A Travellerspoint blog

Lombok to Sumbawa

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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.

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Andrew Hay meet Andrea Brae

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Yup

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Gili Meno to Gili Air

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As I had been doing quite frequently of late I deliberately elected to wake with the dawn, and so it was that before the early morning boat on towards the third and last of the island trio Gili Air, I found time to investigate the island interior for once in search of its only village. Such was the relaxed vibe of the Gilis, it was just a sporadic spread of shacks connected by dusty Cidomo tracks, though Gili Meno managed to boast a surprisingly accomplished bulbous domed mosque amid its tall elegant palm groves. With no sign of Lin I hauled my bag the stones throw to the beach to find only 2 other takers for the Gili Air transfer, and upon arrival a lone Canadian chick was surprisingly outnumbered by locals in this most placid of places.

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Gili Trawangan to Gili Meno

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Under pressure of time it was now a priority to make onward progress even if it was still within eyeshot, the shuttle boat took us the 15 minutes that was necessary to replace Trawangan with its markedly quieter neighbour Gili Meno. Random searching soon found us 2 superbly sweet bamboo bungalows with the sort of refinements expected of a honeymoon suite, suitably dubbed with the poetical name of Mimpi Manis (sweet dreams), but the honeymoon period was assuredly well and trully over when Lin promptly stomped out on me, proud or childlike. Not a little perplexed by now, I was at once sad and glad for the ironic opportunity for relaxation, I resolved that though certainly not perfect I hadnt had this problem with any of the hundreds of others I had met on the road and couldnt take all of the responsibility. I had in the passing shared some of my darkest secrets with her, finding the absence of any hint of compassion bewildering, perhaps she had a problem too but despite many fine qualities couldnt face to talk about it. I think I summed it up that though in some ways we were very similar, some differences must have been fundamental. After regathering my fraid nerves I strolled out for the scorchy midday island circuit in full expectation that she was doing the same, and I wasnt sure if it would have been a good idea to bump into her or not. Gili Meno proved to be not the Trawangan party scene but very quiet indeed, with its central concentration by the harbour mustering little more than a shop, a restaurant and a dive shop, the "harbour" itself being just a sign nailed to a tree by the beach. With very few foreigners in evidence, many resorts had an air of abandonment about them and the little activity about involved the much more interesting practices of coconut harvesting, boatbuilding and the odd fisherman pushing off in his outrigger canoe. Though it was perhaps only an hours walk to complete the sandy circuit of scrubby Gili Meno, pressure from the sun and the situation with Lin found me almost making a point of indulging in a beer fuelled pitstop, where local boys friendly as ever walked the tightrope between genuine interest and business motives. I had spied on the way round past the paradisical endless white sandy beach Meno's unique quirk in a small lake, allegedly very saline and used to harvest salt. Though within eyeshot the scorch factor had precluded me from any investigation. Upon return from my prolonged island loop I now realised that away from Lin I was the most relaxed I had been for a while, and so though I spotted her briefly and secretly hoped she would join me, it was perhaps better that she didnt. Spying her later with a guitar strumming local I wished her luck in dodging all his likely demands, it transpired that I never saw her again after that and felt a sad twinge at such a needless acrimonious split, it had to be unprecedented in my near 14 months on the road. You might have expected that I would have got drunk that night but Meno was not so much quiet as dead that night, I unusually got my head down early in view of another early start.

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Senggigi to Gili Trawangan

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It was a diversion I had long considered during my prolonged encampment in Kuta and had yet until now resisted the decision to layover in beach resort Senggigi as opposed to the nearby city found me stupidly close now, I followed Lin's plans in tracing the Gili Islands. World renowned as a beach paradise cum diving/snorkeling spot, I could ill afford the time required for yet another seaside excursion, and yet having come this far it made too much sense to finally see what all the fuss was about. Besides, a few days in paradise with a sexy Taiwanese chick by my side didnt sound so bad. Resisting the persistent hawkers during my beachside brekkie, lines were then formed on the beach for the onward Perama services, and whilst it was no surprise to find plenty other itinerants, it was one to realise that our 90 minute transfer to Gili Trawangan would not be in Perama's sweet looking ketch offshore but a much smaller taxi boat. I had already been stung once that morning, having rolled over in bed to suffer the novel ignominy of a bee's wrath, the large red sore would bother me for a week. Trawangan was the largest of the 3 islands and the farthest from the mainland, the only one reputed to be something of a party scene.
Tracing Lombok's beautifully rugged palm fringed north wets coast eventually revealed it to be the only one with any topography too. Deferring to Lin's wishes we turned south from the eastern "harbour" in search of aquiet spot by the beach still amenable for Trawangan's concentration of notably upmarket services. Since Lin was in holiday mode and baulked at hauling her bag in the heat, I submitted to her desrire for a Cidomo transfer, horse drawn carts which ran on car wheels which were a novelty of Lombok. The hopeful's wouldnt come down from their 100% touristy mark up though and in pursuit of another away from the harbour ambush spot we found it to have already been commandeered by a brace of divers, we hoofed it laden through the heat in the end after all. Finding our den of choice closed for renovation, Lin moaned en route to a recommendation which unexpectedly found us on the opposite western side of the island, a thoroughly desterted spot redeemed by its telltale name sunset, rustic sunscorched bungalows with unusual roofless step down Mandis to the rear. In tracing the similarly silent resort next door we encountered a few sizeable crabs scuttling about and it was no great surprise upon return to find that the largest one I saw had taken up timely residence in my bathroom. IT was far enough away from the littoral to have me wonder if the were a land predating species, irksome purple and green beasties larger than the span of my hand and with comparable dexterity. Upon finding that my new housemate had somehow managed to scale the first step towards the bedroom all of a foot high, I declined his offer of company by promptly peeing on him from above, whereafter he retreated to the lowly drain outlet never to foray forth again. After ablutions and a laundry routine my rsestless nights in Senggigi compounded by the midday scorch caught up with me, and so I crashed out until 5 to learn that Lin had usurped my dreams in cycling the few Ks around the island alone. Though Lombok had at no time been discernible from the coast
of Bali, a rare glimpse of Gunung Agung, the Hindu islands' volcanic crown now punctured the clouds, the dramatic rounded cone disappearing into the gloom of a disappointing sunset further compromised by an isolated nearby party spot pumping out wholly inappropriate trance music which assuredly drove off any scant custom which might have otherwise made the effort. We dodged more crabs, goats and Cidomos around to party central then, plumping for a pricey beachside restaurant in desire of a Brugaq, an elevated seating platform arrayed with cushions and a squat table, akin to Middle Eastern practice.

It was still for largely indiscernible reasons but the past few days had been punctured by a series of petty bust ups, being accused of being too serious which was undoubtedly true, and not being able to relax which I certainly could. Perhaps it was a cultural difference or symptomatic of our opposed agendas, but my propensity for conversation was time and again criticised since Lin only wanted to relax, I struggeld to equate though that that should mean an enforced silence. We shared stories, mine mainly about the many trials and adventures of my trip naturally, and though Lin told of her friends, family and frustrations it still held the potential for her seemingly perplexing criticism. What angered me that night was to be accused of being an alcoholic since Lin didnt drink and obviously frowned upon it, I succinctly had to point out that 2 beers with my lunch and 2 again at night was far from becoming a problem and in defiance to the pervading party scene around us I was probably one of the soberest people on the island. The intimidation of a 20 minute walk home through largely pitch darkness brought us back together. Next day we promptly decided to decamp in deference to the facility of the east coast, plumping for an inland village Losmen boasting spanky rooms with great rarity a sink and mirror so that I might shave. A tour of the island was the only distraction save the snorkelling and so we opted for a scorchy hot strut around the shoreline, where again my observations and remarks fell unappreciated and Lin slinked off in huff mode along a deserted beach. It was difficult for me to apologise for my highly active mind since I was in no way ashamed of it, but in my defence I felt I had little choice to point out that her mood betrayed that I was far from being the only serious one, in 5 days together I couldnt recall seeing her smile once. I put it to her that it was very simple, if she didnt want to be with me then she simply had to say so and that would be that. Perhaps my use as a guide was too precious for her though, or maybe she was just stubborn. In completing our circuit of the very dry sandy track around Trawangan which revealed resorts open and closed of all ilks and standards, I headed out in pursuit of my desperate need to still burn my photos to disc and so free up camera memory. The young guy with no English seemed to be making a hash of it but that was just the way of it here. With no alternative available I simply had to pay top dollar and hope he didnt screw it up. After dinner that night of my default chicken curry and Bintang we sought isolated pockets of darkness in appreciation of a spectacular array of stars which studded the night, though here again my passing comments on the constellations provoked more irritation in Lin to the point that she fell into a sulk again. For a girl who took an active pride in having studied the art of listening, I thought it perhaps betrayed the fact that she was missing half the story. Conversation was a 2 way process which required she open her mouth too, and if she didnt want to hear it, why persist with me? Long determined not to let any woman take the piss out of me for whatever premise, I walked back to my room with a single comforting beer, and she was surprised to see me there out on my verandah upon her return, she had presumed me to be stereotypically frequenting one of the raucous bullshit party bars full of twentysomething cherrypickers. Under the premise of returning my Tiger Balm we made up one more time, I was starting to lose track of just how many times we had ridden this emotional rollercoaster full circle.

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