Lazing Around in Lombok
Ready for another boat ride, we pack up and roll our packs towards the harbor, rather glad to quit the dingy room we’ve had the last few nights. It is a short ride to Bangsall on “the mainland” so we opt to take the public boat instead of a Fast Boat. About 30 locals and tourists climb into the stern of a narrow, covered boat with beaches down the sides for seating. The channel was fairly calm, and we crossed in about 20 minutes, backing into the beach between several other similar boats.
As soon as our feet hit the sand there were many guys swarming around us to trying to carry our packs and get hired as a driver. Since we had not made previous arrangements this time, we worked out a price to be driven to Kuta, loaded our stuff and headed out.
Lombok is part of the Lesser Sunda Island chain, slightly smaller than Bali, its superstar neighbor to the west. The northern landscape is dominated by Mt. Rinjani, the 2nd highest volcano in Indonesia at 3,726 meters. Three large earthquakes caused several hundred deaths and major damage in north Lombok during the summer of 2018.
Driving south from the NW village of Bangsall we wound our way through the usual small shops and stores and began climbing into the mountains. The road was surprisingly good – 2 lane blacktop that was well marked and maintained. As we climbed higher, we began to see many monkeys alongside the road, sitting on guardrails and benches.
About an hour later we rolled through the eastern outskirts of the capital – Mataram – on some divided 4 lane highway. Proceeding southward the terrain flattened out some with smaller hills and valleys. It is the dry season here, same as Bali and most fields and hillsides were brown. Rice is grown during the rainy season in November & December, but we did see some fields of tobacco, corn and long grass, used to feed the cows.
When we start seeing surfboards on the side of scooters, we know we are getting close. Surfing has been one of the main draws in southern Lombok and Kuta has emerged as the hub for water sports, situated between several great surf beaches to the east and west on the southern coast. There are many shops along the “main drag” selling boards, accessories and clothes, as well as an increasing assortment of local warungs, fast food and fancy dining establishments. Thankfully no chain restaurants except KFC – Kuta Fried Chicken! 😊
Two other factors besides surfing are driving a booming real estate and resort business around Kuta. The nearby (30 minutes) airport in Praya has recently started direct flights to several points in nearby Australia, and many Aussies that are tired of the congestion in south Bali are flocking to Lombok.
And the second is a deal signed with Dorna Sports’ MotoGP for a slot in the 2021 season, when Indonesia will host a world-class motor racing event for the first time after more than two decades. This is a big deal for the motorcycle-obsessed locals as well as an impetus for major development around Kuta where the race will take place.
Our first inkling of this occurred when Robert, a very enthusiastic former ice capades skater from Macau sat next to us at dinner. He had just retired and was working with a Hong Kong company to purchase some rental/investment property. Evidence of the boom is seen everywhere with wide new boulevards in front of Kuta Beach, many roads, resorts and villas under construction, and signs for realtors everywhere.
Yuli Homestay is a lovely place on the edge of Kuta with 19 rooms, 3 pools and several outdoor dining areas. The rooms have unheated showers but there are several “bath houses” with heated showers. Our host Yuli and her staff are very friendly & helpful and serve breakfast every morning. Their WiFi router is in one of the dining areas, so I have camped out there a lot – some of the fastest speeds since leaving the US. (Just downloaded & watched Yesterday, um yesterday. Quirky but good!)
The indigenous people of Lombok are the Sasaks, who have mostly converted from Hinduism to Islam through the decades. Driving through the island you may see a few small Hindu shrines in a driveway, but mostly there are mosques in every village and town. There is a large mosque quite near our homestay so we can all hear the 5 daily calls quite well, including the one at about 5 am. Several times we heard a woman start singing a call in the afternoon for a short while, followed by a male voice. Once we heard what sounded like a kid talking & playing around with the microphone, then some banging around and then the usual male singing.
Snorkeling and diving are not particularly great here, so we have been enjoying just relaxing and lying about. Some days walking through Kuta looking for sunscreen or cash at the ATM, and walking back through Kuta for dinner in the evening, enjoying some delicious meals like fresh tuna, potato gnocchi, ravioli and nasi goreng. Last night several local Sasak women prepared a delicious Sasak buffet for the guests here at Yulis. It was so good! I can’t remember or name most of the dishes, but included tempe, long beans, noodles, boiled eggs and curried tofu.
Yesterday (Tuesday 17/09/19) we hired a driver to see more of the area around here. First stop was Selong Belanak beach about 15km west of Kuta. This was an absolutely gorgeous beach – the nicest we have seen since leaving Florida. Beautiful powdery white sand, crystal clear water running through all the shades of blue, and it was clean! There was a nice small break close to shore which made it a perfect spot for beginning surfers, and there were a lot of them, with rental boards & local instructors. Many local fishing boats were beached at one end and we saw one come in and unload his catch of small mackerel. One large resort and many surf, food & clothes shops set back from the beach.
Next stop was Mawauher beach, a little closer to Kuta. The sand was not quite as pretty but if you are looking for a secluded place this is it, with very few people and no stands selling anything. We were not really interested in swimming, so we walked the sandy shore for a ways and then returned to the car.
Now we head past Kuta to the east to see Tan Juan Aan beach. This is another place with very nice white sand but there is a large amount of green seaweed washed up along the shore. We stop & have some of the tiniest gelato scoops ever (tasty tho) and chat with a German woman putting our fresh water & food for the stray dogs. The kids selling bracelets are annoyingly persistent at this place.
All of these beaches are in coves or bays that have tall, rocky headlands out on either side, where the large ocean swells are crashing in huge sprays of blue and white. Just east of here is Gerupuk Bay – one of the hot surf spots in Lombok.
Last stop of the day is visiting a traditional Sasak village in Sengkol. A local man guides us through the village of about 155 souls where we first inspect a family home. The floors are made of clay & cow dung, which “only smells bad until it dries”, and the thatched roof has a very low overhang, forcing people entering to bow with respect. Basically, one room inside with storage in the rafters for sleeping mats and other stuff, and the kitchen is in a separate building. Man & wife sleep together inside until the first child is born, and then the men sleep outside on the “porch”.
There is a covered space for ceremonies, one for weaving and another for meetings. Also, a large room full of dresses, sarongs, scarves and hats for sale. Behind this place some men were busy drilling a new well with a pretty rickety looking rig. I believe fresh water is a constant problem here as in so many parts of the world.
We have really enjoyed our time here in Kuta, and as usual many of the high points were meeting other people from all over the world: locals and travelers alike.
Time to pack up and head to the airport for our first flight since arriving in Bali: a quick jaunt east to the Komodo Islands! Stay tuned…..