Snowfall in Bali

Dozens of surfers currently sit in Bali's notorious Kerobokan Prison awaiting execution on drug-related charges. Here are their cautionary tales.

| posted on May 18, 2013

It's waves like this that draw surfers to Bali—and compel some to find any way possible to stay. Photo: Lowe-White

Such was the experience of South American Alberto, who’d come to Bali chasing waves, then over-stayed his visa by months, racking up huge debts. When a Peruvian coke boss he met at a nightclub offered to pay his bills and give him cash to burn if he did a drug run, he jumped at the chance.

“It meant going to Peru, picking up a bag of cocaine, and returning to Bali,” he recalls. “I did it because I realized there were a lot of people doing this, and I needed the money, so I took my chance. I crossed the globe, picked up this bag with 2 and a half kilos, put it on my back, and headed back.”

Anxiety-riddled, he sat on the edge of his seat for the entire 48 hours. Every lingering stare or minor hiccup was amplified into a potential death sentence. When his name was called over the loudspeakers during a transit stop at Buenos Aires Airport, he was sure that life as he knew it was over.

“I thought, ‘This is it. I’m gone. Oh fuck, they’ve found it for sure,’” he says. “My heart was banging. I was looking everywhere for somewhere to run. Then I thought, ‘I’m going to just play dumb.’ I made up a quick story in my head: ‘I exchanged my surfboard for this bag with a guy, Pablo, and I didn’t know the shit was there.’ I would stick with the story to the end.”

As he flashed his boarding pass to re-board the plane, he expected the police to pounce. “I was getting mentally ready to be tortured,” he recalls. “I’d heard that’s what they do. I was just waiting for the Federal Police to come. Then the stewardess came and said, ‘Oh, excuse me, are you Mr. Lopez? We have a little problem, we overbooked the plane, and sold your seat to a family traveling together, so would you mind if we moved you to business class?’ I was thinking, ‘Thank you, God, I’m never ever going to do this again.’”

When he finally arrived in Bali and walked out into the blazing sun, he was ecstatic. But for him, even that rush and the promise of quick cash, wasn’t worth the risk of trafficking through airports. Instead, he used his new contacts to begin a shiny new career as a freelance agent for anyone with drugs to sell—from random surfers with a bag of coke to Indonesia’s biggest players. He quickly got a name, and got busy.

Being in Bali allowed him to use the thousands of hotel rooms as dispensaries. He’d often rent one to stash the drugs and another to do the deal, a tactic used by most Western dealers. Sometimes they’d even ask hotel receptionists to unwittingly hold a bag of drugs in storage for a few days. Sometimes, the night before a job, he’d hire two cars and park one in a shopping center parking lot. The next day he’d drive the other car into the lot with the cocaine in his car door, then switch cars and change his sunglasses, clothes, and hat before driving out. If cops had been watching, they’d be still waiting for him to drive out, long after he’d done the deal.

“There was a glamorous side to this business,” he says. “You’d feel very important; there was all this fantasy surrounding it. There was a time I could say, ‘If you snorted coke here in Bali, there was a 50 percent chance it would have come through my hands. We had that much here, and we had the best quality. A lot of people made millions through my hands. Whenever I was going to do business, I would become a completely different person, like James Bond or whatever. I would do that secret-agent thing until the deal was done, then go back to my normal life as a surfer, just cruise and surf. I had parallel lives.”

  • Walter Sandusky

    Poor little surfers…my tears fall like snow, oh no, make that rain……..

  • ciccio

    Holy Guacamole

  • Seabass120


  • SR

    easy life does not exist

  • Patrick Smyth

    Sad waste of young talent.

  • squidley

    Brazilians, not the sharpest tools in the shed LOL. Do the crime, do the time.

    • Seaman

      At least honest brasilians are well received any and everywhere. Cant say the same for gringos…

      • jiblet65

        well you’re right about the gringos but not so sure about your assessment of the Brazilians. I’ve met a few very cool ones but I’d have to say the majority of the ones I’ve been around are very egotistical and obnoxious. you could say the same about gringos but maybe you see my point about sweeping generalizations. I’m a FL cracker but when I go places I make a point of learning some of the native language. I’ve taken plenty of Spanish classes, taught myself how to speak some French and Italian. for all the horror stories I’ve heard about traveling in France, especially Paris I had no problems with attitude. respect and manners go a long way on the road.

      • John Littel

        Yea I hate the gringos as well and I am a gringo. Hows that mate for a little gringo bashing…

    • minime

      haha, another anonymous repressed gringo that lost his girlfriend to a brazilian… poor squidley!

    • Ray Caruso

      I think it’s not that sharp to judge a whole nationality, especially a racially and culturally diverse one, by the actions of one individual.

  • BaliSucks

    Bali is an overpopulated 3rd world country. It’s a shithole filled with muslims and a corrupt government that doesn’t care about anything. Bali has nice waves, but that’s all. Nothing else.

    • wyatt

      Bali is Hindu. They have a beautiful culture, not just perfect waves. It seems like you haven’t even been there!

    • grey

      you seriously know nothing about bali. 1) bali is an island consist of several cities (not a country, DUH! ) the country is indonesia. 2) Major religion/belief in bali is hindu.hindu and islam and other religion live harmoniously side by side

      corrupt government? dude every country has it… and now we literally fight the corruption.

      and you still use the “muslim” issues..? wow that is so 2001..

    • Chris Cottington

      Bali and Indonesia have much more to offer than “nice waves ” you idiot…unfortunately it is a lack of education on your part that prevents you from knowing any better…

    • john mobley

      bali; good. Fiji; good. Jakarta; not so much.

  • bparno

    The love of money, the root of all evil. Drugs, whores, ah the fast life, but how short it is when you are riding a wave a half a mile long one day, and six months later you are one day away from being executed. The moral of the story is……………………………

  • JailBreaker

    For a fee…we can get him out

    • Santi

      screw him

  • ScoobyDude

    The waves and exoticism of Bali should keep you feeling stoked enough you shouldn’t want or need coke. Cocaine isn’t even a fun drug. Nor is heroin (not that I’ve tried but it sounds insanely destructive), for which there was a bust next door to me there. No sympathy for these stupid people.


    E Agora,sua vida acabou,so lamento pela sua escolha foi bom enquanto durou agora vai ser executado para pagar as vidas que tu e seus compangheiros desgracaram com sua maldita atitude de traficar entao sorria teu fim chegou o CAPETA te espera de BRACOS ABERTO.

  • fatsobruno

    f that coke.just drink like a man n go gotta be reallystupid to use drugs in bali,or anyplace just stay drunk.

    • John Littel

      If I ever meet you remind me to buy you a drink….

      • Wurst

        “The use and sells of drugs is very harmful to all of society and there should be no tolerance for such actions.” – John Littel

        “If I ever meet you remind me to buy you a drink….” – John Little

        well then… please show no tolerance and go kill yourself, you fucking hypocrite

  • John Littel

    There is an old saying that goes something like this; do the crime do the time. The use and sells of drugs is very harmful to all of society and there should be no tolerance for such actions. Justice is severed the old fashion way in most of Asia and Southern Asia and that is with a swift sword removing the criminals head. Best advise is grow up and quit while you still have your head… J.L.

  • John Littel

    I read all the comments related to this article and it’s not about government, religion, race or culture, (no wonder I don’t like surfers in general and I surf). It’s about the use of, possession, selling and distribution of a narcotic in a foreign country. Indonesia, Thailand and as well a few others in that region of the world do not tolerate foreigners much less the locals using, possessing or distributing drugs in or through their countries and the sentence if found guilty is usually life in prison or worse death. I am a main stream American so to speak but I personally feel our drug laws are way to lenient in our country and most of western society. If we did what they do in Indonesia and other countries do in that part of the world I think we would have less issues with drugs and drug wars. Additionally a hell a lot of people who do use or sell drugs would stop. Even more so I think we would be saving the tax payers a hell of a lot of money as well. I’ve seen and been through the down side of what drugs can and do to peoples lives and even if these people were a friend or relative, even myself in their shoes I’d say off with their f__king heads… J.L.

    • Scott needham

      And what of the corrupt police and customs who profit.and what of the judges found to be on the take in so many of these cases.meanwhile cigarettes and alcohol ,though sanctioned,have horrendous results in these very “anti-drug” Asian countries too.Whilst completely aware of the scourge of heroin and ice etc..the death penalty does little to reduce the war on (untaxed) is drinking coca cola with unspecified cocoa leaves any different ..other than commercial in confidence..and taxable at point of sale.

  • John Littel

    My daughter read my post and this article. She as well is very pro active with sports and doesn’t use any drugs nor ever has. She is very compassionate and understanding but asked me why Dad concerning what the individuals did and the consequences. My reply; It’s not a perfect world, lifes not always fair, the best team doesn’t always win, and sometimes bad things happen to really nice people.
    Bottom line more so than just bad verse evil, right or wrong, It’s about making healthy decisions and healthy choices. “In doing so you will form your destiny…”
    Obviously these people didn’t make healthy decisions nor healthy choices.

  • squidward

    Dude Brazilians are not well received in any country. Everywhere Ive been the sentiment is the same among every surfer. Nobody likes you. Stop back paddling and hassling for every wave. Two things every surfer can agree on: It’s too crowded, Brazos suck.

  • Mike Mihata

    Interesting story I always wondered how cocaine made its way to Asia, now I kinda know. It’s a pretty circuitous route for the crap to get to Asia and very risky I would assume as this story points out.

  • Bali Travelo

    Snowfall in Bali ???