Blue Monday: Day 21

My new driver is here at 9 am on the dot. I didn’t know if I would get Suda again when I booked a day trip to the south of Kuta. I intimated to him that I would hire him for today when we were in the car yesterday but he said he was lazy and doesn’t like to work. I end up with a man called Iwan who had said the other night when I booked the waterfall tour that he hoped he would end up as my driver.

We set off for the south of the island, which should take about 90 minutes. Part of the tour is to go the weaving village, but I had seen a lot of Batik weaving when I was in Bali in 2006 so I ask to skip it. I’m interested in seeing the pottery village along the way though.

I had ummed and ahhed over staying in Senggigi or Kuta when I was booking my accommodation in Lombok. The south of Lombok is much more picturesque than the north west. It faces the Indian Ocean and the seas are bluer and the beaches sandier. Kuta had a bad reputation a few years ago, being known as a dangerous and crime-ridden place where tourists where encouraged to stay in their hotels after sundown lest they be robbed, which was one reason why I had decided against it. Suda had said that isn’t really the case any more as the wealth created by the tourism boom had ended the robbers’ desperation and need for cash, so it’s perfectly fine to stay in Kuta.

A new road has been built between Mataram, the main town of Lombok, and Kuta, as the new international airport is close by. We zip down the coast, pass through the thrum of Mataram and then head along the new road. It is like an A-road in England. The countryside is as lush and verdant and there are mosques everywhere. Many new ones are being built. Iwan isn’t as talkative as Suda, but I tell him that Suda told me that Lombok is known as the ‘island of a thousand mosques.’ He tells me there are actually 4,680 mosques on Lombok – the number of which is sure to go up as I’ve seen at least seven new ones being built this far on the journey.

As we head down the new road, Iwan tells me he forgot about going to the pottery village. It’s fine, I tell him. Maybe we can get there on the way back. We continue and in about 50 minutes we are approaching Kuta. The road ends and becomes more like a dirt path as we thread through road works. I begin to see lots of tourists. We go past a thriving tourist market and then turn onto the road down to the beach.

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It’s certainly very different to Senggigi, and it seems like a small country village – the buildings are more warung-style than concrete monstrosities. We pull into the car park for the beach and man, the sea is blue. It’s the tropical island style of blue that we fantasise about. Iwan tells me to take my time and I set off to check out the beach. Ten seconds later a woman runs over to me offering coconuts, and I say maybe later. Damn – I shouldn’t have said that cos she’ll be all over me when I get back.

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I round a large rock and come onto the beach. It is much more appealing. The sand is yellower and the sea is so blue. I wander along and I see a man kite surfing. I think he must be a teacher or a renter as he’s performing tricks – jumping, twirling, etc. – presumably to entice customers. A Caucasian man is also in the water riding along under a kite. I sit for a few minutes to watch and take photos, then I move over to a large rock formation in the middle of the beach.

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I’ve been here about 15 minutes. I feel like I’ve “seen” the beach now, and wonder whether to go back to the car. It’s too early to swim, since I’ll have to sit soggily in the car. I decide to take a walk along the rest of the beach, since I’ve been in the car all morning and have less than a thousand steps recorded on my Apple Watch. The sea looks like it’s been at high tide, and as I step onto the wet sand my legs sink in up to my ankles. It’s hard to walk on this beach. I get almost all the way along but it’s a struggle. I stop to look at the boats and take some pictures and then make my way back.

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There are more people now on the part of the beach that I came in on. People have lain down and some are swimming. It’s now about 12 pm. Basket women have appeared and are making their way along the beach. I sit for about 20 minutes, just taking in the scenes. There’s a guy sitting on the swing on the beach absentmindedly pecking at his phone so I take some candid shots. The kite surfer is still performing jumps and twirls on the water.

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I get up and move back towards the car. Coconut lady comes rushing towards me, and I see a man selling sarongs eyeing me up and then start to come at me. I dodge off to another rock formation and climb up the rocks to watch the waves crashing over and hide in the shade. When I emerge ten minutes later neither of them are there. I walk a little further along this beach and then head back to the car.

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I ask Iwan about a cafe I read about called Ashari. It’s up on the hills above the town and offers great views of the beach. We head there and I invite Iwan to lunch. We sit on the balcony overlooking the town and he recommends sato ayam to me. It’s delicious, and it’s a great place to chill for 45 minutes.

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We get back into the car and head to another beach nearby. On the way we pass a sign for a bat cave. There is a large cave somewhere in the Kuta region at which you can go at sunrise and sunset to see thousands of bats entering and leaving the cave. It’s not this place, but he asks if I want to go in and I say okay.

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I have to pay 25,000 to enter. Iwan appears to pay nothing. We go inside the large entrance to the cave and I immediately see some bats clinging to the rocks. Some are squeaking and some fly around to a new position. It’s kind of cool. After a few minutes snapping photos I’m ready to leave, but Iwan shows me to another, much smaller entrance behind a column of rock and we go in there. The lady who tooks my entrance money comes over with lights for us. I had assumed it was just the large opening we first went into, but this cave opens out in to many smaller caverns inside. We lost the light and we stand in the pitch blackness. It smells and there is a soft type of sandy mud beneath our feet. I hope we’re not standing in bat droppings, especially as when I move my feel my shoes flick the sand up the back of my legs. It’s so silent bat the chirping of the bats above. We don’t see any, but I feel a flash against my face at one point. It’s quite eerie.

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We climb up some rocks and go into a smaller part of the cave. At the top is an opening and I can see the silhouettes of monkeys just hanging around at the hole. I’m somehow more interesting in seeing the monkeys than the bats. I’m a little creeped out by the blackness as we make our way back out.

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We head back out to the car and make out way through more countryside to a beach called Mawun beach. It is beautiful. My jaw kind of drops. It’s just a small little bay but the water is so blue and calm and the sand quite golden. The pictures don’t do it justice. Iwander along and take some pictures, and I kind of want to ask to stay here, but I know we have one more beach to go to.

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It’s about 15 minutes to Selong Balanak beach. Iwan says it is his favourite beach and he brings his kids and grandkids here. At first I’m a little disappointed as it is much wider and the sea is much further out and it looks as though the tide is receding. It is also lined with lots of bars and warungs and there are loads of people hanging out on sun beds. I was kind of hoping it would be secluded, like Nipah was. But I see that further along the beach there are fewer people and so I head along there.

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I find a spot and put down the sarong I bought for sitting down on the beach and I take my over shorts off so I have my swimming gear on. I brought along an old t-shirt I usually use for swimming outside – for covering up and for preventing burning – but I decide since there is no one anywhere near me I won’t bother with the t-shirt. It’s about 2:15 now.

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I head into the water. It’s cold at first. I splash some over me to try to adjust. I head in further and then just jump under the water and swim out a little. It’s quite shallow, so I can get my feet down and when I stand up the water is barely up to my waist. Further out there are some large waves breaking. It’s fun to stand and wait for them and feel them lift me up and crash over my head. I start to feel like a kid in a water park again. I swim some more and play around with the waves.

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I decide to test the water resistance of my phone. I brought the underwater case but I don’t put it on as it wasn’t so great at the waterfalls yesterday. I’m not planning to submerge the phone; merely to try and get some pictures from within the water and of the waves breaking. When one comes I stand resolutely in front it and hit the shutter. It’s quite powerful and it knocks me back as it hits me. I lose grip of the phone; it drops a little but I catch it and hold my hand up as far as I can as I crash down on my arse onto the sand. Saved.

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I take the phone back and head into the water for some more swimming. People pass by along the beach. I keep my eye on locals and tourists alike lest I see them reach into my things, but no one does. I’m mindful of the time that I have with Iwan though – the car is booked for eight hours and it’s approaching 3:30. I know we have a 90-minute journey back to Senggigi.

I gather my things and head back to where he is waiting. Despite my reservations at this beach, I really enjoyed it. I tell Iwan I came back because of the time, but he says it’s fine. We have a coffee from the warung he is sitting at and then head off.

The journey back to town is fine. We’ve gone along the coast and so we get back to the new road at an earlier point than we exited it, so it takes only around an hour to get back. It’s 4:55 pm when I get back to my room. I shower and change and then head back to the beach I found last night. I’ve decided I will try the La Chill bar next door to Joje, as it was recommended by a Dutch girl staying in the hotel I chatted to the night before.

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I make my way back along the road, take the cut through and then head along the beach. The sunset is just as glorious as it was last night. When I get past Cafe Alberto some of the beach sellers are hanging around with their wares. One yells out, ‘Hey. I saw you at Joje last night, but you don’t buy anything.’ I say, sorry – I don’t wear jewellery and keep walking. I get a seat though I’m a couple of rows back from the front, so as I watch the sunset I don’t get an entirely clear view of the sky. I think the food is better at Joje, to be honest.

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When I reflect on the day I’m finally feeling like I am starting to warm to Lombok. It was a bit of a wonky start, but now I have got out of Senggigi and seen some of what the island has to offer I feel much happier here. I don’t have anything planned for tomorrow, however. We’ll just have to see how that goes.

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