Turtles, monkeys and wild dogs in Lombok, Indonesia
We jump off a boat on Gili Air (an island off Lombok, Indonesia) in the torrential rain and drag our seven (previously dry) bags-of-shame onto the shore. Yes, seven, I know; two big bags each, one little bag each and our paintings. I’m so glad I brought over 30kg of stuff with me, including 15 or so long sleeved tops and jumpers (in a part of the world so hot that you can’t walk bare foot anywhere without burning your feet) and other miscellaneous life saving equipment such as a hair dryer – NOT. Don’t even get me started on the evil glares we get from the cool teenage backpackers that have one 10kg backpack with everything they need. Oh no, hang on, there is only six bags here… Wait, stop, wait, I yelled out to the boat from the beach, you have got one of my many bags!
The boat came back to deliver my bag, thankfully, and we squeeze into a tiny decorated carriage attached to a tiny horse. The next thing I know, we are galloping down a dusty beach road. I was absolutely convinced that we would topple over as the carriage clearly wasn’t designed for two people who can’t pack, and the enormous potholes didn’t help. So I proceeded to take a sharp intake of breath at every wobble, which apparently pissed off the horse, the driver and Jared. We rocked up at some beach hut with a veranda and a hammock, negotiated a price, and settled down.
Gili Air doesn’t have anything with an engine, except boats. It is peaceful and small and the people are ever so friendly. Imagine white sand beaches, some of the best snorkeling in the world just a few meters from the beach, turquoise waters, gorgeous beach huts and fresh seafood beach restaurants. We did something called “reading a book for fun” – something that we have been too busy or tired to do for a long time. We swam with turtles, 12 of them in fact, and wondered at how majestic a creature they are. I will remember that experience for the rest of my life I think. A local said to us as we went out diving one day “if you’re lucky, you might see a shark” and I thought “…or unlucky” as the case may be. We didn’t see any sharks, sadly, but we were utterly mesmerised by the schools of multicolored fish shimmering in the water as they moved together in perfect synchrony.
Life was getting a bit too easy so off we went on our next adventure: Mount Rijani on mainland Lombok, Indonesia’s second largest live volcano. The tour agency (a random dude in flip flops sitting in front of a faded poster) said it was a “family-friendly” and “easy” trek and that they would provide a “homestay” the first night and then a “Romeo and Juliet” tent at the top of the volcano for the second night. And this operator was so much cheaper than the others – what a find, we thought! So they carted us off to a “home stay”. I really don’t know why I still haven’t learnt my lesson but “home stay” appears to be international code for “shit hole”. I almost vommed when I saw how dirty the kitchen was. Our “room” was filthy, lined with fluorescent lights so you could really examine just how dirty it was. The walls were falling down and the “ensuite” was a room that stunk so bad of urine that I couldn’t breath and boasted a combo “sink” and “shower” which was basically a mangy tap on the crumbling wall. I paced up and down muttering to myself and then conceded by falling asleep.
The next day, we started walking at 4:30am. Jared was carrying all our stuff. The (apparently hilarious) joke of the day for the locals was that I had two porters, one actually was a porter that climbed with about 30kgs hanging from a bamboo stick balanced precariously on his shoulders, and one was Jared. We stopped for lunch in a cloud forest and the porters prepared us a rather extravagant meal (in the circumstances). It was very impressive – they were so little but so strong, industrious and smiley. We had to eat really quickly though because we were surrounded by monkeys and scarred wild dogs that were edging closer and closer towards us as we ate. When we left the lunch spot, all the animals fought for the scraps and we heard the screams of the smallest dog as he got beaten up by the other bigger animals.
I really struggled to get to the top, (to say the least), and we lost litres of water in sweat in the process. Jared had to encourage me to put one foot in front of the other when my legs were shaking by agreeing to my demands to go to a spa afterwards. When we got to the top, we couldn’t see more than a few metres in front of us because we were in a cloud. And then the sky opened. I sat on the floor in a ball, forehead on knees, in a giant plastic bag and waited for our porters to catch up so they could set up the tents for us. By the time they arrived, everything was wet through, and for the first time since arriving in this continent, it was really really cold. We went to bed at about 7pm because there wasn’t anything else to do. When I say “bed”, I mean a dirty and tiny tent with holes and a “mattress” that was a piece of wet rubber about 2mm thick. We had sleeping bags but we still freezing cold, and both spent the whole night shivering, (and on the odd occasion giggling at how romantic our “Romeo and Juliet” tent was). The wild dogs attacked each other very loudly all night, and were right outside our tent.
I pretended for hours that I wasn’t dying to go to the loo but I couldn’t wait any longer and had to go. It was 2am. I fell out of the tent and looked up. The stars were epic. I looked down. All I could see was the glint of the eyes of the wild dogs as I caught them with my torch looking at me. Definitely on my top three of most surreal weeing experiences, given that it was off the side of a live volcano in the middle of the night and I was surrounded by wild dogs. I ran back to the tent shaking, not with the cold this time, but with fear that I could have turned into dog dinner.
Sunrise made everything a whole lot better. It was out-of-this-world stunning to see the great expanse of the volcanoes and to watch how the colours and the environment changed so dramatically as the weather shifted so quickly from one extreme to another. I had been so trigger-happy with the monkeys the day before (and Jared with close-up shots of insects and mosses) that our camera batteries were dead. It was a blessing in disguise really as we were forced to be present in the rather glorious moment.
We bounced back down to the base of the mountain and got a taxi to the best spa hotel on the island. The design and location of the spa was just breathtaking. We drank cocktails and ate tapas on the beach.
The next day, I discovered that I was in rather a lot of pain and couldn’t walk. It got worse the day after and then even worse the day after. Even Jared couldn’t walk.
We landed in Phnom Penh and began our (crippled) search for our new home…