Chapter 4: Kuta, Lombok

Sept 23
We have a lazy morning since we are not meeting our driver till 10am. With our breakfast of jam and toast momentarily satisfying our active appetites, we check out and jump into the waiting SUV outside the gate. Settled into our seats for the hour and half journey to Kuta we are surprised when the driver pulls off the road only after two minutes.

The temple is perched on a rocky point jutting into the sea. The weathered rock forms a cave directly underneath the structure, adorned with silly and scary statues. Locals of all ages dressed in traditional hats and clothes line the walkway, busy making little baskets from leaves that hold incense and are laid by doorways and in roads.

See, silly statues

You just have to laugh

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My legs are still barely usable from climbing and the incredibly wicked sunburn I received on my back and behind my knees while snorkeling despite applying multiple layers of sunscreen. I do not think behind my knees had ever been sunburned and the skin did not know how to interact nicely with the UV rays. The pain wears me out and makes any kind of exploration extremely laborious, so I elect to stay in the vehicle and avoid the “traditional” market. We carry on for some time until the driver suddenly pulls into a driveway. We enter a building filled with pottery of every variety and are led through the back door where craftsmen surrounded by tourists gawking ask they create bowls, plates, and animals from wet clay. I rarely buy trinkets and souvenirs, but something about this little turtle reminded me of someone I am missing.
Kara created an Elephant. Click on image to see larger

Waist high clay creations

After another jaunt through the back roads of Lombok we stop at a village whose sole purpose is weaving colorful traditional cloths. Women work eight hours a day for a month to finish just one piece. Somehow they are expected to take care of the home and children as well. Girls must learn to weave by age 12 so they can attract a good husband. They show us through the village then take us to a shop where they sell all of these woven pieces and dress us up like “the Chief and his brides.”

Random kid in the village

Our last stop before reaching Kuta is a “Traditional Muslim Village.” I am not sure what purpose this serves except purely as a tourist stop. Women and children constantly accost you yelling while stroking a wooden frog making croaking sounds, “Surprise? For your mother or girlfriend? For the hell of it? Bracelet?” Every turn you make you get a fresh batch of bracelets and trinkets shoved in your face. Our guide we did not ask for shows us inside huts, rice storage and kitchens. He takes us up to the top of the hill where you can see the surrounding farmland.

The sound of crashing plastic and metal against pavement gets my attention as I wait outside for the others to finish searching through saris and wraps. A man on a motorbike had hit a dog who now writhed painfully, unable to move his hind legs. The man gets up and throws a cocoanut at the dog’s head. The dog will not live through the day, most likely with internal injuries as well. The bike is damaged and a group begins trying to pry pieces back into shape by pushing, pulling, striking, and hitting. Another group surrounds the man and a kid that appears to be hurt, but I am unsure of how he was involved in the accident.

Ah, Kuta! you unpretentious simple village, quiet and unassuming. The driver drops us at the Kutah Indah Hotel and we drop our bags in a room. We had reserved the place for two nights, but I am now unsure about the convenience of the location. But alas, I do not listen to my inner voice and keep my mouth shut.

We find a small warung claiming to have wood fired pizzas for our late lunch then pass a hotel someone had recommended to Kara, so we check on the price just to see. It is a little less but much more conveniently located and the room is larger with a small bed for me and a large bed for Kara and Kim. We arrange for a van to take us to the other guesthouse so we can transfer our stuff. We grab our bags, toss the keys on the counter and get into the van, but the owner of the hotel comes running out screaming that we cannot leave. We tell the driver to go, but he just sits there and the owner grabs the keys from the ignition. I get out and get in the fellows face, “We can leave if we want to leave. We owe you nothing. We do not wantto stay here, end of story. We never signed a contract or put any money down.” He asks me to go back to the room with him. He says the room is stayed in so we have to pay for it. No, we left our bags in the room for an hour and half. Everything remains untouched. “I cannot sell this room now, it’s dirty. This mattress was sat on.” I tell him again we are leaving and do not owe him anything. He tells me I am a bad man, then as I walk off, “F**k America, F**k your mother!”

Still the driver will not leave, saying the owner is holding him there. I have no idea how. The owner claims he is calling the police. Kim offers to pay him 50,000, 1/5 the cost of a night’s stay. He refuses, saying we must pay half. We used the room for an hour and half and only for our bags. WE could have just as easily left them at the front for no cost. After much yelling and threatening (the cops still not coming) Kara pays him the half to pacify the situation. As we leave the owner yells, “And don’t come back here!” Do not worry, I am sure I will never return to the Kuta Indah Hotel and recommend no one else stay there either.

At our new place men greet us offering motorbikes for the next day. We can take them free for the first evening, so Kara and I venture out to find a nice beach for sunset. I turn off onto a dirt road leading to a large hill that promises to finish in a cove. Note: this is my first time driving a motorbike and I choose a manual transmission purely out of my dislike for most anything automatic. Well, that and I am planning on buying a geared motorcycle once I get back from Mumbai and I wanted some practice so I do not look like a complete fool.

Bumping along the rutted road past huts and hills we come to a beach and find the cove mostly empty of water because of low tide, exposing a multitude of rocks and tide pools. We missed the sun actually diving into the depths of the ocean, but he leaves us brilliant colors with his humble glow. In the distance fishermen finish their evening prayers kneeling and facing toward Mecca next to oil lanterns and small fires; standing they grab their spears and wade off into the darkness to catch a few slow fish.

Sept 24
I love the feeling of waking up on my own in the early morning and just lying, observing the soft light on the walls. Everyone gradually wakes up and we grab some breakfast, banana pancakes (amazing!) and head out on our motorbikes, starting to the east. Kim rides on Kara’s automatic bike because I am still a bit jerky with the gears on my bike.

The countryside is beautiful, mixing greens and browns of tropics and desert, rolling up and down through the hills and valleys. We reach Gerupuk and the locals direct us into a parking area where other ‘bulé’ are preparing for their day of learning to surf in a “safe” area. The beach and water are scattered with traditional style boats of every color and size, some for fishing with nets, other rods and reels, and still others only collecting seaweed – a large export for this area of Indonesia. We walk along the beach in the strangely large grain sand – almost pebbles – avoiding nets and dogs and discarded fish heads. The heat makes itself apparent quickly, even though it is still early in the day.

Making our way on our bikes I see a beach mostly obscured by a cocoanut tree farm with only a small dirt road leading to it. Avoiding puddles large enough to swallow our bikes and men wanting to sell us cocoanuts from the tree, we reach a small collection of traditional huts on an otherwise barren beach. There are few trees and very little protection from the belligerent sun. We leave the bikes and start walking along the cove with very warm still water and struggle through the sand. Kim drops off sitting down in the sand and motioning us to continue on.

With Kim still sitting where we left her some 400 meters back, Kara and I scurry over beautiful black rocks, twisting a curling amongst themselves and the sea. A single lonesome tree makes a statement about standing alone in a foreign world. Rounding the point we see large rocks shaped by the constant beating waves. A group on a photo trip from Jakarta leaves just as we arrive at the water’s edge. The distant large swells lure me into the water, though I quickly find the super strong current over slick rocks wisely keeps me from a probable smashing between the wicked waves and the rocks. Kara and I decide to climb the very steep hill above us that allows us the most incredible views of three beautiful blue lagoons to the west and two to the east.

Kim waits for us back at the bikes with her new friend, a young local boy who showed her the village and a lot of his friends. We head back to Kuta for lunch then continue west to Mawon, a beautiful swimming beach surrounded on three sides by large hills covered more in desert brush than trees. The white sands dive steeply into the amazingly blue water but do not stop there; as far as I can swim the plain white sand continues uninterrupted by any rocks, plants or fish. A single surfer cautiously catches a short but impressive curl that closes and crashes on the rocks toward the mouth of the cove.

Back on our motorbikes we head further west on a road that our map shows as straight (it is anything but straight). The scenery away from the sea is some of the most beautiful we’ve seen, save for on Mt. Rinjani. A small sign pegged to a tree tells us to take another road up a large hill to get to Mawi beach. At the top of the hill a gate manned by several Indonesians blocks the road with sign saying there’s a fee of 5,000 to pass through. After this point the road disintegrates into a mostly dirt path that winds its way through pastures, over creeks, and around bends that eventually leads us to a long structure covered only by grass protecting a row of westerners from the day’s heat and direct sun. If you follow their gaze, you see large rocky points broken up by small beaches continuing in this manner off into the distance. Out from the beach in front of us some twenty surfers bob up and down on the water waiting for the perfect wave. This beach is not meant for swimming and is not much to look at, but the surf is supposedly world class here.

I climb along the rocks and find a perch in the shadow of the rock protecting me from the sun where I have a good vantage point on the surfers and a great view of the coastline receding into the distance with each rocky point slightly more faded and hidden by the mist. I try to catch the surfer’s on their perfect wave, but mostly they seemed determine to see how long they can sit motionless in the constantly moving water rather than chase the waves and stand up, using the force of the crashing water to propel them forward. I have to admit, I was expecting something more spectacular from a world-class wave. I wanted to see surfers squeezing themselves into the barrel of a wave, narrowly escaping the tumult of the crashing curl. The more surfers I talked to I realized the majority of them stay away from any wave that big, they are happy with the small surf and avoid anything powerful. I am disappointed and not entirely sure that its worth the effort of dragging two or three foam filled six to eight foot boards from country to country, paying for and dealing with these oversized and awkwardly held devices.

This beautiful woman sold me a sweet banana

Click on image to see larger

For dinner we go to the same warung we visited the night before, Warung Bule, which, if you recall is the word used for white westerners. The night before I listened to the waiter’s recommendation and tried the local fish special, which was disgusting, but the girls loved their meals. Kim, on her last night in Indonesia wants to eat something particularly Indonesian, and Kara tries something on a whim. So when the waiter asks if I want tonight’s special, barracuda, I say, hey, why not. It is incredible, maybe some of the best fish I have ever eaten.

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