Saturday, August 25, 2012

Worlds Apart - Indo's Isles of Bali, Lombok, Rote and Terra Nusa Timur

Words by Barry and photographs snapped by Lesley Greville-Eyres 
Uluwatu's cliff top views of the surf break with jukung boats in the background
Bali, despite it's history of bombings; debauchery; tourism and sustainable development gone or going wrong; and many happy returns, remains a fascinating destination and paints a far different picture to many of the other islands on the far eastern end of the Indonesian archipelago. Despite successive ‘boom and bust’ periods courtesy of the 2002/5 bombings, the 2008 financial and broader Global Financial Crisis (2007 – 2012), the tourism sector remains vibrant albeit decidedly chaotic.

A typical Legian Kuta street scene

Even though regional autonomy is afforded to the 33 country-wide provinces, by the centre in Jakarta, tourism and it's associated development on the Indonesian island is heavily contested by multiple ‘interest’ groups both local and global. One has a sense that bule, or foreigners, including Asia’s emerging super-nations, have an enormous stake in this multi-billion dollar industry and their interests are being served at the expense of the Balinese and their much vaunted Island of Peace. It’s highly likely that the all-pervasive KKN – collusion, corruption and nepotism is similarly endemic and rife on the island and as a consequence the industry remains in limbo - largely uncoordinated and poorly governed with a general, free-for-all orientation.
The upmarket and 'exclusive' Potatoe Head beach club - Seminyak

In spite of this, the Balinese experience is alluring and unique as one is taken in by the soothing and intoxicating embrace of country and kinfolks. Everything works wondrously well despite the crush of people and vehicular traffic, with all on the same page or Bintang-induced ‘good karma.’
Gentle and charming Balinese men

There is consistency, continuity and even camaraderie in breaking, by Western standards, every conceivable rule of the road. It’s all very liberating and in spite of the apparent lawlessness it’s rare to find, in my experience, Aussies, Poms or any other tourist behaving badly. There is, however, evidence to the contrary. In a recent Australian Herald Sun report it was confirmed that on average one Australian dies every nine days in Bali (with 39 meeting their demise in 2011/12 alone). Many more are injured annually in motorbike-scooter accidents and nightclub brawls. Personal biases aside, Aussies are remarkably civil and content to share the island with all and sundry even though my ‘mates’ usurped Bali as an extraterritorial state decades ago. Formal policing is largely ‘invisible’ although the private security presence is very obvious and the relationship between the two appears to be strong and one of mutual respect and cooperation.   
Touring the countless unique Balinese Hindu temples in the Ubud area 


Fact Sheet - Bali

·         Bali is located at the westernmost end of the Lesser Sunda Island, lying between Java to the west and Lombok to the east;

·         Denpasar is the provincial capital;

·         According to the 2010 census the population was recorded at 3,9m with an estimated 30,000 expats living on the island;
Stone carvings and sculptures at the Great Elephant Temple outside Ubud

·         Bali is home to most of Indonesia’s Hindu minority with about 92% of the population adhering to Balinese Hinduism while most of the remaining Indonesians worship Islam;

·         The island is the largest tourism destination in Indonesia, renowned for it's highly developed art and culture including traditional and modern dance; music; sculpture (wood and stone carvings); painting; batik fabric; leather; metalwork specifically silverware and water sports – a diving, boating, fishing and surfing mecca;
The awe-inspiring window shutter facade of Seminyak's Potatoe Head Beach Club

·         Tourist arrivals include: 2,5m visitors in 2010; 2,2m visitors in 2009 and 1,96m in 2008. Currently Australians, Chinese and Japanese top, respectively, the visitor list to Bali;
A must do - cycling through the Bali's rural highlands from Kintamani Volcano to Ubud

·         Roughly 80% of Bali’s economy depends on tourism yet agriculture is still regarded as the island’s biggest employer particularly with regard to rice production.


One of the many well stocked roadside farm stalls in Bali's highlands outside Ubud

·         Other island nicknames include Island of Love, Gods and Hinduism;

·         Balinese culture was strongly influenced by Indian, Chinese and particularly Hindu culture, around the 1st century AD;

·         First European contact with Bali is believed to have been made in 1585 when a Portuguese vessel was shipwrecked off the Bukit Peninsula. In 1597 the Dutch explorer Cornelis de Houtman arrived in Bali and by 1602 the Dutch East India Company had established a significant presence on the island;
Home stays in Bali offer intimate insights into the daily lives of Balinese and are a wonderful accommodation alternative 

·         The 1963 volcanic eruption of Mount Agung in the central highlands (in close proximity to the modern-day cultural hub of Ubud) killed thousands, caused economic devastation and forced many displaced Balinese people to migrate to other parts of Indonesia;

·         The Asian Palm Civet is kept on plantations to produce a unique blend of Balinese coffee known as Kopi Luwak. The civet feeds naturally on the ripening coffee ‘cherries’ and the beans pass ‘relatively’ unscathed through the digestive tract of the animals. The collected and cleaned beans then receive the mildest of roasts with this ‘downstream processing’ culminating in the distinctive and sought after Kopi Luwak;   

Ben's home stay in Ubud 

It’s wonderful to bask in the generosity, Hindu-mystic and goodwill of the Balinese. The island offers accommodation options aplenty yet we found our homestay with the Bengkur family in Ubud to be the most memorable and insightful (Ben’s Homestay  The notion of supporting ‘local enterprise’ and contributing directly to the GDP of our host family sat very well with us.

The upper end of the accommodation market, ranging from small, exclusive boutique hide-away lodges to expansive resort complexes, found typically at Nusa Dua, Sanur and Seminyak, provide an interesting education in consumerism, social elites and exclusionism. The Balinese people, culture and way of life are at the very core of the island experience and there is a concern that it’s being eroded, increasingly, by external influences and globalization.    

Resort-styled accommodation in Bali typical of Sanur and Nusa Dua
The surfing sub-culture in the region has been a long held, personal pre-occupation and an obvious observation is that it’s assumed epic proportions particularly in Bali. It’s no longer a minority of middle-aged misfits who live off nasi goreng, palm wine and island-hopping but has morphed and mainstreamed into a multi-generational past-time that is also exceedingly lucrative.  It’s super-cool to surf and much of the holiday hype is geared towards ‘selling’ this dreamy facade including surf & boards; sex; sunshine; boardies & bikinis; stock-standard gear to the burgeoning Bintang brigades and associated accoutrements. Branded surf shops and fashion outlets, quite conceivably, outnumber Bali’s night clubs and bordellos.
An unidentified member of the Bintang Brigade reconnoitring the resort beach at Sanur

Much has been said, seen and written about Bali’s fabled surf spots and reef breaks but the key in this regard is to ‘manage’ one’s expectations very carefully. As a first-timer or even a returnee, it’s often a major mission to find the spots and once there, contend with hoards of ‘local’; wannabe and hard core surfers all vying for the perfect 10 wave ride. The proliferation of surf schools, in recent years, has added to the in-water bedlam. More joy and head-space is to be had venturing out of the Legian-Kuta area altogether. Canggu, a short 30-45 minute commute from Legian-Kuta, is well worth a punt. Swell generating conditions are also quite unpredictable, often reliant on major weather patterns far south that seem to conspire ‘to make your day or week’ or perhaps not at all!  Besides being ‘seduced’ by sexy and imaginative sounding surf locations such as Impossibles, Padang Padang, Playgrounds, Uluwatu  surfer-dudes tend to be ‘eternal optimists’ and the promise of tomorrow and what the Surf-Gods will bring keeps many grounded and going.

Uluwatu, situated almost at the southern tip of Bali and far enough from the maddening crowds, has consistently provided me and countless others with the goods – a surfer’s heaven on earth. Besides being a breathtakingly beautiful location, where water-side one is totally immersed in an almost outer-worldly experience with wrap-around vistas alternating between towering cliffs and heaving horizons of open sea. The package deal – rhythmic sets gracing the left-hand reef breaks; casual banter and camaraderie shared with nameless nationalities of fellow surfers; warmer yet invigorating seawater and wind sigh-like caresses; adrenalin surges matching wave peaks, breaks and barrels; surf satisfied bodies and minds in need of nourishment; ecstatic escapism - is true soul-food.  There is no mistaking the spiritual aura that blends sea, land and people into one.
The Blogger threading his way through a crowded Uluwatu line-up in small surf conditions

Landside, the cliff hugging Uluwatu community is like no other – new tussling with the old; a warren of warungs and restos (eateries), bars, tourist shops, surf shops, surfboard ding repairs, apparel & photo shops (delivering cliff-top, real time personal digital pics of surfed expression sessions below) – a pulse, life and vibe of its own all dictated by nature’s timeless rhythms of sunrise and set; lunar cycles; tidal ebb and flow; senses and emotions laid bare by adventure, hunger, thirst, exhaustion and curiosity.
Uluwatu's quaint cliff-top and side community that primarily supports the global surfing fraternity 
 It’s fascinating to observe the daily trans-migration of people and surfer dudes from elsewhere into Uluwatu, with the trickle beginning around sunrise and developing into a steady stream throughout the day. With surfboards racked and loaded, the main mode of transport is the omnipresent $5 a day motor scooters. For those, like me, who find the daily commute too time-consuming and onerous there is ample locally based accommodation in close proximity to the action. Home stays are on the increase and I spent many relaxing nights at the very affordable and comfortable Bali Bule (   

Superb Bali Bule home stay accommodation at Uluwatu 
Uluwatu surf sessions are inevitably punctuated by local fare (fried rice and noodles - nasi & mie goreng; fresh fruit smoothies or juices); in situ massages; quiet interludes of reflection and utmost appreciation and the ability to mat or bunk down, in quiet nooks and crannies, for a powernap if needed.  All ages revel in this splendour all the while ‘shepherded’ by gracious, enigmatic, all-knowing and seeing Balinese.    

One of Lombok Kuta's many laid back warungs or eateries with stunning coastal views

 Lombok offers a refreshingly wonderful alternative to a ‘maxed out’ Bali that is going through successive phases of re-development. Although the locals seem somewhat standoffish, the product of an Islamic island-state, they are affable and wholesome in their reservedness. Lombok Kuta located on the south coast is, truly, a world apart from its adjoining namesake and is rustic, earthy (without bling, plastic and billboards) and harsh in its drop-dead beauty. The island environment is an unforgiving one and most people live off the land or sea in a less than harmonious or symbiotic way. ‘Illegal’ gold mining, on the outskirts of Kuta, has exacted a toll on both man and environment but the ‘quick rich’ lure still drives this sinister undertaking.

Risking life and limb - a backyard gold mining operation on the outskirts of Kuta on Lombok Island 

Lombok has a history of illegal logging and deforestation and this has impacted severely upon already compromised surface and ground water supplies. Resilience is etched in the local people, many dabbling in the passing tourist trade of backpackers, surfers, divers, trekkers and eco-warriors. One such enterprising Fix-It or Go to Man is Jerry from Kuta Lombok Transport Services (+6281 757 95 998).
Lombok Kuta's upmarket accommodation at the Novotel Hotel

Whereas much of Lombok’s upmarket resort-styled accommodation is centred around Senggigi and the offshore Gili Islands (west coast), Kuta offers very basic yet comfortable lodgings with the exception of the flashy Novotel Hotel. Pristine beaches and surf breaks are relatively close by, well within a short scooter commute and include Mawi, Gerupuk, Seger Beach, A’an and many others. The hamlet itself is small and quaint with a slow-paced yet stress-free appeal.   

A pristine Mawum Beach a short commute from Lombok Kuta
The 30 minute day break ‘scoot’ from Lombok Kuta to the estuarine village of Gerupuk, followed by the short boat trip to the right hand reef break is still vivid in my mind as are the evocative sights and sounds. Anchored pontoons harbouring farmed lobsters and providing a substrate for seaweed to grow and flourish punctuate the waterway and are dwarfed by weathered rock pinnacles and landforms that nod and grant solemn access to one of Lombok’s iconic surf spots. Gaudily appointed traditional, jukung boats jettison their eager cargos into the already busy line-up and then anchor, at a distance, to watch the antics of the multi-national surf armada.    

Gerupuk Bay with a jukung armada used to ferry surfers to the reef break

Fact Sheet – Lombok

·         Located immediately east of its ‘sister island’ of Bali and separated by the Lombok Strait the distance of 25 miles is bridged by sea (fast boats approx. 90 minutes) and air (numerous domestic carriers daily taking approx. 45 minutes) links;

Fast boat service across the Lombok Strait between Bali and Lombok

·         Mataram is the provincial capital and largest city on the island. Similar in size and population to that of neighbouring Bali sharing some cultural heritage;

·         Lombok’s topography is dominated by the centrally located volcano of Mount Rinjani (3,726m) – the second highest volcano in Indonesia and a popular trekking and adventure destination;

·         The volcano and its crater was declared a ‘protected area’ in 1997 and incorporated into the Gunung Rinjani National Park;

·         Highlands of Lombok are afforested and most undeveloped although in recent years large scale deforestation, illegal logging and associated environment degradation has taken place particularly to the water catchments;

Illegal gold mining on the outskirts of Kuta Lombok


·         As a consequence of water catchment degradation, the water supply in Lombok is severely stressed placing increasing pressure upon both the water supply of Mataram and the island in general;

·         Rice, soybeans, coffee, tobacco, cotton, cinnamon, cacao, cloves, cassava, corn, coconuts, copra, bananas, vanilla are the major crops grown in the fertile soils of the island;

·         The islands indigenous Sasak people which make up 85% of the inhabitants are predominantly Muslim;

·         Prior to the arrival of Islam Lombok experienced a long period of Hindu and Buddhist influence that reached the island through Java. A minority Balinese Hindu culture remains in Lombok (estimated at 10 – 15% of the island’s inhabitants);

·         Most developed tourist area is on the west coast of the island centred around the resort complex of Senggigi. The offshore islands of Gili are also a major drawcard for adventure seeking tourists. 

Poolside - Novotel Hotel at Lombok Kuta


An Indo surf-safari is incomplete without a visit to the off the beaten track Rote Island - specifically Nemberala and other legendary breaks. Further information can be found at:

·         Becalmed on Rote Island – Indonesia;


Ann Turner, the co-owner of Dili's Free Flow Diving and a tourism industry consultant to Nusa Tengarra Timur - the Timor-Leste government is emphatic on her views of tourism experiences on offer across the Indonesian archipelago.  Even as Timor-Leste tries to define it's product and experience there seems a consensus on what it is not. "I don't think the standard Bali tourist would be satisfied with Timor-Leste," Turner says.

Bali's distinctive tourism brand should not replicated elsewhere in the region more especially in Timor-Leste which is struggling to identify it's own unique brand in a global market place


Since the country is predominantly Catholic and with an associated “social conservatism” it stands to reason that pavement peddling in pornographic DVDs and Viagra; pirated brands; sex trading and party-style tourism that commonly thrives in most Asian destinations is widely frowned upon and rarely exists in Timor-Leste. It's relative “prudishness might become it's strength as the Timorese develop their tourism industry.” Additional insights into Timor’s unique brand of tourism can be sourced at:

·         Adeus Timor-Leste!

·         Timorese Blessings Counted and Received;

·         Timor-Leste’s Revealing Road Show;

·         Poignant and life-changing markers in time;

·         Centrepiece Tatamailau;

·         The City of Peace Rocks!;




















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