Friday 30 June 2017

Cycle tour through Bali and Lombok. March 2017

Cycling within Ubud through its narrow streets, packed with exclusive shops, along side the constant flow of cars that attempt to squeeze past a cyclist has its challenges. Though cycle travel is optimal to avoid touts, and slow enough to spot interesting artworks and novelty cafes like the tiny one that purports all kinds of rejuvenating medicinal brews. The vendors crush the ingredients on the spot and then its consumed as either a hot or cold drink. The other advantage of cycle travel is it was easy to park and then move on into the slip stream of traffic.
Also I enjoyed the slow meandering climb to the volcano Gunung Batur that offers many a picturesque view of Hindu temples that appeared on the edge of Ubud, and as the climb moved into small villages there where religious processions. Terraces with small huts nestled into groves of coconut palms gave a succinctly tropical ambiance as a late afternoon down pour forced traffic to take a pause, and on my part, have chance to listen to distant thundering from higher altitude.

Also there were many off roads that plunged into the valley, and if taken for a joy ride entailed a steep climb back to the main road that skirts the ridge.
However it was the traditional mask artisans’ of Bali that gave a sense of a what the arts were like before the tourist boom. It suggests a playful spirit. Though masks have a deeper message relating to connection with a sense of place, and the sorts of persons and reasons that construct place, and so new masks are produced to reflect contemporary trends of consumption and globalization.

Bali Ubud. stone sculpture gallery


Cycling from Ubud to the port town of Padangbai
The ride was downward from Ubud into Gianyar had an indistinguishable urban sprawl sense which abated somewhat at Semarapura where there was a Balinese Hindu temple and roads leading to rice fields. I decided to rest at a shop near the temple precinct where the shop owner indicted that a sarong must be worn to enter the compound.  After paying the 10 rupee note, I wrapped around a sarong and wondered aimlessly for an hour or so around the the very distinctive style of temple.
The ride to the beach had distinctly more tropical rain forest sense, and as I approached the coast a thunder storm loomed above, and so I dropped by a series of ramshackle stalls. The beach had poles spaced at about 50 M apart used by fishers’ to place their fishing rods once they are caste. On the other side of the road I noticed another Hindu temple. This temple was distinct in that alters are within the opening of the caves where multitudes of bates congregate in their hanging potion, along with a thick odor, giving a dynamic reminder  of the sacred and profane. The interspecies communication in this place could not be ignored even by all the human architectural grandeur. It was as if the primordial transcended the temporally constructed human artifice that surrounded the seemingly timeless non human hive of activity. 

As I rode off from the temple it was a step climb from the beach through jungle that had an abrupt turn for a pleasant decent to the port town where I was lucky to catch the returning ferry for Lombok. The ferry arrived at Lombok around 6pm. The first impression was a distinct sense of a cultural shift in perspective given that Bali has a strong tradition that resembles Hinduism. However the island of Lombok has a distinct Islamic tone. Upon arrival there was the sight of worshipers performing prostrations at the temple along with the audible prays being amplified from the local mosque.

Senggigi to Bangsal to Gili Air island.
Arrival on the large island of Lombok has a distinctive rhythmic system of sounds, such as bells indicating a mule is within the vicinity, whist public speakers signal the call to pray. The first section of the ride featured road side stalls which gradually gave way to a plethora of general stores which gave way to more complex architectural designs upon entered Lombok’s capital of Mataram which had familiar fast food outlets, fashion, and a host of consumption that contrasted with the rural periphery. 
As the ride from the central precinct drew to a close there was a pastoral sense of place which eventually turned to stalls selling fruit, and then emerged the rain forest pressing on each side of the road. Cycling an ascent towards the Pusuk Pass was the first real test with a load of about forty kilograms. Some parts had to be walked, though there was a pleasant distraction with many a road side refreshment vendor. The decent into Bansal Harbour was exhilarating after a light afternoon downpour created a scented haze of equatorial realism. Monkeys lined some sections of the road appearing to be feeding on fallen forest fruits. It was late afternoon when I arrived in the bustling port town of Bangsal. The guest house in this town was run and owned by a Dutch ex-pat who was very forthcoming with his knowledge of the region.
The following morning I rode to the ferry terminal and boarded a long boat for Gili Air. This tiny island sits within a cluster of three coral islands just off the coast of Lombok. There is the hype of being very tourist oriented, though offers a genuine timeless charm.
 The excellent fresh fish cuisine, the themed cafes, handy crafts, dive operators, therapies and an array of hedonistic distractions was grounded in the simple pleasure of off shore snorkeling that gave a counterpoint to the usual terrestrial modes of perception.

                                     Quirky sculpture in the capital of Lombok

                                                   A really steep climb on my touring cycle.

                                                     Tropical sunset at Gili Air

                                                     Coral reefs off shore


Bangsal to Senaru at the base of Gunung Rinjani volcano base camp.
The bars, music, and tropical fish feasts and shallow water snorkelling instantly vanished upon setting wheels on a major road from the port town of Bangsal to Senaru.
The ride was not long under way when I decided to take a detour. After a steep ascent, a carved out section presented as a place bustling with Indonesian families who seemed to be taking advantage of the half price promotion to view endangered species.
Its a genuine theme park with signature rare species giving its human onlookers a sense of a non human lived experience distinct from domesticated non humans, and a poignant awareness of habitat loss for these vulnerable animals due to pressures of human populations.
It was early in the afternoon that I passed by what was uncommon in this are of accommodation with its entrance written in English. The small enclave of thatched huts was owner operated by an Indonesian citizen and her Californian ex pat husband amidst a backdrop of fishing villages on one side, and agriculture on the other side. I decided to stay the night which gave a chance to explore this region with its picturesque views of coastal bays lined with fishing boats and paths through fields and groves of coconut palms.
Embarking on an early start the next morning took me to another short detour off the coast to explore the hinterland region. A vista of coconuts fields from this perspective was the inverse to the perspective from the previous days ride through the groves.
Coastal towns heading towards Senaru had significantly less infrastructure and development than West Lombok, and no signs of tourist activities. It was by around 3 pm that I had hit the hills for Senaru, and after some step ascents eventually made it to the first outpost signalling I had reached the trekking tourism hub of the region for Gunung Rinjani volcano. The area is covered in rain clouds with frequent downpours, and the relics of traditional houses. The journey is 3726m to the summit, and requires a support crew, and not usually taken in the high wet season. Many companies offer treks to the summit with all kinds of incentives, though ultimately what defines the experience are weather conditions and fitness.

                                           Confined to the park yet gave a sense of freedom

                                             Road side stall had this interesting tree art

                                                              Mount Rinjani

Senaru to Sembalun
It was an easy down hill ride from Senaru through rice paddy fields, and what is the familiar Islamic architecture of the region that I happened to chance upon the ‘Saifana organic farm’. This tiny farm with rambling gardens is set just far enough from the Senaru village trekking precinct to escape the hyper climbing atmosphere yet close enough to begin the trek.
I decided to stay a day at the farm and take a look at the villages, which included what was dubbed ‘the Hindu village’ (contrasted with Muslim villages). A peculiar feature of this village was the many small shrines doted throughout the sparsely populated area. Its sustainability depends primarily on plantations of teak and tobacco, as well as fruit and vegetable crops. The farm was set on the eastern side of Ranjini, although the poor road access made it a challenge to traverse. Dwellings were constructed from traditional materials, although in stark contrast was a recently constructed small solar farm which supplied essential power to the people.
At the end of the dirt track there appeared a clear view of the volcanic crater rim that ominously hovered above the cultivated region below, leaving remnant rainforest clinging on at the base of the mountain. There is talk of the location being the second official route up to the crater rim and summit of Rinjani which would make it attractive for development.
The region also has its weavers who create intricately designed patterns on cotton cloth by a complicated process that at involved a large timber hand loom. Each cloth thread was stretched and positioned before being locked into place.
The next morning I was dropped off at the Sembalun. This pass of 1900 meters is set within the cluster of mountains surrounding Ranjini volcano. Given it was all down hill, the ride was exhilarating, with monkeys, tropical forest, and fresh mountain air, along with hikers, and brush cutters. Eventually the decent made way into small villages like Sapit that had large banana plantations and bamboo groves, though the further the ride progressed so to the scene gradually transformed into a rambling sprawl of urban development, amplified voices from central religious locations, and the increasing pulse of motorcycles and trucks.
Villages are generally separated through hills and agricultural land. When I did stop for some refreshments it became a source of some interest. However there were two cafes of interest within this non-tourist zone that suggested a grass roots democratic voice. They were the ‘Rasta cafe situated at Jalan Raya Labuhan road 46 km from Kuta beach, and the ‘Base camp cafe’ situated along Jalan Terara Sikur road, 31 km from Kuta beach. The cafes gave a cosmopolitan feel that mirrored Kuta beach Lombok that emanates that sense of international good will through what is a form of grass roots diplomacy based on the voice of consumerism.

                                              Downhill ride through lush rainforest

                                               Collecting edible plants
                                                      A cafe stop
                                                        Street art with an edgy message


                                       Kuta beach to Lembar harbour
Arriving in Kuta early evening in light rain, looking for accommodation had that nostalgia, with its trendy backpacker hostels nestled amidst shrubs, and those drab regal functional lodgings that resonate a colonial charm. The hodgepodge of stalls dotted along the main drag. Its throng of people darting from dim alleyways. Those screechy PA systems with a familiar yet unknown language that oozes with sounds the imagined oriental.
It was after quite some trudging from one backpacker to the next that I eventually found a room on the top floor with empty rooms each side. The manager had that really welcoming manner with a no worries, pay tomorrow brother style, after your breakfast is served. Thank you, really nice, I’ll just duck out for an evening snack.
Next day I ventured on some serious local cycling through the Kuta tourist precinct. A real buzz with a plethora of surf shops, motor bike rentals, bars, and clothing stores. It all pulsates with an exuberance of a kind of second coming heralding the vibrant surfing lifestyle manifested last millennia to emerge in some realm of eternal surfer utopia.
Another tourist scene is the arrival of buses with cohorts who descend on the town for an hour or so, taking photo snaps in front of the large Lombok Kuta sign painted in bright red. They present in a formal tone, and as a group form an aura of corporate culture has come to Kuta Lombok.
Then there are the local sellers of wrist bands and sarongs who with grace and humility present their varied selection, usually as the unsuspecting tourist is gorging their delicious meal. An ethical dilemma presents.

Cycling through the Kuta precinct offers plenty of visual novelties including fine street cultural works of art, and perspectives from various angles of the beach, as well as the general heady cultural malaise that confronts the viewer when its all compressed instantaneously into a small area of intense transitory social and commercial activity. 

                                            Great surf around Kuta Lombok
                                            A view from Kuta into the hills
                                            Great mushroom Pizza place
                Contemplating the Pizza just before the crowds descend from surf central.

                                                        Beach cafe scene in Kuta Lombok
                                            On the road out of Kuta into the hills

After spending the second night in Kuta, I hit the road for the most difficult stint of my little cycling odyssey. In order to complete the circumnavigation of Lombok, the coastal route was to be taken through rugged mountain ranges that weaved along the tourist beaches of West of Kuta, including the beaches of Mawan and Selong Blanak. The most difficult stretch would begin by crossing a series of more remote villages in the hills, and along a sparsely populated coastal strip, so as to reach the destination of Lembarh arbour with its huge ferries that tower the string of ramshackle tin roofs and bamboo walkways, all to be demolished if the development of a new harbour precinct goes ahead as advertised on large billboards. This is where my bicycle tour began and closes for the Lombok chapter.

The morning began after my banana pancake was served by a friendly house cook. The first stop from Kuta was at the Tomato cafe run by a top chief who claimed to be starting out his business on the edge of town. His ability to source the fresh foods makes his salad tops in Kuta. It’s true! After much detailed discussion, I rode off towards the surfing beaches. Even after thigh burning hill climbs, there were those spectacular views of the surrounding coastal hinterland, and then there was Mawan and Selong beach. The former was the domain of the more experienced surfers, whilst the latter had a plethora of boats anchored off shore so as to take advantage of calmer waters. Tourists’ of all types tended to congregate at this beach in droves, given its small surf condition were ideal for novice surf enthusiasts to bathers. It seemed like forever absorbing that aura of hedonistic nirvana. However what made me eventually leave was the ice cream vendors repetitive tune, which weirdly followed me for a bit as he decided to go when I did. Then before a hill I asked him for a cone and he had the gale to ask a way out price. Thanks for the tune, but no thanks. So I set of with some sense of direction.
I took a brief detour into a hundred meter narrow goat trail on the edge of a ravine that had a wacky sign claimed it was home of a fortune teller and bat cave. However no one responded, but I did hear lots of bat like sounds. It was strange to say the least, not to mention a bit creepy when I read the welcome sign outside the cottage. So I high tailed out of there to the road.
The road started with a series of small ranges which ended in a sharp turn to the East heading for winding roads through remote villages. The standard quick route heads north that connects to the main arterial highway running through Lombok.
After the strenuous first stage, I rested and had coffee and pancakes at a stall. The last nod to civilization is the luxury resort across the road hovering over a vast valley below with the roaring sea in the far distance.

It was from this point that upon entering the next set of densely forested ranges the scene transformed from a provincial setting of well constructed brick housing to the standard traditional dwellings constructed from grasses matted and thatched roofs. Mosques were smaller, and there were no signs of mobile phones as is the usual trend.

Since cycle tourists probably are a rare phenomenon in these parts, passing through tended excite the entire village into a frenzy, I had not yet encountered so far. A bit unnerving yet intrigued at this phenomenon along with sights of a the more unusual happenings such as what I assumed was beetle nut be spat out by folk sitting on cane platforms. This gave a sense of really moving into the unfamiliar. There were those basic security concerns compounded as each bend revealed ever more, to my interpretation, surprised people. I wondered if it was the red panniers, of my wearing of traditional Timor cloth shorts over cycle Lycra tights. It was just the whole tourist phenomenon, and what the connotations of power and domination. So maybe I needed some fast diplomacy.
When checking for bearings on one occasion, I was greeted by a really polite local. Pointing in the direction of an old wooden bench, and then with a distant gaze he pointed in the direction of distant rain clouds. I nodded in agreement. It was evident that reaching the harbour through this route would not occur by night fall. I decided to move on from my luminary encounter with a vague notion that any sign of a religious structure would be the place to settle down and take rest, with the chance it might reveal a local village head or ‘kepala desa’ who had authority to offer an overnight stay and the ability to rationally negotiate my situation.
The only concern was how to negotiate the home stay given I could interpret any number of encounters as either welcoming or not.
However the matter was soon resolved unexpectedly. Upon navigating a series of bends there was this long road, with a village in the distance, and now what became the usual baffled gazes set amidst a host of ramshackle structures was the standard Indonesian patrol vehicle as a kind of last outpost to what lies beyond. A police officer advised me with a polite manner in English that I should reconsider the direction. By taking ‘the wrong turn’ to the main highway and travelling through this really remote region was dangerous. This route is not advised by local authorities to be used by tourists. I got the drift.
After enquiring if there was a Bemo service, which there was not, the officer kindly offered transportation to the nearest junction for the highway back to Lembar harbour, given night fall was eminent.
Glad to have been assisted by the local district police, I thanked the officers for their services to public safety, and cycled towards Lambar harbour, arriving early evening.

                                             Traditional grass huts along the road
                                          Field workers feeding a kind of shredding machine

                                           Cycling affords opportunities to capture the slow lane

                                          Ready to move on
                                           Harbor town