A post about mismatched expectations
I’m looking at the pictures that I have uploaded and for the first time, I think they frame an inaccurate picture of a place. While Kuta has its nice parts – my impressions of it were predominantly negative. One tends to prefer taking pictures of the nice stuff, I guess. Lesson learnt for the future. Capture the good, the bad, the pretty and the ugly when you take pictures.
I arrived in Kuta straight from Singapore. By the time I got there, it was already dark. When I woke up the next day, I headed straight to the beach without paying much attention to all the people who were trying to sell me stuff, drag me into their shops, get me onto their scooters or into their cabs. This would drive me insane a few days later, yet at this point, all I wanted to see were the waves and smell the ocean. It was only a five minute walk from where I was staying and, passing a taller than usual Balinese gate, I had reached:
At this point, a strange sensation of excitement overtook me. The sea has this magical effect on me and seeing this view, with the afternoon sun slowly going down, it made me be extremely excited about living in that very moment.
Kuta Beach and Kuta Sunset
The beach is Kuta is huge. To the South you can see all the way to the airport in Denpasar and spot the landing airplanes. To the North you could walk along the beach to Legian or Semyniak. It did look impressive. And because I had partied pretty hard the night before, it was already quite late in the afternoon. The sun sets in Bali around 6:30 PM so it wasn’t long until the moment had arrived: the most impressive thing in Kuta is the sunset. I had no idea how spectacular it actually was (on most nights, buses full of tourists arrive just to whiteness it) so I just couldn’t stop taking picture after picture. The photos below were all taken the same first day on the beach:
With the extremely low tide just before sunset, the beach had become the ideal playground for a football game that seemed to be involving everyone left on the beach:
And by the time it got dark, the previous hustle and bustle of the place had made way to compete and utter silence. So silent that at first I was concerned. Is this normal? Is this safe at all? There were no lights, no music, no people…nothing. Just waves hitting the shore. I had just arrived but in that moment I knew I wanted to stay there for a very long time. Bali had just put a spell on me. And indeed, the spell of Bali remained, just not that of Kuta. I sat in that place for hours reading a very old book for a second time, the Brothers Karamazov by Dostoyevski. This time though, it was in digital format 🙂
The reasons I had chosen Kuta as my first Bali destination were twofold: Surfing and Partying. And indeed, there was plenty of both. Before coming, I read that Kuta was ideal for beginners (surf-wise, of course). There were no corals or rocks so it was less dangerous to fall and fracture your skull. I started surfing every day with a proper class in the early afternoon and then all by myself in the late afternoon. My first class costed 200k but then I managed to negotiate it down to 100k per hour (including all the equipment). On my fourth day I pulled a muscle in my right shoulder. I thought it was a temporary thing so I tried again a few hours later but it still hurt. Since it wasn’t better in the morning, the decision was then made to take a break from surfing for a few days. By that time, the partying plus late night world cup watching craze had taken over and I just couldn’t motivate myself to take it up again. Mistake. The first time I was able to properly stand up on the surf board is one of those incredible memories that I think will stay with me forever. Whohoooow.
The partying on the other hand, it started to become tedious. My idea of partying in South East Asia is beach front parties, bonfires, reggae music, etc. None of that in Kuta. Every night new people, new faces, new drinks. The one constant – they were all drunk. I had met Rudy, an Indonesian guy who moved to Kuta from Jakarta and worked in an arts store and I’d see him almost every night but then it was always somebody else we’d have a drink with. After a while it started to become a bit of a routine: First got to Alley Cats to get the cheap drinks. Alley Cats is owned by an English guy and sells Vodka+Red Bulls for IDR 15k (that is £0.75). The Red Bull comes from 20l containers though and it tastes disgusting. The place is filled with Australians in their early 20s getting all smashed and fired up for the rest of the evening. Sure, I had fun the first time I was there…when it’s already 4 or 5 nights in a row, it’s not fun anymore.
Second stop was almost always Eikon. When Alley Cats closed at 11, people rushed to Eikon because it was pretty cool and it was close. Drinks are a lot more expensive here but still cheap for European standards. Eikon is a reasonably small club so it felt rather full, even at 11. They’d usually shut at 3 AM – when it was time to go to Sky Garden. Sometimes we’d go to Sky Garden first and very rarely, we’d venture into other places, places such as the Reggae bar which was rather cool. They were all on Poppies II or Legian Street – two famous party streets in Kuta. Can’t miss them if you are there. Below are two pics of Poppies I. Poppies I is full of restaurants, shops and massage places and I found it to be one of the prettier little streets in Kuta. Unfortunately, it seems I’ve never taken any pictures of the Legian area which is a pity.
Anyhow – please don’t get me wrong here. The clubs are all nice and you can easily have a massive night out in Kuta, the type that you can tell your grandchildren about, or your children when they say ‘Dad, you are soooo boring!’. It was just not what I was looking for. It took me some time until I realised that – and then I took off. More about that later in the post.
The Kuta Mess
Kuta is a mess. The architecture looks like never ever has there been any planning done and amazingly old temples are surrounded by little ugly concrete buildings. Not to mention the cables hanging from everywhere. But that’s fine, you don’t go to Kuta for the architecture. Yet if you keep your eyes open, you may find a gem when you least expect it. Kuta is full of hints that, once upon a time, this wasn’t just the stranding place for Western kids looking for cheap booze, but a far grander location.
View of messy Kuta architecture from above
Something randomly burning on Kuta beach
On top of this comes the traffic which is insane. On one of the days, I tried to rent a scooter. I drove around for a bit but realised I was endangering my life really, so gave it back 🙂 Maybe that’s just me who is a little bit of a wuss. Still, some of the worst I’ve ever seen.
The roads in Kuta are plastered with shops. Nothing bad about it, if only the keepers weren’t the most annoying, pushy and generally unpleasant people in the world. “Transport, hashish, cocaine, viagra, mushrooms?” all the f*ckin’ time. Even just the normal shops will rip you off. An Australian guy I met even even got punched in the face for trying on a shirt and then not buying it. Can you believe it? I bought a small bag pack at some point – they quoted 600k. I brought it down to 100k and I still feel I was ripped off. And then when I was about to leave, he showed me some viagra pills and asked me if I wanted any. I was like WTF is wrong with you?? Anyhow – the fact that you can’t walk down the street without being aggressed every 10 seconds might be something you can easily get over when you first get there, after a while it’s just way too much and was driving me insane. My next destination was Gili where none of that happens and that made SUCH a difference.
Kuta can be an interesting destination for a few days at the absolute max – certainly not for a few weeks. I stayed so long that all I wanted was to get out. It’s easy to get stuck in a place when all you do is travel. Yet when I started speaking to people about renting a flat and getting some short-term job there, it was way too much and it felt like the final signal to move on. Yes, I did have some unforgettable moments in Kuta, but should I ever go back it’d be only to say hi to Rudy and see the sunset again.