Rob: Nusa Penida or Penida Island, is the third island SE of Bali in Indonesia. This and the neighboring islands of Lembongan and Ceningan are the most similar to Bali in culture as compared to the rest of the 17,000 Indonesian Isles. This means that the architecture, dress and food follow along with the predominantly Balinese traditions and religion vs the majority Muslim population in most other areas here. It’s not that I prefer one to another. Just the opposite actually as Lacy and I both take the time to appreciate any culture we immerse ourselves within. I do want to be sure that people who read this don’t automatically assume Indonesia is just one or the other. There are as many cultural twists in the road here as there are, well… twists in the roads. Around any corner you could find something familiar or never seen previously. I can say that we have enjoyed 10-12 cultural regions and that’s only because we are rookies and can only discern certain changes.
Was this Bali 30 years ago like some say? Probably not. It’s more raw and will transition to a beach, scuba and entertainment place more so than a beautiful and spiritual epicenter of Balinese culture like the town of Ubud on Bali.
But, Nusa Penida is also becoming more popular as a tourist destination very quickly. You can see the telltales and hear what the locals will also divulge. The roads near the 2 port areas are well paved but just not quite wide enough for 2 small cars to pass. One small car and a motorbike are really the limit anywhere on the island. The roads in the north are extremely rough and basically widened paths shaped by new traffic. There are no big name resorts or restaurants here yet but they can’t be far behind. Lembongan island is already full of them Ports barely have jetties as you still board boats directly from the sandy beach, sandals in hand. 90% of the cars here are brand new micro vans brought in to ferry the new tourist class around to the sights and back out to their Day Trip Boats. Construction is popping up along the coast. Thankfully they can only build so much so fast so please visit before there is a pier for larger boats.
When you come, stay in the more local areas and patronize the families who have built little guest cottages that are far nicer than the homes they, themselves, live in. Find Warungs or places to eat and have a beer where you are in a family owned place and you will be rewarded with the biggest smiles, best food and lowest prices. Wing it once you are here. Rent a small motorbike or scooter and go exploring off the beaten path. Lacy found a local snorkel tour boat for 1/4 the cost of others that took the time to make sure we swam in 4 distinctly different experiences and then fed us a great lunch afterwards. The beach in front of our little guesthouse still has more local kids playing in the surf naked than tourists and I’d rather listen to kids laughing, our friendly neighborhood Rooster and his harem and the surf than car horns, wranglers and people jousting with selfie sticks.
My basic and Lacy’s more advanced Bahasa language skills also help us immensely, save us money at every turn and aid in connecting with people here who may know some English phrases but are too shy to really engage with you until they realize you both know more than just pleasantries in the others native tongue.
Once you are off the main roads in most developing countries and especially here, you will come to a crossroads inside your heart and soul. The line between a newly developing area and abject poverty is sometimes just 20 meters apart. Trash piles become playgrounds for children while some comb through looking for anything of use, value, recyclable or food discarded unfit for a tourist but acceptable to others. Two days ago when we came out a “locals” entrance / exit from a Temple versus the tourist exit, we noticed a group of small local children playing with balls made from plastic bags made somewhat spherical with recovered packing tape. Today we searched the markets nearby for a proper soccer / European football. We finally found one that wasn’t too expensive, that they might sell for $, but good enough to last and be the ball they kept and played with daily. We went back to the rear of the Temple area and were lucky to find the boy I recognized as well as his Mother. After a tiny bit of prompting Yoga accepted his real leather, bright orange ball with a big smile. His Mother, Sari, asked if we were doing any shopping especially for sarongs. Actually that was the next to-do in our thoughts for the day. Her Mother-in-Law retrieved several very fine examples of hand loomed sarongs made on the island. They are all so beautiful it was hard to pick just 2. They are the best quality available and the patterns are recognizable as those made here. The edges remained unfinished to prove they were genuinely hand made quality versus something more like a machine made fabric. After a small negotiation, everyone was all smiles and we know we had made the right choice buying them from this little family. When we return someday, I hope we can find them all again.