Monday, November 30, 2009

nusa lembongan - part 1

About three weeks ago, I decided to go to Nusa Lembongan, which is a small island just 30 minutes off Bali. The only calendar that binds me nowadays is the class schedule of Yoga Barn. I tried to find two days that I can miss the classes without feeling guilty. I can usually manage to miss a day and go for beach but two consecutive days was tricky for my current level of yoga obsession. I picked the day, decided on the boat, informed my homestay that I will check-out for 2 days and informed all my friends that I will go. That morning I woke up early, felt super-lazy for a boat trip but very energized for a yin yoga class hence decided to postpone my travel and head out for some stretching.

After all, isn't that the beauty of the independent traveling? Just as I may wake up one morning and decide it's time to go somewhere else, I may also open my eyes an decide I would like to see and breathe more of this place.

The week after I had another lousy attempt, but knowing it was half-hearted I didn't even bother to make any arrangements. But this week I felt it was finally the time so packed my stuff in a tiny backpack and headed out to the shuttle that would take me to Sanur, where boats to Nusa Lembongan depart. A friend from Yoga Barn was in the same shuttle, she was heading out to Sanur for a day on the beach. I told her very enthusiastically about how all my previous attempts to go out of Bali have failed but now I was fully back in my traveler spirit and hitting the road. She looked at me in a strange way and said “aaand you think going to Lembongan is actually going out of Bali?” It was more a statement than a question and I couldn't really respond. There are three Nusa islands (Lembongan, Ceningan and Peninda) and all are heavily dependent on Bali for their food, electricity and internet. The distance is very short and the culture and pretty much the same. Oh well, great journeys start with small steps :)

I knew not to expect much from Sanur but when we arrived there we saw nothing but a big bunch of bored tourists, waiting for the next shuttle to go somewhere else. There was a sign that said “fast boat 50 meters” So I scanned the entire coast for something like a boat terminal, a dock or anything in those lines but it was uninterrupted sandy beach as long as I can see. I found a ticket agent and asked where's the terminal and he vaguely nodded towards the beach and said “here”. I was confused... From what I learned, there are three options to go to Nusa; a public boat which offers the thrill of traveling with chickens and bags of rice. You may also occasionally get some ocean spray on a wavy day as it is not covered. The Perama boat is also open-deck but is supposedly more stable and travels marginally faster. The best option was the speed boat; it took only 30 minutes and it was covered and had a reliable service. I didn't even need to consider the first two options as I couldn't risk my camera getting wet with a splash of ocean despite the speed boat ticket costing more than 3 times the public boat. I also somehow assumed that it would have a substantial size to be stable at high speeds. There was nothing on the coast where a boat would be able to approach. Sometime later, I saw a boat coming which answered my questions. The boat comes as close as it can to the coast and then the passengers would take off their shoes, roll of their pants and land in the water, which was somewhere between knee to thigh deep. My camera would be dry but not me – good enough. (I used to constantly complain that the sea transportation between some of the Greek islands was not good, I made a mental note never to do that again and kept waiting for my boat.)

Finally the boat arrived, it was of course much smaller than what I expected. A small, noisy motorboat with a capacity of maybe 15 passengers or so. I wondered if this was the most comfortable option, how the public boat would be... All luggage placed all passengers boarded and we headed for the island. 30 minutes later we were in Nusa Lembongan. Again we took off our slippers, made sure our bags were high up in our backs not to touch water and walked to the coast. We were immediately surrounded by locals asking “accommodation, accommodation”. One of them approached me and said “do you have a place to stay” and I told him that I don't. He pointed out to a very picturesque hill, with beautiful houses overlooking the port and said “I have a place there, 500,000 rupiah per night” I told him my budget was somewhere around 80,000 and he immediately lost interest in me and moved on to someone else. One of the staff from the boat said I should walk towards the north coast to find cheap accommodation. I took his advice and started walking. I asked two places; one was very nice and within my range but fully occupied, the other was ridiculously more expensive but still fully occupied. I was yet at the early phases of my search to lose hope so kept walking. A man on a motorbike approached me and said he knows 2 cheap places farther up and he can show them to me. I know that I have a princess attitude when it comes to transportation, but when it comes to accommodation, my standards are quite low. Yet both places he showed me were un-sleepable. After one hour of partially walking and partially being driven around on the back of a motorbike, I finally found a place right by the ocean and with a nice garden. Slightly above what I expected to pay but at least I would not worry about the rusted fan, which is probably left behind by the Japanese troops returning home after WWII falling over my head in the middle of the night.

I spent the rest of the afternoon by the beach, watching boats pass by, surfers trying to catch a wave and admiring the strong silhouette of Mount Agung in Bali. It felt somehow good to be so close to Bali, still be able to see it.

As in most volcanic islands, the sunset in Nusa Lembongan was amazing. Most people come to beach to see the sunset, either shooting photos, swimming or watching it over a glass of wine. I saw three sunsets in this islands and all were uniquely beautiful.

Lembongan is a very small island and does not have passenger vehicles. There are a few pickups used for carrying heavy stuff to the inner parts of the island. Some pickups have benches installed in the back and used for transporting surfers and their boards between beaches but they don't come into the village centers. The main mode of transport is either by small boats along the coastal line or by motorbikes. Anyway the island is so small, I was told that one can walk around it in a day. While having my evening tea by the ocean, I decided that I wanted to explore the island on foot the next day. After many years in Istanbul and the last 3.5 years in Dubai, every opportunity to use my feet to reach places feels great for me.

The next morning I woke up just a little before 7, which was much later than what I planned. The sun is already up, so no sunrise photos today. Still, I managed to catch a guy who was giving his rooster a morning bath. I learned that the next day was a big festival and some rooster fights would also be held to celebrate. So I think he was trying to give his rooster some sea relaxation on the day before.

I had my fruit breakfast by the ocean, then packed my camera, a banana and a sarong and hit the road. Today's route was exploring the beaches, which are mostly located on the south end of the island. I only had a tiny map that I took from the ticket agent. It is more than enough as there is only one paved road running through the island so one cannot really get lost here.

My first target was the Mushroom beach but on the way I saw some roads that are not marked on the map and I followed them. It was a steep uphill path. It was around 9am but the sun was already too direct and heat was getting intense. The first road I follow takes me to a spot with this beautiful view of the island

Lembongan's main source of income is seaweed farming, and the intense smell is everywhere on the island because once the seaweed is collected, it is laid under the sunlight by the roads for drying. From this height, the farms were clearly visible. Again with the beautiful backdrop of the Mount Agung in Bali. I walked around a little more and failing to find a warung, got into one of the luxury holiday resorts for some water. It turned out to be a refreshing break by the pool, enjoying the same view with a bit of shade over my head. Walking a little further, I reached the Coconut Beach.

Some locals told me that there was a shortcut between Coconut and Mushroom beaches “you go uphill, you go downhill, 15 minutes, mushroom beach”. Failing to find the uphill path from the beach I had to go back to the main road, which extended my journey by at least an hour. The road was lined with trees, very quiet, only occasional motorbikes passing and a lot of birds chirping so couldn't really complain about walking a little longer.

I reached the Mushroom beach around 11:30. There are several resorts lined up across the entire beach. They offer the usual tourist attractions like the banana boat, snorkeling, diving trips so there's a constant noise of announcements, boats leaving, kids screaming on the banana. If one can ignore these, the beach is quite beautiful. It is also possible to see some interesting fish even 2-3 meters off the coast. I spend almost 3 hours on the Mushroom beach, most of it in a cafe located 7 meters above the sea level to enjoy the lunch in the shade and away from the noise. The beach looks much better from a distance.

When the heat became more bearable, I hit the road again for the Dream beach. Missing a turn somewhere, I end up in another beach, which I learn to be the Sunset beach. It's not marked in the maps so it felt like a bonus. Besides a cafe, there is nothing else so it is a perfect place to sit and listen to the waves crashing to the coast. It looks a bit too harsh for swimming.

As the beaches are located between high cliffs that end up in the ocean, they are not connected to each other by a road. Instead, the road is more like branches of a tree, I need to go back to a central point and take the next path for the next beach. Although the island is pretty small, this going backward thing doubles up the distances and with the camera in my back I am already tired. There's still the Dream beach in today's itinerary so I continue walking. Luckily, it's not very far and it's worth the last bit of effort to go there. The view is great and there's a cool cafe up in the hill where I can take a few minutes rest with a cold bottle of water. 

The journey back is mostly downhill and pretty straight so it takes much shorter. Including the swimming, eating and the hydration breaks, the walk takes about 8.5 hours.

I make it back with enough time to shower before sunset. I don't think I've sweated that much in a day ever before. Although I tried to avoid being on the road in the midday, I still end up with a funny t-shirt marked tan. What's worse is I have distinctively untanned crow feet around my eyes because I I didn't use any sunglasses and creased my eyes instead. That would require a lot of tanning sessions to get rid of. 

I will post a separate entry on day 3 later.

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