Lombok and the Gilis

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The first thing we noticed in Lombok is the lack of the ornate temples and stone carvings which adore every house, wall and bridge. Instead, there were mosques. Unlike Bali, where the Balinese Hinduism rules, Lombok is Muslim.

We were driving towards the south of Lombok, to the little town of Kuta. The road quickly went from uneven, to potholed, to non-existent. The areas we passed looked significantly poorer than the places we’ve been through before.

After about two hours of butt-grinding and elbow twisting scooter riding, we arrived. This Kuta and its Balinese cousin are a world apart. Nesteled in a bay and flanked by hills, this Kuta is set on a lovely stretch of beach. Turquoise water fills the bay, and, off in the distance, waves break violently on the shallow Seger Reef. There are only small hotels and homestays, most of the restaurants are made of thatch, and there are almost no tourists to be found. Paradise?

Little kids descended on us from nowhere as we were waiting for dinner in a little beachside restaurant. “Hey mister, bracelet?” went their standard taunts. About ten years old, they spoke passable basic English and were quite charming. They sat with us and chatted, but were not giving up with their sales pitch. The pressure was growing because the group kept growing. First two boys, then four, then five, and next thing you know three girls join them. Now there are eight. Eight bracelets… how much for eight bracelets? And if we buy from them, the rest of the village is going to descend on us in a tornado of outstretched little hands filled with bead and shell jewelry. We ended up giving them 20 thousand rupiah (a bit more than $2) to divide between themselves and declined the bracelet offer altogether, and poof, they disappeared into thin air. Actually, they just went down to the beach and played in the sand, while we finished dinner and chatted.

These kids ended up being quite a friendly set of companions. Four of the boys hung out with us in the afternoons, after school let out. We played with them, somersaulting them into the water. Ola gave them English lessons and homework, which they diligently did, and they taught us to count in Indonesian. We took them for motorcycle rides to another beach. They did not hawk more bracelets, and at the end of our stay they even gave us some as gifts.

While in Kuta we tried some more surfing. We had to drive to another village about twenty minutes away, where we hired a boat to take us to the surfing spots, where we paddled our surfboards against the force of the pounding waves, where we waited some time for another set of waves, where we occasionally caught one, and promptly fell off the board trying to stand up. Yep, that’s surfing.

Paddy and I also tried fishing, and while the fruits of our labor were similar to those of my surfing — we did not catch any fish — at least we got to relax in a boat with a beer in hand watching the sunset. So the next day we went to the fishermen who were out all night and bough some fresh fish. We decided to make ceviche. We ran around and bought all the ingredients and went to the beach. This was a labor of love. Paddy scaled and filleted a big red snapper with a Swiss army knife. The rest of us went to work on squeezing out juice from the tiny and dry limes. After the juice was squeezed, we spent another half an hour picking out the seeds, which got rid of about a third of the painfully squeezed juice. We ended up succeeding, but due to the mangling of the fish, the substandard ingredients, and primitive utensils, it did not have the proper texture. However, it did taste like proper ceviche, so we enjoyed it. From this time on, I am only making ceviche in a kitchen, with juicy limes and filleted fish.

Disaster struck and I got sick. Not sure if it was the ceviche, as we all ate the same food. Perhaps my stomach was sensitive from a few days back. Regardless, the outcome was that I’ve spent the afternoon and evening tethered to the toilet in my room, keeping hydrated. Perhaps the worst punishment was that I had to stick to a diet of nothing but plain rice for the next day. Luckily my violent ailment passed as quickly as it arrived, and within two days I was back to normal.

We said goodbye to the turquoise bays of south Lombok and headed north. Our destination was the fabled Gili Islands on the north western corner of Lombok. We scootered our way through fields and mountainsides, through the region capital of Mataram, and along a cliffside windy road overlooking a beach paradise below. The ride was pleasant, and besides small stretches of road construction, the pavement was continuous and surprisingly pothole free. We parked our motorbikes in the small port of Bangsal and boarded a local boat to the tiny Gili Trawangan, where bicycles and horse drawn carts rule the road.

This little island is really something to behold. A single road stretches across its eastern coast. It is lined with restaurants, hotels, surf shops and all sorts of other tourist amenities. Horse drawn carts and bicycles cruise up and down the stretch, as cars and motorbikes are not allowed. All the places are tastefully decorated and while there are many tourists here, it is extremely quiet and laid back. The water is an unearthly tone of turquoise. Reggae music pours out of speakers at a unimposing volume, at night, a couple of watering spots crank up the volume and fill with party goers.

We decided to see what the diving here is like, as it came highly recommended. Our dive to shark point was a let down, as we saw no sharks, and the coral and fish life was lacking. The only nice things were the carpets of gently swaying soft corral and the sublime turtle grazing amongst them. The snorkeling right from the beach, on the other hand, was superb. Shallow hard and soft coral reefs fill the clear water, and countless vibrantly colored fish shimmer in the sunlight. At the drop-off, sea turtles gracefully soar through the water as they feed. I’ve spent many hours floating on the water and working on my free diving as I was mesmerized by the aquatic landscapes of Gili Trawangan.

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