Senaru to Gili Meno, 15 April 2016
Sixty-odd kilometres to do today. Even at a modest twelve kilometres overall including all stops and rubber-necking it’s little over half a day. I force myself to be languid and not hurtle forth at 0630, like I’m wont-to perpetually terrified of topographic horrors, goat-track brutality, wasted kilometres and hours pursuing dead-end routes, the dozens of punctures I could get. Non of which in nearly 7000 km of riding have ever been confronted with. Except perhaps the topographic horrors, and goat-track brutality. Neither of which are something I realistically expect between Senaru and Gili Meno.
Besides, the first ten or so kilometres are all downhill to the coast. I’ll do like 20% of the trip within half an hour.
If I am to worry about anything as I hurtle down a very steep Jalan Pariwasata is the possible if highly improbable failure of the massive Magura brakes Dreamer sports.
By the time the road starts to ease its declination I’ve averaged thirty kilometres per hour. Not bad thinks I. From now on though I imagine I’ll slowly but surely return to the sedate twelve or so which have characterised my ride up Lombok’s east coast.
But something is not right. Not wrong either. I am flying along at over twenty-two kilometres per hour, an astounding speed for a touring bike. I kid you not I do apprehensive checks behind me to ensure I really do have all my panniers and bags attached. I can’t work it out, why, how the speed.
Topography is not flat. Not hilly either. There may be a trace of a tail wind but not what I’d expect to drive me this fast. I’ve still got the same 53 year old legs as but a couple of days previously.
Even though the kilometres race beneath me in a seemingly uninterruptable fashion I constantly expect the reality-check where I’ll be ground back to 20% grade realism.
Instead, I race, without effort.
I figure it’s a combination. The terrain doesn’t have the same steep undulations which sapped my strength along the east coast. There is a slight tail-wind. My legs are well into cycling mode again.
Combined I don’t go below 22 kilometres per hour for the less than three hours it takes me to ride to Bengsal where the ferry to Gili Meno, and the other two Gilis, departs.
It’s just gone 1100. The ticket office gives me two choices: “You can go now on de fast boat for 85 000 rupiah. Takes 20 minutes. Or at 1400 for 35 000 rupiah. Takes an hour.” Um, let me think this out … three hours to kill at a featureless harbour with nothing to do to save me a few dollars. I don’t mind the go slow approach. It is afterall the entire supra-purpose of the trip, the entire trip. But not today.
Armed with a ticket I start out of the ticket office where a man with a wad of such tickets in hand is shouting into a walkie-talkie and the ticket office at the same time trying to find out if there are any more passengers for the fast ferry leaving NOW. He takes my ticket and urges me great haste to the jetty where a boat is awaiting.
I bury my concern at having just given away the ticket I need to a strange man whilst long from the actually ferry but figure that’s how they do it here.
As I approach the jetty various guys are running back and forth shouting cajoling urging demanding late passengers – for by now the ferry should have left – to hurry the f*** up! Someone asks for my ticket, unsurprisingly. Expecting the worse I tell him I gave to some guy back at the ticket office. He nods his head in some kind of understanding and urges me on.
A narrow gangway joins the jetty to a pontoon where the ferry is moored. There’s less than a meter from where the gangway terminates on the pontoon and the water. Porters materialise from thin air and take command of Dreamer, looking me steely in the eye with unimpeachable confidence that they know what they are doing and I’d better respect that. They will have to carefully manoeuvre Dreamer around the small space between the end of the gangway and the water. I am nervous, visions of Dreamer disappearing beneath the ways. Not a pleasant vision.
My concerns are not alleviated as I watch them man-handle Dreamer. Suddenly I’m terrified. Their incompetence blindingly obvious.
Swiftly I move down the gangway throwing the guy who’s pathetically trying to control Dreamer by hanging onto the rear of the pannier rack out of the way. I shift Dreamer to one side and force my way to the pontoon where I place myself solidly between it and the water. Then in no uncertain terms I tell the porter to get away from my bike and take control.
Put out they complain, about my attitude about me being late. Uncharacteristically I find myself getting angry and point out I didn’t sell me a ticket after the supposed departure time of the ferry. And I am damned if I am going to let incompetent porters ruin up my trip by dumping Dreamer in the bay.
Swiftly I strip Dreamer of the panniers hand them and the bike to the guy on top of the boat and silently pray he ties them down well. Shortly after seating myself at the rear of the ferry we depart and I keep a wary eye for panniers and bike sliding off the roof and into the waves.
Of course my concerns are pure paranoia and nothing untoward happens on the short trip to Gili Air and subsequently to Gili Meno.
At Gili Meno all the passengers and bags, and Dreamer, are transferred to a barge which runs up the beach and I man-handle Dreamer through very light waves and set up again on the boulevard.
Every other passenger is approached by touts seeking business by either transporting passengers to places they are booked into or to places the touts recommend or for various bungalows or a mix of all four. I, on the other hand, are studiously ignored.
Want of any particular reason not to I start anti-clockwise around the island. The path in most places is concrete tiles, liberally covered in sand. In other places it’s pure beach sand through which I must drag Dreamer. At each bungalow I ask prices and force myself to not choose the first place which fits my ‘chill-out and dive’ in the Gilis needs.
From one place I find I am half way between two dive shops. One is back in the village where the boat docks (if pulling alongside a pontoon can be called ‘docking’) and another further round the island. As I’ve moved north around the island the density of homestays has decreased and the quality of beaches improved. Finally at Balenta Bungalows I settle. Good beach, stunning endless view of the Bali See, friendly staff, good bungalows, good price and Divine Divers but two minutes walk further up.
After settling in I go to Divine Divers and pay for a ‘refresher’ dive during which I and an instructor return to the basics of diving. Even though I must have around a 1000 dives I haven’t dived for four years and I want to be sure I can get under the water without problem. There is no harm in practicing the basic skills such as clearing a mask, recovering a weight belt, recovering a regulator and practicing buoyancy. James, the instructor tells me I’m fine except perhaps I could or should focus more on keeping tabs with my dive buddy.
In total I do six dives with Diving Divers. The dive sites are simple, relatively shallow at between 18 and 25 meters deep, each one led by an instructor. The dive sites are not challenging. There are no big fish apart from the odd large pelagic hunter. The spearfishermen have denuded all the reefs. Dynamite fishing a decade or so ago have destroyed huge swathes of coral resulting in vast deserts of sterile environment bereft of biodiversity. They are not sites for multiple dives for an advanced diver. There’s simply not enough to stimulate the diver. For a beginner diver they are perfect: safe, manageable, lacking appreciable risk.
During each I’m criticised for not being right next to my buddy. This goes both ways I tell them. Why am I expected to hug my buddy but they are not for if I am not next to my buddy they are not next to theirs.
The final dive is a disaster and ranks as the worst dive I’ve ever done in term of dive leadership. Literally I have an argument with the dive guide underwater. I don’t understand the problem. Visibility is at 30 meters sublime, no current, a flat bottom at less than 23 meters and whilst I am not right next to my buddy or the group they are never more than ten metres away.
Incensed, following the dive I approach Marcel the owner/manager and swiftly realise that the problem is systemic to the company. They like control, they do not like the idea of divers doing their own thing within the confines of the dive profile. Having worked as a Divemaster, when a diver complained about a dive I would work with them to address their issue and in most cases offer a free dive as a means to demonstrate we are back on the same page. Not at Diving Divers.
The number of instructors is also a give-away. An instructor teaches people how to dive. A Divemaster perfects their dive technique. Many instructors never actually work as a Divemaster. So they don’t really know how to deal with a group under the water and often they aren’t particularly good divers in comparison to a Divemaster. They are also more expensive. The only reason Marcel would have so many instructors is because by and large they cater for people who are learning how to dive or who are not experienced. Hence the control-freak approach. And they simply couldn’t let me go and do my swim-around and check things out thing.
They are as happy to see the back end of me as I am to cease diving with them.
Back at Balenta Bungalows I have another problem. My room is infested with bedbugs and they have gorged ferociously upon me. I’ve highly irritating and itchy red-dots all over my body. Hundreds.
Ben, the young manager, finds himself caught between an incensed guest and instructions from a boss who lives somewhere else. He’s struggling to mollify me and yet not get his ass kicked by his boss.
I get a new room and significant cut in price. And no more bugs, although the itching troubles me for days.
I travel to Gili Air, the smallest of the three Gilis and the closest to Lombok mainland, where a Padi 5-Star Dive Centre offers IDC/IE courses training people to be Padi Dive Instructors. It’s been a plan of mine since the early 90s. I reckon it’ll be a great place to tick this item off my Bucket List.
At around 4000€ for pretty much everything including the course, course material, accommodation and living costs it is not cheap. But it is not expensive either. If I can complete the next stage of my Epic before November 2016 I can join the last course for 2016. If not, it’ll have to be early 2017.
The only issue I have with that is that Ram, newly returned to my life, takes her first entrepreneurial steps towards running her own husky-dog trips business in Swedish Lapland. I’d like to be there for her.
Gili Meno has been an excellent tonic for a lifestyle obsessed with ‘Doing’ things. I am a ‘doer’. I find it inordinately hard to do nothing, as in relax, read a book, chill-out, laze on a deck-chair and let the world turn by itself for a while.
Fortunately I have a Chill-Out Guru. Bond, James Bond, no less. Sometimes known as Pierre Gallant, a French-Canadian from Montreal and the same age as I. He’s a traveller, not a nomad. He has his apartment in Montreal but spends months each year travelling. Gregarious, gracious, amusing, a romantic, and full of the stories someone who’s spent years travelling across the globe. It’s been great company. And he’s also got me to relax, instructing me in the Art Of Doing Nothing.
Tomorrow the 23rd April however, after nine days of relax and enjoy I leave. Ram arrives on the 26th and I want to get a few things organised before she turns up. I am really excited by her coming. I can practice my newly learnt skills of rest and relaxation with her. Afterall she’s just finished a typically demanding winter season in the north and will need to chill-out a bit.
Gili Meno, 22 April 2016