23 March, 2020 23 March, 2020

Scent of an Island

Bali doesn’t have one scent, it has one thousand, even more. It starts and ends with the smell of peanuts – that small bag they give you when your flight hits 40,000 feet.

And then every time you’re there, you recognize more and more: each one another bridge between your memory banks and the emerald jewel of surfing. Shiny like a new lover for some, old and used for others. Overcrowded, too expensive, too busy, but still worth it for the more than 7 million people who will visit her every year.

Bali has constant scents: the muddy wetness of rice paddies, the tang of sambal meeting sweet soy sauce in nasi goreng, mie goreng and babi guling, the sweetness of frangipani flowers and banana leaves. That weird mix of sex wax and carbon monoxide as you weave your scooter. Of Bali coffee. Of turmeric and cinnamon and fresh coconuts and old wrinkly banknotes.

And then there are those fragrances that shift with her moods. During Christmas, when the rain squalls bang with thunder under their grey cloaks and every tree is heavy with leaves, She smells like lightening and rain and the steam that rises when the sun comes back out. That’s also when She smells of baby oil from the Russians on their tanning beds down at Nusa Dua, and of wafts of incense from the old temples in Sanur, while in your nostrils there’s that burn from the chlorine of the pool you spend your time in waiting, waiting, waiting for waves.


When the trade winds start to whisper, her scent is of melted Easter eggs and the fizz of hydrogen peroxide as the first heavy swells smash those who had no idea it would be this big yet. Competition season kicks and She smells of the suncream the pro’s were paid to use that week and of the beer and champagne stained dance floors of The Cliff House where Carl Cox will still be playing when you sneak past to beat the crowds at first light.

From June to September the daily offshores carry the scents of massage oil rubbed on tired limbs because She. Just. Won’t.
Stop. Of banana pancakes for breakfast and Bintangs for dinner. Of aloe gel curing sunburn and mercurochrome on reef cuts.

Of so much sweat from all those steps you just walked down. Of fresh salt and barnacles as She washes in the foam of a billion barrels.

In October your nostrils fill with Japanese neoprene and dragon fruit as the frothers leave satiated and the yoga yuppies strike a pose. She smells of hit or miss and so many offerings to as many gods as the trade winds give up, leaving the sun unhindered to bake her dry.

Then slowly the clouds start to come in, and you smell rain again… And under all of these notes and hints and flavours and scents, there lies the one constant summed up by my 7 year old: “Bali? It smells like the ocean.”

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