Before you rent a bike in Kuta, Lombok, read this!

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Posted by - canadianaway on June 20, 2006 at 2:58 pm:

Kuta, Lombok: a beautiful and isolated coastal town on the southern coast. The worst traffic you'll find here is a herd of water buffalo. Secluded white beaches, offshore reefs, and volcanic headlands provide some great snorkelling and exploration, and produce some excellent surf. Spread out along 50 km of coast, the only way of getting around is by motorbike. We enjoyed a great week of surfing, fishing, relaxing, and mingling with the locals. However, on our last day there, our visit turned into a nightmare. We had rented a bike from a local guy named Jerry/Gerry (aka Aman), who could provide no insurance or paperwork (no one else would either). We made a verbal agreement to rent the bike for 7 days, and if we damaged the bike we would be responsible for repairs.

The bike was stolen from us on the final day of our rental-at the public market where it was parked for a total of 45 minutes.

It was chaotic the way it all happened, as some 'friends' of Jerry's were suddenly there to 'help us', and within 1/2 an hour, we found ourselves sitting in the police station surrounded by 3 cops speaking no english and the bike owner demanding we hand over our passports to them to file a report and which they'd hold until the bike was found. Although there was absolutely no paperwork to even prove we had the bike, they insisted we owed the owners a new bike...which would cost 13,000,000rp = 2,500$CDN.

We knew straight away that the police were no help to us, and in fact could make life very tough if they wanted, as they could charge any amount they wished once they had our passport numbers, and make it impossible for us to leave the country until we paid. So we explained that our passports were locked in the Bali airport, and that we had absolutely no legal obligation to pay them a cent. We also got out of the police station as soon as we could and agreed to 'discuss' things with the bike guys back at our homestay, as it was clear all the cops wanted from us was money, offering us little help or protection.

We tried our best to reason with the bike gang, and explain that they had no legal hold on us. But they insisted we pay, and told us we would not be allowed to leave Kuta until we had done so. I was even told I would have to stay and live with them and fish off my debt, if I could not come up with the cash. We quickly realized we would have to pay to gain our freedom back. We are not rich however, and any money we have has been saved for long and hard, to support travel and work overseas.

The next 72 hours were like a horror movie - constant intimidation, conflicts, discussions, threats, chases, and absolute hell, fear, and worry. Our friends wanted to get the heck out of there- the bike guys stood at the van watching to make sure our bags were not being packed with theirs, and harrassing them for leaving. Among them were known criminals in the area, considered the local mofia. We were left to finish this on our own, and were lucky to have a few American travellers, one of whom was married to a local girl in a neighbouring village, try to help us through.

We had 2 choices: pay them a ridiculous amount of money, or try to run. This has been done before by other tourists who have been caught in this scam, as we were told. But running became impossible as they knew we'd try, and they stalked the homestay, and blocked the only road out. Plus, none of the local drivers would take us, as word had spread fast, and everyone was too scared to get involved. These guys are known to have attacked tourists with mechedes before, for just a few dollars in broad daylight on the beach! All the people we had come to trust over the week were suddenly strangers. We couldn't use the phones as they were down, and the internet limited, with no local consulate or authorities in Lombok to offer help. The guys demanded to check our bags with a police officer to find our passports as insurance to not leave, which would have been nuts, as the owner of the bike is a drug dealer (we found out), and could have easily slipped something into our packs and turned to the cops saying we were carrying. That is NOT a risk we could afford to take in a country where drugs equal death penalty. The family who owned the homestay were one of the few Hindu families in a Muslim community, and were scared to protect us, as the guys had threatened to burn their home down if we left in the night. Luckily, the son convinced them to let us sleep the first night, after hours of getting nowhere, promising to pay for the bike himself if we tried to run. So we stayed, and endured another day of hell.

The next day, the American tried to take us up to the wife's village for advice, and despite telling the crooks where we were going and proving to them we weren't running by showing them we had no bags, there was a fight leaving town, and then a chase all the way there. Biking here is bad enough on a good day - having guys trying to run you off the road on purpose is just nuts. The woman did her best to reason with them as well, and we sat in turmoil as they rattled on in a foreign language for hours. The best she could do was get them down to 8,000,000rp (1,300$CDN), with a signed agreement that if the bike is found, they would have to return the money. As leverage, we would keep his registration form (so when he 'found' his bike he couldn't just start riding it once we'd left). It hardly felt like a fair deal, considering we were the victims in all this...but it was decided. We had to stay another night before we could get a driver from another town to come get us out of there, and then caught the first flight back to Bali to join our friends.

So please be warned - crime and theft is already rampant down there, but this is a whole different scale. We met some lovely people there who are working so hard to make a living off the small tourism that is still alive there, so this group of criminals is ruining it for everyone. It is important tourists know of these guys (they are well known among the locals, so just ask around for Jerry, Lip "Lipstick"), so they cannot rent more motorbikes out. They have some sort of organization growing, where you will have to sign something saying you rented the bike without insurance, and the list of things the no-insurance covers does NOT even include theft. We need to stop renting their bikes without insurance so that the only people who can get business from us, are those with proper insurance. Even then...there is no guarantee they won't take or break your bike.

So please be careful, and spread the word.

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