Nusa Penida an island off the coast of Bali

Passengers wade to a typical ferry bound for nearby islands. Note white box at center for sandals.
Passengers wade to a typical ferry bound for nearby islands. Note white box at center for sandals.

There are three small islands off the east coast of Bali. The largest of the three is Nusa Penida but also the poorest and least developed. Sounds like a reason to visit. This island is rarely visited by tourists unlike Nusa Lembogan which is favored for surfing and day-trippers and has many modern resorts.

(See slideshow below)

Fast boats to these islands are rated at about 30 passengers but often carry more and no safety equipment is visible anywhere. They are powered by a number of large outboard motors and make the trip in about 40 minutes. There is no dock for departures and boats leave from the beach in a haphazard manner that depends on the tides. Passengers wade to the boat through knee deep water after throwing their sandals into a box.

The earliest scheduled boat for Nusa Penida is 9:00 so when we got there around 8:00 we were hustled to an already overloaded boat that departed immediately. After wading out to it we were shown to the roof where about 10 young men and some cargo were already in place. There are no guard rails or hand holds on the roof, just a slippery fiberglass surface. Stephen and I were the only tourists on the boat confirming that this island is not on the tourist trail. Rather, it is a place to observe rural life and subsistence.

No one paid any attention to us when we arrived at Ped, the majority of the passengers, presumably Balinese or other Indonesians, were dressed in ceremonial garb and were on a pilgrimage to visit one of the temples. Residents speak a mixture of languages, including archaic Balinese and a dialect from Lombok, so we had trouble getting anyone speaking enough English for us to rent a motorbike. But when we approached a group of men surrounding a group of motorbikes we were soon on our way.

After leaving our luggage at a hotel we had selected, mainly because it had A/C, a pool and restaurant, we got some minimal directions and headed into the center of the island. The road rose steeply leaving the tropical forests and coconut palms for drier rather barren terraced farmland. The island is much too dry for rice cultivation and most of the inland agriculture is of a subsistence type, a mixture of corn and vegetable crops. Our trip was more or less a meander to see the island but we were also headed to Tanglad, a small village known for ikat weaving. We had a pretty good map with us showing a series of squiggles representing roads; the island is only about 15 by 20 Km. Getting up high-the highest point is about 1700′-happens fast. The roads are in very poor condition but there is almost no traffic except for motorbikes and a few trucks.

With only a few settlements along the way, we reached Tanglad and were shown to a home where a woman was weaving some rather uninspiring ikat. So we left, heading for the east coast. The road went down hill as rapidly as it had risen and we soon realized we must be on the wrong road because it went directly to the sea but our map showed us staying up high and inland with no connecting roads down below. We returned to Tanglad and yes that is the right road, maybe our map is wrong. As it turned out it was nicer to be along the coast anyway with lovely beaches and coves.

Soon we reached the seaweed cultivating area. Unable to grow things inland, they have found a different form of agriculture by growing seaweed in frames in the shallow water off the coast. The seaweed, once harvested, is left in the sun to dry. At first it is green but by sun-drying or by placing it in closed plastic bags, it bleaches turning nearly white. The dried product is not processed here but is shipped abroad to produce carageenan, a familiar thickening agent used in foods, especially ice cream. There are also a number of temples of significance to Indonesian Hindus along this route; we stopped to photograph one right on the waterfront.

The following day we headed in the opposite direction, toward the west heading for Klumbu, another weaving village. While passing through a small settlement, Stephen spotted a piece of ikat hanging on a line in a roadside shop. I tell you, how she can spot good textiles while moving along a pothole filled road on the back of a motorbike, I will never know but that’s been her eye for textiles from the beginning. An ordinary shop it was, a few textiles hanging above the petrol and water bottles, behind several motorbikes and under a blue tarp shade, and amongst the cookies and detergent and fruit. Shops like this one are meant to supply the local folks and having a tourist buy her ikat piece caused the woman running the place to burst into excited conversation with the woman at the adjacent shop.

The unmarked roads and inaccurate map lead us unintentionally to Crystal Bay, a gorgeous cove nowhere near Klumbu. As we tried to correct our path we became more lost and finally flagged down a boy to ask for help. He didn’t really know but as we gave up getting help, he said for us to follow him home.

We went several kilometers and ended up in the settlement of Sompang (maybe that’s where we were). He pulled into his enclosed yard and his dad immediately came out to greet us. A very humble place but so very welcoming. We struggled to communicate but the dad had some words in English, enough to learn that he had very recently lost his wife to cancer. They showed us with pride their bonsai tree and caged fighting cocks while chickens scratched around the yard. Grandma posed graciously for a picture.

We didn’t want this warm encounter to end, even with our limited communication this stay could have lasted much longer had we not needed to get back to the boat launch and Sanur. We never did get to Klumbu or anywhere near it really but who cares, it turned out to be a great adventure anyway.

We waded out to the boat early enough this time to get a seat inside leaving our sandals near the bottom of the box on shore. The boat sped to Sanur and brought us ashore at a stretch of boulders. We all waded to the rocks, found our sandals that had been dumped out among the rocks and struggled to the beachfront walkway. And so our adventure ended as this trip to Nusa Penida would end for any Balinese. We had fun and felt like we had finally seen what these islands were like not so long ago.


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