Lombok part III: Kuta

Lombok part III: Kuta

This is the first post of a 3 part series of my Lombok experience. The post is more of a story than a guide. Check out this Lombok guide (which featured me) if you are looking for a good one. 


When we checked in at our hotel in kuta after midday, we were a bit tired but keen on starting a new day. We had only slightly over 24 hours in Kuta and and we wanted to make the most of the last part of what was already a phenomenal trip.

Our room was huge. We knew kuta was cheaper than the rest of Lombok and our room was the evidence. Out of all the accommodations we had paid for in our trip, this was the cheapest, and maybe that had lowered our expectations to the point that a decent room was enough to impress us. And there was the fact that we had spent the last two nights in a tent and in a  hotel where soap was an unattainable luxury. But the place had a good energy. I remember walking out into the balcony and seeing a surfboard in the balcony adjacent to ours and feeling a strange mixture of thrill and longing that is difficult to describe. Interestingly, it is this feeling that I remember Kuta by – it was like a teaser trailer that instilled in me the desire to go back but it was so short that it also gave me a heartache in the form of the realization of how much there is to travel and see.

After checking in, each of us took a long shower to wash the dirt accumulated over two days. It was only through a force of will (helped by our grumbling stomach) that we refrained from succumbing to the lure of the bed and went out. As usual, we rented three motorbikes and set off to search for a place for lunch and a surf shop. There were quite a few to choose from and we quickly selected one hired ourselves three instructors for the next morning. As eager as we were to jump into the water as soon as we could, it turned out that the tides would not allow for beginner surf lessons in the afternoon. So we resigned ourselves to a quieter first day at Kuta and, after asking for suggestions for a place to have lunch, went to pacify our stomachs.

During lunch we tried figure out where we can go in the afternoon. We had heard of Don-Don, a famous surfing spot in Kuta, and after a quick search on the google maps, we decided we wanted to check it out. There were a few other beaches we would have liked to visit as well (or probably should have), but we were a bit obsessed to see some big waves and some pros surfing them. Soon after lunch we were on our way.

Kuta is full of tourists with bikes, and half of them seemed to carry a surfboard attached to the side with a rack. Its a wonderful sight, especially for us – drunk as we were on the prospect of inauguration to the world of surfing. But, even in general, the atmosphere was wonderful. Of course, this is true for the whole of Lombok, from the Shisha bar in Gili, to the base camp on Rinjani, but Kuta was different – it was more of a calm sort of an energy, if that makes any sense.


 

Gerupuk seemed like an average village at first sight. When we asked about surfing, we were directed to a two storied building at the mouth of an alley. I was considering the possibility that we had come to wrong place, but as soon as I entered the premises I knew this was a place for surfing. The ground storey was dominated by a surfing shop, displaying surfboards and Ripcurl shorts, and extended from the main building was a restaurant, facing the sea. The whole top floor was meant for accommodation, budget ones by the looks of it, and almost every balcony had surfboards leaning against the railings and surfing attires hanging to dry.

Surf lessons were given by local freelancers, and we were soon approached by a guy named Ali. We walked to the beach and Ali told us that the surf spots had to be reached by boat. It was already too late in the day but he offered us lessons the next morning – apparently there were some beginner spots nearby as well. But we had something more immediate in mind. We only had to look at each other to confirm that we were thinking the same thing before Aman asked Ali for a sightseeing boat ride to the surfing spots (this has become our go to story every time we talk about good understanding and travelling with like minded people). Ali was a little surprised, but it was free money for him when the day was already over, and he agreed.

It was our turn to be surprised when Ali went away and came back carrying a boat engine with him. He took us to his boat, attached the engine to it somehow and we hopped on. As I have said too many times – it is the small unexpected things that have a weird way to stand out in your travels. There was nothing special about the short boat ride, but as we watched the sun set on one side and surfers taking on waves on the other, our day was already made.

Sunset from the boat.

It got better when we ordered tea and coffee at the seaside restaurant after coming back. We only stayed there for an hour at most but there was a deep desire brewing in me to go back there one day and stay for a week. A part of me began to daydream about becoming a writer and sitting there with a laptop, sipping coffee and coming up with the plot of my story. The desire to go back to a place you have visited is nothing new for me, for I have been plagued by it wherever I have gone, and even before the end of the Lombok trip  we were already discussing if could maybe come back someday and do a trek of the crater lake, but this was different. I want to go back to kuta, or maybe to Gerupuk, not because I missed a few spots but because of the environment. There is a magic in kuta that I cannot explain – although I have used a lot of words in my desperate attempt to do so.

But for us, nothing in Lombok seemed to end without some unwanted excitement. We were talking to our waitress, a Russian girl called Dasha, about getting surf instructors, when she realized we were planning to go back to Kuta during the night.

“It’s not safe”, she told us. “There are bandits along the road who robs travellers at night.”

This was completely new to us, and we tried to decide if she was one of those new foreigners paranoid about the safety of a remote area. But it turned out that Dasha had been working there for a while by then, and when she pointed at a guy who had been robbed just the day earlier and was now without a passport, we began to grow worried.

We checked through our belongings. Most of our valuables, including our passport and the bulk of our cash, were in the hotel in Kuta, but Aman and Majed had their iPhone to worry about. Dasha suggested us to stay the night and we considered that for a while. But after a while, she told us that there were guards that night along the road but we had to go before 9. She also offered to try to find us some locals to escort us a part of the way.

“They can take care of you guys”, she told Aman, making arcs in the air as if swinging a sword.

After that we did not wait around much longer – would not have enjoyed the time even if we did. We put our belongings under the seat of our bikes and deciding not to stop for anyone or anything along the way, we started for Kuta.

It was an exciting but uneventful ride back. Two guys accompanied us on their bike for a while in the beginning, and there were a few people standing guard at two intersections, but otherwise the road was empty. We drove faster than we would normally do and skipped the stops at some of the beaches we had planned earlier, so we were back before too long. We sighed with relief once the people and shops of Kuta town started showing up.


 

The night was far from over. We had been considering getting our first massage in Kuta, and we had asked Dasha for suggestion. Interestingly, one of the best places for a authentic Indonesian massage was right beside the restaurant we had our lunch in. We had even seen the signboard but the place was so ordinary looking that we hadn’t looked twice. In fact, Dasha’s description was very accurate.

“It’s a dark and creepy looking place, but they really know what they are doing”, she had said and we had immediately known which place she was talking about.

So, we went back to the same restaurant for dinner – we had liked it a lot – and after yet another satisfying meal, we tentatively entered the dark alleyway marked by the signboard.

The place was a collection of huts with a small open space in between that reminded me of villages in my own country. We were obviously the only customers for the night (or who knows, maybe even the whole day), and there was nobody around. When we finally met a woman, we asked about massage, all the time expecting that they were closed or we had come to the wrong place. She told us to wait and disappeared. Had this been somewhere like Bangkok or had we not been reassured beforehand, there was no doubt in my mind that we would have walked out of there. But we waited, and soon a guy came out to meet us. He was obviously the spokesperson or the manager of the place, and once we had finalized the price (it was insanely cheap), we chatted while things were being readied. Our conversation, unsurprisingly, went towards surfing. He was a surfer in his younger days and told us how he used to take on the biggest waves in the area, and how he had broken his shoulders while surfing.  

When our masseuses were ready we were led to one of the huts. There was a empty room with some lamps for light and three mattresses on the ground. We each went to one and took off our shirts, preparing to lay down.

“Take off your pants”, one of masseuses said nonchalantly.

It was so sudden that it took us awhile to register. We looked at each other and I was just starting to explain how a upper body massage would do perfectly, when suddenly Majed and Aman burst out laughing. The laughed uncontrollably and rolled on the ground until they had tears in their eyes. It is, till now, the single most embarrassing situation I have ever been in. Fortunately, our masseuses were not offended, in fact they had a smile on their faces that said they were quite entertained. My guess is  they had concluded that we were high.

Soon we were lying on our stomach and receiving the first massage of our lives. During the next one hour I concluded that I was definitely not a massage person. Or at least not a fan of the Indonesian style. Those who imagine massage to be a relaxing experience one struggles to stay awake in, need to have a taste of the Lombokian variety. It was intense. It seemed to me that the women had fingers of iron and techniques that bordered on torture. There were times when I just wanted them to stop, but refrained from saying anything out of pride. By the end, when my masseuse had her legs pressed against my shoulders and was pulling my head as if to pull it free, I was just waiting for it to end. Don’t get me wrong, they were skilled – even in the pain, a part of me was thinking that a someone who appreciated massage would find this invigorating. I did too, my blood was flowing by the time I got out, but I am not sure I would do it again. But all the same, I would not have my first massage experience anywhere else in the world.

The day ended with a beach party. Personally I am not a fan of parties but this wasn’t like the loud, you-only-live-once kind we saw in Gilli. In fact, the music came from the live performance of a band of local guys and they were singing ‘another brick in the wall’ by Pink Floyd when we got there (Majed listened to that song on repeat after getting back home). Everything, including a bar,  were set-up temporarily on the beach and it was full moon. There were rows of bikes and people were coming and going all the while. It was strangely soothing, in a way I never thought a beach party could be.

That might be primarily because of the fact that we spent about half of the time seating on some rocks where the waves broke, facing the sea, hidden from the people but listening to the music drifting in. It was our last night and we were already feeling somewhat sad. We sat there, already reminiscing and marvelling the adventures we had had in Lombok. We sat there until we realized that the sanctuary of rocks were a popular place for the people in the party to come and relieve themselves and then we sat awhile longer. When finally we came back, the band was playing their last song. We hung around until tiredness threatened to overcome us, then started for the hotel to get some sleep before our long awaited surfing lessons in the morning.


 

“Keep your eyes on the road”, exclaimed Aman from the back seat of my bike.

It was so difficult to take your eyes off the beautiful scenery and I was already doubting if I should have let our surfing instructors drive the bikes like Aman and Majed did.

We had gone to the surfing shop right after breakfast and were in the way to the surfing spot with our instructors. We had got the surfboard racks attached to our bikes the day before and now carrying our surfboards on the side. It was like a dream come true except maybe in the dreams we were better surfers. The half an hour drive was beautiful and I was painfully aware of the days of exploring needed to do Kuta justice. It was hard to believe that our flight would leave even before the sun went down.

Attaching the surf boards to our bikes.

The Selong Blanak beach did full justice to the reputation of Kuta for having the best sandy beaches in Lombok. But we were too pumped for surfing to relax and take in the beauty. We were dragging our surfboards to the water the moment we had parked our bikes. Beginners don’t get to carry the short surfboards under their arms like you see the pros do – beginner longboards looks more like a boat or a kayak than a surfboard. But the hassle of carrying the ungainly board is more than made up when you are paddling for the first time and is grateful for the surface area it provides.

Nor do the instructors let beginners dive in the water immediately. The drill of standing up on your board is first done on solid ground so that you get the technique right. It’s nothing too complicated really, it’s about placing your feet correctly, looking straight, bending your knees and so on. The real challenge is to do them right when the time comes. A good instructor will make sure that standing up and balancing is the only thing you need to deal with. He would give you a push when you paddling out to the waves, help you turn your board around (which is actually much harder than it sounds), and push you again to help you catch the wave. He will even shout when you need to stand on your board (there are other approaches as well of course, where the instructors teach you to paddle and turn in relatively still water first but most informal instructors like to give you taste of surfing right away, which was exactly what we needed). On the first day, even if you manage to surf a wave (most people do), you are only learning a small portion of surfing.

Going into the water for our first surf lesson.

But that makes it no less glorious. The first time you manage to stand up and find the board below you surprisingly stable, is a moment of triumph like nothing else. And amazingly Aman managed the feat on his first try. Even as we were busy on our first failed attempt, Aman was riding his first wave to the shore. And his last.

Aman’s first (and last) wave.

Remember the injury in his toe Aman had picked up during our Rinjani trek? Turns out his nails were one blow away from needing to be surgically removed. And when he reached all the way to the shore, he received that blow from his own board. It was not until we saw him walking back along the beach that we realized he was injured. I paddled to our his instructor who said that Aman wasn’t coming back in the water.

Majed and I had an amazing time – we managed to stand up a few times and each of them felt incredible. We had our GoPro out and our instructors helped us capture the moments,  albeit not very successfully. As I said before, with all the help from the instructors it felt we were getting the hang of it quite quickly. But the fact that the spot was perfect for beginners was also a huge help. We would not realize how good the spot was until six months later when we visited Bali and tried surfing in places not suitable to beginners. We even took for granted the fact that the waves were breaking at a place shallow enough to let us stand. If, like Aman, you don’t know swimming, this is a great place to try out surfing.         

After our surf lessons, we joined Aman who had moved to a spot where he couldn’t see us surf. He was doing quite well, considering the fact that he had just missed out what we had been looking forward to for months and the fact that his toenail would have to be removed as soon as we would land in Singapore. We spent some time relaxing on the beach, sipping fresh juice and chatting before we had to get moving.


 

The hardest part was leaving. We sat in the beach for as long as we dared without risking missing our flight before we finally got up for the ride back to our hotel. We went to the surf shop to drop off our instructors and their boards, returned our bikes, had a hurried lunch and left for the airport.

Maybe it’s because Kuta was the last stop in our Lombok trip that it left in me such a feeling of longing. But if my limited travel has taught me anything it’s that travelling is an insatiable hunger – the more you travel the more you feel the desire to plan the next trip, and the longer you want to stay. It’s a blessing then that the world is such a big place.

It’s a satisfying feeling when you can remember the beginning of something. My hope is that 10 years from now I can look back at Lombok and mark it as the beginning of my travelling.


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