Lombok is described as being the next dream destination. It is one of the 17,000 islands that make up the vast archipelago of Indonesia. Its major selling point according to the locals is that it is not overrun with tourists like neighbouring Bali.
My own observations will not find agreement with those involved in the tourist trade. Many of the beaches that I saw are strewn with rubbish, much of which has been lying around for a long time. In the south the sands around Kuta are promoted as being exceptionally beautiful. They are backed up by tall cliffs but even here the beaches are far from pristine.
On a walk into the jungle I followed a dry riverbed, a dumping place for domestic waste, for as far as I walked along it there were heaps of putrid sacks being picked over by quarrelsome cockerels and large grey rats.
Men sit around much of the time and when not sleeping, which is most of the day, hassle visitors. It continues non stop from first light until the late hours. Take this tour or that tour. Do you want rent a motorcycle? You go visit a factory outlet? Where you go trekking? Then there is a continual procession of itinerant vendors hawking woodcarvings, fruit, fabrics, brake shoes, plastic canoes and so it goes and it is the same on the beach. One old veiled woman asked me several times if I wanted a pineapple or a mango. When I said OK she asked me for the equivalent of 5 pounds. I only had about 1 pound on me. I said I would leave it. She insisted I take the fruit and return later with the balance. Of course I didn’t return – she was a cheat – the same could have been bought in a store for less than half the price I paid.
Later I rode a motor scooter up into the hills hoping to get a view of Mount Ranjini. I was to be disappointed – clouds hung over much of the interior. Everywhere I visited I saw the same scenes – filthy rivers, plastic bags caught on trees and bushes and more piles of rubbish heaped up between the sad dwellings
I was unable to reconcile my discerning eye of prejudice to such sights and neglect. Maybe it was here on this island that the concept of indolence was first awakened.
Indonesian shipping has a deserved reputation. It is dangerous. Thousands of boats navigate between the thousands of islands daily carrying thousands of passengers. Many of them have seen long service in the waters of other nations before being retired as being unseaworthy. Enter the Indonesian entrepreneur and the ancient vessel will start life anew.
Crews have very little training. Maintenance means the minimum to keep the ship at sea. Lifejackets are locked away so they are not stolen (passengers on flights are warned not to steal the ones under their seats).
So when we had embarked for the five hour crossing to Bali it wasn’t reassuring to see the cracked and rusted deck. It was such a small boat to be crossing such treacherous seas. I loosened my boot laces just in case.
The only really efficient thing onboard was the ship’s horn. This had been thoughtfully positioned about 1 metre above the deck and beside an area where a lot of voyagers hunker down for the crossing. One of them not knowing what it was used it to prop his head up. Three great blasts bellowed forth. The guy leapt upwards in shock and stumbled around the deck with his hands clasped tightly around his ears. People laughed.
At 3:25pm we crossed the imaginary line of longitude named for Alfred Russel Wallace the Victorian naturalist who determined that there are significant differences between the flora and fauna either side of the line. This line runs between Bali to the west and Lombok to the east. On the eastern side of the line the flora and fauna are more closely related to Australia than on the western side which is Asiatic.
Five hundred years ago Sebastian Elcano chartered these waters. He had taken command of the ship following the untimely death of Ferdinand Magellan thus he became this first person to circumnavigate the globe. Yet his name is unknown outside of his Spanish homeland. For me his name should be up there alongside those of Neil Armstrong, Scott of the Antarctic and Wayne Rooney.