Upon arrival in Lombok’s Lembar harbour, after five hours on the ferry with mostly Indonesian people, I had seen the coast, beaches lined with palm trees and in the background brown, arid hills, quite a difference from Bali. During the trip by tourist shuttle bus to the small coastal town of Senggigi, the landscape changed the further north we got, becoming more and more green.
On Bali, it had been difficult to penetrate the superficial layer of charming people and beautiful landscape, to understand the hardship these people must endure in their daily lives, but here on Lombok, the poverty was clearly visible. Sheds serving as houses, pony-drawn carriages, kids playing with rudimentary toys. There was rubbish everywhere, carelessly thrown alongside the road, on big landfills, or in or near the already very polluted water of the rivers. Many open sewers with their accompanying stench, and I had forgotten how big rats can become. I suppose the poorer the people, the less they care where their rubbish ends up, something I also noticed when I spent some time on the Navajo Reservation in the US state of Arizona, some seven years ago. But don’t they realise the extend to which they’re polluting their own environment, or is it out of sight, out of mind?
Senggigi is an unremarkable, desolate little town, clearly suffering from the slump in tourism. As it was now the rainy season, usually in the afternoon the heavens would open up for about an hour and streets would instantly be turned into rivers. Again, there were many hawkers in Senggigi, who are quite persistant, and the conversation always goes like this: “Hello mister, how are you? Where are you from?” After I answer, they are usually able to name a dozen Dutch football players, after which they ask me to buy some of their goods (mostly consisting of necklaces, armbraces, rings and decorated lighters), and they’re not taking no for an answer. I’ve seen some tourists get very angry at them for persisting like this, but I’m always trying to be polite and to smile, as I understand they’re very poor and see us tourists as walking dollar bills. Still, it’s quite full-on.
Following the advice of a fellow backpacker from Russia, I decided to visit Gili Meno, the quitest one of three Gili islands, just off Lombok’s coast. The husband and wife who owned the losmen I stayed at in Senggigi drove me to Bangsal, where the boat to Gili Meno would depart from. Deeper into Lombok, I finally saw some of the natural beauty Lombok is known for, wonderful green mountains and deep valleys, covered in thick unspoilt jungle. The winding road led us through Monkey Forest, where hundreds of small monkeys sat together alongside the road, eating, grooming eachother, or lazily watching the passing traffic. Bangsal harbour was merely a beach with some small boats, and after wading through the water, I got on the boat, squeezed in between the provisions, together with a dozen locals. After an hour, we arrived on Gili Meno, which is best described as a tiny tropical paradise, population 300. I checked into a newly built bungalow, less than 30 meters from the beach, and of course I directly went for a swim in the lukewarm, deep blue water. It’s magical to swim with a backdrop of the lush green mountains of Lombok in the distance. Sometimes thick, dark clouds would hover over the mountains, you could hear the thunder and see the rain coming down, but on Gili Meno, it remained dry, almost desert-like.
I rented snorkelling equipment for a day, and entered the sea just in front of my bungalow. Unfortunately, most of the coral has been destroyed by a combination of global warming, El Nino, and dynamite- and dragnet fishing by the locals. The beaches and sea bed are full of dead coral, and with the disappearance of the coral, the habitat of thousands of fish and other creatures has also vanished. Still, there were quite some fish present, like beautifully coloured butterfly fish, rabbit fish, enormous tuna, many large turtles, and flying fish, jumping great distances across the water surface. I was fascinated by a large octopus, who hid and changed colour as I got closer, and when I turned around, imagine my surprise when I saw a one and a half meter long white-tipped reef shark (Triaenodon obesus), holding still in the water, just 4 meters in front of me. It turned, and swam towards me, to reaching distance, as if it wanted to take a look at this strange, masked creature in front of it. Then suddenly, it swam past me with great speed, leaving me once again impressed at the elegance of the shark and the gracefulness with which it moves through the water.
As it is now Ramadan, the muslims are not eating, drinking or smoking from sunrise to sunset, and in this last week they are preparing for Idul Fitri (sugar festival), a two day celebration where they visit friends and families, and give eachother gifts (also consisting of sweets and dried sugared fruits, hence the name). Ramadan is a way for them to clear their mind and body, and to remind themselves that there are people less fortunate, who aren’t able to eat a meal every day. As a lot of muslims are still working, they are concentrating by quietly reciting small mantra-like prayers, of which Allahu al Akhbar (God is great) is the most (in)famous. From learning more about Islam, I can see that it is a very peaceful religion, but unfortunately it is so much abused by the extremists who call themselves muslim. And I am amazed at the polarizing influence of the media, as terrorism which is committed by for instance Christians or Hindus is simply called Terrorism, but when committed by (proclaimed) muslims, it is Islamic Terrorism.
After the sunsets, I frequently ate delicious Indonesian food at a local warung, a lovely experience to sit among the locals, who taught me some of their Sasak language (which differs not only on the three islands, but also on Lombok as well). Densi, a very friendly 38-year old muslim who owns the small warung, and spends his time taking tourists on snorkelling trips, taught me more about Islam, as I ate my nasi campur and as he smoked one cigarette after another (no surprise, after not smoking the whole day). His wife cooks the food, and he has two daughters who go to school on Lombok, and one son, who still lives with his parents.
After staying on the wonderful little island for five days, I went for my last swim around sunset, the dark blue water ending in a sky of red, with a large sun slowly sinking in the sea, seemingly passing through the clouds. On the other side, the green mountains of Lombok, enveloped in dark clouds. When it was dark, I went back to Densi’s warung again, and I said that I wanted to see a little more of Lombok. Although he had never been there, he said that Senaru was a very nice place to visit, and he asked if we perhaps could go together. I thought this was a very good idea, and we would meet up the following morning to go to Lombok together.
That morning, Densi and I took the boat back to Lombok, I stored my backpack at a friend’s of Densi’s, who allowed us to borrow his small Honda motorbike with two helmets. Off we went, I drove through Lombok’s beautiful countryside, Densi sitting on the back. Again, the environment was hot and dry, little vegetation and dry riverbeds. We passed hundreds of school children, dressed in brown-yellow uniforms, some of which said “Bule!” ("White Man!") or hello, while waving. We passed through villages, were people waved at me, said hello or “bule” again, which made Densi laugh a lot. After a while, the road went up and the landscape changed, becoming more green, and cooler, with a beautiful view of green rice fields, palm trees and those lush green mountains in the background. After almost one and a half hours, we came to the village of Senaru, where I parked the bike, and we walked on a path that led us down, to see the large waterfalls, which were amazing. The water seemed to come out of the mountain wall, covered in lush green vegetation, plunging 15 meters down with a loud noise. It was quite cool, the water crystal clear and icy cold. As this was the first visit for the both of us, we were both very impressed. We gazed at the scenery for a while, and then laboured up the path back to our motorbike, allowing for several stops as Densi was still fasting. I had lunch at a restaurant before we went back, and we stopped at a tiny village where his sister lives. I sat on the small straw mat under the thatched roof of the hut where his sister and her husband lives, very basic and poor. They were all fasting, but offered me coffee and two sweet bread rolls, which I tried to eat as quietly as possible while Densi went inside to pray.
When we got back to the place of Densi’s friends, we returned the motorbike, and I collected my bags and said goodbye to Densi. I was then ushered onto a public bus as I wanted to go to Ampenam, part of the Mataram city area, the capital of Lombok. The public bus was a mini van that could seat about 10 people, including the driver, but eventually around 18 of us, me being the only tourist, were cramped in this little bus, listening to the loud Indonesian-Arabic music. Closer to Mataram, I changed into a bemo (a converted pick-up truck serving as taxi), which brought me to Ampenam, where I checked into a hotel, while the loud readings from the Kuran of three different mosks descended on me.
The following morning, I went with a 23-year old Boeing MD-82 from Lion Air to Indonesia’s second largest city of Surabaya, on Java, which will be the starting point for my explorations of Java. But more about that in my next post.