surf camp. The wave conditions had been less than great, especially for a beginner. When you know how to surf you can surf anything. When you barely know what you’re doing it is a bit more difficult to do what you need to do.
On this particular Sunday, our last day at the camp, any location that I could surf just wasn’t working. I decided to trade in my lesson and switch to being a spectator. I went along with Phil and his instructor, Made (pronounced Ma-Dee), on their surf trip. I’m really glad I did because everything we saw (and did) I’ve never done before.
Under Made’s suggestion, he, Phil, and I traveled to a wave called Toro Toro. This wave is located south of the beach town we were staying at, just next to the airport. In Bali the airport runway goes right out to the ocean. You can surf on either side of it. Not only can you catch waves, but you can also catch some incoming planes.
It was a short drive to the beach where they’d be surfing, but the wave didn’t break on shore. Made hired a fisherman to drive us in a boat out to the wave. Phil and Made surfed off the boat, while I hung out on the boat with the driver and my camera. For the first time I was able to test my new waterproof camera bag. I was glad to have this modern convenience; the waves were a bit tumultuous and water slapped in and over the sides of our craft. When the sets rolled in it felt as if Wayan (the boat driver, pronounced Why-Yon) and I were surfing ourselves. I took lots of photos of incoming airplanes, our pink boat, and the guys surfing. I was smiling to myself the whole time, a child playing make believe. I pictured myself as a professional photographer on a “shoot” in the middle of the ocean in Bali…yeah right. Even though I enjoyed myself, the photographs were anything but note worthy. A profession as a photographer is far from my reality. It’s more fun, and a lot less work, to just pretend while on vacation.
Fishing Boat at Toro Toro BaliDuring Phil and Made’s surf session I got to know Wayan and get a bit of schooling on the life of a fisherman in Bali. We talked about surfing, family, seafood, and the crazy things that tourists eat. In the middle of our discussion I happened to glance down in the water to my right, and I totally saw a snake swimming next to the boat! I have a snake phobia, so it was the scariest thing I saw the entire time I was in Bali. I had never been so glad to be in the boat and not the water. It wasn’t a terribly large snake, but it was creepy. In fact, given the magnification powers of water, the snake was probably no more than 2′ long. It was red and white striped, like the Bali flag. If Wayan hadn’t confirmed that it was, in fact, a snake; one could have thought it was a piece of rope or debris. I tried not to let my imagination run wild, but I couldn’t help thinking that small snakes mean big snakes; and they were all swimming under Phil, Made, and any other surfer out there, in a huge nest. Yuck.
Phil, and of course Made, caught a couple of cool waves and I was able to take some (as you know) crappy photos. Wayan watched longingly as he smoked a clove cigarette that he procured from a large coffee tin in the boat. Previously, he surfed as a child, but now has no time for it in his busy life of having a wife, two kids, and two jobs. I guess life gets real, even if you grow up in Bali.
Shopping at the Fish MarketAfter the surf session Made took us out for an authentic locals lunch. I was super-excited. Phil had already had the pleasure of a locals lunch with Made earlier in the week, but this would be my first time. We went to the fish market; a real-deal fish market. It wasn’t a building like a fish market you’d picture anywhere in America. It wasn’t a building at all. It was an enormous tent with no electricity, no lighting, no glass cases displaying fish, ro refrigeration, no cash registers, or floors, no walls, and no running water. As I said, it was just a large tent set on the edge of the beach next to a long row of colorful fishing boats, scattered with a few trees for shade and some picnic tables around the back. We walked through the isles of the market in absolute amazement. There was every kind of local fish, octopus, or crustacean you could imagine being sold by fisherman and their wives and children. My senses were on overload; including my sense of smell. It was impossible to focus, let alone decide what we wanted to buy. I just wanted to look around, be amazed, be creeped out, be impressed, be humbled; all of it. I was incredibly grateful that we were there with Made. I don’t think we would have bought anything without him. He decided what we would eat and negotiated the purchases. Phil and I would have been too intimidated to make any moves. We settled on prawns and a couple of whole fish. The clerks put our catches into small plastic bags and we followed Made out of the tent and around the corner where they do the cleaning and grilling…if you’re dining-in. We sat 20′ from the sea and waited 20 minutes while our lunch was prepared. Allow me to set the scene.
Lunch at the Fish Market BaliBehind us is the beach and the fishing boats. We’re at one of five picnic tables. They aren’t very clean, but nothing is. We’re pretty comfortable with it by now. Although here, I’m slightly uncomfortable. As I am about to eat, I wish I had a wet rag to wipe down my side of the table. It’s a bit messy from the previous diners. We have purchased two tall Bintangs (the official beer of Bali) and I’m hoping it’ll help me cope with the massive amount of flies that have joined us while we wait. The flies were everywhere. Why wouldn’t they be? This market was fly heaven. Groups of flies were hanging out on the fish coolers, on the trash cans, near mud puddles, on our picnic table, on our heads, on our legs, and on our faces. There was no fighting it. We had to succumb to it, and once we did we were happier. To our right is a guy on a bike with a grill attached to the back. On the side of his bike is a basket of corn. He’ll butter it and grill it for you as an accompaniment to your main course. Next to him is an old lady chopping the tops off of coconuts and serving them with a straw and a spoon. To our left is a small food truck with an overhang and a picnic table. There are three women sitting at the picnic table. They are gossiping, chopping an enormous mound of vegetables and throwing them into a pot. Once this pot is full it will be set on top of the grill to cook all day. It will cook down until it becomes the seasoning/sauce for the seafood. There is one woman in the truck. She serves the cold beer, soda, and plates of rice. The beer is served without cups, the rice is served without utensils, and the seafood is served without napkins. I was glad to be a tourist traveling with wet naps. I now never leave home without them.
As I sit and sipped my beer, waiting for our rice and seafood, watching others eat their corn, sip their coconuts and slurp their fish soups; I could never have imagined that I was about to eat the seafood of my life. That’s what I now refer to this meal as…the seafood of my life. I’ve eaten a lot of seafood in my days, but nothing so basic and so delicious. There are many factors that contributed to the seafood of my life; the setting, the company, the purchase, the preparation…
Fresh Grilled Fish Lunch BaliThe preparation. I forgot to describe the rest of it. Directly next to the ladies at the food truck is an enormous cleaning, cutting, and grilling station. It is all made of piled rock and coral. A big man stands at a slab of rock with a plastic tub resting in the center. This tub acts as the sink. To the left of the sink are the bags of seafood lined up to be clean and sliced. To the right of the sink is the butcher’s cutting station. The seafood gets slapped right on the rock. The rock is gray, but it is stained with blood. There are plenty of blood and innards lying all over this cutting board. The butcher-guy is covered in sweat, fish guts, blood, and water. He cleaned our fish and sliced our prawns and put them into a small grilling cage with a long handle. These seafood cages are stacked on another rock as they await the grill. Just like the cleaning station, the grill is nothing more than rocks piled 3′ high with a grate over top. There are two men working the grill. One is feeding the coals, and tending to the brewing seasoning/sauce and the other is marinating the seafoods, timing them, flipping them when appropriate, and serving them on large metal trays.
When you’re sitting in that environment, with this morsel of fresh, perfectly seasoned, perfectly cooked seafood in your mouth you don’t notice the flies, the trash smell, or any of the mess around you. You’re happy that your face and hands are all dirty. You’re happy that you just hopped out of a boat, the sun is shining, you’re sipping a beer, and grabbing at rice and chunks of fish with your hand, and licking your fingers. It’s almost indescribable. I felt like I had fallen down a dream tunnel, and ended up a character in an exotic travel novel. Phil was so inspired by the moment that he even ate the grilled fish eye right out of the fish’s head.

After this fabulous excursion and lunch we drove back to the surf camp and checked out. In typical Indonesian tourist fashion we had no plan for the rest of the day, not even a clue as to where we would stay next. We walked down the street and around the corner with our luggage in tow. We didn’t even get a ½ mile down the beach and we popped into an adorable resort of bungalows and inquired about the room rates. To our delight they were reasonable, and since we were ready to get back to vacationing we paid for a bungalow and unpacked. Our room was tucked into a corner of the resort, facing a shrine and lush foliage. The room was terribly charming; with a canopy bed, masks and colorful floral paintings decorating the walls. There was a traditional teak cafe set in the corner of the room, and ornately carved, thick, teak wood doors leading outside and to the bathroom. (If there’s one must-have in my dream home it’s doors like these leading into every room.) The room is secured with a fancy padlock and key. We have a private porch also hidden with foliage and a stone wall. At this point in the trip I love all of these details; as they seem to repeat everywhere we go. I’m getting used to the lifestyle. Could I stay here forever?

The hotel has a wonderful pool, restaurant, and bar complete with darts and a pool table. Also not surprisingly, the staff is incredibly friendly.
Phil and I sipped our welcome drinks and entertained some thoughts and plans for the rest of the week. Living in the moment is easy to do in Bali. I’m glad we didn’t plan the entire vacation ahead of time.
That night Phil finally agreed to take me to an Indian restaurant. As you may expect our meal was glorious, the Bintang was cold, and the service was superb. We ate Tandoori Chicken, Yellow Lentils, Tikka Masala, and frsh Garlic Naan. All of the items we ordered were “two thumbs up” on the menu. We couldn’t have gone wrong. In Bali I think it’s actually impossible. We sat 10” from the large, freestanding stone oven where our entire meal was prepared. We actually watched the chef make our naan and cook our chicken. He patted the naan out on the bare stone top of the oven. Funny enough, you could say it was similar to the food preparation of our lunch..only with less water, fish guts, and flies. Actually, the only thing the two have in common is the stone. It was another perfect day.
I have noticed that Phil has developed what I may start referring to as his perfect day habit. When he’s happy and satisfied he tips everyone. I love it and I think it’s masculine and adorable and sincere and brave, all at the same time. Before we left the Indian restaurant he had tipped the baker, the chef, the bus boy, and shook the owners hand. I’m thinking that’s what you do when you love life; you share it with everyone in any way possible.


If you’ve enjoyed this Bali story, please continue to stay tuned. I apologize that there has been such a gap since the last episode and hope the trend does not continue. I loved out trip, enjoyed it to the fullest, and took a lot of notes. I want to make sure I capture every detail here, in my recounts of the days. Rest assured, I plan to complete this series before an entire year goes by. In fact, I may only have three to four more entries.

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