Getting to and from Lombok, Indonesia is an interesting adventure. However, once you arrive you realize it is well worth the trip. Beautiful beaches, tropical jungles, epic waterfalls, volcanos, and more types of marine life than you can ever imagine don’t even begin to scratch the surface of all Lombok has to offer. We had the privilege of enjoying the island for six glorious days and found it difficult to leave.
We flew out on a Saturday before the crack of dawn. A time, we realized is actually beneficial since there tends to be no one at the airport. After all, what crazy people are willing to get up at 2 AM to prepare for a flight? People who want to save money, that’s who. We were booked on Air Asia, which I have come to deem as the worst budget airline in existence. Once we boarded the plane, it became obvious why the flight was so cheap (despite the 6 AM departure time). Nothing was free on this flight. If you needed water, you had to buy it. Need a blanket? You can pay to rent one and return it at the end of your flight. The five-hour flight felt long, but we were all tired so were able to sleep through most of it. A four-hour layover in Kuala Lumpur was not bad since the airport was designed like a shopping mall. One more three-hour flight and we landed on Lombok. Upon arrival, we all instantly questioned whether or not our chosen destination was a good idea. The airport was extremely old. Stark white walls with warning signs of various diseases or illnesses one should be wary of dotted the immigration line. The fact that Lombok is a primarily Muslim country became obvious immediately. Every woman had their head covered. Not knowing whether or not the culture may be hostile to Westerners was a bit intimidating while waiting in the airport. Once through immigration, our bags had to go through x-ray machines surrounded by armed guards. They take drug smuggling very seriously in the country. By the time we found the car to take us to the hotel, it was dark. We had already been traveling for twelve hours and had another hour and a half until we reached the hotel.
Weary from travel, we arrived at our hotel. Our villa was located up on a hill overlooking the main resort. As we arrived at our villa, a friendly looking man in a uniform was waiting to greet us. Apparently, he would be our evening butler for the duration of our stay. Upon our entrance into the villa, Brett asked Oni, the butler, “where will we find our key?”, to which Oni responded, “I am your key”. Brett and I looked at each other with the same thought… we could certainly get used to this lifestyle! Refreshing tropical drinks in hand, Oni proceeded to give us a tour of our villa, most of which was open to the warm tropical breezes that blew up the mountain. Our private pool glistened under the light of the moon, and wildlife could be heard clearly through the surrounding landscape. Upstairs, two air-conditioned bedrooms led to their own bathrooms with private outdoor showers. We were sold and already began to dread the fact that we only had five more days to enjoy our new home. A quick dinner and we were off to bed, excited for our first full day of adventure when we woke.
Dawn broke with a Muslim call to prayer. Being a Muslim country, the call to prayer happens five times a day. Since Lombok is known as “the land of 1,000 mosques”, the call to prayer can be heard all over the island. We certainly felt like we were living in a whole new world. Excited to begin the day, we dressed quickly, met our daytime butler Aden, and went down to the main resort for a delicious breakfast before our first tour. Daylight brought our first real glimpse of the beauty of Lombok. Crystal clear aquamarine water with waves forming rhythmically upon its surface reminded me of my years living in Hawaii. Warm breezes blew and we could feel the stress of Shanghai leaving our minds.
It was time for our first tour. A trip to the Southern Gili Islands to snorkel. Our tour guide arrived. Chris was an older Greek gentleman who by the end of the day, Brett deemed to be “the most interesting man in the world”. An ex-navy Seal, this guy had seen and done it all. Stories he told of his glory days made the two-hour car ride to our boat pass quickly. As he drove, he taught us about local life on Lombok. 85% are of Sasak decent, and most are very poor. Apparently, it is legal to kidnap a potential wife in order to woo her for three days. If at the end of the three day period she approves of her suitor, they will marry in exchange for two water buffalo. What a bargain!
We finally arrived to the location where our boat was docked. We boarded and were off towards the Gili Islands, one of the top diving locations in the world, housing over 3,500 types of marine life. Throughout the day, we visited about 5 Islands, all of which were practically free of people. Snorkeling with our guide on a private tour with no other tourists was incredible. We saw more fish than we could have imagined. It was as if we were swimming in an aquarium. Blue starfish and coral, sea anemones, and thousands of colors of fish were in abundance. The water had such a high salt content, we hardly had to swim to stay afloat. We simply let the current carry us, and enjoyed the view. It was truly incredible. Our last stop was to try and find seahorses. Our guide searched for a while and finally found two. Jack and I were lucky enough to hold each one by their tails. The little seahorse was stronger than I imagined, and I was in awe at the fact that I was holding an actual seahorse in the ocean with no one else around except for my family and our guide. It was truly a memorable experience!
Of course, no matter how hard you try, spending a day on the water is going to lead to massive sunburns. Since we were all snorkeling all day, each one of us suffered from burns on various parts of our backsides, mine being the worst as it was on my upper thighs. I couldn’t sit down for three days! Oh, and once it started to peel, I had one itchy butt! 😉 We had a day off of touring so we took our breakfast in our villa. Aden prepared eggs and pancakes to order as well as fresh juice, fruit, and yogurt. Apparently, pesticides cost too much for the poor Sasak farmers, so all fruits and vegetables are organic, a fact we truly appreciated. Brett and I decided we needed a spa treatment to help ease the pain of our sunburns so we went for a cucumber aloe wrap. Cold, fresh cucumber and aloe were put all over our bodies. Then we were literally wrapped up like tacos. While we laid there letting the healing properties of our wraps sink in, we were given head massages. It was heavenly. That night was a traditional Sasak dinner show at the hotel. We managed to shower and get ready for the day by that time and headed to the show. What a life we were leading! The show was fun. Jack even had the opportunity to participate in a traditional stick fighting competition which he was proud to say he won. Apparently, the winner was considered to have become a man. So, being a boy no longer, Jack was happy and we all enjoyed our evening.
The next day, we scheduled a second tour. This time, we would drive to the area of Mount Rinjani, the second tallest volcano in Indonesia, and hike up to see two waterfalls. Another long car ride to our destination went quickly, thanks to interesting conversations with our tour guide, Monica. We stopped along the way to take pictures and visited a pearl farm to learn how saltwater pearls were cultivated. It was fascinating, and Brett bought me some new jewelry, so it was a good stop. Onto our destination. We arrived at the trail head and were introduced to another guide who would take us to the waterfall. The closest we could come to pronouncing his name correctly was by calling him, “Nice-one”, and he was indeed very nice. The beginning of the trail opened to a large valley of rice terraces. The emerald green steps carved into the side of the valley were a stunning backdrop to the panoramic view of the Bali Sea. The jungle we walked through housed monkeys staring at us as we passed by. An easy hike which quite literally led over the river and through the woods led to a cove with a massive waterfall. The thick jungle air cooled instantly as the spray of the waterfall spread throughout the cove. Nice-one led us through the rocky water to the base of the towering waterfall. It was freezing cold and took your breath away from its mighty power. Like our last tour, there were a few people nearby, but none in the water. It was as if we had the glorious waterfall all to ourselves. We swam, and laughed, and savored the moment in all its glory. After a while, reluctant to leave, we began our hike back. Nice-one pointed out an aqueduct system that ran down the mountainside. He told us it was built 100 years ago by the Dutch. A dark train-like tunnel, with openings every hundred yards or so, we wondered out loud how many creatures had decided to make these tunnels their homes. “Let’s go down the mountain through the tunnels”, Nice-one said casually. We all looked at one another wondering which of us would be crazy enough to actually wade through the pitch black tunnels. In the end, we all agreed to try, but I know secretly hoped someone would back out and give us an excuse to forgo the adventure. As we climbed down into the shin-high water, a group of local boys came and stared at us like we had lost our minds. Perhaps we had, but we went ahead anyway. It was scary, dark, and we were unsure what we were actually touching at times (or what indeed was touching us), but we laughed and yelled and were creeped out together. It was a fun adventure and we made it out alive. At the end, we agreed it was worth it. After all, not many people could say they trekked through a 100-year-old Indonesian aqueduct. After that, we went to see another beautiful waterfall. It was smaller, but also stunning.
Back to the car, we parted ways from Nice-One to rejoin Monica. She drove us to the very small local Sasak village of, Segenter so we could see firsthand how some of the natives lived. It is difficult to describe the varying emotions we experienced while walking through the village. These people had so little. Perhaps 15-20 huts were lined up in neat rows. Dogs, chickens, and children ran around freely while the adult villagers sat in the cool shade of the huts seeking respite from the warm afternoon sun. We were permitted to enter a hut to see firsthand the villager’s living conditions. The small hut had no windows so it took a few minutes for our eyes to adjust to the dim light. As our vision returned, we could see a dirt floor, two beds, a loft area for prayer, and a corner with a small portable stove which served as the kitchen. A square board holding small food items was hoisted up off the ground in the middle of the room in order to “deter rats”. Seven people lived in this hut. As we walked through the rest of the village, Monica told us most of the 170 inhabitants would never leave the (maybe) 3-acre village in there lifetime. They farm, discuss village politics, marry, give birth, and live a slow-paced life. They have very little, but are content as this way of life is all they have ever known. It was a lot to think about on our long car ride back to the villa. I am very thankful we all had the opportunity to see this unique way of life, which is so different from what we have become accustomed to.
Our final two days in Lombok were spent doing a whole lot of nothing. It was heavenly! Brett and I laid by the pool as the boys swam the days away. Aden made our breakfasts and Oni brought us drinks at night. We walked the sparkling black sand beach in search of shells and coral. The boys begged to have room service for dinner in the villa both nights so Brett and I enjoyed romantic meals on the beach under the star-filled sky. It was beautiful and relaxing. We were all thankful to spend time together and be able to let go of the stressors of work, school, AYI drama, etc. Just enjoy paradise and be together.
The morning of our departure, Elijah put his shirt on, and the mother of all cockroaches fell out so he decided he was ready to go. I did not leave so willingly but was thankful for such an amazing trip. The flights home were awful. On the first, we hit an air pocket and my coffee (that I had to purchase, of course), went flying in what looked like slow motion through the air and landed with a splash all over me, the seat in front of me, and the poor unsuspecting man next to me. I didn’t bother to buy a second cup. The second flight had me squeezed between Brett and a man who constantly yelled back to his family members behind him in between slurping his ramen noodles and burping. The family in front of us seemed to be run by their 9-year-old son. The boy’s grandma sat in her seat picking her nose for a solid five minutes, then he followed her example doing the same. Later, he whined he was tired so his mother let him lay down across their two seats to rest while she squeezed into the space in front of him between the seat and the floor. It didn’t matter the she was wearing a pretty pink dress and high heels. All Brett and I could say was, “why did we have to leave Lombok?”.
Lombok was an amazing destination. As a whole, it has maintained it’s cultural heritage without opening its doors too wide to tourism. It is a lovely island rich in beauty and unspoiled nature. The Sasak people are friendly and welcoming. In fact, not one local person we talked to had ever left Lombok. After staying there for almost a week, we could see why. It was a wonderful destination to relax and reconnect. We left richer in experience and closer as a family. Again, we cannot believe the opportunities God has given us. The past year has brought us more traveling than we have ever done in our lives. The world is big and amazing. We are so grateful to be given the opportunity to experience parts of it we never would have thought possible, and look forward to our next adventure…Vietnam and Cambodia. More excitement awaits!