Kuta Beach Club Hotel, Bali, 1975
Kuta has an obvious village atmosphere. Bare-chested old men in sarongs sit on platforms and groom their fighting cocks. In and around the thatched buildings, scabrous dogs, chickens and swayback pigs root around, wistful-eyed cows graze in nearby coconut groves.
Traditionally dressed women place little woven trays of flowers, rice, and incense, as offerings to the gods at shrines and strategic sites. Soldiers with guns walk around the market stalls. Hippies and Bali Boys ride motor bikes along the beach waterline.
Aromas of kerosene lamps, charcoal cooked satay, durian, tropical blooms, open drains, Bali kopi, burning rubbish and clove cigarettes pervade the atmosphere. Crashing surf and the strains of gamelan and Bob Marley provide background music.
Coconut cocktail and frog’s legs
I’m staying at the Kuta Beach Club Hotel. I jump in the pool and order a cocktail from the poolside bar. The bar boy, Ketut, (or was it Made?) climbs up the nearest coconut palm, grabs a coconut and back on the ground opens it with a machete.
He shakes the thin coconut milk with various spirits and ice, pours the brew back in the coconut shell, inserts a straw, adorns it with a frangipani blossom from a handy tree and floats the shell carefully in the pool in front of me. I sip and think, Mmm, Bali.
In the pool I meet an Australian singer, Mary Jane Boyd. Naturally, I ask her out to dinner. We go to a nearby restaurant, eat a huge plate of sautéed frogs’ legs and drink Bintang beer. The little bones that accumulate remind me of human tibias and fibulas and such.
Next day the spirit of the legless frog takes revenge – I have my first attack of Bali Belly. I have revisited Bali on about ten occasions but I haven’t eaten frogs’ legs since.
Kuta Beach Club Hotel, Bali, 2009
The hotel’s still here – looking a little careworn. But then again so am I. The coconuts are still there, the pool is bigger, now with a sunken bar. Bar tender Made (or was it Ketut?) seems to have moved on.
The hotel serves a fortifying buffet breakfast, and daily we stuff down eggs cooked to order and cups of smoky sweet Bali Kopi. Other breakfasters, gourmet travellers, connoisseurs of the exotic, produce their jars of Vegemite and Nescafe to enhance the experience.
No longer a village, Kuta is now a lively, traffic-clogged, strung out city. Most of the thatched roofs are gone, along with the livestock and the coconut groves. Due to recent outbreaks of rabies, the dog population is minimal. Tap water (despite squillions of tourist dollars down the drain) is still unfit to drink. Footpaths look like an earthquake has hit recently.
Hardly anyone smokes clove fags anymore. It is now forbidden to ride motorbikes on the beaches around Kuta. Unlike Fraser Island and Sunshine Coast beaches in Australia, where you can hoon around the national park beaches as it suits you.
The hippies and Bali Boys have mostly gone or grown old and tired. Security men wave metal detectors and under-car mirrors, soldiers walk around with guns. Modest offerings to the gods still sit outside hotel rooms, near little shrines and on every car dashboard.
I love it.
Tourists move on
August is part of the high season but tourists are sparse on the ground in Kuta proper. Maybe it’s the aftermath of the Bali bombings. Nevertheless, it is also evident that the tourist focus has moved away, towards the apparently uncontrolled, exponential development of Legian and Seminyak.
For us it means that getting a seat in local restaurants that used to be busy is never a problem.
The exchange rate is good in August: 8300 rupiahs to one Australian dollar. A simple one course meal for two, with beer, rarely costs more than $5 per head. Of course, you can find expensive European style restaurants here as well – but why would you go to Bali to dine as you would in Australia or London?
Wine, as ever, is over-priced – something to do with crippling excise I believe. There is a pleasant local drop: Hatten Wines – their products made from grapes grown at Singaraja on the northern side of the island. However, we are happy to forego wine in the hot, humid non-wine friendly climate and drink beer – Bintang and San Miguel for preference.
If you want a day trip, transport agents and touts are everywhere. Going rate for eight hours car hire, with an English-speaking driver, in a small air-conditioned car – petrol included, is $50. Comprehensive insurance? Don’t ask.
We pay our fifty bucks to the driver and enjoy a leisurely day touring, checking out the spice stalls at the Denpasar morning market, antique stores in Batubalan, bustling Ubud, wood carvers in Mas and the silversmiths of Celuk.
Ubud, it should be noted, is no longer the peaceful mountain haven it once was. But it was still nice to see the local woodcarving and painting artisans, pursuing their ancient crafts: creating didgeridoos and boomerangs.
Recommended eating and drinking
Triple Bob’s Bali Beach Bar. Take your togs down to the Kuta surf for a swim, and afterwards head up the sand to the treeline. Find a shady space and look for local surfer Bob. He will serve you an ice cold Bintang in a stubbie holder and provide a plastic chair and table (a plastic Bintang crate actually) for the grand sum of $1.80. Sip beer, watch sunset.
Warung Nikmat. Jalan Bakung Sari, Kuta. Halal/Muslim, down market eatery, serving mainly Javanese tucker. Two plates of Nasi Goreng with fried eggs, fried tempeh, and two beers cost $5 total. Look for the cute serviette dispenser – a cylindrical plastic container with a hole in the top through which you extract the required amount of pink toilet paper.
TJ’s, Poppies Lane I, Kuta. Spacious, airy restaurant. Great enchiladas. Better Mexican tucker than I’ve eaten in Australia. Good service, inexpensive.
Aroma’s Restaurant, Jalan Legian, Kuta. Organic, vegetarian. Extensive menu of stylishly presented vego food. Delicious.
Made’s Warung Jalan Pantai, Kuta. Mades has been there for forty odd years and never seems to change. One of the best spots to beer and snack and watch the intermingling of tourists and locals.
Mumbul Restaurant, main road, Ubud. We usually go to the Cafe Lotus but the menu looked expensive and there was a minimum charge per diner, so we went to Mumbul, next door. Modern Indonesian/Balinese cuisine. The terrace sits overlooking a charming little gorge and a tiny shrine.
Agent: Flight Centre. Package of airfare, and seven nights hotel accommodation (including breakfast and transfers) $1165 per person. Visa $35, exit tax $18 per person. Local transport: nowadays blue taxis – air-conditioned, metered – are cheap ($0.60 flag fall) and ubiquitous. Prices above based on exchange rates at the time.