By, Nick Bruechle
I found her at Balangan.
I’d sailed up the Western Australian coast on the 67 foot yacht I’d ‘liberated’, stopping at every port
to stock up and search for other survivors. Everywhere I went I was met with the stench of death and
the howl of loneliness, and found no other living person. The only thing that kept me sane was the
regular surf stops along the way.
When I made Bali, I dropped anchor in Jimbaran Bay and spent the afternoon standing at the gunwale,
scanning the island for signs of human life. Weeks had passed since the wipeout, and I could see the
furious growth on the green island already taking over. There were many more birds in the air, fish in
the clear waters, and other life like turtles and even dugongs, than I’d ever seen.
Next morning, I thought I might take the tender up to Uluwatu for a look and maybe a surf. If that
wasn’t to my liking, I could meander back via Padang Padang, Impossibles and Bingin. But as I
passed Balangan I noticed a column of dark smoke rising up from one of the empty hotels at the top
of the cliff that hangs like doom over the beach. I stopped the boat and watched. It looked like one of
the thousands of rubbish burn-offs that I’d seen on the Bali coast over many years – thick, possibly
toxic and obviously confined to a well-ordered pile.
I set about securing the tender outside the surf line. The breeze was almost non-existent, the ocean
was that wonderful oily glass consistency that makes the best Bali days so perfect, and a three or four
foot swell was running. It was hard to see from the back of the waves how big they really were or how
well they were breaking, but my object was to get to shore so I wasn’t concerned about the surf
While I was doing this, I watched the dogs on the beach playing, scavenging for food and sleeping.
And that’s when I saw her. She ran down from the front steps at the Point Hotel right under the lee of
the headland, with a board on her arm, and started picking her way across the reef as quickly as she
could. I grabbed my board and paddled towards her, and waited just in the take-off zone.
She was breathless when she made it out to where I was, partly from the exertion and partly from the
excitement. She was trembling. “You’re alive,” she said between gasps of breath.
“You too,” I said with a broad grin.
“Are you alone?” she asked. I nodded.
She nodded. “Gone. All gone,” she said. She was incredibly beautiful, probably a few years younger
than me, and spoke English with a very slight French accent. What are the odds, I asked myself, of
being left alone in the world in a place like this with a woman like that?
For the next couple of hours, we surfed and talked. Neither of us had any idea why every other person
on the planet had dropped dead within the same 24 hour period. “Greed,” she said. “Karma.” I was
reluctant to admit that I was probably as greedy as anyone else who’d been alive and living in my
situation, and no doubt had just as much karma stored up as any of them.
“Nature reclaiming her own,” I said, and she agreed.
She told me that over many weeks, armed with only a wheelbarrow and a minivan, she’d gathered up
every one of the bodies littered in and around the Balangan area – all the way up to the big Nirmala on
Jalan Uluwatu, and cremated them all in massive fires. She said it was awful and sickening,
particularly the longer it went on, but at least she could live there knowing she’d done what she could.
She’d started a vegetable garden, but she still made regular trips to the supermarkets and empty
restaurant and hotel kitchens for dried and canned foods. I marvelled at her strength.
Balangan that day was the best I’d seen it. Lining up perfectly at a playful four foot, with some hollow
sections and some fast turn opportunities, the water like crystal and the sky like a blue diamond. We
talked and surfed, and I watched her decimate every wave she took. She had poise and presence, style
to burn and turns to envy, and nothing seemed to ruffle her surface, which was as calm as the glassy
We spent the night at her place and she cooked for me, the most wonderful and fulfilling meal I’d
ever eaten. I was sure I’d actually died myself, and this was heaven. We made love while the roosters
crowed, the cows lowed, and the frogs hummed outside.
Every day for several weeks was the same – flawless waves, sometimes smaller, sometimes with
consequence, deep, honest conversations, the effervescent beauty of Bali all around us and in us, and
a happiness only lightly marred by the knowledge that we two were alone in the world.
I took her up to Uluwatu and we surfed Outside Corner together, and she was as fearless as she was
skilled. She speared fish, milked cows, grew and prepared our food. I made fishing nets, ploughed the
hard earth, and scouted for the essential items we needed.
But there’s something in a man that can’t accept perfection. I still had my yacht, and I wanted her to
come with me and search for others like us. She couldn’t understand my need to do that. “Why?” she
“To find out if we’re really alone,” I said.
“Does it matter? We’re together.”
It mattered to me. I couldn’t convince her to come, but I was resolved. One dark, cloudy morning,
with a light onshore breeze chopping the two foot swell into crumbling closeouts, I left her and went
back to my yacht. I left Bali that day, stopping only to restock the boat with fuel and whatever else I
could find in the rotting horror of Benoa Harbour. I crossed the Indian Ocean, stopping along the
coast of Java, Panaitan Island, the Mentawai, Banyak and Telo Islands, across to Sri Lanka and on to
Madagascar and Africa, to surf and to search. Here and there I found people alive; nowhere was I
welcomed and in most places I was threatened.
At last I turned east again and sailed as direct a line as I could for Bali, hoping against hope that she
would still be there. When after five long years of fruitless wandering I returned to Balangan, my
heart was heavy with fear that she would be gone. Perhaps dead, possibly moved on. Who knew?
I dropped anchor just beyond the surfline, and looked, as I had done so often in so many places, for
those telltale signs of human habitation. And then I saw them. Two of them, standing on the beach
waving at me. She was there, and so was my son.
Since that day, we’ve never left our bay. We surf when Balangan is on, and when it isn’t we enjoy its
beauty and its soul and each other. We’ve never seen anyone else, and we could not be happier.