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“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.” Ernest Hemingway

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20 May 2015

Kuta & Balangan Beach: Catching up with our pal from Laos


11th – 15th April 2015

      With the ship to Oz confirmed we left Sanur in a euphoric state and turned our attention towards the notorious party town of Kuta, Bali. Based on the reviews of other travelers neither of us were keen to stop by a district of this beautiful island described as a hellish cesspit and mecca for morons but with a friend in town we had little choice.
Kuta beach

      On the advice of our English pal from Laos, Will, we checked in at the quaint and cozy Mama’s Guesthouse. Tucked away at the entrance of a gang (alleyway) ten minutes’ walk from the main strip and beach Mama’s offers ultra-basic but cheap lodgings. It’s not the cleanest place I’ve stayed at but compared to the rest of Kuta it’s pretty good although I would advise sleeping in a silk liner just in case of bed bugs.
Beginner Surf Spot

     If tourist board adverts were based on popularity alone Kuta would surely feature as the islands headliner. The problem is that if that were to happen the islands position in the “top places to visit around the world” would probably plummet to just behind Croydon at 2,000,000th place. Kuta is to Bali what Blackpool is to England. You know it’s a popular destination, but you also know it shouldn’t be. The narrow, pot hole ridden streets stink of petrol fumes emitting from the exhaust of hundreds of bluebird cabs and scooters. Even walking around is like taking part in a race that merges the grand national steeplechase with scrapheap challenge. Hurdling shit stained sewers when pathways disappear, dodging scooters that drive whichever way they please and keeping an eye out for Yorkshire terrier sized rats whilst being heckled and hassled by locals asking if you would like a cab, massage or a plethora of narcotics (and this is during the daytime). Maybe someone will one day find a cure for Wiel’s disease and these guys will finally have something worth selling. Like Blackpool, Kuta’s best asset is the beach and really that’s the furthest my crude comparison can stretch. The gradual sloping mass of golden sediment stretches north from the peninsula as far as the eye can see and even with the hordes of holiday hippos wallowing about 500 yards from their beachside hotel complex its really easy to find a quieter spot. As with Sanur you have to show a degree of patience and resilience when visiting the beach as the locals take no hesitation in spending most of the day enquiring if you would like a massage, fresh coconut, opium or a beer. Surfing lessons are popular here due to the favorable conditions for beginners (loads of long breaks of white waves, sand under foot and plenty of schools on offer) making it easy to surf at your own pace. Those looking for larger surf will want to look elsewhere.  
The second coming of Will "Jesus Christ!!!" Dadson

     Our stay in Kuta was always planned to be brief and to be honest we wouldn't have stopped by at all if it wasn’t for a familiar face. It had been almost six months since we had last seen Will in Vang Vieng but finally in Mama’s Guesthouse we met up with our English pal from Laos. He was now travelling with a friend from home after spending some time working in Vietnam and Cambodia. It’s on nights like these that the real benefit of travel shines through. Here was someone that we travelled with through Laos after an eventful border crossing (those who have read the earlier posts may remember Mr K. Unt the bribe master) for no more than a few weeks but in that time we built up a good friendship because we were on the same wavelength and were ultimately willing to meet new people. It always frustrates us when you visit a hostel and nobody has the decency to even respond to a simple greeting. Maybe their shy or just pig ignorant, who knows but one thing is certain all travelers who have been away from home for any period of time need someone else to talk to in order to raise spirits. Jono has recently convinced me to start reading the Lee Child “Jack Reacher Novels” and the popular British author really summed up the one thing all wanderers require in this one quote from his first book of the series “Killing Floor”.

“I’d been a lonely wanderer for six months. I’d learned something. Like Blanche in that old movie, a wanderer depends on the kindness of strangers. Not for anything specific or material. For morale”. - Jack Reacher
 After a few formalities and greetings we all shared stories from the last few months and ultimately returned to where we all left off. Drinking games in a hostel bar with reggae playing. Sitting in the hellish heart of Bali’s seediest suburb drinking, laughing and joking, raising morale. Living the dream.    

Balangan Beach
12th April 2015:  

We parted ways with Will early doors. He had a crowded minibus to catch destined for Padang Bai before grabbing the fast boat to the Gili's. Jono and I hightailed it out of Kuta via private taxi to Balangan Beach. Well I say private taxi but really that's probably an overstatement. In reality it was with a local dude with a car masquerading as a cab driver. After successfully negotiating a price which clearly insulted him the driver continued to attempt to pick up other passengers to try and claw back some cash. A slightly weird situation to be in but at least it added a little comedy to the short journey.  
lunch time entertainment in a beachside warung
Unexpected visitor in the hotel
Balangan couldn't be more opposite to Kuta. This sleepy beach bum hangout lies on an isolated headland on the northern end of the peninsula. Great coastal views and good surf abound this was the perfect spot to waste away a few days before meeting up with Storm. The only negative is that the calm is often interrupted by incoming and outgoing aircraft from Denpassar Airport.

There is a good mix of accommodation close to the beach. The cheapest option is grabbing a very basic room in one of the wooden warungs on the beach front but if your looking to spoil yourself there are many boutique guesthouses hugging the hillside. 

If you want to explore the peninsula it helps to hire a scooter in Denpassar before you visit as taxi's are few and far between. We didn't have a scooter and it meant we were really limited to hanging out at the beach but I imagine the narrow, winding roads are quite fun to drive around on.

view from the warung's looking out towards the amazing cliff side golf course
All in all Jono and I were both pleased we decided to visit the peninsula even just briefly but by the time the 15th April came around we had no choice but to return to Sanur and await the coming Storm. 

Fishing for his supper: a local takes advantage of the steep cliffs and cooler late afternoon temperatures