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Monday, October 8, 2012

September 22 - 24, 2012 - Road Trip Around Lombok - a Grand Adventure With Friends

Day 1 -
The 8 of us set off for Senggigi at 8 AM to pick up the second rental car. We stopped at the Swiss bakery for coffee and croissants while Frank and Peter walked over to the car rental place to pick up our wheels. They happily returned 15 minutes later with a large passenger van; proudly announcing they only paid 750,000 IDR (translates to approx $75) for our three-day rental. Nice going guys. We then loaded up into the two vehicles and set off for Kuta on the south coast of Lombok. Lombok's countryside is graced with mile after mile of rich farmland. We passed by large fields of tobacco, rice, corn, and peanut crops. Many of the farmers still use the traditional ploughs pulled by water buffaloes. The scenery was tranquil and beautiful, seemingly set hundreds of years ago and frozen in time. We enjoyed this scenic beauty for a little over an hour before hitting the main highway and being suddenly morphed into present day noise pollution from fast moving cars and trucks rushing by and blasting horns. After a while we sighted the international airport stuck out in the middle of nowhere before finding our way back to the country and a little more peace, although the blacktop roads became much narrower and occasionally pitted with large ruts. We traveled through some beautiful villages and some not so. Everyone we saw was working hard and for the most part the people here seem to exhibit great pride of ownership in their homes and villages. The streets are cleaner and tidier, roads and homes better kept. Eventually we arrived at the beachside village of Kuta.

Kuta has gained an international reputation as an excellent surfing destination and is less cluttered than Bali's Kuta. The beaches here are very pretty, the bay is tucked into a near circular landmass and is protected by a barrier reef. Surfers are taken out beyond the bay to the reef by boat. The waters are crystal clear yielding a view of the bottom as far out as the eye can see. Beaches are white sand and lined with souvenir huts, restaurants and bars. Prices for t-shirts, sarongs, ikats and beach bags are cheaper here then at Senggigi and Medana Bay. A bit road-weary, hungry and thirsty we sought out a good stop for lunch and not surprisingly ran into some of our cruiser friends who had made the trip with a personal driver. As we settled in to place our orders, gregarious children approached carrying long boards laden with little bracelets and necklaces they were selling for "I give you best price!" As soon as we waved them away the ladies peddling ikats "hand made from my tells a story…I give you best price" bombarded us. We waved them away only to be approached by the t-shirt and sarong vendors. They see us all as very rich white people with money to burn. Compared to them, perhaps we are. After lunch we strolled the beach being trailed by chatty vendors who must have thought that if they persisted they would wear us down until we made a purchase. They have no idea how desensitized we all are by now. Eventually we realized we had better inquire about a hotel for the night to accommodate 4 couples. Frank and Paul set off on an exploratory mission to find us a hotel while the rest of us waited at a nearby bar. They returned to report that they had located a place that had 6 rooms available. Of the four lower priced, only two had double beds. Frank and I opted for one of the mid priced rooms with a king. We paid $50/night. The others paid $35. The hotel property was vast, with grounds that had once been magnificently landscaped but were now just barely surviving. Once upon a time this had been a top end resort. Who knows what has happened to it over time. Our room was massive yet spartan with only a bed in the middle of the room, a small table with a 10" 1980's model television and a built-in settee under the window. The bathroom was located through a locked doorway and completely exposed to the outdoors (no roof), where the heat was sweltering and the walls and bathtub were covered in mold. There were no towels and yet we had a bar of soap and a shower cap! Hmmm. Well we did only pay 50 bucks, and that includes breakfast.

After stowing our gear in the rooms and grabbing a quick shower (ours but a trickle of cold water), we all met in the lobby for drinks and then set off for dinner. The hotel manager had made us a reservation at the top restaurant in Kuta, called Warung Balu. Known for its fresh seafood we all feasted. The meal was outstanding and the best part is that, including all the drinks, it cost less than $15/couple. After dinner the rest of the gang wanted to go for drinks and smokes Paul and Glor have discovered clove cigarettes and everyone seems to be enjoying them. As yummy as they smell there is not a chance in hell I'm going to try one after what it took for me to quit smoking several years ago. I was also only on day 2 of my antibiotics and was feeling pretty run down so I retired to the hotel while the rest went on to party into the night. I returned to find LARGE ants marching around on the bathroom counter. I'm talking half an inch long large ants. I swatted them away and brushed my teeth, washed my face and trotted to the bed where I threw off the covers to reveal more ants in the bed. I swatted them away and crawled in anyway. I was too tired to care. I slept like the dead until I heard banging and crashing at the door. It sounded like the gates of hell had been thrust open. It was only Frank coming home after having smoked too many clove cigarettes and drank too much of gawd-knows-what. He forgot that the SLIDING glass doors actually slid and was trying to force them open by pushing and pulling with all his might. Thank goodness he didn't break the glass or pull them off altogether before I jumped up to let him in. Lord.

Day 2
We met for breakfast at 7:00 AM. Breakfast was a choice of an omelet or banana pancakes and fresh fruit or juice and coffee or tea. It was delicious. The coffee is excellent here in Indonesia, but prepared like the cowboys of the old west. It is roasted then pulverized to absolute powder. They pour hot water over spoonfuls of the coffee powder and then serve it to you. You have to wait until the powder settles into a sludge at the bottom of the cup before drinking, unless of course you just want to drink it powder and all. Nonetheless it is very aromatic and tasty.

We set a track for the hills driving up into the mountains and the land of waterfalls, rain forests and plantations of coffee, spices, tobacco (tabac) and monkeys. The countryside became even more beautiful the higher we rose in elevation, reminding us of our trip to the mountains of Flores. We stopped for mid morning tea at a quaint little place called Pondok Tetebatu Bungalows and Restaurant, nestled on the outside of the Monkey Forest. While enjoying ourselves in the little café we arranged a hiking tour through the rice fields and tabac farms and over to the waterfall. We inquired about the bungalows, they were $15/night and very cozy looking so we all booked a room, stowed our gear and set off for our hike.

Our guide literally walked us along the levees of the rice fields. We were fascinated to learn about the various forms of farming the different types of rice, including red, basmati, sticky and black rice. We touched and tasted all along the tour. The sticky rice, commonly called sushi rice, is the most expensive and arduous to grow. Other crops such as tomatoes, green beans, vanilla beans, and corn are grown in between the rice fields so that not an inch of this fertile land goes to waste. Even the rice stalks are harvested for cattle food. The cattle are even beautiful! We walked through clove and coffee plantations, into a village to see how they live and dry the harvested crops. We saw many fighting cocks, messenger pigeons and dogs. There are so many dogs. Our guide (whose name I could never pronounce) explained that the dogs are for security and are trained to guard against the monkeys, horses and other livestock that will eat the crops and raid the villages. At one small village we were invited to taste the delicious flesh of the massive Jack Fruit. It was so tasty that we purchased half of one and watched as the lady proprietor skinned it and carved out the bits of edible fruit for us, placing it into a bag for carrying. We also bought large bags full of chilis and tomatoes. We then ventured across some pretty rough terrain up and down and across creek beds to eventually arrive at a small waterfall. Being dry season the waterfalls aren't exactly majestic right now. We all refreshed ourselves in the cool clear water, snacked on the Jack Fruit and set off again traversing more slippery rice levees until we came to a tabac drying shed. We were given a quick tour and then finally led back to the B&B where we all fell into the café for refreshments. What an amazing day! Everyone cleaned up before we set off on foot to explore our immediate surroundings. We saw loads of large buses taking backpackers up into the mountains for multi-day camping treks. We were the only white people around here though, and as we walked through the tiny adjacent village locals came out to get a peek at us and to wave at the strange white people. We ended our evening with a delicious dinner back at the café and then retired to bed. The rainforest sounds came alive as we nodded off and the noises of the night nearly kept us fully awake. Finally exhaustion took over and we nodded off but rest was not part of the night's sleep. Early the next morning we feasted on banana pancakes and coffee, settled our bill and hit the road. I interject here that our total bill, including the room, meals and tour came to a grand total of $38/couple. Again, unbelievable.

Day 3
Paul, Glor, Colin and Marion had to get to Mataram for their appointment with immigration, so they went one way and we took off for the eastern side of Lombok to catch a view of the volcano, Mount Batu Jari. From the rainforest, the terrain became less lovely and the roads less passable. At times they were so rutted that it jarred our bones. Traffic on the roads was very heavy and we were happy that Peter was behind the wheel today. He seemed completely at ease driving in these conditions. We continued to see farmland but of a different nature. Here the main crops were cashews, potatoes, strawberries, onions and garlic. Unfortunately, being Monday all of the markets were closed so we had no opportunity to purchase any of these fresh goods. We mostly drove and drove, rocked and bumped along until by lunchtime we finally arrived at a small hostel that serves as a jumping off point for trekkers hiking the multi-day trip up to the volcano. We enjoyed a wonderful lunch and a nice cool break (lunch: $1.50 per person), before getting back on the road. This area is a bit more remote and not as picturesque as the rest of Lombok, and just didn't have as much to hold our interests. We drove on down to the coast hoping to stop for refreshments along the beach, but strangely enough everything was empty and appeared closed. So we pressed on, making it back to Medana Bay by late afternoon. When we arrived Destiny appeared to be sitting over the reef. Yikes! We tumbled out of the van and sped over in the dinghy to find that she was perilously close to a large bombie (coral head). We quickly hauled up the anchor and moved her closer into the middle of the now nearly empty bay. While we were away apparently a lot of people had gotten their visas and had set off for Bali - lucky them. Returning to shore we joined a group hanging out at the Medana Bay café/bar. Chris and Liz from s/v Rumrunner II told us that a big blow had come through causing several yachts to hit the coral, ram each other and to drag all over the place. As a result there had been a mass exodus from the anchorage. And yes, visas had come through as well. Thank goodness no one had hit Destiny, nor did she appear to have hit anyone or anything else while we were gone.

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