Sunburns and Bloodworms: The Exploration of Lombok
Our trip to Lombok began with one of the greatest deals in aviation history, $11 for a flight from Bali to Lombok. Personally, I enjoyed Lombok much more than Bali. Lombok was what I assumed Bali to be like, laid back beach life on a small tropical island. Lombok was not a very populated island. Being primarily Muslim, the largest buildings on the island were mosques. We decided to stay in Kuta in Lombok, which again, was vastly different from Kuta Bali. No clubs, no Hard Rock Cafe, and people weren’t trying to sell you something every 10ft. White sand beaches stretched along the coast line, and the actual town was comprised of one street that was no longer than 3/4 of a mile. There were tourists in the town but not too many to be overwhelming. Most of them were surfers from France, the Netherlands, and Australia. We still have yet to met another American while on this trip. When we tell people we are from America we are usually greeted with an immediate “Obama!!”. The love for Obama down here is due to the fact that he studied in Jakarta for a little bit, and the locals say he looks like the Indonesian President, Joko Widodo.
Our first day we were lucky to meet two kids our age, Thomas and Anna. Thomas was a surfer from Norway who was studying in Australia, and Anna was from the Netherlands and traveling around Asia. They were staying at our homestay as well, Roy’s Homestay. This homestay was a bungalow style homestay. It was very clean, had western toilets, a cold shower, and only cost 50,000 rp each per night ($3-4). Thomas and Anna introduced us to Johnny, a local kid who was also our age, who’s parents ran the restaurant by our homestay (Yola’s Warung). This restaurant became our hangout spot at night, where we ate fried bananas and drank countless avocado chocolate shakes.
We all decided to surf at one of the more famous surf breaks on Lombok, Gerupuk. You have to take a 10 minute boat ride out to the surf break. From here the waves break in 2 places in the bay, the locals call them the inside (east section of the bay) and the outside (west section of the bay). We surfed the outside, where the waves broke in 2 more places. One of the breaks can produce waves with a face as high as 15 ft. The other, the face is closer to 5 or 6 ft. We stuck to the 5 – 6 ft break. It was a reef break as well, so there was no sand below you, just reef. To add to the excitement the water was maybe 5 – 6 feet deep when there wasn’t a wave moving through. This made falling off the top of the wave a little less fun. Regardless, after 3 hours of surfing we were stoked, exhausted, and fried by the sun. We were planning on surfing everyday on Lombok, but the sun was so intense we couldn’t handle back to back days of surfing.
The second day we booked a driver to take us, Thomas, Anna, and Johnny to some waterfalls in the middle of the island. The Benang Stokel and Benang Kelambu waterfalls were 2 of 5 waterfalls we saw, that were around the area of the the Aik Berik Village. We got to these by hiking through dense jungle, rivers, and streams. One of the waterfalls on the hike you could jump off of, so of course we took full advantage of that. There isn’t much that beats flipping off waterfalls, besides Alex’s front flip to backflop. On our way back we all ate at a local restaurant and got the standard fried chicken with rice, basically every meal over here. Although it’s all very similar, these Indonesians know how to make some of the best fried chicken I have ever had. The outside is extra crispy and when you bite in the meat just falls right off the bone. It is normally served with rice, some veggies, and sambal. Sambal is a spicy sauce and varies in spiciness and taste. In general, it is just made of super spicy chilies.
The Bau Nyale Festival was main reason for selecting Kuta as our “home base” in Lombok. Translated, Bau Nyale means “to catch the sea worms”. This is the largest festival of the year in Lombok and thousands of people from all over Lombok traveled to Kuta for the festival. The festival is centered around catching these sea worms which, are also know as blood worms or Nyale in Indonesian. The Nyale only come once a year in the end of February. There is a legend to explain the coming of the blood worms. It begins with a princess named Putri Mandalika. Putri in Sasak, which is the dialect of Indonesian the people of Lombok speak, means princess (Sasak is also used to refer to the people of Lombok). The princess had many suitors who wanted to marry her and she was unable to make a decision on who to marry. In fear of causing a war, due to her selection of a husband, she gave herself to everyone by disappearing into the water, with the promise of returning every year. The Nyale are believed to the princess returning each year or her people. The Nyale are only available for 2 days out of the year. These 2 days, this year, happened to be the mornings (3-6 AM) of February 28th and 29th. From what one guy told me on the beach, the Nyale that are not caught die in the sunlight. Therefore, all the Nyale that are not caught during the 28th and 29th die. On these 2 days in February thousands of people rush the water at low tide with nets to catch the Nyale. I have attaches some photos of the Nyale and the people fishing them below. They basically look like red, green, and blue earth worms. Some of them can get up to 8 inches long. These worms are seen as a delicacy to the Sasak people (people of Lombok). They are usually fried and served on top of rice.
The Bau Nyale Festival is marked by parades, the fishing for blood worms, and stick fighting. The stick fighting is absolutely wild. It begins with two men that step in to an organized ring on the beach. They are armed with a bamboo stick and about a 2 x 2.5 foot wooden shield. The fighters then begin sword fighting. They can only hit in the abdomen and wear a cloth… and only a cloth on their head for protection. Their other pice of armor is a tradition sarong (a pice of fabric they wear around their waist). Each hit to the abdomen leaves a foot long gash on the victims side, which is surrounded by a 1.5 – 2 foot welt. One of the fighters was hit in the head while stick fighting, was knocked out cold, and left the rink in and ambulance. The fighters were volunteers from the crowd. We saw fighters of all ages, 13 or 14 year olds, 30 year olds, but most were in their 20’s. Some tourists even got in the rink for the locals to laugh and jeer at, Due to their ugly and inefficient fighting style. Each fighter was paired against someone thier own size and tourists were not allowed to fight the locals. I’m guessing this is due to the fact that the hospitals in Kuta were not equipped to handle wounds that would be inflicted after that battle.
Our last day in Lombok was spent surfing at Gerupuk again with 2 more friends we met at the homestay, Mark and Gijs. They were both travelers from the Netherlands on holiday. Our day at Gerupuk was the best day I have ever had surfing. I was on a 7′ 10″ hard top board and was able to catch and ride 4-5 waves until they died out. However the sun once again kicked my ass, and after 2 hours of surfing we called it quits. That same day we flew out to Jakarta and stayed in The Capsule Hotel Old Batavia and it was amazing there. The people at the front desk were beyond helpful. They helped us get more data on our SIM cards (1.2gigs of data for $3), book our train, and point out delicious cheap food to eat. I still can’t believe how cheap phone service over here is. We wandered around Jakarta for the day and it was a massive city. We wandered to the middle of the city center and it was surprisingly clean there. We didn’t venture much further than that as we took a night train to Yogyakarta where we are now. We plan to spend a few days here exploring caves, mountains, and beaches. We almost have our visas squared away for Vietnam and are departing Indonesia around February 14th for Ho Chi Min. I am amped to explore Yogyakarta and see what this cultural center of Indonesia has to offer.