My daily Instagram piece turned into a lengthy one, so I thought I’d post it here instead. In the wake of yesterday’s horrific shooting in Oregon, I felt obliged to...
“Boatloads” of Fun in Indonesia: Lombok & Lembongan
If Jack Kerouac would have written On the Road while traveling through Indonesia, he undoubtedly would have called it On a Boat. Had I known how many boats were involved in traveling this part of the world beforehand, I may have made other plans. This is precisely why I don’t like knowing what’s ahead of me. That goes for life in general though, doesn’t it? Although I am madly in love with all things ocean-related, boats and I have a different, less romantic relationship. I get seasick quite easily and have read one too many stories about boat trips gone wrong, particularly in Asia. So, here I was, in a country composed of about 18,000 islands, trying to hop from one to the other. Brilliant, huh? I figured if The Philippines were next, I’d better get over this fear quickly. After saying goodbye to Shira and having spent almost 2 weeks on Gili Trawangan, we figured it was time to hit the road — or the ocean, in our case. Across the water just a few kilometers away, the much larger island of Lombok was calling our names. We packed our bags, said our goodbyes and bought tickets for the next boat out of Gili. Whether I liked it or not, my fear-facing would start now. As the boat pulled up, I gave it a judgmental stare down and begrudgingly picked up my packs. I already knew the drill — pile on the boat as you wade in knee-deep water with your 15 kilos of luggage, squeeze in like sardines as you pile your belongings on top of you and hold your breath until you’ve hit the next piece of solid land. It went exactly like that. As more people and goods got on after us, you could literally watch (and feel) the little wooden boat sink another inch deeper, as if she was begging for it to stop.
This traditional Indonesian fishing and transport boat is called a pump boat. You can see the outriggers on either side, which I’ll get into later.
Maartje, Fleur and I were the only travelers (read: blonde, fair-skinned westerners) on the boat, providing the locals with plenty of entertainment once again. We laughed as we looked at each other with slightly horrified faces, hoping it would all be okay. I smirked, knowing my friend and travel advisor, Rob, would be proud of me for doing it the local way. It was only a 45 minute trip from Lombok to Gili, but it felt like hours. The sea was quite kind to us that day, but my confidence in the boat dwindled with each wave and creak. When I saw the sandy beach of Lombok, relief and excitement came over me at once. We were back on solid ground for a while, so I thought. Within seconds of stepping off the boat with all of our bags, we were bombarded by local taxi and tuk-tuk drivers trying to sell us rides to all the wrong places. Eventually we found a young guy with a horse & carriage who said he could take us to a taxi, which would then take us to Senaru, our final destination. As soon as we arrived to the hotel where the taxi was to meet us, we realized we were being set up to by a bunch of locals who wanted to sell us various tours. I quickly realized we weren’t in Bali anymore. Lombok is not such a touristy place yet, which is a big part of why we all wanted to see it. Most backpackers want to see the untouched places, as they tend to offer deeper insight to the local way of life. We all want to be able to say we went there before it was ruined by tourists. That’s the truth. This also means, however, that the locals are not used to tourists either, making travel difficult at times. Lombok is the perfect example of this. Within a few minutes we found ourselves knee deep in a scam. Since we’re all seasoned (enough) travelers, we quickly realized what was going on, grabbed our bags off the floor and left to find another car. After about 20 minutes of price negotiation, we finally agreed on $25 USD for the 2 hour car ride to Senaru. Ouch, said the wallet. There aren’t many choices in Lombok and we were ready to put our things down and relax. We happily got in the car with our friendly driver and prepared ourselves for one of the most interesting car rides to date. This guy must have stopped and asked for directions about 15 times along the way. It got to the point where the three of us were just laughing too hard to be mad about it. I swear there was a time where he asked some lady on the side of the road if he just kept going straight to get to Senaru, despite the fact that there wasn’t another way to go. We practically told him how to get there. It’s quite a simple island without many roads, so we were absolutely baffled at our driver’s confusion. After 2 long hours, we finally arrived in the surprisingly small town of Senaru where we quickly decided on one of the 3 lodging options. We were simply happy to be done with transit for the day.
Happy faces and peace signs in the dumbest car ride ever. Ever.
We thought we would stay a few nights in Senaru, as it was supposed to be a nice mountain town near the popular volcano, Mount Rinjani. The trek up the volcano itself was a bit pricey, so I decided against it, despite the temptation. In addition, I didn’t have the proper equipment on me to be hiking to 3700+ meters in near freezing temperatures. I hate passing up an incredible volcano hike, but you can’t do it all on a budget. I thought we would be able to squeeze in a shorter version of the hike from Senaru, but I quickly discovered I was wrong. It turns out, the only reason anyone goes to this town is to do the proper Rinjani trek, asnd nothing else. There were no restaurants, no bars, no people — no nothing. We made it an early night and walked to the local waterfall the next morning. It was quick and easy, yet so lovely. We made it back to the hostel about two hours later, grabbed our things and hired a van for another $25 USD. We were on our way to Senggigi, a beach town a few hours south.
A couple of local boys in Senaru who had their faces painted for no apparent reason. What’s not to love about that?
We arrived in Senggigi to find shops, people, traffic and restaurants. We were back in civilization and quite thrilled about it. Fleur and I went for a walk to find accommodation while Maartje sat with our bags a cozy little cafe. We found a little homestay just off the main road, where we bargained our way down to almost nothing. I think we ended up paying a few dollars each, which made us feel better about all of the exorbitant transportation prices. I must say that in this case, we got what we paid for. Although that is not often how it goes on the road, it certainly rang true for this particular night. I found the entire place to be a bit cringe worthy and the incredibly loud mosque directly beside us didn’t help my disdain for this hosmestay. It made for a tough night’s sleep, to say the least. Ahhh, traveling on a budget. It’s only awesome about 99% of the time.
Later that afternoon we went for a wander and stumbled upon the local beach, complete with heaps of rubbish and local vendors selling tacky souvenirs. Just off the main road, there were a handful of restaurants serving up typical Indonesian dishes and Bingtang beers at fairly cheap prices. Aside from that, the town didn’t have much else to offer. That was the night we decided that maybe Lombok wasn’t for us — at least not right now. We met a few people who were motorbiking their way around the island, but Maartje and I didn’t feel confident enough to drive the bikes. Maybe next time, I thought. We had heard about an island a bit south of Bali called Nusa Lembongan and we had our sights set on it. Once again though, we were about to face a transportation hurdle. From Lombok, Lembongan is not even 40 kilometers. You would think it was easy enough as hopping on a direct boat, but you would be wrong. In order to get there, you must first go to Bali’s port of Padang Bai, then catch a bus down to Sanur, where you catch another boat to Lembongan. We thought it was ridiculous, so as usual, we wanted to find our own way. Cue more adventure, (again). We found a massive daily ferry that goes directly from Lombok’s Lembar harbor to Bali. At a mere Rp 40,000 (about $3.50 USD) a ticket, we didn’t ask questions. We took another overpriced taxi to the harbor in Lombok, grabbed some snacks and boarded the ferry. I could write an entire page on this particular ferry ride, but I’ll save myself the pain. Let’s just say that what was supposed to be a 4 hour trip turned into 8.5 hours on a boat without food. Did I mention that we sat on the floor for all 8.5 hours? All of the seats were taken when we boarded, so we happily made ourselves comfortable on the floor (obviously not knowing we would be there for an entire day). Despite the hand we were dealt, some good came from our day. We met a friendly English guy onboard who was also thinking about heading to Lembongan. He was off to scope out Kuta first, but would end up meeting us on the island later that week. The more, the merrier, right?
How do I survive hours and hours of transit in these countries? One word: Oreos. You won’t catch me eating many of these at home, as I watch what I eat. On the road, however, anything goes. Coffee and Oreos are my two most favorite comfort foods and I don’t ever plan on giving ’em up….even if Oreos are said to be as addictive as heroine. I like to live a little. Or a lot. Whatever.
Padang Bai greeted us with dark streets and pushy shuttle drivers. It was 10:00 at night, after all. Our options for transport to Sanur were limited, making it quite costly. Feeling exhausted and defeated from our long day at sea, we opted to stay a night in Padang Bai. We grabbed a bite to eat and a beer to celebrate being on land, then went to find a place to stay. As the day would have it, this didn’t come easy. Somewhere between dodging street rats and territorial, barking dogs, we were able to find a place to rest our heads. We woke up the next morning, feeling somewhat refreshed and ready to resume transit. As we were still waking up and enjoying eggs & pancakes, the restaurant owner helped us arrange a boat directly to Lembongan for a reasonable price. While the girls were ready to go, throwing their packs on with excitement, the less adventurous version of Emily sat at the table in full on finger-biting mode. I suppose I have more of my Mother in me than I like to admit. As I looked at the local “fishing boat” we would be taking across the Badung Strait, I laughed with fear. The traditional fishing boats in this part of the world are small, but have outriggers on either side, making them more stable and suitable for the fierce waters. (See the first photo in this post). At least, that’s what the locals tell themselves. I wasn’t buying it for a second though. I would question this thing on Lake Lanier in north Georgia, yet this guy wanted to take me into open ocean for an hour? No way, I thought. Maartje could see the look in my eyes and knew I was serious about meeting them there later via another port that offered a more sturdy boat. I didn’t want to hold them back and we’re all independent travelers, so I thought I’d go my own way. No biggie. The restaurant owner (turned boat organizer) overheard my concerns and came over to repeatedly reassure me that all would be fine. He said that the water was smooth this time of day and that there would be no problems whatsoever. He was laughing at me too, I think, but I didn’t blame him. After much deliberation and internal pep-talking, I decided to tell my logical side to screw off, and agreed to join the girls on this adventure. We were all so ready to be back on island time and done with transit. The choice was obvious. In true Indonesian fashion, we boarded with our bags above our head in 3 feet of water. It was one of the more uneventful boat rides I’ve ever taken and I was thrilled about it. Besides a bit of salt water splash, the ride was smooth and we were in beautiful Lembongan in less than an hour. I was more than glad about manning up to the boat challenge. We were back in paradise.
You can’t see it here, but I am also soaked on my entire right side. It’s not an Indonesian boat ride if you’re clothes are dry upon arrival.
Lembongan blew my expectations within minutes. The clarity of the water, the abundance of dive shops and the sight of backpackers all around made for the perfect welcome. This was our kind of place and we knew it almost immediately. We walked for a few minutes until stumbling upon an amazing hostel resembling a palace. Despite our transit-induced fatigue, we were somehow able to bargain our way into a beautiful bedroom with enough space for a family of four. Here’s a tip for you potential backpackers: Travel with the Dutch. They are the absolute best at price haggling. If I showed you videos of Maartje in action, you would be on the next plane to us. Not only has she saved us loads of money, but she’s provided me with some of the funniest moments yet. This “palace” negotiation was one of her finest. We threw our bags in the room, claimed our beds and set out to explore the island. We scouted different dive shops, found the cheap restaurants and enjoyed discussing anything not having to do with transit.
Fleur, jumping with excitement in front of our fancy new palace.
We stayed on Lembongan for about 7 days, taking in all of the sun and adventure we could get. It was our last week together, as Maartje and I were scheduled to make our way to The Philippines afterwards. We wanted to make the best of it, and we had no trouble doing that. We ended up finding our friend from the 8.5 hour boat ride within a few days (Jason), which made for a fun reunion. Miles, Fleur’s friend, also met us for a couple of days before leaving Indonesia as well. While most of the week was spent being lazy outdoors, we made sure to cash in on all Lembongan had to offer. About mid-way through the week, we rented motorbikes with Jason and it was absolutely perfect. Maartje and I still weren’t so confident about driving a bike, so Fleur and Jason gave us a quick lesson on a back road before leaving. We both found it to be easier than we remembered and were riding like pros in no time. Well, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but we weren’t too bad either. Lembongan isn’t exactly a bustling island, so dodging other bikes and pedestrians isn’t the concern here. Instead, you are faced with questionable “roads,” hills and bridges — all making for one of my favorite days ever. No one got a flat, no one really fell and only one of us ran out of gas. If you guessed Maartje for that one, you are correct. Every turn showed us something new. From the local seaweed farms and Hindu funeral procession, to the stunning views on top of the island and from sunset points, the entire day was just brilliant. I’ve added quite a few photos below in an effort to try and capture the day for you. This is why I need a GoPro. Enjoy!
The above photo and the following 2 were taken whilst stumbling upon a Hindu funeral procession. They didn’t seem to mind all of the tourists taking photos, so we joined in. It was quite a sight to see. Loads of music, color, flowers and incense.
That massive rock in the background is meant for jumping. True story. It was closed that day due to the massive swell that would either take you away or slam you into the rocks. If the Indonesians close something due to dangerous risks — do not question it.
The main temple in Lembongan, which sits at one of the highest points on the island. We saw a big set of stairs, so we had to go find out where it lead. The following 2 photos were taken from the top. Although it seemed to be an abandoned area, it still had that spark that all Hindu temples seem to have.
On our last day together as the three amigos, we did what Lembongan does best –diving. This part of the world is renowned for it’s spectacular array of corral and marine life, not to mention the one and only sunfish, or Mola mola. We chose World Diving Lembongan as our shop and couldn’t have been happier. They were friendly, accommodating and fun. Their killer boat and endless supply of soda didn’t hurt either. Our first dive site, Crystal Bay, was a deeper dive, where we were said to have the best chance of seeing much sought after Mola mola. We descended with excitement and a positive attitude and it paid off. Within about 2 minutes of getting settled at 22 meters, we looked out left to the deep blue and quickly realized it was our lucky day. There she was, all 2,200 pounds, surrounded by tiny cleaner fish just a few meters away. I screamed through my regulator as I threw my hands above like my team just scored a touchdown. Maartje and I swam around each other doing the Mola mola fish sign as our Dive Master looked onward and laughed. The rest of the dive was great too, but you can’t really top much after seeing this particular fish. It’s the heaviest boney fish in the world and isn’t easy to find. We surfaced with excitement and got back on the boat to enjoy lunch and some sodas. After about an hour, we geared up for our second dive, which was set to be a drift dive on the Eastside of the island. It ended up being one of my favorite dives ever. I was in a dream for all 47 minutes. The visibility, the colors, the life — it was like swimming in an aquarium, but better. Like I said in the last post, the currents in this part of the world are a different breed. While they can be dangerous at times, they also make for some of the best diving known to man. I don’t think we even used our fins for this dive. It was incredibly effortless, which any diver loves. We simply descended to a fairly shallow depth, and drifted for an entire kilometer before the boat came to get us. This is exactly why they call it “fun” diving. I can’t describe how brilliant and vibrant the colors were here. I can only insist that you go see for yourself…
Disclaimer: This is not my photo. It belongs to carnivoraforum.com, but I just wanted to show you the size of the Mola mola compared to a human. Pretty impressive, yeah?
We celebrated our fantastic day of diving with some dinner and Bintangs later that evening. It was our last night together and we all had an early morning ahead of us, starting with (you guessed it!) another boat. Maartje and I were to depart first, while Fleur’s boat back to the Gili Islands wasn’t scheduled until a couple of hours later. As usual, Maartje and I were running late for the boat, so I ran down to the dock to hold it for us. Maartje came running from the distance a few minutes later with Fleur in tow. I said my goodbyes from the boat, as I had been forced to board quickly. Maartje and Fleur said a quick goodbye (for now), complete with a good hug and a tear or two. It was such a great reunion for them after not seeing each other in a year and a half and I was happy to be a part of it. I had a blast getting to know Fleur over banana pancocks (pancakes to everyone else out there) every morning while learning about the dozens of countries she’s visited. I gained one new Dutch friend and heaps of new memories — two of my favorite things in the world.
Maartje and I made our way to Kuta that day, where we would spend a few nights getting our things ready for The Philippines. The big Utila girls reunion was in just a few short days and we had laundry and shopping to do. We were scheduled to fly out of Bali to Singapore for a 17 hour layover, then onto Manila and Boracay from there. We spent more time at our favorite bar & restaurant (Stakz) than I’d like to admit, but we just found the food and atmosphere to be even better than we remembered. The last couple of days in Kuta flew by and we were in a taxi headed to the airport before I knew it. My month in Indonesia had been packed full of adventure and sights, easily exceeding my already high expectations. Although I was sad to say goodbye, I was absolutely thrilled about seeing Singapore for the first time before the real party started in The Philippines. Maartje and I were embarking upon a new adventure together, but little did we know it would start before we left Bali. In true, responsible Emily fashion, I had overstayed my visa by a day. Well, that’s what immigration told me upon showing my passport prior to departure. Whoopsie. Maartje and I knew it was a possibility for me, but I guess we thought if I played dumb, all would be fine with a little smile and twirl of the hair. Judge if you will, but I’ll have you know it’s worked before. Besides, if you counted my 30 days by time of arrival and departure, I was still hours within the 30 day mark. I tried to explain that, but with a smirk and a shaking of the head, the friendly officer directed me to the immigration office door. Dammit, I thought. Naturally, Maartje and I were laughing as everyone else in line rolled their eyes at the two blonde girls who were being summoned by immigration. They made me cough up $20 USD, which I was prepared for. I had done my homework and knew that if they wanted to be jerks about me overstaying by a few hours, then I’d have to pay it up. It’s cheaper to pay the overstay fee for a day than it is for an extension though, so perhaps the Indonesians should check their math. It made for a good story and the officers were all quite funny about it, even laughing at us as we scrounged up all of the Indonesian coins we had left to pay the fee. We had exactly enough, down to the last Rupiah. We laughed, sorted out my exit stamp and headed straight to the gate. With twenty less dollars to my name and another immigration experience under my belt, I was more ready than ever to take on another country. We were Singapore bound in no time.
Special note: I always try and say thank you for stopping by after each post. Today, however, I’d like to say an extra thank you for allowing me to celebrate over 10,000 views for the blog so far! It was a mark I had ben eagerly awaiting and anticipating. I hope to double that this year. Wishful thinking can’t hurt. Thank you again and again for the continued love and support. Whether it’s a simple click, read, comment or like — it all counts. Y’all rock. Love from Thailand. xxx