world according to sam

Don't go around saying the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first. Mark Twain

Month: October, 2015

Lombok ….. A taste of Indonesia

A thoroughly exhausting journey (30 hours door to door) deposits you into a melting pot of heat, scent and noise. The island of Lombok, like so many tropical destinations is one of contrasts – luxury hotels sit amidst villages of shacks with chickens and children running free! The island sits a 20 minute journey by air  to bustling Bali and from Western Lombok you can see the sun setting over Mount Agung. Though we didn’t get to visit Bali, a trip to Gilli Trawangan gave us an insight into how busy Bali is in comparison to Lombok. Geographically close but culturally very different, Lombok is largely a Muslim country and this is what protects it from the day long happy hours and hedonistic excesses of its neighbours.

Lombok, which means chilli in Indonesian, is defined by its people and its people are wonderful, and rather like their fiery namesakes – warm natured, with a little spice!  There is such pride for their island and Sasak traditions, (the indigenous culture of the island). Many of the beach traders and local guides who, through poverty, lack of education and opportunities often don’t even know their true age,  have still taught themselves English, Dutch, Korean and numerous other international languages, explicitly to earn themselves a wage… they are tenacious in their selling techniques but not obtrusive.   I would however really like to know WHO it is that is travelling the Far East propagating the myth that we Brits go round saying ‘Lovely Jubbly’ in our daily lives? …. Whilst they are the most fabulous marketeers of their beautiful island, their souvenir and t-shirt selling repartee can sometimes leave a little to be desired …. ‘We have your exact size Sir, 3XL‘ …. perhaps a little sales training in subtlety would help (and besides there was room for Pavarotti and me inside that t-shirt!)  Everyone greets you with ‘Where you from?’ they are quick to tell you to visit the highlights of the island and engage in their culture and traditions. Many are reliant on the tourist trade but equally can live off the land with their own crops of rice, mango, sweet potato and corn.  It is not uncommon to hear the traders talking of hailing from the largely farmland East sharing the home of a friend or brother during the week to sell their wares and then returning home to their families.

We stayed in a tranquil hotel just outside of  Senggigi, the Benidorm of Lombok ….. but Benidorm on Tramadol, laid back, friendly, good parts and some that are a little …. seamier …. Senggigi is the hub of tourism for Lombok and a great place to position yourself  to discover other parts of the island.  Every other shop is a travel agent or Tourist Information as they like to call themselves.  Hire a driver to visit the glorious beaches in the South or the waterfalls of Mount Rinjani towards the North.  Soft trekking to the falls is perfect for those, like me who love to channel Jungle Jane and don a khaki short but have NO intention of performing any outdoor lavatorial ablutions! – A 2.5 hour round trip was sufficient for me to feel at one with nature without sharing toilet facilities with actual wildlife!! Wading through the water channels that run right through the heart of the mountain in complete darkness before returning to the hill station for a late lunch overlooking the terraced rice fields is the perfect end to an extraordinary excursion.

 

 One of our greatest joys was being taken to a village adjacent to our hotel by one of the hotel’s groundsmen on his afternoon off (?) to see 20 or more children playing in a freshly ploughed field, flying kites … simple pleasures, this is not a culture that relies on technology for its kicks. We were greeted along the way by families sitting outside their homes, pushing their little ones into our path to say ‘Hello, how are you?’ and the local mosquito population were utterly thrilled at the advent of our juicy white Western flesh!!

We discovered quite early on our trip, a local bar (Happy Cafe) with live music not too far from our hotel, a 60p taxi ride away!!!. The house band are open to requests and have an immense catalogue of rock hits taken straight from Jeremy Clarksons Seriously Hot Driving Tunes …. each night the band ask for requests and if its not some rock anthem, the request is cast aside …. every night we were there I requested Happy by Pharell, (a woman of simple tastes), adding more and more elaborate designs to my request slip but to no avail, each request faced the same demise of being crumpled up and thrown to the side of the stage by the cigarette wielding lead singer …. It was on our first night here that we met one of the young bartenders (Hero – great name, huh?) who had developed a complicated but very cool ‘street’ fist pump/hug/handshake that he greeted Mr H with every time we entered the bar, securing us seats at the front of house.  As tourists in Lombok we were unusual in that the tourism here is transient, largely backpackers spending only 2 or 3 days in one place – we spent 3 1/2 weeks on the island and so had an element of ‘celebrity’ about us in Senggigi, the nearest town to our hotel. One gravelly voiced trader sought us out for a chat most evenings that we were in town, even though we never purchased anything from him.

We visited a traditional Sasak village, but this was somewhat disappointing as an experience, our guide seemed world weary and could not have sped through the village any more quickly extolling the virtues of their family life, they only marry within their village (cousins), the chief lives at the entrance to the village, their houses have cow sheeeeeeet as flooring and there is a surfeit of houses set up to sell bought-in tourist tat and of course your guide passes swiftly past all these other retail opportunities to …. surprise, surprise …. his own humble abode that has its own wares for sale.  It must be intrusive to have a constant flow of tourists trailing through the streets of your village, peering through windows but everything is geared to bringing in those tourists and without those visitors I am not sure where they would earn their living.

Our hotel staff could not be nicer, virtually applauding us into breakfast each day as we were the longest ever staying residents affording us a certain celebrity, they had a particular fondness for Mr Calvin …..

The locals all want you to visit their home and we had tea at the home of our driver, watched the National sport of Muay Thai championships, had an unexpected supper on the beach with the finals of a Miss Indonesia contest taking place around us, went to a traditional stick-fighting (Presean) event to encourage much-needed rainfall, had our annual battle with the spa paper knickers, trekked to waterfalls, learned to cook traditional Indonesian dishes, had massages and were tutored in the art of massage, seen monkeys at close hand, thug like primates cynically lining the mountain road awaiting the next car load of tourists to feed them bananas (terrifying!), eaten authentic street food, watched beautiful sunsets and watched the sun spread its light at dawn after the 5 am call to prayer

Unfortunately Mr H experienced a second bout of the Lombok Trots….Revenge of The Nasi Goreng….,  so as our holiday drew to a close we toasted 26 years of marriage with a Dioralyte Martini and Immodium chaser …. Lombok has been memorable for (mostly) all the right reasons and we hope to return …. Though there are so many more new places to discover …….

Lombok Adventure ….. Svarga Resort

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I, like most travellers now, spend a lot of time researching my holidays, poring over Trip Advisor, Lonely Planet and travel sections of the Daily Telegraph, Sunday Times and The Guardian to select my destination, a form of holiday foreplay …. but of course budget is what largely influences where Mr H and I decide to lay I our hat and when.  Mr H informed me early in 2015 that we did not have a Maldives budget this year, (I had no idea at that time about the Florence trip and endless FortyTen celebrations he had planned for me!!) I took to the Internet in search of our next holiday destination. I like the sort/filter button that allows you to list holidays in ascending prices. Easy to see then what falls into the budget. Long Haul in September offers great value in comparison to some of the nicer European resorts and service in the Far East is second to none! Not to mention that once you arrive, eating out and transport is usually far cheaper than the UK and the rest of Europe.

And as soon as I narrow down my searches by location I then check out the ‘Terrible’ listings and try to find a balance on what I might deem to be terrible … lizards in a tropical location sadly are a force of nature and I think it is unfair to ‘mark down’ somewhere if there seems to be a bit of ‘wildlife’ in your open air bathroom.



So when I chose our resort for Lombok, Svarga which translates as Heaven, I was not swayed by the No Alcohol policy, nor by the promise of many steps to the pool and restaurant … Instead I chose to embrace the imposed health drive … No temptation of a lunchtime bottle of rosé here and if you wanted to eat you HAD to climb the steps. There is a lift which in our three and a half week stay we used 3 times. The climb to breakfast each day only served to heighten our appetite for a healthy breakfast and the views from the restaurant over the infinity pool and a swathe of palm trees to the sea and further to Bali’s Mount Agung was just reward. At the end of our stay we could just about get to the top and still hold a conversation albeit slightly breathless!
The hotel is Indonesian owned and designed, contemporary Javanese bleached wood furniture, open air bathrooms and neutral palate results in a bright modern hotel far removed from the more traditional Balinese style hotels seen closer to town. In fact Svarga seems to be one of the first to have adopted this style with other hotels opening up a little further North in Mangsit.
The hotel offers a one way shuttle service into nearby Senggigi- several trip advisor complaints bemoaned the fact the shuttle was a) one way b) only ran until 5pm c) was not always available. In answer to those complaints … Town is only a 15 minute pleasant downhill walk affording you the opportunity to get some great views of the coastline not to mention numerous offers of ‘transport’ from passers-by. For those that couldn’t manage the walk a taxi was rarely more than 5 minutes away, most of the nicer restaurants in town also offered a shuttle service in the evening …. And the most we ever paid for a taxi from hotel to town was ….. (Including a tip) the princely sum of ….. 75p ….. A little over 1 USD! Hardly cause to forfeit stars on the highly influential Trip Advisor site methinks.

Another bugbear on Trip Advisor was the no alcohol rule …. Svarga do not conceal their policy, do not prohibit alcohol on the premises they simply do not sell it and there is a wine store and bar just along from the hotel … So I can only imagine those that are ‘disappointed’ have not looked at the hotels website.

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The true strength of Svarga aside from the design and stunning setting is its staff. They were the sweetest, most accommodating hotel staff we have ever met. From the room boys, to the Spa therapists, waiters, reservation manager Agus and resort service manager Zul, each and everyone took time out of their busy day to spend time making sure that we had our day planned out and everything we needed. The reception team included a delightful group of giggling girls who conjured up images of the excitable Three Little Maids from Mikado. The restaurant team ran out for a local herbal all cure-all (No More Gas!/Antiginan) when Mr H was struck down with the Lombok Trots and the complimentary extras we received throughout the trip added to our stay and hotel experience.
We organised a couple of trips through the hotel and others through an independent driver. On balance they each had their merits. The hotel driver escorted us everywhere, carried and watched our bags while we were in the sea, joined us for lunch and was full of interesting Lombok facts, insightful about his Muslim religion, knowledgeable on the economics of Lombok …. Not to mention bearing a striking resemblance to Barack Obama.

Heavenly service in a heavenly location …. Svarga

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