24 - Crazy-Rich Decadent Asshole (Kuta, Lombok, Indonesia)
The French Disconnection and a southern detour. A tale of two Kutas. It was the bests of times, it was the worst of times. Phantom envy. Ice cream fandango. Kuta Fried Chicken (KFC). C’est la vie.
by The Nostomaniac
NORMANDY AND I SPENT A NIGHT recuperating at a small hotel in Senaru. (For context, see previous post.) You could say we became better “acquainted.” Our relationship was good, but “la lune de miel était finie” as they say. Our “Soup de Amour” had a shelf life of about four days. The first few spoonfuls were delicious, but shit got bitter at the bottom.
A few doors down, there was an eighty-four-year-old American guest from Rochester, New York. Rochester is four hours from where I grew up. Two things. First, how small the earth hath shrank. Geographically speaking, we were neighbors. Second, eighty-four years old? That’s what I like to see. Imagine globetrotting at that age? To be so lucky. Then again, maybe luck ain’t got nothin’ to do with it. Had I not been moving on, I would’ve swapped stories over coffee. Guess I was too busy writing my own. Regrets? I’ve had a few. I should’ve dropped what I was doing and chatted with the man. He no doubt was a fountain of knowledge. What did he have to share? What did I have to learn? What kept him moving, motivated? What was his diet like? Sleep habits? What did he do for a living? In my haste, I missed a golden opportunity, a unique opportunity. I unearthed treasure and walked right past it. Stupid.
I had originally planned to head to the next island (Sumbawa) after Rinjani, but was convinced otherwise. The pervasive argument may have had a French accent…allegedly. So, to the beach!…Again. This required a backtrack to Sengigi followed by a southeast ride to Kuta smack dab on Lombok’s south coast.
Kuta, Bali is an over-touristed wasteland of discotecs facing a dirty beach. Kuta, Lombok is (or should I was) quite the opposite. Surfers comprised most of the village’s exogenous inhabitants. The beaches are (or should I say were) beautiful and, for the most part, empty. It was an excellent place to chill and drift away. This, as I’ve mentioned before, was all pre-airport construction. There was evidence of earlier attempts at development, most notably paved roads going nowhere. Still, shifting sands were afoot. I’m sure the owners of the swanky Novotel at the main beach’s far end were anxious for an influx. I can only imagine what happened after the airport finally opened in nearby Praya. I’m hoping I’ve overestimated the draw but unwilling to confirm my suspicions. Glad I saw it before the flood.
Surfers gotta surf. And they did. I saw them. Our guesthouse was peopled with them. Not surfing in Kuta was like going to Vegas without money. I felt like a wannabe. It’s always been on my list to learn, but I knew it would require months for me to be satisfied. Kuta wasn’t the place for it, though the setting is ideal. Long-term residence would’ve been pricey. Also, I didn’t have the motivation. Too much chilling to do. I was still under the weather. (“Under the weather?” Ever wonder where the phrase comes from? Well, go here and wonder no more.)
I’d been taking Doxycycline to cure what ailed me. Hindsight brings foresight but much too late to be useful. Antibiotic use is way, way off the chizain. Hell, my prescription was free at the US pharmacy where I filled it. When in doubt, antibiotics mutha fucka! Who knows if my issue was bacterial. Maybe. Maybe not. But, like the ignoramus I was, I took the pills. One of the unfortunate side effects is sensitivity to sunlight. Perfect for beach weather and long motorcycle road trips. I had sunburn on my big toes and the knuckles of my hand. Groovy.
Speaking of motorcycles and being ignorant, I was having issues with the Phantom. Stalling and significant power loss. Turns out it was water buildup in the carburetor. I was oblivious (of course), but when I broke down on the way to Kuta a local man came to my rescue. He explained the problem and drained the water. My hog was resuscitated. Another superb display of Indonesian magnanimity.
I sat with my rescuer for a cup of coffee. As a gesture of appreciation, I bought him two packs of Marlboro cigarettes. (Grand total: $2 US.) Yes, this made me uncomfortable on many levels, but it’s all I could think of to show my gratitude. Probably not a great time to sing “Users are losers” and promise him he’d thank me later.
As I came to understand, resistance is futile. Everyone and their mother smokes. I’m not gonna lie. It’s fucking depressing. Also, crazy. There are clinics that treat cancer (not a typo), emphysema, and autism with cigarette smoke. You can’t make this shit up. Well, I guess you can if you’re a fool or a charlatan. Smoking rates in Indo are up six-fold over the last forty years. In other words? Big tobacco is winning, and they have set their sights on the developing world. Imagine the health implications. Or don’t. Like I said, depressing.
As I feared, the Phantom was a constant source of attention. Not all bad, but I did feel like a target, or more of a target I should say. Being white and six foot four inches tall didn’t help. Cruising around town was a little like riding through the streets of Rome on a golden chariot during the height of the empire. (Um, exaggerate much?) Many folks, especially males, loved the thing. They assumed it was super expensive, on par with a Harley Davidson. One gentleman asked me if it cost the equivalent of $20,000 US. Hard to bargain for anything (trinkets, snorkel gear, guesthouse, loving-kindness, etc.) when everyone thinks you’re a crazy-rich decadent asshole from across the way.
My pitiful solution? I told people the bike belonged to a friend. Only a loaner. Futile? Yep, but worth a try. One day I came out of a shop to find a guy sitting on the bike conveniently refusing to acknowledge my existence. Remember when you were a kid pretending to drive? The only thing missing was the “Brrrrrreeeehhhhhhh” engine imitation. I let him have his moment, but it was awkward. There’s me, the rich tobacco baron dazzling locals with ostentatious displays of wealth. How dare thee touch my hog?! Another bloke asked if he could take it for a spin. That felt like a terrible idea so I stuck to the “bike’s not mine” story. His disappointment was palpable. And a security guard at my hotel offered to wash it, visibly excited by the prospect. Cost? One pack of death sticks. However, they were Marlboro Lights, so…
Looking back, the Phantom’s biggest liability may have been its biggest asset. If you stole it, where the hell would you hide the thing? And who’d buy it? Parts? There weren’t many large motorcycles plying the streets, certainly no other Phantoms. Might not be a large black market for stolen parts. Then again, a boat to Jakarta could solve logistical hiccups.
I bumped into a dive instructor from Dive Buddha in the Gili Islands. Apparently, I’d become part of local lore, “Exhibit A” in any discussion on the potential dangers of titan triggerfish. Way to leave my mark. The idiot ambushed by a triggerfish. Superb.
There was a small ramshackle restaurant on the beach that served the best damn fried chicken I’d ever eaten. I couldn’t get enough. It came with a delectable garlic sauce for dipping. Screw KFC. That place did chicken right. Even more random was the music. One evening I dined to the twang of American country tunes. Set scene: Sitting in a beachside restaurant on Indonesia’s Lombok island eating delicioso fried chicken and listening to Don't Rock the Jukebox by Alan Jackson. Does it git any better? Don’t think so, partner.
And I shan’t forget the mute Indonesian masseur. We met at the “hippest” bar in Kuta. Unlike its Balinese namesake, it’s not party-hardy central (pre-airport parameters apply). A silent Indonesian male of fifty patrolled the scene offering his services. A young Norwegian described the product whilst in the midst of a massage right at the table. He told me it resembled the moment right before you have an orgasm. Um, ‘kay.
The ad-hoc masseur had a brilliant promotional strategy: Free samples. When Norway was finished he pointed in my direction. How could I refuse? So, I let the man work his magic and then paid for the full monty. I’m not big on being massaged by old dudes, strange dudes, or any dudes, really, but this dude had the touch. This in spite of a setting not exactly infused with relaxation undertones. And yet, I was beguiled. From afar, it was hilarious watching the master ply his craft with such a stone-cold severe expression. Not fucking around was he.
“Shits and giggles” moments. I had a few. On the beach one day while trying to convince local vendors I honestly didn't need another sarong, I noticed the ice cream man coasting in on his motorbike. I inquired about the price of a popsicle. Seven thousand rupiahs (about sixty cents). I bought his whole stash and began handing out frozen delight.
Honda Phantom motorcycle: Twenty-two million rupiahs. Ferry ticket from Bali to Lombok: Ten thousand rupiahs. Container filled with ice cream: One hundred twenty-two thousand rupiahs. Watching Indonesian children eat free ice cream: Priceless.
Good idea? Nope. Terrible, really. Sets a bad precedent for those that follow and did nothing to rebut my crazy-rich asshole aura. I couldn't stop myself. Too much goddamn fun and everyone seemed to genuinely appreciate the gesture. Still, I know better. There’s probably some poor bastard at the beach right now warding off repeated Fudgsicle demands. Cursed be my name.
Normandy and I parted ways in Kuta. (As I write this I can almost recall her name.) How do I annoy thee? Let me count the ways. There was financial stress. She was on an ultra shoestring budget which entailed bargaining her balls off for what often amounted to nickels and dimes. I understood. I really did. And she was good at haggling. But, in my view (biased?), it got out of hand. Not only did it waste waaay too much time, something about extracting every ounce of blood from local peddlers felt unseemly. Did I pay too much sometimes? Sure did. When “too much” amounted to fifty cents, I was willing to let my decadence slide. I frequently offered to pay her end of things, but this did little to smooth the sailing. And I did happily cover our accommodations, allowing her to cohabitate even after shit went south. I knew I’d fallen out of favor when she started wearing clothes to bed. It’s lonely in the doghouse.
There were striking personality conflicts as well. We were never on the same page. Peccadilloes turned to insurmountable defects on both sides. We weren’t going to settle down on a vineyard in the north of France, but how are you supposed to react when a sozzled Norwegian surfer (yep, same one) is clearly making a play for home plate right in front of you with scant resistance? No jealousy or anger, just quiet awe. On that, our last night together, she never returned to the room. Um, kay. Her parting words were, “You need to relax more.”
I quit my job absent a long-term strategy/escape plan, flew to Indonesia for the start of an open-ended world jaunt, bought a motorcycle for a trans-island exploration, and let shit unfold in real time. But I needed to relax more. Um, kay.
C’est la vie, mon amie!