Wednesday 28 December
I woke up at 2:30 a.m. to the sound of howling wind and rain lashing our thatched beehive bungalow, and after an hour or so of listening to it, dropped back to sleep. The next bout arrived a bit before 6 o’clock and I thought the chances of going snorkelling in two hours seemed slim. At 7:00, with the wind still howling and dark clouds filling the circumference of my field of view, I had our morning-shift staffer at our bungalows phone D&B to take a rain-check on the snorkelling until the next day.
The weather seemed to call for a lazy day, and the victorious idea was for brunch at Sandy Bay Beach Club. Brunch, as it has a habit of doing, eventuated itself into a bottle of wine. And we once again were shown the lesson that wine is not the thing to drink on an Indonesian island. The Australian Chardonnay looked good on paper although daylight robbery at the equivalent of AUD70, but it wet the whistle and made a change from beer. Being a person of the gluten-aversion variety, beer – although I love it and sometimes there is just nothing better than a cold beer – does not love me in return. Even keeping my quota down to three a day was giving me grief, but them’s the breaks. We did discover that squishing a wedge of lime into the bottle of Bintang is decidedly excellent.
Later that afternoon we wandered back to our place for a late afternoon snack and swim, then did nothing much but read until bedtime. Perfect.
Thursday 29 December
Up to the alarm at 7 a.m. for our snorkelling trip. Pleasingly, the weather was looking much more conducive than the previous day, and our ride arrived to collect us on the dot of 8 o’clock. I was deflated to see that we were to travel by motorbike – the owners of the snorkelling business, Mr D. and Mrs B., had come to collect us themselves. No helmets = no insurance, and if there’s a place where it would be preferable to incur a head injury, Lembongan is not it.
Throwing good sense out the window and acting like ninnies, trusting the probability of odds and fortifying myself with some reassurance that it was early in the morning and not too many inexperienced tourists would be out on the roads on their hired motorbikes yet, we each climbed on behind our designated pilot, and off we went. I do actually love being on a motorbike; the feeling of the air rushing over my skin is like freedom and something else joyously enlivening.
Safely delivered at D&B bungalows on the main strip at Jungut Batu, Desa (Mr D.) gathered up the other snorkellers who had already arrived, and lead us to the beach to board his boat. A quick scan of the craft told us everything. Well-maintained and cared-for equipment and vessel, paired with the personal transfer from our bungalow by the owners, showed how much they care about their business.
Soon enough we were pushing off from the beach and heading out around the break toward Tamarind Beach to take a few more snorkellers on board. With our full complement of 12, Desa first checked that no one had any serious health issues, then pointed us in the direction of the big island, Nusa Penida, to see what the conditions were like at the popular snorkelling and diving spot, Secret Manta. Unfortunately, the swell was too big and so after touring around the Penida coastline for some time, we anchored at Crystal Bay where we spent about an hour marvelling at the incredible number and diversity of fish that we saw there. The coral wasn’t much chop – much of it looked to be dead – but everything else about the experience was excellent.
From there we moved on to another spot, which I think was at Nusa Ceningan – the middle island – where Desa made a somewhat surprising announcement. “Here,” he said “we all must get into the water from the same side of the boat, at the same time.” He told us that the current there is quite strong, “so we won’t do much kicking, just drifting,” and promised us that this was one of the best snorkelling spots on the island. With something approaching apprehension, I slid on my flippers, mask and snorkel, and perched with the others in readiness on the edge of the boat. On Desa’s count of three we all pushed off into the dark green water and began to slip with it past the rocky cliff face that was just a couple of metres away.
With Desa frequently urging us to stay close together, and diligently counting heads, we did indeed drift along with the current, thrillingly close to the edge of the coral shelf that dropped sharply away into deep nothingness. Here too, there was a fantastic number and array of fish, who didn’t seem to mind in the least us floating among them.
Our final anchorage was on the northern end of Lembongan, at the shallow, still waters of Mangrove Point. This was the least interesting of the three spots we’d visited that morning, but it was still fun.
We were told that dynamite fishing has been rife throughout Indonesia, and many of the more remote – and previously vibrant – coral reefs have paid the price. Most of the coral we came across had seen better days, but my guess is that in those very accessible, quite shallow areas, this would likely be attributable to rising sea temperatures and coral bleaching.
After dropping the Tamarind Beach folk back where we had found them, and arriving back at Jungkut Batu, our group of snorkellers said goodbye and went our separate ways.
We were hungry and decided to have a Bintang and a bite to eat at D&B, to give this lovely family-run operation a bit more support. Adam was a huge fan of the homemade spring rolls, but the Nasi Goreng and BBQ chicken were not the dishes that would convert our position on Indonesian food.
Back at Dream Beach later that afternoon, a storm blew in, raging wind and rain upon our thatched house. By early evening we gave up any ideas of going elsewhere for dinner, and made a run for our poolside bar. Retrieving from the fridge the second bottle of Champagne that we had brought with us, we picked a dry table and settled ourselves in.
We weren’t excited by what the food menu had to offer, and without much in the way of expectation, ordered a few things. Well. Homemade spring rolls, jam-packed with chunks of chicken, went quite nicely with the 2006 Pol Roger, and I can recommend them as a pairing should you find yourself in a similar bind. Then, one of the best things I had eaten so far – a fillet of fresh tuna, at least seven centimetres thick, and cooked to medium-rare perfection. When I expressed to the owner how much I had enjoined it, so much more than the tuna I had had several nights earlier at Sandy Bay Beach Club, he commented that the other had likely been frozen, shipped in from Bali. This brought me to the question I had been asking all week: where is the fresh seafood on this island?? His response was simply that because of the monsoon, the fishermen can’t fish around the islands, so what there is is mostly brought in from big all-weather fishing boats, via Bali. Makes sense. Makes me think it’s a good idea not to go to tropical islands during monsoon season, if you want to eat fresh seafood.
Friday 30 December
I love how on holidays you can start a day with just getting up and having a swim, and the next thing you know, hours have gone past and it’s lunch time. This day was exactly like that. Swim turned into a cup of tea by the pool, became breakfast, then reading, more swimming …
I had wanted to try out the restaurant at the Hai Tide resort at Mushroom Beach, and the rained-out dinner plans of the night before had been rolled over to lunch this day. So we donned our walking shoes and headed off on the back roads (and given the state of the main roads, this promised to be a bit of an adventure), to chart a route to said beach. It turned out to be not as tricky as imagined, and took us no more – probably less – than half an hour.
Hai Tide turned out to be a monster resort (well, in comparison to our little four-bungalow set-up at Dream Beach), with staff organising beach activities, groups of day-trippers rotating in and out on one-hour turnarounds, and certain-coloured sun lounges reserved for resort guests only. We snagged a table with a great view over the beach and scoured the menu for seafood. With not much of interest on offer, Adam ended up with pizza and I with paella. We asked for a taste of their wine by the glass, and promptly ordered a Bintang. I’m not sure why the restaurant is rated #3 on Lembongan on Tripadvisor. Maybe it’s the sheer number of people eating there and giving it a review. It was ok.
Afterward, Adam retreated to a hammock strung between two palm trees to read his book, while I went for a dip in the ‘non-hotel-guests-can-swim-here’ section of the pool, then reclined in a deck chair to take it all in.
On our return to Dream Beach, we happened upon a low tide, and the water the calmest we’d seen it all week. So we dropped our things on the sand and joined a throng splashing around in the pale blue waves for a time. It was already happy hour at the Sunset Bar on the top level of the Pandan Cafe overlooking the beach, so after a short dip, took ourselves home to shower and change, so we could get back to the bar for a sunset cocktail to toast our final night on Lembongan.
We weren’t all that enamored with our drinks there, so we left after one and headed to the Sandy Bay Beach Club, so I could try the BBQ’d Mahi Mahi I’d noticed on the menu during an earlier visitation. It was quite good, as was Adam’s BBQ’d chicken, and the sky turned on the most beautiful sunset we had seen all week.
On my trip to Bali ten years ago, I had been completely awed by the dramatically stunning sunsets; the sky filling with red, pink and orange as though someone had tipped a few tins of paint over and smeared it all about, the swirling riot of colour merging and morphing for what seemed like an hour or more. I had hoped for a repeat on next-door Lembongan, but had only seen glimpses of much more muted hues. Our final evening, as the sun sank over Bali, the sky filled with purple, pink, yellow and orange, and had everyone at the Sandy Bay Beach Club on their feet, standing transfixed, snapping photos and breathing it in.
Saturday 31 December
Up, swim, tea, breakfast, pack … I hate this part.
After saying goodbye to the lovely boys who had looked after us so well at Water Blow, we climbed into the back of the Rocky Fast Cruise pick-up to start the trip home. We had one last Bintang with fresh lime at a beach bar, and before we knew it, we were speeding away from beautiful Lembongan.
Travel teaches and reminds us about many things, including lots about expectations. It’s worth noting at this point that at the airport while waiting to board our flight, we had something to eat at Made’s Warung, an unassuming-looking eatery tucked away in the far reaches of the airport. Here we had the best food of our trip – the rendang the standout dish – reminding me that every moment of travel has the potential to surprise and delight us.