“Where are you going?” — my travel buddy asked sleepily.
“To look around Kuta.” — I answered.
“Be back before 9, they serve breakfast. After breakfast we will continue our journey.” — he finished and went back to bed.
I took my camera and left the room I’d rented with my fellow traveller, we’d met in Bali the day before and he had looked more confident than me going into this scooter trip around Lombok. We had planned our three day trip, rented scooters and left Bali. However within an hour of arrival to Lembar we chose to go our separate ways. Due to his leg injury and inability to push the scooter uphill he chose the asphalt road, whereas I chose the mud track. We then met again in Kuta in the evening, shared stories and decided to continue the journey together this time.
When I first heard the name “Kuta beach” I thought it might be similar to the one in Bali. In fact, loads of of people mistake this place for the concrete, anti-paradise of Balinese Kuta. Despite the fact both Kutas are called villages, this one actually suits its name more. Culturally, Lombok’s Kuta is more Indonesian than the one in Bali. The restaurants and shops are deserted. People do not fuss over you. There is no “Sir, come here, see this” or “Psst, you want? You want?” Unlike its more famous Balinese bruh it lacks tourist boutiques, shopping streets, busses, large resorts, night clubs. However the absence of latter doesn’t prevent vacationers from behaving inappropriately, as alcohol is still available on the island.
After a loud party last night, some Aussie surfers were still in their bungalows, while I was already up and headed to the beach. The 100 km ride and pushing my bike uphill the day before had left my back aching and my legs sunburned. Despite heavy rain and dark clouds the sun had still found its way through to attack my delicate European snowy skin. The day was again cloudy but promised to clear up. When I reached the beach it was silent and calm.
Kuta is famous for its mostly deserted white sand beaches. Surfing here is considered to be some of the best in the world. But before the beach filled up with water and surfers, it remained quiet and filled with dogs instead. They were running around marking their territory and hunting for their breakfast, which was hiding in the sand. Compared to Balinese Ubud where the dogs were eating garbage in the markets and rats in the rice paddies, these Kuta dogs were digging for crabs and feasting on the beach. For local dogs and local people, the sea is the main source of food here.
But it’s not always as quiet as today. Kuta beach is transformed by a big fishing festival each February, when hundreds of people rush to Lombok to catch a glimpse of the first nyale. Bau Nyale, which means “to catch the sea worms”, is one of Lombok’s most important and popular festivals, where Sasak people commemorate a mythical princess who drowned in these waters to escape a politically arranged marriage. This festival coincides with the start of the high sea worm season, the worms are caught and roasted in banana leaves before being eaten with much enthusiasm.
While the dogs were chasing crab, the people were further away from the sandy shore. Kuta’s local population predominantly consists of indigenous Sasak people, most of whom are Muslim. After the first prayer, at low tide, the Sasak villagers descend upon the beach to harvest seaweed, which will eventually find its way to Japanese sushi bars.
I wore flip flops, which helped me to traverse the water, as the sea floor was covered with sharp rocks. I walked until I found myself few hundred metres away from the beach. I came closer to see some locals catching crabs with nets, they were primarily women and kids.
They paid me no attention and got on with their own business, which gave me confidence to move closer. The women were standing still so that their movements wouldn’t scare the crabs away. It was clear that I should be quiet and still too.
With brisk net movements they took out the crabs, fish and sea urchins trapped in the shallow waters. This was small catch to be eaten throughout the day. Those who hoped to bag more than crab went further out to where waves hit the shore stones and dumped larger fish. The luckiest would catch octopuses to sell to local premium restaurants. A catch made by the local men.
I didn’t go far and remained alongside the fisherwomen. I lost track of time and noticed that people had started to go back to the beach as the water came in. When I turned around the small sandy islets I had been stepping on to get here were now submerged under the water. In just a few minutes the water level rose from ankle to knee deep, and I headed back.
As people started returning, some were coming with bags of catch, some people with nothing, hoping to catch something tomorrow. In order to feed themselves they are compelled to do this everyday. The women stopped being quiet and showed off their haul, laughing and cheering.
What had seemed to me a paradise a few minutes earlier, now looked like an everyday struggle for some. People do this every morning, right before the tide comes in. What was a place of work just couple of hours ago had transformed back to a normal beach, hiding all evidence of the locals’ presence there. This place was now ready for the entertainment phase of the day, for tourists and surfers.
As the water level rose, fishermen with boats and proper nets started to prepare for another run. This time for the bigger catch.