Stretched over 5000 kilometres and three time zones where do you decide to begin in the worlds largest archipelago? In the middle of course! Into Indonesia…114 days in.
I do like a musical welcome and after a much simpler than expected free 30 day visa granted, that’s what greeted us in the Lombok immigration hall. A bus ticket in hand was our weapon against the swarming taxi drivers outside and by 10 pm we were sat on our balcony overlooking the courtyard of our Hindu homestay, delightful! And if there hadn’t been an hours long march from the bus terminal to get there, it would have been; perhaps our scepticism of taxi drivers runs a little too deep, and of course when I say our I really mean…
We were in Mataram just for the night, but plenty of time to get to the Hindu temples of Pura Meru and Mayura in the morning and witness the scooping out of the dead fish floating in the vast pond (I’d reckon on at least 200 bobbing along!). We stuck to buying fruit at the stalls there!
It was then off to the tourist trap of Senggigi to arrange our excursions for the next few days via one of the many tourist information huts that give you as little information as possible but do successfully empty your wallet. Before leaving we took ourselves out of town by hiring some mountain bikes and exploring the north coast. We rested at a bay not more than 5 k north from the main beach (the coast is very hilly) yet it felt worlds away. An Indonesian family came and spoke with us, offered us food (accepted!) and we chatted and played with the kids for an hour. Our next stop north and we were now like celebs as waves of teenagers came along the beach to take selfies with us. This has continued to be a feature of everyday life for us in Indonesia- the constant shouts of hello mister mister selfie selfie, not just from the kids, but adults too including the armed forces and a deacon! But just what happens with all these photos? Do they print them off and frame them then put them next to the weddings and christenings collection, or do our faces adorn computers all over as desktop backgrounds? Fortunately we’ve not seen many dartboards at least!
The Gili Islands were our target on Lombok, three small islands not more than a few metres above high tide surrounded by coral and strong currents. We arrived at Gili Meno and spent half our daily budget on the bungalow, but even that was not enough for a sea view; then settled in to a routine of breakfast, snorkel, lunch, beach, sunset stroll then dinner for the next four days, we’ve had tougher times! That said, the snorkelling required a fair effort with the coral over 50 metres out to sea through crashing waves. But once the oceans fury had been breached and the white rollers subsided the fish revealed themselves in abundance and after a day’s searching we managed to follow turtles munching on the flora of the sea floor, well worth the effort.
Gili Meno also happens to be 5km around its perimeter, a fact not lost on the many Europeans registered with Strava and so Mike did battle with the leaderboard; but unlike the ease with which the segments in Senggigi had been overcome, this was a step up and third place had to do.
The days passed slowly on Gili Meno, known as a quiet honeymoon destination and we spent many an hour in one of mumma Yaya’s beach side shacks trying the new cuisine of Indonesia, not just because of the gorgeous location but in part due to the mildly stoned staff who could take over half an hour to discover that what you had ordered was unavailable, but when it was delivered, the food was fantastic and the shakes even better!
Returning to Senggigi we were ready for more action and ventured into a maze of residential single story corrugated topped homes bustling with kids pushing tyres with sticks and hens galore. There we watched a while where three chaps were hacking away half way up a tree. Once the trunk was deemed narrow enough the men began yanking on the rope tied above the notched timber and sure enough they managed to tear away the excess wood; however, gravity went straight to work and in an event that appeared to surprise the men, brought the timber into the wall of the house knocking off a few feet of masonry. Sometimes you do wonder?
Other than the Gilis, north Lombok’s big attraction is the mighty Rinjani volcano. Trips up the 3700 metre slopes take a couple of days and seriously lighten the load of your wallet, so we made do with swimming in one of its waterfalls and flashed the cash on a four day boat trip instead. The waterfall provides the locals with a constant supply of fresh water and they have set up lots of irrigation channels from it. Mike suggested to our guide that they could set up a tubing run for the way down, he said no need and in no time Mike was on his back racing down the channel to an underground passage. Stopping in time we were then lead through the dark waterway for a few hundred metres until reaching daylight and paddy fields.
And so ended our first week in Indonesia, on first inspection more chaotic than Malaysia and almost as littered as the Philippines, though a constant presence of fires by the sides of roads fuelled with garbage at least showed an attempt to keep a degree of order to the situation. Now time to get shipshape for our four days at sea, scrub the quarter deck, steady the tiller all eyes toward the weather bow.