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Couchfish Day 381: Always Chat With Your Landscaper
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Couchfish Day 381: Always Chat With Your Landscaper

And adopt dogs
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A quick word of introduction. My name is Stuart McDonald and this is Couchfish—the perfect tub of ice-cream for the traveller stranded on the couch. The newsletter has both a paid edition which traces a fantasy itinerary through Southeast Asia, and a free one that covers, well, everything else. If you’d like to support me finding more tourism stuff to moan about, please consider becoming a paid subscriber. Thank you.


I’ve always wanted a beach house, but little did I know my route to one would be a puppy. A few years ago I got one of the latter, an accidental one. Fostered upon us by a pair of Sam’s yoga students who’d rescued her abandoned on a Bali building site, she was a family dog, but in no short time she became mine—or me hers, or whatever. Today, we’re pretty much inseparable. Her name is Skye Govinda—no, don’t ask.

Where we live in South Bali, we have a small garden area beside the pool. It is one of those super compact gardens, but the soil is so fertile even a gardener as inept as me can develop a thriving jungle. Controlling it, well that’s another question, and when Skye arrives, she sees the muddy mess as a perfect canvas to build her scale model of the Somme. Long story short, we get a landscaper in to swap out the Somme for a Batuan.

Not quite a Batuan, but it will do. Photo: Stuart McDonald.

The landscaper’s name is Agung. He’s Balinese, and midway through the de-Somming of the garden, we’re chatting, and Medewi in West Bali comes up. Best known for its surfing, it’s roughly halfway between our house and Bali’s western ferry port at Gilimanuk.

Chatting with Agung about the area, he mentions he has a beach house there, “oh that must be nice,” I say. A moment later he asks if I’d like to buy it. I laugh, do I look like I could afford a beach house? He grabs his phone, and after flicking through a bazillion plant snaps, hands it to me.

Garden needs work. Photo: Stuart McDonald.

The house is a joglo, a Javanese wooden house which he purchased in Java, dismantled, and shipped to Bali. He plonked it on some of his land and listed it on Airbnb, expecting to hit paydirt. Things didn’t quite work out, and in the two years since, he’s had one guest. He’s keen to offload it.

Joglos come in all shapes and sizes. Traditionally they’re associated with Java’s aristocratic class, but they need not be so grand. Boiled down they’re a square house with four inner columns holding up the roof with everything else hanging off it. For years they’ve been popularised as an “authentic” slice of holidaying, much like what you see with the wooden houses in Cambodia and Thailand.

Plenty of rice out back. Photo: Stuart McDonald.

On the fancy to not-grand-at-all time-space-continuum, Agung’s joglo falls off the end of the not-grand-at-all side of things. Think barn. The photos though, don’t illustrate how close to the beach it actually is. For that, he has a brief and bouncy walk-through video. It seems like the beach is right out front, and by that I mean Right Out Front—it is an absolute beachfront house. Despite this, he’s had one live body in it. What’s the catch? An abattoir or sheet metal factory next door? I ask more questions.

I ask where exactly the house is. He’s vague, but confirms he has a clear title for the land. I pour over Google Maps and find somewhere that may be it, the beach out front, farmland for hundreds of metres on the other sides. I ask if this is it, but he’s unsure, the satellite view confuses him. He rattles off directions related to a temple and some warungs, but this doesn’t make much sense to me. He’s talking about a location further west of Medewi than I expect and I’m unfamiliar with the area.

Like the garden, the bathroom needed some work. Photo: Stuart McDonald.

We give up on maps and Agung shows me the listing on Airbnb. To be fair, the photos do not show it in its best light. The solitary guest has given Agung a long letter of recommendation, so I read it. She pulls her punches a bit, noting that the house is “still being built,” but later mentions how quiet it is, that during her month-long stay (she’s a writer apparently), she never sees another foreigner on the beach. The locals in the closest village stare a lot, she writes, but are friendly. Starry nights and blissful silence—save the surf, get a mention.

Yes, the shack is a shack, but putting aside its absolute shackery, everything else sounds perfect. I’m one of simple pleasures—and I know shacks can be unshacked. I love it and, as I wrote up top, have always wanted a beach house, but again I tell Agung I’ve not the means to buy one. This wouldn’t be the first time I’ve been down the track towards beach house living—first in Thailand, and then Cambodia—is this to be a case of third time lucky?

The tub in the new bathroom will be more useful once I get hot water. Photo: Stuart McDonald.

“Just lease it then,” he says, “one year, two years, twenty, I don’t care, up to you.”

I’ve not even considered this option, and as soon as I ask for a number, his eyes glint, he knows he has me. He throws out an opening gambit, “nego of course,” he laughs. We agree to meet up at the house the next day.

Not 24 hours later we’re sitting on the back steps, looking over rice fields that run out for miles towards the western tail of Bali’s mountains. Behind us, thirty footsteps from the front stairs, the surf crashes in. The gardens are wild and overgrown, with bougainvillea covering much of the front of the house and ready to leap onto the roof. It’s hard to tell how big the block is for the garden.

Dawn, with Mount Batukaru in the distance. Photo: Stuart McDonald.

Agung introduces me to a local farmer who keeps an eye on the place for him. Then comes his offsider, and the offsider’s offsider. We drink coffee and eat watermelon. There’s chit chat, but also a lot of just sitting. For me I’m soaking it up, but for the locals, they live it, and they’re baffled why I’m even interested. There’s no air-con nor fan, no hot water, and just a few light bulbs. One asks, why would you want to live in this? I want to tell him it’s my antidote to the south—an area of the island I’ve drown to dislike with a passion—but I don’t know the Indonesian word for antidote. Instead I tell them I like simple stuff. They nod, but they clearly think I’m mad.

To a point they’re on the money as the shack is in a right state. The bamboo bathroom walls have collapsed, replaced by a wall of ferns and palms. The roof has some leaks. The water pump looks like it came from the Titanic. The “kitchen” is anything but. You get the idea, but it is obvious the bones are solid—at least to my utterly un-expert eyes.

Skye gets her reward every afternoon as well. Photo: Stuart McDonald.

The others drift off and Agung and I haggle a little bit over the price, but not much to be honest. He tells me I can stay there for a month for free to decide, but we both know I’ve already made my mind up.

It takes me a month to hack back the boggainvillea—and I’ve got ten years to clean up the rest. Third time lucky indeed.


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The Couchfish podcast. Following a day by day itinerary through Southeast Asia—for all those people stranded on their couch.
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