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Published: December 12th 2010
Well, I’m sitting here in a little stilted lambung with 360 degrees views of hundreds upon hundreds of vividly green rice paddies as it pours with an absolutely ear-shattering, monumental, torrential rain. I understand that Australia’s been copping a fair bit itself, but I truly don’t believe I’ve ever seen it rain quite like this before. Thankfully the locals have constructed extensive and elaborate canal systems which diverts most of it away, or else I fear to say that this village would long ago ceased to exist, a sort of Indonesian version of Atlantis. I’ve found myself in the tiny little village of Tetebatu, perched on the slopes of Gunung Rinjani where I’m apparently the only tourist in town. Indonesia’s second largest volcano at nearly 4km high, Rinjani dominates the landscape in Lombok and indeed, when you include it’s lower slopes covers a good two thirds of the island, sits shrouded in a dense cloud to the north which only promises yet more rain.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. A week ago and before parting ways with Mike, the long-travelling Kanuck from Gili Air, we got chatting with a local boat captain over numerous Bintangs one eve. Somehow, and excuse my slightly fuzzy memory of the night, he’d invited us to accompany him to the mainland to experience a local traditional festival. So the next afternoon after the habitual snorkeling and snoozy lunch, we both piled onto his boat, cruised up the coast to the little village of Tanjung and were escorted into a large dusty arena to the curious and bemused stares of the six hundred local men who’d turned out for the local stick fighting competition.
Two villages, one from near Rinjani and one from the southeast of Lombok, had traveled up to Tanjung for the four day ‘peresian’ festival and as we sauntered into the fenced off area, and much to our embarrassment, beautifully adorned officials leapt to their feet and quickly shooed away a bunch of local fellas to provide these two lost-looking bule with ringside seats. The fights themselves are quite elaborate rituals which last much longer than the fights themselves and are accompanied by the continuous tinkle-tinkle of the gamelan music. Each village was represented by an older man, who I assume was a retired fighter, and before each fight the potential combatants lined up on opposing edges of the battleground, posturing and presenting their fiercest faces, while the two older guys pointed them out and the other nodded or shook his head.
Once a suitable pairing was made, the respective fighters sat huddled amongst the rest of their village, protected with a shield and went through a comprehensive ritual of psyching themselves up as their compatriots did their best to stare down the opposition. Each fighter was armed with a small shield and a metre long terribly hard-looking stick which is apparently adorned with powdered glass, something called chicken powder and other unexplained forms of ‘magic’. Oh, and then the old fella dropped a tablet of amphetamines in their mouth. The combatants then sprang up and started dancing around with big fat smiles on their faces as they tried their best you-don’t scare-me expressions reminiscent of prize fighters before a bout the world over. And then it’s on. At the referee’s command, they launched themselves at each other in a frenzy of swirling sticks as they trie to beat each other mercilessly. A bloke with a microphone goes into a spasm of garbled commentary - picture one of those frenzied Mexican football commentators who scream goooooooooooaaallllllllllllll for around a minute and now consider him doing so while incredibly drunk and/or imbibing in heavy psychedelics.
It’s vicious and unrelenting but also nice to see that afterwards and without exception, they cracked into big smiles and hugged each other. Thankfully they do stop at the first sign of blood but by the end of the mandatory five rounds each fighter has a number of large welts on their body and you can only imagine the agony they must be in later that night when the adrenaline and the drugs wear off. But it’s obviously all about status, standing and renown, well, it ought to be as each fighter receives a paltry 80 cents for partaking. And listening to the little kids present you can work out that they each have their favourites that they look up to and hope to emulate in the future. It was an experience though and I’ve certainly never seen anything like it before…
And then it was off to explore Lombok and after overnighting in Sengiggi, I hitched a ride down to Kuta Lombok. Thankfully this Kuta is the polar opposite to Kuta Bali with it’s hordes of drunken Aussies and manic nightlife. And if it is at all possible, Kuta Lombok is even more laid-back and slow-paced than Gili Air. A sleepy little village that essentially consists of a crossroads and a long white beach sitting in a beautiful turquoise cove. It’s renowned for its surf breaks but alas, my most recent experience of hanging ten was putting up those strings of said number of lanterns at our wedding, so contented myself with hiring a motorbike and exploring the stunning coastline for a few days. The daily torrential downpours did mean extensive negotiating of washed out roads and huge potholes that had morphed into not-so-small, knee-deep mud lakes but it was wonderful to cruise into sleepy little fishing and seaweed-farming villages to the cries of the little kids who’d come running out waving and screaming ‘pagi pagi mister’.
And thus to Tetebatu, this tiny little spot of a village about 800 metres above sea level where it is thankfully and blissfully much cooler. I’ve spent the five hours this morning when it wasn’t pissing down with rain on a most wonderful hike with a local guy named Her (pronounced hair). We trekked for an absolutely stunning eight kilometres through hundreds of verdant green rice paddies, waving at the locals as they harvested the rice, following the ridgeline into the jungle amid hordes of black monkeys and leeches who engaged in a spot of harvesting of their own. The leeches and not the monkeys that is. And finally to a thunderous waterfall that ripped down the side of Rinjani and pounded the rocks far below.
So when the rain finally eases a bit, I’m hitching a ride to the port of Lembar for the slow ferry back to Bali. Lombok has been wonderful and the people superb, but I must admit that I’m looking forward to a spot of that amazing Balinese hospitality again. I reckon I’ll slowly make my way around the east coast and across the north – the Kuningan festival, where the ancestors of the Balinese return to heaven having descended ten days before to bless them with peace, harmony and prosperity, is in a few days which should most certainly be worth a gander.
Anyway, I hope you are all well and will be in touch again soon. Alas, it appears the connection is again too slow to upload photos. So just trust me. It’s all beautiful.
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