Ferry from Padangbai (Bali) to Lembar (Lombok)
According to the official at the Ferry terminal there was a Ferry every 90 minutes and took up to 5hs to Lembar, in Lombok, one of the islands of Nusa Tenggara, Indonesia. First lesson in Lombok: things here are not always as they say. We arrived at the terminal at 9 o’clock am and stayed in the queue of bikes waiting to board for 2 ½ hours. When we arrived there was a Ferry there, which left behind a small queue. After a long time another Ferry came, lowered the door, raised the door, everyone in the queue got prepared, put helmets, turned the bikes on, but no one went aboard and the ship left again. Only 11:30am we could embark on a Ferry, with many other bikes, trucks and cars. Under the heat of midday, the Ferry still took almost another hour to move. 5 hours travelling… leaving at 12:30.. our hopes to arrive in Lombok and hit the road during daylight had already disappeared.
During all this waiting, a looooot of very insistent vendors trying to convince us to buy their products, from sunglasses to take away nasi campur (fried rice with pork and chicken). In a normal situation we might have got irritated with this, but there in that queue, where we had nothing else to do but wait, it was even fun.
The Ferry is huge, has several seats, and 5hs inside it were ok, although we could already feel the difference in behavior of the people from Lombok to those from Bali. The sense of security and tranquility we used to have in Bali had already begun to change in the queue to board, and for the first time since I left NZ I was concerned about the backpack on my back while I sat on the motorbike waiting. During the trip, not even for a minute, we left the backpacks on the seat without any of us watching them. It is difficult to explain this feeling of insecurity, and why it comes so suddenly, but coming from Brazil we know how these things are, we feel the threat in behavior, in the eyes of people. When we were arriving in Lombok a group of boys jumped inside the Ferry, began to roam all around talking loud and running through people, one of them stopped just behind me and it could have been a bit of Brazilian paranoia, but I thought it was better to lean on the wall and prevent him to open my backpack.
The toilet at the Ferry is also worth remembering… it was the squatting style one, with marks to put the feet, a little bucket of water to flush.. so far so good, nothing that I was not expecting … another lesson that I had learnt in Bali is always carry toilet paper.. I just was not prepared to the floor flooded and a tap dripping 30cm from my foot, causing the “water” from the floor to splash on my leg at every drop.. I was also not prepared to target the toilet with the boat shaking to one side and another.. But everything was all right in the end of the day… I should have taken a picture of that toilet..
Leaving the Ferry was a hell… Felipe and Pasqual had gone ahead to get the bikes while Ale and I left walking later. There was no exit for pedestrians and we had to go down and walk in the middle of the trucks, breathing diesel smoke in a closed and dark place… when we finally found Felipe and Pasqual on the bikes, they were impatient with the crowd around them… we climbed on the bikes and left without quite knowing which way to go until we found a peaceful place to stop and look at the map.
First impressions of Lombok
Lombok, as the vast majority of Indonesia, has the Islam as predominant religion and we arrived there during the last week of Ramadam, the holy Muslim month of purification. I got in the Ferry wearing a sleeveless summer top and skirt and got out wearing pants and a scarf around my shoulder.. which I just felt comfortable enough to take off after arriving at the hotel. We saw many women wearing veils on the head and none, absolutely none, Muslim or not, was showing the shoulders. Second lesson in Lombok: the vibe here is much more tense.
Our destination was Kuta, a beach in the south of Lombok that, in addition to the famous Desert Point, is the region where the best waves of the island are and also has a certain structure for tourists (hotels, restaurants, etc.).. All we had was the Lonely Planet map and a few tips that Luis had given us. It is very easy to get lost here, the roads are confusing and there are hardly any road signs. We stopped several times to ask, everyone was always very helpful, but did not speak English… then we asked in Indonesian how to go to Kuta, or to the next city that was on the map, and tried to interpret the gestures of the answer, indicating the direction. On the first stops I’d already learned the third lesson of Lombok: women do not speak to men. The few times I took the initiative to ask a man something, or he completely ignored me or gave me an angry look… ok.. we are no longer in Bali, from now on no more smiles or conversations to anyone, let the boys speak first… unless the initiative to talk to me comes from the other person.
From Lembar to Kuta we took about 2 hours on the road. It could have taken half the time if we had not got lost at night in the middle of nowhere and without anyone to ask for information.. and especially if the roads were not so bumpy.. A stretch that has no road, only holes.. It seems that they are building a parallel road that is supposed to be a good one, but we have seen no sign of works and there are even some houses in the middle of the way where the road should be..
Meanwhile we had to ride through the huge holes.. My butt and my back have never suffered so much!
We saw a motorbike accident on the road.. Around here nobody uses helmets (which is compulsory in Bali), we haven’t seen traffic police anywhere, we saw entire families on one bike, father, mother and two children, and adolescents love to speed while riding the bikes.. Fourth lesson in Lombok: is not so much fun riding a bike over here. We wanted to visit other parts of the island, go to the Gilis, but because of the situation of the roads, we preferred to stay only at the southern part.
We went through several villages on the way, all very poor.. Lombok seems to be abandoned by the government of Indonesia… houses made of wood and bamboo with straw roof, a lot of garbage all around, children playing on the garbage..
The lost hotel
When at last we arrive in Kuta it was about 8pm and for the first time on the journey we had booked our stay.. From Bali we rang two hotels that Luis knew, and both of them were full.. Then we called another one that was in the guide, and we finally managed to book two rooms at a fair price.. The place was called “Melon Homestay” and the details of the guide to get there were not very accurate.. We wandered around Kuta (which is not very big) and did not find it, we were super tired.. then we stopped at a restaurant to ask… Opan, the boy who works at that restaurant, is the one that saved us this night. He led us up the Melon Homestay personally, arriving there the guy, who barely spoke English, came and Opan was helping us to translate what meant that there was no room for us. They had booked us two rooms which they thought that the guys in these rooms were going to leave on that day, but they didn’t leave.. So there was no vacancy, it was full. Pasqual wanted argue and discuss about this, I was so tired that I just wanted to find another place to drop our bags, eat something and sleep. Recalling the first lesson: things here are not always as they say, especially with Melon Homestay. Then Opan led us to another hotel that had a few rooms available, but we thought they asked a too high price for the rooms they were offering and that none of us liked.. Then Opan said “okay, I will lead you to a place that you will like the room and the price“.. and he was right, finally we found “Segare Anak“, a hotel in front of the beach with simple rooms (cold shower), a restaurant in front and a swimming pool at the backyard for 80,000 Rupees (approx. US$ 4.00 each) per day, including breakfast… and people working there were all very nice people.. who needs more than this? We spent our 5 days in Lombok hosted there.
Children of Lombok
The differences between Bali and Lombok continued on the next day, when we were walking on the beach. The sea is turquoise blue and when sun shines you can see the different colors because of the coral reef on the bottom. The beach is extensive, with a large stripe of sand and there is noone having fun.. be it on the sand or in the water. Many children were trying to sell handmade bracelets. The first of them was Sophie, a beautiful girl who came alone and started conversation.. And only after a while chatting she showed us the bracelets she wanted to sell. Following her two boys arrived and picked on us for several days in several different places. And finally seven other girls arrived, Marcia, Mariana, Luisa … all with names similar to those we have in Brazil. Everyone had the same speech: they were selling stuff to pay the school… some of them even said that it was because schools in Australia are expensive (we found out later that in Indonesia is very common throughout this “dream” to go to Australia in search of a better life). I believe some of these children were really going to school, as Sophie, who had an above average English, but others hardly knew words other than the pre-made speech and ended up commenting about their “boss”, where probably the bracelets money was going. We ended up buying two bracelets from Sophie (one for me and one for Ale) and we kept chatting with the others.
The sun was already rising, the heat was increasing, and those girls, around 6 to 13 years old, covered with clothes, wearing veils and carrying sarongs on the head. We asked if they liked the beach, if they knew how to swim.. the response was unanimous: “no, because the skin gets darker.. we like white skin, white skin is beautiful, not dark skin“… so I said I think that dark skin is beautiful and asked if they wanted to swap with me.. and they laughed. While in the Brazilian market we have tanning moisturisers, here in Indonesia the same brands have whitening action.. It was hard to find a cream that was not to whiten the skin.
5 days touring and learning
During the 5 days Felipe and Pasqual surfed a lot (what Fe can tell on details later), Ale and I did not spend much time on the beaches, although we have seen a few European tourists in a bikini on the sand, we did not feel at ease to do the same and do not think that would be correct.
So we enjoyed the pool on the hotel and rode the bike through bumpy roads to see other beaches in the region, one more beautiful then another.
We met Tuna, a very nice guy who owns a shop in front of the hotel. A house made of bamboo structureand straw roof, which is built on the sand of the beach and is probably where he lives with his wife Natasha and his 3 years old baby. He told us with great pride that he was Sasak and assiduous follower of Islam, spoke of the Ramadam, about how a good Muslim should always help other people (and it reminded me of Opan, the boy who helped us to find the hotel, and did not ask anything in return, he also commented about being Muslim and being happy to be able to help us), he spoke about the 5 prayers that they do every day, one at 4:30 in the morning, and about the huge party that was going to happen in 3 days when the Ramadam ends. He told us he had “stolen” his wife from her parents’ house, so they were able to get married, and that this was a Sasak tradition, the guy gets his wife-to-be and takes her home and after that her parents have no other option than allow the marriage, since she had already spent a night there. And surprised me when I met Natasha, a happy woman who wore no veil on her head.
During the dry season the south of Lombok is a desert region. We saw several dry rice fields and many plantations of tobacco, with people carrying the huge sheets of smoke on the head under the burning sun. On the first night that it rained we were in the hotel restaurant and saw the employees surprised with the early rain and thanking the gods for this. On the second night of heavy, tropical rain I got worried about all those people living under a roof of straw and surrounded by garbage.
Returning to Bali
We left Lombok on the last day of the Ramadam, on the next day would happen a party that would last for the next 3 days. On the way to the Ferry Terminal, we passed through an uproar in the middle of the street that seemed to be a fair. For several blocks people were selling everything on sidewalks, other people were passing through the street to buy stuff and cars, motorbikes, trucks and decorated horses with chariots could barely move… the rare police offiicers there could not organize the traffic, everyone and trying to shove on the first little space that appeared. With the bikes overloaded with bags and surfboards, we had to do the same.
About 50 meters from the Ferry Terminal, two police officers on uniforms with “stop” signs on hand and made us stop on the middle of the road, they were selling tickets for the Ferry. I founf it odd that they said it cost 7,000 Rupees, while when we came we paid 92,000.. I did not understand very well what was happening, they would not let us pass without buying it, I was suspicious but I saw that they also stopped a van with an Indonesian driver, that came right behind us. I gave 10,000 to the guy, so he got the money and told us that we could go. Felipe said, “but where ‘s the ticket? You did not gave me the ticket“, the police officer got two tickets and gave him then I said “and where ‘s my change? you said it was 7, I gave you 10“.. by then I had already noticed that it was all false, they were not police officers or anything and they had just robbed us. After some discussion he returned me 3,000 Rupees, we kept going to stop 50 meters further where the officer charged us the same 92,000 Rupees for the bike and two people, and gave us the real ticket.
The Ferry to return was much worse than the first one. There were very few places inside and there was no covered seat outside.. We found a corner of shade on the top of the ship with plastic seats where we spent the entire trip, it was impossible to stay anywhere in the boat because of the unbearable stench of sour mixed with hoop.. that even being outside on the top part and with the wind on our faces, the smell still remained.
When we arrived back in Padangbai, there was another vessel berthed at the terminal and the Ferry stopped by more than 1 hour waiting to be able to stop there. We waited to leave after everyone else, so we wouldn’t have to go through the same situation with the trucks and diesel down there, we were the last to leave and as soon as Felipe accelerated the bike he could not control it, the rear tire was completely seared. We had to walk out with the bags, pushing the bike up a workshop in Padangbai.
It’s good to be back to Bali, the beachs may not be as beautiful as in Lombok, but the careful architecture of the houses, the smiles and calm look on the faces around us, and especially the smell of sandalwood which is placed in the offerings, make me feel happy.