Up early in order to catch a Bemo for the run out to Sweta terminal, the main hub for the whole island. Though an early bus looked set for departure and was even a tad cheaper than my intended 9am departure, Andrea had become too wrapped up in me to run out on her so abruptly, and so I bagged a ticket for the originally planned bus only to wait until 11 for its eventual departure. Though I partially slumbered on my traverse of Lombok from Mataram in the west to Labuhan Lombok the easterly ferry port, I still caught belated impressions of the island as being remarkably pretty in places. Gunung Rinjani's cloud wrapped slopes further qualified by tall palms and rice fields, some of them of the wet field persuasion which I had not witnessed for some time. Though the guidebook had recommended the port as a place offering no reason to loiter, it proved to be a beautiful, dramatic spot on a large enclosed bay affording an unhindered vista of the enormous volcano reaching from a shack lined shoreline up into the clouds, and my through bus service meant that I was spared any hassles here beyond an army of locals who boarded to offer all manner of foods, newspapers etc. just as I had experienced waiting in Sweta. I knew I was well and trully back in mainstream Indonesia when the T-shirt and booksellers were joined by a trio of serenading young guns, my new mp3 player proved its alternate worth for the first time in not only drowning out their holler but sparing me an involuntary contribution. That didnt stop them from opening my heavy eyes in the attempt though.
Now if you had asked me at the start of my trip to draw a line in my head as to my intended route, years of poring earnestly over atlases and maps had afforded me an indepth knowledge of geography to the point that I could have recited it city by city. I knew every border and every border crossing, including the ones that were infuriatingly closed. That knowledge had now run out however, with my mind failing to have grasped the full tapestry of Indonesia's archipeligo, an island continent of 17,000 separate entities. The beginning had been easy. Start off in westerly Sumatra, then follow the natural progression across the Sunda Strait to Java, then there was Bali and more mysterious Lombok to the east. But after Lombok? I didnt know. Trying to recall it from memory I had thought of Flores, but no, that was further east still and something else lay in between. What was it? Consideration of my prescribed course had only recently raised the veil and revealed a land I had barely heard of let alone knew anything about. The island of Sumbawa.
Departing Lombok on the rusty patchwork RORO ferry out into what I only now discovered to be the Alas Strait, mysterious Sumbawa lay readily discernible only 90 minutes away, and soon enough materialised to be appreciably volcanic, a stark land of scorched humps akin to the face of the moon and greater heights unadulterated with rocky scrub. A horizon disappearing into localised cloud betrayed more dramatic volcanic peaks, offset by fantastic foreshores of pristine white beaches which lasted forever, with the allure of a virginity seldom encountered. I could imagine that only a stones throw away from my diminutive arrival point of Poto Tano, merely a single line of prettily painted timber shacks with a pier, a white man might wander a ribbon of white sand where no other had hitherto ever ventured. The fantastic feeling that I was somehow approaching the edge of the known world was confirmed in noting that the ferry had been a cast off from a previous life in Japan of all places, with even a vending machine still priced in Yen promising Kirin lager, though doubtless none was to be had! Sumbawa was reputedly strongly Islamic and not a little poor, and though the headscarves and "Mushallah" prayer room on board testified to this even more so than on Lombok, Balinese shrines and beautiful vistas dotted around meant it could detract from a warm vibe, it was just great to be realising such an infrequented land with a natural beauty one might not have considered possible to find in a modern world. Sumbawa's single main highway also proved to be a surprisingly excellent delineated surface even if it was ubiquitously narrow and deviating, and the luxury of undoubtedly the last opportunity to ride an express air-con coach had me entering Sumbawa Besar the west's main town by 5pm. Though there were as ever touts aplenty, the off the beaten track locale meant that a Bemo transfer was easy and cheap to secure and though my den of first choice was full I was obligingly directed to another nearby where I plumped for its predictable tumble in standards happily mirrored by its price. A late foray around the neighbourhood immediately availed me of the site of the regions defunct Sultanate palace, a convenience tempered by a gargantuan nearby mosque determined to spew out an unmitigated litany of brainwash proportions, perhaps a special occasion betrayed by the presence of an army of police. In exception to the tourist preying exploits of their Balinese counterparts, they were affable as ever however, a symptom reminding me of authentic Indonesia in promptly encountering literally hundreds of "Hello misters" at every turn, a friendliness so prolific and incessant that it only took a couple of hours for the initial grin to wain under its pressure. Exploring the towns long narrow spread in search of something approaching a restaurant, an eventual sign promising too good to be true and so a telltale booze free eatery in deference to the many dodgy looking pavement stalls had to suffice. Sumbawa Town's demeanour proved to be unremarkable and yet not unattractive in its leafy spacious persuasion, punctured by an eternal procession of proud purposeless area offices and unimportant roundabout adornments, its real merit being that it was simply a real place for living in, removed from all the manufactured tourist bullshit of Balki and the Gilis. It was above all honest. In the telltale absence of advertising and the knowledge that some communities in these parts were officially dry, I hadnt even bothered to hop for beer that night to fill the dark storm scattered void, yet frequention of a tiny front room shop in need of water rounded off the day nicely in an unexpected bonus of cold Bintangs after all. Just one more default setting I presumed I wouldn't be realising in a while. To replace it was another altogether different consideration, the "Hello Misters" were back with avengance.