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.
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 ?)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.