Wednesday, May 13, 2015

An Excursion to Lombok

If we had realized the amount of effort - the hours and hours of transit via van, boat, and taxi, and the waiting at every point, and the cost of all of that - perhaps we wouldn't have made the decision to spend just two nights, only one full day, on the island of Lombok.  But, I'm happy we went into it without that knowledge.  While it was a very short visit that required many, many hours in transit, it was indeed beautiful.   

We awoke very early in Ubud, departing around 7 for a 2 hour van ride to the dock where we would catch a ferry for a 1.5 hour cramped ride to Senggigi on Lombok.  We arrived tired, hungry, and mostly without a plan.  I knew that one of the guys I had met way back in Bagan was surfing in Kuta, so we decided to go there.  We negotiated with a taxi driver for a fare on the hour long drive, and once on our way we quickly noticed the differences between Lombok and Bali.  We spotted dozens of mosques, hearing the calls to prayer over loudspeakers, and once we arrived in Kuta it was small, dry, and underdeveloped, with a certain rawness that Bali lacks.  We quickly settled on Kuta Bay Guesthouse, securing their last room, a "deluxe" with air conditioning and hot water for 350,000 rupiah ($27).  

Departing Ubud

Departing Ubud

We dropped our things, donned our swimsuits, and sat down to a quick lunch of satay as readings from the Koran echoed from a loudspeaker across the road, and a group of local goats frolicked around the sandy path next to the guesthouse.  We realized what a relatively poor area we were in as we walked out to the beach past a small fishing community, with tiny children playing between the small houses.  

Neighborhood goat

Unfortunately, we had to fend off dozens of little kids selling bracelets, as well as older ladies selling sarongs, as soon as we stepped onto the beach.  The beach was mostly empty when we wandered out, except for the occasional troupe of child vendors, and once we had diverted them we found a secluded, peaceful spot to relax.  João waded out into the calm, still water, and I joined him, enjoying the solitude together.  

As the tide began to go out and the sun began to go down, we walked back towards where we had come.  More people began arriving, and we stopped for an ear of fresh grilled corn, slathered in sweet butter, which we sat on the sand to enjoy with a fresh coconut.  There's truly nothing better than sitting on the beach with the man you love, eating sweet grilled corn and drinking from a coconut!  We decided to stay a bit longer, João retrieving us another ear of corn while I waved over the coconut man for a second serving.  We watched as locals moved through the low water, gathering mollusks, bent at the waist amongst the green rocks of the bay, as well as a lone kite surfer, an obvious student, as he slowly drifted along the still water.  The sky slowly became more purple as the light grew dim, and we walked back before it got too dark, spotting two naked children from the neighboring community playing in the water and running along the beach as we walked.

A gathering of local, including the many sarong vendors carrying their wares on their heads

We found a spot called Aldi's for dinner, where we shared seafood tempura, pineapple prawns, and most of a pizza, saving the rest of it for lunch the following day.  As with the beach, we had to fend of bracelet-selling children during our meal.  I did as I had grown accustomed to do, ignoring them and remaining largely indifferent, but it was really starting to bother João, as it had done for me in the past.  It was interesting to see him bear witness to these things that have become almost part of the typical background to me, and discussing them.  He and other people would engage with them when saying "no thank you" or "maybe later", which only encouraged them and made them all the more persistent.  I don't know the best way to support the poor people in the community, but I definitely feel like buying bracelets off of small children isn't the right way to do it, and it reminded me of the struggles I had with the exact scenario during my time in Sapa.

The next morning was wonderfully lazy, and after sleeping in, we picked up breakfast at a nearby cafe with excellent homemade bread.  After breakfast, we rented a scooter from the guesthouse and set off along a winding route over the mountain to quiet and secluded Mhawun Beach.  We found a small shady spot under a small tree and sat down in the sand, then explored the beach, picking up colorful shells as João examined the waves for surfability.  

A fisherman casting his nets

As we walked back, we began to play in the waves themselves, which were incredibly strong for their size!  João leapt over or dove through the waves as they came in, then stood his ground against the pounding pull of the water as it was sucked back off the beach.  Both of us, and a handful of others, did battle with the waves, emerging covered in salt and sand, with huge laughing smiles across our faces and in disbelief over just how strong the water was.  I finally retreated back to my little sarong in the sand, and we snacked on our leftover pizza, plus a fresh pineapple, grilled corn, and a coconut from various beachside vendors.  No one came by to harass us with any potential bracelet or sarong sales.  Later a group of young local teenage boys came out to the beach, laughing and joking, some strumming a guitar or smoking, while others did cartwheels and played in the waves.  

As the sun began to get lower, we walked along the beach once more, encountering a naked baby who was gleefully playing at the waters edge - now that the tide was well out and he was far from the waves - as his father fished and gathered mollusks.  

Finally we climbed back on the bike and cruised back over the mountain as others zipped by us with surfboards sitting in racks mounted on the sides of their bikes.  Back on the other side, we drove along our beach, passed it, then went out near a small resort, where we went out to a small beach.  We climbed out over the rocks to look back towards an incredible sunset of fiery reds and oranges, as silhouettes of fishermen passed in front of us.  

We finally returned the bike to the guesthouse and showered, desperately needing to rinse off all that salt and sand, before venturing out for some dinner.  We found  a nearby restaurant with slow service but okay food playing a surf video on a loop.  Two ladies tried to sell us sarongs repeatedly during our meal, and João was interested in actually buying one, but it took some hard negotiating to get them to leave us alone until the meal itself had ended!  We wrapped up the night by taking advantage of our in-room DVD player and the guesthouse's "library" of DVDs - all pirated copies of course, though the movie we selected was so scratched up that we had to skip a section in the middle and Google the end when it stopped playing.  Oh well!

The next morning we would need to make our way all the way back to Sanur, so we had agreed to join a group at 7:30 for a 1.5 hour drive back to the dock at Senggigi.  Since the ferry wasn't scheduled to leave until 11, we walked along the beach, where dozens of locals were enjoying their Saturday morning - the women fully dressed in long sleeves and long pants and the children playing in the water.  We made it to a small resort cafe where we bought coffee and watched surfers catch a distant break.  

We returned to the dock by 10:30, but wound up sitting and waiting far longer than expected, snacking on Oreos and Pringles until we finally boarded and set off around noon.  We made a stop at Gili T before heading back to Bali, with João sitting up top and me sitting below deck for the entire long, bumpy, ride.  The waves were huge, the water choppy, and all very reminiscent of my ride out to Manta Point where I had gotten sick over the side of the boat!  João got soaked from the waves up top, while I felt ill, clinging to my seat and willing us to arrive sooner!  

Finally around 3pm we arrived back on land on Bali, then piled into a van for the hour drive back to Sanur.  I grabbed the front seat since I had been feeling so ill during the boat ride, and most of the ride was lovely, as we passed green rice fields and a sort of topiary of Barong as we pulled into town.  Somehow our driver got into some sort of a spat with another car, who flew past us flipping the bird out the window.  Our driver then drove up and nearly cut off that driver again, which was more than a little unnerving in the front seat!  But we did finally make it back to our familiar little refuge at Laghawa, and we were thrilled to be back in such a warm and familiar place.  Though for all the difficulty of our journey to and from Lombok, the near perfection of our previous day on the secluded beach made it all worth it.

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