Our third trip to Indonesia in a little over a year and I think we’re beginning to get attached.
I’ve always loved a man in a sarong but I don’t think that’s the main reason for this burgeoning fondness. However, I’m beginning to work out what it is that makes this country so loveable – it is slow.
Yep, it’s slow here (but I’m not talking about the traffic in Jakarta). It’s a relaxed, unhurried, gentle slowness that pervades this archipelago of 17,000 islands and for Chinese New Year we headed to Lombok.
So what if the roads are slow, your breakfast dishes arrive in the wrong order or they forget your side salad? Does it matter? Horsedrawn carts clatter lumpily past, bicycles carry complete food stalls, people drag wooden trailers behind them in the street and scooters filled with families move at a snail’s pace but it’s okay.
People sit or squat or lounge outside the shabby godowns that line the roads in larger town and villages. Elsewhere they lie in the shade on bamboo tables-cum-beds beneath thatched rooves of palm. Rambutans, bunched like grapes, are piled high, durian hang from branches, corn on the cob or dried fish poke from hot pans like pencils in a pot. Hawkers hustle on the beaches and the streets, ambling slowly, holding out soft cotton clothing, wooden bowls or strings of pearls. Everyone smiles, even with their eyes. Who wouldn’t when surrounded by a landscape that is made of languid beaches, flat paddy fields and verdant hillsides, slopes that curve up and round to reveal one glorious bay after another?
We hire bicycles and ride unhurriedly through these same roads, the smell of mint, durian and joss sticks keeping us company as we pass scrawny chickens, piles of pale coconut husks, women carrying bowls and boxes on their heads. Every so often a car or scooter behind us will toot, not to say “Get out of the bleedin’ way!” but simply, “Cooee. I’m here!” A kind of unthreatening toot that never once made me jump out of my skin as did the antagonising screech of a Dutch cyclist’s determined bell.
We cycle to the town of Senggigi and beyond to the ancient Hindu, Batu Bolong, temple, built on the black volcanic rock that forms the hole that gives its name. Dedicated to the god of sea, it’s a sacred spot. Worshippers amble towards the site, carrying offerings of food and flowers laid out on trays made from leaves. Beneath a raised covered shelter, women prepare the offerings, a baby lies asleep on its back, frog-legged, a mother sits one step higher than her daughter, crushing headlice between her thumbnails. A boy, still wearing his crash-helmet, stands on a rock, fishing. The sky is grey, which is not great for our photographs though.
It is here, at the top of the steps that led to the temple (the furthest non-Hindu were allowed to go) that we meet a Balinese grape farmer and his wife who like to take the ferry from Bali to Lombok and make pilgrimages to the four Hindu temples on the island. We leave him to his prayers and return to where we have locked our bikes. It is way past lunchtime and we are peckish but it looks like we’ll have to wait. By now the sky is leaden and ominous. The sea churning. As the heavens open we take shelter under the walkway that marks the look out spot beside the temple.
Our Balinese farmer returns to his car and greets us. Then he opens his boot and brings out a bunch of black grapes.
“For you. From my farm. It’s the rainy season, so not very sweet. Ladies like not sweet!” he grins at me.
We try one each. He demonstrates, spitting pips over the wall. The skin is a little tough but I can see what he meant about the sweetness. There’s no hint of sourness at all.
Next, he hands us a bunch of baby bananas, which we eat hungrily. Then, three rambutans. All brought from his farm. Finally, he presents us with one of his leafy offering trays, filled with a variety of sweetmeats made from rice and sugar, some wrapped in banana leaves, others in cellophane. We particularly like the dodol sweets that looked like slugs that we expected to taste of licorice but were apparently made from palm sugar and coconut and was a bit like a soft toffee.
“Eat!” he says, before waving us goodbye and driving off. And so, like magic, we get our lunch, albeit rather unconventional. As we eat we meet a few scooter riders who stop to shelter, chat with us and allow us to share our food with them.
When life is unhurried everyone has time. If we had taken a taxi to the temple we’d never have experienced such richness nor had the time to meet all those people who had not a hint of sourness among them. If it had not rained we would not have taken shelter and had the chance to find some holiday magic. We loved our bike-ride, despite the hills and the rain and were out for six hours in total, covering less than 10 km. There had been no value in rushing and we’d enjoyed the chance to ‘stand and stare’ as WB Yeats suggests. And it was, like this, that Ian and I were able to empty our minds. As I sat on a rock watching the fishermen, the butterflies and listening to the birds I was reminded of the inordinate wisdom of what I’d long believed to be Winnie the Pooh but on checking might have been a baseball player called Satchel Paige (or indeed Pooh) who once said, “Sometimes I sits and thinks and sometimes I just sits.”
That, to me, was Lombok.