I was looking forward to a long, peaceful lie in – one of those lie ins where you are drowsy and sleepy and comfortable and have no inclination to wake up. Instead I kind of ping awake at 8.30 am but stay in bed for an hour. I’m on holiday now, so I have no need to get up and rush anywhere.
Breakfast is quiet. I might well be the only guest in the hotel, it seems. The staff are very quiet and stand-offish, delivering the food quietly and unobtrusively.
I have proofreading work to do, so I spend the morning on my porch working on the laptop. There are lots of flies and mosquitos buzzing around. The lemongrass incense I got in Hue comes in very useful. I jab a couple of sticks into an old plastic cup and work in peace.
Lunchtime approaches, and I finish the amount of work I set out to do. It’s hot now – the sun is blazing, but it is a dry heat, not a sweaty one. I slather on sunscreen and head out. I take a towel with me and I have my swimming gear on under my shorts, cos I am certain I am going to hit the water today. I’m keen to find a bike and see what it’s like to get around the island on two wheels, given that many people were cycling around last night through the interior lanes. Around the corner from my hotel is a place that rents them, so I get one. It costs 40,000 for 24 hours. It’s not the biggest but I can get the seat up higher and it has gears, which I’m sure are going to come in very handy on the sandy paths.
I set off. I decide to go north, back along the way I walked last night. The path through the interior here is more like a tarmac road in that it has a hard surface that has a bit of sand and dust on it but is not the completely sandy paths that run around the coast. It’s a fairly easy ride, if a little bumpy, and it takes only around five minutes to get to the north coast.
There the path is sandy. Although the bike appears to have 21 gears, it seems it can only engage a couple of them. At least they are not high gears that require a lot of effort – they’re relatively low ones. As I turn left at the end of the lane I come across a Dutch family of four that is struggling to manoeuver their bikes through the sand. I attempt to ride, but after just a couple of pedal pushes I come to a stop and have to dismount. I walk with the bike a few metres and then try again. Nope – I am not going to be able to bike over this path. I dismount again and walk the bike along the path.
Just a minute or so later I come across Scratch. I’m surprised it is so easy to get to. I really enjoyed it there yesterday. I initially go past the bar, but then the path cuts through some trees and is even sandier, so I decide to turn back and have a look at their menu. I make up my mind to eat there when I see beef rendang on the menu, since it was a dish that was recommended to try in Singapore but I never had it.
I park the bike and go into the restaurant. Yesterday it was pretty full but today there’s only a couple of tables occupied. I pick the table at the end of the front row that faces the sea. I browse the menu and then a chicken burger catches my eye. As I have said several times, I have avoided western food up until this point, preferring to try local dishes or eat local food as much as I can. But in my mind I keep thinking, well you’re on holiday now – one burger won’t hurt. I agonise over whether to get the rendang or the burger. I ask the waiter for some more time. I tell him I’m thinking about which one to order but he misunderstands and thinks I am ordering both. I have to tell him to cancel the rendang, cos I’ve decided to get the burger. Fuck it. I’m on holiday now.
The burger is great, but I feel so full afterwards and a little bit guilty for eating chips, even if they were great chips. A lot of the other people in the restaurant were eating sandwiches and western food too, I reason. I figure that since I’ve got the bike I’m going to hopefully work some of the burger off as I go around the island. I sit and enjoy being by the water for a while. There’s a strong breeze coming through the restaurant from the sea and I’m in the shade so I enjoy the feeling of being cool.
It’s past 2pm now. I head along the coast going east. Places I passed yesterday come back to me. I make mental notes about where the different places and hotels are so that I know where to come back to. It’s not as busy today as it was yesterday – there seems to be a lot fewer people around.
In places I can ride, and in other places the sand is deep and harder to traverse. I quickly get into the rhythm of powering hard through the sand and I am able to ride easily over it without having to dismount.
I feel like a coffee, and I remembered that yesterday there was a place that claimed to have the best coffee on the island, so I look out for it. I remember that it was before Turtle Beach coming from the boat station, so I look for Turtle Beach and go past. I don’t see the coffee place so I keep going, but when I come close to the boat station I realise I’ve gone past it and I turn back. I soon find it, and I ask if their coffee machine is working today. Happily it is, so I park the bike and order. I’m upsold a brownie as well, but I pass on the ice cream. Fuck it – I’m on holiday now.
I sit on the bench watching the water and enjoying the brownie and the coffee. It’s not the best I’ve had in the world – it’s just a normal long black, to be honest – but I tell them when I’m asked that it’s the best I’ve had on the island so far. The owner or manager – someone who works there, anyway – sits next to me and chats. Where am I from, how long have I been here, etc. The usual stuff. Out in the water are several people snorkeling from a couple of boats from one of the other islands that are depositing large groups of snorkelers into the waters.
Next to the shop are some stairs that go down to the beach. It’s just a few feet to the water, so I think this could be a good place for me to try snorkeling since I can leave the bike in view and ask if I can keep my bag behind the counter. Nearby is a shop renting masks, snorkels and flippers. He asks for 50,000. I’m not sure what the going rate is, but I am not sure if I’m being scammed either and have to haggle, so I decide to leave it. There are plenty of places, after all. Then he asks how much so I offer 30,000, which he accepts. It’s just after 3 pm now and I can have them until 5 pm. Later when I think about it it seems to make sense to pay a little less if I’m not renting in the morning and using them all day.
I step down onto the beach. Walking in flippers is hard. I feel foolish, especially as I’m directly in front of the coffee place and the restaurants next door and I’m sure people are looking at me. But whatever. I step into the water, wobbling a little due to the flippers. I decide I’m just going to go straight into the water, so I launch myself in.
It’s a total surprise to find that the water is only about a foot deep. It’s incredibly clear too, and what also surprises me is that I am, within just a few strokes, above a huge patch of sea grass. It seems to go on forever. I haven’t quite got used to breathing through the snorkel yet and a little salt water gets into my mouth. I want to put my feet down and sort that out but I don’t want to step on the sea grass. I feel forced to get past the grass first.
Another surprise is how many fish there are so close to the beach. They are not huge and they are brown and normal looking. When I get past the bank of sea grass suddenly I see exotic blue fish darting around. The bed of grass drops away and then there is tons of coral and rocks and so many interesting fish. Small blue ones, large yellow ones, one that is rainbow coloured, tiny silver ones, big white ones – it’s incredible. I did not expect so much sea life so close and so clear in the waters. The last time I went snorkeling was in Boracay in the Philippines in 2006 and it was really nothing special. Within a few minutes I begin to think that I am so going to get addicted to snorkeling here.
I do need to sort out the snorkel, though. I hadn’t got it in my mouth properly and sea water is coming in. I can get my head out of the water and try to spit it out but then the end of the snorkel gets into the water and it fills up and I don’t want to put my feet down on the coral. I decide to head back to the beach to sort myself out. I still can’t believe how shallow it is and how close the grass is – I must just be grazing past it, that’s how shallow it is.
Snorkel sorted, I head back out into the waters. I’ve got about 90 minutes left with the gear. I am loving how close and how various the sea life is. Everything is so clear too. I am heading straight out from the coffee shop, but I remember the boats so I make sure to keep checking around me from time to time to see where I am and what’s going on. Surprisingly it is very difficult to see the hulls of the boats from beneath the water.
I start to head left. There is a slight current, which I can feel. As I have gone out the sea bad has got a little deeper, but it’s still only a few feet – if you stand the water would only be up to waist height. However, I soon see that the sea bed drops sharply away – it looks a good 20 or 30 metres deep, and here the water goes dark blue and murky. It really does look and feel like the deep blue ocean, so I decide to keep away from there and stay where it would be safe to put my feet down.
Again, I’m just amazed at the amount of life and different varieties or fish that are in the waters here. It’s great fun to swim around with these creatures. I wish I had brought my underwater case out with me so I could put it on my phone and record or take photos of what’s going on under here. I’m definitely coming back in the water tomorrow.
By now it is around 4.15. I’ve been in the water for a good hour, and because of the heavy burger and the brownie and the sea water I begin to feel a bit bloated and queasy. I start to realise though that by about 5.30 it will be sunset time and I need to get back to the hotel to shower and change. I head back to the coffee shop and dry off, then return the snorkeling gear and head back to the hotel.
I decide to walk to the beach. Because I’ve been on the bike I’ve only got a couple of thousand steps recorded on my watch and I always make sure to do my 10,000 a day. I head back towards Shady Lane, but this time I keep going up instead of taking a left into the lane. I want to see the sunset from a different point.
I get my usual large Bintang and settle into a bean bag. This bar is a bit quieter since it doesn’t have a swing in front it and isn’t in the main sunset spot. Tonight’s sunset is much more spectacular that last nights. The sky is clearer and the water is even shallower. The sky glows a fiery red and gold as the sun disappears behind the faraway mountains of Bali. Man, this island is really treating me.
By 7 pm it is completely dark and the stars begin to come out. There are so many stars – it’s incredible. The last time I saw so many stars like this was out in the countryside in Australia. I wish I could try and capture the moment with my camera, but I know that I haven’t got the right gear with me to be able to do that. I just settle for watching it with my own eyes.
I still feel full and bloated from earlier and now I have a large Bintang in my belly too. I’m not massively hungry, but I feel like something at least. I’m hoping to find a small snack somewhere. I make my way over to the north east corner of the island. A lot of places are busy and they are serving full meals. Of course, if you browse a menu a staff member is on hand to corral you into their place. I spot a place called Le Bistro. No one is manning the menu, so I browse it. They have a pastrami panini that sounds interesting – I haven’t had pastrami for years. I think about it but decide against it. I check on the map to see where I am and find I’m quite far from the hotel. Perhaps I should have a bite here. A waiter points out an empty table but I see a day bed facing the water in the corner so I ask if I sit there.
I wait ages for anyone to attend to me. Behind me there is a Dutch couple of who get served and to the left of me is a Russian family who get served, but I can’t seem to get anyone’s attention. I’ve got the menu but I know I want the sandwich so I don’t need it. Finally someone comes over and I order the sandwich and a drink. Yes, the place is full and it’s peak time for dinner, but the service is very slow. Eventually I get my book out and start to read a few pages, which becomes about 15 pages before the food comes. I wasn’t expecting it to come with chips. Now I feel even more guilty after having had chips with lunch as well. I nibble a couple of them, then take the sandwich, but I keep going on the chips. Oh well, I think – I’m on holiday now. I will be doing more snorkeling tomorrow, so I can burn off the chips in the water.
Near my hotel is a bakery and cafe called Breadelicious. I passed it when I came from the boat station to my hotel yesterday, and it was actually the landmark I had to look out for when I screen shotted the map so I would know how to get to the hotel. Each time I have passed it it has been busy but never full, so I pop in and get a Lombok coffee. When I’m asked if I want anything else I browse the desserts on offer. My eye falls on the chocolate mousse on the top shelf. It’s 40,000. I’m tempted. I think about it. Fuck it, I’m on holiday now. I order it and it is awesome – so thick and chocolatey and just the right amount of sweet. So good that I am sure that I will end up getting it again before I leave.
And that’s okay – I’m on holiday now, after all.