Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Kuta Beach, Lombok

Today we went on the Traditional Sasak Tour, billed as 'a chance for mingling with the local Sasak people' of Lombok. We chose the itinerary because it mentioned Kuta beach, a really beautiful piece of unspoilt coastline on the south of the island. It's famous for surfing and huge waves can be seen crashing on the horizon.

On the way to the beach we visited three opportunities to meet with local people. The first was the pottery village of Banyumulek. Here we got to see how the pottery was made and have a go at making our own creations. The huge warehouse of goods was tempting although the shipping costs boosted the price of each item by ten fold.

At the second stop - the weaving village of Sukarara - we were met by a man called Billy. He showed us round the village with sights including a disabled women and a very elderly lady struggling to weave the traditional fabric one thread at a time. After passing preparations for a funeral, we then arrived at the shop. The hard sell began and we were luck to escape only 100,000 rupees lighter. As Billy's profit margins evaporated and the experience soured, we made a sharp exit.

Our final stop before the beach was the traditional village of Sade. Some of the house here are really old and beautiful. It was also a great chance for the villagers to meet us and try and sell us necklaces and sarongs. Another uncomfortable cultural experience.

Whilst our drivers - Dean and Adam - were very pleasant, we ended up feeling like walking wallets being pushed through a serious of hard sell destinations. A valuable lesson!

Travelling in Indonesia is at times a bit hard for a woman, as men often ignore women completely. Take today for example. While Jen was present, scammer Billy commented to Andy on Jen's looks without acknowledging her presence. Needless to say, this made Jen feel like a commodity. On another occasion, Jen asked a tour organiser for a snack. He said nothing and staring into space. When Andy asked for it instead, he got it immediately. Jen was also ignored by a village leader, when a group of local men started having a chat with Andy over a beer. Jen tried to take part in the conversation, but was blanked by the whole party.

Tomorrow (9th July 2008) we head off on the Perama tour to Komodo Island and arrive in Flores on 11th July. We'll try to post sometime after the 11th (internet permitting) but it could be a while. Hope you're all well and thanks again for the emails and comments.

Monday, 7 July 2008

Election Day Special

Our journey here was a little eventful. The driver of the car had a rather strange friend accompanying him. His friend – Pip – had lived and worked in Manchester in the mid-90's and was very clued up on the music scene of the time (Happy Mondays, Oasis, Charlatans, Stone Roses, Inspiral Carpets). However, we think he might have been a bit too well connected to the Manchester scene when the talk turned to drugs. Once that conversation ended abruptly, an eerie quiet descended on the car. The impromptu stop for the roadside bottle of palm tree moonshine, bought for us as a present, was disconcerting. The expensive hotel he suggested we stay at also rounded the journey off nicely. We were glad to say goodbye to him. (N.B. The moonshine was still fermenting this morning and was hissing away in the corner).

Our first evening meal in Sengiggi was rather special too. We felt like two extras in an Indonesian edition of Gordon Ramsey's Kitchen Nightmares. To sum up, mediocre food arriving sporadically – which you may or may not have ordered; lots of time watching others eat whilst waiting for your own food to arrive, and all this set in an ambience of other diners complaining and storming out. A dire and uncomfortable experience.

Waking up to the 5am competing sounds of the two local mosques, prayers being chanted and geckos scurrying across the palm roof of our bungalow, this morning is going much better. We've met local fixer Abeng who has managed to sort out our flights from Maumere (Flores) back to Denpasar (Bali) and then onwards to Surabaya (Java). This means we only have to do the three day Flores bus journey in one direction.

Today is election day in Lombok, as the islanders elect a new local governor and vice governor for the next five years. We've seen a lot of election posters scattered around the place – the photo shows one that we spotted on our walk to Rinjani, half way up the mountain. The younger man is only 27 years old, studied in Saudi Arabia and is going for governor. The older man is the vice-governor candidate.

Something that we've noticed in Indonesia is that everyone here is a great salesman. Indonesians are particularly good at cross-selling, as most friendly questions about what we're doing today end up in a sales pitch about their tours. Europe's got something to learn from the people here! People work very hard too, starting the day's work as early as 6am. Hence some visitors mistake locals having a long midday rest on the platforms outside their houses as being lazy, even though they've already worked a long day.

Right now we're staying in the lovely Raja's Bungalows with open air bathrooms. The staff here are fantastic and would be horrified if their guests weren't enjoying their time here. We highly recommend Raja's for anyone visiting Sengiggi!

Sunday, 6 July 2008

Gunung Rinjani Returns (3 - 5 July)

On Thursday, we travelled back to Senaru from Gili Air. Unfortunately, our transport on the way was hijacked by a group of ignorant Brits. However, Awenk, who had organised our return to Rinjani, managed to rustle up a taxi for us. The afternoon was spent visiting the two very impressive waterfalls in Senaru. A great opportunity for a fresh water shower after the cold, salt water washes in Gili Air (zoom in to see the bottom of the waterfall).

We left Senaru at 6am on Friday morning with Sam, our experienced guide from the week before. We made a repeat of the walk in from Sembalun, arriving at the high camp at a around 2pm. After an afternoon siesta and our evening meal, we had time to meet up again with the Brits who had taken our transport (see first paragraph), an arrogant Dutchman - and some very pleasant people too.

One Brit – looking dapper in a white office shirt, blue t-shirt and bobble hat combo – exuded the mountaineering confidence of Reinhold Messner, even though this was his first ever walk above 200m. He lectured us on the nuances of Gunung Rinjani weather, even though he had never been here before. Although we found him very amusing, we couldn't listen to him for more than 10 minutes and made our excuses.

During the night we slept restlessly, as at times, the wind outside our tent picked up, making us worried that the high winds would deny us of the summit for the second time. We have never before been so gripped by summit fever – a combination of a desperate desire to summit and a fear of failure. However, to our great relief, we woke up at 2.20am to clear starry skies and only light winds.

Our summit attempt began at 3am on Saturday morning. Walking by torchlight, we first climbed the steep 300m to the upper rim before making our way along the gentle ridge. We rested around 4.30am to shelter from the biting wind and then began the crux of the route. The last 350m in height to the summit is loose gravel. Lighter people manage to walk on the surface, but Andy was like a distressed dog on all fours, swimming in a sea of sand making minimal progress for what seemed like an eternity. It was absolutely exhausting. Eventually we summited just in time to watch the sunrise. At last, we had conquered Rinjani (3,726m)! On our descent, we smiled wryly as we passed the Brits, who had only just reached the bottom of the gravel hell.

Returning to camp for breakfast, we then made the long walk out back to Sembalun. A pleasant journey made all the more entertaining by meeting a group of Australians. They were on a luxury trip, accompanied by the company head who was busy overruling his own guide's judgement. They had made slow progress and it was doubtful they would make the high camp before dark. They had the porters carrying their rucksacks, cooking chips and making club sandwiches too! There was almost a coup though, when our Michelin star quality local cuisine lunch appeared. Moans of disappointment could be heard when they complained about their white and bitter pineapple compared with ours which was yellow and ripe!

Today (Sunday 6 July) we are resting in Sengiggi where we'll be for the next three days.

For those wanting to visit Gunung Rinjani, Awenk runs a very slick operation based in Senaru (email: awenk_trek@yahoo.com, phone: 081 7577 3678). Sam, our guide, works for Awenk and can be contacted on 081 9331 71455. For an idea of prices, we paid 2.6 million for two people with transfers Padangbai – Senaru - Gili Air, and 2.371 million with transfers Bangsol – Senaru - Sengiggi.

Gili Air Round Up

####Posting delayed as the internet in Gili Air was down####

Another busy day on the tropical island of Gili Air, our home for the last six nights. This morning was spent snorkelling in the current which enables you to drift parallel to the beach for about 1km. No turtles today but we did see an eel (thankfully) disappearing back down a hole.

Lunch time was spent viewing the Gili Air version of Komodo dragons. They are still an impressive metre or so long and looked pretty fierce. We saw five in total but there's many more on the island. After some rock pooling (see photos of poisonous sea urchins and a 15cm long star fish) in the late afternoon, it was back again to the bar for Happy Hour and sunset. Just off to dinner now for our last barbecued fish for a while.

We're off to do Rinjani again tomorrow so hopefully we'll summit this time around. We should be back in civilisation on Saturday or Sunday when we'll be staying in Sengiggi – Lombok's premiere/ only tourist resort. After resting there for a few days, we'll be on the hunting tourists by Komodo dragon boat tour run by Perama. Stay tuned for updates...