Once, in a forest made of moss and morning dew, I found a boy who carried with him grand stories of the mountain, Rinjani. He spoke of days scaling the volcano; scorching under the sun but freezing below the moon. I listened intently, pocketing imageries of the island from the adventures of a stranger. I listened, even to the replays of our conversation in my head, over and over, until the imageries became mine.
Fernweh, as the Germans call the ache for places one has never been to. That was how Lombok was to my muse — like how it was Santorini last year; and Pondicherry the year prior.
But the multiverse conspired and I found myself seated by the window on a plane to Lombok one Tuesday.
A gush of arid breeze heralded my arrival, and as if on cue, my eyes found Rinjani peeking through clouds from a distance. I beamed at the thought of finally setting foot in the island, whilst rushing through the tarmac and to the waiting bus.
“At long last” I whispered to myself, bracing for a heap of brooding on the bus ride to lunch.
The Mataram in my head wasn’t as expansive as it was in reality, but it was just as unperturbed as I imagined it to be. Its streets bore semblances of an aged countryside with specks of a growing metropolis. Signs of modernity splattered in clusters, amidst vast farming fields and close-knit villages. Whilst the outskirts of the the main town featured locals going about the daily grind, Kuta was filled to the brim with Caucasian travellers.
When the bus pulled over at the teeming thoroughfare of Kuta, my group was led to a small cafe that was distinctively Mediterranean— a pop of colour in an otherwise dusty and sepia-toned strip of town.
Larbi Ahassad, the Dutch-Moroccan heart and soul behind El Bazar, ushered our famished selves to an inner courtyard with royal blue walls. He wore a shy smile, but with a pair of eyes that sparked with immense pride. When his team walked in with huge platters of well-curated menu items— a fusion of East, West and the Mediterranean— Larbi stepped back with childlike amusement. It was as if he was used to seeing his customers go catatonic before a display of his gastronomic specialties.
After days of gorging on mostly deep-fried, sambal-laden Indonesian fare, El Bazar, unarguably, was a pleasant reprieve.
SASAK SADE VILLAGE
In the afternoon, I went with my group to Dusun Sade, a traditional village inhabited by the indigenous Sasak people. There, where men were farmers and women were weavers, we got the most heart-wrenching welcome of all: belonging.
A group of youngsters stood by the gates to place woven scarves around our necks as we entered. We then gathered around the square, sporting authentic Sasak Sade woven masterpieces. I sat away from the group and beside the neighbourhood kids in front of a store selling handicraft.
As the villagers burst into a series of dance performances, we were transported back in time: to the making of a history of a tribe whose customs were as interesting as the patterns on their sarongs.
After the performances, I made my way further in to window-shop. Sasak people were gracious enough to let me take photos of their colourful wares, straw houses, and sometimes, even of themselves.
Fighting back tears, it warmed my heart to see people who were able to keep their joys simple; for giving so much despite having so little. For a while, to give back, I even let them view photos on my camera.
“Rich, lady!” one of the kids who spoke better English than the rest exclaimed, referring to the fancy photographic armaments I was lugging around.
“Study hard,” the words rolled off my tongue like a secret passed from one village kid to another.
Early the next day, our convoy of buses led us to the coast, for a day-long affair with the sea. For a coastal dweller like myself, a week without the beach was already pushing it to the limit. “About time,” I said out loud while excitedly donning on a bright orange swimwear.
Plus, we were going to Gili Trawangan: my single most favourite island in the world.
I’ve been to Gili T once before. It was supposedly just a quick detour from resort-hopping between Seminyak and Candidasa after Christmas. But I ended up staying until well into the new year.
On a swing in a bar aptly named Exile, farthest from the party central, I saw the last sunset of 2015 and the first sunrise of 2016. If that wasn’t special, I don’t know what is.
After snorkelling, and a quick cruise to Gili Air and Gili Meno, I shared a rather satisfying lunch with friends at Villa Ombak. Soon after, we rushed to Black Penny, my second most frequented watering hole, next to Exile.
The rest of the group cycled around the island, whilst others snorkelled some more. Meanwhile, my friends and I sprawled on bean bags at Black Penny’s, guzzling on ice-cold Bintang, before an immaculate strip of sand.
“What did you do when you were here?” one of my friends asked after my nth rave about the island.
“This,” I answered while fixing my pair of Clubmasters. Proceeding to take the most sophisticated sip from my cocktail, I then added, “exactly this.”
There are two types of destinations: to where viral marketing strategists tell you where to go; and to where the most interesting people you meet on the road have already gone.
Lombok was borne out of the latter— as the setting of a story told by a fellow traveler who liked to hold hands in mossy slopes on rainy Saturdays. Our dynamics was very much like that of Rinjani’s: potentially earth-shattering but muffled in countless of unspeakable ways.
Maybe Lombok was a pick-up line; I’d never know. But I’m a wordsmith; and if there’s anything I am ever good at, it is with words. I never got to say much to those who didn’t quite happen.
But to those that did, with thoughts and longing to those that didn’t, allow me: Lombok, I lava you.
Lombok was the third stop in September 2016’s Trip of Wonders, an invitational trip for ASEAN travel influencers. It was hosted by the Ministry of Tourism of Indonesia. Opinions expressed in this post are my own and do not necessarily reflect the view of the Ministry.