OK, don’t fall off your chair. No, I haven’t fallen off the face of the earth, nor have I been eaten by a Titan triggerfish. And yes, this is a very long-overdue blog update.
So where on earth am I then?
Very close to home, actually. OK, at home, in NZ, to be more specific. But I’ll come to that in another post. First, you get to hear (read) about where I’ve been meanwhile. I’m going to send out a burst of posts over the next day or two to get you caught up on what’s been happening (or not happening, as the case may be) and then share some insight into my upcoming plans. (Whew – that gives me two more days to work it out!)
You last heard from me after spending some time on Kanawa Island, where the very scary and very dangerous Titan triggerfish nearly ate me for breakfast. OK, I do tend to exaggerate sometimes, but that bloody fish scarred me for life, figuratively speaking. Here he is again in case you forgot how scary he was!
From Kanawa Island, I returned to Bali, said goodbye to my friend Fiona who was moving on to Thailand, and I caught a boat to Nusa Lembongan. Lembongan is a small island (only about 8 km2) off the southern tip of Bali, about ½ hour away by speedboat.
An Indonesian Thanksgiving
As it turned out I would be on Lembongan for the American Thanksgiving holiday and emails were passed between my mother, my aunt and myself lamenting about how we (as a family) miss out on traditional Thanksgiving day family gatherings now that we are spread out around the world. This led us to sharing what we were thankful for. Here is what I wrote:
….So this is how my Indonesian Thanksgiving went down…
- Woke up early (5.30) and had leisurely breakfast while reading the news on the internet. Slightly dodgy tummy meant I didn’t go anywhere til later mid-morning. I was thankful that it wasn’t too bad – at least I’m not throwing up!
- Went to visit a local family that I met on Lembongan a few years ago. They used to farm seaweed but island wide, the seaweed farming business is in decline due to disease and the lack of available land on which they can dry it. This is thanks to the tourism boom which is gobbling up beachfront land previously dedicated to seaweed drying. The husband has had to take a job as a porter at a hotel, carrying bags for rich tourists. He makes a grand total of 1,200,000 rupiah per month. That’s about $120 NZD or $102 USD – not much to support a growing family, even in Indonesia. That gives me lots to be thankful for.
- Went for a swim and read in the pool during the hottest part of the day. Was thankful that I had the pool to myself.
- Jumped on a motor scooter and discovered some new areas of the island that I hadn’t been to before. Thankful that I didn’t fall off and crack my head open on the dodgy roads!
- Went for an hour long massage. I was thankful when it was over – it hurt! Who knew that I would still have so many sore spots when I’m no longer sitting on my butt in an office all day? Cost: NZ$10.
- Went out for my Thanksgiving dinner. I went to a little place which is a bit more upmarket than I would normally go to. Of course, turkey would not be on the menu. The chicken dishes didn’t grab me either, so I figured that if I was going against tradition, I might as well do it completely. Instead, I went for a traditional Balinese meal: roasted pork pieces with potatoes, carrots and beans. It was like a dry-ish curry – and REALLY spicy. This was accompanied by fresh pineapple juice. Total cost = NZD$6 – an expensive dinner out for me! While I ate my dinner, I gave thanks that I was fortunate enough to be doing what I’m doing at the moment.
And that actually pretty much sums up what my days on Lembongan were like!
Here is what my non-traditional Thanksgiving dinner looked like:
A changing island
When I first stayed on Lembongan in 2009 it was relatively untouched by tourists. It’s rapidly changing now as new tourist facilities are constructed and an overspill of tourists from Bali has arrived. Bugger – my little secret quiet island hideaway isn’t so secret anymore.
I returned to Lembongan in 2011 and I thought the changes were dramatic then. And it’s even more so this time. There is so much construction going on and the number of noisy motorbikes has increased significantly. (Hint: when booking a massage, look to see what is happening next door. Someone running a skill saw less than 5 meters away does not maketh a relaxing massage.)
One might think that the tourism boom is a good thing for the island, and I guess it is in that is provides employment opportunities for some locals who may otherwise go to Bali or elsewhere to earn a crust. But on the other hand, the land that needed for drying seaweed is now being consumed by beachfront hotels and guesthouses and it’s driving the local seaweed farmers out of business. These are often the people who lack the English skills to take advantage of the new tourism opportunities, so it’s a real challenge for some.
One of the reasons I like to go to Lembongan is to meet up with the family mentioned above that I befriended back in 2009. I took them by surprise this time, but I was welcomed with big smiles and excited hugs. We spent a bit of time catching up as they described some of the changes that are occurring on the island. Their English is very limited so conversing with them beyond standard greetings really puts my bahasa (language) skills to the test – but we persevered and had a nice catch-up.
They were so proud to show me a photo of their daughter Ayu dressed in traditional Balinese dress for a competition. The photo was hanging outside the front of the house for any passerby’s to see.
As I admired it, and knowing that I had a soft spot for their daughter, they took the photo down to give to me to take home. The offer was very sweet and generous but I had to explain that I really couldn’t carry it while travelling. I appeased them by taking a photo of the photo and promising to have a print made when I get home. I was really touched. This is the sort of warmth and generosity that I love about the Indonesians that I meet in my travels. The ones that have the least to give, offer so much in non-tangible ways.
Anyhow, back to my more salubrious lifestyle of a backpacking traveller. I spent about a week on Lembongan, and used much of that time to well, relax. I read, swam, ate and slept. Rinse and repeat. I cycled around part of the island. I joined some Aussies on a snorkel charter that went over to Nusa Penida, a neighboring island. While I had a decent internet connection I tried to teach myself some new technical skills – writing mobile phone apps. (Anyone want to pay $2.99 for a customised app which purrs when you stroke the picture of your cat? I’m sure there is a market out there…. maybe this could be the way to fund my extended travels!)
On the day that I decided to hire a scooter to explore the wider parts of Lembongan and neighboring island, Nusa Ceningan – it started to rain. A lot. I got soaked – several times. Thank goodness in these temperatures you dry off almost as quickly as you get wet. (See, it’s not all about sipping cocktails as turquoise waters lap at the golden sand beaches).
The roads on Lembongan and Cenginan have deteriorated drastically since I first learned to ride a scooter here in 2009. What were once relatively smooth roads are now a path strewn with crumbled concrete and potholes. Given all the new tourism infrastructure going on, it’s a pity that they aren’t doing anything to help the locals maintain decent roads.
I crossed the big yellow bridge over to Nusa Cenginan, a neighboring island but had to turn back after 10 minutes as the roads were so bad. It would just be my luck to get a flat tyre – something that I seem to make a habit of and I really didn’t want to tempt fate while riding out on my own.
And that pretty summarises my time on Lembongan. There was nothing nail-biting exciting to report – it was just a very pleasant chilled, relaxing time with a bit of local exploration. That’s the way my travels turned for awhile and why I was hesitant to write self-indulgent posts that exclaimed ‘Look at me – on another beach, watching another sunset!” But my fan club (you both know who you are!) have told me that you still want to hear the stories anyhow – as a welcome respite from the daily grind of traffic and office politics.
And since you’ve asked for it, you’ve got it.
Yet another evening spent gazing at the sunset….