Mister Kuta Scooter

Trip Start Aug 11, 2011
Trip End Sep 08, 2012

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Where I stayed
Kutah Indah Hotel

Flag of Indonesia  , Nusa Tenggara Barat,
Saturday, June 2, 2012

The island of Lombok looms mysteriously above the tiny Gili Islands, its tallest peaks shrouded in cloud, its steep mountains a patchwork of fields and jungle. Our early morning canoe-ferry chugs steadily across the few kilometres of sea, loaded with passengers, luggage and a few sacks and boxes of local cargo. At the port on Lombok, Bundy's wife helps us battle past the ojek and cart drivers vying for our custom and picks a horse cart driver known to her. We climb on board the wagon and make our way the short distance to the bus station, a gravel field with a few minivans parked up and a motley collection of Lombok youth hanging about. Here we wait about an hour before the car that will take us to Kuta Lombok appears. 

A grey people carrier zooms into the bus station in a cloud of dust and out jumps a young man in an Aussie Akubra hat - Wawan - our man. He is an effusive, hyperactive and friendly young guy who runs over and gives me a hug saying any friend of Bundy's is a friend of his. Wawan is not the driver, there is another man at the wheel, a dude named Gerry, who proceeds to take us south, at high speed, along the attractive west coast of the island. Wawan and Gerry are a comedy team - smoking, joking and constantly diddling with their mobile phones; planning adventures for us, promising us everything and telling us that they like friendly tourists such as us because we spend more money than unfriendly ones - uh oh.

We stop at the town of Senggigi to top up at the ATM then plow on to the capital of Lombok, Materam, and beyond through a landscape of rice fields and palm trees, with the mighty volcano, Rinjani, a constant, cloud shrouded presence to the north. At last we weave down a long hill through lush forest to Kuta, a place not at all like the Kuta on Bali. It's a dusty, ramshackle kind of town in a magnificent setting. We are taken immediately to Gerry's office - a small bamboo hut with a sign that says "Gerry Travel". Here Gerry's wife gives us coffee and he finds us accommodation in a nearby hotel - The Kuta Indah. He also hires us a scooter ($5 per day) for getting around on. It's a typical automatic Yamaha but with a surfboard rack bolted onto the side. I mount the bike and follow Gerry, Wawan and Sheila down the road to the hotel, where we check in and arrange to meet up with Wawan later.

It's a bit more upmarket than we're used to on this trip, being a proper hotel with swimming pool and reasonably classy concrete and tile bungalows. At $30 per night it's more than we usually pay, but the other choices we see around here aren't particularly appealing and after five days in a rustic bungalow on Gili Meno, Sheila is after a bit more comfort. Once settled in we hop on our motorbike and head off to explore the area. Kuta is strung out along one main road - a motley collection of bamboo shops, little cafes and bars. The beach is long and stretches in a huge curve against a wide blue bay which is really a lagoon behind the outer reef where distant waves crash against the coral. There is a beachside fishermans' village near our hotel but it stinks of fish and there is an excess of dust and rubbish there, making the nearest beach access an unattractive proposition.

We carry on down the road, past Gerry Travel, until we find Wawan's travel office, a bamboo shack amongst a number of others that serve as shops selling souvenirs and the local handicraft - a beautiful woven cloth called 'ikat'. We visit with fishermen's for a while and tell him our travel plans and ask what he can do for us. He spends some time agreeing with everything we say interspersed with calls to his boss in Materam. After a while we leave it with him and head on down the road to see what else we can see.

Kuta soon peters out and we are riding down a potholed country road, passing the entrance to what is an expensive new resort, and eventually arriving at a beach set in a wide cove with barren hills surrounding it. There are lots of local tourists hanging out here, and no end of litter, feral dogs and dust, spoiling what should be a beautiful bay. Amidst all the "Hello Misters" we receive, a young man called Tommy comes up to us and asks if we need a boat to take us surfing. I really want to go surfing while I'm here so I tell him, using one of my favourite Indonesian phrases - "Mungkin nanti" -  "Maybe later, mate". 

A few more kilometres down the road and we arrive at the fishing village of Grupok, from where it is possible to hire boats such as Tommy's to take you out to Kuta's main surfing spot somewhere in the broad bay. But at the moment it all seems too hard - I was hoping to find surfable waves breaking on a beach or a nearby point, instead it looks like I will have to make a serious effort if I want to catch a wave. By now it's getting late in the afternoon and Wawan has specifically warned us not to be out on this road after dark as there are 'robbers,' so, after riding through a gauntlet of young men asking "Hey mister, you want boat?" we make our way back along the rough road to Kuta.

At pointless roundabout near the entrance to the posh resort we almost have a collision with another motorbike which is going the wrong way. The Aussie guy and his girlfriend ride barely in control - right up to the front of our bike, both of us jamming on our brakes at the last second. Surprisingly no one panics and no one gets angry - we all smile sheepishly at each other, apologise, shrug and blame the lack of rules on Indonesian roads for our near miss, before riding on

Back in the village, you can't call Kuta Lombok a town, we see, of all things a Greek restaurant. After dropping the bike off at our hotel we walk back and enjoy some very tasty shish kebaks, Greek salad and chips, a bloody nice change from Nasi (Rice).  At night, Kuta morphs into an even wilder and more feral place than it is during the day. While we sit and eat our meal  we see 12 year olds tearing around on motorbikes and fend off Faginesque nine years olds aggressively trying to sell tatty bracelets while gangs of flea bitten and mangy dingo-like dogs prowl about. It's surprisingly cool here on the Indian Ocean coast too, so after dinner it doesn't take much encouragement for us to walk quickly back to the hotel for an early night, avoiding dogs, kids and robbers on the way. 

Many months ago we did some light research into this part of our trip and found an adventure that promises to be one of the main highlights of our entire journey - a boat trip from Lombok to the distant island of Flores, taking in Komodo island along the way. It's an established and popular trip these days, with most tours starting in Bali, but it's a bit harder to organise here in Lombok. Wawan, with help from his boss, on the other end of his redhot mobile, in Materam, comes up with a plan and a price for us. When we first decided we would try do such a boat trip  we knew it would be expensive, so for many months we've been living well below our budget, saving money so we can buy the best possible excursion now. Wawan comes up with two options. The cheapest one is on a boat with 10 or more young backpackers, sleeping on deck for four nights. The other option is to charter a boat to ourselves. It's a fair wack of money, I won't say how much, but we are well under budget and after checking the online bank account decide that it's a once in a lifetime opportunity and we should do it, so we do.

Nothing is straightforward. First hurdle - We have to pay in cash, no cards, which means a trip to the nearest bank to make a sizeable withdrawal (ATMs only give out a certain amount per day). So the next day, with Sheila on the back of Wawan's motorbike and me following on ours we set off to Praya, about 20kms away to visit the nearest bank. This is a challenging ride for me. Indonesian traffic is as crazy as anywhere in Asia, but I have to say, it's bloody exciting too. As we cruise through the countryside people are waving to me, shouting "Hello mister," and other bikers are coming curiously alongside me, the drivers asking "Where you going mister?" Then we hit the morning market at just outside Praya. It's a chaotic traffic jam of motorbikes, bemos, trucks, buffalos and horse carts. As we inch our bikes along in the jam people are tapping me on the shoulder asking for "Smoking?" (they want a cigarette from me), others are just plain amused to see a westerner riding around Lombok on a motorbike. We visit several banks in Praya and discover that none of them will give us a large amount of cash on a debit card, so we have to go on to the island's capital, Materam. 

Wawan decides that this is just too far to ride, so we go to his Uncle's house to leave the bikes and then take a taxi. Uncle lives in a house accessed by riding down a narrow footpath and over an even narrower footbridge which crosses a brown creek where kids are swimming (my scooter skills are increasing all the time). We are in the heart of a Lombok suburb, a place where few westerners will ever go but with Wawan leading the way it feels totally and exotically exciting.
Half hour taxi ride to Materam; banks there won't give us the money either. Our only choice now is to hit the ATMs and max out the withdrawals for the next two days to pay for our trip of a lifetime - which is what we do. After our first ATM run we take another taxi to meet Wawan's boss, Mr Sam, to discuss our impending boat trip. Once again we find ourselves in a typical backlot Lombok suburb - sitting in Sam's house/office, drinking coffee served by his wife, while Sam describes how our boat trip will work. 

Finally it's yet another Taxi back to Praya to collect the bikes. Wawan loses his ignition key somewhere on the way and so the adventure continues with me 'towing' him through Praya to find a place that makes new bike ignition keys. I'm not an experienced motorcyclist at all, but here I am with Sheila now riding pillion and Wawan freewheeling along behind us, hanging onto the handle on the back of my seat; when he shouts directions I obey, cutting across corners, tooting the horn and driving like an Indonesian. After several attempts at different places we find a roadside barrow where a bloke cuts a new ignition key in the time it takes us to drink a Coke. Sheila rides with Wawan again and we at last head back to Kuta. On the way Wawan has a tyre blow out - it's not his day. Sheila transfers to my bike and we leave our new mate at a roadside puncture repair stall and high tail it back to Kuta for some much needed rest, because...

...next day is my surf day. Despite the obvious difficulties involved in going for a surf, I can't come to Indonesia without having a go on its legendary waves. So I leave Sheila happily Kindling by the pool and after renting a surfboard from Gerry and slipping it into the bike rack, I head off down the road to Grupok to try and find a wave. As luck would have it, as I am bouncing down the rutted old road, a guy on a bike approaches and signals for me to pull over - "a robber?" I think. No, it's Tommy, the guy we met a couple of days ago. He remembers my name too. I follow him to his place in Grupok where he puts me and my surfboard in his outrigger canoe and motors me out to the break. 

The surf here is located in the middle of a wide bay about 10kms south of Kuta Beach. Tommy charges me about $8 to take me there and back and he does a spot of fishing while I surf. The waves aren't that good, but as I haven't surfed that much over the last 20 years they are plenty good enough. They break over a seagrass bottom, rather than a coral reef, so they are quite forgiving when you wipeout. After a couple of hours of paddling about, jockeying for waves with the dozen or more other surfers, catching a couple and taking a few nose dives, I've had enough and paddle over to Tommy's canoe which is anchored just outside the break. I find I have no strength left to hoist myself back into the boat, not surprising really after the amount of energy I've expended in the past couple of days.

Once back on the scooter I feel exhilarated - fresh from the surf, bouncing along a country lane in the warm noonday sun with the turquoise blue Indian Ocean on my left and coconut palms on my right. Back at the hotel I collect Sheila and we take a spin down the road to a restaurant called the Ashtari, which we are told is quite nice. What they don't tell us is that it is at the summit of a dramatic hilltop and the road up there is a gravel nightmare of potholes and ditches. The restaurant serves italian-style tucker which is great but easily surpassed by the fabulous view over Kuta and beyond to Grupok. The journey back down the hill is my off-road initiation on the bike. These scooters are automatic and won't gear down as you descend so you have to ride the brakes all the way - not good on dry, skiddy gravel with a freaking out Sheila hanging on out back. But fortune favours us once more and we survive yet another mini-adventure.

At last, after four hectic and totally surreal days in Kuta Lombok the morning arrives for us to begin our boat trip. We have discovered than nothing good comes easy, especially in Indonesia - crazy, picaresque adventures must be experienced, just to organise other, equally crazy adventures; there seems to be action, drama and excitement of some kind everyday, and now we are on the verge of beginning one of the most exciting adventures of our trip - a four day boat journey to far flung Flores, taking in the land of the Komodo dragons on the way - bring it on.
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