The idea of changing one’s life is an interesting thing to ponder as a wannabe philosopher. For myself, it has been a question of how a quintessential college educated career monkey, office jockey, cubicle robot, or whatever you want to call it, can change transform his life into that of a surfer who chases waves to wherever they are best in the world at any given moment. In traveling, I do my best to be a sponge and absorb as much wisdom as I can from wise people that I meet along the way. One of the wisest people that I have ever met is Carlos Ehlert.
Carlos is a talented photographer and spends the majority of his time traveling to remote, beautiful, locations to surf and capture images. He has been on the road for a few years in places like Indonesia, Central America, South America, and India. He has spent some time in The Himalayas photographing, exploring, and studying with Buddhist monks. He was born in raised in Guatemala, one of the most crime-ridden places in the Americas, and to make it even more dangerous, he has blonde hair that makes him stick out like a sore thumb.
According to Carlos, upon graduating from college, “a mind flip event happened that drove him to look for the truth of happiness and the truth of himself.”Instead of “sitting, working, and waiting for life to finish,” he gave up everything, sold all his material possessions, put the cash in his pocket, and boarded a plane and took off for destinations unknown to “target harmony, happiness, and truth.”
Carlos played an instrumental role in my life. He has the demeanor of someone that is just as much as home with Buddhist monks as he is with amped up professional surfer or egotistical weekend warriors on surfing holiday. He has a presence that is always calming, always positive, always happy, and always viewed within the healthiest of perspectives. I had the privilege of traveling with him for about six weeks through the Indonesian islands of Java, Bali, Lombok, and Sumbawa. Together, we surfed what are arguably the world’s best left hand waves-waves with names like G-Land, Desert Point, Super Sucks, Scar Reef, and Uluwatu, among others. During that time, we began to refer to each other simply as Mr. Bagus and Senior Bagus.
“Bagus” is the Indonesian word for good/nice/cool. It is often the only word tourists learn when visiting Bali or other places in Indonesia. It became a bit of a joke in its overuse as well as the abuse of its versatility as a word by tourists passing through Indonesia. It’s not unheard of for a tourist to attempt to have a conversation with an Indonesian using nothing more than the word “bagus.” So, in the spirit of us not taking anything but waves seriously, I became” Mr. Bagus” and Carlos became “Senior Bagus.” Why? I don’t know-perhaps simply because it made us laugh every time we said it.
I met Carlos about three months into a journey that I thought was going to be a one-month vacation in Indonesia, and I was still trying to make sense of how it had played out that way. I just let go of my plans and started having the time of my life and three months later I was on the road with Senior Bagus tracking down world class waves in remote locations. In my time with Carlos I was at a point where I needed to make a decision of whether or not to go back to California and get back into my Old Life and my ‘career’ in the commercial real estate business, find another way to make money, or just keep going on the Road to Nowhere. The New Life consisted of some of the best times I’ve ever had, but how could I continue on? Traveling costs money. Surfboards cost money. Plane tickets cost money. Carlos funds his travels with photography, which is a career that is very complimentary to a desire to travel. But how could I do it? What good are my commercial real estate office monkey skills when I am camped out in some jungle in Indonesia surfing perfect waves?
I wondered out loud to Carlos one quiet evening on a porch in Bali after we had returned from a three week trip to Sumbawa-an off the beaten path destination in Eastern Indonesia. “How do you do it? How do you make this your life? My money is going to run out sooner or later. How can I make this my life?” I asked. “Just keep going” he said. Just those three words. They say that brevity is the soul of wit, but it’s not a stretch to say it is the soul of wisdom as well.
“Life is like a spiral” he continued. “As you move through life you make waves around you that spiral out like a spider web and supports you in your life. You make new connections, have new ideas, make new friends, and if you keep going it becomes your life. You find a way. It becomes more natural in time. It becomes easier and more natural until it simply becomes your life. You grow into your New Life.”
I stared into the quiet Bali night pondering the meaning of this. In the darkness, a cow was rustling around in the bushes on the other side of the fence that was just outside of the porch we were sitting on. Carlos’ words were a foreign concept for someone who had relied on ‘plans’ for most of his life. Those who know me know how those ‘plans’ worked. “Mr. Bagus,” Carlos said in his thick Spanish accent, “you made a big step when you left home. You are surrounded with travelers, but you are not like them. Your journey is very, very different. They all know where they are going. They are all going home someday, back to their jobs, back to their schools, back to their lives after they leave this place. Their spirals will end there. Whether they are here for two weeks or six months, they know this life is temporary, so they act like it. They know they will leave their friends here, their favorite places, and their experiences. It’s a break from their lives, it isn’t their lives. You, on the other hand Mr. Bagus, are on a different journey. You don’t know where your destination is at. You didn’t leave your old life on hold back at home waiting for you. You don’t have your old life to go back to anymore-you made it that way when you quit your job, moved out of your house, and sold all your stuff. This is your life. It can be the beginning of a new one, or just a break from the old one. You aren’t on vacation, you are wandering the world looking for your New Life. You are on a Road to Nowhere, and you have come this far because you had faith that it would lead you to a better place, a place where you wanted to be, and so far it has. You thought you were going to be gone for one month, and instead you’ve spent four months surfing the best waves in the world. Your spiral has grown, and now this is like home to you. Bali is your home. This has become your life. So don’t worry about the future, just the next step. Think about your next destination, and you will find a way to get there. Keep finding your way to the next step, and sooner or later something will show itself to you as a way to make money and keep yourself on the road chasing waves. You will make more friends. You will find ways to get where you need to go. The life will become easier as you go, and you will find more opportunities as you go. This will become your life-if you want it to…”