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JOURNAL  

Bali to Lombok and back to Bali, February 15th

The gang has now been disbanded and I'm back on my own. John has returned to London and Tammy to her Ubud haven. I left energy sapping Kuta for the coastal port of Padangbai, the jumping off point for Lombok, Bali's neighbour. It felt good to be on the road again; any problems I think I have, slip way. It's a case of arriving when I arrive. Everything is simplified, the routine of cycling has become a kind of meditation, a clearing of the brain... As yoga Greg from Byron Bay would say, 'unminding the mind'.

Stopped for directions and was told to turn 'right at the baby statue'. I kept my eyes peeled out for this strange landmark. I figured it might be a few times the size of a conventional baby but when I saw it, standing loftily the size of two houses, I was in no doubt... The Balinese build their statues big.

Lombok, February 16th

I arrived at Lombok after an 8 hour ferry ordeal, a journey which should have taken four, sleeping draped over my bags. A hint of ferry rides to come? An eclectic bunch of people were hanging round the terminal; there always seems to be a character with Ray-Ban aviator mirrored shades (copies) and a moustache observing the proceedings. Hawkers were selling food, children racing around and families on the move. It had been a late one the night before in Padanbai. I had met up with Scott, an American long term resident of the village and Canadian Jesse, cycling enthusiast and generally chilled dude. Local legend blues guitarist Komang was in town, with an incredible gravelly voice, vocally, a kind of Sikh Louis Armstrong. We sat down round the fire for an improptu gig, Balinese and westerners enjoying his musicianship and charisma.

My first impression of Lombok is the profusion of horse and carts. Some amble sedately, others tear round corners on one wheel, Formula One style. The roads are quieter than Bali but just as manic. The people a mixture; some more reserved, others very zealous in their greetings. A couple of kids cycled with me for a while, then peeled off to their respective villages. Various squeaks and clicks fade in and out of Possum... Spent the first night in Sengigi, a beachy village on the coast and arrived just in time for a magnificent sunset. I popped into an internet cafe/grocery store. Yes, the cyber age has reached even these remote parts. Incredibly slooooow machines for checking Hotmail with just one server in the whole of Lombok. I think the idea is to do your groceries while U wait...

Gili Trawangan, February 17th

Cycled the coastal road which climbed and dropped steeply, each peak displaying a view of an empty beach fringed by palm trees and backed by dramatic mountains, wisps of dark smoke rising up from houses perched on their sides. Monkeys swung in the trees, children waved and yelled 'Hello Mister!' The climbs were torturous in the heat and locals thumbed encouragement as they past, their mopeds struggling too. Stopped to refresh by the sea which looked like thick glass. The water was clear and the fishermen had waded far out, their conical hats, long fishing rods and nets silhouetted against the sun in the turquoise water. I 'chatted' to one old man and his fisherman friend. We communicated in scribbles in the sand and smiles. He complained about his cough and asked if I had any 'pills'. I gave him a 1000 rupiah note for the doctor which he thanked me profusely for. It was embarassing to be thanked so much for 10p, but I have to remind myself that its value is a world apart, in this land. Strangely enough, his friend developed a cough a moment later, while puffing away on his cigarette!

I arrived on the idyllic island of Gili Tromangan; it has a reputation for being a party island... Lots of young Western travellers working on their tans, diving the reefs and chilling on the wide sand beaches. It's been a hot day, and after the usual plate of Mie Goreng, a noodle number, I've retreated from the beach to my bamboo hut. With Indonesian style squat loo, no sink or mirror and a tiny fan, it's pretty basic. A base heavy 'Pink Floyd' is shaking its foundations. Today's reality: a Dave Gilmour solo overpowering anything the mosque can offer...

Down on the beach, one side of the horizon is completely dark, almost black. The turquoise waters and the white sand stand out even stronger now. Like a dark inkblot spreading across the sky, the storm draws closer. The setting sun burns red and orange in a thin band below this bank of thick cloud. I'm constantly reminded what a journey of the senses this is.

Gili Trawangan, Cinema and Conversation, February 19th

I have to admit that yesterday I took advantage of the clear sky and lounged on the beach... White sand, turquoise water, The Hobbit, a bottle of water and a few postcards... Did some yoga as the evening storm blew in, and snorkelled under the rain...

Call this the party island they may, but until now, I have met no one. Probably because at night I have immersed myself in the films they show in the restaurants, a guarantee to null any conversation. I feel starved of films and have feasted on a string of very American laserdisc movies - Armagedon, Desperado, Six Days Seven Nights, Things To Do In Denver When You're Dead... A doublebill every night.

I have been lunching in a tiny 'warung' by the beach, which serves up a freshly made GadoGado, run by a lovely family. I exchanged tales of Suriname, where many Javanese live, with Sas who used to work on a cruise ship and has visited most parts of the world. He has also given me some ideas to get to Singapore. Later a waiter in a restaurant called Jo, meaning 'quiet' in Sambawa, strikes up a conversation about Indonesia's political stability, its heritage and his hopes in life.

The country's motto is Unity and Diversity, and problems in areas such as East Timor threaten to unbalanace this. He has genuine hopes for Mapati, a woman, running for President: she has charisma and he believes that she has empathy for the poorest Indonesians. But he hopes too that if she succeeeds she does not forget the people who believed in her. He earns 45,000 rupiahs a week, not much more than 5$. Two meals a day and a smoking habit mean little is saved. But his job gives him experience and allows him the chance to work on his English, which is invaluble. Studying is financially beyond the realms of most Insonesians, yet seems to hold such a key to attaining a 'position'.

It's amazing what you can learn from just one conversation and he's keen to talk and discuss his ideas. Again I'm reminded of this gulf that exists between the people of Indonesia and its visitors. Even on a 'traveller's' budget, it can make this whole 'experience' I am seeking, sit uneasily within me...

Gili Trawangan, Diving the reef!! February 20th

Today I dived for the first time in three and a half years. It's been a stormy day but all was still underwater. Saw octopi, turtles, cuttlefish... At one point, a shoal of small fish put on a display before us, a mass of tiny fish moving as one, reflecting the light as they turned together. I have long been fascinated by turtles and watched them munching around the coral, gracefully gliding around, their front paddles move powerfully, sculling them forward, leaving their back paddles trailing in the current. Small fish hide by their belly, feasting on leftovers. It felt amazing to experience the sensation of breathing underwater again, drifting by a great coral wall, swept along by the strong current. Sat back and enjoyed the ride... Tomorrow I look forward to a dive at Shark Point...

Shark Point and back to Bali, February 21st

The following morning we dived off the other side of the island, in search of sharks. We soon spotted a Black Tip easing its way through the water, shadowy in the murky distance. It moved fast and efficiently and soon disappeared into the darkness. All I could here was the sound of my own bubbles exhaling through the regulator, perhaps a little faster than normal... A few moments later, we came across a White Tip resting on the sea bed and we were able to approach quite close. It was around 2 metres in length and I was surprised by the amount of fins that protruded from its body. It showed a distinct lack of interest in us and with a few powerful flicks of its tail fin, it too disappeared beyond visabilty. The divemaster checked to see my reaction, and I signaled a big 'OK' to show how pleased I was. A shark encounter! Ok, so perhaps it was a very passive one, but that was fine by me! We sighted various other sea life as we moved on, swept by the current; a cuttlefish and its baby, enormous clams that opened and shut their purple mouths, octopi scuttling across the sandy floor, flitting through a range of colours. As we came to the end of the dive, I saw a huge bank of shards of corral, heaped upon itself into a pile, perhaps 20 metres high. It was an awesome sight of destruction, almost beautiful in its scale. Sadly though it was an example of the damage that dynamite fishing does to the corral, an ecological disaster. Back on land, I picniced with Wendy from Hong Kong on local fruits and other delights and said a farewell to this beautiful island.

It was time to move on and I caught a lift back to the mainland invigorated after three great dives. I spent the night back in Sengigi and met an Australian doing a similar journey to my own, but by bus. The next morning I left early to cycle through Mataram, capital of Lombok, on the way to the ferry port. I stopped at a market junction overun by horses and trailers. Each was packed with locals and their shopping, colourful spices, fruit and other mysterious delicacies. Everyone gathered around to inspect the bike and ask where I was from and to where I was headed. After a chat they got on with their business and I resumed the ride, taken aback by their friendliness and interest.

I continued on my way and swept past an old man in a trilby, puffing on a cigarette as he cycled sedately. Perhaps he knew something I didn't. Indeed, I haven't noticed anyone rush in Indonesia, except car and bus drivers; everything is done at a relaxed pace. The ferry was about to leave as I arrived at the terminal, and with local encouragement I made it aboard just before the door slammed shut. I had a moment to buy some supplies, Nasi Campur and pineapple, from some kids before they got trapped aboard, deftly leaping onto the mainland.

The Lombok Straights, February 22nd

The ride was a choppy one and below deck, a stench of vomit lingered in the air. Dramatic wretching could be heard, emitting from all sides. Horrible! The Lombok Straits are home to one of the deepest sea channels in the world, where the continental plates of Australasia and Asia meet. As a result, cross currents buffet and throw ferries from side to side, backwards and forwards. Up on deck all the travellers had converged together. I met Adrian, Jeoff, Josephine and Zeinah and we chatted away the five hour ride between bouts of queasiness. A pod of dolphins put on a display for us and leaped spectacularly over the waves around the ferry.

Arranging to meet up for supper, I set off into the pouring rain for the ride back to Ubud. The main road through Klunkung was heavy with traffic, and a convoy of trucks belched out fumes making it hard to breathe. But it felt good to be cycling after sitting on the ferry all day, and I made it to Ubud within a couple of hours, just 40 minutes longer than the bemo; not bad going. That evening we all met up and I introduced everyone to the delights of carrot cake chez Tut Maks. By the looks on their faces I knew they too were converted.

Bali, I prepare to leave, February 23rd, 1999

It was time to say a fond 'Salemat Jalang' to Bali, and the following day I did some last minute organising for the journey to Singapore, which involved a flight from Denpesar to Jakarta, a connection to the island of Batam, followed by a short ferry ride over to Singapore and the mainland. It was hard to leave Bali. I'd grown very attached to this beautiful and friendly island and felt as though I'd cycled almost every path. There would be many things I'd miss; banana pancake and fruit salad for breakfast, temples, hectic/windy/manic roads, Worthers Originals (often giving in lieu of change as inflation rose out of control) and all the people I'd met over the last month. The last couple of days with Jeoff and his gang had been great fun. On my last evening we piled aboard mopeds, three to a moped, Bali-style, to eat at a restaurant out of town. Racing along the dark roads clinging to each other and shouting out, it made cycling feel distinctly safe! I would miss these guys despite having only just met them.

Kuta, Next stop Singapore, February 24th

The next morning I hastily cycled down to Kuta airport, stopping in Denpasar to take some action photos. I got lost for the last time in its confusing one way streets! Arriving at the airport, I was politely asked to change my T shirt before boarding the plane! Then it was time to hand over Possum after lengthy negotiation with the 'Garuda' airline personnel, and head for destination, SINGAPORE...

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