3rd April 2016
Finally I ride out of Tex’s safe secure world on the southern tip of the Bukit and make my way to Pandang Bai and the ferry to Lombok.
The roads I aim to take include a mix of secondary roads and unfortunately long sections of highway. Traffic. Balinese traffic.
Although traffic is dense it’s not that busy and it is a traffic completely comfortable with slow moving two-wheeled vehicles, of which I am but the slowest. Worst is the fumes. Euro 6 class of diesel engine is a pipe-dream. And noise. There seems to be no limit to how loud a vehicle, mostly scooters, can be. I’d not like to ride such traffic for a daily commute to work, fearing for both lung and ear.
It’s 70 km to Pandang Bai. The longest ride since January. I’m curious as to how it’ll go, how I’ll feel. Despite the best of intentions I leave later rather than earlier but still manage to arrive in Pandang Bai fifteen minutes to two. Which means 15 minutes before a ferry departs to Lombok.
Those wise men of the Bukit, Tex and Phil, strongly endorsed the joys of a night in Pandang Bai. Two o’clock. Hmmm.
It’s four hours to Lembar, the small town and ferry terminal on Lombok where I’ll start my Lombokian experience. No one has ever endorsed Lembar as an overnight joy. I figure if Pandang Bai has a welcoming collection of homestays surely the other side of the ferry journey has to as well.
Besides, a quick look at the map shows the road south towards Sekotong follows the coast. There has to be someone who’s set up a homestay or bungalow along it. Surely.
Lombok is about 80 south of the Equator. This means it gets dark pretty much on the dot around 1830. I’ll have half an hour of light upon disembarking before the roads become black. Half an hour within which I hope to find my homestay or bungalow.
Immediately I get off the ferry and turn right on the Sekotong Road I realise I may have made a wee error of judgement in ignoring Tex and Phil’s solid advice. There is nothing remotely looking like a homestay or bungalow. Quite a contrast to Pandang Bai. With nothing to lose I venture forth.
It goes from bad to worse. The road along the coast where I was sure there’d be something has nothing. Except the odd Lombokian house. No bungalows. No homestays. I consider options. Which includes going online using my mobile. Thank Allah, God, the Tooth Fairy, Nokia, Steve Jobs, whoever, for inventing this thing. E V E R Y N O W A N D T H E N they are actually worth having and useful.
Useful they may be but that doesn’t mean the information they produce is particularly encouraging, especially as I’m riding along a dark road in a quiet corner of strange country with no good idea where I’m headed. I can’t quite work out where the first bungalow lies, since Google Maps handily tells me “There are no navigable routes”. Errr. I know there is one, perhaps more. But not sure where. The road I’m on seems to be the most logical to find a bungalow. It runs along the coast. Google Maps places it’s ‘pin’ smack in the middle of the peninsular. Quite apart from ‘no navigable roads’ it is quite a hilly peninsular. And it’s getting dark. Hmmm …
A couple of kids on a scooter ride along side and ask me where I’m going, among a few other questions. Seems I need to consider a good 20 km. Most of it in the dark. They do not suggest I take another road or anything.
My Huawei smart phone, bought in Bali coz a) my Nokia is locked to that thieving monopolistic Too Big To Care company Telstra, and b) I broke the screen trying to open the damned thing, does provide a phone number for Krishna Bungalows in Sekotong. I call them. It gets worse. I should expect twenty seven kilometres. The guy freaks when he finally understands I’m not on a scooter I’m on a bicycle. Despite his assertions that it can’t be done, that it’s dark, that it’s a long way, I convince him I’m on the way for I have no other option. He even offers to come and pick me up in his truck! Things are looking up.
Besides, dark it may be, I’ve a eDelux LED lamps blazing a trail and it’s only just gone 1830, the road is reasonably flat and it’s asphalt. I don’t really get the problem. Only, I don’t have a detailed map, Garmin spectacularly failed to load my South East Asia maps, Google maps is useless, so consequently I’ve only a rough idea in which direction to ride.
What can go wrong? How hard can it be?
A T-Junction. Turn right, according to my map. You see? How hard.
Tex calls and laughs at my tale. “ … told you should stay in Pandang Bai. There’s nothing in Lembar, it’s a shithole”. I had to cut him off since my Huawei’s battery’s getting dangerously low. It is the only thing connecting me to possibilities. I pull into a tiny phone shop and mime ‘I need power for my device’ and plug in. Twenty kids assemble and swarm over Dreamer. Another woman turns up and demands money for the power charge. I write down the details for Krishna Bungalows in Sekotong, disconnect the phone and clear the swarm away from the bike. The woman is surprised at how short time I take and doesn’t demand any money.
Sekotong Tengah. Another T-Junction. Not so clear this time: where is Krishan? I call Krishna. “Turn right. Do not turn left”. Clear. Turn right.
I cross over a little peninsular and are again on the coast. Can’t be far now. Twenty seven kilometres up on the odometer. Where’s the bungalows?
Finally, the unmistakable form of tourist accommodation: high fence, gate, large sign, on the beach, the tops of several identical structures in a row visible over the fence. It’s not Krishna Bungalows, but it is a bungalow. I stop and ask the guard on the gate where Krishna is. He points down the road and answers “Dua kilo” to my question of “Berapa harga kilos Krishna bungalows?”
Just then a small tray-back truck pulls up. Danny, come to rescue me.
I decline his kind offer of a ride. “I’ve come this far” I explain. “I’m going to complete this”.
Ten minutes later Danny ushers me through a gate to a steep thatched roof bungalow overlooking an empty pool, ten metres from the sea. “This is your room”, he said. Made it.
Shortly after showering Itan, the manager turns up. Apparently a ‘mistake’ has been made. Danny thought I was a ‘couple’ who’ve booked via booking.com. “No, I didn’t book a room” I explain. “I phoned, to get directions, but I didn’t really book a room. Do you want me to leave?”
Apparently not. I realise the trap I’ve set for myself. It is quite a salubrious room. And I’ve set up in it without clarifying the price. This could be expensive. But it’s damned near 2030, too late really for fucking around.
Ultimately I appeal to their better nature (it was not me, afterall, who mistakenly put me in the bungalow) and make a good deal for a two night stay. At some 550 000 rupiah for two nights it is expensive by Indonesian standards, but I’d consider it a good price given it was all made up on the go. And it is a really nice place.
If I continue west along the Jalan Raya Sekotong I’ll hit another T-junction at Jati. Turn left here and I can make my way over the new road to Belongas, where I’ve been told there should be accommodation. It’s a diving area, y’see.
I run this idea past Itan. He is aghast at the idea. For one, the road is in terrible condition, and not asphalt. Hey, that’s OK, I’ve survived the Biddi. It’s in the middle of nowhere, no villages, nothing. Isolated. Indonesians are not used to being isolated. And I’ll get robbed.
“How can I get robbed if no one lives there?” I ask.
According to Itan who used to work along that road as an artisanal miner, those artisanal miners remaining are, apparently, more than willing to trade in several hours of hard yakka breaking rocks to supplement their income by robbing a hapless passer-by, especially one who can’t easily escape.
The basic 1:200 000 map of Lombok I have shows the road as winding and zig-zagging in places. Road engineers do not build zig-zagging roads coz they look nice from space or because members of the leather-clad brigade like to ride them. They do so when the incline/decline the road has to negotiate is simply too steep for a straight line.
I add it up: crap road, gravel/mud, whatever; possibility of opportunistic thieves; steep as; mid-high 30o C temperatures, 80-90% humidity; approximately 25 – 30 km; maybe accommodation at the other end.
Y’know, I figured I pushed my luck quite far yesterday with the night ride to Krishna. Maybe I don’t want to do push it too far again quite so soon.
Honestly, if it was just me against nature, and them engineers, I’d have gone for it. 25 km. Perhaps it’d take all day. The actual jalan rusak, bad road, section is less than 10 km. I have survived the Biddi: 6 hours to ride 30 km. I did a lot of pushing and pulling that day.
I’ve also got a healthy scepticism to random acts of highway robbery and other nefarious activities. I’ve been hearing them for 30 years across 50 countries. Shit does happen, but it does not happen often. I’ve had a few close calls with perhaps the most dangerous in India during the first Gulf War in 91 when me and Spud were trying to score drugs in a Muslim village where the drunk villagers were bearing down hard upon us lumping all Westerners with President Bush. Back then I wore seven Buddhist amulets around my neck. When the men saw these their anger dissipated, the drugs procured and we went our merry hippy way.
But there’s a little voice in the back of my head saying “Don’t do this, let this one go”.
And so I let it go. I have learnt to listen to my Inner Voice (most times).
I backtrack to Sekotong Tengah and keep going. My maps shows a reasonably straight line between the north coast of the peninsular to Sepi on the south coast.
It’s a mild 32o C (32o C is mild compared to relentless +40o C). It is also very humid. The road south of Sekotong Tengah gently meanders with a mild incline through tiny kampungs, between rice paddies, stands of coconut and other fruit trees, surrounded by impressive hills. And then, finally, I get what’s coming to me.
The incline just keeps getting steeper. 5 %, 8, 10%, 12, 14 … 16%! By now I’m a sweaty slathering horror, a curtain of sweat pouring out from under my helmet cascading down over my sunglasses.
At the top of the hill I take a breather, squeeze out my gloves and sleeveless top. Water, my water pours out of them as if they had been soaking. I guess this is what I must expect. Steep hills, hot and sweaty. Welcome to a volcanic island in the tropics.
The decline was a wonderful antidote to the incline. There are two main schools of thought among cyclists dealing with inclines and declines. One is: don’t enjoy the decline coz it just makes the subsequent incline all the more harder. The other is: revel in the decline, enjoy it whilst you can. I am one for the latter.
At the bottom of the hill I take a right onto an asphalt road along which, I am reliably told, lies Belongas. Asphalt devolves to a deeply rutted dirt track that would be hell in wet weather, consisting mostly of clays. I bounce and huff and puff grind my way up the steep little hills. Not quite Biddi quality but certainly a tough ride especially in the heat and humidity. That little voice has returned … “Y’know Max, if you were going to set up a tourist business in a remote off-the-beaten-track spot in Lombok would you not need a decent road along which random tourists and dedicated travellers can actually reach your establishment? Even if you collected them from someplace you’d need a decent 4WD to navigate this road. Doesn’t that make you think maybe, just maybe, there isn’t any accommodation at the end of this track?”
I start to ask passer-byers, non of whom are Westerners “Ada bungalow di Belongas?”. Each one answers the same: “Tidak”. No.
After six or so kilometres I decide that perhaps the locals know more than the non-locals I’d asked previously and I turn around.
Back at the junction I sit in one of the ubiquitous brugaks and rehydrate, wring out my gloves and top. It seems like I’m losing a L O T of water. But am I simply not as constantly thirsty as riding in the middle of Australia where I didn’t sweat at all: I’m sure it evaporated before it left my pores.
It’s barely midday but looking at my map I’ve got some serious kilometres to ride if I don’t/can’t find accommodation in the villages over the next five or so kilometres, including a road that heads well inland. Makes no sense to build a road away from the coast only to return to it perhaps ten Crow kilometres further up. Unless there are some serious obstacles. I have a funny feeling I’ll eclipse my 16% if I continue. Am I up for that? I figure a short, but intense day, would be good enough. A long intense day may be a bit too much.
I have reason to believe there is accommodation at both Pangsing and Pengatap, but a few kilometres further up.
I expected some kind of accommodation at Sepi. Rode straight through the place without even knowing I had. No accommodation.
A small Kampong turns up. I’m hungry. Noticing some bananas I stop and find out I’m in Pengatop. Rode straight through Pangsing without even realising it. “Ada bungalows sini?” I ask. “Tidak”. So much for my intel. Hmmm. “Ada bungalow di Pangsing?”. “Yo”. Yes. Hmmm, but where is Pangsing. Everyone I ask loosely waves their hands in the direction I’ve just come. I did not notice anything, no kampong no sign nothing. Admittedly my map shows Pangsing a short distance off the road I’m on but surely there would be some kind of sign.
A guy on a scooter stops to talk with me. Yes, he confirms there are bungalows at Pangsing. He actually shows me the way eventually stopping next to another grotty rutted dirt track in diabolical condition.
“Down there?” I ask, just a bit sceptical. “Yes” he answers.
So be it.
I ride off. It’s not as deadly as the Biddi but it’s pretty bad, full of pot holes full of water. This is a land of the scooter though, so I simply follow the countless scooter riders who’d come before me. I pass a large truck painfully meandering its way through all them pot holes and ruts.
The track seems to go forever, following mangroves on the right and a mix of agriculture and jungle to the left. A vehicles crawls towards me. I ask about the bungalows and get an affirmative.
The track terminates in a kampong. I ask about the bungalows and are shown a track too small for vehicles. The village ends. A beach to one side, scrubby bush-jungle in front, village to the other side.
The boys point to a single path heading towards the scrubby-bush-jungle. Wont of another option I continue.
That voice is asking the same thing as on the Belongas track: “This is the way into tourist accommodation?” It’s pretty clear that neither clientele nor supplies can make their way comfortably along such a track to feed a business. They have to come by boat. People are affirmative about there being a bungalow.
And then, suddenly, a fence and on the other side of the fence are well manicured grounds. And what looks like something a tourist would sleep in. I have to follow the fence and go around it by pushing Dreamer along the beach before entering through a gate.
For the pleasure of one night’s accommodation in what is admittedly a beautiful bungalow with a large room and a vast balcony all to myself, 100 m from a superb beach, I need to pay more than than everything I paid at Krishna including food. Captive audience. I’m not going to argue. My legs are tired, the way forward is at least double what I’ve already done. And, at 850 000 rupiah it is but 60€. In real terms it is a good price.
Yes, they bring everything in by boat. Their clientele are mostly divers. No random tourists, ‘cept me.
Unfortunately any thought of more than one night’s stay is quashed since I have to pay cash. No telecommunications provider reaches here, thus no credit-card capacity. I don’t have enough.
Instead I relax and enjoy the sumptuous furniture and surroundings. I even have a hot shower.
For lunch I return to the village seeking a warung, restaurant. There is none. I harangue and basically make such a fuss about food someone actually makes me nasi goreng. Whilst a lot of nasi is used it is pretty basic. Non the less I enjoy it. And pay the small fortune of 25 000 rupiah for the privilege. As I await my meal I practice Indonesian with the curious group who surrounds me on the brugak. A lot of fun.
Back at the bungalow. A swim. Some stretching. Chilling upstairs, when the heavens open. Vast amounts of water pour from the heavens sending naked boys screaming in delight through the downpour through the coconut plantation just opposite me.
Amazing. But something tells me my little track may not be so easy to navigate when I venture forth tomorrow. Banishing such grim thoughts I sit back, relax, enjoy an ice-cold beer and feel good about myself.
The manager tells me of a mythical new road along the coast not shown on my map. If the information is correct it means I avoid having to turn inland towards Montongsapah at the end of the short beach section east of Pengatop. Instead it would head direct towards Selong Blanak, and thence to Kuta. Things are looking up. The thought is still there though: it can’t be an easy road otherwise they would have built it long ago. Ah well, I’ll find out tomorrow.
6 April 2016
Rested well I venture forth. Until the track. The rains from yesterday have turned it into a one of those slippery mud-bath challenges people pay a lot of money in which to compete for the title of Mud Bath Hero/inne. One with very slippery clay bottom. I slip and slide, occasionally topple over and painstakingly grind my way at walking pace the 2.5 km back to the main road. Dreamer is filthy. I am covered in sweat.
Back at the little shop where yesterday I bought bananas I wash Dreamer, and myself, courtesy of a very convenient tap. Takes a goodly while too. I voluntarily pay 10 000 rupiah for the privilege, get some more bananas and ride off.
At the end of the beach section there is no road to Selong Blanak. I ask but am reassured the road does turn-off, but some ways further up. Nothing for it, I have to head inland.
Tex did warn me that Indonesians can barely read a map nor describe a route. And he’s right. There is no road along the beach. Time to take on the hills. Damn.
They are quite some hills too. Swiftly I exceed yesterday’s 16%. 18%. Finally I cross the 20% threshold. I avoid red-lining by strategic stopping in what little shade I can find. Slow going. Fifty meters, 100, 200 maybe. Then stop, recover. Start again.
A teenager pulls up next to me during one such rest. After the usual pleasantries he offers to push me up the hill. Sure, great idea.
Took a while before we got the hang of it but I am very happy he did that, getting me to the top several kilometres further. All of it steep.
As the road winds on I find 10% seems easy and 15% is not hard. I’ve a new normal. 20% the new hard.
The scenery is beautiful. A market in full bloom in one village, goods and wares spread on tarpaulins along the road. I buy some bananas and rambutans and dodge kids, cars, scooters, chickens, dogs and random pedestrians.
Each time an asphalt road turns to the right I ask if it’s the one to Selong Blanak and each time it is not. Since I’m at the top of the hills the undulating terrain is not so severe, the intense inclines shorter and more manageable.
Finally, a couple of boys in a brugak in the village of Keling tell me this road is THE one to Selong Blanak. I’m dubious but another confirms it. I turn right. Swiftly I descend from the 200+m elevation I’ve been hovering around and for sure the coast is closing in fast.
Then, suddenly, I’m here. Selong Blanak.
I make my way to the beach where for the first time in Indonesia I’m really exposed to mass backpacker tourism. Rickerty shacks on the beach, umbrellas and deck chairs for an astronomical 50 000 rupiah, beautiful wide white sandy beach, mild surf fringed by impressive mountains and hills. Lots of white to red bodies.
It has taken me four and half hours to ride nearly 29 kilometres. Pretty tough going, though it does include the clean after the mud-track-challenge.
I consider staying here but whilst there are bungalows I opt to ride on.
After a short swim, a meal and some relaxing I prepare to go. Dark foreboding clouds dominate the sky to the west. Since the ferry ride from Bali four days previously each day starting around 1400 the heavens have opened. There’s a chance it may pass to the north but I’m not too sure.
I make my way back to the village to buy some water and whilst at the shop the heavens open again.
The downpour is phenomenal. Swiftly curtains of water pour off the roof. I drag Dreamer deeper and deeper into the shop as the road becomes a river. I did think to ride in the rain, but in this deluge it would be impossible.
I share a coffee with a couple of Israeli travellers and wait it out. If it doesn’t stop I’ll head to one of the few bungalows in the area.
But it does stop. The sky to the west is remarkably clear. Worth the risk. I’m told it’s some 27 km to Kuta. An hour and a half. Worth the risk.
Yes, there’s a good long 20% as I climb off the beach but that’s the only one. A young guy wearing a T-shirt with Freemantle printed on it pulls alongside on a scooter, starts asking quite specific cycling questions. Turns out Leo is from Freemantle and is also on a cycle tour! Only he managed to lose all his cards and is awaiting new ones from Perth. He gives me directions to where he’s staying in Kuta. Now I have accommodation sorted.
Kuta is not 27 km from Selong Blanak. It’s 17 km. An Indonesia guys pulls alongside as I’m riding Kuta’s main stream. “Max?” he asks. It’s Bruno from Travellers Homestay, Leo told him I was due to arrive and I follow him to neat set of simple bungalows set off the main drag. Good location, away from the constant traffic noise and hustle of the main street.
Here I intend to stay for three nights to give my legs a chance to recuperate. I look forward to being cycling fit as I take on the next section. I came here for these hills, I’ve a very lightly packed bike and relatively short distances. It’ll be good.
I can’t say Kuta Lombok is a paradise. The main drag of the street does not reflect its reputation as a bit of ‘place to go’.
Whilst hardly a Kuta Lombok phenomenon, the ubiquitous spread of garbage is frankly depressing. Dumped in drains, piled in places and burnt and overall forming a pervasive blanket of plastic through which chickens and lowly hounds scavenge. Water bodies are rank and dangerous looking. Since it’s tropical anything organic decomposes pretty quick, except coconut husks. And of course The Plastic.
I expected more of Kuta Pantai. There are two sections. One, where the traditional fishing village still operates, with its assorted boats and kampong life.
A group of people are separating small fish from a net out of a tiny outrigger. Labour intensive. For the same man/woman-power on a Norwegian fishing boat we were processes thousands of kilos of fish. Per haul on occasion.
A utterly befouled river discharges into the sea among stranded boats. Naked kids splash and play, oblivious to the hazards in the water they are playing in. As are their parents who sit in some shelter, drink coffee and gossip.
The other where a wide pleasant beach stretches for several hundred meters.
It’s not a surf beach, since there’s a reef well out to sea. Few bules (foreigners) and fewer Indonesians are actually lounging on the beach. Most turn up for a selfie infront of the KUTA LOMBOK sign before disappearing in the buses that brought them.
I retreat to a beach-view bar and enjoy THE MOST expensive beer yet. But I do have a grandstand view when the heavens opened for its daily cleansing, sending the child bracelet hawkers scrambling for safety in one of the brugaks.
Kuta is, in comparison to where I’ve just been, positively civilised with ATM machines, lots of cafes and a supermarket.
9 April 2016
My three night plan disappeared down the toilet as the duck I rather ill-advisedly ate at Nuggets last evening for dinner tried its hardest to run away. I needed something substantial. The low-calorific diet of nasi campur (rice with mixed dishes), great in taste though it may be, is simply not giving me the energy I need. I was mega full following my duck dinner. But several times during the night I had to make my way to the toilet and let it all go. No stomach cramps or nausea or anything really worrying. Not even sure it was the duck. Perhaps I over indulged in sambal. Perhaps the mixed juice I drank. Hard to really know, but the duck has to be the main suspect.
Riding a bike with dodgy bowels in a densely populated country (read: not easy to disappear for a private relieving moment next to the road) is not something one does lightly. I chose to stay one more night.
Now, mid afternoon, I feel OK.
Tomorrow I ride to Awang and a boat to Ekos. A short day. The boat trip saves me perhaps 20 km riding through country. Although, Hans, a seasoned Lombok surfer from California who does remind me of the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, reckons I’ve passed through the hardest country. Interesting.
Kuta Lombok 10 April 16