Screeching of wheels, violent screams of horns, whizzing of scooters swerve through traffic and people precariously walk to avoid their urgent rampage onto the pavement. The roads are packed, jammed, a mess of loud overheating vehicles.
Lining these roads are ‘Warungs’ of harem pants in garish prints, faux Ralph Lauren polos and smiling shopkeepers with charming English enticements memorised for weak materialistic westerners. The people are friendly but do need to make a living, they tirelessly push with desperate grins and outreached hands. I smile and shake my head, a thousand ‘No Thank you’s’ as I follow on the narrow pathway behind my friend, stepping over happy religious offerings of flowers and sweets. Nothing seems real in these early moments, as an onslaught of voices and intricate architecture hound my laid back demeanour.
I remember one thing especially clear from our first expedition into the roads of Kuta. Three men netting up a stray dog out in the open, in plain sight of tourists and locals alike. My hands clenched into fists as I turned my gaze away, not nearly quickly enough to avoid seeing the poor creature move ever so slightly. The scene is haunting still now as I torment myself for not being brave enough to intervene, a self proclaimed animal activist who left a victim in pain and torment. But then my conscience was toying with what I viewed as right and what their world viewed as right. I guess that acceptance of being the privileged outsider is a bitter fact to accept but an important one too. It’s still not an excuse I should of stepped in. My role as the outsider would only become further realised as my trip continues.
After this incomprehensible scene my mind is momentarily cleared, my body relaxed as we make it onto the beach. By this point many a traveller in many a hostel have regaled tales of heavy parties, drunken stupidity and the splendour of Kuta beach to my eager inexperienced ears. But this is something you have to experience yourself. It’s covered in tourists, not quite a tropical retreat, the salesman are ever present with their surfboards, their chairs, their warm Bintangs but it’s part of its charm. The sea is crystal clear, frothing waves speckled with surfers, gleeful kids paddle in the shallows, the salt water calm sneaks up onto the almost white sand and bathes my feet, grounding and inspiring me. I nod my head softly and exhale, its been a couple of hard working months since I got to really enjoy a beach this way. There will never be anywhere I feel more at home than by the sea, soaked by the sun.