Indonesia – Bali, Lombok and a boat trip

Indonesia was never on the original plan, but (again) we were loving the cycling and wanted to do more before our final destination of New Zealand. There was an added bonus of more sunshine before hitting winter, and experiencing yet another different part of the world.

And how different it was! We were unprepared for quite how stunning the landscapes would be and how different they would be from what we had seen so far. Indonesia is a collection of over 1500 islands, and many of the islands have their own unique culture. For example, Bali is mainly Hindu with beautiful stone carved temples and a dense population in the southern corner of the island, Lombok is Muslim, very rural with pockets of villages dotted around the undulating coast whilst Flores is predominantly Christian with an up and coming backpacker scene. 

In addition to these main islands, we were also able to hop on (or swim around!) a few other islands in our three weeks. These included Komodo and Rinca (to visit the dragons and the Instagram famous Pink Beach) and see the sunset from the top Padar Island – a view which is definitely one of the most beautiful we have ever seen. 

We arrived into Bali late at night and straight away found welcoming locals who helped us find a van to take us and our bike boxes to our warmshowers stay. As we would be flying out of Bali again in a few weeks, Rob, our warmshowers host, kindly let us leave a few bits at his house meaning we had a much lighter set up. This was massively appreciated, not least on the crazily steep hills we found ourselves climbing in southern Lombok! 

Our initial rides in Bali were very stressful. Traffic was horribly busy, with scooters weaving in and around us and deep drainage ditches on the sides of the roads meaning there was nowhere to escape to and we just had to keep our heads down and pedal fast! 

It was a relief to get away from the touristy and built up south eastern corner of Bali, and we started to relax as we found quieter country lanes through rice fields. On the way, we stopped to watch a surf competition – and enjoyed some great people watching! It was very strange to hear so many Aussie and European voices and see the expat and holiday scene. 

We had to have many stops to look at Baliense temples. With their intricate stone carvings and adorned with flowers and wicker offerings, they seemed to have a real magic about them. Being unpainted, you could really appreciate the craftsmanship of shaping the dark stone into patterns, animals and demons. 

With Bali being far busier than expected and not the tranquil paradise we had imagined, our plan changed to head to the next island east, Lombok, and we had a number of options to get there. The quick but more expensive one hour boat, or a slow, ridiculously cheap local ferry. Given for once we had the luxury of time and a tight budget, no prizes for which option we took! We had no idea when the ferry would leave or how long it would take. Having arrived at the jetty in Bali at 9am, we didn’t arrive into Lombok until dusk! Luckily we had packed snacks for the journey and found ourselves engrossed in a local soap opera that was being shown on a TV at the front of the boat. 

The only way was uphill, and we found ourselves fighting against the setting sun as we headed off to find a camp spot for the night. At the top of one of the hills, there was a viewpoint with three thatched gazebos, the perfect size to pitch a tent! The only issue was that there was a gang of young boys who had zoomed up on their scooters and were sitting around smoking and playing on their phones. They kept looking over and shouting at us, and we weren’t quite sure how friendly it seemed. We delayed putting up the tent and got on with cooking some food, hoping that they would leave before it was clear that we were planning on sleeping there. We soon realised that we were worrying about nothing when we overheard the boys trying to use Google translate and practising their English! It transpired that the viewpoint was the only place for miles with phone signal so that was why they had congregated there. They were keen to try and ask us questions about who we were and why we were there, whilst laughing at each other’s attempts to talk to us. 

We had been warned by Bali locals about safety on Lombok, and a number of adventure blogs had been very negative about the island. We hadn’t been able to find much out about cycle touring in Indonesia, and it seemed that many avoid this country and Lombok in particular. We had nothing but positive experiences – were greeted with waves and smiles by everyone and felt perfectly safe wild camping every night. 

One night wild camping on the beach we noticed that we could see lots of lights out at sea and shouting on the beach. We got out of the tent to see what was going on, and discovered that what seemed like the whole of a village was night fishing! Everyone was happy to see us and didn’t seem at all worried that these two foreigners had appeared, they proudly showed us buckets of tiny silver fish. The boats were using torches to herd the fish into the shallow water, at which point two men would wade in and use large nets to scoop up as many as possible. Everyone else on the beach would run around with the buckets and watch out for where the next boat was approaching. Everyone was having a great time and it was another example of strong community life that we saw on Lombok. 

The coastal road along southern and eastern Lombok was VERY hilly, and saw both of us pushing our bikes multiple times a day. Luckily, although very tough, the climbs were short and always followed by an equally steep descent.

We stumbled across many perfect paradise beaches, with crystal clear water and white sand. Often it was just us, and occasionally joined by a local fisherman or children playing in the water. Being Ramadan still, villages were perhaps even quieter than usual and we were pleased that we had stocked up with food in Bali. If we passed through a village around dusk, there would often be the Ramadan stalls so we made sure to take the chance then to buy snacks, some bbq satay or sometimes even  a takeaway dinner of rice and fish wrapped up in newspaper! 

It was very odd to cycle through Kuta, the only real backpacker destination on Lombok. We knew we were approaching when we started to see white people on rented scooters. Whilst it was still very small and undeveloped, it was surreal to see a few hostels and cafes. It was clear from the look on the faces of locals and excited shouts of “hello mister!”, that Lombok does not see many tourists at all outside of Kuta and the north west “resorts”. One time a whole class of school children ran out into the road for high fives and had to be ushered back into their classroom by their teacher! We had noticed that on the outskirts of tourist spots as the shouts from children changed from hello to “money money” – a very sad thing to see and the most ‘begging’ we had come across on the trip. One child even tried to grab Verity’s clothes that were strapped to the top of her back pannier. It’s clear from talking to locals that there are plans for more tourism in Lombok, and we hope that this can be grown responsibly and happily for everyone. 

As we made it round the west and north coast, the roads turned into much more manageable rolling hills. One morning we cycled through a swarm of hundreds of white butterflies and for around 15 minutes we were surrounded by them. Together with the clear blue skies above, looming volcanic hills to our left and views out to sea to our right, it was a very special part of the cycle we will never forget.

Having really struggled with the gradients in the southern corner, we looked a little closer at the map and our proposed route once we got back to the north of Bali. Unconvinced from our time on that island, and enjoying our time on the more remote and scenic Lombok more and more, we changed tak and decided on a few excursions to make the most of being in this part of the world. 

Indonesia is famous for its volcanoes, so we decided to take a rest day to climb Rinjani, the volcano in the centre of Lombok. The first part of the challenge was the cycle from sea level up to the base village, Senaru. It was on this ride that we started to see the effects of the 2018 earthquake, with lots of temporary shelters and abandoned collapsed buildings. It was humbling to notice that despite clear devastation in the region, every village had rebuilt or was in the process of rebuilding their mosque before anything else, being a clear focal point for the community. The earthquake had also wiped out much of Senaru. We needed to find a guide for the Rinjani climb, and it was clear that many small businesses had shut down. Talking to the locals, they explained that tourists were now afraid to visit the area and the industry had suffered pretty badly. We noticed more collapsed building which had a fallen signs for “Riinjani climbs” or similar, we spoke to a few people, and it soon became clear that everyone knew everyone and we easily found a guide to take us the following day. We were in a group of 5 and they also supplied porters to carry camping and cooking equipment and food for the two days. 

The climb started early at around 7am and we steadily made our way through the jungle, up into grassy savannas before finally clambering up rocky faces and the volcano crater by midafternoon. There was a turquoise blue lake inside the crater itself, and you could see puffing smoke coming from the thermal waters. Way up above the clouds, we were treated to a stunning sunset into the sea and were up early to watch the sunrise over the volcano itself. It was a very clear morning and we could see the shadow of the volcano onto the land below and out to Bali and the infamous Gili Islands. 

From our cycling adventures we thought that we should have strong legs. Apparently not! By the end of the descent back to Senaru, our thighs and calves had completely seized up. We somehow managed to get back on the bikes and pretty much freewheeled all the way down to the coast for another beach wild camp. It took a few days for our walking legs to recover but luckily cycling seemed to use different muscles and we were able to keep making progress along the north and back to the west coast. 

One game we started playing on the bikes was spot the mosque. In Lombok the mosques are all different styles, sizes and colours. From peaceful white architecture, to multicoloured striped towers and from tiny huts with a metal crescent on the roof to huge domed buildings. Over a day or so we cycled 60 miles and counted over 70 mosques – some were in the middle of nowhere, whilst many small villages would have two or three! 

Religion clearly plays a huge role in the local communities. One day we passed through a town midday on a Friday – this seemed to be the main prayer of the week and especially so during Ramadan. We were amazed to see that the very large mosque had people queuing outside to listen to the sermon. Other times we noticed that children often have a go at singing the call to prayer during Ramadan (presumably as there are so many calls during this time the usual guy can’t do them all!). Once we pedalled past a small building with corrugated tin roof, to see a small girl finishing her singing into a mic as if it was karaoke! She happily waved at us and proudly posed for a photo! 

Seeing as Indonesia was so much about the sea and the islands, we decided to hop on a 4 day boat trip all the way to Flores, stopping off at various places on the way. This was definitely a backpackers thing to do, and we felt a bit out of place when surrounded by trendy backpackers with bags full of cool clothes! It was a great (if very rocky!!) few days – jumping into the sea, snorkeling and seeing picture perfect sunrises, sunsets and stars every evening. 

One of the main reasons to try to get to east Indonesia was to see the famous Komodo dragons. These amazing dinosaur-like lizards only live in this part of the world and there are plans to stop allowing visitors onto the islands in 2020. The dragons were amazingly docile as they ambled about in the sunshine, although they were perhaps giving us a false sense of security seeing as just a few months ago some tourist had apparently been killed by one. 

The final stop of the boat was Labuhanbajo on Flores Island (even further east), and left us with a mammoth journey back to Bali. We needed to fly to Lombok, get a taxi to the boat company’s office where we had left the bikes, cycle to the jetty, catch the ferry to Bali and then cycle back to our warmshowers host’s house in Denpasar. It was all going to plan until the ferry took many hours longer than expected and we docked on Bali in the pitch black. Given that we were flying out the following evening, we really needed to get back to our host that night so that we had a full day to sort and pack the bikes. We decided to try and hitch a lift, and quickly found ourselves clambering into the back of a friendly pickup truck – we were dropped off on the side of the road with only 15km left to cycle and navigate the madness that is Baliense traffic. Phew! 

Other than having to find a pedal wrench (eventually sourced in a hyper trendy bike shop/cafe on the tourist strip!) we easily packed up the bikes and soon found ourselves sitting in Bali’s modern airport surrounded by Aussie holidaymakers (the majority overweight, loud and with matching family hair braids – who knew they were still popular!!?) – quite a change from the beautiful and rural side of Indonesia we had been in just 48 hours before. 

And so, without really realising it, our official cycle touring has come to an end. In New Zealand we plan to cycle some trails, but will not be touring every day in the same way. More than ever before we wish we could just keep going and feel so lucky to have experienced travel by bike. But it’s time to start the transition back to reality and stop living out of 4 panniers. That said, we still plan to have quite a fun time in New Zealand… 

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