Beaches, beaches, and more beaches. And some rice-fields. Would be an accurate description of our eighteen nights in Indonesia. Probably not too dissimilar to most peoples’ experience, though ours differs in one major way; we did not spend any time on Bali itself (except eight hours in a hotel airport). Bali is a hugely popular holiday destination; 12m people visit Indonesia every year and most head straight to its beaches, temples, and rice-fields, staying in luxurious hotels or relaxing retreats. Except backpackers of course, who flood to the cheaper bungalow and dormitory style accommodation which litters its less exclusive and more out of the way spots.
Sitting in that unique space between budget backpackers and luxury travellers – the common parlance is “flashpacker” but I abhor the term – Bali wasn’t quite right for us. Our trip is unsustainable if we’re spending $100+ per night and we don’t want to mingle with the great unwashed. So eschewing its undeniable attractions we headed straight to the islands which dot the strait between Bali and Lombok. These seemed more suited to us.
Of course we still saw impecunious hippies shuffling around, and vegans wearing knitted porridge, and gap yah dickheads, and “I’ve been everywhere” travel wankers, and “nomads” (another term I hate), and people striving to “live like locals” (I also hate this), and weird old people who should be in a home, and all the other backpacker and traveller tropes. But there were also normal people, people on holiday, people trying to get off the beaten Bali track and explore the region a little. And relative luxury was affordable. We found deluxe bungalows with a pool for $40 per night, Yoga retreats with spas for $50 per night, and swanky rooms with a beach club for $60 per night. Enough to keep us away from people with lice in their hair but not smashing our mid-range-extended-holiday travel budget.
Our first stop was Nusa Lembongan, one of three islands close (45 minutes) to Bali. The others are Nusa Penida, which is much bigger and has exceptional diving and snorkelling, and Nusa Ceningen, where nothing much seems to happen. Lembongan was rocky and beautiful, the beaches on the south coast all different with unique character, and all spectacular. I give you Mushroom Beach, Sandy Beach and Dream Beach, and a couple of gratuitous, gorgeous sunsets.
Between Sandy Beach and Dream Beach lies the impressive Devil’s Tear, a jagged promontory which is bashed night and day by relentless waves, the backdraft and exploding water something to behold.
My only complaint about Nusa Lembongan, and one I could make about virtually all South East Asia, was the litter. Whilst the beaches were close to pristine (they bothered to clean them) the inland roads and tracks were littered with rubbish and construction detritus (they didn’t bother to clean those). Not pretty.
Our next island was Gili Air, the smallest of the three Gili Islands (the others being Trawangan and Meno) but said to have the best balance between tranquillity and nightlife. It being low season Gili Air was very quiet but marvellously so, plenty of time to relax, read, write, swim, dive, and snorkel. These past few months have been hard guys, we needed some downtime.
And onto Lombok, Bali’s far less well known but no less attractive nearby cousin. More rugged and wild, Lombok is relatively untouched with huge swathes of coast thus far escaping development and devastation at the hand of man. But first we headed inland to the foothills of Mt Rinjani, Lombok’s volcano, for some trekking (through rice-fields of course). Ubud, on Bali, is a far more famous and globally recognisable spot for perfect panoramas of vibrant green tiers but Tetebatu, where we headed, holds the advantage in one key way; you can actually walk through them. Ubud is for watching, Tetebatu is for walking. We also waded through a tropical swamp to get to a hidden waterfall. It was a great day.
By then it has been 48 hours since we’d sat on a beach so we sped down to Ekas, a protrusion from Lombok’s South-east corner, said to hold some of the most magnificent stretches of pure white empty beaches anywhere in the country, nay the continent, nay the world. All I can say is it did not disappoint. We nearly died from heat exhaustion reaching them by bicycle – they are empty for a reason, it required bumping along paths which barely existed – but it was worth every litre of sweat. Just, wow.
Then our final stop, Kuta, probably Lombok’s best-known spot but that’s not saying much, it’s a few straggly streets running down to a beach in the throes of development, a huge promenade being built along its length. There are plenty of other untouched beaches nearby however, and it was here we found the Yoga/Spa retreat (Mana Yoga), which is an absolute delight.
And next, Australia. My second country (I’ve spent prolonged periods there on two occasions), maybe my favourite country, and most importantly home to the 2017 Ashes series. Soon we’ll be sitting in the Gabbatoir supping VB watching England slump to an innings defeat. Audrey cannot wait.