To the east of the island of Bali lies Padangbai, famous for being the place in transit for those ready to see other islands of the sprawling Indonesian dominion. And it was there that my friends and I headed to meet our other friends along the way. Padangbai has a very divisive reputation in Bali. Hidden away is the wonderful Blue Lagoon, but in central Padangbai lies illegal and cruel cockfighting, beaches strewn with garbage and ‘parties’ at night that continuously play Bob Marley music on loop. Situated all over the beaches are cats and dogs, of which you can make a two minute biography of their lives based on their fruitless struggle to find food (and potentially shelter) around the empty boxes and broken Bingtang bottles. But the reunion at the Padangbai Inn was a delightful gem in an otherwise dubious area because it contained some of the best Indonesian food on the market and, equally, some of the most delicious drinks (from lassies to blue lagoons). From the inn we planned our escape to the Islands, via a brief visit to that blue lagoon, with the black volcanic sand, the crystal clear waters and the coral shimmering just below the water’s surface, with views to the lagoons on the left and right. Intimate and fairly secluded, the Blue Lagoon was a beauty, famous for being an easy location to begin snorkelling in Bali, if you could navigate past the dangerous and hazardous coral of course.
And so we were going to Gili Travene, an island that has been made more famous in part because of Eat Prey Love which references the sister island, Gili Mineo in the fleeting chapters of the book. She never mentioned the boat to get to Gili though, which seems like a great white elephant for anyone expecting a romantic cruise to the island. With five jets to this ‘luxury’ speedboat, my friends and I were openly delighted we had travel insurance. Really though, there is indeed nothing funnier then being on a boat with people from all nationalities, cultures and languages all making the same inward noises of fear, panic and frustration. The cause being the pandemonium that occurred every other minute on the boat as the boat speed continuously as it rocked side to side, with water gushing straight on to the passenger’s faces and laps. Even still, the windows to the top of the liner managed to attract a great deal of the ocean, to the shock and confusion of the sleeping passengers soon awoken by the internal deluge flooding into the ship. Now I thought it was hilarious, maybe because had I been more rational I would have considered panicking. All in all, traveling in Bali is ultimately one of the most major culture shocks you can have in Bali.
And so finally arriving in Gili we were greeted by sunshine and offers for taxis/accommodations/magic mushrooms (odd, being that drugs carry the death penalty in Indonesia although the Gili islands are police-less and ideal for American stoners to buy in bulk all of their favourite drugs). Our homestay was simply decorated with a calm, inviting atmosphere. This was Lisa’s homestay, a woman who at first was the perfect example of Balinese warmth and positive energy with an endearing smile and gentle, very timid laugh. Sadly towards the end she turned into more of a B & B owner, especially when she hovered around my friends and I on the day of the payment, but her breakfasts and accommodation were commendable on an island where you wanted everything to fit perfectly with the idealised image of the island. And for our three days we managed to check everything the island had to offer. On the first day we sat on the beach overlooking the misty-eyed Lombok whilst we swam and built sand castles, finishing off with dinners at the Green Cafe (which varied wildly in quality) and diabetes-induced pancakes, which tasted like forbidden sin itself.
From there we also got up close and personal with turtles in their habitat whilst taking a group walk to the area of the island most resembling a forest (it being an undeveloped corner of untamed marshland with just a few houses and cows to see for the substantial south corner of the island). This was great, although the onset of rain was not as appreciated. Luckily we went to a restaurant with a pool that surpassed the windy, aggressive temperatures outside as we eat, swam, played games and simply relaxed. Unsurprisingly, this was a personal highlight.
And then the rains finally came.
It was here that my second transport ‘laugh out loud’ moment came, as we managed to grab a horse and carriage to the centre of the island. For all 5 of us to fit in, with the two drivers, meant that nobody was in doubt as to how uncomfortable this trip would be. And my friend Anna got to experience first hand the rocky terrain mixed with the ever-changing speed of the horse at the helm as the rains continued in earnest. There never seemed to be a dull moment when on travelling from A to B in Bali.
Staying a third day in Gili because of the severity of the warning (when boats weren’t running, it had to be really dangerous, plus Gili is actually ran by generators, showing how provincial an island it is), we all hired bikes for a stroll around the island. Needless to say the road aren’t Bali’s strong point and cycling was a painful struggle at times. But Gili with its laid back pace of life was a true treat. There were perhaps too many western tourists but this was Gili after all and a definite must in my book.
So we traveled on a fisherboat to Lombok. We were wearing life jackets, much to the amusement of the locals but we were slightly concerned by the raised floor planks of the boat. The journey however was fine, it was getting a taxi that the cloying people at the port of Lombok that was the real problem. The main problem in my eyes is that westerners are often seen as unable to barter because they don’t know the area any better than a page description from a Lonely Planet guide. So the taxi drivers knew they were on to something by charging a big bucks for a small journey, and negotiating was not an option here because the taxi drivers could simply say: why not walk. The situation began to turn a little farcical by the aggression demonstrated by these drivers, who seemed to loathe tourists, and when we secured a regular fee from an obvious ‘scab’ of a taxi driver, the other taxi drivers were up in arms. Having already punched one member of the group they bid us adieu by wishing us a “terrible trip” and never wanting “to see our faces again”. Charming people, eh?
Well at least that made for an entertaining morning.
Stopping by a delightful cafe with a variety of delicious Indonesian dishes (from light curries to Asian vegetable dishes) we were driven through rice paddies and other rural communities to the beautifully striking Ringani mountains, where we were staying at a homestay on the edge of the mountain. Our hosts were almost stereotypically German, much to our group’s delight). Roland was a gruff sixty something German who had an eye for the ladies and his braless companion was just as entertaining. The accommodation had a magnificent view of the island of Lombok, starting with rolling hills and, in the very far distance, hints of urban lights. The rooms were all separate chalets and were perfectly decorated to suit living in the outback.
That first night there was rain, and on the second day, there was rain, cancelling off the mountain, so we lounged around the accommodation and took brief walks to the non-existent villages surrounding us. The accommodation was rustic, but there were definite issues that cropped up at bedtime and questioning our original view of the homestay. So on that first night we experienced some delicious homecooked dishes (From curries to fish, all the dishes were wonderfully fresh and alive with taste and vigour) and finished off with a blackjack tournament. Then we checked in for the night. I was staying in a small hut at the bottom of the property with a gas light for company. It was all very Out of Africa and, ignoring the heady scent of decaying wood, I was in rapture. Visiting my friends in their room I could see a plethora of bugs around the room. I then took a seat on my friend’s bed and instantly leaped straight back up as the base broke. At first I felt like a candidate for Weight Watchers, although paying closer attention, it was obvious the beds were wafer thin, the sheets weren’t properly clean and the German books by the bed were starting to rot in the damp conditions, further adding to the smell of mildew.
So a night out in the wooden hut was the order of the evening. And there, my friends from the UK and I decided enough was enough with Lombok; specifically, its rain, cockroaches and embittered taxi drivers. Having made this decision by the next morning we discovered there were no boats, meaning we had to get a plane.
So we ventured to Sengiggi, which appeared to have absolutely nothing apart from massage ladies who doubled as prostitutes at night, rude, unhappy stall sellers and bland shops with ugly items catering for Australians with niche tastes. In desperation we visited the local hotel, which says all you need to know about the area really. Oh, and just in case you are interested, we had the worst food known to man in a warung in the centre. Lack of flavour was an understatement, this was again weird however because we waited an hour for the dishes as a feral cat sprang out of nowhere to start hissing at us with powerful venom: Lombok, what a place!
And so were finally leaving, although it wasn’t a smooth exit. Having discussed with one taxi driver about taking us to the airport we found a better deal and went for that instead, unluckily for us we passed the arrogant, obviously psychotic taxi driver we had decided not to use the services of along the way. For a decent couple of minutes we experienced Dien continually saying “fuck you you bullshitters” whilst we waited for the bus. Dien evidently had a lot of free time, as did his hapless group of followers in the area. Before long we had half the community following us, swearing at us, even touching us to try to make sure we were paying full attention to how much we were hated. When one of my friends got emotional about the whole hate campaign, we asked whether they were happy now they’d obviously unnerved and terrified us.
Sadistically, they were all too delighted, laughing and clapping in happy unison.
So with the whole community turning us out like we were beggars in the Arabian tales we managed to find shelter in a hotel, get to the airport and travel on the toy-sized plane back to Bali. Safety this time wasn’t our main preoccupation for the trip, it was a psychological analysis of the people we had met from Lombok. Now don’t necessarily take my word for it, but I would never recommend Lombok to anyone, it may have been ironically funny at times but it really lacked what Bali had; friendliness and normality. It was good to be returning.