July 12-16, 2016
Arriving in Kuta
A two-hour shuttle ride landed us in Kuta in the south of Lombok. Our guesthouse was on a back country road behind fields of grazing cows and local villagers homes. Kuta is what Bali must have looked like 20 years ago. All of the stores and restaurants are pretty much open air bamboo constructions. There are a few ATMs and two large 7/11 style mini-markets, but despite these modern installments, it is still not very built-up. It is not as well-maintained as Bali either and there is a fair bit of trash on the roads and Kuta Beach.
Our first impression was that some of the locals were a bit crass-more rough around the edges and 'in-your-face' when interacting and selling products. Maybe they haven't adjusted to tourism yet as Lombok still hasn't taken off as a major tourist destination. We also read and heard from our airbnb host in Senggigi that south Lombok isn't the safest when you venture out of the main tourist town of Kuta and that locals don't receive tourists warmly. We were warned not to drive around at night. We didn't encounter any issues during our stay however. In fact, our opinion of the locals came around as we interacted with more of them like the kind couple in charge of our guest house who cleaned our room and cooked us breakfast with such care each morning and our soft-spoken surf instructor.
What Would We Do Without a Scooter?
We set out to rent a scooter so we could explore more of the beaches in south Lombok. Though we almost reconsidered after reading a grisly news article about a tourist who was stopped on a country road and had his left arm hacked by machetes after refusing to hand over his valuables to a motley crew of villagers. Though scary, it was an isolated incident and we had no troubles during our stay, thankfully.
While looking for a scooter, we were quoted 70,000IDR twice and an outrageous 150,000IDR per day at different tourist huts. We were able to negotiate with another guy for 50,000IDR a day- which is what we paid in Sengiggi and Bali for a scooter. Considering that the prices for everything are cheaper in Lombok than Bali we were surprised that they were asking so much for a scooter. Renting a scooter in Bali and Lombok is absolutely imperative- public transit is nonexistent. A scooter gives you increased freedom to see more of the island and there really is no better way to see the countryside than with sun on your face and wind in your hair.
Post Card Pretty Beaches
Surrounded by mountains, the beaches here are really a scene to behold. Though we stayed in Kuta we spent a fair amount of time at neighboring beaches to the east and west. We wanted to absorb as much of the beauty as possible. We spent one spoiled day at the 4-star Novotel where, for a small fee, we spent the entire afternoon lounging under a beachfront cabana, having food delivered to us and making use of their facilities and swimming pool. Nothing like living the fabulous life at a fraction of the cost.
Another beautiful beach we discovered was the secluded, half moon shaped Mawun Beach. There couldn't have been more than 50 tourists occupying the beach and only a handful of beach shacks selling food. This beach could rival all other beaches we've seen on our trip as the single most beautiful beach. The calm sapphire water laps at the white sand while locals produce coconuts with straws and baby pineapples cut into lollipops for hungry tourists.
Learning to Surf at Selong Belanak
Selong Belanak beach is listed as one of the best places in the world to learn how to surf. Naturally we had to try surfing there! We didn't know what to expect at Selong Belanak beach, whether it was set up for tourism or not, so we rented a board and scheduled a 3-hour surf lesson with a company in Kuta for 300,000IDR. On the day of the lesson, we followed the instructor on our scooter west to Selong Belanak. When we arrived at the beach it was lined with about 10 beach huts, half of which were restaurants and the other half, surf board rental/surf lesson places. So, it is in fact possible to schedule a lesson directly off of the beach, which we did the the following day for an hour (100,000IDR.)
The lesson included learning the basics on the shore and then trying out the techniques in the water. What makes Selong Belanak so great for beginner surfers are the small consistent waves that break close to shore, and the shallow, warm, and clear water. Another plus- there's no coral to scrape up your legs when you inevitably crash into the water. Both days there were about 20-30 people in the water trying their hand at surfing. Both of us were able to get up on the board and catch a few waves, though anticipating a good wave was much easier with the assistance of our instructors.
During a break from the waves we sat with our surf instructor who's name sounded like "Oh-no." He told us that Selong Belanak has only existed as a tourist surfing spot for 4 years- before that there was nothing on the beach. He told us that through teaching surfing he's met dozens of people and made friends from all around the world. He even visited friends he made in Slovakia and Austria and tried snow boarding- it was his first time ever seeing snow! He also mentioned that he is Muslim and had a hard time finding halal food while he was traveling, so he ate a lot of rice and noodles.
Aside from the mosques and the spattering of women with their heads covered it is easy to forget that Lombok is a predominately Muslim island. As tourism increases and locals start businesses to cater to foreigners changes in culture occur as locals are exposed to people from other countries. We've seen this trend here as many teenage/young 20's Indonesia boys emulate California "surfer bros." There is a visible group of Indonesian "surfer dudes" with long streaked blond hair wearing flat brimmed hats and offering complicated handshakes. One night while listening to live music we were entertained by these surfer bros as they danced around trying to impress the foreign ladies. It's funny to us to see American culture popping up in the most unexpected places.
Kuta revolves around a 2 block radius where all of the retail shops, restaurants, surf shops and tourist huts are located. It's not the most eventful town- it's really all about the beaches here.
At night the weather cools down considerably and everyone heads out to the main strip. There is something to satisfy every craving- western food, Indonesian food, Mexican food, wood oven pizzas and a really good Mediterranean restaurant, El Bazar. So good in fact that we had their carrot cake two days in a row! Usually we find that it's typically best to stick with local cuisine, lest you want to pay more and possibly end up disappointed.
Whether eating breakfast, lunch, or dinner in Kuta you will be pestered by kids selling bracelets. Some of them are as young as 5 years old. They are sharp inquisitive little kids with a good grasp of English and a few different sales pitches. But, after the tenth kid approaches you while you try to enjoy your meal your patience starts to wear thin. There seem to be a lot of children around. Some unsupervised, some as young as ten driving on motor scooters (no helmets on!), others in their mothers arms or running around naked on the beach (in stark contrast to the women on the beach with their bodies and heads covered while dipping in the ocean.) All the children are charming with their big bright smiles- Indonesian's might be some of the most smiley people on earth.
Another Day Another Country
We leave tomorrow for Singapore where we will spend 4 days. Then it's on to Malaysia. We were lucky to find a guy through couch surfing to spend two nights with in Singapore.
Check out our route through Lombok below!