Jul 16, 2021 • 8M

Couchfish: A love letter to Amed

Oh Amed

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Appears in this episode

Stuart McDonald
The Couchfish podcast. Following a day by day itinerary through Southeast Asia—for all those people stranded on their couch.
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It is four in the morning. We left the wooden bungalow doors open overnight, forgoing the chilly air–con in favour of the sea breeze. Outside it is still pitch, but the fishermen are already up and about, pushing their jukung into the sea. The jukung’s keels rumble over the rocks, waking me.

Metres away, the small waves, churned up by last night’s storm, roll against the charcoal grey pebbles. The waves tumble in, then suck back rhythmically. Small round pebbles chatter as some roll back, a couple of inches closer to the sea. Then another wave pushes in, the sound of it and the pebbles reverberate through our room.

Good morning. Photo: Stuart McDonald.

I rise and walk across the bare wooden floor. Broad varnished boards underfoot, then a rug, then more wood. The Javanese joglo creaks as I make my way out, across the deck, down the wobbly steps and onto the lawn.

There’s an overnight dew—it is cool season—and the grass is frosty on my bare feet. Down the curving path, palms overhead, past the pool, glassy water reflects the stars. I sit by the beach, save the waves and the pebble chit chat, it is silent. On the horizon I can see the bright green and white lights of a Pelni cruiser heading south. Perhaps from Makassar bound for Benoa on Bali, or Lombok’s Lembar. It inches across the horizon as the first hues of dawn surface.

A flower a day… Photo: Stuart McDonald.

I know the sun is coming long before I see it. A pink crescent of high cloud stretches across the sky. Dark splotches of low cloud silhouette against the pink. One formation looks like a flying pig entering the jaws of a crocodile. Then they shape–shift in the wind, fading to white as sunrise nears.

To my right, the classic lines of Lombok’s Rinjani emerge from the dark. I can see where the summit must once have sat—the 1257 Samalas eruption is thought to have shaved 500 metres off the peak. The eruption buried much of Lombok and volcanic rocks landed as far afield as Bali and Sumbawa.

Hello Rinjani. This from Lean Beach, not Bunutan. Photo: Stuart McDonald.

The sun is about to break the horizon. Far away flecks of cloud glow incandescent white before vanishing in the orange fire. On the horizon I can see dozens of tiny triangular sails—the local fleet of jukungs. These traditional boats fish for mackerel, pushing out to sea around 4 am and returning around 9 am. On a good day, trawling a single long line, one boat might catch a hundred fish. On a bad day, nothing.

As dawn breaks, the deep red transitions to orange, then, ten minutes later, a bright yellow, then white. The green of the lawn, the blue of the sea, the grey of the stones, the multi–coloured offering in the shrine. They all radiate and glow for that magic twenty minutes.

A fisherman walks by gingerly on the pebbles, I see him every morning, we wave to each other, a “Pagi!” (Morning!) swapped between us. He’s hand–trawling, a wooden float, roughly shaped like a fish, floats thirty metres offshore. He’ll walk the length of the beach twice, every day.

Define tranquility. Photo: Stuart McDonald.

The sun is higher now. I’ve had a few coffees, sipped on a lazy chair overlooking the sea. The fishing fleet is starting to make their way back. Their orange and white sails trimmed in the breeze, the jukung lean against an outrigger. The spars are curved high, when I see one head–on, it brings to mind a person trying to heave themselves out of the water.

A jukung is sailing in fast. At the last moment, the fisher pulls the sail in even tighter to ride over the back of a wave for an assist onto the pebbles. Compared to the light chatter of the waves over the stones, a jukung’s return is an unmistakable grumble. A few men run down, their shoulders under the spars, raising the jukung a little to heave it above the high water mark.

The catch can be variable. Photo: Stuart McDonald.

Then the nets come out, flickering silver in the morning light. Fish glitter, plucked out and thrown into plastic tureens. Women will later sort the catch in the nearby shade. Some kept, the larger fish sold to wholesalers who drive through, buying up the best of the catch. Final destination: South Bali.

By 10 am, the fishing fleet is packed away for another day. I walk the beach, it takes me around an hour end to end. Here and there fishermen tinker with engines, rethread sails or repair nets. There’s plenty of flotsam between the pebbles. Chunks of styrofoam, reused to death plastic bottles, and knotted fishing net offcuts. Further along, the pebbles make way for a span of smooth jet black sand.

The sun shining with torrential rain. Special. Photo: Stuart McDonald.

At the far end of the beach there’s an enormous fairy–tale tree of the type that must once have lined the entire coast. Today it stands alone, right by the pebbles, its enormous roots hang onto boulders and dirt. It looks like it would only need one solid storm to topple it over, but its roots must run deep—I first saw the tree over a decade ago.


I sit beneath it. It is midday now. The sea has eased while the heat has risen—the plentiful shade is welcome. Birds, chattering and whistling, flutter overhead amongst its many strong arms. Now and then, they swoop down looking for cheap snacks in the shallows. I wade into the warm water, relaxing as it rolls around my thighs, the black syrupy sand between my toes. I can’t see another soul in the water.

One for me one for you. Photo: Stuart McDonald.

Later, I cut through an empty resort and walk back along the road, past where I am staying. It is a half hour stroll, not counting the time running from the barking dogs, to a small nasi campur stall. The Ibu knows what I want and slaps it together, wrapping it in a banana leaf then tossing it into a plastic bag. Oh modernity.

I lose the afternoon back at The Kampung. The kids and I play in the cool pool waters, then relax for quiet time. Reading with feet in the pool, lounging in the dining sala or snoozing in our joglos. It is still baking hot outside and the shade and slight breeze mean we don’t even need the ceiling fans.

Sunset from Bunutan’s eastern headland. Photo: Stuart McDonald.

Amed is a series of bays on Bali’s northeast coast, all in the shadow of Gunung Agung. Bunutan, where we are staying is midway along the coastline. Each bay bookended by headlands, the first few offer spectacular views to Agung. Depending on the time of the year, the sun sets to the left, right or directly behind the peak. A mercantile bar has fenced off much of the closest viewpoint, so I don’t bother walking up there. It doesn’t matter though, the light show reaches everywhere.

As with dawn, there’s a magic thirty minutes where everything glows. It is low tide and the waves are rolling in over basketball–sized, seaweed–covered stones. The seaweed is luminescent in the light, glowing against the stones that are now jet black thanks to the sea. Reflecting rays dance across the water.

Rinse and repeat daily. Photo: Stuart McDonald.

Then, like dawn in reverse, the show is over and I’m plunged into darkness. Above, the first of the stars glitter to life in the sun’s farewell rays.

The Kampung lies on Bunutan Beach, Amed, Bali, Indonesia. One day I’ll get back there.