Over June, July and August 2017, Tiago and I drove 3000kms on a scooter through Bali, Lombok and Sumbawa. The majority of this driving was done on the road to Sumbawa, passing through the island of Lombok via boats.
Sumbawa itself is part of the province of West Nusa Tenggara in Indonesia with a population of around 1.5 million. It lies in the ‘Pacific Ring of Fire’ and has a huge volcano ‘Mount Tambora’ that erupted in the 1800’s which is known as the most destructive eruption in modern history (thanks wikipedia). A group of us spent a week in here basing ourselves Scar Reef. Sumbawa seemed like the perfect playground for the boys to explore and I was keen to experience something different to the Bukit Peninsula of Bali and hoped to capture some photos in less crowded waters.
The journey from Bali to Sumbawa was long and dirty. The day we left, Tiago locked the scooter ignition with the magnet key head and we were stranded in Sanur Starbucks spending our budget on overpriced frappes and almond croissants. The guy we hired the scooter off drove to Sanur from Jimbaran with his wife and a bag of keys to help. We tried about 30 different key heads with different magnet combinations before one finally worked. It felt like a miracle and we gave him a tip for his kindness and got on our way. It was 1am on a morning in Late July. We would spend the day in Kuta, Lombok, after hours on the night ferry. The ferry is an interesting experience… A 4-hour journey can easily turn into 12 if there’s no room in the harbour for the boat to unload. Thankfully, that didn’t happen to us and we were in Lombok by lunch.
Kuta Lombok, is less developed than the main spots in Bali. Less tourists and more dirt roads, rice fields and animals. There is also a larger Muslim community – a culture I knew little. After breakfast (our last western meal for a while), we met up with the rest of the travel group. Eric from Costa Rica, Lucca, Tomy, Lucho, Ines, and Tiago, from Uruguay, Ian from Argentina, and from New Zealand; myself and Sam, a fellow Dunedin scarfie. It was nice to have a companion that spoke only English in a South American dominant group.
The 9 of us drove in convoy on scooters with our bags and boards to the Lombok port to ferry to Sumbawa, our desired destination. Feeling like a biker gang, together we crossed the island with a top speed of only around 60Kph. Lots of stop offs at the minimarts to get snacks, which included a whole lot of mie goreng noodles and instant coffee. I will never forget the amount of Popmie (noodles in a plastic cup bought in any supermarket) consumed on this trip. After an hour of driving our faces would be completely covered with dust and dirt.
We passed countless villages with lots of pretty flags and decorations, young kids that ran alongside us grinning, lots of animals and small horses pulling carts of veggies. As the light started to fade Lucho and Ines scooter broke down near a small community (luckily). We didn’t want to be driving at night so we insisted to a man in the village to help fix it for a good price. Eventually we finally made it by night fall to a place called Super Sucks. We found accommodation and went on a mission to get some kai. There wasn’t a lot of places to find a decent meal but we found a place that made a classic $2 nasi goreng and got some snacks from an Indomart. The following morning, we drove up and over the hill to Scar Reef. We liked the feel of the place so we searched for some accommodation by the beach for the next week. A crew of nine isn’t easy to house when there’s only a handful of options in the village and a lot were already booked out. Without phone reception or Wi-Fi (due to the constant power cuts), we went door to door for half the day looking for a homestay.
We eventually found a place after talking to some locals. A Homestay is a bit like a motel or a hostel, you have a bed and a bathroom. In our case we had 3 rooms with two double mattresses in each and a tap in the wall for the shower which worked not all of the time. We loved it, the cheapest accommodation in the area with dinner included. It was a perfect little set up, 400 metres from the beach and a super-friendly vibe. Our neighbours were happy to meet us and had puppies, chickens and goats and cows carrying bells around their necks pacing up and down the dusty roads (which constantly woke me up at night).
There was no phone reception in the area but we made a couple of trips to a minimart in a nearby town to use internet and suss our next move (Mentawais). The first night we were exhausted and in bed by 8 pm. The boys had discovered the paddle to get to the waves was a fair distance that afternoon. So the following morning we hired a boat and drove off shore to where the waves were breaking. In the blink of an eye, everyone was in the water and I was on the only one left on the boat.
Being able to see the size and power of the waves from this close was strangely humbling. It also scared the shit out of me so I was happy to be in the boat. The colours in the water were luminous shades of blue and green that reflected in the hot sun and we were able to see the reef below even though the water was a good 10 metres deep. We were graced with consistent good waves and no crowd for a few hours. Even a couple of turtles popped up to say hello. After a while Ines came in and we photographed from the boat with a view right into the barrel. It was a new experience for me and the boys had ear to ear smiles. I could see them grinning out the back, their energy was contagious and I’d get goosebumps anytime anyone caught a wave.
Day 2 in our new found paradise was very much the same, but after lunch we went looking for a waterfall in amongst some wheat fields. We got completely lost and ventured into some unchartered territory. Some local women walking with large vases and produce on their heads laughed and pointed us in the right direction. What we discovered was surreal: a little oasis. We climbed the waterfall and leaped off rocks into a deep blue pool until the sun set. There were small fish that nibbled your toes and ants crawling up the tree that could bite so you had to jump quick from the rope swing.
Night time in Sumbawa was hot and sometimes loud. Our rooms had holes in the walls and I would cover my legs with insect repellant in the hopes that it would stop unwelcomed guests. Because of the islamic religion, the village would play islamic prayers and chants in the early hours of the morning through a speaker with a pretty distorted sound. Tomy and Lucca told us horror stories of murderous locals coming to get us in the night. Even though it was probably all yarns I found it pretty hard to get to sleep and Ian had nightmares.
What I found so incredible about this place though was how untouched it was and how wonderfully kind the locals were. The ginormous Lombok Volcano could be seen some evenings when the sun sets, an incredible backdrop behind the waves. It was definitely frowned upon for girls to wear swimwear at the beach as most of the local women were completely clothed bathing in the shallows. The main beach at Scar Reef stretched for kilometres with beautiful golden sand and barely any people. One afternoon I walked down the beach and didn’t see another person for at least two hours. What I did find though was a lot of plastic washed up on the shore. There were a lot of lids, toothpaste bottles, small plastic bags, drink bottles and single use washing detergents. Such a contrast to see an incredibly beautiful golden beach with colourful shells and tropical reef littered with waste.
Our last afternoon in Sumbawa we went on a mission to get to the top of the mountain for sunset. We got pretty lost and never found the dirt road up the hill and ended up in an estuary. I remember the feeling of gratitude I felt to be in such an incredible place that was so different to life at home in Dunedin. Watching the boys laugh, flooring it up and down the beach on bikes, making the most of it, also made me so appreciative of the people that had entered my life. The trip wouldn’t have been the same without them.
We managed the ride home in one day, which was pretty lucky considering it took the rest of the group twice as long the following week due to the ferry being stuck in the port for around 12 hours. We couldn’t believe our luck managing to make it back before dinnertime. We left our homestay in Sumbawa around 4am and drove through the dark and bitterly cold morning air towards the port. I remember so clearly how the cool breeze felt this particular morning in comparison to the heat of riding in the midday sun. It was one of the first times I had felt cold in Indonesia. Lucho and Ine on one scooter, Eric on another, and Tiago and I at the back making our way through winding roads. We made it to the ferry in record timing and saw the sun rise up from the ocean as we sat on the balcony of the ferry. I knew it wouldn’t be the last sunrise I would see in Sumbawa. I hoped at that moment that this place would stay exactly how it was for a long time.
We had no mishaps on the drive apart from being stopped by the local police as we drove off the ferry into the Bali harbour. The cops asked for international driving permits which we did not have, but 50,000 rupiah which was a common bribe was enough to let us through (around 5 NZD). The exchange was done inside a room next to the port and I couldn’t believe my eyes when Tiago came back with a cheeky grin on his face after successfully requesting change from a 100,000 rupiah note.
We made it home to the Bukit Peninsula around 8pm and rewarded ourselves with huge pizzas from Pizzeria Italia (the best pizzeria joint in the world). We were already discussing our next movements to visit Sumatra with Ines and Lucho.