Lombok is an island about the size of Bali lying just east of it. It is described as being what Bali was 20 years ago and that seemed like something worth seeing. Interestingly, the two islands are separated by 20 Km of water that form a deep strait that kept Lombok apart from Bali and Java to the west. This separation called the Wallace Line reflects the different biomes caused by the separation.
Because the seas are often rough here and because we didn’t really want to commit the time to a sea voyage anyway, we flew from Denpasar to Praya. As we flew over the flat southern plains we could see small towns with their mosques among the flooded rice fields. What normally comes to the tourist’s mind when thinking of Lombok is beaches, surf, Rinjani volcano or diving but the island is less devoted to the tourist than Bali. We had hoped to find uncrowded roads and rural life.
(see a slideshow at the end)
We got around the island pretty well in our rented Diahatsu Xenia, a severely under-powered small van. Refer to the map to see where we went. Leaving the airport at Praya (south center of the island), we drove down some very rural back roads in search if an ikat weaving village that we never did find but we did get a good view of the villages on market day where throngs of folks came on motorbikes and donkey carts to buy and sell. After recovering from being lost, we drove along the west coast from above Mataram through the tourist area of Senggigi and on up to near Tanjung. A lovely villa on the water awaited us and we settled into our bamboo cabin and enjoyed some delicious Indonesian food, a swimming pool and an ocean sunset.
The following day we drove along the north coast to Bayan and from there to Senaru, a launching pad for hikes up Mount Rinjani, Indonesia’s second highest volcano. We had not planned one of the several day treks but just wanted to be on the shoulder of that big thing. Um, the problem was that it was completely obscured by clouds. With jungle beside us, a view of a 30 meter waterfall to one side and rice terraces and the sea to the north we enjoyed beautiful gardens and a group of monkeys at our resort. In the morning the clouds had cleared and there was the volcano above us. We drove around it taking the day to get to its southern flank at Tetebatu, another trekking point. The road inland between the two places is delightful passing through forest then open farmland and small villages. The road is a twisted and steep passage and well worth the effort although the Xenia was never sure. Why we did it of course is because we were advised not to, we were told it was impassable, that we would need a 4WD; some maps do not even show a road between Sembalun and Sapit. The road was good despite recent heavy rains and advice to the contrary you shouldn’t miss this side of the island. This is the Bali of 20 years ago.
The road leveled out around Aik Mel, a bustling trade center. Still showing its rural roots, I stood on the sidewalk and watched as the donkey carts mixed it up with trucks, motorbikes, bemos and pick-ups.
Here’s where our misadventure began. You see, we rely on GPS to get us around since nothing is ever signposted and we are unable to ask directions, not that that really proves helpful since most folks are not familiar with places beyond their own little area. How did we find the road to Tetebatu, maybe there was a sign but it didn’t agree with the GPS. Hmmm. Then it began to rain one of those tropical downpours. We struggled uphill barely able to see and wondering why we might want to spend our time in clouds and rain when we passed an overhead arch marked Tetebatu; continuing on up we saw nothing more than local village life and folks trying to stay dry. This locality was in strong disagreement with our GPS, but maybe Tetebatu is a district as well as a village; we chose to backtrack and believe the GPS whereupon we arrived in another village far from Tetebatu. The GPS was wrong and the rain persisted so we decided to bag it and instead head down to Kuta on the south coast.
Now, Kuta is the name of a hustle beach zone on Bali, famous for drunken Austrailian surfer types and hawkers on the beach selling everything from sunglasses to drugs including viagra. Viagra? I thought this was a post pubescent scene. And drugs? Indonesia just executed 8 people for drug trade activity. But we were going to Kuta, Lombok, rather the opposite of Kuta, Bali much as our Las Vegas, NM compares to Las Vegas, NV.
It’s a seedy little ramshackle place, mostly an access point for some good surfing. What it had to recommend it for us was a pretty good wood oven fired pizza. The inclination to serve the tourist in this town was represented well at this establishment where the floor hadn’t been swept in a week and a member of the wait staff lay sleeping on a couch near our table and wouldn’t be aroused by our presence. Don’t tourists present an opportunity to sell a meal? Don’t they all need a cold Bintang?
The following morning we took a little look around heading over to Seru Lilit, another desirable surf spot. Pretty beaches, a few fishing boats and some surfers.
We had some time to visit a traditional Sasak village at Rambitan. The Sasak are the original inhabitants of Lombok and in this village they hold on to traditional animistic religious beliefs and a closed traditional life. Our guide told us of their traditions and took us through the settlement and into a typical home. The homes are of bamboo with thick roofs thatched with a special type of grass and woven bamboo sidewalls. The living space is in three levels the highest of them is the cooking area, where a meal was being prepared over and open fire with smoke leaving through an opening in the high roof, and a sleeping space for the wife and children. The middle area is the sleeping space for the husband and the lowest area is an open area for hanging out; we might call that the living room. All areas were poorly lit and chickens passed around freely. Roosters were plentiful being prepared for the cock fighting ceremonies. Many of the older women are still engaged in traditional weaving and one old woman was sitting on the ground spinning locally grown cotton into thread, her teeth red from chewing betel nut. The main type of weaving done here is ikat but we saw batik as well being done by young women working in very low light next to a hot plate used to heat the wax they applied to the fabric.
Interspersed among the closely spaced homes are lumbung, rice storage barns that are elevated from ground level and have a unique roof shape.
While we didn’t surf or hang around beaches much we got a close glimpse of life on the island and saw 370 Km of tropical beauty.