When I’ve been asked “where’s your favourite place in Indonesia?”, without thinking, I reply “Lombok”. This is where I first fell in love with the REAL Indonesia. Not the tourist pandering streets of Bali. However, I didn’t get off to the best of starts.
After a 6 hour lay-over in Bali after arriving from Labuan Bajo, I arrived in the only airport on the island in the centre, Praya. I didn’t know much about the go-to places in Lombok yet, all I knew was Senggigi, the most touristy location on the island. I’d also found a bus service from the airport to Senggigi; roughly £2 for the hour and a half ride, perfect. But, as is the way with Indonesia, I was about to be ripped right off.
I got the right ticket, and boarded the minibus as the only white face among the locals. That wasn’t the only difference. I had a blue ticket, while all the others had a pink one. I questioned whether I was on the right bus. However, the driver happily accepted my ticket, plus I’d read that the bus also had another stop; Mataram, half way towards where I was headed to. With this, I relaxed…naively.
About an hour into the journey the bus pulled into a station, where all the locals started to depart. I engaged the woman next to me, pointing downwards
“No” to where he waved like an airport signaller in another direction “Sengiggi”. No problem, I’ll just stay on the bus until we get there. I was the only one left. This is when the bus driver came up to me
“Okay, off here”. I argued with him that my ticket said Senggigi, and this wasn’t it. “No no no, bus stops here, you come with me, my friend take you”. Still perplexed he led me out of the bus to his friend; coincidentally a taxi driver “this my friend, give you good price”. To this day I still don’t know where I was dropped off, or why he did, only that it cost me another 80,000 rupiah (£5) to finish the trip. I suspect as I was the only one left on the bus, and a gullible tourist, the man simply couldn’t be arsed driving another 30-45 minutes to drop me off.
Even more stressful, in my confusion, I left one of my bags on the bus which contained my passport, laptop, camera, all the valuables. Thank god almighty I realised this as the bus was still in sight as I mildly screamed to the non-English speaking taxi driver
“BAG ON BUS!”. He then proceeded to LAPD hot pursuit the bus, waving it down through his window. Close call.
I arrived into Senggigi, and spotted a sign “Oz stay” and a banner advertising rooms at 100,000 rupiah (£6). This had to be a place for backpackers. The owner naturally was an Australian, named Mel. A man of 50/60, always stood behind the bar. A man at one with the world, coming out with the most philosophical monologues to anyone who sat at the bar. This included comparing an empty and clean ashtray to sanity and insanity, and how we need a balance of both. Good point sir.
Though Senggigi is the most “touristy” spot on the island, it was a small one. Essentially consisting of a mile-long street of the odd boutique hotel, restaurants and tour companies which were all congregated here, leaving the rest of the island unspoilt. A handful of tourists would be seen walking through the town, outside Senggigi they were a rare sight.
The beaches were spectacular, only a 5 minute walk away from my hostel where I could sit amongst the authentic local fishing boats watching the spectacular sunset falling over the Gili Islands.
About 2 miles from the hostel was the Kerandangan waterfalls. There were bigger waterfalls further North on the island, however I opted for the smaller and closer alternative. This was influenced by the fact I was still apprehensive to rent a scooter after my terrifying Bali experience. These waterfalls were within “walking distance” anyway.
After an hour and a half trek along the coastal roads through the hills, I finally arrived at the ENTERENCE to the park…where there was another 2 hour trek, and a trek it was. The neatly organised paving stones quickly vanished into a thick forest, holding only a few signposts pointing towards unbeaten tracks every 200 meters or so. Only the distant sound of running water ensured that you were going the right way. Eventually the exhausting trek opened up to a small secluded waterfall which collected in a perfectly sized little pool to bath my exhausted sweaty self. I took full advantage of the seclusion and bathed as god intended, bare nude.
There was no way in hell that I’d walk all the way back after such an exhausting ordeal, especially considering what I had planned next! I had to make my way back to the main road, still a 3 hour trek away from my VIP pool. From there I waited on the roadside, confident that a keen local will spot the bags and be keen to make a deal. I rode like a princess on the back, balancing my legs over one side and a heavy bag on the other, yet another positive scooter experience.
There was a big reason I was attracted to visiting Indonesia; not only to see, but to climb an actual volcano, an opportunity available across the country. There was one on Lombok, the second highest in the country, Mount Rinjani. Even more enticing was the fact that this volcano was STILL active. This would be my volcano.
As Senggigi was the tourist centre, tour companies were vastly available, all offering a similar tour; between 2-4 days with guides up to the crater and the very top, food and camping equipment included. There was a man with a desk at my hostel, a jack of all trades, offering everything from Rinjani tours to laundry and scooter rentals. After expressing my interest, he offered a tour at 1.8 million rupiah (£100). I couldn’t find a cheaper tour anywhere. In the end, with all that was included (i.e. travel to/ from the mountain), I thought it wasn’t too bad. However, this is Indonesia after all. If I arranged this tour in a town called Sanur (the tour start point), I would only have paid 1 million rupiah (£60), like the other people on the tour with me.
I had to be ready with my limited luggage at 2am to get delivered to the starting point. Dazed from lack of sleep, and no sight of the guy who’d arranged all of this for me, I was confused when a taxi pulled up at the hostel gates and called my name. This was my transport. After asking the driver
“where are you taking me?” I only got
“Yes, yes”, so I just went with the flow.
This was my first introduction to Lombok drivers, possibly the worst in the entire world. Learning drivers have a better standard than these grown men, who seem to have no knowledge of the laws of the road. Such as overtaking on blind corners and revving the engine loud enough to deafen all inhabitants of the island. More worrying was the unbelievable number of dogs whom for some reason at night ALL seem to lay down in the middle of the road. The driver would constantly have to decelerate, sometimes abruptly. He kindly suggested I should catch some sleep, however the number of close calls and sleeping in a car with a stranger just didn’t sit well with me. He did well to brake and avoid each dog that took their sweet time to move out of the way…until SCREECH, THUD, YELP. All hope of sleeping disappeared after that.
We arrived in a discrete homestay, where I was dropped off with no word, no idea how I was getting back, and the only people there were asleep. Eventually other tourists appeared from the darkness. The team consisted of a Dutchman, an Argentinean, two Chilean girls and myself. We left in a minivan at 4am still under darkness to our starting point, where we would have to trek the first few hours in pitch blackness.
So why were we trekking up a god damn mountain in the pitch black of night? Good question. Turns out that trekking up Mount Rinjani during that time of year (rainy season) is technically illegal. Despite every local tour company still happy enough to sell and arrange these tours, they’re very much illegal. Most probably due to the higher risk of climbing a mountain during such bad weather, something never mentioned beforehand. So as a result, we’d have to sneak into the park during the early hours of the morning as well as when we’d return tomorrow morning…when the police weren’t there.
We were provided with a guide and a couple of porters, who would carry all the camping equipment and food needed us all, carried in authentic bundles on both ends of a pole, weighing 20-25kg’s each. Even more impressive when I spotted these men scaling the mounting in god damn flip-flops.
The first 15 minutes or so weren’t too strenuous, a generous incline giving the false impression this trek wouldn’t be too hard after all. However, soon we hit the rainforest that surrounds the base of the mountain. Forget your well beaten tracks for OAPs and their walking stick, this was a REAL trek. No path to speak of, tree roots lay across the entire way, some as big as three of four normal house steps which had to mounted by our hands and knees. Enormous trenches lining the thin patch of dirt we had to cross. All this had to be tackled under complete darkness with only the aid of a shitty head-torch. The thick jungle lasted for four hours, where I started to question why the hell I thought this was a good idea. Panting louder and harder than a Saint Bernard, blinded by torrents of sweat. I thanked God there were other smoker in the group (the Dutchman) who’d continue at the same pace as I did; that was, behind the rest of the group requiring frequent pauses.
Eventually the sun came up which thankfully made the jungle trek “easier”, and revealed how much of the forest was left. We broke through the last part and into the sunlight; half way there. However, the next part, as our guide informed us, was the hardest of the lot.
Looking at it, no sane person would think that this was even a viable trekking route. It was so steep it might as well of been vertical, consisting of incredibly loose dirt, which slipped under foot with each step. Where the last stage battered my thighs, the next set a constant hellfire within my calves. Literally every 15 meters I had to stop due to the horrendous pain. This part lasted an hour, but felt like an eternity. I refused to ask the guide how long there was left; if I knew the answer, I would have given up hours ago.
Last but not least, the final stage consisted of a rock face of enormous boulders, turning the trek into a climb. Not as physically strenuous as the last 5 hours, however the pace was much slower, and each step taken with even more care. I can safely say, without a shadow of a doubt, that trek was the most physically strenuous activity I have ever endured in my entire life.
Despite the soul-destroying ordeal, upon reaching the crater, with Bambi legs and a collapsed lung, instantly I knew it had been worth it. I dragged myself towards the edge of the crater to witness the stunning scene that had been waiting for us. The enormous crater fenced with the biblically monstrous mountain range with sweeping carpets of forests which lead into the pure turquoise water of the lake which it held. In the middle of which sat a perfect black smoking ash cone of a volcano that slowly gushed out crystal white smoke and seeped bright yellow sulphur which mixed into the lake below. We all spent a good three hours sat on the rim of the crater marvelling.
This particular volcano was special from the rest. The crater itself at one time was a volcano in its own right, which over the years had formed a smaller volcano in its centre. A volcano, INSIDE a volcano. One that was still very much active as the white smoke showed. Confirmed by our guide who said there had been 4 eruptions in total, the last of which was 3 weeks before our arrival. He also pointed out that some tour guides would take their group onto the rim of the active volcano, which he wasn’t one of them, as one of these tour guides had actually fallen INTO the volcano in the past.
That night we camped on the edge of the crater accompanied by our guides, several stray dogs who’d follow passing convoys in hope of food, and the odd thieving monkey.
Here is where I had the first incredibly unusual experience which would repeat itself endlessly across the rest of Indonesia. After renting a scooter from the hostel’s handyman, I decided to take a quick road trip of hotspots around the island. I was stood on the side of the road taking in the view from Malimubu of the spectacular coast line, when two girls in headscarf’s approached me, phone in hand. They spoke no English, so I went to grab the phone thinking they wanted me to take a photo. That’s when one of the girls puts her arm around me and posed…they wanted a picture of ME. I was completely baffled. The girls swapped for another picture, as I stood there with a confused smile. I never got an answer to why they wanted a picture.
A total of 7 different GROUPS of people asked for a photo of me that day. When I’d turned up to a local attraction, taking in the view, I’d be approached by sheepish looking individuals with their phone
“Sir, can you me have picture?” Its fascinatingly strange and amusing, hard to avoid feeling like a celebrity. Eventually I got an answer to why they wanted a photo
“Because you are looking good” But more realistically a 6ft 4 white man is a rare site around these parts.
I was also approached by a young kid as I walked along the beach, what’s he selling this time? Turns out the kid was simply trying to learn English and would walk the beach scouting for tourists, so I happily volunteered. I was introduced to his teach who spoke better English than me, who kindly invited me to visit their school. I unfortunately had to decline, I had places to be.
Time was running out on my visa and it would need to be extended soon, and my next destination was highly anticipated, Gili Trawangan.