My first reaction in Kuta was to turn around and take the first flight home. The place is a total dump. There is garbage everywhere. Some bother to burn it, most simply throw it. Scruffy dogs chase me at the beach. What beach? What could be a premium strip of Côte d'Azur is Côte Poubelle. At night you get run over by hordes of scooters without headlights. No worries, you can still hear them coming. Half are missing proper exhausts.
Kuta Lombok (pronounce: Ku-teeh) ain’t love at first sight. But trust me, it will grow on you. Look at it as the perfect basecamp to visit the most amazing beaches. Hostels are - no pun intended - dirt cheap. If you ever dreamed of living your Point Break dream, you’ve come to the right place. Half of the dudes have long hair. There other half a beard. Everybody calls you 'brother'. Even children address you with: ‘Hey Man.' Anyway, we're not here to nag, we're here to surf.
"You're sayin' the FBI's gonna pay me to learn to surf?"
- Johnny Utah
Ever since watching 'Point Break' I dreamed of being a surf hero. But growing up in Belgium, the chances of actually becoming one are pretty slim. 24 years later, I still have my dream and I’ve come to Lombok to give it one last chance. Will it be Point Break or Apocalypse Now? Charlie don't surf. But what about me?
Before I become the new Bodhi, I gotta do what Keanu Reaves did. Follow surf lessons. There are plenty of surf shops. We picked Barrels in Main Street Kuta, because it has the best graffiti, the best hair and the best parties. TJ, Ozzie and Rahman are a bunch of fun loving, big mouthed and slightly insane surf heads. Expect singing Bob Marley songs (who else?) and cheesy pickup lines. But they also have the amazing talent to make a nerd like me stand on a board in half an hour. 'Spirit, brother, spirit! Feel the wave!' they scream as I try to stand up. I still can’t believe it. I’m not exactly doing tubes. 'This is for little rubber people who don't shave yet.' But it more or less qualifies as surfing. Bucket list: check!
The daily fee of 250K includes transport to Selong Belanak beach, rental of a board the size of a submarine, 2 surf sessions and some post-surf fun. On the way back they take you to see some real surfers, a great sunset or a party. It’s a bit like buying friendship, the way you buy love in Thailand. No money, no honey.
"You can't just call time-out, stroll on into the beach if you don't like the way things are going."
Often described as 'Bali, 15 years ago', Kuta is a mail order catalogue of post card perfect beaches. All beaches now charge an official 10.000 IDR parking fee. In the past you had random teens poking your tires if you didn’t cough up protection money.
In the east, the closest beach is Pantai SEGER, right next to Novotel. Don't go via the hotel, the bridge is broken. Keep driving straight and follow the signs. 10K later, you’ll see an untamed beach with wild surf and currents. 'If you lose it, fish will pick you out of the corals.' Don't even think of swimming here. I had the brilliant idea of renting a board and paddling into the surf. Just to prove that bravery is close to stupidity. Rocks cut my feet. And the board, costing me an extra 100K IDR for repairs. I got off cheaply.
More east, is the TANJUNG AAN beach. Sea weed covers most of the sand, garbage is lying all over, a shed serves drinks. Don't kill yourself yet. First climb the hill for the most amazing sunset of your life. Absolutely breathtaking.
The best beaches are in the WEST. Drive your scooter through miles of arid landscapes. Miserable huts are sitting in a sea of trash. Buffaloes are standing along the road (be careful). Tobacco plants grow on dry lands. Life is hard out here.
MAWUN is a crescent of white sands around a turquoise bay. One giant tree offers shade. Small shops sell cold Bintang and snacks. Mentally prepare for a stream of sarong selling women.
A bit further is surfers’ nirvana, better known as MAUI beach. The road is extremely bad. This is truly wild Lombok. The waves are insane. Surfers come out of the water with bleeding legs.
SELONG BELANAK offers perfect conditions for beginning surfers with big ambitions and little talent. The waves are mild. The water is not deep. No killer paddling required. You can walk to your start position. And it's all sandy, no rocks. This is Surf School Central. After a few lessons, you can try to catch a wave on your own, on the left side, not in the fierce surf. Renting a board costs 50K. Recover in a deck chair with umbrella (50K). Restock your carbs at the bamboo restaurants, offering simple, but tasty food. The veggie Gado-Gado (30K) with slightly spicy peanut sauce at Mawe's joint is excellent. Count 10K for a big bottle of water, 15 for a Coke, 40 for a large Bintang. Ambiance is friendly and relaxed. A daily spectacle is the returning herd of buffaloes walking along the beach. Surreal.
"You want the ultimate? You gotta be willing to pay the ultimate price."
To reach the beaches, you need your own wheels. Renting a scooter costs as little as 50.000 IDR/day. You can get a rack for your surfboard. Inspect the goodies, take pictures to avoid the classic 'you pay for damage' trick. Ideally rent from your hotel, even if they charge 1 dollar extra. There's no insurance, so be extremely careful. Buffalos have the nasty habit of jumping in front of your wheels. I had a brush with death when a truck took a left turn. "It's no tragic to die doing what you love." But it's stupid not to wear a helmet. Scooters always come with an empty tank. You can buy petrol in 1 litre bottles along the road, for just 10.000 IDR
"First thing. Get some sleep. This could be an interesting morning."
- Angelo Pappas
Accommodation is a matter of taste and budget. You can find superb home stays for as little as 100.000 IDR (7$) and Balinese style villas for 400.000. Whatever crib you're picking, make sure it’s far away from the main road, or you will endure some serious noise torture.
So, unless you're deaf, avoid staying at the South Lombok Villas (350K). Rooms are outstanding, design out of this world, value superb. The problem? Location, location, location. Situated at a busy junction, right next to a mosque and the morning market, it’s like staying at Guantanamo Bay in boutique version. After 2 sleepless nights you'll confess to any crime. “Yes officer, 9/11, that was me.”
You’re much better off walking 500 meters up the 'Airport' road. There’s a little side street, leading to a treasure hold of hostels, hidden from ‘Da Noise. Villa Bau Nyale is a series of 11 Balinese themed villas around a gorgeous pool. Each comes an outside bathroom in a walled garden, a mini pond with koi, clay pot fountains … the whole fancy schmancy. For this luxury you need to dig out 685.000 IDR (45$), a fortune for locals, a bargain for you.
The same luxury - minus the koi and outside shower - can found just around the corner for half the price. Yuli’s Homestay has everything to satisfy to contessa in you for just 400.000 IDR.
Next door, Jahn and Adi are the friendly hosts of the Heavenly Homestay, a set of just 5 rooms in a huge garden with a small pool, for just 360.000 IDR. Maybe a little less designish but extremely welcoming.
"I'm so hungry I could eat the ass end out of a dead rhino"
- Angelo Pappas
Plenty of cheap eateries in Kuta, all offering the same Nasi Goreng cuisine and Italian junk. In the evening, most Warungs barbecue the catch of the day. Take a leap of faith, the fish is excellent.
In Main Street, Sonya is a simple restaurant with fresh fish, grilled to perfection, leaving that nice moist touch, with garlic sauce on the side. Served with rice and a tiny bit of veggies, a fatty red snapper for 2 costs around 100K, a whale sized model for 4 just 230K. Do negotiate.
If you want to be transported from the beaches of Lombok to Agadir, there's the outstanding El Bazar. The Mezze is a best of the Orient with subtle tones of cumin and rosemary. The Mediterranean White Fish will take you to port of Tangier, the Beef Kebab to the market of Jemaa El Fna. For the hipster surfer, there's the best boutique breakfast in town: the superbly flavoured El Bazar smoked salmon or El Omelet (asparagus, free range eggs, zesty creme fraiche) with a freshly squeezed juice and coffee for just 80K.
Another great Bobo breakfast option is The Corner Boutique Cafe: take the Salmon Stack (with poached eggs, hollandaise, 60K) or The Corner Special (poached eggs, spinach, French toast, 55K).
Both places serve excellent coffee, a nice change from the thick tar used to repair roads, better known as Lombok coffee.
"It's the ultimate rush. Nothing comes close to it. Not even sex."