We left Ubud in the early morning in order to travel to our next destination: the island of Lombok. Many travelers to Bali know of it due to the three small islands northwest of the larger mainland that are host to Westerners seeking great diving, surfing, and snorkeling – all called Gili [something]. After reading much about those three islands we decided to take the path less traveled-by and go to the “secret gilis” in the southwest, closer to a port called Lembar.
We quickly discovered that this was the “off-the-beaten-track” decision by how few options of transportation there are between Bali and that region of Lombok. For anyone traveling to the northwest islands there are a host of “fast boats” (speedboats) traversing the roughly 40-60km (depending on where you depart and arrive) between Bali and Lombok. They take about 1.5-2 hours and cost between $50-$60 per person. Yes, they get you there quickly, but you miss out on the culture around you.
There was one fast boat to take us to the southwest islands but it was unfortunately already booked so we decided to take the “slow boat” or public ferry that crosses the waters every hour and takes between 4-5 hours depending on current, tide, and loading/unloading of the people/cars/trucks.
It turns out we made the right choice for a more interesting experience.
We took a tourist shuttle from Ubud to Pedangbai, the port for most of the fast boats and all public ferries. It was over-packed with people and luggage and lacked seat belts. We even discovered in the last few minutes that the speedometer wasn’t working. Go figure.
Upon arrival in Pedangbai we walked/rolled the suitcases over to the ferry terminal. It was a larger building with very few Western folks around. In fact, after we bought our $3 tickets (yes it was that cheap in comparison) we met a French couple going on their honeymoon to Lombok and sat with them on the ferry. The boat itself was large and carried a good number of cars/trucks/people.
As we walked up the path to the boat a few enterprising crew members shouted “porter – ten thousand” at us and we realized they wanted to bring our stuff up the stairs for a price. Since I had been doing most of the carrying, we happily responded yes.
When we got to the main deck it seemed like a large airplane/restaurant with many chairs facing the direction of travel (and a TV which later played Hollywood movies – one still in theaters!). There were also some beds you could rent to sleep on for the Indonesian equivalent of $2.50 for the duration of the trip.
We sat down in some of the airplane-looking seats and immediately were surprised to find so many Indonesians around us asking to take our photos with them. It was strange at first (who am I kidding, it’s still strange now) but we ended up making friends with a tourist group from Jakarta visiting Mataram (the capital city of Lombok). We chatted with them in a mixture of English and Indonesian by using the Google Translate App (my wife was particularly excited about this) and even shared some wonderful food with them. Little children kept walking by to ask for photos as well. We must have taken about 100 by the time we arrived in Lembar, the port on Lombok. Oh, and the view en route was amazing!
Before we started this journey I had asked the AirBnB folks we were staying with to send a car to pick us up at Lembar. A day before we left they told me their usual driver would be unable to and that we should be able to get a car from the port itself. To top it all off, we might not even be able to drive directly to the AirBnB because of poor road construction on the way there!
So, we got a car (bargained down from around $50 to around $20 thanks to a tip from the AirBnB host) and drove almost all the way to the site. When we arrived in a nearby village on the waterfront we were told that we would have to bring our bags onto a boat and have that boat take us the remaining five minutes journey to the bungalows we would call home for four nights. It was an odd experience, especially since the person who was supposed to meet us wasn’t even there! Luckily for us, a gentleman passing by named Man (yes, that was his name) happened to have a boat and brought us the rest of the way. We ended up befriending him and using his boat services again later (for another post).
We arrived at the bungalows to be pleasantly surprised by their quality and beautiful location. After a long day of about 9 hours of constant travel it was finally worth it.
More on our AirBnB bungalows later….