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 …….