Sizing up the surf
kids gathering worms for fishing
We were having so much fun in East Bali that we almost canceled our plans and stayed there for the rest of the trip. In retrospect, I’m glad we didn’t. Amed was amazing. However, as a true compliment to Bali, so were all of the other places we visited. One of the definite highlights was Nusa Lembongan
, a small island located just off the southern coast.
To get there, we returned to Sanur and then took a rather pricy speedboat over to the island. Like many things in Bali, there is a local version and a tourist version, without much else in between. People had cautioned us about disreputable companies and overcrowding, so we chose the latter. I heard rumor of one operation called Perama, which operates a boat for those on a budget, but we never could get a hold of anyone on the phone and when we arrived at the dock the office was closed. We went with Scoot, which cost around US $30/person one-way. One the plus side, they helped us wrestle our bags onto the boat and provided a transfer to our hotel. The water was relatively calm, so we made it across in just
A few of the hundreds of smiling, uniformed schoolchildren we saw while biking around Bali, stretching their hands out for a high-five.
over an hour.
On Lembongan we stayed at a fantastic, family-run hotel called Suka Beach Bungalows
. Basically, it was comprised of just a few thatched huts on the far end of Jungut Batu Village. Our bungalow had an open-air bathroom, balcony, and platform below with a hammock and mattress to nap on during the day. The manager, Ketut, was very friendly and helpful. He rented us a scooter for a few dollars a day and was available to help arrange snorkeling trips, etc. Amazingly, breakfast was included in the price. Every day we sat outside at the weather-worn table and sipped our coffee, watching the seaweed gatherers with a mix of guilt and fascination.
While tourism seems to have exploded, most people on the island are farmers. Rather than harvesting wheat or potatoes on a plot of dusty land, they cultivate seaweed. I’ve always appreciated seaweed for its edibility; dry seaweed is an excellent snack and I love sushi. However, on Lembongan I discovered that seaweed is far more versatile than I had ever imagined. According to our Lonely Planet guidebook, the seaweed is used to create a chemical compound called Carrageenan, some sort of emulsifier that is
an ingredient used to enrich ice cream. Some of the people we talked to told us that it is also used in shampoo and beauty products. Like all other crops, the price rises and falls depending on the demand. Once harvested, it is out of the villagers’ hands; collected in mass and shipped out to be distributed abroad. The green variety is apparently worth more than the brown, but it still isn’t sold for more than a few cents a kilo.
Additionally, the harvest can only take place at certain times. I believe that someone mentioned that it was primarily around the full moon, when the tide gets very low. We walked out to have a look at the seaweed beds, which were roped off and anchored meticulously. Families-men, women, and children-would wade out when the water ebbed. They lifted impossibly heavy baskets of wet seaweed; carrying it on their heads, in boats, and inner tubes. It’s definitely sobering to think of the labor involved in a cultivating a seemingly insignificant ingredient that most of us haven’t heard of.
Perhaps my favorite thing to do on the island was whip around on the scooter. Nusa Lembongan is only
around 8 km in size. There are no cars and very little bike traffic. Though some of the roads are quite rough, bouncing along is a peaceful way to explore the island. There are some really lovely temples tucked away in the trees, thick mangroves, and cheap cafes in route. It’s an easy way to get to Mushroom Bay, the other tourist enclave, or ride up the hill for some great views of the island. We also ventured over to Ceningan Island
, where the accommodating staff of the Travally Resort let us swim in their pool and explore their hidden beach for the price of a meal.
In addition to zipping around the island, we went on a couple of snorkeling trips. The first was an official tour, arranged through our guesthouse. One of the local operators hauled six of us to some of the most famous sights around the island. First, we were taken out to Manta Point
off of the neighboring Nusa Penida. I had been lured along on the trip with the promise of seeing one of the majestic rays. However, it immediately became clear that the environment was not suitable for snorkelers. The swells on
the way over were so severe that I actually found myself nervously gripping the side of the boat with white knuckles. Next, we were kicked off into the roiling, murky water and told to go look for a manta ray while the captain sped off. We weren’t given life jackets. We were quite near to the cliff face and the waves were so large I felt sea-sick every time I looked down. At the time it seemed comically misguided, and it took me awhile to realize how dangerous it probably was. Less than a week later seven Japanese divers went missing in a storm off of the same coast. Five were found clinging to a rock several days later, but two weren’t so lucky. It’s a sad, but valuable lesson: you just can’t trust everyone who claims to be a tour operator.
The second stop on our short trip was Crystal Bay
, also on Nusa Penida. True to its name, the water was lovely: clear and cold with great visibility and some healthy coral. Unfortunately, it was also a bit of a circus, with dive boats speeding in and out to deposit their customers in the best spots. The
on the beach near Ped, Nusa Penida
last stop was definitely the best, a consolation prize for not seeing any Manta Rays. Our captain took us over to “The Wall”
near Toyapekeh Harbor on Nusa Penida. We hopped off on one end and were pushed by the strong current along the edge of the island. Unlike Manta Point, the water was quite calm. The lush jungle spilled into the ocean above our heads as we floated along a small cliff, which formed a shelf before dropping steeply into the blue abyss. All along the shelf was coral and colorful fish, like swimming in an aquarium.
On a different day, we organized our own snorkeling excursion off Mangrove Point
, on the north side of the island. We rode the scooter out and parked at a place called “Bobo’s Warung”. The staff was super friendly and rented us snorkeling gear for a reasonable price. At high tide it’s easy enough to swim out to the reef by yourself, since it’s only about 100 meters offshore. The water was clear and there were plenty of small fish, though again you should be careful of boat traffic.
A few more recommendations for anyone interested on Nusa Lemongan: The Bali
A village on the road to Toyapakeh, Nusa Penida
Eco Deli was fantastic. They had some truly delicious desserts (brownies!) as well as good coffee and smoothies. Most importantly, they are really committed to recycling. Perhaps my only complaint about Bali is the waste, it is cheap to buy the plastic bottles you see littering the roadside, but incredibly difficult to find refills for personal cups. The Eco Deli was the only place we found that allowed you to fill up your own bottle. They also seem really committed to helping the community and taking a stand on regional issues, like the egregious destruction of the rainforest to make way for palm oil plantations. Go Eco Deli!
Also, I had a great experience at the Yoga Shack
. They hold classes in a lovely open-air room located inside the Secret Garden Bungalows. On this particular day, I was the only one who showed up! The instructor (a girl from Australia, unfortunately I’ve forgotten her name!) was really helpful and worked with me on some really challenging poses. Getting the individual feedback was wonderful. Unfortunately, I broke my toe coming out of a headstand on the uneven bamboo floor. Thankfully, it happened at the end of the class. I didn’t
want to say anything, so I just thanked her and limped away. It did swell up and turn purple, so I wasn’t able to go back for another class.
After exploring (and lounging) on Nusa Lembongan for a week, we headed over to Nusa Penida
. We found a snorkeling boat willing to drop us off on the way, which saved us the agony of trying to make the 5:30 am public ferry! As soon as we pulled up on the beach a swarm of men descended, hoping to earn a little extra for carrying our bags. We declined, but who could blame them…the harbor was completely empty. It was the first sense I had that Nusa Penida was going to be VERY different from the rest of Bali. We negotiated with a couple of guys to take us to our hotel on the backs of their motorbikes. If you come to Nusa Penida, its best to travel light.
Unlike Lembongon, Nusa Penida is relatively untouched by tourism. Many come to enjoy the diving off of its rich coast, but few spend time on the island itself. We stayed at the Ring Sameton Inn
, the only real hotel on
Penida. It’s located near the small village of Ped. There isn’t happening in Ped, just some huts, seaweed beds, and a handful of warungs serving tasty (and cheap!) seafood. The place just across the street from the hotel had delicious tuna satay. Next to the warung was a mud path patrolled by dogs, pigs, and chickens. By crossing it and walking through the forest we were able to reach the beach, which, aside from the dawn and dusk seaweed harvest, was virtually empty.
On our first day, we rented scooters, enthusiastic to see what the island had to offer. We headed out for a “short” jaunt in the midday sun, planning on coming back for lunch within the hour. We followed the coast for a while and then began heading inland, scaling a hill and taking in epic views of the coast. I remember C asking me if we should turn around. My ingenious response: “No! It’s an island, we’ll wind back to the coast eventually!”
It took almost four more hours before we made it back to the coast. Also unlike Lemongan, Penida is a big island. It has mountains and valleys and villages hidden in palm
groves. It’s also the supposed home of some Indonesian devil-spirit, who appears to wreak havoc in many of the Barong dances. Riding in circles, I definitely felt like there was some mischievous spirit that was toying with us, misleading, and perhaps even manipulating the road to confuse us. We passed through sleepy villages that seemed deserted accept for the roosters that squawked from under their wooden baskets. In others, people gaped as we rode by, no doubt surprised to see us lost in the middle of nowhere. Like in Amed, we were frequently accosted by grinning, uniformed school kids looking for a warm “Hello!” and a high-five.
It was charming and also somewhat frustrating. C was nearly out of gas and for a long while we rode without seeing any sign of civilization. The roads were windy and full of pot holes. At one point, I dropped the bike while trying to turn around on a particularly steep section, breaking off my flip-flop in the process. Having only planned on going out for a short bit, I had neglected to wear the proper attire, and had to ride the rest of the way with just one shoe. Nonetheless, the
Stopping for a photo opp
Note how torn up the "road" is....Nusa Penida
scenery was spectacular: rolling, windswept hills, secluded villages, small plots of farmland, local temples, sacred banyans, and shady palms. I feel extremely lucky to have had the opportunity to see it. We made it back to the hotel eventually, having traversed the entire island.
The next day we stayed closer to home, nursing our sunburns and sore backsides. We visited the impressive Ped Temple
, which pays homage to the island’s devil-spirit Jero Gede Macaling
. There’s a dress code required to visit, so the kindly hotel manager lent us some sarongs. She even helped dress us and tucked a flower into my ponytail. The temple, with its intricate carvings and shaded courtyards, was exquisite.
On our last day we ventured out on another motorbike trip. We tried to find a waterfall and, despite several schoolchildren who stopped to show us the way, got lost again. We eventually dead-ended in a mucky pasture. We parked our bike in the mud and walked past a few melancholy cows to the precipice of Nusa Penida’s spectacular cliffs. The sheer bluffs dropped straight into the turquoise water hundreds of feet below. We actually found a staircase that had been cut into the rock
near Ped, Nusa Penida
by some reckless soul. Carefully climbing down, we felt like we had stumbled into a scene from “Lord of the Rings”; traversing a forgotten pathway on the edge of the earth.
It’s difficult, if not impossible, to capture the spirit of Nusa Penida in writing. It’s a bit undeveloped, a bit behind the modern world. Perhaps it’s the devil, because it’s also imbued with a playful, rugged soul, which is both brooding and serene. While extremely memorable, most of our Bali trip was a vacation. Nusa Penida was an adventure.
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