So. Here I am, sitting on the balcony, with my last Bintang (tasty Indonesian beer), fighting off the mosquitos and contemplating the end of the Indonesian chapter of my trip. (Note: Or at least I was until the internet stopped working, now I am lying in bed the next morning!).
My Lombok trip didn’t get off to a great start. If you recall, I was a little fearful about being sociable and joining a group trip. With that in mind, I arrived at my hotel, and before I had even opened my bag a figure loomed in the doorway. “Hellooo” came an English voice. “This is promising”, I thought, “a friendly person”. Unfortunately that was as good as this particular conversation got. It turned out that several of my Lombok “family” had just finished a tour of Bali as well and finished up in this hotel. This lady (let’s call her Elphaba*) was one of that group. Having complained to me about members of the group, the heat, the spicy food – so she booked a trip to Java and Bali why, exactly? – I then told her how much I was looking forward to going to Burma after the Lombok trip. “Oh” she said, rolling both her eyes and her head, “all you will see is temples. And the food is terrible”. And with that she flew off into the sunset, broom firmly between her legs.
You can imagine how much I was looking forward to joining the group after that. Thankfully, however, Elphaba was not on the Lombok trip. And lots of amazing people were. Two of the girls turned out to be from Twickenham (like, round the corner close, and with the same pilates instructor, small world-itis). The remaining members of the family came from Germany, New Zealand, Australia and Hawaii, and the entire group proved to be the most entertaining company for the next week.
Our guide, Agus, greeted us by assuring us that despite being muslim, he was a good person and not radical. And he said that in all seriousness, which for me was a really sad indictment of the current state of the world.
He also pointed out that whilst in Europe we may think someone crazy if they are a stranger and they smile and wave at us, but here in Lombok, that was entirely normal.And normal it indeed was – fantastically so. I am not sure I have ever been somewhere where the people were so welcoming and happy. Those of you who have visited the countries I am yet to reach may tell me that this is commonplace. If that is the case, bring it on.
We first went to Tetebatu, to experience the real local Lombok culture. Long rice field walks and village visits to see the local weavers at work – it was fascinating, and just such a world apart from the UK.
En route, we came across a number of traditional wedding ceremonies – huge processions, trucks rammed full of people going to the celebration. The bride walks with the women looking mournful as she leaves her family, followed by marching bands (in the Lombok sense) and the groom. After a couple of days there we continued on to Senaru, in the foothills of Mt Rinjani, which at 3,700m is the second highest volcano in Indonesia. En route we stopped off at a local market at which point my contemplation of going vegetarian on this trip became a determination – 38 degree heat with chicken laid out bare… yikes, never eating meat again. Day 5 meat free and coping!!
Once at Senaru we did more walking, this time visiting a traditional Sasak village, where people still live together in single room huts, the bathroom is a hole in the ground (thankfully not a homestay for us) and women are still battling for recognition – our female guide was one of just a handful of women employed in this fashion following the establishment of a women’s association. We visited the beautiful Singang Gila waterfall – our guide told us that if you bathe at the secret second waterfall there it makes you look younger. So we all scrabbled over rocks and through tunnels to reach it in search of the elixir of youth. You decide…
Then we went on to Gili, which I was beyond excited about. But if Gili Meno, the island I visited last week, was Cinderella, Gili Trawangan, where we stayed this time, was its ugly sister. Don’t get me wrong, it still had beautiful white sand and turquoise water, but to walk to the beach we had to walk past piles of garbage, it was very commercialised, perhaps a reflection of the ugly side of exploitation in the name of tourism. And I don’t think it helped that we arrived in the midst of the heaviest rainfall in months. I felt a bit deflated before escaping to Meno for a day, following which equilibrium was restored.
After a couple of nights in Gili we went back to Lombok and the trip was over in the blink of an eye. The rest of my group left today and I leave Indonesia behind tomorrow as I head to Burma. I have barely scratched the surface and wish I had longer here, but even Elphaba cannot quell my excitement for the next chapter.
And so to reflect so far:
Where I have struggled:
1. Garbage. Everywhere, unfortunately.
2. The crushing disappointment of Gili Trawangan not maintaining my Gili magic.
3. Hawkers in Sengiggi, a completely different experience to Ubud. Although you have to hand it to them for persistence – when one of our group said “no thank you”, one responded “why not”? One tried to sell me 5 (crap) postcards for rp200k, before I went down the road and bought 5 (good) postcards for rp15k!
4. Holes in the ground excuses for toilets. And there haven’t even been many. I know I am going to have to suck it up but I think it may take a while.
What I have loved:
1. Smiling and waving. Kids running to school gates on seeing our bus, jumping up on the railings to wave at us. Families resting in the shade of their porches, looking up and greeting us as if we were old friends as we passed. They should introduce this concept on the Waterloo and City line.
2. The colour green. Green as far as you can see. Now I understand the real meaning of “verdant”. Jaw dropping landscapes of rice paddies as far as the eye can see that my photos simply can not do justice to.
3. The smell of frangipani and incense in Ubud, and its great vibe, somewhere I felt completely safe, despite being on my own.
4. My Lombok travelling family, who have reminded me of the importance of laughter, acceptance, and kindness.
5. “The moment”. It finally happened. I was sitting on the bus en route to Senaru, I put my headphones in and had an overwhelming sense of “this is it, I am actually travelling”. And reality kicked in and it was so very uplifting (and I maybe even shed a tear). Even though the song was “Bad day”!
6. Gili Meno. Without a shadow of a doubt still the highlight. I think a little bit of my heart will always remain there, probably as much because it was the starting point of my journey as for how beautiful it is.
7. The sense of anticipation. Burma beckons. I can’t wait.
*The wicked witch of the west. That one is for you PRG!