Sunday, 9 October 2011

Scootering around Lombok

Up early for another great, but final breakfast on Gili Meno before we headed for the beach to catch a local ferry back to Bangsal on Lombok. From there we shared a car with a British backpacker down the coast to Sengiggi. First stop was an ATM in the centre of town to top up our supplies with a few million Rupiah before heading off to find a place to stay. We enjoyed a couple of quite passable espresso coffees at the Swiss Bakery in Sengiggi Square first though. While relishing our Caffeine fix, Jim, who had been crewing on Double Time arrived on a scooter and joined us. He highly recommended the budget beach villas he was staying in north of town for $30 a night.

We had however seen a backpacker’s place advertised called The Beach House which looked pretty good with pool, sports bar, restaurant and cheap beach huts so we walked the Kilometre and a half down the road to the south only to find out they were full. Bugger – better have a cold drink to recover from the heat and then try Jim’s recomendation. As it was by now near noon and getting pretty steamy, we took a taxi which proved to be a good idea. Jim’s “just up the road” proved to be about 5 kilometres up the coast and to cap it off, they were full too. You’d think we’d learn to ring first. They were very helpful though and were able to make some suggestions we could try. Sengiggi is a mix of budget through to very upmarket, five star resorts so prices vary hugely and, being cheapskate yachties now, we didn’t want to spend much.
Our resort was right on the black sand beach
We rode along the beach front a bit and headed into The Pacific, one of the places that had been suggested. It looked like a pretty big resort and we almost rode straight back out thinking it would be too expensive but Rob decided to see if they would deal. It turned out the place was almost empty because it looked too expensive to attract back packers but had been outclassed in the higher market by newer resorts. After a bit of bargaining based on staying three nights, Rob got their already discounted price down from 950,000 Rupiah a night to 400,000 ($44 Aus) including breakfast and free WFI. Not bad for a nice air-conditioned room by the beach with pool and 24 hour restaurant/bar.
Pacific Resort

After kicking back for the afternoon by the pool we had a nice meal at the bar before getting up early in the morning and hitting the road on our throbbing 110cc Yamaha. First stop was down the coast to the capital, Mataram. Karen was keen to get her legs waxed, a simple process normally but a service we had not found available anywhere in Indonesia since leaving Darwin. We had been assured that they were many salons in the reportedly huge Matatram Mall shopping centre and she would have no problems.

Wrong! First problem was surviving the chaos on the city roads. Two wheels are the overwhelming transport method of choice throughout Indonesia but here we coined a new phrase on our trip, “lunatical motorsickles”. Traffic lights, speed limits, keep left and one way signs were everywhere but apparently only apply to “other people” because everyone we saw appeared to totally ignore them.

Mataram - the home of lunatical motorsickles
Second problem was finding the place. The locals had told us Mataram Mall was a huge western style shopping mall “like you see in the movies” so we expected something of reasonable size. We’d passed it three times as we went around in circles dodging the lunatical kamikaze impersonators before we realised it was actually contained within a fairly nondescript box of a four story building surrounded by other nondescript four story buildings.

Third problem was we wasted an hour wandering around the joint asking all and sundry where Karen could get waxing done only to face a succession of very confused facial expressions. They’d never heard of it and couldn’t understand why this weird western woman didn’t just shave her legs like everyone else.

So with Karen despairing that by the time we reached Kalimantan she would be mistaken for one of the orang-utans we were going there to see, we escaped the madness of the capital and headed south to explore the rural areas and coastline. Our trusty Yamaha was equipped with a huge 3.5 litre fuel tank and riding two up proved a little thirsty. It might have had something to do with having the throttle almost permanently jammed wide open to go with the flow on the country roads. On some of the steep climbs we crossed fingers and started chanting “I think I can, I think I can” to our little steed as it struggled upwards. Downhill we even reached 70 kph once. Getting fuel is never a problem here as there are thousands of road side stalls that sell all sorts of things including petrol. The fuel is in one or two litre bottles lined up in racks and for about 55c a litre instead of the servo price of 50c, is far more convenient when you’re on a scooter.

The pace is a bit slower away from the cities
We continued south to the port of Lambar where the big interisland ferries dock and by taking the wrong turn almost ended up on one headed for Bali. Ooops! Doing a u-turn and heading against the one way flow would be a problem in most places but here no one gave us a second look. Heading further inland, we enjoyed riding through the more remote areas and seeing the contrast in the way of life of these villagers compared to people in the city and tourist areas. The country side was really nice despite it being late in the dry season and not quite as lush as it might have been at other times.

We stopped for a late lunch at a local eatery that looked more upmarket than most (It wasn’t made out of bamboo and thatch and even had a concrete floor). No need for a menu here. Everything is displayed in a glass cabinet and by pointing, hand signals and mime we soon had two platefuls of food including fish, prawns, chicken, mixed veg, a fried egg and, of course, rice along with a bottle of drink each. Very nice indeed and a bit unbelievable at $3.70 for the two of us.

Fast food Lombok style
By now it was about time to head back towards Sengiggi and after retracing our path for a while we headed off on a secondary road that by the map would take us north along by the coast. We had already found out that once out of the city directional signs become as rare as polar bears in Lombok but were confident we couldn’t go wrong this time. Keep the sun over the left shoulder and we must be going the right way. Of course we missed a turn and as the secondary road began to deteriorate into a water buffalo track we started to doubt our navigation plan. We had two problems. The sky had become very overcast so our solar compass had disappeared, and the further we went the more beautiful the rice paddies, little villages and other countryside became so we didn’t really want to turn back.

Off the beaten track
 At one point we came across a large and very ornate Hindu temple perched on a steep hilltop, at the base of which was an equally large and ornate Muslim cemetery providing another example of the way different religious communities coexist harmoniously in so many parts of this very diverse country. The vast majority of the population on Lombok are Muslim but Hindu and different franchises of Christianity all live side by side with no apparent problems. The only thing the locals can’t understand is anyone who says they don’t have a religion. To a people who ALL actively practice the beliefs of their birth whatever they may be, to say you don’t have a religion is like saying you don’t breath air. It is beyond their comprehension.

Eventually we had to face the fact that despite all the marvels we were discovering we were actually going the wrong way. This was confirmed by a very friendly local who when asked “Does this road go to Sengiggi” pointed down the road replied enthusiastically “Yes, Yes, Yes – Lambar” Seeing we wanted to avoid any second chance of an unplanned ferry ride to Bali, we thanked him for his help, did another U-turn and back tracked to find the missed turnoff. This successfully achieved, we didn’t begrudge our diversion as the originally planned route we were now on proved dull compared to our misguided wanderings.

Further evidence that Murphy’s Law exists worldwide was provided as we finally approached Sengiggi and the only rain we have experienced so far on this whole trip through Indonesia had to fall while we were on a motor scooter in shorts and t-shirts dodging lunaticals on motorsickles. Of course the rain then stopped totally the moment we rode under the awning of our resort and turned the ignition off. It was very nice to have a room with a good warm shower in a resort with a bar stocked with nice cold beer. A great day on Lombok.

The clear water and fringing coral reefs are fantastic
The following morning we turned our trusty Yamaha north and experienced about forty kilometres of the best road we have ever seen in Indonesia or just about anywhere else for that matter. The smooth, wide hotmix surface winds up over and around headland and bay after headland and bay. Each elevated point seems to compete to provide the most outstanding panoramic views of the coastline, crystal clear turquoise waters, coral reef fringed cliffs, hundreds of traditional sailboats returning from fishing and outlying islands. Each bay is bordered by either golden or jet black sand beaches and coconut palm plantations that are a throwback to Dutch colonial days. 

Lombok's version of the Great Ocean Road - Unreal ride!
On one headland we came across a house being constructed that enjoyed the most dramatic views you could ever imagine. We took a stroll through it and could easily imagine lazing in its pool and gazing out over the ocean before retiring to a bedroom with panoramic views of the coastline. In Australia terms the house would cost a lot less than a standard home in the outer suburbs of any capital city. Today was the day we really missed our Harley. If we’d been riding it Rob probably would of done twenty laps back and forwards rather than going any further. This piece of tarmac between Sengiggi and Bangsal may not be as long as Victoria’s famed Great Ocean Road but it would easily give it a run for its money when it comes to beauty and riding pleasure, even if we were on a 110cc step through.

You can see many more of our pics by clicking link on right 
Despite the temptation to turn around and do it again, after a quick stop in Bangsal for Rob to bargain a pair of shorts down from 250,000 Rupiah to 110,000 at a menswear shop curiously named “Indo Cock”, we headed inland towards the mountains and were soon climbing through dense rain forest. The jungle literally comes to almost the very edge of the narrow, winding road leaving just enough room for hundreds of monkeys to sit and occasionally play chicken with the passing traffic. We’re not sure how many lose but looking at some of the larger ones there would be no winners if they clashed with a motor scooter.

Menswear store of course
We passed through numerous villages clinging to the sides of ravines and marvelled at how the people could eek out a living. Small gardens occupied all sorts of spaces on all sorts of inclines and water was obviously sourced far below from streams that must turn into raging torrents in the wet season. Bamboo road side stalls selling fresh produce and everything from bottles of petrol to simple local food dishes, cigarettes and chocolate bars were everywhere providing a few extra Rupiahs of income for the locals.

Not quite a truck stop
It was a great day exploring the interior and then winding our way back to the coast just south of Sengiggi. We didn’t even get lost this time and made it back in time for a quick swim in the pool and then a late afternoon wander around the town. We enjoyed a fantastic sunset from a great beachfront bar and restaurant very cleverly named “The Office”. I’m sure many a local businessman has made phone calls home apologising for being late but explaining they’re still stuck at the office. No lie there. Like most establishments in the tourist areas it provides a mix of western, Indonesian and local Lombok dishes in its menu but The Office has a Thai chef and so provides this as well. Until you have whole squid stuffed with garlic rice and cooked in Thai seasonings washed down with a cold Bintang you haven’t lived. A truly outstanding day on Lombok.

After a great breakfast of fresh local fruit at our resort it was time to return to Nae Hassle at Medana Bay Marina for the official Sail Indonesia Rally dinner hosted by the local government that night before setting sail for Bali next morning. We said goodbye to our faithful little bike and caught a taxi the 45 kilometres or so back to the boat. By the time we got there the meter read 93,000 so we rounded it up to 100k ($11 Aus) and said “Terimkasih” (Thankyou) to the driver for keeping us alive.

It was good to catch with different cruisers that afternoon in the resort’s bar and then we experienced yet another night of traditional dancing, speeches and local food. The strange thing though was that this, the first official rally dinner at a Muslim dominated island, was the first with free beer. Go figure.

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