The Kindness of Strangers: Day 22

I wake up a little later than the last two days, since I have no schedule to adhere to. I’m not sure what to do with the day. Maybe I will go to one of the beaches I went to on Friday? I think about it as I walk up to the Taman bakery and order breakfast and a coffee. I’m still pondering it as I eat. It’s about 10:15 now.

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I wander up the street towards the art market to book my bus and boat ticket to Gili Air from the same booth I booked the drivers from. I normally walk up the other side of the street but today I cross over and I find a curious street I haven’t been along before that leads into what looks and feels like an abandoned village. No one is around and the infrastructure is crumbling. It feels kind of weird to walk through, and I wonder if I am trespassing on something.

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I avoid the women yelling “Massage!” at me as I make my way back to the main street, head to the travel agent to book my 60,000 IDR bus and boat trip to Gili Air, and then cut through the art market and walk back along the beach. I’m sure something will come to mind.

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At the hotel I get out my laptop and write up some posts for this blog. Nothing has come to mind. I feel like maybe just having a lazy day. I finish at 1:30 pm and I don’t really feel like going back to the beach. Nothing is in my mind at all except getting something to eat.

As I head out for lunch a couple of the staff members are standing in the doorway chatting. One is familiar, as I’ve seen him around most days. The other is unfamiliar – I can’t recall seeing him before. “How are you today, sir?” they ask. I sigh and say I don’t really know. I’m having a day where I can’t decide what to do, and I’m kind of feeling lazy.

The staff member I don’t recall seeing asks why I don’t rent a scooter and just go around. I tell him I don’t have a license and that I’ve never ridden before. It doesn’t matter, he says. North of Mataram and Senggigi there are no police officers. In other parts of the island there are regular roadblocks and the police randomly pull people over to inspect their licenses and their paperwork, and automatic scooters are easy to operate.

I’ll think about it, I laugh. I head for lunch, but I don’t really know where to go or what to eat. I wander up one side of the street and then back down the other. I settle for The Angels Cafe which is not far from the hotel. As I wait for my food to come I think about maybe getting a scooter anyway. I’ve seen so many tourists riding them and some look too young to have gained licenses and have ridden for some time. If they’re doing, shouldn’t I give it a go too? Then it comes to me that maybe my reticence is because I would be happier if someone could show me how to do it and give me a lesson. Maybe someone at the hotel would show me?

It’s 2:30 now. I head back. The unfamiliar staff member is still there standing in the doorway. What do you think? he asks. Are you going to do it? I say I’m a bit of a wimp and a bit scared and I feel like I need a lesson or someone to show me what to do. He’s kind of laughing along with me. But it’s so easy, he says again. At least I don’t have to change gears. He has a motorbike with a gearbox, not an automatic scooter. That requires some skill. I can see his point – I say I hate driving automatic cars, as I don’t feel connected to the car. Changing gears is like an art, he says. I tell him I’ve been ojek passenger but feel that when I get back home I really should get a license and learn to ride a scooter.

Then he says he finishes work at three o’clock and if I want he could take me on the back of his bike to a couple of temples in the area. To get a scooter the hotel would have to call someone who would bring the bike over and then we have to go through the paperwork and that would take a while, so maybe it’s not worth it. Usually I would balk at this, but the only alternative is sitting outside the room on my laptop until it’s time for sunset, so I say why not?

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I go to the room to change and get my camera. It’s about three o’clock when I get back out. The dive master is loading some photos onto a USB stick. “Pinishy?” I hear the Asian diver at the desk say, and I know I’m in the presence of Koreans. He talks to the woman waiting on the sofa in Korean. I say nothing. I don’t even acknowledge them. Then the dive master looks up and points at me and says “He speaks Korean. Talk to him.” I have no idea how he knows this – I’ve never once spoken to him. Suddenly I’m having a conversation about where I live and where I work. They’re from Busan, but the man used to live in Seoul and he once knew a famous professor from my university. The dive master says “Speak Korean to them” to me. The woman starts talking to me. I try my best to answer the questions in my pidgin Korean, but I get flustered and forget how to say some of the things I need to say.

No matter, my bike rider is ready. He offers me two helmets. One, he says, which is his spare, has no chin strap. I’ll be taking the one with the chin strap, thank you very much. I tell him I haven’t done this much so I might be nervous. “I’ll ride much more carefully,” he says.

I’m tense as we set off. I let out a couple of ‘woahs’ again, like when I started my ride over the Hai Van Pass. I know we have some tight corners and hills coming up. I realise that I was going to ask his name when I came out of my room but the close encounter of the Korean kind made me forget. I cling onto the handle behind my bum at the back of the bike. When the gears change the bike lurches a little. When we take the first corner I have forgotten how to lean into the bends.

We have to pass through a town called Ampernan and then go through the other side of Mataram. It should take about 45 minutes. The ride along the coast road is actually fine, but when we hit the town there is much more traffic. Cars undertake, bikes overtake, trucks suddenly stop, and everyone just weaves in and out of each other. We almost rear-end a Toyota that brakes suddenly. Jesus Christ, I’m thinking. If this is more carefully than normal then what the fuck must normal look like? A pickup truck overtakes but then slows suddenly. We weave to thread between it and a car and I feel like my open knees are going to smash into the back of the truck. I tell the driver to be mindful that the bike is much wider now that I’m straddling the back of it. He just laughs.

We thread through Mataram. Although there is a lot of weaving and threading through traffic, I’m thinking of how I will write it up so I kind of forget about it. I come back to reality when we go past the Grand Mosque. It is huge and certainly a sight. I ask if we will come back on the way back and he says probably not – do I want to stop in now? But we’re at a light and it’s about to change so I say, no, it’s okay – at least I’ve seen it.

Not long after we arrive at a large temple complex. When I get off the bike my legs are my left arm are slightly numb from clinging onto the handle so hard. I shake them to get the blood flowing. I’d never even heard of this temple, but it has a large famous water park next to it which shares its name, so the name sounds familiar. Here we exchange names. He’s called Idham but his friends and colleagues at the hotel call him Neo. We enter the temple. I probably haven’t encountered him because he works for the hotel’s dive centre, not the hotel itself. Neo says he won’t be much of a tour guide, as he doesn’t know much about it, but once or twice he’s brought hotel guests here when they were looking for something to do that is off the beaten track.

The temple is quite interesting. It sits on a series of terraces, which we descend and then climb. There is a large lake to the side of it and there is a zipline that people can go down. We walk around the complex and around the lake, watching the zipliners. Neo translates some of the sign boards that are in Indonesian so I know what I’m looking at. As we get to the eastern side we are faced with views of the open countryside. It’s quite serene and peaceful.

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We move on after 45 minutes or so. He knows another small temple and we get on the bike and go there. We drive through the countryside. The road is pitted and dusty. We come down a hill there are monkeys roaming around in trees and on walls. We pull up in a small car park next to a temple.

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First we enter the grounds of an abandoned hotel. I pay 10,000 to enter. The first thing we see is a large swimming pool which has rocks all along the floor. No one is using it and the surface is like glass. I try to get a photo of the reflections of chairs next to it. How strange it is to walk around a place that has been forgotten and abandoned. It overlooks some rice fields and it looks like it would be a really lovely place to stay in.

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We head out through the back and into the rice fields. These are the lushest, greenest fields I’ve seen yet. Mostly the road I’ve been on has been a little far from the fields or I’ve been in a car when I’ve gone past them. Here there’s a path through the fields and it’s the closest I’ve been to them. The sun is starting to go down now, casting a warm glow onto the green plants. It is lovely.

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We go to a small Hindu temple on the other side of the fields. It too has a small lake next door and people are bathing. Outside is a woman fanning a barbecue getting ready to barbecue corn or cook satay. I feel like I’ve been teleported into another world.

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As we walk back to the bike I ask Neo how he found these places. Just biking around, he says, exploring the area. How many people has he brought here?, I ask. About three or four. They all liked it and said it was somehow more authentic than the tours to weaving villages or model towns that are like living museums. I ask if he’s ever thought about creating a tour  – people could ride their own scooters with him and come and see these places. I’m sure there’d be lots of interest as pretty much everyone offers the same tour to the same places back in the town. He’s not that interested, but I keep on saying he should think about it. He seems embarrassed when I keep going on about it, but I am certain he could make some money if he tried.

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I tell him I’ll stop going on about creating a tour. Before we leave I want to see the monkeys. They’re spilling out onto the roads and climbing the trees all around. Smaller ones with food cower from bigger ones that approach – I guess they fear having their food stolen. Two monkeys sit on a stone post, one preening the other. A larger monkey shoves away the smaller on and proceeds to attempt to mate with the one that was preening – just as I’m hitting the shutter button. We stay for a few minutes and it happens again.

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Back on the bike. We’re just going to head around through the roads before going to eat in Mataram. I’m more relaxed now and I’m enjoying the ride. I’m not holding the handle any more and I get my phone out to take videos. We pull up at an outdoor swimming pool which is next to a river. People are bathing in the river, and beyond a naked old man (not facing us, I might add) I spy a small waterfall at the end of it. We clamber over the rocks to see it. It’s nothing like the falls I saw the other day but I’m emboldened to go and see it having done my trip to the bigger falls.

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We head into town. The government has been resurfacing the roads in the area, and they’re currently nothing but gravel lanes. The bike slips a couple of times. Neo apologises – he didn’t know it would be like this. Not to worry – I am utterly engrossed in the sky above us the sun goes down. It’s darkening at the top but it is the most vibrant gold I have seen yet as it gets to the ground. Mosques, palm trees, rice fields are all silhouetted. The sun is reflected on the surface of rice terraces. I timidly ask if we can stop at one of the fields so I can attempt a photo but I don’t think he hears me and we keep going, so I try to get photos from the back of the bike but the camera struggles to focus. They only thing I can say about the beauty of the sky is “Wow,” and I feel so happy that I’m here doing this instead of sitting outside the hotel on my laptop.

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We are going to eat taliwang sehjatera – a dish of grilled fish, grilled chicken and spicy vegetables eaten with rice. It’s really tasty – the fish, which is barbecued in a honey sauce, particularly so. It’s just a street restaurant but the fish is fresh and the chicken is freshly cooked. Neo says that of all the places in Mataram this is his favourite. We are interrupted a couple of times by children dressed in traditional Islamic dress begging for money. I ask him what he says to them as he sends them on their way and he says it translates as “Be patient.” He tells me that he gets angry at the adults who are making these kids go out and beg and he often tells the kids that they should go to school and learn things instead of begging. He tells me that in some places the kids are shifty and avoid him because they know he will lecture them, and he is visibly annoyed when a third kid comes up doing the same thing.

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As a thank you for bringing me here I pick up the bill. Heading back to the bike he says we can go to his family’s home if I want as it’s nearby. I’m not really that keen – I don’t want to make anyone feel they have to be on ceremony in their own home, and I imagine they’ve had the other tourists paraded through their house and might not want another one – but he says he’d like to show me and we go along anyway.

We sit on the porch and his sister-in-law brings us coffee. An old lady is pottering around and I assume it is a neighbour since she is outside a neighbouring house, but it turns out she is his mother. There are three houses in a kind of square; his brother and his wife live in one of them and a sister lives in the other. Other brothers and sisters have moved to Bali or Jakarta for work and to support their mother. His father, I learn, was a heavy smoker and passed away five years ago from lung cancer.

Neo’s mother brings us what look like rice cakes but are apparently made from beef fat. She’s an ancient woman with a headscarf who just sits contentedly on the porch with us as we eat the crackers. Neo is nearly 30 and he is the eighth of ten kids, so I can’t imagine how old she must be. I try to say what I think is hello in Indonesian – selemat dematang – but they laugh because it actually means welcome.

On the way back we pass the Grand Mosque. It is an impressive sight – the minarets and the dome are lit up and it’s a lot bigger than it looked on the way in. Neo asks if I want to stop and I say yes. He manages a U-turn through the traffic and pull up alongside it so I can try and get some photos. I want to try the manual mode I practiced in Singapore but I didn’t bring the tripod with me and there isn’t anything solid to rest the camera on. We improvise with some rocks picked up from a ditch near the side of the road, but the framing is isn’t quite right so I can’t get the whole building in. Even so, I am impressed by the mosque.

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We make our way back to Senggigi. I say I can get a taxi if he wants to stay at home, but he tells me he often stays with a friend in Senggigi because of work, so he doesn’t have to  make the journey back. We had agreed earlier that I would pay for the petrol that we use, but I am still thinking about how he could possibly organise a tour of where we went. I give him the last 40,000 I have for the petrol and when we get back to the hotel at about 10 pm I go to the ATM to withdraw money. I want to give him some kind of tip or payment for the kindness he’s given me. I wouldn’t have seen the things I saw or had such a great day if he hadn’t have done that, and if there had been a tour with a driver to book I probably would have paid a lot for it. I rush back to give him the money before he leaves, and he protests at the 200,000 IDR I offer, but I tell him to fix the other helmet with the money or buy his mother a gift or use the money to start organising a tour of where we went today and he meekly accepts.

This is one of the things that is so enjoyable about travelling – just random encounters that lead on to great pleasures and glimpses into worlds unknown. And now I really do feel that I have started to really like Lombok – just as I’m about to leave.

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