Kuta Lombok Looking for Paradise


Today we left Gili Air and traveled to Kuta Lombok. A gray cloud hung over us as a morning family argument sent anger seething through all of our veins and then it literally started to rain. The walk from our hotel to the boat dock was about a ¾ mile trek through muddy streets and thatched roofs dripping in just the place a person needs to step off to make room for a passing Cidomo (horse-drawn cart). We purchased boat tickets yesterday and were told to simply show them at the ticket office. When we arrived and presented our tickets, the man at the counter informed us that what we purchased was only for the bus ride once we landed in Lombok. That ticket was not for the boat ride. Momentarily frustrated, we let it go and purchased passage for the boat meant to hold half as many people. Seat space was a premium, but I was offered a position next to a very tiny, very ancient man in his sarong, Muslim buttoned shirt and flat hat called a Peci. He looked regal and very important and he slid over so I would have room on the bench. I was very thankful, worried that as a woman I shouldn’t be sitting so close and really, and really just wanted to stare at his ancient beauty! I kept making excuses to look out to the right in order to catch a glimpse of this elder in traditional garb. We did not touch until the boat landed on Lombok and to my surprise, he quite brusquely pushed me aside so he could exit before me.

It was still drizzly when we arrived on Lombok and the volcanic black sand stuck to my feet and sprayed up against my calves with every flap of my rubber flip flops. We trudged through muddy streets as people constantly yelled, “transportation” or stopped us to ask where we were going. Jeff kept telling everyone who wanted our business that we were looking for the Bunga Bunga Cafe. Funny name = me laughing! This was the place the ticket man told us we would find our shuttle bus. And the men kept pointing us down the road in the direction we walked indicating with flapping hands, further, further. In my mind, I heard Spanish “Alli no mas!” Meaning just right there, but really, Dude, you got a long way to go!


We kept walking through the mud and drizzle, past the bus stop where we found the Bunga Bunga Cafe, a couple of fowl on a fence, and a man who was waiting to transport us to Kuta Lombok…sort of. The ticket purchase misunderstanding from earlier left us feeling a little distrusting, so when we didn’t leave from the Bunga Bunga right away, I started to suspect that something was amiss. This is no mystery novel, so I’ll tell you right off, we were fine, but it sure seemed weird. About twenty minutes after we arrived, a bunch of tourists got dropped off, we were all smashed into a little van and driven through one of the most amazing jungles with giant elephant ear palms, monster tall trees that reached well above the forest canopy and monkeys everywhere alongside the road where they knew that car=human=food. The locals call them “police” who make random roadside stops looking for contraband…well, food, really! We didn’t know we would be switching vans in Mataram, and we didn’t know that tiny Lombok was host to such a huge city – a little over 400,000 people on an island that holds 3.1 million! I guess driving through the jungle roads left us to believe we were in the middle of seclusion.

Between Mataram and Kuta the land is flat and gives way to traditional farming. We saw beautiful green rice fields and small vegetable plots near homes. The most startling thing was the preponderance of mosque construction. GIANT new, elaborate mosques were under construction as often gas stations in Albania. On the mosques that already exist, it was comforting to see the huge speakers coming from the highest roofs of each so the call to prayer could be proclaimed across the land. Indonesia is, after all, the largest Muslim population in the world. Our host pointed out immediately upon arrival that our rooms were soundproofed making the five a day prayer summons much more muffled. However, we could expect to hear the sound of some native black cat-like critter who hangs out on the roof! Considering our place on Gili was open air and likely within a block of the mosque, we will appreciate the reprieve. Don’t go thinking that I am opposed to the religion, that is not my beef. I’m just a little sensitive to 3:47 am wake up calls. I admire a people so strong and committed to their faith that they want to scream it from bullhorns the way we do when a tornado is lurking nearby.

Our guest suites in Kuta are sumptuous, fully air-conditioned with spectacular gardens and pool. Our host, a Kiwi turned Aussie cum Indo Expat is very gracious with little else to do but manage his construction crew and cater to our every need. After 8 days of extreme physical discomfort, this is a welcome change.

Outside the guesthouse, the streets of Kuta Lombok are the same muddy mess that we saw elsewhere today, but the difference is that this place is REALLY rustic. This little town rattles my memory banks and harkens images of La Esperanza in Honduras. This was the biggest town near my village when I was in the Peace Corps that I had to travel through to get out, and it was an armpit. It held the major market for all villages within a four-hour walk and that means stink. Food stink, trash stink, bus stink. After all the Kuta Lombok articles we read, we were expecting a cute little touristy surfers paradise perhaps like Montanita in Ecuador or if we were lucky, Tulum in Mexico. I didn’t expect to get thrown back into a mucky little town on the verge of western development. The pictures and reviews make it look quite chic. What sets it apart from La Esperanza twenty-five years ago is that there is development and foreign cash. Tourists make their way here for the supposed great surfing, so restaurants, hotels and convenience stores exist. We didn’t see any western style development anywhere when we were in Honduras except in the Capitol and San Pedro Sula in the north. This is the true meaning of dichotomy.

After we got situated in our guesthouse, we took a walk to the village and beach. What beach, we asked?  Past dirty little piles of garbage everywhere we finally found the beach where 15-20 fishing boats were anchored across the sand, an equal number moored on the sand, and a baker’s dozen pack of dogs roamed under the anchor ropes and through the trash. There is not a single place for a swim, or to sit. There’s not a beach bar, restaurant or hangout to be found! The surfers break is visible from the shore, but definitely involves passage on a boat to reach. Kuta Lombok sure looks different on travel websites and reviews. Indonesia conjures images of paradise, and we are just not finding that.


Indonesia has me pretty happy in the food department, however, and today I did enjoy another new culinary delight. The dish I ordered was referred to a “Vegetable Tumpeng.” It came with red rice layered with yellow turmeric rice sitting in a majestic cone-shape in the middle of my plate surrounded by four other items: a salad, fried tempeh, a vegetable coconut curry and two fried vegetable patties. I asked for it spicy and finally got what I have been looking for after weeks of mild food – some homemade hot sauces that were delish. One seemed to be a very spicy puree of roasted eggplant and hot chiles, and the other a roasted puree of peppers and tomato – both delicious, and both wiped clean by the time we were done!


Dropped flowers after rain in Gili Air


It’s funny how gray clouds are used to teach lessons in life, because, although my lunch was delicious, in hindsight Gili Air was really cute! Hot, smoky and physically uncomfortable, but cute. The boys have yet to explore the surfing situation here in Kuta, but Max found that there are some beaches about a half hour away that might be promising. I think they will rent scooters and hire an instructor for a day or two while I get back to work on the Don Humphrey manuscript.

Even though Lombok is a shock to us all, I am physically happy again. The guest house is beautiful with huge floor to ceiling windows letting in very nice light. A patio with big palms hanging overhead, a hot water shower, and a sealed space that will prevent smoke, mosquitos or muezzin calls to prayer to enter!