November 6- 14th
We had thoroughly enjoyed exploring Lombok in Stars End 2, but seeing a place from a boating perspective gives you a very one sided viewpoint. With time on our side, we decided to tour Lombok by land.
I was in my element ‘googling’ the best places to visit and sourcing budget accommodation to stay in along the way.
We found accommodation extremely cheap in Indonesia and most nights we stayed in a homestay or guesthouse ranging from AU $15 to $25 a night. Although these were not the cheapest available, I must add that some places were pretty BASIC! By this I mean
– There was no hot water (not a real problem for this climate and tough yachties).
– The Indonesian styled toilets only come with a shower nozzle attachment next to the toilet bowl to clean yourself, and rarely offer toilet paper, (actually a very hygienic alternative, although I do wonder about the ‘shake’ effectiveness to dry off and am paranoid about wet patches on my clothing after a ‘loo’ visit!)
– In one case, we were dubious the sheets or bedding had been cleaned from the previous guests.
– Sometimes there was only a bottom sheet, no top sheet or blanket and only one towel between us.
– Outdoor smells that were more expected when you were visiting the countryside.
In fairness, we found most of the guesthouses value for money and in every case, the owners went out of their way to make us welcome, and offer assistance.
Initially, we had planned to hire a motorbike and were both looking forward to a little adventure.
However, the monsoon season is virtually upon us and the afternoon before we left there was a particularly nasty squall, with two of the yachts at Gili Gede dragging their moorings in the 40knot+ winds. Next morning, we woke to pouring rain, so when we were offered the use of a car by our kind Indonesian friend, we felt we would be foolish to look a gift horse in the mouth.
Particularly, as the roads are inundated with hordes of crazy erratic motor bikers who appear to have no value for rules of the road, no concept or fear for their safety, rarely use helmets, and enjoy the challenge of seeing how many people can fit onto one bike or how many products they can pile on board.
As it so happened, we only had rain twice in 8 days- day 1 arriving in Mataram to pick up the car, and day 8 arriving back to Mataram to drop off the car!
So changing our mode of transport at the last minute allowed us more room & comfort traveling (I frantically repacked our bags an hour before we locked up the yacht, as I only had taken bare necessities in one backpack for on the bike!). Frank says we would have saved money with a motorbike as I wouldn’t have had room to spend money on souvenirs, presents to take home and clothes in markets en route. I hasten to add that it wasn’t just me who splurged and it was he who encouraged me to indulge myself in 3 new dresses (at a grand total of AU $15!)
To start our tour of Lombok, we took a taxi from Tembowong Harbour, the nearest location to Gili Gede, to the main city of Mataram 35 miles away, where we picked up our lovely little car and spent our first night. Here we scored our best ‘value for money’ guesthouse on our trip, a pleasant room with bathroom (cold water only), but with air conditioning, satellite TV, and lovely breakfast, (all for AU$17.50) in the Cakranegara district of the the city and surrounded by Balinese temples, shops, restaurants, markets & retail outlets (see, how hard is that to resist?).
At our guesthouse, we also met a lovely German couple, Meja & Wolf, who live in Thailand and we ended up as fast friends & spent a great day together in the town of Sengigi.
Being Sunday, the beach resort was full of locals more than tourists, and we strolled along the beachfront watching large family groups enjoying picnics together under the trees, and local youngsters playing soccer on the beach.
After a leisurely scenic drive, our next stop was in the village of Senaru, on the slopes of the second highest volcano in Indonesia, Mt Rinjani , at the entrance to Gunung Rinjani National Park. As a gateway village to the volcano, Senaru is jam packed with resorts, guesthouses & trekking companies for the tourists who come to enjoy the scenery & make the steep climb up to see the lakes in the crater of the volcano.
After months of little exercise on board SE2, Frank & I felt that going from our leisurely village strolls to a 2 day 1 night arduous trek to the crater of Rinjani at 3726 meters was overly ambitious, so after we settled into our tiny Dragonfly Lodge, we enjoyed a long walk to the other key attractions of this area, two stunning waterfalls.
The first, Sending Gile was visible from the verandah of the guesthouse, down a steep path surrounded by dense forest, inhabited by long tailed macaque monkeys, and the river at the base of the plummeting fall was crowded with locals enjoying a refreshing splash in the rocky pools.
To reach the second waterfall we followed a rough path along irrigation channels, over a bridge & past a dam. Entrepreneurial young boys stood waiting to offer tourists help for a small fee, to cross two fast flowing rivers, and the $2 was money well spent as our young helper Amir competently showed us the easiest path across the rushing water.
As we approached Tui Kelep , the powerful sound of rushing water filled the air which was enveloped in a fine mist from the cascading waterfall, and cool spray reflected a myriad of rainbows across the water.
In this strict Moslem culture where women bathe in full dress, I was too shy to scramble across yet more slippery rocks in just my bathing costume to reach the waterfall for a swim, so I watched on with all the guides as Frank took a dip in the refreshing water.
Next day, the owner of the guesthouse where we were staying, took us to the home where he grew up, in the nearby traditional village of Benan. Akria showed us around and explained the old customs that had been passed down through the generations and were still observed today.
It was interesting how he explained that the eaves of the houses are deliberately built low so that visitors are forced to bow their heads in respect to the home owners as they enter the building. The floors are made of a mixture of clay and cattle dung which has insect repellent properties. The verandah area is about 50% of the total roof area because most of their lives are lived outside. The women and children sleep inside the main room. The men sleep outside, if they want to visit their wives they have to knock on the door and ask permission! How good is that?
It is from this culture that the meaning of the word ‘threshold’ is explained.
During the harvest, the tall rice stalks are cut and threshed against a wooden board to release the rice. To stop the ‘thresh’ rice getting blown away by the wind the villagers put a wooded section under the entrance door to ‘hold’ it in place i.e. to keep it in the storage area, in the room- the threshold.
We sat under one of the thatched roofed meeting place where families all congregate to while away their time chatting, sipping on Barum (pronounced as “Brum’) the local wine made from fermented sticky rice, that has a sweet yeasty flavour which packs a punch & grows on you with each glass.
Afterwards, Akria took us to his extended family’s rice fields. We walked along the narrow dirt walls that separate the fields, to a thatched hut where the workers can take breaks protected from the fierce sun & frequent rain. Much to the hysterical amusement of all the workers, watching this unco (uncoordinated) ‘bule’ or foreigner, I slipped on the muddy path & fell on my backside into the water!
Akria explained that the harvest from these family-owned rice fields is shared among the extended family group who all take their turns to work the land, planting and tending the many terraces which thrive in this mountainous region with its rich soil & abundant rainfall. The older women stay behind at the hut to supervise and play with the babies and younger children whilst their parents work in the fields.
It is still common practice for the older generation to chew betel nuts which they say has the same relaxation effects & addictive power of smoking cigarettes. They wrap slices of the nut inside a leaf with a sprinkling of lime dust, and place the large wad inside their mouth, like a chipmunk with their cheek bulging. I couldn’t help but notice they continue to talk with their mouths crammed with the partially chewed mixture of nuts and leaf, displaying the inside of their mouth stained red from years of betel juice. Despite being offered a taste, I didn’t hesitate and firmly refused.
We really enjoyed this experience of hanging out with the local people but next day, we continued our tour by following the road around the eastern coast of Lombok to Tetebatu. This small town is about 2km from the southern boundary of Mount Rinjani National Park. It is a quaint and scenic rural area 700 meters above sea level and offers visitors the chance to experience real, traditional Sasak village life in Lombok. The Sasak people are related to the Balinese in language and ancestry, but live mainly on the island of Lombok.
The Tetebatu area is best known for for its cultural attractions. Traditional Sasak handicraft artisans are spread throughout the villages in this area including black terracotta, weaving and basketry.
As we arrived we could hear the call to prayer being announced over the loudspeakers from the town mosque and being Friday, the most important day of the Muslim week, the narrow streets were crowded with men and boys heading to prayer, many with prayer mats folded over their shoulders. I felt pretty self conscious in my shorts and t shirt and respectfully grabbed a sarong to wrap around my bare legs.
It turned out our accommodation was virtually next door to the mosque so we were reminded of this five times a day starting at four in the morning. It’s something we have had to get used to since traveling through Indonesia, and sometimes, it is painfully discordant to the ear when several mosques in one town will all be competing with their cacophony of loud chanting.
In Tetebatu, we stayed in a modern, comfortable area in the back garden of a local home, by passing through a narrow lane way & courtyard complete with cow stables, so a strong country smell of manure perfumed the air to make this a memorable stop!
We enjoyed exploring the nearby villages that specialized in traditional ikat weaving, (the term “ikat” refers to the dyeing technique used to create the designs on the fabric), and shops full of intricate woven handicrafts made from split bamboo & rattan.
At one of the handicraft shops, the owners invited us to their home, gave us interesting lunch of duck gizzards fried with spices and rice wine, and dressed Frank in traditional clothing. I think he looks spectacular!
We also met an enterprising young man Jul who could speak very good English and invited us for a visit to the homestay he had just finished building in his family home set amongst the rice fields. He wanted to promote local handicrafts by offering courses as well as a first hand insight into the local lifestyle.
I have to say, that I was happy to head next to the surf mecca of Kuta, as I am a true water baby and feel happier surrounded by water than by forest and mountains.
Unfortunately, it was not a great time to visit Kuta on the south coast of Lombok, as they were in the middle of massive development to build an international circuit for MotoGP, costing over a billion US dollars and not due to be completed until 2019.
Unable to drive along the road which runs along the waterfront (where our hotel was) as it had been dug up & no longer existed, we were re directed for miles past the town on a detour that led us up & down what appeared to be a dirt goat track back into town from way north of Kuta.
It took us ages to find our accommodation as there were barriers, piles of dirt, bricks, rubbish, workmen and trucks everywhere in total confusion and chaos. It was so hot, dusty and sultry that as soon as we checked into our accommodation located behind the mess of the beachfront area, we threw on our swimmers and head for the water. Well, we tried, but between the rubbish littering the beach, the debris & plastic bags floating in the water and hawkers pouncing on us from every quarter we soon skedaddled back to the air conditioned comfort of our hotel room and indulged in watching a sky movie!
Whilst we have enjoyed eating out frequently in the 6 months we have spent in Indonesia, it is so cheap, we have also become rather tired of eating the same spicy foods and menu, so one of the biggest treats for us in this touristy town of Kuta, was to indulge in a disgustingly huge burger and fries! It tasted divine. Which would you prefer- burger or fish on sticks?
We spent a couple of nights in Kuta but since we are not ‘surfies’, we didn’t do the stereo typical beach stuff here. Due to the monsoonal weather and the filthy massive re development works going on, we walked around the town a lot and enjoyed some bartering in the local markets. There were so few tourists around and we have had plenty of practise over the months, so we nabbed some good bargains, and there was mega choice for good cheap eating places and super priced cocktails at AU $3 each.
We drove west along the coastline to a couple of locations where we were told the beaches were more pristine and cleaner than Kuta, but the skies had become overcast and we found only mediocre beaches that didn’t tempt us to stay around longer. I am sure they would be more appealing in blue skies and if you didn’t have to pay a toll to use a pot holed dirt track for miles before reaching the tiny beach of Mawi.
So we head north and as we neared Mataram, the storm clouds descended and we arrived back at Ninety Nine Guesthouse in the same pelting rain we had left behind 8 days earlier. It cleared sufficiently for us to wander around later that night to have a meal and do a little shopping.
Next day, we walked just around the corner to the local markets at Cakranegara, where they sold a magnificent array of fresh produce, clothing & Balinese wares. We were warned to be very careful taking money & valuables with us as it has a bad reputation for pickpockets due to the immense crowds.
There was so much activity, interesting people, vivid color and hustle & bustle. I loved it.
Frank absolutely detested it so whilst I searched & bargained for produce, he found a quieter corner out of the way of the pushy throng and huddled with all the bags until I was finished.
I would have loved to browse the alley ways, bazaar and shops that sold ikat fabrics and intricately made Hindu offerings. I found it all so fascinating, but we were pressed for time and Frank was not impressed.
It was quite stressful, trying to wend our way through the hoards of locals and the ground was covered in puddles from the downpours, discarded and pulverized produce & waste, Hindu offerings, & the usual debris and garbage found everywhere in Indonesia.
We tried to hire a horse & buggy with our heavy bags, but since I had purposely left my phone & bag with our address back at the guesthouse and couldn’t remember the name of the street, we were stuck and had to struggle back under our own steam.
With the car loaded up with our fresh purchases from the markets and bags of provisions from the supermarket, we returned our loan car and met up with our taxi driver who took us back to Tembowong. We dragged our many bags into a local outrigger ‘spider’ boat which ferried us across the bay back to our faithful Stars End 2. By the time we unloaded and packed everything away, we were pretty exhausted, but we had had a positive experience and felt that we now knew Lombok and it’s people a lot better.
Now we had just a few weeks left until our flights back to Australia for Christmas- that is, if Mt Anung, the volcano on Bali, doesn’t have something to say about this………