Recap of Week 5 in Indonesia: The Backpacking Portion of our Trip Commences. “Bemo me up Scottie”

This last week was completely different than any other since we arrived in Indonesia as we left the comfort our Kenawa Earthship, donned our backpacks, and began to explore more of these 17,000 islands…. 

Lacy: Monday morning Rob and I packed our belongings back up into our large backpacks, cooked one last meal on the front porch and said goodbye to our home for the last month. It felt a little strange to take the boat away from Kenawa that last time, but we were both very happy and satisfied with the month we spent on the island and ready to begin to explore more of the country.  Suji, as always, was a great help and assisted us in getting our ferry tickets to Lombok and boarding the large vessel for the 2 1/2 hour ride to the next island. We were both really tired since we hadn’t slept well the night before; it became very humid and sticky in the middle of the night and kept us up.  Since we have no timeframe that we need to worry about, we decided that we would make a decision when the ferry got to Lombok about whether we would stay in a hotel by the harbor or take the 2 hour bus ride across the island to a bigger city where we would try to score a large motorcycle.  As we docked, I made the call to stay in East Lombok.  I had been having very bad headaches for a few days already (which is highly unusual for me) and just wanted to get somewhere and rest.  Nicola & Patricia, who camped on the island with us the week before, sent us a message that they stayed at a dive hotel 15 minutes from the harbor and we decided to head there as well.  Getting off the ferry we were ambushed by people asking us where we want to go.  I had prepared some new Indonesian words and phrases for just such an encounter, but what I didn’t plan on was them being so aggressive and ready to just get us on the back of a bike that they wouldn’t even pay attention to where we said we were going.  This situation could have gone better. I showed them on the map where we wanted to go and agreed on a price at which point they pointed for me to get on the back of one motorcycle and Rob another.  Rob, with his huge backpack on, got on the back of a bike with what looked like a 9 year old driving it in a skull and crossbones bandana.  I was right behind him with what turned out to be a crazy and aggressive driver.  I was following Rob for about ten minutes before I couldn’t see him anymore.  I didn’t like that at all.  We were separated and to make matters worse my guy pulled over on the side of the road and started complaining that the hotel was so far away and he wanted more money.  I could feel my blood starting to boil and and kept saying in Indonesian that he saw the hotel on a map, agreed to a price and WHERE IS MY HUSBAND?!  After a few minutes we continued driving, having gotten no resolution because he didn’t speak any English and apparently my  Indonesian wasn’t getting through to him; there are hundreds of dialects in Indonesia and while Bahasa Indonesian is the official language taught in schools to unify the country it does not guarantee that everyone does speak it.  East Lombok is a smaller, more traditional area and I later learned they primarily speak their own dialect where we stayed so I think my Bahasa may have been lost on him. Thank heavens we saw Rob and his driver on the side of the road.  Instant relief.  We all continued riding when 4.5km from the hotel they stopped AGAIN.  This time at a gas station trying to get more money out of us.  I do not take well to these kinds of games and wasn’t budging on the price.  Rob, however, was hot and tired and I had to think of him too so I started negotiating, eventually offering $60,000 Rp. (Keep in mind all this is so cheap and it wasn’t the cost of the bike that I was mad about, but the fact that they separated  us and then stopped 5 min before the hotel to demand more money- it was the principle of the matter!) When the leader of what came to be known as “the motorcycle shakedown” still wanted $150,000 Rp for what started off as a $20,000 Rp ride Rob & I agreed that we need to turn around and walk away.  They were absolutely taking advantage of us and while we were willing to pay a little more just be done with this BS we weren’t going to give into him entirely.  So we walked away, and naturally, they came up behind us and said they would take the $60,000 since we had said $60,000 or nothing at all for this nonsense. ($60k Rp is about $4 so this definitely was not about the money…well for us at least).  I wanted to push my driver off the bike into traffic at that point. A few minutes later we turned down a side street, saw the sea in front of us, and pulled up to the East Lombok Dive Hotel. I could not have been happier to see those guys ride off.

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Rob on the porch of the hotel

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View from Rob’s seat

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Same view with kids playing on beach

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Walking down the black sands…

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We didn’t realize before arriving that the hotel was only 2 rooms so we really lucked out that one was available.  Jeremie, French, and his wife, Maya, Indonesian, own the hotel that sits on a black sand beach tucked away in a tiny village with amazing views of the sea and islands to the west. This was the perfect place for us to stop and relax for an evening.  Rob and I took a walk into the small, very traditional village and said hello to all the kids while seeking food.  It was nearly 4 and Rob was starving since we hadn’t eaten since breakfast.  My headache wasn’t going to let me eat just yet. Thankfully a Bakso cart saved the day.  After a fabulous .50 cent meal and a satisfied smile on Rob’s face we walked back to the hotel.  Jeremie & Maya have a 5 month old with whom I played and got in a little “baby time.”  Their 2 year old daughter is precious and very cute playing on the beach with all the other kids.  It’s refreshing to see young children playing on the beach freely without parents hovering over, naked and rolling in the sand.  This is just life for them.  For sunset, we held hands and walked along the beach.  We were completely in awe when we unexpectedly saw the moon rise – big, red and reflecting in the water creating quite a scene.  We spent a bit of time that evening relaxing on the porch talking with Jeremie and Jess.  Jess is staying in the other room for 2 weeks and getting her advance dive certification.  Earlier in the day, Jeremie mentioned that they planned to dive the next day and asked if we wanted to dive as well.  I have never been diving.  Rob has many times in his life, but felt he could use a refresher.  And just like that, with the beautiful view and lure of spending time in the water, we decided to dive the next day and stay another night.

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The next morning we woke up refreshed having enjoyed our first night’s sleep with a fan in a month (true, we did have the 2 nights of AC at Whales & Waves)! It was divine! After a light breakfast at 7 we completed a dive skills training on the beach.  I felt comfortable with the tank, gear, and breathing under water and was excited for the actual dive.  3 motorcycles with riders arrived at 10 to take us, the dive bags full of gear and 3 scuba tanks to the harbor where we would take a boat out to dive by Gili Kondo.  Gili means tiny island and there are many “Gilis”  throughout the country, some more popular with tourists than others.  Not surprising, yet another gorgeous island.  One of the bikes was loaded with 3 scuba tanks in the footwell of the scooter.  Only in Indonesia!  The drivers of these bikes were very cautious and a joy to ride with for the beautiful 20 minute trek to the harbor.  Setting out on the boat and putting my wetsuit on again I was excited to finally see bigger fish and more of the underwater landscape than I had been able to while snorkeling.  As we began our dive Jeremie was with me the entire time and I was surprised how much my ears hurt.  I eventually cleared them and was able to keep diving lower, but almost immediately, panic and fear started to settle in for me.  I was ready to end the dive 5 minutes after it began, but this wasn’t just my dive.  Rob was excited for it too.  And Jess was diving as part of her certification so I tried to steady my breath and keep going.  The deeper we went the more “out of control” I kept feeling.  Being a first time diver I wasn’t able to regulate my buoyancy well with my breathing and felt I was either getting too close to the coral or floating back up.  At one point I did start to float up and became very very panicked.  Again, I steadied my breath and kept going forward, but I was petrified by this sense of being out of control under the water.  I couldn’t enjoy anything and kept hoping it would end soon.  At one point I began to cry in my mask.  As if knowing, Jeremie came and grabbed me and held on to me the rest of the dive.  I was so relieved to be with him, the expert.  I was holding in so many emotions the entire 45 minutes we were diving that when we broke the surface and Jeremie asked everyone how it was I said I was petrified the entire time and began to cry.  Everyone was shocked.  They couldn’t tell I was panicked at all and couldn’t believe I was reacting like that.  What I didn’t realize until the next day was that being under the water like that triggered the fear I felt when I was swept down the river in the Sierras last year when we were hiking the PCT.  Tumbling down the raging river and trying to survive I had no control over what was going in the water and nearly died.  That’s why I was so panicked.  I haven’t been afraid of water since then, but being submerged like that diving brought that traumatic moment back for me and unfortunately, I did not get to enjoy the dive as I expected.  Once I got the cry out, though, the day continued to be a great one.  45 minutes of panic isn’t going to ruin my day! After we all climbed back in the boat we went to an area where there is a mangrove forest growing out of the water.  Naturally there was a shaded platform (as there always is in this sunny country) connected to a jetty and there we ate a delicious meal that Maya packed for us all.  Following lunch, Jeremie and Jess went on another dive and Rob and I passed up snorkeling to take a nap on the boat instead.  We enjoyed another lovely evening on the porch of the hotel.  Before the sun went down and the evening call to prayer took the boys from the beach to the mosque, we watched them play football.

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Eventually the sun set and red moon rose beautifully again before us as we chatted and played cards on the porch with Jess.  Maya served us an excellent dinner and we went to bed saying what a really great day we had.  We planned to travel to the other side of the island the following morning, but with no pressure to be anywhere at any certain time, and just living life day by day, we again decided over coffee to stay another night.  What’s the rush when you have this gorgeous view and wonderful hospitality?!  We easily passed the day along watching some of the younger boys play on the beach, walking along the shore at high tide,  packing our bags for the journey the next day (yep, the one we kept saying would be “the next day”) as well as a box of things to ship back home so we can minimize our gear for a motorcycle.  Jeremie let us borrow his motorcycle to go into town to the post office but we missed it by five minutes! No great loss though because we managed to see both a funeral procession and wedding procession in the streets while out.  For the funeral, they carry the covered body through the streets on a platform held by several men.  The wedding procession had loud music, officers directing traffic and a beautifully decorated bride on display as the festivities slowly moved down the street. When we stopped to take money from an ATM, for the first time since we arrived, we were pretty surprised to see armed guards with machine guns patrolling the bank.  We hadn’t seen that level of security prior, but we felt safe taking money ;).  For dinner, we walked through the village and a mile down the main road to the warung where Maya had gotten us lunch from the day before.  We nearly gave up the search as we walked and looked for it, but were so glad we didn’t because we had such a great experience there.  Warungs we have been to before were always smaller, just carts on the side of the road with a table and some benches; however, this one was in a building and had 2 rooms and Beyonce playing.  She’s clearly universal! We ordered several skewers of chicken hearts (which I tried but didn’t love so Rob at them all) with a very tasty, fresh & spicy chicken fried rice that was easily the best we have had here.  The local kids waved at us as we ate and we watched the local scene of people stopping by to pick up dinner, have a coffee and a kid pull up on a motorcycle to borrow a scythe. Upon finishing our meal we ordered 2 additional to go (we love how they wrap to go food – rice, vegetables, meat and hot sauce – all in a triangle shape in either a piece of thick brown paper or banana leaf) and walked back home before dark.  We did indeed leave the next morning, thanking Jeremie for their wonderful hospitality and letting him know we plan to return on our bike trip through Lombok.  We quickly caught a bemo, a local mode of transportation: microbus with about 15 seats that zips through the streets, to take us on the 2 1/2 journey across Lombok. It was a beautiful ride and we completely lucked out that the bemo wasn’t crowded. In fact, it was near empty most of the time – a few chickens and 5 pound bags of rice included.

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Walking through the village to the bemo with our package to mail

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Bemo!

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Bemo #2

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The dirt and exhaust from the walk to dinner day before & multiple recent motorcycle rides made my throat hurt a bit so I rode with a little protection in the bemo since the door was open the entire time

Rob: Senggigi Beach on Lombok Island is less of a tourist town than many places in this region that are not named Bali, but to Lacy and I, it is still the most touristic area we have been since we arrived over 5 weeks ago. We came here to try to locate a larger motorcycle for the 2 of us plus our 2 backpacks. We spent the afternoon roaming the tourist spots for bikes. There were a lot available and 10x more here than in any other place on Lombok. The catch was that they were all small 110-125cc automatic scooters designed for day trips. 200-250cc with saddlebags or racks is what we really need. * 250cc bikes are the largest allowed here.

We resigned to have a beer and some lunch. We picked a small restaurant and bar. Lacy’s pizza with real mozzarella was her reward for the trek to get here. During lunch we decided to just stay for a few days and then make our way to Bali where we know we can rent a larger bike for island hopping. The restaurant was in the process of a soft opening of their own little hotel. Since we were one of their very first guests, Lacy negotiated a 900k IDR rate ($21 per night) for a 3 night stay in a brand new room with a comfy bed, real sheets, duvet, cable TV and AC. Happy hour started later and Large Bintang Beers were on special. Yeah, we could hang here for a few days.

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That’s a happy man watching the news ….with the call to prayer in the background.  This is the first bed that we have had in 5 weeks with an actual blanket and not just a top sheet.  I was happily snuggled for 3 nights.

We took our Senggigi stay pretty easy enjoying walks, drinks, cheap massages and lots of great local food from the Warungs.

Tourism is good and not-so-much for certain areas. It raises the standard of living for the locals, keeps the beaches clean and provides access to the great natural sights for many people, but the competition for the tourist Dollars, Euros, Yen and Rupiahs can create an unpleasant experience for everyone too. You can’t simply ignore all the pleas to buy this or that. The hawking of the vendors for boat rides and the like was incessant.

Our second day was spent mostly at the beach in a little bar area of a very nice resort. It was a beautiful day and a beautiful view on the beach to the little boat harbor with the expensive resort villas just behind us. Jose Cuervo Margaritas were a very nice way to enjoy the beach and the day. There is a 23 country joint Naval exercise going on here in Indonesia at the moment and the resort was gearing up for a big VIP celebration that evening. It was fun to see Navy people from several countries all beginning to arrive through the day. We were very tempted to have a sit down dinner in the resort’s restaurant. Lamb or a steak would have been about 1/2 the price of an equal menu back in Dallas. Instead, we walked down the beach to a local place cooking right out on the sand under several tarps. There were 30-40 beach mats spread out across the sand to form their dining room. Most places here like this really just have one specialty that they make. Sate Bulayak is a version of a chicken and beef grilled satay served with the spicy peanut sauce we both love so much. It also comes with rice that is cooked in palm leaves. Sitting on the beach with my beautiful Istri, while we both have mouthfuls of amazing food and spicy salty tears in our eyes was a pretty great way to round out the afternoon. Our late afternoon lunch was 30k IDR or $2.25 each. It made our $6.30 Margaritas seem outrageously expensive. Ahhh. But, what a great mix though.

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Sate Bulayak on the beach

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Our next day was about exploring a little more. We took a long hot walk to check out a different Sate Bulayak place that sat on the edge of a cliff with the beach and waves crashing below. We also discovered a spicy grilled local corn on the cob. They cooked it right on top of smoldering palm “hair” from the exterior of a coconut. It was slathered in salty, spicy buttery goodness that ran down your chin and arm while you tried to munch every kernel. Wow. I could eat that 3 times a day. One of the nicer massage places was right next to our hotel. We stopped in so I could get a 1 hour massage (my second). Lacy wanted hers for 2 hours. 210k IDR total. $17. Senggigi has been a movable feast for us so shortly we were hungry again. This time we sought out another specialty Warung that served Ayam Taliwang. Taliwang is a city we had visited back on Sumbawa but we didn’t know exactly what the dish would be other than Ayam (chicken), probably grilled. Previously, I have written about the difference between farmed chicken and “village” chicken. When our plates arrived, we learned that Ayam Taliwang was definitely the village version. One whole tiny chicken each. The only thing not grilled and on the plate were the beak and claws.

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Sate Bulayak and accompanying rice wrapped in leaf

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This was our view as we sat on the side of the road eating Sate Bulayak and corn

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Ayam Taliwang – head and all.  This did not turn out to be one of our better meals, but you have to try something new to find the ones you love

Late night snacks here became a quick tradition for us. A few Warungs stay open late to accommodate the tourists and locals out at midnight. All 3 nights we were in Senggigi I made a run to one in particular. It was run by a local Father/Daughter team who made some of the best fried noodles, Mei Goreng, we have had during our time in Indonesia. They were just yummier, kind of like a Whatburger or In-N-Out at midnight versus any other cheeseburger in the daytime.

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The daughter got a good laugh over Rob coming back 3 nights in a row

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Scene of the crime 😉

One other nice routine for me was that Happy Hour in the bar coincided with the opening of the stock market, NY time, since we have a 12 hour time difference. Every evening, I took a little bit of time to myself to have a fresh cold Bintang while flipping back and forth between screens on my phone to read early news, earnings and quotes. I even sent a quick selfie to Papa Romero knowing he would be turning on CNBC at about the same time half a world away. On days when I have enough connectivity and data to “watch” the market open, Lacy usually leaves me be for about 30 minutes or so and then peeks at my phone to see if it has more green numbers than red.

The last morning and last meal before we headed out for our boat to Bali was a simple one. Our hotel has opened a little bakery. Fresh croissants with real butter (first butter eaten since arriving!) and coffee. I didn’t really start writing with the intent of making this such a foodie post, but it’s just so interesting to eat the local cuisine here. I feel for the people who do nothing but eat a far away version of Pub food wherever they go and who haven’t learned to become Travelers vs Tourists.

Lacy: I am finishing up our post on Monday afternoon in Bali over yet more Mie Goreng at a local warung.  Our travels here yesterday were great on a fast boat that had a bit of a party vibe.  Not surprisingly, we enjoyed some more local cuisine for dinner – which varies greatly here from the other islands and most importantly picked up our  motorcycle today!  We have wheels for next 3 weeks and have a minimum of 4 large islands planned with a couple small ones along the way, naturally.  Stay tuned!

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New wheels with saddlebags and a trunk!

A few shots from beautiful our boat ride to Bali...

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Deck of the boat that was a bit of a party scene with music blaring and drinks flowing. I didn’t drink until a group of young kids offered me a slug off their bottle of Johnny Walker Black…why not have one little drink 😉 That’s our luggage wrapped under the green tarps and Bali in the background to the right.

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Gili Air, 1 of 3 stops on boat before ours

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Lombok in the background

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Gili Air

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Gili T, also known as the “party island”

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Rob rode in the AC and enjoyed a beer or 2 on the boat while I rode on the deck and enjoyed the wide open view

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Bali approaching in the distance

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