Kuta, Bali – It Begins with a Crash

Sunset on Kuta Beach

September 2, 2012 – Oscar and I had both read a decent amount about how bad of an idea it was for the inexperienced to tangle with Kuta traffic on a motorbike and I suppose that would be why it didn’t seem all that surprising when, within 20 minutes of leaving Denpasar airport in Bali, we were watching two bystanders drag a seemingly non-responsive Balinese motorbike rider off the street after he clipped another car while pulling a thoroughly ill-advised pass up the middle of the road and pirouetted into the front bumper of our cab. So much for not moving someone with a potentially serious injury. Likewise for sticking around the scene of an accident. Our driver was gone as soon as the bystanders had cleared the car with the downed rider which took no more that 30 seconds from the time he hit our bumper.

We too would be fleeing Kuta just as soon as we got sorted with surf gear and took care of a few travel arrangements. While there are certainly pockets of tranquility (like the inner sanctum of the Masa Inn where we bunked down the first two nights) and a few remnants of what must have made it so very awesome in the 70’s, the Kuta of today is mostly a traffic choked case study in the evils of rapid overdevelopment and tourism run amok in the absence of any attempt at managing development. The din of motorbikes is nearly constant in the main streets and back alleys as is the attention required to avoid being tagged by one. And it’s not really the Balinese that you have to worry about (except the rider noted above) as they mostly seem to have it all mastered as far as the ebb and flow of traffic goes. It’s the backpackers and young Australian holiday makers you have to keep an eye on as they most certainly don’t have it mastered and are all too game for racing their rental motorbikes around in emulation of the locals. Add a few Bintangs to the mix and possibly a few mushrooms (which are sold out of small shops all over Kuta as the government currently tolerates them despite their zero tolerance policy for every other drug out there) and it’s easy to see how some vacations don’t end well in these parts.

So after enjoying the sunset on Kuta Beach on our first night with a couple of Bintangs and a thousand or so of our closest Balinese and tourist friends, buying used boards (in my case a 7’0″ Al Merrick Black Beauty… Score!), eating a couple of forgettable dinners (one of which came with complimentary shots of Arak which is a local booze made of fermented rice and/or palm which tastes no good), trying mostly unsuccessfully to catch a few waves in a stretch of well overhead closed out Kuta beach break, and getting the worst massage of my life (although at $6 for an hour it’s kind of tough to complain), the boys and I fled Kuta for the island of Lembongan which is only a 30 minute fast boat ride from the east side of Bali but a world away from the sorry state of Kuta.