Kuta, a tiny town on the southeast coast of Lombok, was the last stop on my Indonesian getaway. Kuta’s famous as a surfer’s haven, and there are tons of tiny beaches whose beauty is matched only by their world-class reef breaks. Incidentally, there’s also a Kuta on Bali. It’s also famous for surfing, but the similarities stop there. Bali’s Kuta is overloaded with tourists. Lombok’s Kuta, by comparison, still retains the charm of a tiny seaside town where traditional life still reigns.
With my (total lack of) balance, surfing is definitely beyond my skill set, so I felt a bit left out among all the tanned surfers zooming around the town with boards strapped to racks on their motorbikes and SUVs. There was still plenty for me to enjoy, though.
I arrived in Kuta in the mid-afternoon on my first day, so I mostly spent my time roaming around the main stretch of town and walking on the beach. The main beach in Kuta, while having all of the obligatory Indonesian beauty, wasn’t the best for wading, because a lot of the sand is made up of coarse, crushed coral.
When I travel, I usually stick to my own two feet or public transportation for my main modes of getting around. The beaches in Kuta, however, are so spread out that walking was out the question, and public transport in rural Indonesia is pretty much impossible for a foreigner to navigate. So I bit the bullet and rented a motorbike from my hotel, which proved to be the best (and most exhilarating) decision I made all vacation.
To be clear, it’s been years since I’ve been on the back of a motorcycle, and the only two-wheeler I’ve ever driven myself is a bicyle. So when the owner of my hotel handed over the keys without even asking if I’d driven one before, I had a bit of a panic attack. Thankfully, I got a quick 90-second lesson and then was off.
Now, I know that what I rode was technically more of a scooter than an actual motorbike. But when you’re zooming along on rural Indonesia roads, with mountains to your right and a stunning beach panorama to your left, with the sun beating down on your skin, and the wind whipping through your hair…it doesn’t make any difference whatsoever. And I learned that while 65 kph in the States might feel as slow as crawling, 65 kph on a bike in Indonesia is fast enough that I started having Top Gear-esque fantasies.
I made it to two of the larger beaches surrounding Kuta: Mawun to the west and Tanjung A’an to the east. Both were spectacular, with pristine white sand and bathtub-warm turquoise water to rival Gili Meno’s. Further out, there were plenty of surfers enjoying the shore breaks, but I was content to stay closer to shore and swim there. If I had to pick my favorite of the two beaches, it would probably by Tanjung A’an, with its twin horseshoe bays (Pedau and A’an) and craggy surrounding cliffs.
If those beaches were my high point, then the lowest bit of my stay in Kuta was getting (what had to be) food poisoning. Whereas I felt merely a bit queasy during my days on Gili Meno, my second evening in Kuta was interrupted by getting violently, violently ill. Something I’d eaten evidently hadn’t been at its freshest, because the force with which my stomach expelled it was superhuman. Once I’d gotten it all out of my system, though, I was fine, but it made for a rough hour or two. Such are the perils of the traveler, I suppose.
Stomach-geddon aside, the other best part about my stay in Kuta was my ride with Kuta Horses, a tiny horseback-riding outfit run by a French expat. My guide took us through some of the smaller villages surrounding the main part of Kuta, and it was fascinating to see how different, even only a few kilometers away from the foreigner-populated main drag, the surroundings were. I got a few lessons on traditional Lombok life; for example, almost every house has an outer porch, because that’s where a host entertains his guests, never inside the house itself.
Our ride culminated in climbing to the top of Pantal Seger, a hill near Kuta Beach, where we watched the sunset. As with every other sunset I witnessed in Indonesia, it was stunning. I couldn’t have asked for a better way to spend my last evening.
One thing I’ll definitely miss about Indonesia is how ridiculously cheap most things are. It took a day or two to get used to seeing prices like 60,000 rp. (rupiah) on items, and at first, it seemed quite expensive…until I got it through my head that that was less than six dollars. My motorbike rental cost less than five dollars a day, and that included a full tank of gas. For $40/night, you can get a massive room, complete with four-poster bed, waterfall shower, and complimentary breakfast spread, at a luxury hotel. A one-hour massage cost me ten dollars. I think the most expensive meal I ate (excluding the cooking class) totaled about 18 USD, and that included a huge entrée, two martinis, and a dessert. My cheapest meal? An enormous plate of Indonesian-style fried rice with loads of vegetables, egg, and chicken…for $1.40.
Spending more than 500円 on a plate of チャハン (fried rice) in Japan just about breaks my heart now…