Travel and the Unexpected
Another restless night at the Hotel Ratik in Ampenan, Lombok. Woke up with cockroaches crawling over my face. The bed is about four inches too short so I have to sleep with my feet hanging over the end. I lit another mosquito coil to try to get rid of cockroaches and eventually woke up in the morning feeling as if I had been chain-smoking all night. Another dead scorpion in my mandi.
I had flown from Bali to Lombok in December 1977. Lombok then was a place where, according to my travel diary:
… village scenes were very primitive, with lots of naked and pot-bellied kids, and all adults wearing sarongs. People just stopped and stared at us because Lombok does not get many visitors …
Fast-forward forty or so years and it is quite a different story! No longer are there deserted beaches where one or two intrepid travellers are the only people visible. No longer are blonde women or men with beards creatures of great curiosity to the innocent locals. Today they are modern, iPhone-toting global citizens.
I had enjoyed a few weeks in Bali, staying at a couple of naturist resorts and the lavish Damai hilltop resort (http://www.thedamai.com), before flying to the new international airport at Praya, about thirty-five kilometres from Mataram, the island’s capital. The airport is quite modern – but the small crowds of people squatting by the road – just watching the new arrivals – is an age-old scene. Compared to Bali, Lombok still seems to be the poor cousin with cattle grazing by the roadside and scores of small fires as farmers burn off the rice stubble.
Mataram is a sprawling hot city that has now swallowed tiny Ampenan on the west coast. A new road leads into the city where I stayed at the old-fashioned Hotel Lombok Raya – right in the middle of the city.
The bed was excellent and there were no cockroaches or dead scorpions in the bathroom. This time I enjoyed a real “sit down” toilet, a good shower and good lighting. My former experience of a candle-lit concrete tub of cold water (mandi) with an old ice-cream container provided to dip and pour water that was then flushed away down the squat toilet was just a dim but persistent memory.
Memories of a sleepless night raised their ugly head (do memories have heads?) at 6.30 in the morning, however.
The Hotel Lombok Raya (lombokrayahotel.com) is a popular place for conventions – there were three different ones happening when I was there – so hordes of people doing hordes of different convention-type things, including early morning calisthenics on the lawn outside my bedroom.
Some 200 happy, chatty conference delegates (happy and chatty at 06.00?? Crazy!) were organised into a dozen or so rows by six happy, chatty and loud (they had microphones, amplifiers and banks of LOUD speakers on the lawns) and encouraged to do physical jerks and bends and stretches.
This jerk stretched himself out of bed in disbelief to view the amazing spectacle. How much nicer it would have been if a flock of pink flamingos were landing in silence on the lawn, or a herd of wildebeests calmly grazing on the lush gardens. Sleep was impossible. Finally I threw on a few clothes, found the Duty Manager, and invited him back to my room.
- What is the problem sir?
- Qre#2@? Gxr%* That!
- Oh yes sir – today is the last day of their conference and they always have the morning exercises before going to the meeting rooms.
- Yes sir, they will be very soon quiet again
… and so they were … and so I was able to return to bed and fall into a cockroach-free slumber, as not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse, I was quite nestled all snug in my bed while visions of sugar plums danced in my head … until 08.30 … when THEY were back on the lawns again engaged in merry little team-building games and working in small groups. Guiding them thoughtfully through the exercise was a considerate team of three women and one man with microphones, amplifiers and loud speakers that now seemed to be pointing at my room and wearing stick-on Smiley signs saying
- “Sleep no more!” to everyone in the house.
- “Macbeth has murdered sleep, and therefore Chris will sleep no more.”
Hidden Secrets of Mataram
Murdered sleep apart, Mataram is a bustling small city of about half a million people and a goodly number of dogs – and enough motor bikes for every man woman child and dog to have their own transport. A local map I found at the hotel showed a traditional blacksmith’s workshop but if it still exists it is well-hidden as it refused to be found. There are apparently several traditional weaving places – but see above for blacksmiths.
I did find the 1720s Hindu temple called Pura Meru – it would be difficult even for me not to find it, with its eleven-tiered shrine dominating much of the city. (id.lombokindonesia.org/pura-meru-lombok). The gatekeeper / guard / watchman / opportunist asked for the usual donation towards the upkeep of the temple and I was happy to hand over my 10,000 rupiah (about one dollar) because the gardens and temple were pretty well cared for and because this was also “payment” for the rather modified temple dress one is required to wear when visiting.
Usually I tried to remember to take my sarong along to cover my bony knees but I had forgotten on this occasion. At many Balinese temples the attendants will wrap a full sarong around visitors and then tie it with a waist sash. On Lombok I found on several occasions that the sarong is not given to visitors – just the sash. It felt quite silly to wear the narrow strip of fabric wrapped around my waist – and no sarong – but when in Rome … I guess.
The once-famous Mayura Water Palace is just a short toss of a dead dog away from Pura Meru, and is now just a smallish lake with a central pavilion connected to the mainland by a short causeway. Nearby a gamelan orchestra was practising for an unknown event on the calendar, and one of the shrines in the inner courtyard was gaily decorated with swags of gold and black fabric.
I felt a beach visit was necessary and had hoped to get to the famous Gili Islands off the NW tip of Lombok, but did not really have the time to do so. Instead I took a lovely room at the new 51 Lima Satu Resort (http://limasaturesort.com), near Pamenang, and with views over my private plunge pool to the Gili Islands to the north, and due west across Lombok Strait to the dramatic cloud-topped peaks of Gunung Agung, Bali’s highest mountain – and a still-active volcano.
The resort was superb – just a handful of lovely rooms and pools overlooking the sea, with an excellent restaurant right on the beach at the foot of the (very) tall slope leading up to the rooms. Over a cap cay lunch one day I saw a huge turtle slowly swimming by, and decided to go snorkelling the next day to see more of these lovely beasties. I did find a few logs … and perhaps I had got all excited the day before about a floating bit of timber. Really must get new glasses.
There are fishing villages on the northern and southern sides of the resort’s little strip of beach, and the local fishermen use outrigger canoes with triangular sails – although many of the boats also had small Yamaha or Suzuki outboard motors clipped on as well.
Evening scenes along the beaches included kids using red plastic buckets to gather crabs and small fish, fishermen checking and hauling in their nets, grandfathers giving tiny granddaughters their evening baths in the warm shallow waters, and a young girl puffing on the embers of dried cocoanut husk until it glowed red enough for her to cook the sea urchin she had been guarding from other kids.
Chopped rock for dinner?
One activity I did not understand at all was the man who seemed to be chopping up a rock. While his wife stood by – no doubt muttering encouraging words of advice – the man swung his huge axe again and again into what looked like a large rock partially submerged by the incoming tide. Using universal sign language I asked him what he was doing:
- Point finger. Spread arms. Raise eyebrows. Scratch head.
The answer was very plain and very clear:
- Rub stomach.
So somehow there was food involved but I cannot guess how this could be so. Sea urchins or oysters locked on the rock? Lobsters hiding under it? Or perhaps his wallet had fallen overboard and got stuck in a crack in the rock.
My wallet certainly took a hammering one night in Senggigi.
Forty years ago there was nothing here – just those deserted beaches. Today there is a ten-kilometre strip of cheek-by-cheek hotels and resorts and massage parlours and spas: Quinci Villas, Sheraton, Pool Villa Club – and even a Holiday Inn. There are also plenty of cafes and bars and restaurants and having browsed menus displayed on the footpaths outside several places, I chose the Square Restaurant on Jalan Raya Senggigi. At first I was the only person in the huge space but gradually a few others – including a loud, overweight and smoking pair of Australian women. (Note – they were not “smoking” women. They were women who were smoking.) My meal was tasty enough and the wine I ordered with it was worth – or at least cost – the proverbial king’s ransom.
At the Wine Station run by Jhonson Sihombing, just a few kilometres north of Senggigi, wines and spirits are offered for sale in what is probably the only shop on the whole island offering something other than beers.
I had chosen a table with good reading light … but the staff kept dimming the lights to make it more cosy, perhaps. Certainly I should have chosen a table further away from the main road along which the scores of Pariwisata buses beeped tooted and farted exhaust fumes along their way dodging the young men – mainly – and an occasional young woman – astride customised motor bikes with surf boards slotted neatly into special racks on the side.
Much more pleasing on the eye and the ear were the cidomos, or tiny horse-drawn carriages that are still used in Lombok. They – and bemos and motor bikes and taxis and buses – are the main forms of transport on the roads, but are not at all popular with motorists or bus drivers as coastal roads are narrow and winding. A slowly elegantly trotting pony tugging a ribboned and tasselled carriage full of old women holds up traffic more than a little. At night, some of these carriages actually had candle-lit sidelights: picturesque certainly … but accidents waiting to happen as the delayed hurtling hulking omnipresent Pariwisata buses nip at their heels waiting for a few centimetre of open road to pull out and flash past.
December 1977: The flight from Lombok was delayed for about two hours as a VIP was coming from Jakarta to open a new building in Mataram. He finally arrived and the plane just sat there for almost an hour before we were able to board.
Some things never change, it seems. My flight out of Lombok was again delayed for an hour with no reason given, and then seemed to fly the long way back to Bali – via Singapore? – as what is usually a thirty-minute flight finally took almost an hour. The driver from my guesthouse who was waiting to meet me almost jumped for joy when I eventually joined the masses in the arrival hall, and the owner of the guesthouse later said:
- Ah yes – I knew you’d be late as you were coming from Lombok. Everything is a bit slower and more backward over there.
Some things never change.
- Journey: April 2016
- Text and photographs © Christopher Hall 2016
- Lombok map and cidomo Internet sources
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