Whether it is little kids trying to sell you bracelets on the street, or bandits stopping motorists in the night, a few locals have turned to taking advantage of foreigners to get by. As much as I loved our time in Lombok, Rich and I realized after a few days that we, as a couple, were more likely to be preyed on by scammers or thieves than most people. I’d like to pretend that everything about Lombok is lovely, but that wouldn’t be quite honest, so here’s a few issues we came across. We hope that what we’ve seen and heard can help others avoid problems when traveling in the region.
It became apparent fairly early on that our travel mates were protective of myself and Rich, though I couldn’t understand why. With two people on a motorbike, we were a bit slower than the rest of the group, and though sometimes the guys would just stop and wait for us to reach them before continuing onwards, other times, particularly at night, they would come and circle back for us.
It was only after a dinner at the Novotel, the wealthiest resort in Kuta, located on a peninsula outside of the main town, that we discovered why. As we left dinner that night, Rich had noticed the stars above us. The road outside the Novotel is pitch black as it is outside the main town, and not lit by road lamps, and the stars, not having to compete with closer light sources, stretched from wall to wall. We could see thousands of stars from that road. We had not let the rest of the group know that we had stopped and they kept motoring on to our hotel.
Not uncommonly for myself, I started getting increasingly anxious, worried that we were being watched, and pressed Rich to keep going until we found the rest of our group waiting for us at the bend in the road.
Apparently, my paranoid feelings may not have been just a figment of my imagination. It turns out that a few years ago, one member of our group had been staying at the Novotel with his family. A couple that had had dinner with his family that night, and on leaving the Novotel had been attacked by a group of men carrying hatchets. They returned to the Novotel half-an-hour after leaving, bruised and sans cash. Unbeknownst to us, the rest of our group kept waiting and coming back for us to make sure we stayed safe.
Additionally, Rich and I stayed in Lombok a few days longer than the rest of our group, who had gone on to Bali or returned to Hong Kong. After a sunset session at Gerupuk, hungry and tired, we were debating whether or not to eat in Gerupuk or return to Kuta. As we were cleaning up our boards, Rich started chatting with a local, who was asking questions like where we were from, how long we were staying, and where we were staying. Upon learning that we were staying 25 minutes away in Kuta, our new friend started yelling to Rich that we needed to leave quickly. He warned us that there were bandits that waited on the road for people traveling between the two towns.
The entire way back, traversing the pot-holed road, I could hear people whistling to one another. To me, it sounded like signaling, but to my immense relief, we didn’t run into any problems.
The general consensus is that couples are preferred targets because they’ll be slower when riding, and because it is more likely that they’re carrying larger quantities of cash. Larger groups (3 or more), especially when there are men involved, seem less likely to be at risk, thanks to power in numbers and potential retaliation.
I hate to say this, because they’re really quite cute, but I didn’t trust the local kids in Lombok. When I’ve travelled to other regions of Southeast Asia, an approaching child would merely be interested in who you were, and where you came from – the kind that just wanted to hang off your arm because to them, you were different and interesting. I’m sure as well, that most of the children in Lombok were like this, especially since as we’d drive by villages, going from one town to the next, there would be children hanging out of trees, screaming, “Hello!” at us. Unfortunately, there were a few that ruined the overall sweetness of the children in the region for me.
On one occasion, Rich and I were driving along the dirt road that took us from the main road to Mawi. I noticed there was a western couple stranded off the side of the road, surrounded by a farmer and a group of 3 or 4 kids who seemed to be trying to help them change their tire. Like most people would, I thought it was really quite nice of these locals to be helping the travellers.
That was until we came back to Mawi the next day. Rich and I were leaving the break and riding down along the left hand side of the road, when we saw 3 kids standing along the right side of the road. One of them started screaming for us to switch sides. We of course thought they wanted us to move sides because of some danger that we’d encounter had we continued going along the route we were taking, and moved over to the right side of the road. As soon as we moved sides and drove past the kids though, they all started screaming, “Flat tire! Flat tire!”
Remembering what I had seen at this spot previously, I was dubious to say the least, but with Rich staying on the bike, I got off to check for a flat. Both tires were fine as far as I could see, despite the children’s insistence that the rear one was flat. One kept telling me that, “it’s flat, maybe up the road you have problem. I fix it for you.” Growing ever more suspicious, I told Rich to drive on, with me running behind him to see if I’d notice anything. I thanked the kids, told them to stay behind and that if we noticed a flat that we’d get it fixed at the main road, where there would be less of a risk of popping a tire again.
As I ran along behind Rich, one of the kids kept going with the charade, running along with me, stride for stride, screaming that there was a flat tire, and that his house was very close by and they could fix it there. I still saw nothing wrong and insisted that we keep going and get it “fixed” on the road.
3 days later, when we left Lombok, there was still nothing wrong with the tire in question… Rich suspects that the children had left a trap on the right side of the road, hoping that anyone who drove there would get stuck or at least pop a tire, which their parents would then fix, for a cost. We, thankfully, didn’t pop anything.
Once again, couples seem to be a prime target, as none of the rest of the group, who also biked through that area a few minutes after ourselves, were approached. This example might not seem malevolent, but parents are clearly using their children to evoke sympathy from travellers to clean out our pockets. I’d prefer to buy these children something to eat, rather than give them money and further encourage this behavior.
I want to reiterate that Lombok is a beautiful place, with many lovely individuals. For the most part, there is nothing to worry about when you travel to this area. Not once, during either of my trips did I feel threatened. I only write this so as to spread awareness of potential problems that people may encounter. Many of the issues are easily avoided; for some it is to simply to stay off the road after dark, for others, it is just to handle whatever comes your way with as much sensitivity as possible. Be safe.