Monday, December 11, 2006

Lombok & Back to Bali

After leaving Gili Air it was back to mainland Lombok and I decided to stop off at Sengiggi beach. A small-ish bay on the West coast, one of several judging by the bus journey, each is separated by a high pass up the mountains to the next. Quite a few boats in the harbour, and some yachts drifting further out to sea. I went for a stroll along the waterfront and was ambushed by students practising their English. Armed with notebooks and tape recorders they launched into a quick interview with the usual where do you come from? Still at least quite a few people had at least heard of Scotland. In fact, Highlander seems popular here. One guy asked me if the story was true! Probably thinks we run around lopping off heads in the quest for immortality. Braveheart, bagpipes, whisky and guys in skirts are the other cultural icons sometime known.

Come Saturday night time it was quite lively with a few bands playing in open air pubs. Playing mostly English language songs with the occasional local song thrown into the mix. Mixed in with the ever popular English Premier League kicking off at 10p.m. and the pub was fairly busy. Obviously a lot of Asians watch the footy as Chang and Air-Asia advertise yet only sell in Asia.

The next day I continued down to the capital of Lombok, Mataram. A busy little town I decided to take the local transport back to Bali, as I had mostly been taking tourist buses. Getting from Sengigi to Mataram was fairly easy, changed at one point and was shepherded onto the next bemo by the driver. I had a look at a couple of temples in Mataram but they were far from spectacular. Next I headed along to the Lake Park which was also unimpressive, a muddy square of water. The central point of town seems to be the mall. Feeling in the mood for a burger I headed into McDonalds, where it was crawling with kids having a birthday party. McDonalds seems to have got in on localisation big time. Strange to watch somebody in there eating rice & egg with their fingers.

Leaving Mataram was a bit tougher, I headed down the bemo stops and after agreeing a normal price hopped aboard. The ferry is about 10 miles away, it took over 2 hours to get there! Most of sitting in the bemo, waiting for other passengers. Now and again he would drive up and down the road, trying to get more people before returning to the start and switching off the engine. I slipped my hat over my face and tried to go to sleep, but it was too hot inside. Eventually he crammed enough people in so we left, to pick up more people by the roadside. Anyway I got to the ferry 30 mins before it left, I though I would of got the previous ferry 90 minutes before but never mind. As soon as you reach the entrance of the terminal people are coming up trying to sell you tickets. I just ignored them (like the Police!) and walked up to the counter. People who sell the real tickets sit behind desks and wait for customers, not run about chasing people! Onto the ferry and yet more people selling everything and anything. Food, water, tshirts etc. Then 2 minutes before the boat leaves they all dash off. Obviously they don’t get their tickets checked at the entrance, must sneak past the security guard in the morning, or pay him. Anyway it was back to Padang Bai, I was going to push on to Kuta that evening but I couldn’t be bothered, so I spent another night in Padang Bai. The next day I went to get the bus, but a local festival was beginning so no buses for two days, hmmm. After a walk around the ferry area, I quickly arranged for a chartered car, only 5000 more than the bus. Sharing with one other person who was going to the airport. Picked up another couple of people and then it was back to Kuta. Except the driver dropped us off somewhere else, and we swapped to a bus. No extra money said the driver and then headed off. And then more waiting…

Finally got back to Kuta. Just as well the woman who charted the car wasn’t in a hurry to get to the airport! A few more days in Kuta before my flight back to Kuala Lumpur. I had timed it for 30 days in Indonesia, more than that and you need to apply for a visa beforehand, at least that seemed to be the rules, although when I flew in to Bali the customs guy asked me if I wanted 60 days, you just pay double. I had some more strolling around here, getting to know the area a bit better. In the South, you have Tuban and then heading North you get to Kuta beach proper and Legian, and if you continue you get to Seminyak, which is the super posh area. One of the road is simply a line of restaurants up here. Another houses a couple of art galleries for those wanting to purchase some original pieces. A far cry from the cheep and cheerful stalls in Kuta. One night I went out, popping into the bar for a happy hour drink. All was quiet until around 30 Norwegians descended, they had spent a couple of months here for school and had just finished there last exams, so they were in high spirits. Somewhere along the line I ended up drinking whisky with a bunch of locals, before heading onto Joe’s Place as one of the locals played there on Tuesday, not that it was a Tuesday or even open, but I met up with a couple of people I had seen the first time I was in Kuta. So I had a few more drinks before staggering home. Didn’t do much the next day, except stay clear of alcohol.

Food! A couple of Indonesian dishes that I’ve liked here are Gado Gado, a healthy mix of crispy vegetables and Nasi Campur a mix of vegetables and rice, maybe some sate if your lucky. These are very open to interpretation and so finding a good restaurant is needed. The same dish can be totally different from one place to another. I had Nasi Campur in Bedegul and it was a pale imitation of the meal I had in Kuta. The added sate with the dish was lovely. Not too spicy, either.

Gili Air

Leaving Padang Bai, we got the large ferry over to Lombok, taking around 4 hours. Then a bus up to the North arrived at Bangsal, where we got the public ferry over to Gili Air. The ferry being a long narrow boat capable of carrying about 20 people. No pier in at either end so you have to take off your shoes and clamber through the water onto the boat type while not dropping your bag in the water. Finally arriving at Gili Air we found some nice bungalows which had just been built by the French owner. Very nice and quiet place. Unusually quiet as the only means of transport around the island is horse and cart, no cars, no motorbikes here. The island is small enough to get around, a walk around the perimeter takes little over an hour. There is a small permanent local population of only 700 people living here, so when somebody says then know everybody they are not exaggerating.

Small restaurants dot the Eastern coast of the island. Most are simple places with small platforms with cushion for lounging on. Service is best described as “relaxed”. Most have a selection of fresh fish on display waiting to be grilled for hungry diners. If you look closley you can see that the fish have been caught by traditional spear fishing during the day.

A nice relaxing place for a few days. I often snorkled in the mornings, you could simply wade out to the coral from the beach. After talking to the guy renting the equipment he pointed me to a different site slightly further North up the coast. It was harder to get there as you either have to step on the dead coral shrapnel with your bare feet or stagger around with your flippers on. He saw me flapping around and then came out and showed my it is often easier to walk backwards with the flippers. Once there is enough water you can swim out further. He pointed out some different things, that I had noticed before most notable the clams. Swimming down to their mouths they would quickly closes up. Many different colors also. Another trick is spitting in your mask which makes it much easier to see and visibility is great here. A gentle current pushing you South along the coast so you don’t have to do much swimming. At one stage a huge dropoff occurs into the ocean, seems to me like standing at the edge of a cliff on a windy day! At the edges of the visibility some large fish swim in these deeper waters. During my time here I saw baracuda, angle fish, knife fish, clams, blue starfish, clown fish, mudskippers as well as countless unknown fish. Also got stung by some some small jellyfish, bit like a mosquito bite. Didn’t really notice until out of the water, but there are not posionous here so not a big deal.

In the afternoon, a spot of lunch at one of the beachside cafes and then spread out in the well balanced hamock on the veranda of the cottage and read my book. Maybe stop for a cool mango lassie, or drink a coconut. The days seem to drift by easily in places like this. Aah, life is tough :)

Monday, December 04, 2006


Continuing North I reached the coast again at the beach town of Lovina. A lot smaller than Kuta, it can easily be walked around. Consisting of lots of restuarants a few pubs, and a stretch of sand. Although the sand isn't as nice here, bit darker but okay. I rented a bike and cycled over to Sringraja the state capital. Much busier here lots of traffic when I joined up with the main road. I had taken the back roads to get there, which was hillier but quiter. I stopped off for a look around some statues. I think it was of the locals trying to repel the Dutch, not a great idea when you have a spear and they have a gun. A bit of Nasi Goreng for lunch, I dropped in at one of the small restaurants that line the road. I doubt they get many foreigners, but friendly enough and tasty food.

I came back to Lovina and then jumped back on the bike for an hour before sunset. I headed out the other direction and ended up cycling through a small village. Trundling along the dirt path between the coconut trees, trying to avoid angry dogs. See a few people who look suprised to see me.

Back into town and I had a look round the pubs, a couple of bands were playing. The first band wasn't that good, so I had a look elsewhere. The unmistakable riff of Smoke on the Water came thundering through the air, so I went in there. And for the rest of the night they played reggae, sheesh!

After Lovina I headed to the East Coast, the town of Padang Bai. A couple of Dutch people were travelling down there also. We had arranged it through the hotel for the bus to take us, but as there was only three people we ended up in a battered old jeep. It was a nice road winding along the coast for sections, before heading inland past the large volcano and on through the stepped land of the rice paddies, before emerging back beside the coast. I had a seat up front, so had a good view of the trip. Once in Padang Bai, I spent a couple of days there. The next day I headed over to Candid Dasa, a short bemo ride away. More of an upmarket resort area, with pricier restaurants. Not much beach here. The Lonely Planet says the barrier reefs were harvested in the 80's to provide lime for the concrete mix needed for the big new resorts. However without the barriers, erosion rapidly destroyed the coast. Within a few years, Candid Dasa was a beach resort with no beach. Some concrete barriers have been added to try and cope, but the damage had been done.

Back at Padang Bai, I had a beer with Paula and Frank. We were all going to the same place tomorrow. The Gili Islands.