Nov 5, 2017
Today was probably the scariest & saddest moments of my life. I was there when it happened, in the water, taking surf lessons, too. I was in the same water, doing the same thing as he was, it could have been me. After about an hr into our surf lesson, a huge bolt of lightning came down from the dark, ominous sky & struck another surfer. He died there, on the beach, the same beach where I was surfing. I saw him, I saw his girlfriend collapse in shock, I heard her screams.
Let me back up a bit, and give you context as to what I’m speaking about…
Nov 4, 2017
Today was mostly a day of travel. I was leaving Gili T and going to Canggu, a beach town in Bali. I said goodbye to the girls I met, hopefully I would meet up with Hannah & Anna in Canggu, they’re going to be there for a day before heading back to the UK. As I was filling my water bottle before heading out, I met Kirsty, she was also filling up her water bottle. We established that we were taking the same ferry at the same time to Bali and so we decided to go together.
The ferry to Bali took a little longer. We stopped at Gili Air, Gili Meno & Lombok, which took probably 2.5-3 hours all together. I ended up taking a nice nap on the boat, I don’t know what it is with me and naps but I seem to take them often now. It might be because of the weather, the alcohol, or the fact that I like sleep, either way I’m getting a good rest in. When we arrived in Bali, we were bombarded with people asking us if we wanted to take a car to our destination. Our ferry ticket included a shuttle to the town of our final destination, however, I learned that Canggu would be the last stop (after Kuta, Legian, and Seminyak) and would take 3-4 hrs. Kirsty and I decided to take the private car, it was a little extra but it would drop us off at our hostel and we wouldn’t be on a crowded bus with a lot of people.
The private car ended up being a good idea. We got AC and just got to sprawl out. Kirsty was dropped off in Seminyak, and even though it was only 2-3 miles away, it took me a good hour to get to Canggu. The traffic in South Bali is terrible. You won’t move for 20-30 minutes, it’s just an insane concept of traffic. But I was finally dropped off at my hostel, Lay Day, in the evening. The atmosphere was kind of intimidating, so I just ordered food, booked a surf lesson at 1pm for tomorrow, tried to walk around, ate more food, and ended the night with some Netflix.
Nov 5, 2017
It was a slow morning getting up. I walked around and got some money from the ATM, got a falafel plate for lunch, and got ready for surf lessons. The surf instructor said that I would be joining 3 other girls for lessons that day. We all caught a cab to the beach and met our instructor there. He gave us rash guards, introduced us to 3 more instructors, one for each of us and gave us our boards. They were very kind and carried our really heavy foam boards to the beach while we carried their’s. They taught us how to get up on the board and paddle, what to do when a big wave came, and showed us the proper stance.
We got in the water, excited and ready to “surf” (aka wipe out, we were all newbies). Alexa, Lexie, and Shaleen were the girls I was taking lessons with, and we were all so happy to be there. The sky was dark, it was raining, but it didn’t seem like a storm was coming. The waves were good that day, pretty big for beginners like us, but really fun to ride if you got up. I maybe got up once or twice, but it was really hard for some reason. The waves were rough, the water was crowded and when I did get up I was nervous I was going to run into someone. There was lightning off in the distance, but we only saw one flash. I asked my instructor if we should get out of the water and that I was a swimmer. During swim practice, if there was any indication of lightning or thunder, we had to get out no matter what. The instructor told me it was okay and that we’d be fine.
Maybe 15-20 minutes later, it happened. A huge lightning bolt came down and struck about 100-200 meters in front of me. It was the closest I’ve been to a lightning strike, and the sound that accompanied it was the loudest boom I’ve ever heard in my life. The lightning strike was almost blinding and it happened in a split of a second. The noise shook my entire body and almost knocked me off my board. From my perspective, I thought the strike hit land (mind you, I was blind because I didn’t have my contacts on and actually trying to locate this strike was difficult since it happened in milliseconds). I was facing towards land, on my board, while my instructor was facing me. His facial expression once it hit was of pure shock and scaredness. Out of innocence (and probably shock) I started laughing at him, saying that his face was really funny.
After talking it over with the other instructors, he told it was time to go (even though we’d be ending 45 minutes early). He said we would take a break at the beach and to catch one last wave in. Me and Alexa took the same wave in, just laying on our boards laughing, enjoying our last wave in, oblivious to what had just happened. Once we hit shore, we saw it: a huge group of people surrounding a body and a lady being consoled by others as she screamed out of complete horror. Lexie came running up to us, in tears as she cried, “someone’s just been struck by lightning!” We dragged our boards on shore, and walked slowly towards the hoard of people. The lady who was being consoled kept screaming & collapsing in pain. “PLEASE, PLEASE, NO!! PLEAAAASEEEE!” she sobbed and yelled. Tourists were trying desperately trying to resuscitate the lifeless body. It was white, almost blue, and I couldn’t come to terms with what was happening. I started to sob, overwhelmed with the fact that he might not make it, overwhelmed with the magnitude of the situation, overwhelmed with what exactly I was witnessing & experiencing.
Once on land, the instructors also were trying to grasp what happened. We walked to where we put our stuff, somberly and still in shock. People who were out in the water surfing as well said that they also felt the shock of the lightning, they were probably closer to the guy. At that point I didn’t know whether he was walking towards shore in the water or sitting on his board, but it was clear that he was in fact in the ocean. Lexie was in complete shock, she was closer to the shore when it happened and one of the first people to see what was happening. She said that she couldn’t stay here, and that we needed to leave. So we took a taxi back to the hostel, shaken and sad.
The rest of the day I was just trying to come to terms with what happened: realizing that it could have been any one of us in the water that day, realizing how lucky I was to be alive, realizing how close I actually was to that lightning bolt. After a long shower, the instructor came back to the hostel. He said that the guy didn’t make it, the ambulance took a long time to get to the beach and they didn’t even have the right equipment. Even at the beach there were people (mostly Westerners) running around asking for a defibrillator, but the locals didn’t know what that was. The news of the guy dying from his wounds completely broke me. The instructor said that the lightning had hit him in the back, either his back or the back of his head. Alexa said that she saw his chest, blue and like jelly, almost like all of his insides were fried. The girls were leaving that day to Ubud, so I didn’t really have anyone to relate to or heal with.
Patrick and Stephen, who I’d met in Pai, were also at the hostel. I tried to talk to them, hoping that maybe a familiar face could consol me. But I just found it extremely difficult to socialize. I drank, hoping it would take my mind off of it, but nothing felt right. I felt like I was forcing myself to have a good time, to try and forget, but I realized that I didn’t want to forget. I didn’t want to drink and have a good time knowing that his girlfriend, the same girl I’d seen riding the same waves as me, was grieving & mourning. I didn’t want to enjoy myself knowing his girlfriend’s holiday was over, knowing that they’d probably have to ship his body back to his respective country, knowing the pain and agony his family would be in. He went to Bali to have the time of his life, to relax and enjoy, and instead it was his time to go.
After 3 Long Island ice tea’s and 2 beers, I still couldn’t muster the energy to go out. It didn’t seem right. So instead I watched Netflix on my iPad and went to sleep.
Nov 6, 2017
The next morning I switched hostels. It was probably best, I needed a new environment anyways. I took a taxi to my new hostel, Tipsy Gypsy. This hostel was closer to the main strip, something I wanted (because I’m still afraid to rent a motorbike after all the stories I’ve heard and bandages I’ve seen). I dropped my bags off and walked to the Main Street. I settled on this cafe called “Garden Gangastas” it looked very hipster-like and healthy, something I’m all for. Once I sat down I heard “Melissa!” It was Hannah and Anna, and I was so excited to see them. It was fate, probably the universe telling me “here, heal” because man did I need them. We’d plan to meet up the night before but they missed their earlier boat and I “couldn’t be arsed” (British slang for couldn’t be bothered) going out that night. But here they were, at the same exact brunch spot at the same exact time.
I’d texted Anna the night before telling her about my traumatic experience, so she already knew what I was going through. It was just nice to see a familiar face and open up as to how I was feeling. They’re also 2 really great girls who I wish I had more time with (remember I met them on Gili T), but they were leaving that day back to the UK. Nevertheless I was very happy that I saw them at a time I really needed them.
The rest of the day consisted of a lot of retail therapy. At this point I didn’t care about the price or space in my bag–my dad would be coming in a few days so I wouldn’t have to spend $ and I could unload a lot of my souvenirs on to him. I also wanted to look for a place to do yoga, I needed to meditate and get my mind right. After a lot of shopping I got ready for yoga at 6. This yoga was more of a meditative sesssion, which was exactly what I needed. During the class I realized it was hard for me to focus, I kept fidgeting, I couldn’t be still or be completely relaxed.
Back at the hostel, I saw that there was barely anyone, not that I met anyone there earlier, but I did wanted to go out because I needed to be distracted. I saw that there were about 4 or so people at the table, I asked if they were going out and they let me know they were in a few minutes. I was a little sweaty from yoga but I said fuck it and got ready really quickly. There were about 6 of us, only 2 motorbikes, but we all squeezed onto them, riding 3 per motorbike. We went to Old Man’s, the bar right in front of the beach where it all happened. I knew I needed to enjoy myself, so I gave myself a tab and ordered the cheapest alcohol (other than beer), which was their local wine. It was pretty gross but I had 3 glasses, along with 4 shots. At this point I was feeling pretty good and enjoying the people I was with. We walked down to the beach once Old Man’s closed to this bar called Sand Bar, a bar literally on the beach. This was so fun, I mean partying on the beach with blaring music, your feet in the water and toes in the sand. While this was the same beach where it happened, it was dark, I couldn’t really see where it actually happened. Plus, I wanted to enjoy myself and finally enjoy Bali. I ended up going home earlier than most of the people in my hostel, and passing out.
Nov 7, 2017
It’s a little hard to sleep in at this hostel–you can hear everything in the common area, and people are constantly coming out and in. I ended up getting brunch/lunch with one of the guys from the hostel and met up with some of the girls I met at the other hostel. After brunch, I went back to the beach where it all happened. I tried to enjoy myself there, but I found that I couldn’t really enjoy the rest of my time there. I literally walked on the beach, realized I couldn’t sit here all day, and walked back. As I was walking back I stared at the surfers for a long time. I just stopped and stared, watching them try to catch the nonexsistent waves (it was a really calm day), trying to forget but at the same time remember.
The rest of the day I just shopped, went back to the hostel, napped for about 3 hours trying to remember/forget everything that happened in that split second that day. Once I finally woke up, I realized the rest of the hostel was going out that night to Taco Tuesday but not until late. I was hungry so I got a snack at an empty restaurant. I guess I like empty restaurants while I’m solo, I don’t know why. Once back at the hostel, Deo, one of the local guys that worked there told me I needed to go out, so we went to Old Man’s to meet up with the rest of the guys from the hostel. From there we went to Taco Tuesday, where literally everyone from our hostel was. I met Katie, a girl who was in my hostel room in Dalat. She was there with her boyfriend, but I saw her at Taco Tuesday solo. She said her boyfriend went back to California, and that she missed him so much but she wanted to have fun tonight.
After a lot of tacos (luckily no tattoos) we went back to Old Man’s where Katie and I had a fun night. She’s so crazy and full of energy, only 19, so she helped me have a good time. She made me shotgun my first beer, we chugged Smirnoff Ice’s, took shots, and petted dogs!!! She was so fun and crazy, it made me forget what I was dealing with and just be in the moment. I really enjoyed her company and I wish I wasn’t leaving the next day (but also kinda excited to be out of dorms and into hotels). I was meeting my dad the net morning at the W. He was meeting me to spend time with me and have his own, nice, well-deserved vacation.
Sorry I haven’t blogged in forever. I took the vacation with dad as a time to refuel, relax, and get my mind right. I didn’t mind finally being lazy and lounging around, in fact, that’s what I wanted to do. Being on the go all the time and not being comfortable was wearing on me, and I’m glad I had this time to reevaluate and just mindlessly enjoy myself. After that traumatizing experience, I realized a lot of things (near death experiences will do that to do you). To have time for yourself, to do whatever you want whenever you want because life is short, to live life with no regrets, to hug your friends and family all the time and to tell them that you love them constantly, to seriously count your blessings every day. I still can’t come to terms that it could have been me that day, but I take that as a sign to live every day like it’s your last, because you never know when your life will be cut short.
My next blog post will probably just be a brief description of what we did with more pictures, since I didn’t do much except relax. Thank you everyone for following my journey, I hope you took something from this post just like I took something out of that experience. My next journey will be with my family in the Philippines and I’m so, so excited for that! So stay tuned for the next episode of MELISSA’S SOUTHEAST ASIA BACKPACKING ADVENTURE!
P.S. If you’d like to read more about what happened that day, a lot of new sites have reported about it (mostly surfing sites). Below are some articles:
Note, after reading these articles after some time, it was informed that 2 people died, the Westerner and the local giving him surf lessons. May they Rest In Peace.