Lombok & Gili Air

The next morning we awoke in Lombok, terrified that we had to take yet another ferry to get to the Gili Islands.

“We’ll probably get there faster if we swim,” I joked over breakfast.

At the very least, we exhausted our options. We stopped up and down the coastline on our way to the public dock and tried to negotiate with private boat owners.

Damián would wait by the motorbike, cutting a foreboding figure in the distance, while I would walk up to a group of lounging fishermen on the beach and try to fix a fair price.

Their disinterest was palpable as I was usually interrupting an intense card game. I really had nothing to offer them that could top the queen of spades or the ace of hearts.

“350,000 rupiahs,” one would say, not even looking up to measure my offense. It was the ridiculous price that came with the color of my skin and each time, I felt like throwing a temper tantrum.

After four or five of these depressing interactions, we resigned ourselves to our public ferry fate. We arrived in the port of Bangsal and parked our motorbike for $1 USD a day in a garage. No vehicles are allowed on the Gili Islands so this is a must if you have your own transportation. Do not pay attention to the myriad of hustlers who offer you some kind of deal. Go directly to the ferry terminal office on the right and buy your ticket. (Approx. 20,000 rupiahs per person or $1.50 USD with taxes).

The boat does not leave until it fills up with passengers, so we assumed that we were in for another long wait, but luck was on our side this time. In a matter of minutes, a man came about and rounded us up for the ride.

About 30 of us piled into a rickety old long boat – not exactly a ferry – along with bags of rice, boxes of eggs, and our surfboard. Our destination was Gili Air, purported to be the most versatile of the three Gili Islands. Gili Trawangan is set up for partygoers, Gili Meno is for honeymooners, and Gili Air caters to the more grass roots crowd.

It was an easy thirty-minute cruise to the island, with calm waters and a cacophony of international accents.

When we arrived, we were greeted by the overpowering smell of garbage and a handful of crippled horses behind carts: a reality of island life that has yet to appear on Instagram.

But no one seemed to bat an eyelash. They just hopped around the garbage piles and tossed their heavy suitcases onto the backs of the mistreated beasts and off they went.

Damián seemed to sense what was coming because he pulled me off the boat before I could resist.

“Oh my god, the trash. And those poor horses,” I hissed dramatically. “Should we even be here?”

“Where?” he retorted. “Reality?”

I wonder how many times a day he kicks himself for marrying such a bleeding heart? But he had a point. If I were to consciously resist everything that had some kind of negative side effect, I would probably never leave the house.

Luckily, apart from that poor first impression, everything else about Gili Air was wonderful. It is a tiny laid-back island full of picturesque bungalows, breathtaking beach views, and meandering paths. You can walk its entirety in about an hour and each night you can enjoy the sunset from a swing in the sea, a beanbag chair on the beach, or a hammock strung from a tree. (The best sunset views can be found on the north end of the island).

I loved walking at night through the back alleyways – in the near pitch black – to the sound of the mosque prayer call. It was both eerie and peaceful, and it made me feel so very far away from home.

One afternoon, we made friends with an Argentinian couple that was eating at the same restaurant as us, and it turned into one of those long, enriching sobremesas that I have grown to miss. Only, I became an observer as the Argentinians engaged in a dance of opinions about the good and the bad of their homeland compared to other places.

“Everything works well in Australia, right down to the dogs,” one of them said. “Even the dogs are happy and well-trained. You don’t see dogs like that in Argentina, man. All our dogs are high-strung, barking, and ready to fight…That says it all.”

It was a good conversation. The kind of blowing off steam that you might need with your compatriots, even if both of you had somehow managed to escape.

(Four months later, we would see this same couple coming down from the Annapurna Base Camp in Nepal just as we were reaching it and the coincidence was uncanny. We felt like we had encountered old friends and we were happy to see them in good spirits and still discovering the world as we were).

After two calm and glorious nights on Gili Air, we took the long boat back to Lombok, grabbed our motorbike, and headed inland in search of the Benang Stokal and Benang Kelambu waterfalls, nestled in the foothills of Mount Rinjani.

Unfortunately, the end of Ramadan meant that the park was overflowing with local tourists. We were told that it was mandatory to hire a guide to see the waterfalls, but we argued vehemently against this. The path was well marked and all the locals entered unaccompanied so it was clear that this was a “service” just for foreign tourists.

But the park officials would not budge. We ended up with a guide who was both friendly and useless. Similar to our “guide” experience in Samoa, we would arrive at a waterfall and he would announce, “Here is the waterfall and you can read the sign for more information.” Not cool.

The waterfalls were truly beautiful. They looked like they had come straight out of the Gardens of Babylon, but for many reasons, I could not enjoy them. I was miffed about the guide and horrified by the amount of trash the family picnickers were throwing about the place. Here again, there were clearly marked trashcans that people seemed to mistake for decorations. I had also seen so many spectacular waterfalls in New Zealand, Australia, and Samoa that I was becoming a bit blasé.

“Why aren’t you taking any pictures?” the guide chastised. Puh-leeze. As if he was doing his job correctly.

“Yeah,” Damián chimed in. “You’re the photographer today.”

I ignored them and walked around listlessly like a little girl in a trapped inside a terrible TV drama. Nature has always been my church and I couldn’t understand why so many people had come here to throw shit on the ground, shriek loudly, and disturb the sacred beauty and peace.

Then, it started to rain. It fell softly at first, but it quickly turned into a relentless downpour and I smiled to myself. The gods certainly knew how to clear out a place.

Our guide wanted to call in a motorbike taxi to bring us back to the park entrance, but much to his dismay, we told him we preferred to walk the whole way back. We were already wet so it didn’t really matter and I didn’t want to give him the satisfaction of a dry room quite yet.

It was nice to listen to the rain at war with the jungle and to feel the mud slosh freely against my boots. We were pretty much the only ones walking back on the path but after awhile, another man appeared out of nowhere, holding a huge banana leaf over his head. I found this to be a brilliant idea and quickly got one for myself.

Back at the park entrance, we got on our bike and headed off to find our hostel in the mountains. I was both miserable and ecstatic, clinging to Damián’s back as we weaved our way through rice fields and rain clouds. I could say the same sentence out loud and arrive at both sentiments:

I am riding on a motorbike in the rain through the countryside of Lombok – and it’s amazing.

I am riding on a motorbike in the rain through the countryside of Lombok – and it’s absolute shit.

I held on to my first thought, however, and kept smiling through chattering teeth, reminding myself that this was the best way to feel truly alive.

We spent the next two nights at a small family-run homestay, the Tetebatu Indah. I had not packed enough clothes in the event of rain so Damián went on a hike in the foothills of the volcano while I waited for my clothes to dry. I filled my diary with streams of consciousness and walked around the tiny jungle village of Tetebatu.

It was quiet and picturesque and everybody seemed to know I was staying at “Mr. Bram’s place.”

The owner of the homestay, Bram, and his friend and guide, Yusef, were very welcoming. On the second night, they commanded the attention of all their backpacker guests – Damián and I, a German couple, a Portuguese couple, and a solo traveler from France – with their views on family, politics, business, and Islam. They seemed to understand how important these cross-cultural conversations were, and they especially wanted to impress upon us the goodness of the Islamic faith. I wish I had written down exactly what was said, because I don’t recall the details now, but I remember going to bed happy to have participated in such a warm and interesting exchange. It felt good to be a human that day.

The last stop on our Lombok leg was Kuta, on the south end of the island. Damián ran off looking for waves in hard-to-get places while I remained eclipsed by the inertia of island life. Kuta has some spectacular beaches, but almost everything is under construction. There is an atmosphere of preparation for the predicted tourism boom, when money falls from the sky. Kids have already been trained to ask foreigners for “money, money, money!” at the top of their lungs and parking fees for roadside palm trees are almost non-negotiable.

So when its time to go, I am ready to leave.

We get on the ferry and make our way back to Bali. In some tiny way, our homestay in Bali feels like “home.” We greet “our” dogs, say hello to our neighbors, and fall quickly to sleep our familiar bed, dreaming of the next adventure.

– Ashley


INFORMATION FOR DIABETICS

Lombok cuisine is similar to what can be found in Bali. The local dish, Nasi Goreng, is essentially spicy fried rice with your choice of toppings. Diabetics should steer clear of white rice. When ordering Nasi Goreng, we asked them to hold the rice and pile on more vegetables. Many local restaurants are buffet style so it is easy to be more selective about what you eat.

We booked accommodation with our own fridge to ensure that we could always keep Damián’s insulin cold. This was particularly important when we were staying on the island of Gili Air. It does not have any medical facilities and is only accessible by boat so we were very vigilant with our insulin supply.

During our one month in Indonesia, Damián had no problems with his diabetes. He was extremely active with surfing, but he kept a close eye on his levels. He was also able to maintain a healthy diet without much difficulty.

WHERE TO STAY

The highlight of our time in Lombok & Gili Air was where we stayed. We highly recommend the following places:

Gili AirVilla Karang Homestay

These cheaper, auxiliary accommodations STILL give you access to the amazing continental breakfast and swimming pool facilities of the fancier, nearby Villa Karang Hotel & Spa. We had a clean and basic room but only had to walk a few hundred meters for an ocean view and a fantastic outdoor swimming pool. The staff is also exceptionally welcoming.

TetebatuTetebatu Indah Homestay

If you are looking for intimacy and authenticity, the Tetebatu Homestay is a nice stopover. The accommodations are basic but Bram and Yosef are great hosts and entertainers and their family cooks amazing food. You can get a glimpse at life in a small village and just take some time to kick back and study the great Mt. Rinjani.

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