Posted on December 6, 2013 by

Lombok and the Gili Islands

Thursday 28 November 2013 – We very leisurley left Bali and the comforts of Villa Sarna behind and continued east to Lombok. East Bali was definitlely less developed in terms of commercial property but the roads were really good and turned into a wide traffic free dual carriageway at the end.  We arrived at the port town of Padang Bai around 12.30 and straight to the ticket office. After a bit of confusion about which lane we should drive down, we had to go down the car lane, not the moped one. We had our tickets. The pricest yet at 232,000 rupiah but it’s also the longest journey – 5 hours. Paul asked “When is the next ferry?” “now” better get a move on then. Once again there was lots of space we drove straight on. It’s the first time the bike has been strapped down, we’d read this ferry can get a bit choppy. By 13.00 we were sat in one of the many empty rows of seats which had a full 180 degree view ahead and the AC was blasting out. I think the bad Indonesian ferries are a myth or we’re in for a shocker on the next two.

After the little panic that the boat was ‘now’ we were still sat in the port an hour later. Schedules are lax, the boat leaves when it’s full – full of vehicles luckily rather than passengers. This is probably the one occasion we were happy to see lorries. Lorry’s take up lots of space and don’t carry people – a double bonus.

We finally set off for Lombok just after 14.00, so just over an hour wait. Apart from the Indonesian soap opera blasting out the TV it was a very comfortable journey. Someone always seems to die or a kid is crying really harrowingly on the soap operas here, it’s a bit disturbing to listen to but everyone else was gripped.

A hopeful man came over to speak to us and told us “very good ferry, 2 and half hours.” The same man was enquiring about our marital status, we were honest as we didn’t need a hotel room and he replied “you very good sir, you girlfriend sexy” I think something got lost in translation but it was very funny. We arrived three and half hours later but then waited an hour and half to disembark so it was dark and 7pm by the time we got off. There was a bit of fudging the ramp as boat ramp didn’t quite reach the harbour and there was a good 10inch gap, they made do with some carpet rope usually used if the ramp is a bit wet.

Paul took it slow to Senggigi as it really was pitch black and still some people drove without lights, it took us about an hour. From here we planned to take yet another holiday on our holiday on one of the Gili Islands. The place we wanted to stay was full but the two giggling girls, who looked more like Thai girls than Indonesian girls [By that I mean they were way less dressed and much more confident than the typical modestly dressed and slightly shy Indonesian girls we have come across] took me to their ‘friends’ homestay. I was really unsure what to expect. We went down a side road to a gated villa, the girl’s dog in tow. A slightly bemused looking old white lady came to the door, they shouted “our friend wants to stay” so indicated we go in and she would get her husband. Her husband was a very Bavarian Dutch looking man with a bald head and handlebar moustache. We named them Gus and Emelda. After a little bit of gentle flirting with the giggling girls, he showed me a guestroom just off their main living space. It was a good room but I don’t really like feeling we’re actually in someone’s space which we very much were but it was late and I looked ‘tired’ as the giggling girls informed me, it would do.

We then became the talk of the house and this is going to sound a bit rude but sometimes we just want to rest. Each new person that came in was introduced to us, Paul even got cornered when he went the toilet. Gus was very animated when he spoke his accent was very thick making him difficult to understand, he also didn’t understand English very much so a lot got lost. Luckily he got that we wanted to leave the bike with him for a few days whilst we went off to the Gili islands and willing obliged. No motor vehicles on the tiny Gili Islands.

The next morning we set out to see what the deal was for going to the Gili Islands. Senggigi is the main tourist town in Lombok unless we knew that we wouldn’t have guessed. It was pretty much a ghost town. There were lots of big hotels along the sea front set in sprawling grounds but there didn’t seem to be many people in those either. There are lots of offices selling tickets, we’d briefly read about the tickets but neither of us really remembered the advise. So we booked a bus and ferry combination ticket to Gili Air for the next day. Immediately after we had a bad feeling but they were pretty cheap so if they didn’t show we’d have to buy another ticket.

The next day, we stood waiting for the bus. A newish silver mini-bus pulled infront of us and the guy smiled at us, great this is us we thought. Nope, not ours. He called someone though and then our banged up bus turned up. We did two pick-ups along the way and we after some really beautiful, untouched coast line we were at Bangsai Port, well nearly. During the journey, the mini bus driver had a friend with him. He explained that we needed to be careful at the port as lots of people will try to rip us off and take our things, and that we only needed to take the horse and cart if we were lazy and that it was a 200m walk to the port, after that we’d be “free as a bird”. We’d just assumed cars were not allowed into the port. The same guy also sold us a return ticket, he seemed genuine enough but this was a little bit of a mistake we know now writing in hindsight.

The bus pulled into some sort of part built guesthouse where there was other white people but also a bunch of scrupulous looking locals. We stood with everyone else then a guy approached us and demanded our ticket. Already weary of the situation and what we’d been told, Paul showed him the ticket but kept hold of it as it was the only proof of a ticket we had. He took offence to this, got all agitated and then pointing his finger said “I’m not taking you, I don’t want to take you, I’ll take these, not you” Not sure why he got so hysterical but Paul was right not to give it to him. A guy behind him just gestured to ignore him and pointed to the real ticket man.

After a ten minute wait for other buses to arrive we were grouped according to which Gili we were going to and told to make our way to the port. So at this point we’d handed our ticket to the man, who stayed where he was and we set off for the port, ticketless. After conferring with a German couple that they had their ticket, we went back, he said he’d meet us there with the ticket.  It was a really odd situation and everyone just seemed to be going with it not really having a clue.

Once at the port, the guy met us we were issued with another ticket and told to go and wait for the public boat behind a building. We soon discovered that the boat only leaves when there is enough people, apparently that’s 26. The boats that take you across are rickety and wooden but are packed to the max with people and supplies. We were wedged between a concrete water feature and crates of Bintang.  We realised the better way to make this journey is to take a taxi and buy the ticket at the port, that way there is no dodgy dealing going on.

The man in the mini bus was right when he said we’d be ‘free’ once on the island. We were, there was a tiny bit of pestering to get on a horse and cart but that was easy to wade through. The beauty of the island was immense. The azure blue waters lapping onto perfectly white sands was really breathtaking. When we headed out to Gili Air we made a plan to stay 3 nights and told Gus [the dutch homestay owner]  we’d be back on the 3rd December. We instantly regretted not getting the number so we could stay longer.

Accommodation is a bit pricier than normal on the Gili’s so a little research led me to Banana Cottages. I was sticking to what I found but I did become a little worried as we bypassed lots of beach front bungalows. I saw Paul’s face sink when we walked down a road away from the beach but the beautiful cottages won him over instantly they were set amongst Banana and Coconut trees, there was a big veranda on the front and an outdoor bathroom. Going to the toilet at night and having a full view of the starry sky is quite unique. Like camping only there’s a proper toilet. We were given options for breakfast it was even delivered it to our balcony. We paid just £10 a night.

Once settled we quickly changed and headed into the sea for a quick bit of snorkeling. It was a bit murky as it was late afternoon, but we could still see a lot of fish, far more than we’d seen anywhere else. Then there he was. A big old sea turtle swimming towards Paul who made some commotion so I’d swim over faster, we followed him for a little while whilst he bobbed his head up above the water then dived back down, gliding elegantly through the water then left him be. The one time we didn’t have the camera.

After a day, we were back into the island life. Swimming and snorkelling all day in between napping and eating. At night there was amazing BBQ on offer and the best pumpkin soup I’ve ever had – although Paul still proclaims it’s not as good as his friend Austen’s – I’ve never been able to produce a soup which receives Austen’s level of greatness. We thought we’d probably get a boat to Gili Meno [the neighbouring island less than a mile away] but we became too content and a little lazy and stayed where we were. Day two snorkeling, armed with the GoPro camera we didn’t find the turtle but day three just as we were about to give up, he took me by surprise and was coming straight at me. Paul swam over the top of him and he got a little scared and was trying to get away after 3 minutes with him he hid under a rock we left him to it.

When our three nights on Gili Air were up, we took the boat back to mainland Lombok. Our return ticket didn’t work for the boat and we had to buy another. The company we brought off doesn’t have an office on the Island which means the boat operators wouldn’t get the money, so we’d been fleeced, kind of expected that. It just so happened the German couple who had been on the bus with us on the way out to the Gili were leaving the same day and had the same issue. Luckily the tickets are cheap so it wasn’t an issue. The same un-organised confusion about the buses with the scrupulous transport men happened when we got back into the port. Again, everyone just going with it. At one point four people bound for Bali were in out bus back to Sengiggi they got out then on the way back we dropped one couple off but picked up two boys at one stop and a girl at another. Then we got out as we finally made it back to Gus’ Homestay.

From Gili Air Mount Rinjani [an active volcano with a lake in the caldera] had been in view the whole time, but mostly covered in cloud. Everywhere in Sengiggi sells treks up the mountain which takes 2-5 days dependent on which option you go for. The only thing you can’t hire is walking boots and we don’t have walking boots. I don’t fancy doing it in my £3 plimpsoles from Iran, my flipflops or my motorcycle boots. Plus it’s rainy season so technically the treks are suppose to be forbidden so we’re bypassing it this time. Google it, it does look pretty good but I’m sure we’ll return here one day anyway.

The next morning we bid a farewell to Gus and his wife. Gus is quite an animated character using lots of hand waving and his grasp on English as I mentioned is not so good. He would engage us in conversation, go off on a complete tangent about who knows what and then stop talking. We’d smile as we didn’t have a clue what he said and start to move towards our room then he’d start up again so we never knew when the conversation was over, bit awkward. He took a liking to us though and gushed to every new comer about us. Then when we left the room he’d ask us to wait then fetch some poor guy over and say ‘these are the ones’ and we’d go over the trip story.

The drive from Sengiggi on the very west of Lombok to Labuan on the very east coast only took 2 hours which gives some idea of the size of the Island but it does also have something to do with the straight and good condition road between the east and west. As we drove through the little towns along the way it’s surprising to see horse and carts still being used as actual an mode of transport rather than just a novelty for tourists. For anything from the local school bus to moving building materials, horses are still very much working animals here.

We’ve not been planning at all when it comes to ferries and just turning up has worked for us so far. Mainly because getting information that is accurate is difficult and there’s always lots of conflicting information. This is now the 4th of 6 ferry crossings in Indonesia. We know the last two crossing are a lot less frequent and a lot less reliable. Like just don’t turn up reliable. They are both pretty lengthy too – the last ferry we need to catch between Flores and Timor is rumoured to take between 17 hours if we’re lucky or upto 29 hours if we’re unlucky. I hope we’re lucky.  This crossing is a much more pleasant one hour journey.