Temporary roots on Nusa Lembongan

I’ve now received more than a couple “so…. when’s the next blog post coming?” comments, which is nice since it means people actually read my blog (!!) but also is a bit of a reminder that I have now officially plunged into the deep end of the time warp that is island time, rendering me simultaneously uber-busy and uber-relaxed. Toss in an utterly unreliable internet connection and there you have it: no posts in weeks, rare Skype conversations and waning email communication. Sorry guys. I am alive and well. I was just about to send a manta ray out with a note tied to its tail to tell you that.

I just checked an it has been an entire month, and two countries, since my last post – I don’t know how that happened since I swear it hasn’t been more than two weeks. In the meantime I have spent a couple weeks in the Malaysian province of Sabah on Borneo, and then moved on to Bali, Indonesia. On Bali I spent a week in the rice-terraced artist town of Ubud before hopping a boat over to the island of Lembongan where I got a room for a month and a half and unpacked my bag. And here I sit.

When I was a kid I used to play a computer game called ‘Amazon Trail.’ It was an obvious knock-off of Oregon Trail, but with vastly superior graphics as far as mid-90s computer games go. The goal was to navigate a boat down (or up?) the Amazon River while fending off the usual rainforest scourges: capsizing, electrocution by eels or capture by natives (erm, yeah). To account for the long distances and some sort of temporal inconsistencies, at points in the game the player would raft into a “blue mist” at which point a creepy Halloween-ghoul sounding voice – possibly of the Panther Inca King – would announce “you are now being transported through a blue mist to another time and place”.

Well, when I arrived on Lembongan I think I passed through a blue mist. I don’t know exactly where I am, or what day (month? …year?) it is. I just have to keep an eye on my visa expiration date, since it didn’t pass through the same blue mist as me.

Slow boat Lembongan Island Indonesia
All aboard the slow boat to Lembongan Island!

Getting cosy on Nusa Lembongan

Here on Nusa Lembongan (Lembongan Island) I have decided to put down some temporary roots while I do a dive master course. This means I am diving every day and learning to lead divers, instead of being led. At the end of this course I’ll be the lowest level of professional diver, but this is enough to allow me to find employment in diving!

I’ll do a set of posts on the whole process of becoming a dive master, since it is a six-week ordeal that is a lot of fun and that most people know little or nothing about. Hopefully it’ll take me less than a month to get these posts going.

In the meantime, here is a little look around my new Indonesian island home. Lembongan is only about 30 minutes to an hour from mainland Bali, but it feels a million miles away.  The island is pretty small (a couple days ago I went for a run and ended up on the other side), and has two or three ‘villages’. I am in the largest one: Jung Batu. I would guess there are a few thousand people living on the island, with a few hundred tourists added on top at any time. There is one main street that is filled with motorbikes and the occasional open-back truck. It is paved, sort of, but has more pot holes that smooth spots. There are some offshoot alleyways that are just dusty trails. Getting around on foot is no problem, but out of sheer laziness I have procured a motorbike for $2 a day.

There is power on the island, but it gets cut as soon as the weather turns, or just at random sometimes. The garbage collection is basic at best, though Bali Eco Deli (the best spot for European coffee in town) gives a 10% discount if you bring in plastic for recycling. There are a dozen or so places that serve up Western food, though most of them also do the local nasi goreng (fried rice) and mie goreng (fried noodles). About double that many shops dish up local food only – and at half the price meals here are usually twice the quality.

Welcome to Lembongan! First stop: my place

After a couple nights in a dive shop dorm, I found this little home-stay run by wife-husband team Ka’tut and Made. My room is the only one on the upper floor – something of a novelty in this one-story town. It’s just a simple room with a bed, dresser, bathroom and giant westward-facing balcony with a table and some chairs. It has AC and hot water though, which is why I’m paying 3 million Indonesian Rupiah ($230) per month, instead of the going rate of 2 million ($150) a month. So far it has been perfect for what I need: a tidy place to unpack my bag and a little gathering spot to sit, eat take-away fried rice, and watch the sunset while listening to some guitar (yep, I even made hippy guitar-playing friends).

My room on Lembongan

Every morning I wake up to the roosters crowing, which starts at about 3 am and continues till about 1 am, or 2 am. Or sometimes 3 am. It is almost two in the afternoon right now and I will do a quick 60-second count of how many rooster-crows I hear. (pause) Fourteen. Fourteen rooster crows per minute in the mid-afternoon. In the evening the pigeons chime in with their coos and the geckos begin the alarmingly loud GEC-co! chorus, then the chicken are clucking, the ducks quacking and occasional dogs howling – sufficiently rounding out the faunal portion of the evening cacophony. This is accompanied by the muffler-lacking motorbikes whizzing by, honking at corners and whatever music or chants might be coming from the Hindu temple down the block. By then the tap-tap-tapping of the next-door construction has ceased, and the air is heavy with the evening incense burning alongside banana leaf offerings to the Gods.

The view from the entrance to my room, looking back out onto the street behind the home stay.
The view from the entrance to my room, looking back out onto the street behind the home stay.

The first days I was here it rained a lot. Apparently this was out of season, even though the skies opened like clockwork in the late afternoons. This was fine as long as I could enjoy the humid downpour from my balcony – though a couple times I got caught out in it.

A quick storm and then a walk (or a wade) home
A quick storm and then a walk (or a wade) home

Other activities: eating (AKA: All I do is eat and dive)

And of course I eat. A lot. There is tons of good street food here on Lembongan. My favourite place for lunch is “lady wearing a yellow shirt with a basket on her head” – who comes by the dive shop every afternoon. I get tuna (20 cents for a few mouthfuls wrapped up in banana leaf), some veggies (another 20 cents) and usually a bunch of rice or cassava-rice to go with it. Other regular options are gado-gado, some tofu and veggies in peanut sauce, for 10,000 rupiah (77 cents) and this strange meatball soup with a fried boiled egg and spoonful of hot sambal (forget how much it cost but I guess it wasn’t over 50 cents).

Left: my usual tuna, veg and rice, Middle: gado-gado, Right: meatball soup.
Left: my usual tuna, veg and rice, Middle: gado-gado, Right: meatball soup

Tourism and Seaweed

The island is ringed by seaweed farms that the boats all skilfully navigate around. Each day the shallow, netted areas are tended to and the salty, green tendrils are harvested to be dried and then sent onwards to become components in makeup and stabilisers in vanilla ice cream. In the evening the local seaweed-tenders work well into twilight – making for a pretty spectacular view at sunset. The boat is piled high with the day’s harvest.

Seaweed sunset

Where in the world is Allison?  On Nusa Lembongan, Indonesia!

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