Lombok, Indonesia island paradise

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We took the slow ferry to Lombok, an island east of Bali. The slow boat option was good for us because it was less than half the price of the fast boat. The touts tried scaring us off buying the cheaper option, quoting times of 7 to 8 hours to arrive on the island. In fact it only took 3.5 hours plus a 45 min shuttle bus to our destination town of Senggigi. One thing you learn when booking travels in SE Asia is you never really understand all the steps of your journey- but generally you will get there…eventually. Because we aren’t in a hurry, the slow option of travel works for us. If you’re limited on time, spending the dough on faster travel is probably worth it.

Our first impression of Lombok was Senggigi, the most popular tourist destination on the island of Lombok. We stayed in a home stay (Ressa Homestay) about 6km out of the main tourist strip and tourist attractions of Senggigi Beach. This suited us just fine, it was much more of a local area, which always gives more insight to how people really live. And you are surrounded by food stalls which have no English menu.

Day one we caught a bemo (a truck with seats at the back) to Senggigi beach, 5 mins later and $1/60p later we arrived. Senggigi beach was busy, quite dirty but we found a spot to settle down to read a book and catch some rays. We had a dip in the ocean and a bite to eat in one of the many beach front bars and restaurants, that always charge a premium no matter the quality of food.

The best food we had in Senggigi was just down the road from our homestay. It was a little restaurant ran by the cutest, friendliest Indonesian woman. She was very welcoming and she took Katie by the arm and led her to all the food options she had for my non-meat eating companion. The lady had a huge smile on her face and seemed to be really happy we chose to go there. We had one of the best meals there we’ve had so far in Indonesia and it only cost around $4/£2.50 for both of us. She told us to come back tomorrow and of course we did for an equally as good meal. We loved the food and the hospitality and how she said ‘do you want some sawse?’ It’s something we’re still saying to each other and cracking up every time.

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The next day we walked to the local beach, the family run Homestay told us about it. There was no one around and the only reason we could think of its abandonment is because of the black sand. Which fuels the racial debate white vs black sand beaches. We much preferred this beach, it was cleaner, quieter and had a mass of sail boats. We found a spot and didn’t see anyone for hours. We watched the sunset at a local spot and again we were the only ones there apart from some kids playing.

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The following day we caught a boat to Gilli Trawangan, aka Gilli T, we were meeting up with my old flatmate Francoise. I hadn’t heard much about Gilli Trawangan apart from it being a tiny island with no vehicles. You either walk, cycle or use horse and cart, so it sounded pretty idyllic. We caught a slow boat over from Bansal harbour apparently ran by mafia but we didn’t see anything untoward. We had to jump on the boat from the shore, getting a little bit wet. We were crammed on to the boat with many Westerners. You really got the sense of what it must feel like for all the migrants crammed into boats, which unfortunately there have been more and more stories about in the news lately. About 40mins later, we had to jump off in the shallow water and wade to the shore with our bags in tow.

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It was pretty shocking what we saw. Hundreds of young stereotypical hippies, hipsters and surfer dudes. Basically a bunch of young people looking to party. It felt like a festival with music blasting out of bar after bar and a pretty shitty beach, far from the idyllic visions we initially had. From first sight it looks like the western world had ruined this island, almost like a virus. We didn’t stray too far that first night- we got some food and watched some TV (it had been awhile and sometimes you miss the normalities of everyday life). Francoise was arriving the next day and we knew it would get heavy.

After meeting up with Francoise we hired some bicycles with the aim to cycle around the island, this we heard should take about an hour. After you get out of the party strip is where Gilli Trawangan is transformed from party strip to island paradise. Here we saw beautiful beaches with very few people, a few bars which had more than 2 steps between them to the next one. We stopped and had a day beer while discussing how beautiful this part of the island was in comparison to the initial party strip. We were surprised how quiet it was and that not many people seemed to realise/care about this part.

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Further round the island we stopped at another bar, ran by a group of friends who were just as much the customers as they were the owners. They played guitar, sang and chatted to us for a while. It was a great vibe there. A lot of them told us of their story of how they arrived and never left, we could certainly understand why. We stayed and watched the sunset before finishing off the rest of the cycle ride around the island, it turned out we only had another 10mins to go.

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That night we ended up in a typical young mans sausage fest, lots of sweating boys on a dance floor trying to hit on the slim pickings on offer- in quantity that is, not quality necessarily. We must have lasted around 5 mins on the dance floor and decided to leave due to the mixtures of sweat we were accumulating.

The next day we went went snorkeling on the hunt for the infamous giant turtles that occupied the sea bed. Although we were unsuccessful we did see lots of varieties of fish and some very colourful coral. It was very cool. The water was crystal clear and the sun was beating down. That night we saw a couple of bands including a guy that was the spitting image of Bob Marley, but that might be the drink talking.

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Gilli Trawangan was a very different entity from anywhere else we had been in Indonesia. Firstly there is no police presence, which means you will be offered magic mushrooms and cannabis pretty much where ever you go. Elsewhere in Indonesia you can face prison or death for handling these drugs. Next the ratio of westerners to locals is very strange with about 800 locals to thousands of ‘us’ in the high season. On the other hand we saw some of the most beautiful paradise beaches yet, hung out with several cool locals and saw some great live music. It will be very interesting to see the island in 10 years and see if any of the paradise remains.

We were heading back to Lombok but this time the south of the island – Kuta. Again we rented out mopeds and took to the road. The main beach Kuta beach wasn’t really worth sticking around for and you get hasstled every 10mins by sellers trying to entice you to buy their goods. On offer were string brackets made by children, woven sheets being sold by the women, DVDs and speakers in the form of a beer can sold by the men.

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The roads were so quiet and the backdrops of the landscape were really cool. We found another great beach, hung out for a while and then went to a bar with a killer view. Later that day Francoise met a very nice girl called Vivi who joined up with us for dinner and drinks. We found a bar with more live music, not as refined as other bands we had seen but they got the crowd going.

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They next day we headed back to the beach, it was such a great beach that we had to show Vivi, who had spent the previous day at Kuta beach. Unfortunately it was a cloudy day so we decided to go exploring. Riding around the island was fun, stopping off at certain view points. The next day we explored the other side of the island finding yet another amazing beach. This day the sun was out in full force. We ate food and chilled out on beach chairs all day provided by a cafe owned by Herman Turtle (the only turtle we saw). Pretty awesome name right. We also managed to squeeze some more snorkelling on the crystal clear waters of Lombok.

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Without the moped we wouldn’t have seen these sights or got to explore. It added immensely to the whole experience. They are pretty simple to drive, point and steer if you find yourself on a small island is a must for £3/$5 a day.

We had a great time in Lombok, more so in Kuta than Senggigi. This might be due to the more laid back vibe in the day coupled with some of the best beaches ever. It also had the remote feeling when cruising around on the mopeds.

This part of the trip was refreshing. The paradise beaches, great company and hitting the open road was priceless. If you’re heading to Indonesia because of Bali, we would definitely recommend checking out Lombok as well…with a moped.

Some more photos

Next stop is Jakarta to meet some social entrepreneurs making a real difference to the land and communities in this friendly and stunning country.

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