Lombok – heavenly beaches and how we fought a band of robbers

cvetin-na-plaja

Selong Belanak

24.08

We wake up early in the morning before tourists and restaurant staff start coming. We pack our bags, then suddenly I feel a strong stomach discomfort. I feel better as late as of noon. We go back to the port where we start looking for a truck driver who will be willing take us and thus not pay for tickets. Mr. Shushtari is walking among the trucks and then one driver offers us by himself to take us hitchhiking in his truck on the ferry.

We start sailing and see how all the magical temples, flowers, incense sticks and rituals of the island slowly fade away in the distance. New and unexplored lands await us beyond the horizon…

nablijavame-lombok

Lombok Island

We will sail for around four hours. The sea is rough and the ferry climbs and then goes down the waves. There are many vendors who go around the ship selling coffee, noodles and chips, persuading passengers to buy something of the things they offer.

We sit on some tables under the shadow of the side deck. Mr. Shushtari takes out our portable stove and starts making coffee, which disappoints a lot the vendors.  In an hour everyone lies down on the floor, dizzy by the ferry’s rocking. We meet an Italian couple – the girls is a zoologist like me and the boy is an ocean scientist. We chat all the way. We will cross the Wallace line, which is really exciting for every naturalist. It is situated between Bali and Lombok.

Bio note: The Wallace line is named after the British scientist who defined it. It is the border between the eco-zone of the Old World (South-East Asia, the islands Sumatra, Java, Kalimantan and Bali) and the New World (Australia, Papua New Guinea, Lombok, Sumbawa, Flores, Sulawesi, Moluccas, Timor, etc.). Fauna changes here drastically and the animals that live in Asia are replaced by marsupials, paradise birds and other typical Austronesian animals. The reason behind this is the deep waters in the region. Millions of years ago during the Ice Age the level of the world ocean declined hundreds of meters and because of the shallow waters the lands of South-East Asia connects to the West Indonesian Islands thus allowing the migration of different species. Australia, Papua New Guinea were connected the same way also. The line of Wallace though was still underwater so no animal could cross it.

We dock in the dark at some small port. The coastal line of Lombok looks like paradise even from far away – no villages, beautiful hills and small bays with beaches. We can’t wait to immerse in this new world. The bus driver takes us to the fork to Gerung and we head to South Lombok instead of going to the capital Mataram. We walk towards the end of the city. Joyous old ladies wearing veils greet us. Pompous mosque domes are everywhere.

The atmosphere is even sleepier than those in Bali. Times goes slowly, small houses and tropical trees create exotic views, which we were afraid we wouldn’t see anymore after Sumatra and Java.

Interesting to know

The people of Lombok belong to the Sasak ethnic group, close to the Balinese. Here, though, people are Muslims, except a small percentage of Hindus, who came from Bali and are now living around the capital Mataram. The local form of Islam (Wetu Telu) is quite specific and is strongly influenced by Hinduism and ancient local animist beliefs. Those who follow the Wetu Telu Islam here pray three times per day and fast only three days during Ramadan, they are not obliged to go every week to the main Friday prayer in the mosque, nor they do have to give money to the poor or go to Mecca. Interesting fact is that this contradicts the five main pillars of Islam. Today this is changing as there are many organizations that “show the right Islam” to locals, which is orthodox Sunni Islam. Nevertheless 30-40% of the Sasak people, living mainly in North Lombok, still follow Wetu Telu.

We find an Internet cafe and stay in it for a while. The kids inside become exalted when they see us and start shouting, taking photo with us, asking personal questions and buying us coffee. There are ten kids watching at out monitor and commenting everything they see – messages, photos, e-mails. We withstand all this and stay in the cafe for a whole hour and then leave this madness behind us relieved. Shortly we find a nice well illuminated park with a small lake surrounded by exotic plants. We pitch the tent praying that no one comes during the night. Our prayers are unheard. Late at night some guard shows up and starts pointing his lantern at our tent. When he finds out we are foreigners he leaves.

25.08

The night is still young though. At 4:30 we hear women talking and kids running around. Every minute the noises get louder. At 6:00 a.m. it seems we are surrounded by lots of people so Mr. Shushtari goes out and discovers the park is full of families. They on their side see that the people in the tent are “orang bule” (foreigners) and the photo-sessions start.

The tent is now surrounded by a group of kids. The way we prepare our breakfast is a real show for everyone and this adds to my irritation. I haven’t slept enough and am grumpy so I ignore everyone. This reminds us of India where no one ever respected your personal space and there was always someone to come to us and stare at what we do for hours.

Anyway we have to accept the reality as it is, leave our European notions for personal space and smile at this people who have nothing but good intentions. Later we discover the reason behind this human stumbling. There is a big mosque behind the park where around 2000 people have come to pray because of the coming of the month Hajj of the Muslim calendar. In this month people traditionally go to pilgrimage to Mecca at Saudi Arabia.

v-parka

In the park

After breakfast we hitchhike a small truck, which carries a concrete mixer and we ride it half standing. They leave us at the highway. We stay there for just five minutes and another improbable magical thing happens – the Italians, our friends from the ferry, pass by with a taxi and see us. In addition they go to the same bay where we are headed to. We drive on narrow, empty roads through poor villages and colorful markets. We are worried by the fact that there are almost no trucks or cars driving on the roads. If our friends hadn’t stopped for us it would have taken us hours to reach the secluded bay. We pass through dry, hilly regions with low plants. We haven’t seen such landscapes nowhere on the other islands. Lombok is not very populated and looks like a paradise.

s-italiancite

Together with the Italians

We reach Selong Belanak in an hour. This is the most beautiful tropical beach we have ever seen. Long U-shaped sand beach, light blue water, as if taken from our dreams, palms and hilly coastal line in the distance. There are a few western tourist and surfers gathered in one corner of the bay near the several resorts and we see a fishermen’s village. Buffalo and cows pasture on the beach. The view of tens of fishermen’s boats and rafts tells us that the mass tourism hasn’t yet spoiled this paradise beach and locals still depend on fishing, agriculture and livestock breeding.

selong-belanak

Selong Belanak’s beach

We move away from the half naked westerners and local voyeurs watching this scandalous for most Asian countries view. Ninety percent of the beach is empty with many wonderful places for setting up a bivouac with no people around. We reach the furthest end where we see some pavilions. We climb then on a staircase in the hill and see a shelter with hanging rugs and an altar wrapped in white piece of cloth. Under the cloth we see a Muslim tomb of maybe some important, holy man.

selong-belanak-2

View from the tomb

We lie down in one of the pavilions, tired by waking up so early. Locals start coming on their motor-bikes in the afternoon. They sleep or watch the beach and the sea. The place is kind of the village’s main place for chilling. We decide to move away as everyone who comes sits next to us first and starts looking at our stuff and then asks in which hotel we stay.

We go back to the middle of the bay and pitch our tent near some strange tropical plant with conch-like fruits. As almost always we will eat rice or instant noodles. We sometimes dream of bread and cheese after following for months the Indonesian diet .

pyrvo-bivache

The bivoauc

All the boats and rafts are in the sea, around 500, and start glowing with energy saving bulbs, ready for the night fishing. It seems that there is a whole town inside the sea. We are so in need of a good night sleep that we go to bed at 8:30 p.m.

Two hours later I wake up abruptly with my heart beating wildly. I don’t know what is happening. Mr. Shushtari is naked, outside the tent and shouts in Bulgarian: “Where are you, you miserable creep?” and other, improper to quote expressions.

Some boy tried to open the tent silently and rob us, hoping we are deeply asleep. Mr. Shushtari though had heard him the moment the guy started opening the zipper and had seen his silhouette disappearing in the bushes. At least he took only my bathing suit. Mr. Shushtari is furious because of the impudence of the thief and every now and then he takes his machete and starts going around looking for the thief, shouting. This attracts the attention of some owners of restaurants in the vicinity. They come towards us with their motor-bikes and get really shocked when they see Mr. Shushtari running to them with the machete, thinking they have something to do with the happening.

Anyway the people come and we tell them about what happened. Their commentary annoys us even more. According to them this was “jihad”. We couldn’t understand what does some attempt of small robbery has to do with jihad. After a while we calm down and, assuming that the frightened thief will not dare to come back, we go to sleep.

26.08

pandanus

Pandanus fruit

We start hitchhiking and luckily a group of Australian tourists and locals takes us – there is no one on the road except some motor-bikes and a few taxis with tourists. They leave us at the Mawun Bay, 7-8 kilometers away from the tourist town Kuta. We fill our bottles with water from some village well. There are a few warungs (restaurants) on the beach and no hotels, so there are almost no tourists here. People from the village warn us to not sleep in the furthest corners of the beach, but we have a special plan today. We wait for the sun to set down and we pitch our tent next to some rocks without anyone seeing us. Then build a wall of sharp corals. We level the sand so we can see if someone entered. We spend a calm night.

bivak-fort

The coral wall with pointed rods

27.08

A shepherd and his wife come in the morning and start of course touching our stuff, asking if we’ve caught fish and if we can give them some clothes. Mr. Shushtari asks them if they have water and they say they have really good, sweet water and then take us to their hut where we see a muddy hole with foam and garbage, which they use as a source of water. We refuse to drink the yellowish, dirty liquid even boiled. People here are very poor and ragged. Their houses are very shabby. The soil is dry and infertile and they survive mainly by livestock breeding and fishing. We haven’t seen anything like this on the other Indonesian islands. The huge abyss between these poor fishermen and the overly satisfied tourists is a prerequisite for thefts.

vtoro-plajche

Mawun Bay

We leave the beach and while we walk we see the reason behind this big barrier between locals and tourists. We see a Spanish girl wearing only bikini doing erotic photo session on the beach, totally disregarding the fact that she is in a Muslim country among not so well educated villagers. Then we see a couple hugging and kissing in front of everyone. After this we notice dirty kids walking among the people on the beach trying really hard to sell pineapples and coco-nuts to everyone. This makes tourist grumpy and they behave rudely. Local boys watch all the girls from a distance of 20 cm and try to start a conversation with them. It is no wonder no that tourists prefer the more civilized Bali nevertheless Lombok is even more beautiful. So here the problem is that both tourists and locals don’t know how to behave properly.

A local entrepreneur takes us to Kuta Village. We withdraw money and buy some vegetables that are overpriced because of the tourists. The town is small, there are no resorts and mainly backpackers come here, so the atmosphere is nice. This seems to be the Spanish paradise – we hear people speaking Spanish everywhere.

We walk on foot along Kuta’s beach, which is very beautiful. We want to see one more bay before we enter the insides of Lombok. In 2-3 km we step on the wrong road and instead of reaching Tanjung Aan Bay we appear on the neighboring Seger Beach. We decide to sleep here and go to the other bay tomorrow.

zalez-na-plaja-do-kuta

Sunset at Seger Beach

The view of the sunset is amazing – the rocks, the white sand, the transparent turquoise water stop our breath. The last visitors – a group of western youngsters leave with their scooters. Then the two voyeurs hiding behind the bushes leave too.

shpionaj

Voyuers

We set our bivouac behind the only trees in this part of the beach. Mr. Shushtari disapproves the place strongly as the dirt road ends nearby and it is obvious that these trees are the perfect hiding place for all perverts in the region. We are starving and we light a fire. The long cooking begins. We hear some dogs barking from the near-by fisherman’s house. We start feeling a vague feeling of worry… Is someone coming? But what will they do here in this secluded lands…

A shadow appears in the night, then one more, third. In seconds six people surround us armed with big sticks and knives. We both jump simultaneously. Then one of them shouts at us: “Sit down”. Mr. Shushtari tells me in Bulgarian: “It seems we will have trouble. Get ready to run.” The pathway is barred by a guy and there is one behind me. The bushes on both sides of the road also hinder any escape attempts.

At this moment Mr. Shushtari grabs the machete he had hidden behind his back the whole time, then takes one burning piece of wood and jumps at the closest guy with a tremendous cry. They all panic. One of them throws his stick at Mr. Shushtari. All start running frightened. He starts chasing them and they run, stumble and fall down. His crazy reaction scares and confuses the attackers. In seconds it is just us. Everyone else had away. We are shocked to discover that someone managed to take the small bag with all the notebooks where we write the blog posts and the camera inside. We keep calm. The most important thing is that we  are not hurt and we still have our passports and money. Even with no camera and notebooks MagicKervan is unbreakable and we will continue our journey.

We gather our stuff with a lightning speed. We have to leave this place before someone tries to attack us again. We ring to all our friends in Indonesia. The first to pick up the phone is Elizabeth from Jakarta. We tell her where we are and she tries to contact the local police. In the meantime we go to the closest house behind the beach. People there are shocked when we tell them what happened. All arm themselves with sticks, start ringing here and there and offer us to sleep at their house.

In half an hour motor-bikes and jeeps start coming at high speed on the dirt road. The police organizes a big operation. All kinds of police comes. We go to their cars and panting explain what happened. The attackers came on foot so they probably live in the nearby village. Maybe the voyeurs had told them we would be there as they knew exactly where we were. The policemen take us in their car where we start writing and explaining everything in details. In an hour the police chief comes and tells us they got one of the thieves and are now questioning him. Our Indonesian friend tells them we are famous bloggers and she is a journalist which we think helps a lot.

Then a policeman comes with our bag and everything is inside. The thief told them where it was hidden and the policemen had found it. MagicKervan is saved thanks to favorable events and Elizabeth’s help. We thank everyone and then we participate in photo session for the local media. Policemen are very proud with their success and want everyone to know.

They invite us to sleep at the police station. We settle on a green rug in the meeting room and fall asleep exhausted by the midnight action.

28.08

It is Sunday and the police station is empty. We go to the kitchen and start cooking, then washing clothes and showering. It is not the first time we stay at a police station so we feel like at home. They ask us to stay until Monday so they can bring the evidence to the main city.

We are OK as we anyway had planned to stay one more night and see An Bay, which is ironically just a kilometer away from the police station. Tourists start coming around noon. One had his laptop stolen, the other his scooter. It seem as the region around Kuta is very criminal. Locals see the growing tourist numbers as kind of another way of fishing and they take it seriously. There is a lot of “fish” on the beach – wallets, smart phones, credit cards. The policemen are angry as the government spends a lot of money for developing the tourism and the locals get in the way of it. We think it is best for them to try to open a warung or offer something instead of stealing.

We head on foot towards Tanjun An. We see the most beautiful bay ever. Tropical blue water, white sands and amazing rock formations. There are just a few bamboo shelters and some warungs selling coco-nuts. We see mainly Indonesian tourists walking on the beach. We climb a hill at one side of the bay. Views here are even more dazzling. The sad thing is that some businessman bought all five bays in the region as we saw from a scheme hanging inside the police station. In the next fifteen years Kuta, its beach and the hills around will be filled with ugly hotels, golf courses, villas, entertainment parks and “luxury” areas for having fun.

The project called “Mandalika resorts” has already started. We see the wide roads and the bulldozers digging this heavenly place turning it into an ugly mass tourism spot. This is the most horrible and huge project we have ever heard of. It is amazing how the hill we are on will become a golf course in three years. Probably the fishermen will get very little money for the lands of their fathers on top of it. Nature will be ruined and what is left of it will be a privilege for a bunch of rich zombies.

In the evening we go to the silent police station and start preparing dinner.

29.08

In the morning the precinct is filled with employees. We prepare our luggage. The chief gives us sweet stuffed bread. We take some photos and leave our temporary home. We enter a jeep with two previously stolen motor-bikes and head to the main city Praya. On the way we pass by a traditional village of the local ethnic group Sasak, but sadly we can’t stop to see it. We also miss another landmark – the local fish market in Tanjung Luar Village, which we wanted to see.

Photos of the evidence are taken and we ask for the lightest punishment of our thieves. Then we go to the house of one of the policeman where he needs to collect some documents. Then another policeman invites us to his home at Terara, which is half way to the port where boats to the close-by island Sumbawa leave. We agree to stay at the policeman’s house as we are still in shock after the two robbery attempts the last two nights. This policeman is really nice and speaks a little bit of English, which he had learned when he had been moved to Kuta.

map

Map of our travels on Lombok

His house is big and he has a backyard with mango and jack-fruit trees. The policeman’s wife is a teacher, they have two sons, the younger only three years old and very naughty. We chat all the evening and cook traditional dishes with leaves from the garden. Other interesting members of the family are a beautiful peacock and a white goose. They walk around us all the time as if listening to our conversations. The birds are not interested in food or other birds. The peacock even lets people caress him and is trying to enter the house all the time. According to us he considers himself a person 🙂

v-doma-na-policaq

Together with Tori (the policeman) and his family

30.08

Tori’s brother shows up and invites us to visit their father’s house in Sumbawa Besar, the capital of Sumbawa Island. We spend all the day at an Internet cafe so we decide to stay one more night. We cook fried rice Indonesian style and everyone is really surprised. We even suspect they don’t know how to cook it. We can’t stop wondering why people here eat mainly rice with some meat as they live in such an incredible climate where all kinds of fruits and vegetables grow. If they cook curry then they just add one or two spoons of it to the rice. It is a mystery to us why they simplified their cuisine so much and eat in such an unhealthy way in this information era.

We feel great at Tori’s. His wife is also really nice. We immerse in the quiet family life of the Indonesian people. This rest is truly welcomed.

31.08

We refuse delicately to Tori’s brother to “escort” us because of safety precautions and agree to call him when we reach Sumbawa. Hitchhiking is great. We ride a truck for thirty kilometers and then catch another one going directly to Sumbawa Besar. This is awesome as we will cross the port barrier with it and will not be obliged to buy tickets. We are outside in the body of the truck and though the sun is burning hot we feel great. We pass by the second highest volcano in Indonesia (besides Papua) Rinjani, which we decide to skip.

The entrance fee is high again (10 Euro) and we’ve heard one needs to get a guide. We are a little bit tired of bargaining with village racketeers all the time. This habit of making money of entrances to natural landmarks without ever contributing anything frustrates us.

The villages here seem much wealthier than these in South Lombok and the people are well dressed. There are also many schools around. Probably the reason for the criminal wave in Kuta is namely the poorness of the people, the lack of education and the availability of many rich tourists.

Traveling around Lombok we notice one very interesting paradox. Every two-three kilometers we see huge mosques in construction – probably with the idea to “educate” locals, but instead they firmly stick to their habits and sell their favorite alcohol tuak next to these same mosques 🙂

We reach the port. The employees and the policemen wave at us laughing wholeheartedly and we enter the ferry.

We say good-bye to Lombok and the most beautiful beaches and coastal lines we have ever seen so far.

To be continued… 

selong-belanak-3

One of the most beautiful beaches in Indonesia – Selong Belanak

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