I am writing this from my hammock. Yes, my hammock – the one that I have laid claim to for the last 10 days.
It’s a nice hammock, swinging from the trees on one of the most peaceful, quiet and beautiful beaches I have yet to see in Indonesia. From this hammock I have read 4 books, snoozed or just stared across the water, sometimes catching a glimpse of Gunung Rinjani, the volcanic mountain on neighbouring Lombok when the clouds cleared off its peak. When not in my hammock, I’m either snorkelling off the beach, eating or passing the time with Fiona and her husband in the restaurant as we make plans for the remainder of the day (“So what are you going to do this afternoon – swim, read or walk on the beach?”). That’s about the extent of our planning here. I think I am at risk of becoming a full-time sloth.
As I lay in my hammock, there are no sounds but the wind rustling through the leaves, and the waves crashing on the reef further out. There are no motorbikes, no honking horns, no crowing roosters, no barking dogs and no music blaring at full volume from tinny speakers. Only the distant melodic call to prayer from the local mosque breaks the silence 3-4 times a day. (I can call it melodic when it’s heard from a long distance; anything closer and it becomes downright annoying!) There is no TV, no internet and only a very occasional phone signal in the mornings between 7.42 and 7.45pm – if you stand in the corner of the restaurant. If we are lucky, we might get a few emails coming through on the 3G phone.
So where is my hammock, you might ask?
It’s hanging on a beach called Pantai Jelenga off the west coast of Sumbawa – one of the bigger islands in the Nusa Tenggara group of islands in Indonesia.
(Excuse the typo in the picture – it’s Jelenga, not Jengela!)
Here’s a vaguely interesting fact for you: there are some 17-18,000 islands in Indonesia (depending on who you believe) – of which 6,500 are inhabited. Sumbawa makes #28 for me, I think (*), albeit a few have only just been for day trips. I guess I could see out my dying days here in Indonesia and never get to them all. (Don’t worry – that’s not my plan.) But I digress.
I met up with Fiona (with whom I travelled to Kanawa Island last November) and her husband (who just flew in from France) in Mataram, the main city of Lombok. From there we caught a bus/ferry combination entailing a 2.5 hour ride across Lombok, a 2 hour ferry ride followed by another 45min ride to Taliwang.
Overall, this was a reasonably pleasant and comfortable journey. The only exception would be the ferry ride. Whilst it had the potential to be pleasant, it ended up being yet another assault on my eardrums as a singing busker took it upon himself to entertain us for the entire journey. This entailed setting a speaker system that would have supplied enough sound for all of Vector Arena. There was no chance for conversation, so we just inserted ear plugs and stuck our noses into our books. (Unfortunately, the entertainment wasn’t really very entertaining. To us, at least. The Indonesian locals seemed to enjoy it, so I guess that’s what matters. We were on a local ferry, not a tourist one.
Jumping off the bus in Taliwang, the locals on the bus very quickly disappeared and we were left standing at a fairly isolated and empty bus depot. We had a vague idea of where we wanted to head based on information from another traveller; there was very little information in the guide books or even Google Maps. We really didn’t know what we were in for. But if we didn’t like it, we had a plan B ready to go!..
We negotiated a bemo (taxi van) to take us the remaining 15km to the beach and had to hope that they knew where they were going. After a few wrong turns, and driving the last 200m cross-country through a muddy, potholed path, we emerged onto beautiful Jelenga beach. The resort (Jelenga Mulia) was somewhat ram-shackled, but it had its own charm. Cheap and (almost) cheerful.
Mulia has just been taken over by the French owners (Natalie and Francois), and they have plans for renovations – but for the moment, things are fairly rustic. The rooms need a new coat of paint, the bathroom needs an overhaul but at least it has 24 hour electricity (albeit with regular power cuts), running water, a flush western toilet and comfortable beds. The shower, mind you, is pretty much a pipe that comes out of the wall with a plug over it, into which someone has drilled 3 holes to create the shower spray. This results in cold water being sprayed in 3 wildly random directions. You decide which part of your body needs to get wet and find the most appropriate spurt of water. All in all, not a bad deal for NZD$15/night.
The beach is virtually abandoned. There were another 3 surfing French guys here when we arrived, but have had the place to ourselves for the last 5 days. With the local village being 4-5 kms inland from the beach, there are few locals here either. We really do pretty much have the beach to ourselves.
Jelenga is primarily a surfing beach but we had heard that there was also some good snorkelling to be had. And it was true – it was pretty good. Not the best I’ve seen, but definitely OK. But it was hard work to get to it – we had to swim about 250m off shore, and snorkel between two surf reefs. Most times it was fine, but we had to be careful of strong currents at times. And then there was the time that I swam through a swarm of baby jellyfish. The water was thick with them, and I had no idea which way to swim to get out of them again. It was horrible– I was being stung all over, including my lips. Not a pleasant experience at all – and it seemed to take forever to get through them. It hurt, but fortunately there were no on-going problems with the stings.
A highlight was when we hired a couple of scooters and headed south for the day, in search of what we heard were even more spectacular beaches. The ride there was awesome. The roads were surprisingly good with not much traffic, but they were very windy and steep in places as we rode over a couple of large hills. We just took it slow and steady.
We had to go slow anyhow to ensure we avoided the dangers of goats, dogs,, horses and cows wandering on the roads. The views were stunning and it reminded me of Flores. So lush and green after the rainy season.
We ended up at Tropical Beach – another gorgeous beach with surf breaks and some snorkelling reefs. We had lunch at a ritzy high-end resort (potato skins with sour cream and a Caesar salad, both with real bacon – yum!) but decided that the currents just looked too dangerous to be tempted to swim. A pity.
The afternoon rains hit just as we were leaving. We managed to get to the next town, but not being comfortable driving over the upcoming steep hill we pulled over until the rain stopped. Then we nervously and cautiously continued on our journey on the now wet roads without incident.
I enjoyed the ride so much that I did half of it again the next day, but this time taking the time to stop every 5 minutes for photo opps.
Alas, 10 days later, it was time to leave my hammock and friends at Jelenga Beach and make my way back to Mataram for a night, before catching the ferry back to Bali.
All in all – Jelenga was an awesome little find, thanks to the advice of travellers we met back in November. Sumbawa didn’t hold great appeal to me in the past but now I’d be keen to come back and explore it a bit further one day. Not many tourists other than surfers or those with a sense of adventure make it to Sumbawa – and that has appeal to me.
(*) Just a bit of useless information for anyone that is interested: here is the list of 28 Islands of Indonesia visited so far are:
- Bali, Nusa Lembongan, Nusa Ceningan, Nusa Penida
- Sulawesi, Waleakodi, Malenge,
- Maluku Islands: Ambon, Banda, Banda Besar, Ai, Run, Hatta, Pisang, Ternate, Tidore, Matarai
- Lombok, Gili Gede, Gili Trawangan, Gili Air, Gili Meno, Gili Layer
- Flores, Kanawa, Rinca