Indonesia first presented itself to me when I was seven years old. Within a week of my first school Indonesian lesson, meeting my charismatic teacher from Jawa and discovering the delicacy that was steaming-hot mie goreng, I was hooked. In 2014, I spent five months in Jogja, Jawa, whilst completing a semester of advanced Indonesian at the University of Gadjah Mada (UGM). Translation: weeknights at Happy Puppy Karaoke, sampling unusual mushroom dishes, epic conversations with strangers whilst waiting out heavy downpours, and frequent getaways to a new exotic location. Read on for details about my memorable trip to Lombok and Gili in May.
Hitting the Waves
Make no error, I would consider myself a surfing beginner. As far as trying it out, Lombok doesn’t fall short of paradise. Think, grainy white sand meets an eternity of blue sea and sky. The night before our day with the surf school, I had been between the bed and bathroom, with a vomiting spell (note: don’t eat it if it tastes like turps!). So it was, I jumped out of bed in the morning with a healthy mix of excitement and wildness, ready for some fun! Our crazy and flirtatious surfing teachers chauffeured us to the beach on motorbikes with boards strapped to the sides. The drive was one big fit of laughter, as they raced to overtake each other and zigzagged up the roads. They had us run a meter-wide circle and do star jumps to “warm up”, and then it was straight into the glorious blue ocean. My teacher thought I was a surfing revelation – “first time stand up”, in his words – but what it came down to was that we were having a marvellously fun day. Surfing in Lombok is a must!
Venturing off the Beaten Track
An unbeatable (excuse the pun) way to experience Lombok is hiring a motorbike. I was grateful that both my friends were fantastic drivers and happy for me to jump on the back as we made our way up and over the hilly terrain in search of new, undiscovered beaches. The views from the road are themselves beautiful; lush green foliage spills onto the road, with the promise of the mesmeric blue sea peaking out from behind. At one of the beaches we stopped off at, five young children ran up to us. We chatted, adorable nonsense in bahasa Indonesia, played clapping games, and built a castle from driftwood. The girls were in raptures over the exotic visitors who had travelled to their village, and we exotic visitors were basking in the precious moments with new friends.
Gili: Land of Leisure
The latter part of my getaway was spent in the tourist’s funparks, Gili Trawangan and Gili Air, with eight friends from UGM. In Gili, the activities are endless and the days to do them, long and sunny. We felt justified some days becoming blobs that flopped onto the beach, sipping tropical juices; and other days we became keen adventurers, trying new water sports. I particularly enjoyed making my way around Gili Trawangan on bikes with five friends. The track merged into sand at times, so we had to push the bikes, but we had a good old time. We stopped off for snorkelling and, in the mid-afternoon, thought we had better have lunch and found the best nasi goreng of the trip. For what was a magnificent Indonesian sunset, we parked ourselves in the sand with Bintangs and each other, enjoying the warm breeze as it carried the wisdom of Bob Marley tunes off to sea.
- When you first get to your destination, visit a local tourist desk to find out current information about activities and tourist packages.
- Don’t be in a rush to “see the place”. The relaxed pace is one of Indonesia’s finest features.
- Hire a motorbike. It’s by far the best way to explore the terrain and meet locals.
- Have a phrase or two in Salak up your sleeve; the locals will love it!
- Always smile and have a chat. This is the Indonesian way and I guarantee you’ll have a great time if you try it.
By Alexandra Murfett