A Long Way to Lombok

Lombok is still seen as Bali’s little brother, but as each holiday season passes, it clamors for more attention. It is looking carefully to the west and making note of Bali’s tourism blueprint, because Lombok knows its time is coming.

Yet we heard from more than one tourist that Lombok’s appeal is actually the fact that it’s not Bali and it is better to go now, before it is too late. So we did. We dedicated one week of our month in Bali to “Little Brother Lombok.”

The island is just a short one-hour fast boat ride from the Padang Bai harbor, but we decided to cross by public ferry in order to bring our motorbike and one surfboard along with us. The public ferry (121,000 IDR total for 1 motorbike and passengers/$9) is also significantly cheaper than the fast boat for tourists ($25-40 per person depending on the company).

The journey was advertised as four hours but for that day anyway, this claim was egregiously false. Almost immediately, we were sucked into a black hole of “Indonesian time.” We tumbled down down down into the abyss of the eternal wait and didn’t get spit out until approximately seven hours later.

The black hole began with a long line of motorcycles and trucks piled up outside of the ticket booth, under a relentless sun. The locals parked their bikes in a jumbled mass of exhaust pipes and suitcases and then moved quickly to any sliver of shade to squat and wait. Vendors weaved in and out of their hunched circles, offering coffee, fresh pineapple, and bold-faced lies about ferry arrival times. The sunglasses vendors were the most persistent, particularly aware of their ultraviolet advantage, but they met their match with Damián. He scared them off, one after another, with that piercing don’t fuck with me look that he had mastered long before I met him.

Meanwhile, I tried to use the bathroom, but the woman sitting in the doorway insisted that I take off my shoes and pay her some rupiahs. Warily, I peered inside to assess the situation. There were three squat toilets and a soaking wet floor. I didn’t mind the squat toilets, but I couldn’t understand the necessity to keep the floor wet. If the floor was wet, then I couldn’t tell what was urine and what was water and that seemed unfair. So I pressed my legs together, apologized to my crying-out crotch, and retreated back to the shade to wait for a more opportune moment.

The first time the line moved, we still had hope. The ticket booth opened its jaws and the jumbled mass of motorcycles sprung to life. Everyone inched their way forward like belligerent oxen trying to break free from the yoke. They banged their tires into bumpers and revved their engines with menace. Damián observed the chaos for a moment and then turned back to me, smiling slyly.

“Bottleneck,” he said.

I had taught him this expression in English during our first experience with traffic in Bali and since then, he had literally been applying it to every traffic situation we encountered.

If we stopped to allow a cow to cross the road, Damián would say, “Is this a bottleneck?” knowing full well it wasn’t.

If we saw a motorcyclist dart between two large trucks and nearly get squeezed, Damián would remark, “Could have been a bottleneck.”

If we skidded out on a tight corner, he would correct himself and mutter, “La concha de tu madre….at least it wasn’t a bottleneck.”

This conscious act of trying out new words in random contexts amuses us endlessly. I love him deeply for it. It is like we are eating our own vocabulary slowly, rolling it around in our mouths, chewing on its flavors, and soaking up the richness of its meaning.

I nodded appreciatively. It was a bottleneck indeed, and our first of many. For some inexplicable reason, the port security personnel had arranged the ferry line into a confusing labyrinth of barriers and quadrants. We always seemed to be in a place where the next logical step appeared to be boarding the ferry, but then the time would come to move and the security personnel would re-direct us to yet another waiting area that we hadn’t seen before.

Each time we moved forward, all the Indonesians would start their engines and race to the next waiting area. Once in their new positions, they would leave their motors running for a good fifteen minutes, in hopes that this new spot really was temporary. But after a bit, most of them would resign and turn their engines off again.

This absurd indifference to the exhaust fumes got under my skin far more than the wait itself. I cannot stand people who wait in long lines with their engines idling and I had plenty of time to prepare a long-winded speech on global warming.

But Damián had already heard my speech a million times and I was too chicken to stand up and deliver it to the masses. Instead, I turned my attention to another micro-aggression that cut to my core every time it was carried out. People were littering like it was national past time. Even when there was a trash can right next to them. I saw a man finish his to-go nasi goreng and chuck the plastic utensils into a ditch. I saw a woman give potato chips to her three children and then direct them to toss the bags on the ground. I tried murdering them with my eyes for a bit, but finally, I decided the best course of action was to pick up the trash myself while we waited.

So that is how I passed the time. I picked up cigarette butts, empty juice cartons, plastic bags, plastic straws, any physical manifestation of human apathy – and I shoved it into a trashcan. Nobody helped me, but I was keenly aware of the many eyes following my actions. I had no idea what they were thinking…if they even understood my sullenness, but I didn’t care.

“You always gotta be the hero,” Damián quipped from his perch by the motorcycle.

“This isn’t heroic,” I hissed in Spanish so no one could understand me. “This is common sense.”

Later, when we would finally get on the ferry, I would watch a man smoke a cigarette and then toss the butt in an elegant arc directly into the ocean, without a second glance. I almost screamed out loud.

Damián saw it too and put his hand on my shoulder to prevent me from getting up.

“Man fucking overboard,” I growled, ready to attack. I wanted so badly for that man to feel the weight of his actions, to drown in them. But how to convey the message was lost to me, as it is lost on so many of us.

In many ways, I will remember Indonesia as the beginning of my long and arduous realization that an environmental conscience is a learned behavior. It is not common sense, no matter how much it feels that way to me. And many parts of the world, particularly Asia, have a lot of learning to do in this respect. It was something that I would come face to face with over and over again on our trip and each time, it would leave me feeling more and more desperate.

But for now, it was only the beginning, and I tried not to let it bother me too deeply.

We arrived in Lombok by nightfall. The motorcycles were packed into the hull of the ship so tightly that we had to crawl over people and cars to get to ours. It was loud and disorganized but people seemed to accept it as the normal state of affairs. Only the few other tourists on board were disgruntled by the experience. Perhaps we were the only ones who knew that there was a different way of doing things, but nobody really wanted to complain, because at least we were on vacation.

We sped off into the night as we still had half the island to cross in order to get to our hostel. The differences between Lombok and Bali were immediately evident. While Bali is predominantly Hindu, Islam is the majority religion in Lombok. A tall, glittering mosque rose out of the night sky and the prayer call followed us down the road as we passed by veiled women, kufi-wearing men, and curious children. The buildings and houses were a little bit more primitive compared to the wealth on display in Bali and there were longer stretches of darkness and countryside.

The people, however, were equally friendly. A young group of kids called out directions to us from their own motorcycle when they noticed our confusion at a roundabout. When we came across a section of road construction, a man motioned for us to follow him and thanks to his guidance, we made it through a complicated detour. We finally arrived at our hostel in Batu Balong around 9PM, tired and hungry, but happy to have put the epic ferry ride behind us. Who knew it was such a long way to Lombok.

In fact, just remembering and writing about that ferry ride has left me feeling exhausted all over again. So I will stop our journey here for now until next time I pick up the pen.

To be continued…



We made the decision to leave a portion of our insulin supply at our homestay in Bali as a precautionary measure. We took only what we needed for one week and this made it easier to transport and keep cool. We were extremely happy to have our Medactiv insulin cooler. Even though we experienced extreme heat and unexpected delays with our ferry journey, our insulin was still cold when we arrived at our hotel in Lombok.

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