Disembarking the ferry from Bali to Lombok in the town Senggigi, which is the base of operations for tourism in Lombok, we were inevitably met by many drivers offering us private transport to whichever city we were going to next. Tetebatu, our first choice, was too expensive even after some tough negotiations. Our second choice, Senaru, was equally unreasonable. We politely declined all offers and sat down to lunch to discuss our next plan of action. During our meal, a man came to ask us if we wanted to rent motorbikes. We watched the idea dawn on each other's faces, and as we considered some of the benefits to having our own wheels, we decided it was a good idea to rent bikes for the entire duration of our stay on the island for only $4/day/bike. Not paying for transportation to each town we want to visit, potential savings for being able to shop for accommodation easier and stay slightly out of town, ease of day trips, and avoiding the annoying ordeal of organizing transport everywhere, all seemed really enticing. All it would take is the easy adjustment of driving on the left hand side of the road and filling up on gas from glass bottles displayed in front of people's houses. What we didn't realize was just how fun, beautiful, and enriching the rides through the countryside would be. Let me see if I can paint you a picture.
'Green' doesn't describe the lush jungle atmosphere of this tropical island. Fields of palm trees and large stretches of terraced rice paddies surround small villages whose houses are constructed of woven bamboo walls and dried grass roofs. Laughing children run barefoot shouting "hello!!" at us as we pass, men walk to the mosque in their hats and sarongs to pray, women carry jugs and baskets on their heads, and dogs bark and snarl at each other when they're not biting furiously at their fleas. At times the roads are full of ruts and potholes and a plethora of other motorbike drivers, many of whom are teenagers or even younger. Nobody seems to have a good concept of the rules of the road, and yet a certain order emanates amidst the chaos. The motorbikes whizzing by are often overloaded with anything from people, large bags of rice or vegetables, construction equipment, or even full food stalls loaded on the back. A common site is the "Bakso" bike, fully equipped to serve hot and spicy noodle and meatball soup on the fly. Trucks putt along, their beds filled to the brim with people (or occasionally coconuts). Monkeys gather on the side of the road while children play in the middle, and sprawling markets spill into the streets, clogging traffic and wafting a wide assortment of smells ranging from the delicious to the intolerable. Constant are the smiles on the faces of the people and the cigarettes in the mouths of almost everyone regardless of age. The island roads follow rolling hills throughout, with beautiful views awaiting at every peak. In the North, endless seas of rice fields, rows of spicy chili peppers, and tobacco plantations sit near the base of Mount Rinjani and offer stunning mountain vistas. In the South, cliffs drop abruptly to a seemingly endless string of coves with clear azure waters, empty white sand beaches and all variety of breaks - a surfer's dream come true. Around the whole island, men women and children gather under the shade of the many berugas, covered wooden platforms used to escape the sun during the day, or eat the midday meal of fish, rice, and the local hot sauce sambal (all eaten using only the right hand). They are also used for socializing and playing cards at night, or for just hanging out or napping any time of day. Mud caked cows are herded to and from the river while women use their feet to spread the harvested rice onto tarps in front of their houses to dry. Pull carts full of families delay traffic, the single small horse sweating and panting as the driver shakes bells to keep him chugging. Sometimes a school bus will pass, packed to bursting, with children in school uniforms riding on top, bouncing along the pitted out dirt roads.
As we make each drive, sometimes on separate bikes, our backpacks strapped to the backs, sometimes together on a joyride or a trip to a beach, we have smiles plastered onto our faces. And just when a smile turns into a furrowed brow of concentration as we enter a high traffic area, a child smiles and waves, or a local looks up at us from under his triangle straw hat while working in a field, and our tired cheek muscles return to a smile. This is the wind in our faces, this is freedom, this is happiness.
The Bakso bike - Bakso is a spicy noodle soup with meatballs and green onions
Soccer pitch in northern Lombok
Typical rural houses
Rice drying on tarps
Tombstones at a graveyard we drove past
Berugas like this are all over the place