Lombok and Bali

Lombok is the next island east of Bali, and the primary activity planned was to leave the boats and fly or ferry to the well-known Hindu island full of resorts. We only had one full day in Lombok before Jesse and I planned to go. Jesse convinced Tim and me to rent motorbikes with him for the day, and ride to a waterfall 2+ hours away.

Riding in Indonesia is a scary/fun challenge. We’re used to driving on the left at this point. But in Indonesia that seems to be about the only rule. Lots of creative driving, especially when it comes to passing, which is pretty much all the time. If the road is wide enough for, say, one car plus two motorbikes, many drivers expect that combination to fit, without any regard to “sides” of the road. So, for example, a car might pull half way into the right lane to pass a motorbike, despite the fact that a motorbike is approaching — it will still fit in the remaining half a lane. In fact, cars tend to pass like this even if there are TWO oncoming motorbikes, side by side. This arrangement won’t fit, but it is assumed that the two oncoming bikes will get into a single file when they see a car approaching in their lane.

More frequently it is bikes passing cars or trucks. The bikers will pull up until almost touching the car, waiting for a chance to pass. Several may all pass at once, filling the passing lane, zipping back to the left (or maybe just to the middle) just before hitting oncoming traffic.

And then there are the more unexpected obstacles. Tim had a momma goat and her kid run out in front of him, and the kid began nursing in the busy road. And there are the motorbikes that have loads the width of a car — often display cases used for selling something on the side of the road, packed up on the back behind the biker.

It became a quest to make it to this waterfall. Tim’s bike overheated. We (Jesse) found a bike shop where they added coolant. But before long it overheated again. Jesse found another shop. This time the guy pulled the cover off the engine, exposing an air filter thoroughly clogged with dust and volcanic ash. He cleaned it out with compressed air, and the problem was solved.

But we still had wrong turns and bad directions to cope with. We doubled back a couple times, and then a guy asked me if he could help. When asked about the waterfall, he said you need a guide to go there…and he was a guide! In fact he was a guide who normally takes people on a four day trek up the volcano, but the mountain was closed so he was home with nothing to do. We hired him.

It was a 45 minute walk to the waterfall. Very nice. Cold water! On the way back we walked in an aqueduct tunnel, part of the way in total darkness. Our guide left us at a restaurant with a view, where we rested and fueled before our long ride back. It was an adventure of a different kind, and fun.

Next day a car takes us to the “fast boat” to Bali. The cost had gone up since the quote we got two days earlier, because the Lombok airport had closed due to the ash. So all those who would have flown were trying to get seats on the ferries. Whatever. The two hour ferry ride was only moderately unpleasant. And the subsequent two hour minibus ride to the resort was fun because of all the sights along the way — temples instead of mosques, amazing statues, stone carvings and other crafts along the street, colorful decorations/offerings,…

The resort is wonderful. Quiet. Relatively cool up in the hills. Cooler still in the air conditioned room! There’s a shower with hot water. Another shower outdoors. Plus a private jacuzzi/pool. Great place for a romantic getaway. Or a recharge break from your yacht!

We rested a lot in the air conditioned room, and we ate mostly western food (great breakfast with bacon and eggs, and good pizza at night); we got massages at the resort, and hung out some in our private pool. But we also took the shuttle several times into the town of Ubud.

Ubud is a fun place, though totally “touristic.” Hundreds of little shops and restaurants, and sidewalks filled with mostly white people speaking many languages. We bought our share of crafts. We enjoyed strolling through the monkey forest. We attended two dance performances. The first was a Women’s Kecak Fire Dance in the outdoor grounds of a temple. Just as the show began, it started to rain — for the first time this season! The performers continued for a few minutes, until it became clear that everyone was getting soaked. Then we all hurried up the street to another temple with an indoor space. It was very funny seeing one of the cast perched on the back of a motorbike with a lighted fire stick in each hand, switching venues. The rain made the evening all the more special, and we thoroughly enjoyed the show. We returned for another type of dance/music the next night, which was merely…interesting.

We met an American woman in town who was in Bali for a “destination wedding.” But everyone else was coming from Australia, and the airline they were using had canceled all their Bali flights (volcano/ash), even though the Bali airport was open. So she was traveling/vacationing alone, not sure if the wedding was going to happen or not! She thought it might get rescheduled, but in that case the one person who made it to the original venue was going to end up missing the wedding, because she couldn’t afford to come back from the USA a second time!

Three days in the resort was about right. It was starting to get to the point where we were growing accustomed to the air conditioning and good food any over-the-top service. Maybe we would like to stay another month… No, back to the boat and the grit on the deck and below, and the stifling heat. But with a will the three of us manned the manual pump to wash the decks, and after an hour of sweat I felt much better about being back aboard.

We had a big supply of food delivered to us ($3,000,000+ Rupiah), we bought a few more gifts right on the marina grounds, and we are almost ready to go. Our biggest need is more cash. I keep getting the maximum available at the ATM (usually 2.5 million) and a day later it is gone (mostly toward the food in the latest case). Our next stop is Kumai (a stop recently canceled due to the big fires on Borneo, but now reinstated after some rain fell). There are no ATMs there, so we have to load up on cash before we leave. We have another day before our scheduled departure, but we are ready (mentally/emotionally) to move on and leave the damn volcano in our wake.

Lombok
Lombok
Many forms of public transportation in Lombok
Many forms of public transportation in Lombok
Terrifying at times
Terrifying at times
But fun
But fun
Medana Marina
Medana Marina
Fixing Tim's motorbike, on our quest to the waterfall
Fixing Tim’s motorbike, on our quest to the waterfall
Waterfall #1
Waterfall #1

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Waterfall #2
Waterfall #2
And a cold swim
And a cold swim
Before getting back on the road, our RESTaurant.
Before getting back on the road, our RESTaurant.
View from restaurant
View from restaurant
View from our villa in Ubud, Bali
View from our villa in Ubud, Bali
Our villa
Our villa
Our villa
Our villa
Our private jacuzzi/pool, overlooking a ravine, and we can hear the rush of the river below
Our private jacuzzi/pool, overlooking a ravine, and we can hear the rush of the river below
Ubud
Ubud
Ubud
Ubud
Temple at the Ubud monkey forest
Temple at the Ubud monkey forest
You are here...at the monkey forest
You are here…at the monkey forest

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Good things come in threes
Good things come in threes
...and in twos
…and in twos

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Ruy monkeying around
Ruy monkeying around
Daphne with new friend
Daphne with new friend
Jesse with new friend
Jesse with new friend

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There are stone carvings everywhere, and a lot of them have sexual overtones...
There are stone carvings everywhere, and a lot of them have sexual overtones…

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Back to the resort dining room
Back to the resort dining room
And one of the pools
And one of the pools
Back to Ubud for the start of the Kecak Fire Dance
Back to Ubud for the start of the Kecak Fire Dance
Continued indoors, after a rain delay
Continued indoors, after a rain delay

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As a bonus while on the fire theme, we prepare for the Trance Dance
As a bonus while on the fire theme, we prepare for the Trance Dance
Not only does the God that enters this man's body walk on burning coconut coals...
Not only does the God that enters this man’s body walk on burning coconut coals…
...he rides his horse through them
…he rides his horse through them

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Back at the resort
Back at the resort
The path to the "front desk" which has everything you would expect at a hotel's front desk, except walls.
The path to the “front desk” which has everything you would expect at a hotel’s front desk, except walls.
You can stop at this little shrine along the way between the front desk and your villa.
Goodbye, Natural Villa Resort and Spa. We will miss You!

Pirates and Volcanoes

I figured the title of this post would get the attention of my Lewiston Middle Schoolers, and hopefully prompt a batch of questions from them…

Before leaving Komodo, we did some spectacular snorkeling at Pink Beach. Then we spent two nights at an uninhabited islet nearby called Gili Lawa Laut, where we did more delightful snorkeling. It was so nice to be in a deserted place; no one selling things; no trash; swim right off the boat.

However, as we were preparing to leave for Lombok we got word that a 60′ German sailboat crossing from Lombok to Bali had been attacked by pirates! This part of the world has a long history of piracy. But according to Luc no yacht had ever been attacked. The piracy focus has been on stealing oil from tankers, etc. Obviously this was very disconcerting. We had no details about the circumstances, and whether the people were held for ransom, or what.

One can argue that this must be a one-time event. One can argue that there will now be heightened awareness/patrols, and so things should be safer now than before this happened. Argue all you want, I can’t help thinking a lot about the subject. We have discussed contingencies — who does what if people try to board the boat. We’ve discussed the use of our meager makeshift weapons, and concluded that they would just enrage attackers without deterring them. We’ve reviewed the priorities of making a lot of noise and light, calling our fellow BPOers on the radio, setting off emergency beacons and hiding them, etc.

We set sail for Lombok in relatively close convoy, but last night we got out ahead of the group because it was beautiful sailing and we were fast. We were still in sight of the other boats, but five miles away. Didn’t seem like an issue, until a couple fishing boats approached. Suddenly the body/mind goes into high alert…fight or flight. At what point can you determine hostile intent, and at that point how much time do you have? The mind races. Of course the boats went on with their fishing and all was well. But we “closed ranks.” The internal/mental stress was intense, even though “nothing happened.”

Now at Lombok, the guys here at the marina tell a different story about the “piracy.” Luc says he knew the boat, which is actually American, and the owner, whom he says is eccentric. The marina folks say he took on an equally eccentric German woman as crew shortly before he left. And they say that the woman reported (how and to whom?) a sexual assault. They also say they sailed to Christmas Island (Australia), not to Bali. They say the “pirate attack” was actually the Australian Coast Guard coming to investigate.

The locals here have an interest in minimizing the event so it won’t affect their business. But it seems almost certain that there was no piracy. Interesting how much we are affected by just the suggestion that there was. Perhaps this has been a good “drill” — to get us thinking and talking about how to be safe.

[Luc was present during a real attack in his marina in the Philippines, complete with automatic weapons. Two people he knows are still being held hostage.]

About the same time that we heard about the pirates, the volcano on Lombok erupted. A minor eruption, but enough to close the airport in Bali, downwind. The airport is open again, and all seems to be okay, except…the whole boat is now covered with a layer of dust/ash, inside and out. This is extremely annoying, and feels like a violation of my personal space. I don’t want to open the hatch over my berth, because my bed will get covered with dust. But you can’t NOT open the hatch; too hot. I don’t want to breathe either, but again you gotta… I’m hoping/wishing it will be done “ashing” after a day… I’d like to get both pirates and active volcanoes behind us!!

Alone at last! At anchor at Gili Lawa Laut -- beautiful, clean and nice snorkeling.
Alone at last! At anchor at Gili Lawa Laut — beautiful, clean and nice snorkeling.
Whale in the distance
Whale in the distance
Dolphins playing nearby
Dolphins playing nearby
VERY nearby
VERY nearby
Jesse tries to make friends
Jesse tries to make friends
An extra challenge here is that the electronic charts are not accurate. Note that it shows us sailing across the land...
An extra challenge here is that the electronic charts are not accurate. Note that it shows us sailing across the land…
Sailing by the volcanic island Gili Banda
Sailing by the volcanic island Gili Banda
Somewhere in there is the two mile high volcano on Lombok that erupted. Not sure if the cloud formation is related to the volcanic activity.
Somewhere in there is the two mile high volcano on Lombok that erupted. Not sure if the cloud formation is related to the volcanic activity.
As we approach our destination in the morning we clearly see the band of ash from the volcano, streaming to the right, and bound for our deck...
As we approach our destination in the morning we clearly see the band of ash from the volcano, streaming to the right, and bound for our deck…

Komodo

Every now and then along comes a day that is simply magical. Today was one.

Yesterday we arrived at the island of Komodo. Except for a pre-existing village, the entire island is a national park, because of the presence of the Komodo Dragon. The landscape is beautiful. If you gaze above the water, the beach, and the coconut palms, it looks rather like Arizona.

We were up by 6am to head ashore for our park tour. We were told if we arrived by 6:45 it was almost guaranteed that we would see dragons. We did, and they are pretty cool. We were warned to stick together, and there was always a guide at the front and the back of the group. We got to hear the story of a tourist ten years ago that left the group to take pictures, and after a week of searching only his camera and eye glasses were found, so it is assumed he was eaten by dragons. These giant reptiles mostly eat deer. They are somewhat like crocodiles — they hide and wait, and when an animal comes within range, they have a sudden attack. Their bite causes infection; they stalk the bitten prey until it succumbs to the infection. Mothers will eat their own hatchlings, too…

After our hike we all bought drinks and relaxed. I was touched by a comment made to me by a fellow BPOer. He said: you know that many of the extremist Muslims come from Indonesia? But I wish every American could come visit this area. The people have been so wonderful; it would change Americans ideas about what it means to be Muslim.

Meanwhile Jesse started to mix it up with some of the locals. Next thing you know he is arm wrestling, and some wagers are being placed! He did well, winning a little cash and impressing the locals with his strength.

Back at the boat we relaxed, and then mid-afternoon we decided to go snorkeling. Along with several others from the BPO we took the dinghy to Pink Beach, which we had passed on our approach yesterday. This turned out to be one of the best, perhaps THE best, snorkeling of this voyage! The water was clear; there was an amazing variety of fish; and the colors and textures of the coral were mind boggling.

Back to the boat, and now we had to hurry because Tim had arranged with one of the guides to meet at 5pm, and he would take us to the village for dinner. There are no restaurants in the village, but Abdullah said he could provide dinner at his house. The village itself is fascinating. The houses are mostly on stilts, which could protect them from a storm surge, but also protects them from dragons. Abdullah’s house is on the edge of town, bordering the park, and he says it is a common sight to see dragons there.

Walking down the narrow “Main Street” path, Abdullah stopped and asked if we wanted chicken for dinner. Sure, why not? Then we need to come up with the cash to buy the chicken. We did, and we got to briefly meet our food. Then on to a nicer-than-average house, that our guide said was not his, but it belongs to his family, and we could have coffee and tea there. Apparently one can also rent accommodation space there.

While sipping and waiting for Abdullah to take the chicken to his wife so she could start cooking, up the path comes the only white person we’ve seen. She says hello, and Tim gets into a conversation with her, and she comes up to join us. Nina is from Holland, she is a nurse, and she has lived on the island of Flores for several years. She also works for an NGO that matches up organizations looking to do projects with the local needs. We have a constant stream of questions for her. We learn, for example, that there is a desalination facility almost next door, with a solar array and batteries. Except it stopped working after less than a year, and the charitable organization that built it is done with their project, no longer around to fix it. Nina has found a Belgian group that has the expertise to fix it and that is looking for a project… In the meantime the villagers carry water from about six kilometers away.

We learn that another group built public toilets for the village, with a proper septic system. Except that the system requires a pump that is no longer working. I’m not sure if this is a question of “appropriate technology” or effective project management and follow-up.

Tim asked a lot about the government. Nina “doesn’t believe in governments — they come and go, and the politicians get rich and nothing changes for the poor.” We are in a remote part of Indonesia (a country with many remote parts), and very few resources are sent this way. What the village needs, she says, is a fast boat to carry sick or injured people to a hospital. Fives mothers died in recent months from complications in/after childbirth. And sometimes a person gets bitten by a dragon, and needs urgent care for the infection. Tim asks about the government providing such a boat, and she laughs. No chance.

As it starts to get dark, a generator cranks up, and our host fiddles with some wires until lights come on. There is electricity from 7pm to 11pm, usually.

Abdullah returns and invites us to follow him to his house. We sit on a rug over a section of the bare wood floor. Adjacent is a mattress (probably filled with kapok, as there are local kapok trees). No glass in the windows, of course, but pretty fabric that can at least keep out the sun, perhaps some of the rain. Corrugated metal roof. The whole structure sways on its stilts when we move. Tim asks in the course of conversation whether the house includes a toilet. Abdullah laughs; a toilet is a huge expense; they have the beach.

Abdullah’s wife is cooking in the next room. Cooking with a wood fire! Gas is too expensive. She is not introduced, and she does not sit or eat with us. She brings food, she nods when we thank her, she is happy to pose for a photo with her husband and one year old daughter. The food is superb! Well, the chicken is tough. But the flavors are delicious and there are several dishes and the quantity is over the top. We eat sitting on the rug on the floor. At some point they turn on their television for their two kids and a neighbor kid. They get one channel, and they have to pay for it. I’m a little surprised that they would allocate money to TV, but when I see the kids passed out in front of it, I can see that it might be valuable.

We also learn that the relatively hefty fees we all paid to the national park go almost entirely to Jakarta. The guide gets about $3 for the entire tour — probably not quite 1% of the fees collected from us today. Nothing goes to help the village, except of course for providing these job opportunities.

I think all three of us came away wishing we could fix the broken down projects, and help Abdullah and the village as a whole. We did what we readily could — we paid what we think was a big amount for our meal. Abdullah would not say any amount the he expected; it was up to us. We (gladly) paid as much as we have paid in any restaurant, plus we had already bought the chicken.

Abdullah escorted us back to our dinghy. The long ride home was beautiful, the stars brighter than we have seen before in Indonesia, and the water was calm and phosphorescent. What to make of it all…? Is there more we can do for these people besides pay generously for dinner? Is the way to leave the world better than we found it to become a Nina — to live in an emerging area for years and help with sustainable development? Is there a way to be useful from our distant homes?

Approaching our anchorage at Komodo
Approaching our anchorage at Komodo

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Morning gathering at the park
Morning gathering at the park
Yup, we saw dragons
Yup, we saw dragons

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The village
The village

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Our stop for coffee/tea
Our stop for coffee/tea

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Our dinner
Our dinner
The dining room
The dining room
What a little TV does to the kids
What a little TV does to the kids
Our hosts
Our hosts