Dogs, everywhere. At least that is how it felt. Not necessarily in the whole of Indonesia, but in Sideman. However, that is a story for later.
So: Indonesia. The world’s largest country, speckled with islands both large and small, and resplendent with blue coral, green mountains and razor-red raw Australians. Given the vast size of Indonesia and our compressed timescales, we focussed our visit to three islands: Lombok, Gili Air and Bali.
One long tedious flight to Jakarta from London, immediately following by a shorter but equally tedious flight to Lombok later, we stayed one night in Lombok’s primary city, Mataram. It had the semblances of South-East Asia, with chirruping crickets competing against the steady hum of scooters in the darkness of sticky humid air. However, there was little of interest in Mataram, and we had a schedule to maintain, so one welcome night’s sleep later we darted to Senaru which served as our stopping off point for a hike up Mount Rinjani.
Senaru was lush. Our accommodation was surrounded by thickets of greenery, with the vast Mount Rinjani lying sombrely in the near distance. Senaru can be described as a small town at best, but the nearby walks – with the most renowned leading to a waterfall concealed by the surrounding forest – offered enough to make it worthwhile visit for a day. But most importantly, as rain occasionally lightly dripped from the sky, it was enough to just sit, watch and reflect:
The climb up Mount Rinjani was a tale of two halves; or to be more specific, a tale of 4/5 and then the rest. We opted for a two day and one night trek, which given the distance and elevation seemed reasonable and doable. Other than the beautiful scenery of varying hues and landscapes, the errant monkeys who stole a banana from Sarah’s hands were the most notable thing for the first 4/5. We arrived at camp in good spirits and form, before settling early as we had to rise in the depths of the night for the climb to the summit. That is when our problems started. The terrain was not the most forthcoming, as barren land that more resembled sand than soil slipped between our feet as we climbed. However, that alone was annoying but surmountable. The main challenge came from stage right as a sharp icy wind cut across our faces and hands, and through our thick layers of clothes.
But, we did it. Just about. It was tiresome and challenging, and we arrived at the summit with 30 minutes spare before sunrise (during which time we frantically searched for an alcove to protect us from the wind in a vain attempt at warming up). And, for all of our effort, the sunrise that greeted us was: unremarkable. In fact, it was memorable only for the fact that it was so unmemorable. Mount Rinjani is renowned for the gentle fog which often lingers over its peak. When we arrived at the summit though, the sky was clear; when the sun began to rose, it was not.
However, all was not lost. As we began to descend, the sky cleared once again, leaving a warm blue hue over the landscapes that lay before us. Suddenly, all was not lost. Look:
The three Gili islands in between Lombok and Bali and renowned for their azure waters and golden beaches. Gili T is the ‘party’ island and the few day trippers we saw from that island looked like they had not slept in a week and had been inebriated for a month. We avoided Gili T. Gili Meno is known for being largely ‘untouched’, with few restaurants and hotels (and thus people). We visited Gili Meno for an hour.
We therefore opted for the compromise option: Gili Air was serene and relaxing, but it was littered with interesting restaurants and bars to occupy the mind and time. It was a place more to visit rather than describe, but needless to say, it allowed us to warm up and recharge after Mount Rinjani. Our main activities involved cycling around the (small) island and snorkelling. Here are some pictures:
And then Bali. There are parts of Bali where it looks like God has unleashed his fury and the contents of the world’s detritus in one congealed bucket of Australians who have just finished High School. As tempting as that sounded, with time marching on we decided to stick to more pleasant environs.
Our first destination was Padangbai with its (not so) ‘hidden’ Bias Tugel Beach. The beach was nestled in between two small hills, and with the waves rolling apace with the swirls of an impressionistic painting, it was another place to stop, breathe and reflect:
The following day we went scuba diving in nearby Tulamben. It was ludicrous, reckless and utterly exhilarating. Tulamben is a wreck-dive of USS Liberty, a World War Two ship that was hit by a Japanese torpedo in 1942. As I had not dived for eleven years, and Sarah in ten, we opted for the ‘refresher’ course. This is where the ludicrous part came in: the ‘refresher’ lasted three minutes. Once our instructor saw that we were able to breathe under water, he seemed content. All aboard!
Tulamben was also interesting for the fact that the ship is only 20 metres from the coast, so you are required to walk into the sea from the beach, and then after a small plunge you are presented with a colossal rusting carcass. The ‘reckless’ part arose from the same source as the ‘exhilarating’ part. Due to our limited diving experience, we were meant to only circumnavigate the exterior of the ship: however, our instructor felt that we were assured enough to penetrate parts of the interior. So off we went.
The dive was beautiful, with interesting coral growing out of the destruction:
After Tulamben we went to Sideman, which is known for its countryside and walks. Our routes took us through carpets of paddy fields and small villages, and past small streams and ancient temples. All was well, until: the dogs. We were walking down a straight road towards one particular temple which we were told offered a panoramic view over Sideman.
We heard whimpers in the distance, which soon turned into cries, and then growls, and finally snarls. Roving bands of rabid dogs appeared before us, bearing their black and pink gums and chiselled teeth. As we walked, they followed, picking up more members for their entourage. We often had to stop walking and wait for a car to pass us on the road, before using this as a decoy for overcoming an impasse where the dogs were holding their ground in front of us with these plucky Brits as prey in their sight. It was deeply unnerving. Our only respite came in the form of a local villager who, seeing what was happening, brought his machete out and walked us to our destination, using his weapon as a threat against bludgeoning the beasts to a pulp. It worked!
As for the viewpoint: it was ok.
Following Sideman we travelled to Ubud. Ubud is like the Soho of Indonesia, with a strangely mainstream bohemian vibe and no shortage of restaurants. It was quite touristic but was still interesting enough, with our highlight being the surrounding walks with quaint cafes which would be every yoga practitioners dream setting.
We spent our last few days in Canggu and Sanur before our return flight home. The former is a fairly well developed beach town where you find an older crowd of Australians seeking the comforts of the more developed parts of Bali without the comportments of their younger comrades. It is also a good place to learn to surf: I managed to ride one wave, which I will take as a success.
Sanur was more upmarket, but with less to see or do. It was still beautiful.
And then, home.
Indonesia – at least the parts we saw – can be best described as ‘pleasant’ experience. There are a variety of activities available, ranging from hiking (Mount Rinjani and Sideman), snorkelling and scuba diving (the Gilli islands and Tulamben), surfing (Canggu) and doing nothing other than appreciating the beauty that the world can throw at you (everywhere). It lacks the exhilaration of other parts of South-East Asia and is fairly easy to travel in. But that makes it a perfect place for recharging, relaxing and revitalising. That is, other than where there are dogs.
Click HERE to view the full photo album.