The first day of our "tour de lombok"
We arrive at the travel agents on the agreed time of 10am to meet our driver and to be honest I didn’t hold out much hope. A small travel agent “Lombok smile” is attached to the side of an internet café and it doesn’t really inspire much confidence, but low and behold our driver “Tony” was waiting for us in a relatively new car that didn’t resemble the death trap I had been imagining! The only condition of the trip was a 100,000rp fuel cost per day (about $10 for approx 6 hours a day didn’t sound too bad I thought) His English wasn’t the best, but was good enough to answer questions I asked and he pointed out different things as we passed them. We were doing this all while performing death defying maneuvers to overtake the traffic. I’m usually ok with the extreme edge of life but even this had my knuckles white a few times!!!!
Our first stop off was already well off the tourist track as we arrived at a traditional market located in a small village called Sincdu (think thats how its spelt???). From the moment you enter you are greeted by rows of market stalls, horse pulled carriages and a busy market atmosphere.
As we parked our car in a questionable position on the side of the busy road, we found out that what we could see was only the face of the traditional market, the best part was located in “her”. Closely following our guide, we were taking turns down cramped aroma filled alley ways resembling a maze lined with fruits, vegetables, meat, fish, tobacco and flowers . Being a well and truly local event, everyone had little or no understanding of the English language and with my Indonesian restricted to “good morning” and “thank you” buying things could have been quite difficult if it wasn’t for our guide helping us with some translations.
It might have been uncomfortable for some people, but it felt really refreshing and for the first time like we were backpacking on the other side of the world, out of sight of anything touristy and not one western convenience in sight. Being the only white people in the market we were the focus of lots of stares but a smile receives nothing but warm friendly gesture in return. I did feel slightly uncomfortable taking photos, but I was soon being encouraged to do so with most of the lady sellers eager to get in the frame!
Naturally, our first buy was some yummy looking cakes. So with our guide helping out with some translations I finished off the transaction by getting to use my little Indonesian and say “thank you” as we left. As we continued to walk deeper into the markets belly, we came to a dusty shed like structure that was home to what might be considered to be souvenirs in a shop, but in this environment they are dustily aged, local ornaments. We leave with 2 small masks that hang on the wall. Sure we could of got similar ones from one of the many popular souvenir shops but the memory of us haggling a price via our tour guide with the owner (that happened to look like a lady in her 100’s !) is what makes them so much more valuable than any others.
Under the expert navigational skills of Tony, our guide, we make it back to the car and on to the next stop, the Pura Lingsa temple, the biggest on the isalnd
Being possibly the only place in the world that is not only jointly owned by Muslims and Hindus but is also open to other beliefs making it unique not only in religious and spiritual terms but aestheticly also. Dubbed the temple of water, it is surrounded by water in the shape of a lakes, ponds and sacred bathing areas. Fed by underground springs the water has been a sacred source for hundreds of years and is said to bring Luck and health. This is because its source is the majestic peak that watches over all of Lombok, MT Rinjani.
We arrive we are met by a guide. Straight away we were wondering how much this will cost us, but our driver said he didn’t know much about the specifics of the temple and that if we wanted to have a much better and enjoyable experience than just walking around, then this is the way to go. While walking around at your own pace is all good and well, the temple is an estimated 550+ years old and the layout looks the same now as it did then and with no maps and information around. Though we didn’t know at the time, 100,000rp was worth every cent as over the next hour we were given interesting information, practiced hundreds of years old luck bringing traditions and even had a bath (kind of).
First off all, you have to pay about 20,000 rp to get in and then an additional 10,000rp for a traditional sash to be worn around the waist. It maybe for tradition but in my opinion it is more likely just a mark to say who has paid and who hasn’t.
The first part of the temple we went to was a courtyard that is shared by the 5 religions (muslim, hindu, christian, buddist and the native Wektu Telu) with each encouraged to come and pray in peaceful unison. The largest feature is a pool of water surrounded by metal gates. The water is very sacred and is said to literally make peoples wishes come true. How you do this is stand on a stone marker facing the front of the gates, make a wish and then turn around and throw a coin over your shoulder clearing the gates and landing in the water. You have to be backwards so you cant see and also because if you don’t get it in the water it’s said that your wish wasn’t from the heart (or you’re just a really bad thrower, in my opinion).You even get 2 chances, coins provided by the guide. I’m glad to say that I landed both of my coins in the water and looking back I can honestly say my wishes were small but they came true. As Sarah stepped up to the mark the guide told me that you would be surprised just how many people hit the fence. I’m glad to say that Sarah nailed them both as well (hope she wished for a big lottery win!).
Sacred rocks brought down from top of Mt Rinjani are located in an area next to the pool and is an area that people come to pray and leave small offering gifts at.
The main event for us on the tour was located in another courtyard not too far away. It too contains sacred spring water that squirts through 5 different areas in the wall (one for each religion) but the water is then collected in small channels that are home to sacred eels, some up to 1m long and as thick as your wrist ! Nobody knows how old they are or how they even got there, but to see them is considered to be very very very lucky and people come from far and wide to see if their luck is in. Still on a high from our coin throwing success we decided to see if we could catch a glimpse of them but predictably some rupees have to change hands first. 20,000 for the priest (who is the only one able to perform the ritual) and 5,000 for some duck eggs (that are broken up and put on a stick in order to coax the eels from their hiding places). Part of me felt like it was a waste of time, but as we entered the gates part of me was also excited. Swooshing the water with a stick and bating the area with some egg, it wasn’t long before I saw a dark shadow pop his head out and before I knew it he was almost all the way out, following the egg down the watery channel line. This got a big reaction from our guide, saying that we were very lucky indeed, but it was the look of sheer surprise on the priest’s face that got me excited. 2 then 3 more times the eels came out and each time to a cheer. Unable to get the last bit of egg to stay on the stick, the priest held it in his hand resulting in the eel biting his finger! We were being granted with lots of luck, or the eels were just bloody hungry that morning!
After our encounter with the eels we got to bathe our faces in the sacred spring water that is said to heal the sick and take one year off the age of your face. The sun getting higher in the sky so any chance of refreshment was welcomed. Still not sure if I look a year younger though.
Unfortunately it was a Friday and unless you are a Muslim or Hindu it’s impossible to get into the temple, but due to all the information the guide had given us and the very unique experiences we had just taken part in I wasn’t too upset. So as we made our way back to our car, the tour guide was telling us of his and his son’s support of premier league soccer, the England team and the monarchy. So a rummage through my backpack resulted in me bringing up two, 1 pound coins. He was well over the moon, promising that he would make a necklace from them, he was pleased that he now has something genuine to support England with. He may have left us with a temple experience I never thought I’d be part of, but I left him with genuine excitement. Would he actually make a necklace or just cash them in? Who knows, but it is a nice thought anyway …..
With no time left to spare we were back on the ever deteriorating roads that wound through smaller and smaller villages. The dust may have increased but the smiles and waves of the locals who we passed didn’t. Our final destination was a set of 2 large waterfalls in the Lombok rainforest, but we would make our way there through the impeccably organized rice and tobacco fields. These two crops are quite fascinating for westerners like us because 1.we don’t have them and 2. We don’t organize our crops anything like they do in Asia. There are many reasons for the stepped plateaus of levels, mainly irrigation, but the way they look is an agricultural wonder and unique to this part of the world.
At the gates to the Mt Rinjani national park, we were met by our 2 young tour guides, who for an amount would take us to the 2 waterfalls. It was at this point that I was convinced our driver was just taking us to his friends who were all looking for a payday from the tourists! But after paying the very small park fee and signing the guest book it states that one of the walks is a 1km walk over rough hilly terrain and any entrance to the park must be with a guide. Fair enough then…..
The first waterfall (sendang gile) was a 5 minute walk and I quote “good for washing your hair” as it is a long, soft fall of stream water that maybe cold but very refreshing. The second waterfall tiu kelep) is a 15/20minute walk up and down steep hills/steps but is much more impressive. Its only source maybe only natural underground springs but it splits into countless different areas over a 30-50m diameter with a much more powerfall waterfalls. This waterfall, I’m told, “is good for massage” and it sure was as I climbed in, on and around the icy cold water getting free massages and seeking some escape from the balmy Indonesian weather. We may have had to pay the 2 young lads to guide us, but they sure did earn it but climbing up trees to find us coffee and coco beans and describe anything that they found interesting. For anyone wanting to go to the waterfalls, I would say that the guides are well worth the small charge for the hot mini rainforest hike !
Exhausted we navigate our way back through sleepy villages, drifting off on the quieter stretches and waking up only to the sound of hooters, horns and heavy braking in the busier areas until we finally make it back to Sengiggi. I think it’s fair to say that day 1 on our tour of Lombok was a success. I hope day 2 is just as good.........