There is a black car waiting outside my hotel when I get to the lobby at 9 am sharp. I assume it is waiting for me and I step towards it, but the driver gets in and it quickly moves off.
I turn and I see a man sitting on the steps outside the hotel lobby. “Mr Daniel?” he asks. His name is Suda, and today he’s going to take me around the northern part of Lombok to see the waterfalls.
We set off and he asks if I want to see the market. It’s part of the tour itinerary package, so I say okay. I read online that people say the market is worth a visit, and there might be some interesting photos to be take. We head south towards Mataram, the main city on Lombok, taking the coastal road out of Sengiggi.
The market is horrible. It looks like something from a deeply deprived third world nation. The parking area outside is strewn with rubbish and it is grimy and all stuck together. It smells of garbage. It’s rough and it’s noisy. We head inside the stalls. Women are squatting over tubs of spices, chilis, beans and other vegetables. Some sit on mats strewn with the vegetables they’re selling. It’s a little better inside. Some sell fish and some sell chickens, and flies buzz around and settle on the food. There are low, corrugated tin roofs and it’s quite dark. There is a tourist couple mooching ahead of me taking photos and I squeeze past them. Despite the squalor, it is interesting to see the people and how they operate. These are not the healthy-looking people you see in the tourist towns, though.
We continue to move around the warren of stalls. Several women yell things to Suda, laughing as they do so, and he tells me they’re commenting on how tall I am, and that I should watch my head. Suda buys a packet of peanuts for the monkeys later. I take some shots of the food and try to get some candid shots of the people. I do knock my head into the edge of a low corrugated tin roof and it feels like I’ve scratched it. I keep checking in case of any blood – I don’t really want to have to go to hospital for a tetanus shot. We move upstairs into a building and it is more of the same.
I ask if the people have to pay to have a stall here, since there are people standing behind counters but outside people are just sitting around on the floor in whatever space they can cram themselves into. Suda says yes, they have to pay to sell here. I see some women counting out cash in wads of notes. I hope they’re making some money and they are able to support themselves.
Back in the car we head back up north. Instead of the coastal road we drive through villages in the hills. Scooters zip by and cars jostle to overtake each other. The countryside is green and verdant and full of palm trees and coconut groves. When we get to the top of a hill there is a viewpoint, much like the ones on the coastal roads. Several cars have stopped, and we pull over. This is the monkey forest which is also part of the tour itinerary. It’s really just a layby at the side of the road that some monkeys are hanging around at. Suda holds out a peanut and a small monkey stands on its hind legs and reaches up for it and takes it. I’m a little wussy and at first don’t want to do it lest the monkey swipe it aggressively or attack me, but I am assured it is fine and hand peanuts to a couple of monkeys who gently stand on their legs and gingerly take the food from me. An Asian group arrives and a girl squeals and then laughs as one of the monkeys swipes her open packet of Tim Tams and scoots away. The tourist couple from the market turn up as we are there.
Now we’re heading north to the waterfalls. We go down the hills and back to the main coastal road, stopping for petrol along the way. l try to get a shot of a traditional cidomo, or horse-drawn carriage, as it trots by. As we get further north Suda points out the three Gili islands off the north coast of Lombok, which I am going to next week. We discuss the beach I went to yesterday and he says you can see the islands from there but I don’t recall seeing them. I’m not sure we are talking about the same beach but he insists.
We turn into a country road that will take us towards the Rinjani National Park, wherein the waterfalls are situated. The countryside is spectacular – all green, verdant rice fields and mountains in the distance. We pass a car that has pulled over – it’s the tourist couple from the market. They’re standing at the side of the road taking photos.
“Do you know them?” asks Suda. “No,”I reply. He says he saw them waiting in the lobby of my hotel this morning – they got into the black car that was waiting as I appeared. If I had known, maybe I could have joined their tour and saved money, I joke.
I ask about stopping and getting pictures of Mt. Rinjani, the second highest volcano in Indonesia, but Suda says it might be better to do it later. It’s shrouded in cloud and the weather can change very quickly so it’s better to get to the waterfalls in case it suddenly rains. Apart from the clouds the sky is blue and it is very sunny, but I go with it. He tells me he was once a trekking guide for the three-day treks that every tourist information stand in Lombok sells. The view is incredible, but I’m not really interested in trekking. I had kind of hoped that it might be assailable in a car but it turns out the only way to get up the sides is to trek as there are no roads anywhere on the side of the mountain.
It’s about an hour’s drive to the waterfalls. I pay 10,000 to get in. Suda will wait in the car. It’s almost 12 pm and I wonder whether to get some lunch outside in a restaurant but in the end I just go in. I’ve read online that locals inside will badger you to hire them as a guide to the falls, but from what I’ve read it’s not really necessary and it’s just a way of getting you to spend money. I make my way down the concrete steps through the jungle. No one is around, and no guides approach me.
Halfway down there are some kids swinging on a vine that droops over the path. They’re about eight to ten years old. I watch them and reply when they shout ‘Hello!’ repeatedly. The oldest kid asks if I want a guide to the waterfalls. ‘No,’ I say. ‘I’ve been here before. I know where to go.’ He shrugs and carries on.
I walk slowly down the steps. They go pretty far down the side of the mountain, and I start to think about having to climb all the way back up when I get down. I hear the falls and pause to listen to the water. Some tourists come huffing and puffing up the steps on their way out. I carry on. The sound of the water gets louder and louder.
I reach the bottom and I can see the Sedang Gile waterfall. There are several stalls around the rocky enclave and lots of tourists and locals. It looks very touristy and I feel a bit disappointed. I stand on the edge of a rock and watch people pose for photos and some local guys stand under the roaring water. A fine mist is coming off the falls and it’s very refreshing to feel the water after the walk down through the heat.
I go down the steps and stand at the edge of the water and then move along as far as I can go to get some photos. Now the stalls and crowds are invisible it’s actually very pleasant and I enjoy it. I see women heading behind the falls to take photos. I think about giving it a try myself, but they emerge completely drenched so I decide against it.
I wander about for a bit and buy some rice and noodles for lunch from one of the stands. I get some more pictures and decide to head to the second waterfall. This is the one that some people say you need a guide to get to. I decline one offer that is given to me. The kid from earlier is back and he skips up the stairs ahead of me. There is a paved road leading off at 90 degrees from the stairs so I take that. It’s flat and easy to walk. I think why would people need a guide for this? It leads to a bridge which goes over the ravine and onto a wide pathway. The kid and his friends ask me again if I want a guide and skip off non-plussed when I say no. Tourists and guides are coming back in the other direction so I know I’m on the right track.
Not long after the path ends next another ravine. There are piles of rocks and people wading through the water to get to the other side. The water is rushing and gushing over the rocks and a line of local kids stand up to their knees holding out their hands and helping tourists get through the water. A French couple stands behind me. He’s got expensive trainers and she’s got flip flips on. They take off their shoes and go through barefoot. I decide to keep mine on, since they could do with a clean.
I nervously cross the water. I don’t want to be that guy who slips and falls over, especially as I have my camera in my bag. I clamber up the other side and see that we have to do another river crossing. The water is shallower here and I manage just fine. It’s quite fun now.
There’s some more pathway and then more rocks to climb, and then I come to a pile of rocks next to a small hut that I must climb over. As I begin to climb I see the Tui Kelep waterfall. It is spectacular. Really something special. It thunders down into a pool and the water is crystal clear. Crowds of tourists are on the rocks and swimming in the pool, and local girls stand at the edge of the pool posing. I get some photos and then cross over to get a closer look at the fall. The spray is flying around and I’m getting pretty wet. I have my swimming gear on under my shorts but I didn’t bring a towel because Suda said you don’t swim but can go up to your knees in the water. The guide kids are here now and they’re jumping around and playing in the water.
I take off the shorts and walk in the water. I’ve brought an underwater phone case with me but I haven’t tried it with my phone yet. Because my phone has got some spray on it the case fogs up a little. I get some pictures closer to the waterfall. The sun is streaming into the grove and there’s a rainbow in the spray. I dunk my phone under the rushing water to see if I can get a picture of what’s going on under there, but the spray on the phone prevents me from hitting the shutter button and no photos are taken. I spend about 30 minutes in the grove and I really enjoy it there.
It’s time to go back – it’s after 2 pm, so I’ve been here for a while and I’ve got the car until around 5 pm. Tourists come along the route. I’m over any fear of the rocks and slipping in the water and I plash through the pools and trot over the crossing points. As I’m waiting for a chance to cross the first point that I had to come over a French guy in flip flops slips down the bank and back into the water. I’m glad it wasn’t me.
Back at the turning point near the Sedang Gile waterfall and it’s time to climb back out. It’s quite hard going. I’m stuck behind a gaggle of Spanish tourists. I stop at several points to rest and catch my breath. Seeing waterfalls is fun, but the climbing back up is a pain.
We get to the top and the path flattens. I think it cruel that to get out you must climb seven high concrete steps to get through the ticket point.
I pick up ice creams from a man selling them off the back of the bike. Suda is sleeping in the car. I tap on the window but that doesn’t wake him. I say “Suda!” and he jolts awake. I pass him the ice cream. He drives off and I eat mine, but it’s hot in the car and the last chunk drops onto my leg and leaves a big brown chocolate mark on my short leg.
I ask if we can stop at a point where we can see the volcano. At the bottom of the hill he pulls over and I spend a few minutes taking pictures of the scene. Suda eats his ice cream.
Back in the car we talk about the mosques we pass and the difference between Bali and Lombok. Although he is a native Lombok he was born to Balinese parents and is ethnically a Balinese Hindu and not a Sasak muslim, the ethnicity of Lombok. I ask him about the temple ceremony I saw in Ubud, since my driver that day didn’t know how to explain it in English. He says that some people in Bali just do the ceremonies not knowing what they’re all about; they are just things that you do but they haven’t had the spiritual education as to why they are done. He says he doesn’t like that.
We stop another time at the viewpoint over Nipah beach, where I went on Friday. We’ve been trying to work out which beach I went to – I said the map said Nipah but I didn’t see the Gilis. From the viewpoint we can see them all. I point out the tree I sat under and how I walked to the other end of the beach. As I gaze across at Gili Air I start go get excited about getting there.
We’re back at the hotel before 5 pm. I have time to download the pictures from my camera to my phone and then I get ready to go out for sunset. While I’m wondering where to go I remember that I read about a beach bar called Joje and it’s away from the town centre. I went looking for it on Friday but when I saw the hill I turned back because it was dark already. Today I have time before sunset so I head down. Not far along the road I see a grove of palm trees which leads through to the beach. I take it and when I get to the beach I see an amazing golden sky. We’re on the other side of a headland that marks the end of the bay I went to last night. Palm trees are silhouetted against the golden sky.
I keep going along the beach. There is a rock formation and people standing on it. It might make a good photo. As I get close I see in the distance a nice restaurant on the sand and brightly coloured bean bags out in front of Joje. This is more like it, I think.
I head towards to the first building, a stylish-looking open-fronted affair with a crowd of people sitting on tables in the sand. I’ll have a look there, I think. Then something strikes me. Everyone there has black hair. They’ve got selfie sticks. They’re wearing floppy sun hats and sun visors with big sunglasses. An ajumma stands on the beach in front of mYep, it’s stuffed full of Koreans. I keep moving.
I get a bean bag at Joje after passing a couple of other nice-looking restaurants along the way. A place right next door also has bean bags but it’s full. It’s called La Chill. At Joje I get a Bintang beer and watch the sun going down. We’re right by the water’s edge and there are several trees draping their branches over the sand, so it makes an interesting frame for the sunset. I’m enjoying it here and I’m glad I’ve found this area. They’re playing some mellow acoustic music, though La Chill next door is pumping out dance music and the two styles intermingle amusingly.
The sun keeps going down. People are posing for photos and taking selfies. I order some food and keep watching until golden hour, though the peace is disturbed by women roaming around the bean bags and offering foot massages, guys unfurling boards of jewellery and trinkets and a disabled man crawling along the sand and begging for money. A young jewellery seller approaches me and I firmly say I’m not buying anything today. He tries again. I say, sorry, firmly but not unkindly. He walks away.
I’m getting a bit tired of the constant heckling and it’s weird that the restaurant owners just accept it and let their patrons be disturbed by it. I had quite forgotten about it as I hadn’t been in the town all day. I wonder to myself how might they feel if they went to London and they’re posing at Big Ben and someone comes up with a pile of comfy fleeces on their head and bugs them to buy one, or someone with a box of PG Tips follows them around asking if they want some. It leaves a bit of a sour taste in my mouth.
I walk back along the beach, which is in total darkness now. I know there are a couple of hills with viewpoints on them along the way back but the beach route seems to be quicker and easier. I flick the torch of my phone on and see sand crabs scuttling around. I walk back up the main drag of the town, ignoring taxi touts, tourist information people, men trying to sell toys which shoot out laser beams, people on the side of the roads trying to sell trinkets and jewellery and people trying to corral me into their restaurants. I go back to the tourist information place I book the driver from last night and arrange a tour to Kuta and the south of Lombok for tomorrow.
I decide I can’t handle sitting in a bar again this evening – it’s only about 8 pm now. All I’d do is sit quietly staring around at people and getting annoyed at the constant touts. I use the time to write up some posts and add pictures to the blog posts here, and it’s pleasant to just be left alone for once.