A quiet and overlooked jewel in Indonesians crown of islands
Being the quiet next door neighbor to the sometimes wild Bali, Lombok rarely gets the attention it deserves. Only a 35 km stone’s throw over the Lombok strait lays an island that has more to offer than meets the eye. You arrive in Lombok expecting a tranquil escape from the usual hustle and bustle, but a scratch beneath the surface revealed a place full of amazing tradition, food, temples and adventure……
Regretfully, we bided farewell to the beautiful Gilli islands and we arrived on mainland Lombok with a mix of fellow backpackers and locals. What should have been an easy transfer to the tourist town of Sengiggi was instead surreal. We were packed into the boat quite tightly accommodating a few more than the legal amount, fair enough i guess, the mini bus was going unusual slow and sluggish, mmmmmm OK, but not only did the bloody thing stall, it stalled half way up the steepest hill in Lombok and we all had to push it up to the top ! So while we all dug deep to gets the ol girl rolling, struggling with the power of gravity I may add, a bloody monkey jumped onto the road, sat in front of the van, and I kid you not, it looked like he was sticking his tongue out at us !!! The monkey jumped out of the way and the van roared to life “just got no petrol, ha!” was the reason ! A short stop at the “petrol station” later and we were finally on the road to Sengiggi.
If this was the start of the adventure, what’s the peak going to be like???????
Arriving in Sengiggi I can remember thinking “is this it?” For the main tourist town in Lombok it doesn’t really look like somewhere you would come on holiday. The footpath is made up of pretty dire and dangerous sections and by day it’s mainly the locals who can be seen, usually flying up and down the street on their scooters with the odd tourist here and there. Sure it has the expensive hotels dotted down the main street and some bars and restaurants but, as I find out later, there isn’t much to do there, let alone for the adventure seeking backpacker! But what Sengiggi is good for is being a base to book excursions at to explore Lombok and that’s exactly what we did.
Getting a tip from some fellow Gilli islanders to stay at the Indah home stay we asked a taxi driver to take us there. 30 minutes later and were back at square one because he eventually thought he would let us know that he didn’t know where it was! That was possibly the most stressful 10,000rp I’ve ever spent and another Lombok adventure added to the book already!
Eventually we did find the hostel…..50m away! Tucked away from the main street, up an alley way, and behind the quiet local village, it was no wonder the taxi driver couldn’t find it! Luckily all the stress paid off because for 100,000rp a night we were treated to a lovely and clean hostel with breakfast, hosted by the lovely Dutch and Indonesian owners. The only downers being cold showers and traditional squat toilets, but for 100,000rp per night you learn to adapt by having a work out before a cold morning shower and shamefully sitting on the slightly raised (but impeccably clean) toilet. The hostel is classed in the village so it has strict Muslim village rules that you are asked to respect. There is to be no alcohol on the premises and that you have to keep the noise to a minimum after 11. You are in return treated as a villager by being woken up every day at 5am for prayer time courtesy of the (very) loud speakers and cockerels! But aren’t these experiences exactly why we travel?
They say the best things are done on a whim, so when we “only” went into the internet cafe/travel agent to check our email I never thought we would leave having booked a 3day 2night trip trekking the majestic Mt Rinjani! After numerous arguments in the past, Sarah and I have made a mutual agreement never to trek anything together again as we don’t seem to get along when there is climbing involved. So what had we gotten ourselves into????
Actually part of the reason we talked ourselves into it was the deal just seemed too good to be true. For the price of 1,750,000rp ($175 approx) we got a 3 day 2 night, all in, guided trek of the 3784m high mountain that is unique because it is the only place in the world where a mountain has a lake and a small active volcano inside it. Difficult to imagine, but every picture I’ve ever seen has been amazing. To be honest I was sold from the start, but just to get Sarah on board the salesman threw in 2 days of car hire with a driver to take us where ever we wanted in Lombok and Harbor transfers back to the Bali fast boat. So it was agreed, tomorrow would be a free day, then 2 days of exploring Lombok, 3 days of trekking then back on the fast boat back to Bali. It turned out to be the perfect plan!
The highlight of our free day the following day was taking an A-team style taxi to the islands capital of Materam. Its 50,000rp one way, but loads safer than a scooter on these busy roads! Materam is the islands city that’s home to the parliament buildings, art galleries and heaps of shopping from street market stalls to the islands one and only mall. The main purpose of our Materam trip was in fact the shops, as we needed things for the trek in a few days time. The Mall is defiantly something to be seen. 5 floors of shops that range from clothing to electrical to getting your feet eaten in a fish tank called fish therapy, all while dance music pumps out from speakers on the first floor making it sound more like a rave than a relaxing shopping experience. If you do make it to the top floor then you will find the “piece de la resistance” 2 5 aside soccer pitches, a fairground style dodgem track and arcades. Any shopping mall equipped with that is a winner in my eyes! While we managed to get all our hiking equipment from the camping shop (located on level 2) the best bargain came in the form of the best haircut I’ve ever had. All for 2 quid and about 3 words of English exchanged between us!
Our way back to Sengiggi only confirmed why I didn’t want a scooter because the traffic simply goes where it wants. There are roundabouts but it’s a free for all, the only rule being to give way to the biggest! How we didn’t hit anyone I will never know, but what i did notice was nobody as much looked at each other in the wrong way when a questionable maneuver took place, even when it looked like a crash was inevitable ! In the UK dirty looks, foul words and fists would be spewing from the car windows, but not here......and you know what? I kinda like it (in that scary roller coaster kinda way !)
Back alley markets, Temples, Rice fields and waterfalls. Check out the next entry to see what happens as we explore the island of Lombok with our own chauffeur ………Gulp !