Sunday 25 December 2016
A twelve-hour sleep gave way to a gorgeous morning at Dream Beach on Nusa Lembongan, Indonesia. The journey of the day before had deposited us here, a cove buffeted by wily waves, the ocean making its way wildly to the shore. Cliffs eroded by millennia of this provided a ruggedly spectacular frame for the vista from our room. Where the foaming white water curls in under the cliffs it has been eroding forever, carving out a niche that it fits, just so. Somehow, through the roar of the waves and a torrid wind, we had slept, the first act to filing away the roughness that the year had been.
Setting off for a reccie to Sunset Beach, we decided not to follow the road, which is a meandering concoction of crumbling bitumen just wide enough for two motorbikes to pass, and instead to take on an orienteering adventure. A left turn had us creatively cutting across someone’s front lawn and tight-roping across a stone wall where we squeezed past a sign advising, ‘Private property – keep out,’ serendipitously arriving at the beach gate entrance of the Sandy Bay Beach Club, Sunset Beach. It seemed like an ideal spot for an intermission with a coffee, which it was, during which we decided that we should return for dinner that night.
Mushroom Beach was our next destination, which we arrived at much more quickly than anticipated. Not much there and looking a bit tourist-central, we pressed on to Tamarind Beach. Everyone seemed to be heading to ‘the ceremony’ that we had been told about earlier; the women all with grains of uncooked rice pressed to their third eye, a custom that I made a mental note to ask someone about later (I forgot). Our map of the island had suggested that Tamarind Beach possessed a significant strip of sand, but upon viewing, this turned out to be perhaps a bit of poetic licence on the part of the map artist. There didn’t appear to be much of interest there, eating-wise, so we headed out seeking to make our way around the rocky headland to the next bay.
On a pit-stop at a shady shop to re-hydrate with a bottle of water, we met the driver who had taken us to our accommodation from the beach where the boat landed, the day before. We asked him about giving us a lift to what the map indicated to be the main beach on the island. He told us that ‘the ceremony’ had caused roads to be closed, which would create a wide detour to be necessary. We opted instead to have him return us to our humourously named Water Blow Huts, for a swim in the pool and some holiday-calibre relaxing.
… lunch, did we have lunch …? Oh no, that’s right, after a couple of hours under the umbrella at the pool and a mid-afternoon snack under our belts, we decided to reclaim from the hotel bar’s fridge the bottle of Billecart-Salmon Rose that Adam had brought from Australia, and hot-foot it over to Sandy Bay Beach Club. Sandi, the mega-watt smiley waiter who had looked after us there earlier in the day, had reserved a table for us at the water’s edge, and it was an impressive place from which to watch the sun set as the crashing, foaming walls of water fought one another to the shore.
There is something that happens to people when they go on holiday, that makes them throw good sense out the window and act like ninnies. As we sat, being spritzed by the occasional spray from the wild and thrashing waves, various people took to the water’s edge to photograph one another in front of the dramatic liquid backdrop. Every now and then, a wave just that much bigger than the others before it would rush ahead and give the subjects of the photo a shove that quite took them by surprise. Why people aren’t more respectfully cautious of the sea is beyond me, but perhaps this is one of life’s unknowable things. A young woman, perhaps in her mid-twenties, was lured by the rushing, swirling, beautiful water, and brazenly stepped in. She bent down and dipped her hands into the off-cool, salty water and splashed around a bit. Her courage grew and she stepped in a bit further. She hadn’t been paying attention. She wasn’t looking out for the bigger-than-the-others wave. It took her by surprise, knocking her to her seat, her Christmas-night outfit soaked and plastered to her skin. She rolled over to face the audience of Sandy Bay Beach Club diners, and laughed. Whether to show us that she wasn’t bothered at all, or perhaps she really did think it quite good fun, she made that spot in the water hers and stuck to it. I was waiting for the strong tug of the retreating waves to pull her out with it, but mercifully it did not.
Our meals weren’t anything to write home about, but they were serviceable enough. The panorama, the warm air, the salty spray were enough.
Monday 26 December
Setting off for a pre-breakfast hike, we headed toward the signs we had noticed on our walk the previous day, that indicated a tsunami evacuation point. The uphill walk would do us good and the elevated aspect, a good view. Hitting the ‘main road’ we soon came across an egress to the left with steep steps leading up to a temple on the hill. It was a quick ascent that got the heart rate going, which we countered with some sun salutations on the cool, flat lawn inside the temple gates. I hope that Vishnu, Brahma and Siva didn’t mind.
We hadn’t yet quite got a handle on the distances between places shown on our map, and had thought that the evacuation point would be further away than it actually is, so we were keen to walk some more. From the temple we made our way down to the shoreline, and headed east.
Nusa Lembongan is separated by a shallow, narrow stretch of water, from an even smaller island, Nusa Ceningan. Until only a few months earlier in 2016, the two islands had been connected by a suspension bridge, affording easy access between the two for pedestrians and motorbikes. Heavy traffic on 16 October caused the bridge to collapse, killing eight local people.
It was about a 20-minute walk to where the bridge had stood, and construction of a new one is underway. While the new bridge is being built, the old shacks that have always sold snacks and drinks to bridge-crossers are still plying their trade, as entrepreneurial boatmen ferry passengers back and forth in small, flat-bottomed craft.
After a shady rest with a drink of young coconut, we doubled back to Dream Beach. Checking out a couple of the day spas close to our bungalow, we went our separate ways for a few hours, for treatments at our chosen spas. I opted for a fantastically strong Balinese massage at Glo, next door to Sandy Bay Beach Club, and Adam had a leg massage masquerading as reflexology, and a pedicure for his somewhat neglected feet, at Dream Beach Kubu.
Dinner that night at nearby Bya’s reinforced our disappointment with Indonesian food. My one and only previous trip to Bali ten years ago had left me with the overall impression that the standard Indo fare is pretty dull, and seemed to mainly consist of meat and rice. Surrounded by water, all we craved was food from the sea, but it is in short supply on menus, and what there is, comes tortured and defeated to the plate.
Tuesday 27 December
We had set on the idea of another pre-breakfast walk, this time to investigate the island’s main beach. However, a swim and then a cup of tea in the pool, perching on the built-in concrete stools while looking out over the majestic breaking waves, segued into breakfast in the pool. A little after 9 a.m. we set off on easy but hot hike, and took about an hour to reach the southern end of Jungut Batu beach. The aptly named Panorama Point offered an excellent viewpoint; the sweeping vista of the crystal-clear pale blue water near the shore, the breaking waves on the reef, and the deeper, darker blue water stretching across to Bali, is quite beautiful.
Our plan was to walk along the shore, but we were surprised to discover that past the fast-boat ferry offices and occasional cafe, the water came all the way up to the retaining wall, not leaving much of a beach to walk on. I was hoping to use the island’s one ATM so we ducked into the accordant laneway connecting the beach with the main drag. The ATM wasn’t motivated to dispense any cash to me, however, which immediately made me regret my decision to pay for my previous day’s massage, beer and accompanying afternoon snacks with cash.
At Bali Eco Deli we stopped in for some icy drinks and to consider our cash availability options. Bali Eco Deli supports organic and fair trade producers, offers free filtered water refills for non-disposable drink bottles, and bakes their own bread, cakes and other naughty goodies. It seemed to be about the best thing that Jungut Baut has going for it. Unlike the new leviathan-like Mahagiri resort that occupies the entire north-west corner of the island, at Lighthouse Beach. This tropical megalopolis is the antithesis of all the other accommodation that we had seen on Lembongan, and I fear, represents the beginning of the end for this low-key island paradise. After seeing the rapid slide into ruination that happened to Koh Samui in Thailand, I truly hope for a better outcome here.
While we were waiting for our cold drinks to arrive, Adam struck up a conversation with an American woman who joined our communal table while waiting for her takeaway order to be prepared. She was wearing a dive company t’shirt, and once he had established that she worked at said dive company, asked for her recommendation on who to see about snorkelling. D&B was her tip, so once our drinks were drunk we paid them a visit and booked ourselves in for a four-hour excursion the following day.
While at Jungut Batu, Adam was keen to try out one of the only properly local-looking eating places we had seen, so we dutifully removed our shoes on the baking-hot tiles at the entrance and crossed the threshold. Inside it was hotter than Hades, and the only fan in the place was trained upon two diners already ensconced and engrossed in their meal. It didn’t strike me as being an enjoyable environment in which to dine, so back out we went. Pity.
By then it was 12:30 and way too hot to be in the sun, so we flagged down a passing pick-up (a good number of these trucks with covered rear trays and bench seats running down each side, transport visitors between the boats and the bungalows, and double as informal taxis for those who opt not to rent a motorbike), and asked if he would take us to Dream Beach. He quoted IDR150,000 (about AUD15), so we laughed and waved him on. The next guy accepted our offer of 50k and had us cooling off in our Water Blow pool in a jiffy.
Having done quite enough adventuring for one day, we thought we’d keep things close to home for dinner, and moseyed around the bay to Cafe Pandan. The two types of wine we ordered by the glass there were actually heinous. One had the aromatics of Moscato with the taste of pure lemon, and the other, while tasting slightly better, had an overwhelming aroma of mango. Good in fruit, not so much in wine, I find. With trepidation we waited for our food to arrive. Adam was aiming to get some veggies into his diet for the day, so ordered a chicken and avocado salad. It was so-so; mainly iceberg lettuce. I however, hit on the winner of the trip so far – Babis Kecap – pork sauteed with Kecap Manis, served with rice and some steamed, non-descript vegetables. It was substantial, cooked well, and tasty.