Back in time in Lombok
Vast, ancient and relatively undiscovered, the island of Lombok seems a world away from the tourist traps in Gili Trawangan and Bali.
Lombok is a place of lush green mountains and dazzling beaches, of roaring surf and lofty rice terraces, slithering lizards and rumbling volcanoes. The only large city is Mataram, in the west of the island, where we visit the immigration office once a month to run the bureacratic gauntlet and extend our visas, always accompanied by a trip to the grubby mall for a taste of civilisation. Otherwise, the island is largely undeveloped.
Parts of SE Asia (that is, anywhere with wifi) seem to specialise in a particular type of Lonely Planet-wielding, wifebeater-wearing travellers. But Lombok is far removed from the beach bars of Gili T or the Eat, Pray, Love scene in Bali and it is rewardingly easy to find quieter spots.
I rented a little moped for $5/day and happily roamed around, relieved to be free of Western company for a while. I followed the beautiful coastal paths leading down to the laid-back surfer camp in Kuta Lombok. To the east is the perfect beach at Tanjung Aan, a crescent of golden sand untouched beneath a perfect sky, the only company a lady selling soft coconuts and the gentle sound of surf at the offshore break.
From Kuta I sped to the foothills of Mount Rinjani, the mighty volcano which dominates the hilly northern half of the island. At the top of a bone-shaking track on the southern edge of Mt Rinjani National Park, north of Tetebatur, I was chased down on my moped by a man who shouted for me to follow him home. He introduced himself as Badron, a local village leader: small and quick-eyed, he took me under his wing and showed me around. His English was fine (far better than my Bahasa!) and we discussed everything from local development projects to Islamic animism.
Badron was desperate to attract tourists to the area – indeed, he still texts me reminding me to tell all my friends about Tetebatur. Of course, I would like to see the village remain traditional and avoid bbecoming overrun. But it is the people’s right to develop their village, and of course it is inevitable that the busloads of tourists will arrive eventually. It can be difficult to reconcile these two concerns.
Spending time in Lombok has left me excited for the wilderness of Papua New Guinea and, beyond it, exotic Micronesia and all those tiny islands normally left off the map. The East is calling, but first I have a short stop-off in Singapore for a very Cambridge reunion.