Swimming with the sharks

Trip Start Mar 30, 2003
Trip End Jan 30, 2004

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Flag of Indonesia  ,
Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Executive Summary

Travelled from Lovina across Bali to Padang Bai, on the south east coast. Took a ferry over to Lombok, a similar sized island to Bali. My ferry did not sink, but one other did! Stayed at the resort of Seneggigi before moving on to the Gili islands, a picture-perfect tropical paradise. Did some more diving and returned to Seneggigi.

The Full Blurb

So, having survived my first attempts at diving and driving a motorbike in Lovina I travelled across Bali to Padang Bai on the South East Coast, where I stayed 3 nights. I stopped off on the way at Ubud again and so visited an art museum I had somehow managed to miss on my previous visit - ARMA, the Agung Rai Museum of Art.

Padang Bai is a small place, but attracts quite a few travellers because it is a port for ferries to Lembar on Lombok. At 3am on my first night there one of the ferries sank. The last I heard was that of 200 people on board, there were 12 fatalities. Helicopters were used to hunt for bodies in the bay for the following couple of days. As to the cause of the accident, there is some controversy whether it was due to unusually large waves (per the crew) or due to a defective ship (per the passengers). Either way, when I left I decided to make sure that I was on a daytime sailing so I could see where to swim to if necessary. Onboard, I found a spot strategically located near an exit and some lifejackets, but despite a very choppy crossing everything was OK.

Before leaving, however, I decided to hire a car and driver for the day to see east Bali. First stop was the village of Tirtagangga which contains a 'water palace' built by a former Raja with pools, water channels and fountains set in terraced gardens. The village itself nestled in the middle of rice terraces with great views of Bali's largest mountain, Gunung Agung. As a volcano. this has a perfectly conical shape. I also saw Tenganan, a 'traditional' Balinese village that was very quiet, and Goa Lawah, a Hindu temple that has become a tourist draw because it is built in front of a cave in which thousands of fruit bats live. This was the only temple I visited in the three weeks that I was on Bali.

Padang Bai is also a base for diving, so I had two dives at the Blue Lagoon reef which is just offshore. On the first dive it was amazing to see a sizeable shark quite close up. I had previously read that sharks round here do not threaten divers, but even so it was slightly worrying. I made sure that my Divemaster stayed between me and the shark! The shark was not interested, however - perhaps it had already breakfasted on some ferry victims and had no need for us. I also saw a large lizard type thing (called a crocodile fish, I think) perfectly camouflaged against the reef.

Lombok is a similar size to Bali, but is a lot less developed. This is noticeable from the ferry before I arrived - the coast consisted of a number of palm-fringed sandy beaches without any buildings in sight. Unlike Bali, the taxis here are small carts pulled by ponies, which I later learned were called 'Lombok Ferraris' by the locals. Other differences are that the people here are Moslem (Bali is Hindu) and that Lombok is malarial.

I headed straight for the main tourist resort of Seneggigi on the west coast. It has a good couple of sandy bays, but seems rather windy to me. It also feels rather empty - like Bali it has suffered from adverse publicity arising from recent terrorist activities in Indonesia. However, it's a good jumping off point for the Gili islands, 90 minutes away by boat. These three picture-perfect islands boast pure white sands, crystal clear waters and are surrounded by coral reefs, making for excellent snorkelling and diving. None of the islands have roads or vehicles (Lombok Ferraris on rough tracks are the only transport option), and most hotels do not have hot water, however electricity is generally available.

I stayed 3 nights on the 'busiest' island, Gili Trawangan. This takes about 3-4 hours to walk round and has quite a few guesthouses and restaurants. The bars here are quite lively at night - there is even an Irish pub. I went snorkelling one day and had 2 dives another day. There are quite a few dive centres here and they all seem to be owned and staffed by expats. I used Manta Diving, which is British owned. (www.manta-dive.com). One of the divemasters I met, Phil, had made the move from a council flat in Stockwell, London. We sat surveying the view of palm trees, beach, sea and the hills of Lombok in the background and I had to agree that the scenery was quite an improvement. On my dives I saw giant turtles, Moray eels, a rather large jellyfish and another shark. This shark was also friendly.

I gave the smallest island, Gili Meno, a miss because I had heard that it is just too quiet and took a ferry over to Gili Air island instead. This takes only a couple of hours to walk round. I went snorkelling off the reef here too and after one night returned by ferryboat to Bangsal on the mainland and then a bus back to Seneggigi.

In an attempt to see some of the 'real' Lombok yesterday I hired a car and driver and headed around the north coast to Senaru. This is up in the foothills of Mount Rinjani, Lombok's highest volcano. I had considered climbing up to the crater rim, but it takes 6-7 hours to get up there and involves overnighting in a tent. To get right to the summit itself and return needs at least 3 full days. I couldn't be bothered, frankly, and satisfied myself with walking 20 minutes to see a particularly high waterfall before returning to the comforts of Seneggigi.

So, tomorrow I fly from Lombok to Brisbane via Singapore. My time in South East Asia that has taken in Thailand, Singapore, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and Indonesia will be over. Hello Australasia, or should I say G'day?
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Marga on

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