Travelling, for me, is mainly about people. Sure there is beautiful scenery, delicious food and fun things to do, but without people all of these things would just be a little bit greyer (thanks DW!). Lombok, it seems, has the best of people. The locals here are as unspoiled as the landscape; the majority still marvel at tourists the way I marvel at seeing the milky way over the ocean from a tropical beach…and you know you’re off the beaten track when you can’t find a postcard for love nor money! Unfortunately this is 2015 so the marvelling is all too often coupled with requests for photos (if you’re lucky, more often than not you turn around to find someone following you as they attempt to take a selfie with you in it completely without your knowledge), or just to sit with you for a while so they can practice their English. In exchange for conversation they will share whatever they have, be that food, their language or stories.
Getting off the boat from the Gilis, I felt like Leonardo di Caprio returning to the mainland after his time on The Beach. After 6 days of quiet, engineless, existence, the noise and busy-ness of the port was overwhelming. A French couple and I haggled for a taxi and headed to our first destination, Sengiggi. We didn’t even stop there; the ‘quiet village’ was heaving with locals enjoying the last day of the post Ramadan celebrations, so much so that you could barely see the black sand beach, it was so covered in people! Instead we decided to head to Kuta, which is bigger but quieter. Along the way our driver asked if we would like to stop and see a traditional Lombok village…why not?!
Whilst much of the island is modernising, traditional locals still live in mud houses, making a living from farming, weaving and making jewellery. The houses are simple, one room dwellings where women and boys under 10 sleep on woven blankets inside, whilst the men and older sons sleep outside. Whilst sat on the outer part I spotted a tray with some leaves and a pot on it…can you guess what it was?
A make up set…of course! The leaves when chewed create a red paste used for colouring the lips and cheeks. The tobacco (in the pot) is then used as a brush to remove the red stains from teeth. Genius huh?
Ok next challenge…what is this?
I spent my first few hours in Kuta, Lombok alone, making me an easy target for passing hawkers. But unlike more touristy places the people here don’t seem to mind if you don’t buy. My first exchange was with Julie, Sam and Sunita, three sarong sellers who spend their days walking up and down the beach with a HEAVY bundle of fabrics on their head.
Having ascertained I already had a sarong they stopped asking me to buy one of theirs (unheard of anywhere else I’ve been – usually if you have one it means you’ve been worn down before, so they’re determined you can be persuaded to buy again!); instead we spoke about their lives, families, villages etc and I showed them photos of the UK (mainly Glastonbury, Cornwall and Loch Lomond…my phone had limited options!). As the three women continued on their way, two young boys joined me. One selling coconuts and the other bracelets. These two were not so easily placated by ‘no thank you’, but they were fun.
The younger one, Sabi, is 7; he goes to school in the mornings and sells bracelets on the beach in the afternoon. At sunset he goes home for dinner and to make more bracelets before hitting the beach bars to gain trade from drunken tourists. The older boy, Jonny, is 15 and already married. He and his wife have their own stall selling coconuts and pineapple to people on the beach. My younger nephews are 6 and 14…and whilst I’m sure N3 would be a dab hand at selling bracelets to people on the beach (or anywhere!) I’m glad he doesn’t have to.
Back at the homestay I met Wiebke, a German girl travelling through Asia on her way to work in Australia. She’d spent 3 weeks in Lombok (it’s easy to see how) and proved to be an invaluable guide during my stay here. Our first stop was the beach, where a Saturday night shindig was in full swing, including bonfire, live band, fire poi and impromptu limbo competitions with bits of palm tree! A few years ago the law was changed disallowing locals to build bars on the beach, but our host had a clever way around that…his bar is a boat, on wheels!
The lights, stage and sound system were all portable, set up just for the night, and the tables were lit by sand anchored candles in wax sandwich bags (great as they don’t catch fire). If you ever travel to Lombok be sure to bring a handful of these with you, they can’t be found easily here so they rely on tourists and visitors to provide them. Means a good few free drinks in exchange – more than a fair swap!!
This is the first destination I’ve been where I’ve had no idea what tomorrow will bring, but I can already feel myself falling in love with Lombok. Wish I was here longer!