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

Category: TRAVEL

Lombok …. A Taste Of Indonesia…. Part II

Our trip to Indonesia and Lombok took us not only to mainland Lombok but to some of the outlying Gillis, both the smaller islands, Gilli Nanggu and Sudak in the South of Lombok and Gilli Trawangan off the West Coast – contrasting in every sense.  The southern islands are heavenly, largely uninhabited and provide an opportunity for snorkelling – though the Indonesians are yet to fully understand conservation, encouraging tourists to feed the fish with bread in bottles – we did it too I am ashamed to say, without it we were invisible to the sealife.  The bread encourages fish to swarm to the area for tourist driven photo opportunities but cheap white bread is not their natural diet … I imagine there are many carb bloated fish around the waters of Lombok!!

Gilli Trawangan is in contrast to Lombok, a party island for the young (and young at heart) … Gilli T is a little grubby around the edges, with a faint waft of the previous nights hedonistic over-indulgence.  However head around the island towards the sunset beaches and though dusty there are fewer people and a less trampled-in grimy feel, you do have to be mindful of the speeding Cidomos (horse drawn carriages that speed around the island with tourists and their bags hurtling along and peeping their horns at unwitting pedestrians and cyclists alike, we liked to call them the Lombok Ferraris).     Mr H and I enjoyed a cycle ride around the motor free island, the cycling was a triumph but despite my ample in-built padding the two hour stint was enough for both of us in the extreme heat. We attempted to snorkel but this was challenging due to boat traffic and a fierce drift that carried you along into the path of the numerous boats picking up and dropping off to the beach. We were promised turtles but sadly the only ones we got to see were at the turtle hatchery, which were very sweet but not what we had hoped for.

Lombok’s southern coast is drier, a little edgier but with the most spectacular beaches … we were encouraged to visit Kuta beach (nothing like its Bali namesake!) with some sweet little homestays and a clutch of small souvenir shops but for me the beach was a little disappointing, stony and sparse in the central part … it may have been better further around but we had already experienced the stunning sandy bay of Mawun beach and the rolling waves of Selong Balanak – two beautiful and in my mind superior beaches.  Mawun is ideal for sheer relaxation with a small reef to snorkel around safely without too much in the way of boat traffic and Selong Balanak or the mirrored beach, a vast expanse of white sand with soft tumbling breaks for novice surfers – even I would have attempted a surf lesson here had I more time.  For the serious surfer a boat can be taken to the huge breaks just off the coast.

We split all our sightseeing trips between a private driver from outside the resort and our hotel driver.  The driver commissioned outside of the hotel was certainly cheaper and came recommended, pre booking our guide for the trekking to the waterfalls and a private boat transfer to Gilli Nanggu. He invited us to his home for tea and to meet his wife and children. Something we would not have experienced had we stuck only to our hotel driver. Each have their merits, maybe the hotel driver experience was a little more polished but the private driver was more amenable to going ‘off piste’.

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Belmond British Pullman

I know I was utterly spoilt last year year for my FortyTen celebrations and in late October,  5 months in, those celebrations finally came to a close.
I was very generously gifted a voucher for the Orient Express group … Googling ‘book Orient Express tickets’ I was filled with images of a romantic trip  with Mr H and I channeling Agatha Christie and the diminutive Poirot, heading from Paris to Venice. Back to earth with a bump …. £500 will buy you a 2 hour journey with afternoon tea from London’s Victoria through the Kent countryside for two people.
Further exploration of itineraries and we decided to add some of our own coffers to opt for Belmond British Pullman‘s The Golden Age of Travel lunch.

Departing from Victoria Station, there is a waiting room exclusively for Belmond travellers with tea and coffee, a welcome warming drink before the off.

The excitement is tangible, the audience a mixed bunch, most celebrating the passing of milestone birthdays, engagements, marriages The average age is somewhat more than my own half century I suspect. Some have embraced the bygone era, tea dresses, the odd gentleman in black tie and one group who seemed to be wearing Lilliputian sized trilbys a in a nod to ….. Bugsy Malone?

A short wait and boarding commences, the cheery crew welcome you aboard with due reverence … A very different experience to the 7.26 Haslemere to Waterloo. Space and comfort are what greet you, high backed wingchairs set at beautifully laid tables with an overly ornate table lamp, with a shade something akin to a Victorian courtesans flouncy knickers. Beautiful crystal, fine china and flatware are far removed from the contemporary stemless glasses and heavy earthenware crockery of so many restaurants now.

Champagne is poured almost as soon as you are seated and the experience begins. It doesn’t take long to immerse yourself, talking in hushed tones and waving regally like a pageant queen to the passengers disembarking the normal service trains.

Amuse bouche followed by a soup starter served professionally by the steady footed crew, wine ordered – the journey begins out through a much graffiti’d South London and down to the Kent coast. It’s not the most interesting of vistas but Mr H and I enjoyed the food and each other’s company and shared juvenile humour at our efforts at sotto voce conversation in a bid to not disturb the library hush.

There is an opportunity to purchase souvenirs but I refrained from the branded sweater-wearing teddy and the other costlier Belmond ephemera. Our adjacent neighbours bought a rather overpriced Station Clock as their souvenir of the day … Mr H and I settled for a few photos on our iPhones and the memories!

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Two bottles of wine and an extra glass of champagne for the delay in leaving Victoria at the start of the journey coupled with the gentle tinkling of silver against chinaware leaves even the most seasoned of travellers in a soporific state. As we reached Broadstairs we were asked to disembark where we were greeted with another glass of wine and fresh local Oysters. Some of our fellow passengers were less than keen to partake of the crustaceans on offer (fools)  – all the more for us. A blazer-clad brass band was playing to add to the yesteryear ambience but it felt slightly awkward and contrived standing side by side on the platform –  needless to say there was one fellow traveller who threw inhibition to the wind and managed a sort of Charleston. We all dutifully congratulated her as we returned to our seats, homeward bound.

In essence it was a charming day out but given the cost I think we probably could have had an Air BnB weekend city break for the same price as lunch on the Belmond.  This trip is best suited to a more vintage traveller, a special older birthday or celebratory anniversary. My in-laws would have loved this trip as would any ferroequinologist* but perhaps Mr H and I should have saved this for our twilight years!

*trainspotter/anorak

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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