Lombok, Indonesia at its best, not enough time

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In retrospect I stayed on Gili Air too long, I wish I had spent more time on Lombok and Indonesia as a whole.  As with Bali, the capital of Lombok, Mataram, isn’t my cup of tea.  The best places on Lombok are those far from the large towns, that’s where you get the real island experience.  My short visit, self-inflicted because I had not explored how easy it would be to change my flights with Star Alliance…you live, you learn!

Lombok is smaller than Bali, not by much but getting around can be a bit of a challenge, though it is reasonably possible; as Lombok it’s as developed in large parts the road system is either good or dirt roads which get “altered” during heavy rain, which can be frequent.  You may have seen the photos from my post on Gili Air, Lombok is a stone’s throw so getting there is easy as pie.  I thought I’d find a place not to far from the ferry port to do some initial exploring and take it from them, bad move, or rather bad choice.  I stayed at Green Asri (in the Senggigi area), booked for 2 nights, left after 1.  Not to be too harsh about the place, the room was nice, clean etc. it was the location that didn’t fit with me; nowhere near any nice beaches that are not overlooked by hotels, there are no restaurants within easy reach unless you have a scooter.  Having just come from Gili Air, here I had an arterial road at the entrance of Asri Green, the only ok view was the gardens of the accommodation.  No, I had to find a better “Lombok” and find it fast!!

Ps. If you do head to Lombok from any of the Gili Islands you will arrive at Bangsal ferry port (though there is another about 5km South, mainly for chartered boats), get ready for some stern taxi negotiations!  The individual’s who’ll first approach you are like agents, they get a cut of the price (the initial prices are ridiculous), so it costs more; they are obviously willing to negotiate so you end up getting a price (compared to the original) that seems you got yourself a deal!  To avoid them just go straight to the taxi drives, still you’ll need to negotiate.  Never pay upfront, only pay upon arriving at your destination, always be firm about this.

Lombok

View from Bukit Merese – Lombok

Kuta Lombok

Ah, much better, not perfect, but worlds apart from Green Asri and surroundings!  Kuta Lombok is being developed along with the road infrastructure, I doubt it’ll be long until the current vibe is diluted, I hope not totally.  A promenade along the main beach was being build and a very large hotel complex about 2km away too.  I found it strange to be riding (hired a scooter as soon as I arrive) on perfectly tarred roads, with hardly any cars at all, just a few scooters mostly being ridden by tourists.  Let’s just say traffic laws are relaxed here, not having caught up with the standards of these new roads; going around traffic circles/roundabouts in the wrong direction or going down the wrong side of the road is ok…for now.

You know your surroundings have changed when most of the scooters have adaptors attached to carry surfboards, with Kuta Town offering a stereotypical surfer village vibe.  The main beach by Kuta Town, is not nice at all, I’d go so far as saying I didn’t see any visitors swimming there; it’s mostly used by the local fishermen to beach their boats.  The sea is dirtier and all in all it’s just not the nicest of beaches, but still to look at.  I don’t know anyone who goes to Kuta Town to swim, surf or do anything on “that” beach…because there are hundreds of amazing beaches along the coast – too many to see and experience if you went to a new one every day…for months!

I stayed at Family Beach Hotel, with a clear view of Kuta beach 50m away, an easy 10-minute walk to Kuta Town; a mixture of authentic bamboo and corrugated iron restaurants along with more “new authentic” restaurants and some more posh’ish restaurants too (not McDonald’s or anything of the sort…woohoo!).  I doubt you won’t find something to match your fancy and wallet.  Though I was there for two nights I was only in the area for one full day, owing to my late arrival on the first because of my delayed and hasty departure from Green Asri.

So my time in Indonesia, especially Lombok, was cut short, this a anxious feeling had been with me the 10 days as I knew my time was coming to an end; had I known how easy it would be to change my round the world ticket with Star Alliance I would have done so, a few times (I learnt that much later when I was in New Zealand).  The impending end seemed to derail me and how I would normally move about, like a rabbit caught in the headlights I froze; instead of keeping moving (which helps keep me motivated) I became stagnant which just added to the queasy feeling in my stomach.  On occasions when I did move it was done so with the wrong reasoning, I would have loved to have stayed at some places much longer, as was the case here in Kuta or at least some of the surrounding areas.  My anxious state of mind made me think I shouldn’t stay in one place for too many days either and move around as much as possible in the last week with my time in Indonesia coming to an end – there were pros and cons to this, but realistically I didn’t do Lombok justice at all.  If I had to do it again, I would have spent more time exploring Bali and Lombok with less time on Gili Air.  Resultant to my actions I had a few interesting moments but could have had a lot more fun and discovery without the monkey on my back.  Having read that back to myself I think I duplicated myself (I don’t proof read what I write too often, maybe I should…writing this with a glass of red wine sitting in a garden in Milan 😊)

Lombok

On Bukit Merese, it extends some distance so even if there are many people you can definitely find a quiet place – Lombok

Can’t change the past, at the time I thought I couldn’t change the present, with no use in crying over my lack of time, I decided to see as much as possible during my two days left on Lombok Island (a massive injustice to Lombok).  A scooter in my opinion is essential here, some of the beaches are a few kilometres way and they are worth going to see.  First on the list was Bukit Merese; a well-known tourist spot especially at sunset.  Easy to get to, mostly on quiet dusty roads, I was happy to have ridden off-road motorbikes before I left to go to the UK, the last kilometre was a bumpy ride (the next day I found out a much easier and smoother route that most people take 😊!).  With a landscape reminiscent of the English Countryside, Bukit Merese was a stark contrast to what I had become accustomed to in Indonesia.

Lombok

Sun busy setting from Bukit Merese – Lombok

Indonesia

The other half of Bukit Merese, I didn’t even get to explore the whole of it – Lombok

Bukit Merese, is a large outcrop of land resembling the shape of Italy, the toe and heel helping to create semi-enclosed crescent bays on either side.  My experiences of going off into the land in Indonesia was like hacking through a jungle, not a pleasant experience.  Bukit Merese on the other hand looks more like a flowing grass meadow, as inviting as walking through the Swiss countryside in Spring.  It gets quite busy near sunset with people scattered around to watch the show.  It’s a massive area with almost everywhere offering stunning views of the bays so it doesn’t feel crowded at all.

Lombok

There are a few small secluded beaches below Bukit Merese…will need to be explored next time, I hope there is a next time – Lombok

Lombok

View from Bukit Merese, to good not to have more than 1 photo (yes, I know, very similar to the previous one :)) – Lombok

Like a big hill with a flattish top there are many vertical drops down into the sea, Bukit Merese gives a great vantage point to get a lay of the land for kilometres on either side.  As with the few small accessible beaches right below, the coastline is strewn with alcove bays and beaches; some only 100m long, others maybe more than 1km, it would take ages to explore even half of them.  As I strolled around the hilltop taking in the view simultaneously waiting for the sunset show to begin, I felt calm and content, but for the first time in a long while I also felt a little lonely.  I cannot speak for everyone, travelling alone definitely has its advantage, but it can get a little lonely every now and then.  There are times too when it would be nice to share a moment or two with someone, this was one of those occasions…nothing much I could do about it.

Lombok

There are a few small secluded beaches below Bukit Merese…will need to be explored next time, I hope there is a next time – Lombok

Lombok

Sun setting, Bukit Merese – Lombok

With a welcomed gentle breeze blowing cooling my skin which was near cooking temperature from only an hour or two in the sun, I found a rock to sit on and watched as the sun dipped further down the horizon until it disappeared.  It’s no wonder why Bukit Merese is a tourist attraction, if I had more time I’d have loved to come back again not even for the sunset, the views are stunning in all directions, along with being a perfect getaway just watch and listen to the sea.  That was it for my first day, well first few hours in Kuta, not a bad place at all, my mind was feeling a little more at ease.

Lombok

The fire of red and orange of a sun setting, Bukit Merese – Lombok

Indonesia

Bukit Merese, sunset – Lombok

Lombok

ANother sunset from Bukit Merese – Lombok

Next day, scooter filled with petrol (since Koh Samui I always wear a helmet hahaha 😊) I was going to cruise around for the day, first up was Batu Payung; I saw a picture of it, when I did I thought that’s what I’d like to see.  That’s something I do quite often, see a picture and decide I want to see “that” for myself and work my plans around it or it becomes my only plan and then take things from there.  Instead of accessing Batu Payung from Tanjung Aan beach I rode to the other side, I don’t know the beach’s name (the beach between Batu Payung and Goa Kotak Lombok).  I don’t think too many people go via this route riding through the back of a small village/settlement or use this beach, void of anyone except some locals selling their wares and refreshments.  Compared to others nearby, it has a great beach however access into the sea isn’t; with lots of rocks just below the surface for over 600m (maybe closer to 1km) before the waves start at which point the sea is deep – I was there at low tide, though I don’t think it would be much different at high.

Lombok

Batu Payung on the left, Gili Anakanjan in front – Lombok

Lombok

Gili Anakanjan, imagine living there or even spending the day on it – Lombok

I wasn’t there for the sea or to swim, I wanted to see the view from Batu Payung; a solitary rocky obelisk/column sticking up like a bulging finger on the rock bed, worn away at the bottom by time and sea.  Over who knows how many years, what was between it and the mainland is now washed away leaving behind this top-heavy monolith stranded in no-man’s-land.  From the hilltop you get a great view of the blue turquoise waters gently flowing by the rocking motion of the sea between the mainland and the tiny island Gili Anakanjan just a hundred metres out to sea – now that would be an awesome place to stay, even just camping for the night.  It may seem silly to walk a few kilometres (I had to walk along the coast edge leaving my scooter on the beach) just to see one part of a beach with so many beautiful beaches surrounding me.  That’s not how I see it, as much as I say I would like to visit again, realistically it is most likely that I will not.  Part of my traveling adventure is to get rid of the “what if’s” and “I wonder what is around that corner”; where possible, if I see something that interests me, I go and see it.  Similarly, whilst walking, if I spot something out the corner of my eye, even a road that looks different or something inside stirs my curiosity I take the detour to go and see.  This means (not always) that when I leave a place I know I’ve satisfied the itch, I leave a place feeling content.

Lombok

Batu Payung, give you better perspective with people standing near by – Lombok

Lombok

The many crescents coast line that you can find throughout Lombok, and Indonesia for that matter – Lombok

Lombok

The bay behind Batu Payung, I think it’s called Pantai Muluq Indah Permai – Lombok

For the remainder of the day I didn’t do what seems like much, I visited Tanjung Aan with an ice cold beer and watch the sea as time passed me by.  With a big storm on its way in I really didn’t get to do much else except taking different route back to my accommodation getting caught in the initial part of the storm, no harm done.  For the remainder of the afternoon it poured down in buckets, leaving little else to do but plan for my departure the following morning and have dinner in Kuta Town – thankfully by early evening the rain had subsided to a mild drizzle.

Lombok

Another of Batu Payung and Gili Anakanjan. On the left would be Pantai Muluq Indah Permai (I think that’s its name), to the right would be Tanjung Aan beach – Lombok

Lombok

Tanjung Aan beach – Lombok

Ekas Breaks

The night before leaving Kuta, I had seen a picture of a place called Pink Beach, not being able to find reasonable accommodation (a mixture of expensive &/or taking me too long to get there), I found middle ground in Ekas Breaks.  Why I had not learnt form my experiences before, distance on a map should not be an indication of how long it takes to get there!  Well, the first bit of the journey was pleasant though slow, it was the last few kilometres that a tank would have been a more suitable vehicle than a taxi.

About the only accommodation except for homestays, Ekas Breaks is a great sanctuary. Local beach isn’t much, not great at all but there are plenty of beaches within the neighbourhood….though the “hood” is spread across a large area – distances are short, it’s the roads that add time to the journey. There is a new main road through the area and a few arteries too that are in very good condition, it’s when you inevitably leave these roads to get to any destination that’s when the fun begins.  From the main road to Ekas Breaks, a 4×4 or motorbike is the only sensible means of transport – though scooters can be hired, like I did, an off-road motorbike would be much more appropriate.  On the way to Pink Beach, I’ve been on motocross tracks that were less bumpy 😊!

NB. Recommendation, if it has rained the night before I’d suggest not taking a scooter, not even a taxi unless it was a 4×4…or tractor – no jokes!

Lombok

Ekas Breaks, my accommodation (there’s a pool to my left), great place to stay – Lombok

I was only in the area for two nights, leaving only one full day to explore, not nearly enough time to see the local area not to mention the surrounding areas too!  I hadn’t anticipated the state of the roads, it rained the first night I got there which made the next day’s riding interesting to say the least.  One consolation was that the follow day boiling hot, meaning there was some respite from the mud as it dried up in places, but far from all – in places where the mud had dried, it left deep hard ruts in the “road”; for the remainder of this post I’ll use the word road very loosely.

It was the latter part of the day by the time I got to Ekas Breaks, leaving little to no time to go anywhere except the beach to watch the sun set.  Like I’ve already mentioned it rained the first night so watching the sun set was more like watching dark clouds building up.  As for the beach, well I was disappointed and there was a little voice at the back of my mind saying, “I hope the rest of the area isn’t like this!?”.  It’s not a swimming or sunbathing beach, the closest beach to Ekas Breaks is a fishing beach; though the beach is long and wide it would be the perfect place to see the sun set.  Toing and froing in my writing, the area is well known for its surfing, just not at the beach where we went, no the biggest wave there was a foot high at most.  The surfers spot is about 5km, it must be quite good as everyone except 2 (inclusive) was there to surf – and they raved about it.

Lombok

Ekas Beach, I was there for the sunset but instead watched the storm coming in – Lombok

Lombok

If you’ve been to SE Asia you’ve probably heard the noise of a Tokay Geko, I love it. This one was on my ceiling porch at Ekas Breaks – Lombok

Next morning, I headed off, destination Pink Beach 22km away, what a doddle!  In order to reinforce my sentiments about the roads just to prove I’m not exaggerating, it took me nearly 3 hours to get there!  Now to be fair, part of that time was getting a little lost, but I wouldn’t attribute more than 30 minutes to that!  Yes, it took ages to get there, but honestly I enjoyed every minute; riding through the mud getting all dirty, mistaking the depth of the water before riding through, slipping and sliding nearly falling (going slowly), riding through the bush when the road got to bad or the mud &/or water to thick or deep…I felt like a child.  A little tip, wearing flip flops is the best, my shoes would have been soaked and full of mud had I warn them.

Pink Beach

Riding to Pink Beach was more interesting and enjoyable than visiting the beach, don’t get me wrong, it’s a beautiful beach; it took me much longer than anticipated to get there, leaving little time to enjoy the place, it was a fun ride though.  Not to repeat myself, but I will, this area and the whole of Lombok has so much more to offer than what I experienced, one of the reasons I regret not spending more time on the island (I can kick myself for spending too much time on Gili Air, grrrrr, stuck between a rock and a hard place because I really liked Gili Air.  Still in retrospect, I should have left earlier and give more time to Lombok) – my little anecdote about Lombok does it no justice at all.

Lombok

Pink Beach in the distance, view from one of the cliffs – Lombok

Lombok

Crystal clear water below, to shallow to jump, Pink Beach around the corner – Lombok

So, I got to the beach, hmmm a little disappointed in not seeing a “pink” beach.  The sand does have a faint pinkish tinge; if you go to the water’s edge even more so.  I had read prior to the time that the colour is best with the rising sun early in the morning, even so I was expecting a little more colour.  Even though it isn’t a bright “pink beach” it doesn’t detract from being a lovely area, quiet’ish beach too (40 people at most, with another 40 odd at the most on the cliff).  I had been meandering about for an hour or so, strolling along the beach and knee deep in the sea when I realised I didn’t have my phone with me, EISH!, I had left it by the scooter, in one of the pouches by your knees – I always put the phone there, it gives easy access when riding to check the map.  In today’s world, unfortunately loosing your phone is worse than having your wallet stolen!  I hurried back to my scooter, parked out in the open, even from a distance I could see the phone sticking out…yes, it was still there!  Maybe I was lucky, maybe not, I like to think the latter.  There were quite a few people within 20m away from my bike, I had walked far out of site, I can’t imagine it would still have been there if I was in many other countries, cities, towns or villages. I was bloody relieved.  Phone in pocket (😊)  I headed to the cliff overlooking Pink Beach.  By the way, it’s called Pink Beach because the white sand mixes with coral fragments, shells and calcium carbonate left behind by foraminifera; tiny marine creatures with red &/or pink shells – it’s the foraminifera that produces the red pigment.

Lombok

There are many little islands/rocky mounds across the bays near Pink Beach. Don’t think the beach on the left has a name – Lombok

I only made it to one of the cliffs, facing the sea the one on the right, the better of the two in my opinion for best views being more elevated.  Though I was loving the views, I couldn’t escape the thought at the back of my mind that I would need to be leaving soon.  Riding back in the dark really wasn’t an option, I enjoyed the ride there but riding back in the dark, on a scooter on those roads with no mobile signal really wouldn’t be a wise move.  If I had more time in Indonesia I wold have moved to this side of the Island for a few days, even skipping extending my stay to explore the area around Ekas Breaks.  The area around Pink Beach is remote, just as I like things, with not much else to do than enjoy the beach, sea and looking across the deep clear sea at the tiny islands within swimming distance.  Of these little islands, they are no more than large rocks protruding from the sea worn away from the mainland over the centuries, I guess.

Indonesia

Pink Beach – Lombok. Ps. My photos are not edited so these are more representative of what you see.  If I added more colour the pink does show up better

Lombok

Pink Beach – Lombok. Ps. My photos are not edited so these are more representative of what you see.  If I added more colour the pink does show up better

I don’t want to waffle along about the area, nor write for the sake of having to say something, I’ll let the pictures do the talking.  Needless to say I left to head back to Ekas Breaks regrettably, making a stop or two on the way back arriving just before nightfall.  I would be leaving early the following morning, heading back to Gili Air to meet up with Julie and Mila for 24 hours, which was great to see them again, that would be the end of my time in Indonesia.  From Gili Air I took a ferry back to Lombok to fly to Kuala Lumpur where I had a 6 hour transit.  From Kuala Lumpur to Bangkok (with a 2 hour stop over) then to my final destination, Tokyo (Kuala Lumpur to Tokyo via Bangkok was part of my Star Alliance round the world ticket).

Japan was my next destination, I was in for what turned out to be a different world, beautifully so.  Along with the wonders of Japan I had a few ups and downs near the start of my visit, I’ll get into them soon – right now (in Crete, Greece) I’m looking for a quiet place to catch up on a mountain of writing to even get close to catching up!

Goodbye Indonesia, what a beautiful country, filled with diversity and variation.  I hope I get to go back someday, soon.

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Gili Air, for relaxation, sea and island lifestyle

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A few days on Gili Air to chill on the beach and swim in the sea before heading off to Lombok seemed like something the doctor would recommend, so I did, and stayed for a week!  A very short ferry ride from Amed Beach goes straight to the Gili Islands, of which there are three: Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno and Gili Air each with their own uniqueness, style and vibe.

Gili Islands lie off the North West coast of Lombok, and not too far from Bali either.  The islands are a stone throw away from each other and Lombok; standing on the beach of either you can see all the islands, Lombok and Bali.  It would be a challenge, but you could swim from Lombok to Gili Air.  Considering their locations (travelling from Lombok to the Islands – East to West) with Gili Air closest to Lombok, Gili Meno in the middle and then Gili Trawangan the furthest (yet not far away in reality), they have developed unusually.  Gili Trawangan is by far the most commercial, where you will find stereotypical holiday resorts and comforts you would expect from a developed holiday destination.  Gili Meno the smallest, is very underdeveloped, you are more likely to find bamboo hut accommodation with an artistic hippie vibe.  Gili Air is the in-between island; no hotels but with a variety of accommodation very similar to Amed Beach.  The few double story buildings are nearer the ferry port with shops below and accommodation above.  There are some bargains for basic accommodation and average prices for a place with a swimming pool.

Gili Air

Sunset taken from near the South of the Island, Mount Agung on Bali in the distance – Gili Air

Gili Air reminded me somewhat of Dahab; accommodation and their respective restaurants are separated by a road which runs around the island.  I use the term “road” loosely, nothing is tarred except right by the ferry port.  Anything resembling a road is more down to the hotel/accommodation paving the area between their accommodation and their restaurant, the rest is a sandy-dusty path.  Whilst there I got to know one of the owners (two Aussies and an Italian) of my accommodation Bel Air Resort & Spa.  He told me that the government had clamped down on building regulations and after many years have set a deadline for all restaurants on the beaches to be moved to within the accommodation area (hope that makes sense).  Many places have already complied, others were busy demolishing theirs to integrate their restaurants & bars on the other side of the road.  I think this is a good idea, no doubt most places if not all just annexed the beach opposite their properties, some more stylishly and safely than others.  The new law will certainly give the beach a cleaner look and simultaneously create more beach too.  Shew that seemed very long wounded to say something very simple.

Gili Air

My morning swimming location by Sandy Beach Bungalow Bar & Restaurant – Gili Air

Bel Air Resort & Spa, very cool little place, good internet too compared to what I had become accustomed to in Indonesia to date.  Great location close to the best snorkelling, ATM/Cash Point, restaurants and has a pool that is open till very late.  Not a very big “resort”, I guess 20 rooms, yet one of the more upper-class places I had stayed in for a very long time.  Very friendly hosts, good food, exceptionally clean and spacious, I took it as a treat to myself, why not be a little spoilt for a week, I even had a massage 😊

Gili Air

Not a bad place to have a sundowner, or two. Lombok on the left,Mount Agung in the distance – Gili Air

Gili Air is a quiet island, no cars or motorbikes.  Transport consists of walking, bicycles or horse-drawn carts – the motorbikes you will see are all electric.  Gili Trawangan is the biggest island at 2km/3km, Gili Air is the second biggest, it took me just over an hour to walk around the circumference at a slow pace.  Gili Air is where you come to relax, there isn’t much to do except tan, swim, snorkel and dive – I couldn’t do the latter with a mild ear infection but that really didn’t bother me.  Although Gili Air is unmistakably busier than Amed Beach, life here moves at a glacial pace, blissful.

Gili Air

Not a bad place to have dinner – Gili Air

Gili Air

Sunset near the ferry port – Gili Air

I got into a rhythm very easily, wake up, have some breakfast and strong coffee, then go snorkelling.  Get back do some chilling by the pool and mix it up with some writing, then go for an afternoon snorkelling session.  Back to the pool for chilling and writing, maybe more chilling and a swim in the pool.  Late afternoon swim in the sea or pool just to mix it up a bit then head off to the West beach for some sundowners.  That pretty much sums up my time on the island, every now and then I would go for a walk, I must have walked around and through the island a dozen times.  I could easily have stayed on Gili Air much longer, I felt totally comfortable and at home; not wearing a shirt is not something I often do, but here I hardly wore one.  Eventually, as in most places if I stay a while, I get anxious about not keeping momentum so that is really the only reason I stayed a week.

Gili Air

Just another place with a great setting to have dinner – Gili Air

Gili Air

The beautiful clear waters of Gili Air, Lombok in front

I’d say my only criticism is some of the tourists visiting from the mainland Bali/Lombok and Gili Trawangan who come over to snorkel can become irritating for a few reasons.  They tend to visit just the one area near Sunrise Resort (fantastic marine life) so you can avoid them or go in the morning or late afternoon.  My irritation is twofold, firstly they arrive in large numbers splashing about and making such a noise that they chase a lot of the fish away.  Secondly, I kid you not, many can’t swim properly or swim at all; they must wear life vests/jackets or else they sink, it’s bloody ludicrous!  Oh, I’m not referring to kids that can’t swim.  The ensuing mess results in groups of people splashing about bumping into everyone and everything, yes, and chasing all the fish away.  I really think there needs to be a more thought out solution between driving tourism, safety and protecting the marine life.  I don’t mean to sound like a like a grumpy old man.

Gili Air

Ah, couldn’t resist another picture, why wouldn’t you want to have a morning swim here!? Gili Air

graffiti

Some interesting graffiti on Gili Air

For the best snorkelling, the East coast is by far the best.  Anywhere from Sunrise Resort right to the tip of the North East, by Gili Air Resort.  For Turtles I found the North East the best around Sandy Beach Bungalow Bar & Restaurant.  I don’t want to understate how badly the coral is damaged, but there is still beauty to be seen in these waters. From various eels, lion fish, loads of different puffer fish and so many others that fill areas with all the colours of the rainbow and near any shape or size you can think of.  I was lucky enough to swim with turtles four times, on two occasions spending almost half an hour with them, at a distance, watching them eat the algae then majestically gliding off to find more algae – they are so graceful in the water.

Gili Air

West site of Gili Air with Gili Meno, Gili Trawangan only a swim away (long swim), and Bali and Mount Agung in the distance – Gili Air

Gili Air

Sorry I have a few pictures of the sun setting. On the West side of Gili Air. Lombok on the left, Bali in the distance – Gili Air

On the marine life, there is plenty, don’t get me started on not having a GoPro, I have one now, too late for Indonesia ☹.  No underwater pictures aside, the variety of aquatic life is beautiful, not as much as the Red Sea nor parts of Thailand but still stunning in every respect.  Going North on the East side of Gili Air is quieter, not as much fish but a greater chance of spotting turtles, which I did a few times – that is a privilege.  There are coral reefs, truthfully, they have taken a battering especially from the East of the Island heading North, where you’ll find more dead coral than live.  Some areas covering many football pitches lie dead, strewn across the seabed like burnt-out coal all white and grey.  It’s a sorry sight to see.

Gili Air

Longer exposure, sun set on the West side of Gili Air. The other GIli Islands and Mount Agung – Gili Air

Gili Air

Long exposure, sun set on the West side of GIli Air – much better silhouette of Mount Agung on Bali – Gili Air

With crystal clear water the barren coral is more evident. I immensely enjoyed the sea around Gili Air, there is still a plethora of sea life, but you cannot escape realising just how much of the marine life is now dead.  To put it into perspective, for every tennis court size area filled with life (still with patches of dead coral) there must be two football pitch areas that are dead.  I heard further into the sea between the islands it isn’t as bad, my concern is how long till they are not affected too.  I struggle to explain the devastation, it is made worse by what dead coral looks like; stone like plants, the colour that can only happen when all life has been sucked out of it.  It breaks easily scattering the sea floor like dead leaves during the height of Autumn, except they will no regenerate on the trees when Summer arrives.  Maybe the best description is the site after a forest fire, again, the difference is the coral once gone does not come back, as is with the rest of the marine life.

Gili Air

Just another beach on Gili Air (East side), Lombok ahead, with crystal clear waters – Gili Air

Gili Air

The main road the runs round the circumference of Gili Air (taken on the East side) – there’s always hectic traffic as you can see

Contrary to what it may seem, I don’t have much to say about my time on Gili Air. I doubt you’d like to hear about me lying in the sun, walking around the island dipping into the sea when I got hot, that’s about all I did.  As for sunsets, most nights I’d go to the West coast (20 minutes’ walk), buy a mojito…or two, and watch the sun set, they are magnificent.  With the sun turning the sky a fiery array of red, orange and yellow, mount Agung in the distance and the sea brushing against the white coarse sand…that’s not a bad way and place to end an arduous day.

Gili Air

On one of my many strolls around the Island – Gili Air

Gili Air

Too cloudy to see Bali, still not a bad view – Gili Air

I’m conscious of waffling on with very little to say.  I’d go back to Gili Air tomorrow if I had the opportunity, I hope so.  Next stop would be Lombok, similar start to Bali, with a great ending.

Gili Air

Long exposure sun set – Gili Air

Bali, Amed Beach, Mount Lempuyang, Water Palace

Gallery

A little preface to my time in Bali, Amed Beach and my visits to Pura Penataran Agung Lempuyang and the Water Palace (Tirta Gangga)…my arrival at Ngurah Rai Intenational Airport in Bali.  Nothing bad, just one of those experiences that was bound to happen at some or other time.  I thought Malaysia had a reputation for being strict at the border, seems Indonesia is even more so; especially if you read about people being caught with drugs, no I didn’t bring any 😊.  Though the people I met in Indonesia and at the airport were all friendly, I’ve never been so thoroughly searched, ever!  Everything was taken out of my bag, and I mean everything; my vitamins were taken for testing, my toothpaste was open, the soles of my shoes were removed, every single piece of clothing was checked every container was opened.  The whole process took over an hour…made me start to think just how genuine the vitamins I bought in Kuala Lumpur!

Airport check aside, the gentleman was very friendly and all in all I think I’m a very lucky traveller.  My delay at the airport got me to my hotel (Puri Dibia Hotel & Restaurant) after dark, I only planned to be there for 3 nights.  My accommodation was ok at best, it served its purpose and is only a short walk to the main Kuta beach.  Surprisingly, I don’t have much to say about Pantai Kuta and the surrounding area.  Why?  Well, honestly, I was disappointed, the place is as Western as you could possibly imagine with malls and hotels along the main beach.  The beach, dirty and without exaggeration one of the worst beaches I had been to in years.  It was so bad I didn’t even go for a swim.  I tried my best to find nice places, but I may as well have been in London.  After 1 day of aimlessly walking about I knew I had to leave, even giving the second day a wholehearted effort…no joy!  What do you do if you don’t like a place…go somewhere else, and that’s exactly what I did, Amed Beach here I come!

Amed Beach

I was a little concerned going to Amed Beach, I had heard great things about Bali, if Amed Beach was anything like the Kuta beach, then my plans for Indonesia would need to be drastically rethought!  No need for concern, Amed Beach was a saving grace!  Located on the West side of Bali, Amed beach is 100km from Kuta beach, so not far away.  Yet, with the narrow roads in addition to the locals preparing for a religious holiday it took just over 3 hours to get to my accommodation right on Amed Beach, Hotel Uyah Amed & Spa Resort.  I have no pictures of the resort nor the ride to Amed Beach, I took pictures, but have no idea where or what I’ve done with them, I must have deleted them by accident!  GRRRRR!  With a rather grandiose name it isn’t what I would classify a “spa”; they do offer massages, so many accommodations do.  It’s a nice place, a higher standard compared your usual run of the mill compared to others within the area.  It has two swimming pools and a restaurant, with single story accommodation (there are no big hotels here, a double story sticks out) and right on the beach.  You can take a look at their website if you want a better idea.  I suppose what really counts is they are very friendly, the place was one of the cleanest I had been to for “beach accommodation”…I definitely go there again.

Amed Beach

The black sand beach lined up with local fishing boats – Bali

Enough about the accommodation, why I went off on a tangent I don’t know.  Amed Beach is remote, in the past three years they got their first ATM/Cash Point, they now have two; they don’t work all the time but normally at least one is working, there are no banks and there is one convenient store.  The rest of the town is little hostels, hotels, homestays, restaurants and diving schools – it’s a very cool little town.  Now for the caveat, I didn’t have the best of weather.  There were a few thunderstorms, which I love, the negative par it is that they made the water very murky with visibility at 2m so snorkelling was useless.  Not being able to snorkel was a downer considering there are amazing (apparently) coral reefs and marine life – I was told the coral is much better than Thailand!  Another GRRRRR!!!!  Oh well, a great reason to go back!

Bali

Amed Beach with the ever present, at the time rumbling Mount Agung

One of the trademarks of this side of Bali is the black sand beach.  Over thousands of years the volcanic rock has been worn away by the sea, leaving behind a black coarse sand.  The black sand makes the beach look dirty, it isn’t, the contrast between the sea shells, sea weed/plants against a black backdrop makes things stand out – one of the cleanest beaches I have see in some time.  Standing on the beach and turning to your left, the pimple like mountain of Agung lurks in the distance, an active volcano.  It is possible to climb the volcano, my luck, it had been rumbling recently so was closed for hiking.  I enquired about climbing up unguided and was told the police would chase me and arrest me…..neah, a night in jail wasn’t that appealing to me.

Amed Beach

The black sands of Amed Beach

Along with my photos from the drive between Kuta and Amed Beach I seem to have “misplaced” some other pictures of Amed Beach Town, if you can call it a town.  I’ve looked everywhere and don’t know what the hell I’ve done with them!!!  The only pictures I have is a few of the beach right by my accommodation and part of a religious ceremony.  It looked like everyone from the town brought food to the local shrine on the side of the main road through the town – a single lane road.  Everyone was dress-up in their regalia with the sermon (guess that’s what you call it) being conducted on the closed off road.  After the ceremony it looked like everyone took back the food and headed back home, leaving the shrine adorned with flowers and a little foot spread out at the base.  Such a pity I can’t find the bloody photos!

Pura Penataran Agung Lempuyang

I took a day trip to Puta Penataran Agung Lempuyang and the Water Palace (Tirta Gangga) (about an hours drive from Amed Beach), part of a temple complex on Mount Lempuyang; the mountain behind my accommodation, with the temple complex on the other side of the mountain.  I hadn’t known how significant the temple complex was only till months later (writing this whilst in Munich), especially the temple right at the top, Pura Lempuyang Luhur, I’ll get into that shortly.  Pura Penataran Agung Lempuyang is the more well-known temple, partly because of the of white gate wall/pillars, the gate frames Mount Agung in the distance, the temple has beautiful dragon stairs, but I think a big factor for it being more famous is because most people don’t climb all the way up the many, many, many stairs to reach Pura Lempuyang Luhur (the temple at the top).

Bali

Pura Penataran Agung Lempuyang, the stairs to the entrance – Bali

I’ve not been able to find out how old the temple complex is, the only thing I can find (I don’t know how accurate it is either), is that the mountain was used for religious purposes before the Hinduism arrived on the island.  The temples on Mount Lempuyang form part of a greater temple complex around Bali island, these eight temples mark out the cardinal directions.  This complex is dedicated to Ida Betara Hyang Iswara, the guardian of the east and forms part of six temples known as Sad Kahyangan Jagad or “six sanctuaries of the world” these are the six holiest places of worship on Bali.  The mountain is divided into three, this is in correlation to Balinese cosmology.  With the base known as Sang Anata Bhogo; this corresponds to the mount of Brahma.  The middle is known as Sang Naga Basukih; this corresponds to mount Vishnu.  Finally, the top is known as Sang Naga Taksaka; this corresponds to mount of Shiva.

Bali

The candi bentar (split gate), the entrance to Pura Penataran Agung Lempuyang with Mount Agung in the distance – Bali

Bali

The tri-dragon staircases at Pura Penataran Agung Lempuyang – Bali

White stairs lead up to a patina white split gateway called a candi bentar from which you enter a large courtyard, already the next set of stair in side; a set of three stairs running parallel with dragons as balustrades.  The candi bentar, two wide walls of symmetry with terraced sides narrowing as they go up, their decoration part of their structure; wing like decorations that flare out and upwards almost like questions-marks.  If you turn around this gate perfectly frames Mount Agung in the distance; the largest, and active, volcano on the Bali.  I must admit, I would have liked a better picture, the weather wasn’t, a haziness blanket covering most of the Mount Agung – still a lovely view.

Three sets of stairs fronted by dragon heads as posts lead to the next level of Pura Penataran Agung Lempuyang.  The dragon heads oversized compared to the bodies and make a commanding almost intimidating gateway to the next level with their tails as balustrades in a wave motion leading you up to the next level of the temple.  Between the stairs are terraced gardens with statues now worn by time, you cannot avoid thinking you are heading to something, or somewhere important.

Bali

The dragon stair post of Pura Penataran Agung Lempuyang – Bali

Bali

The dragon tail balustrade Pura Penataran Agung Lempuyang – Bali

Bali

Part of the dragon staircases at Pura Penataran Agung Lempuyang – Bali

I was somewhat surprised and underwhelmed at the next level, the sanctuary of the temple.  To be fronted by such a grand gateway, then even more grandiose tri-staircase.  Puta Penataran Agung Lempuyang’s sanctuary has a few pagoda-like structures, nothing fancy though reasonably intricately decorated.  I was expecting a more lavish core of the temple; instead I found something quite understated, if you look for the detailed carvings and brickwork it is there, but still it is subtle.  This, the most important part of the temple gives access to everyone, here people connect to whom they pray to.  It is a quiet environment, not pompous or stuffy like some institutions yet people naturally speak quietly, it is something that automatically happens even though the wind blowing around makes more noise than people speaking.

Within this area, knows as the “jero”, which is the most sacred part of the temple.  The pagodas, called meru towers and pelinggih shrines are dedicated to different gods or local deities, very similar to many religions dating back thousands of years (reminded me of the temple of Kom Ombo in Egypt).  There are also many padmasana shrines, these are look like thrones, they are dedicated to the highest god of the Hindu pantheon e.g. the Sang Hyang Widhi and the gods of the Trimurti – very confusing, I hope I got my explanation correct!?!?!

Bali

The inner sanctuary of Pura Penataran Agung Lempuyang – Bali

Putting things into perspective, the first temple is 600m from the base of the mountain, the next temple what I was told is knowns as the white temple is just a little further up, the mountain is 1 175m.  They were working on the temple when I got there, looks like substantial work, with large parts looking more like a construction site than a temple.  I’ve become accustomed to stairs, here up the mountain path was no different. Here, the stairs look like a tunnel with the foliage creating a roof, so you cannot see much else except the stairs leading up the mountain into the jungle.  Yes, it was hot and humid, the vegetation preventing any cooling wind getting through, so the walk up is quiet, the only sounds are birds and the occasional monkeys jumping from branch to branch.  From the darkened tunnel of jungle, you turn a corner and nearly blinded as the sun reflects of the white stone temple.

Very much smaller than the first temple, it is quite a site with almost the entire temple of white stone in a clearing in the middle of nowhere.  By small, I mean the entire complex is about the size of a tennis court.  As with the first temple, here white dragons form part of the entrance and the spires adorned with flared wings.  I was the only visitor there; the rest were builders and a two monks (I don’t know if that is what they are called).  I hadn’t planned on staying there long, there isn’t much to see except something caught my ear, a noise coming from a plastic water bottle at the base of a shrine.

Mount Lempuyang

The White Temple, the middle temple on Mount Lempuyang – Bali

Mount Lempuyang

The inner sanctuary of the White Temple on Mount Lempuyang

At first, I thought my eyes were deceiving me, no, there was a little bird inside the bottle!?!  Too big to have go inside by mistake.  It was flapping its wings and chirping distressingly then it would be quiet for a bit, then repeating its anxious behaviour.  I looked at the monk and pointed at the bird, he smiled back in an agreeable manner, almost proud.  I went to take the bottle and was promptly and sternly gesticulated at to leave it alone.  My look of disbelief couldn’t have been misunderstood, the monk/guard moved closer to the shrine and stood between me an it, I shook my head and walked off.

Mount Lempuyang

Bad picture I know, the plastic bottle with the bird inside – White Temple on Mount Lempuyang – Bali

I continued up the stairs in robot fashion, my mind consumed by the bird in the bottle.  What a disparity between the Balinese people who were all friendly and seemed peaceful and thinking trapping a bird inside a bottle is acceptable!?  Travelling has been an amazing learning experience, my mantra of learn, explore and expand your being has been something I have actively tried to do where ever I’ve been (sometimes more successfully than others), but what was there to learn about such cruelty?  It is not a criticism of any religion (I’ve kept my thought of religion intentionally out of my blog), but this sort of thing I cannot condone under any circumstances, frankly I don’t care what the reasoning is to be so cruel to an animal.  My regret about leaving the bird was that I should have put more effort into trying to free it, put up a fight for the poor bird – what’s the worst thing that could have happened, they could have thrown me out of the country (very doubtful), likely just the mountain.  At least then I could have slept well, it bothered me for days and still when I look at the picture I get angry and disappointed with myself.  I carried on up the mountain, shacking my head to myself, not my finest moment, one I will not deal with in the same manner should a similar situation arise.  A person will not always agree with colloquialisms, some shouldn’t be.

Pura Lempuyang Luhur

Onwards and upwards, literally.  As I ascended the temperature cooled with a noticeable increase in the number of monkeys, finally arriving at Pura Lempuyang Luhur right at the top of the mountain, 1 175m.  Expecting panoramic views of the valleys below with Mount Agung in the distance…nope, the clouds had moved in, visibility was no more than 20-30m.  I was a tad disappointed nonetheless enjoyed the hike up the mountain, the last bit to Pura Lempuyang Luhur though distracted in my thoughts was good exercise.

Mount Lempuyang

Finally an opening is the forest, heading to the top of Mount Lempuyang – Bali

 Pura Lempuyang Luhur, well I was expecting more to be honest. Covering an area of about 2 tennis courts it isn’t as grand as the first nor as eye catching as the second temple.  I guess that on a clear day the ambience would be very different to what I experienced.  With the clouds misting through the temple, blanketing everything around mount Lempuyang, you could be mistaken for thinking you were in the middle of a jungle at a temple on the far end of the earth

Mount Lempuyang

A few of the monkeys at the top of Mount Lempuyang – Pura Lempuyang Luhur – Bali

 The actual temple itself felt a little neglected, it is one of the oldest temples in Bali and highly revered.  Proceeding the entrance to the complex there are a few market stalls, mostly selling refreshments and a little food for the weary tourist and pilgrims.  You can also buy offerings for the temple/shrines along with food for the monkeys.  There must be near 100 monkeys at the temple, not aggressive, more so confident and assured, not easily chased away if they think they can get some food from you.  They seem to keep the temple monks/priest/guards busy, a find balance at stopping them from taking offerings away from the shrines… feat I do not see them winning against the persistent and clever monkeys 😊!

Mount Lempuyang

The only decent view I could get at the top of Mount Lempuyang – Bali

Mount Lempuyang

The rest of the unfortunate views from the top of Mount Lempuyang – Bali

 

Tirta Gangga / Water Palace

The second part of the day was visiting Tirta Gangga, often referred to as the Water Palace, what a beautiful oasis it is.  Even the area surrounding the palace is picture perfect; valleys of rice paddies between natural forest and Mount Lempuyang pointing out in the background.  The lines between the rice paddies flowing naturally along the contours of the hills, accentuating the flow of the valley.

Bali

Just one of the fantastic views of the area around Tirta Gangga / Water Palace, with Mount Lempuyang in the background – if you look carefully you can see the White Temple – Bali

Built in 1948 by the Raja of Karangasem, Anak Agung Agung Anglurah Ketut Karangasem, whom I believe abdicated in 1950, his son took over the title (don’t know how accurate this is).  Tirta Gangga (which is the name of the town too) feels like a mixture of temple, monastery, secluded retreat and sanctuary surrounded by jungle, though now quite close to a main road; main road for Bali standards.  Bali has a history of kings/Rajas dating back to the 10th century till the 20th, till it became a republic in 1950, the royal household/lineage not only of Bali but of others within Indonesia are not recognised as being royal.

Water Palace

Tirta Gangga / Water Palace – Bali

Water Palace

Tirta Gangga / Water Palace – Bali

Though it is (was) a palace and I doubt any costs were spared, it doesn’t have an ostentatious air about it at all.  On the contrary, walking about the fish filled ponds, fountains and features I can only imagine this place was built as a get-away; a sanctuary where were it not for all the tourists you could ponder about life and distance yourself from any annoyances clouding your mind.

Water Palace

Tirta Gangga / Water Palace – Bali

Water Palace

Just onne of the unusual statues at Tirta Gangga / Water Palace – Bali

The Water Palaces is both pretty and tranquil, filled with interesting (and some disturbing looking) statues.  Walking about you can easily enjoy the environment without being distracted by the attention to detail throughout.  Whether it was part of the original design, I would imagine so, the walkways take you around, over and onto the water (stepping stones) making you interact with the surroundings.  This is a palace not just “for show”, it is a place created to wonder around, dip your feet into the cool water, let the fountain’s spray mist onto your face and when in need for quiet contemplation rest in the many secluded niches in the periphery.

Water Palace

It doesn’t capture the whole area but still a nice view I thought, Tirta Gangga / Water Palace – Bali

Water Palace

Tirta Gangga / Water Palace – Bali

Water Palace

Tirta Gangga / Water Palace – Bali

There is something I really liked about the Water Palace, it touched a nerve inside, I could have stayed for hours.  Not to repeat myself, but I will, I do love water; the refreshing sound of streams, rivers or in this case fountains and water features.  Such sounds make me relax, the flurrying water is like watching a flame, it’s hypnotic; I find myself drifting off into thought, life’s worries floating down a river like a paper boat, something we did when I was a child – those are great memories.

Water Palace

Tirta Gangga / Water Palace – Bali

Water Palace

Just some of the interesting statues at Tirta Gangga / Water Palace – Bali

Water Palace

Tirta Gangga / Water Palace – Bali

Tirta Gangga

The eleven tiered fountain at Tirta Gangga / Water Palace – Bali

PS. I have quite a few pictures that I haven’t included, as with all my posts. The blog post pictures and others are included in my photo albums on my Facebook Page – Facebook Batnomad

Hmmm a combination of the lost photos and weather meant my time in Amed Beach wasn’t as productive as I had hoped, especially the snorkelling, hey ho such is life.  Despite this I thoroughly enjoyed my time there.  I was still in Amed Beach during Nyepi or Day of Silence, now, if there was ever a fantastic idea/ethos to have a bank/public holiday then “Day of Silence” is worth it.  During Nyepi, which is a Balinese day for silence, fasting and mediation.  Everything shuts down, I mean everything, no cars or motorbikes are allowed on the road unless it’s an emergency.  You are not allowed on the beach let alone in the sea – the police patrol the beaches and you will be fined if caught.  No radios or TVs are played, even the lights throughout the accommodation complex are turned off (except those inside the bungalow).  Even talking is kept to a bare minimum and when done it is at a whisper.  You cannot escape the silence, it catches up on you, you can only pretend for so long that you cannot hear it until it consumes you like a giant wave.  The deafening silence forces you to slow down, automatically reflect on what’s around you and life in general.  Without the white-noise that surrounds us throughout our daily lives it makes it so much easier to focus and notice what surrounds us.  From the smallest things like insect noises, birds, the wind, rustling trees to the sound of the world.

So, that was my short time in Bali. Bali started off on the rocky side for me but ended very well, a special thanks to Amed Beach and surrounding areas.  No fireworks yet I enjoyed it with some lessons learnt along the way, which can only be a good thing.  I’d like to go back and explore the rest of the island, away from Kuta beach and would love to climb Mount Agung.  Next stop would be Gili Air, one of the three Gili Islands just off the North West coast of Lombok where I would head after Gili Air.  Bit of a long blog post, I hope it has not bored you to read!