Lombok, not the paradise you expect

I’ve traveled to Lombok from Bali, using the old slow ferry, and took a taxi to Kuta from the pier (Rp. 200.000 ~$13). While Bali’s dominant religion is Hindu, Lombok is almost entirely Muslim. And that makes a massive difference between the islands. That is why you can see and especially hear mosques everywhere. When booking accommodation always check how close you are to a mosque, because it can become very noisy.

Because of the earthquakes I didn’t have time to visit the all Island of Lombok just the south.

I stayed and used Kuta as a base, because has plenty of accommodation and food options. Although Kuta itself is a soulless place, quite dirty and unkept, where you are constantly harassed.

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Kuta beach with with lots of trash and more touts than people sunbathing

I arrived in Kuta, Lombok with low expectations after being in Bali, despite expecting better beaches I didn’t expect an unspoiled paradise and true to be said I didn’t got surprised.

Even though I still stuck around for a few days to explore the surrounding areas with a scooter. The roads west and east of Kuta have great views of the sea, but be prepared to pay a fee to go to all of them (fee Rp. 10.000 ~$0.70 ). One of my favourite parts about Lombok was actually just driving around.

On the mainland, there is a deserted feeling when you drive between towns the landscape is quite arid.

Beaches

The Pantai Mawon beach was quite disappointing, very dirty and packed with children selling stuff, and groups of men staring. At one point a man got fire to a beautiful health palm tree on the beach just for fun. It wasn’t pleasant so we left.

Tampah beach has a slogan at the entrance saying ‘no Harassment beach’. When I saw the sign I tough, ok I can try and see if its true.

This beach is a peaceful, quiet and clean place with no vendors, we were not harassed there for once unlike on any other beach.

The fishing village east of Kuta is nothing special, but there is a nice beach called Tanjung Aan just before the village. For me the most beautiful stretch of beach in south Lombok.

What to do around Lombok

Despite the beach, Lombok also has many waterfalls, the Rinjani volcano, rice fields, markets and the option of going on a trip to one of the Gilis.

Rinjani volcano is for me probably the highlight of the island, the trek is picturesque, with impressive views of Bali, the Gilis, and beyond on a clear day.

Its still true that the island Lombok receives far fewer visitors than Bali but its far for being an untouched unspoiled place.

Have you been to Lombok? leave your thoughts..

photography – all rights reserved – Ana Rocha

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Indonesia Earthquakes, my earth-shattering experience

Lombok and the Gili were part of my plans when I visited Indonesia, what wasn’t on the plans were earthquakes or tsunamis…
During the summer of 2018, Indonesia was hit by several earthquakes, and I was there.

first earthquake

A deadly 6.4 magnitude earthquake struck off Lombok, on 29 July 2018, followed by nearly 100 aftershocks.
At this time I was in Bali, I felt a strong long shaking, that woke me up. It took me a while to understand what was happening because this was my first earthquake experience, to be fair one of those experiences you wish not to have.

The epicenter was below Mount Rinjani, Lombok, and I was in the island of Bali approximately 200km away, so there was no destruction on the island of Bali.

During the following days I followed the news to know what was happening in Lombok.
And I read a lot about earthquakes, tsunamis, and the Ring of Fire (an area in the basin of the Pacific Ocean where many earthquakes and volcanic eruptions occur. The Indonesian islands are located right in the middle of the Ring of Fire).

You probably know the felling of “I wish I didn’t read about it” sometimes the more you know more you are afraid of, and that is what happened to me. I was ready to finish my trip and fly to another country somewhere else, just to have peace of mind and be able to relax.
My partner, on the other hand, didn’t share my worries or concerns, and I ended up convincing myself that was very unlikely that Indonesia was going to be hit by another earthquake soon. So I relaxed as much as I could and tried to put the worries away.
When things seemed to get calmer and safer we took a ferry to Lombok.

Second  earthquake

It goes without saying that during our first night in Lombok on 5 August 2018, a destructive and shallow earthquake of magnitude 7 struck the island again.
I was in the room when everything started shaking and the earth roaring, I run outside on my underwear, locals were running, shouting, and crying and there was a deep feeling of panic on the street.

The quake lasted for what seemed like a minute building into a crescendo of panic and destruction. The lights flickered and then suddenly, darkness swallowed us.

I’m not going to lie. I was petrified. Fumbling my way in the darkness, the shaking intensified and fear consumed my entire body. They were the longest seconds of my life.
I sat on the street, in a relatively safe place, rolled up in a blanket and stayed there for the rest of the night. I didn’t dare to go inside the room again.

During that night I felt several aftershocks beneath me, but with no falling bricks, roof tiles and coconuts near me, I sort of felt safe. If you can feel safe when all you see around are locals crying and praying.
The family from the house in front of me killed a chicken in a sacrifice and all the families got together and slept in the street .

With a second earthquake in the same island there was no way I would stay longer, but like me, hundreds of tourists were trying to leave, so I only managed to get a flight 2 days later.

During those two days I was ok and relatively calm during the day, but really scared during the night and I wasn’t able to sleep.

Third  earthquake

After two weeks I still jumped when I heard a loud noise and I was constantly feeling the earth shaking even when was not.

While Lombok was still recovering, another 6.9-magnitude earthquake struck on the northeast corner of Lombok and northwest Sumbawa on 19 August, two weeks after the quake that killed more than 460 people.

I was on the island of Sumbawa waiting for the bus to go to Maluk when I felt the ground shaking over me, everybody ran to the middle of the street. It was a small earthquake compared to the previous two. What I didn’t know, is that this quake was a “warning” of what would come later.
I was in the bedroom with my partner later that day and we started to feel a stronggg shake.

We looked at one another, and we knew what this was, we had felt it before.

Again a massive earthquake, and the longest 30 seconds of my life, everything was rocking side to side with such intensity, that I swear I could see the road pavement rippling beneath me.
We were just a few meters from the beach, so I started to say to my partner that we should go to higher ground far away from the sea, while he was trying the calm me down scared people began running shouting tsunami, tsunami and my fears became a reality. All you could hear in the darkness was the sound of hysterical people screaming to “head for the hill” and “the tsunami is coming”.
Everyone was petrified. With no helicopter to take us all magically from there, we grabbed our motorbikes and drove as fast as we could through the deep night, without really knowing where we were going.
We passed collapsed walls, cracked roads, smashed windows, locals were shaking with fear, huddled together praying frantically.
We got as high and far as we could and stopped the motorbike.
Two families where at the same place we stopped our motorbike, and one of them asked us to join them, they made a fire and we tried to communicate using google translator. The night was cold and they invited us to sleep in their car.

The groud kept moving and shaking countless times during the night. The women was constantly checking the reports on her phone, sending messages and calling to friends and family.
When the aftershocks started to get weaker and more spaced people started to get back home.
It was a terrifying night and I didn’t want to stay another night sleeping near the beach, so we grabbed our bags and looked for a place on the top of a hill.

I finished my holidays at the beginning of September and through out my stay I felt countless shakes that made sleeping impossible. I really got traumatized by the all experience and sometimes a feel the bed shaking for no reason.

Fourth earthquake

A magnitude 7.5 earthquake struck Indonesia’s Central Sulawesi province on September 28 and triggering a tsunami and landslides that caused widespread destruction and loss of life. I feel really sorry for all the Indonesian people that leave in fear and lost everything. So many catastrophes in such a short period of time.
Unfortunately, seems like natural disasters are more frequent and more severe nowadays than a few years ago..

Some Tips:
  • Have emergency supplies such as food, water, first aid, torch, battery charger, passport, insurance papers, money ready to grab.
  • Make an escape plan
  • Keep yourself safe from falling or moving objects during a quake.
  • Drop down to your knees, so the earthquake cannot knock you over, and protect your head and neck.
  • download the app earthquake.
Avoid:
  • Doorways, windows, bookcases, tall furniture and light fixtures.
    Elevators, power lines, coastline, and entering damaged buildings.

Located on the Pacific Ring of Fire, Indonesia has seen more than its share of natural disasters. In the last 10 years, it has experienced many volcanic eruptions, floods, and earthquakes.

When you travel, there’s always room for adventures and misadventures and this time we just weren’t lucky. Although, in a way we were lucky to go through this experience without getting hurt.

I hope Mother Nature stays calm and allows Indonesia to heal and rebuild 🙏

How to get to Lombok from Bali _ get ready for a difficult choice

How to get to Lombok from Bali

Before I went to Lombok I head to Padang Bai from Ubud, what took about 1.30h.
The sea had been rough during the previous weeks and there were no speed boats running. Plus Lombok was hit by a massive earthquake the week before.

When things seemed to start getting better and because I had the time, I decided to go and to Padang Bai and wait there.

Padang Bai is a small beach town and the port for public ferries and speedboats. I found the town itself quite ugly, dirty and a bit pushy towards tourists. Even with no boats running there were still people trying to sell tickets trying to convince you that there were boats running 🙂

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Everything in town is within walking distance but to explore the surrounding area, you will need a motorbike. And there are many nice places around to visit.

How to get to Lombok

If you do some quick research you will see that not many people have good things to say about the transports between Bali to Lombok or the Gili by sea.

if you keep researching you will be slightly horrified at your options… at least I did…

First off, you should know that there are only three options, and none are great.
Public ferry, speedboats and aeroplane.

They go from not being reliable, have poor safety records, do not follow International safety and operational standards, to be cancelled frequently. Plus the stretch of ocean between the islands is between 2,600 and 3,200 feet deep, so you definitely don’t want to sink here.
If you are thinking on getting a boat, stories and tales of sinking or nearly sinking, water pouring in through the windows, thoughts of jumping into rough seas, crying, screaming, mass panic, no lifejackets, no rescue boats, boats catching fire, and exploding … is all you have.
If you are planning to go by air
some Indonesian airlines are in the top 5 most dangerous airline in the world.. so choose wisely.

If you are going by boat  I strongly advise you to consider weather conditions as a major factor of your journey. Install the APP WINDY – wind & waves forecast to check how the sea is before you go.

Ferry

If you travel on a budget and you are a slow traveller, public ferries are the best option. I’ve paid RP.46,000 ($3) for a one-way ticket.
Just keep in mind that Padang Bai is full of touts, trying to sell you fake or super expensive tickets. Ignore all the attempts and make your way to the official ticket booth.

They say that the trip normally takes four hours, but it can be, and most of the time is considerably longer. Count with at least 5 to 6 hours, and if the sea is rough can take up to 10.

Ferries leave every hour or so although (24 hours a day) they are typically running on their own schedule and almost always delayed.

Safety is a big issue and the ferries have poor safety records.

fast boats

Fast boats are the most popular option, but boat safety in Indonesia is a joke. You can find an endless supply of horrifying TripAdvisor reviews  that are far away from encouraging.

There are multiple fast boat companies to choose from nowadays, the trick is trying to find the one that is safe and that in essence guarantees you a seat, as some companies overload their boats.

Flight

To avoid the choppy waters you can flight to Lombok but not to the Gilis, the flights are a quick 25 minutes.

Flying is the easiest and fastest way to get from Bali to Lombok and tickets are around $10-40.

photography – all rights reserved – Ana Rocha

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Semarapura _ the capital city of the Klungkung Regency _ Bali

Semarapura commonly called by its old name, Klungkung is a regional capital, that impresses for the organization, cleanness and reasonably calm streets. The city was once the center of Bali‘s most important kingdom, and today is full of history.

Semarapura was a pleasant surprise, it’s a great place to stroll and get a feel for modern Balinese life. The markets are truly amazing and the food delicious.

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Klungkung Palace is located in the center of the town and is a historic complex and relic of Bali from the time before the Dutch, sometimes called Taman Gili (island garden).

The palace dates from the 17th century but was largely destroyed during the Dutch colonial conquest in 1908. Today, some parts have been restored.

It’s possible to visit the Kertha Gosa Pavilion, the main gate and the Court of Justice. Within the palace, there is the Bale Kembang and a floating pavilion.

The floating pavilion and the ceilings of the Hall of Justice are decorated with incredible paintings done in the Kamasan style.

Expect to see monstrous statues, lily-covered pools of water, mythic creatures, pavilions filled with artwork and panels portraying the various forms of hellish punishment awaiting those who are found guilty in the afterlife.

How to get there: the best way is the rent a scooter (~Rp.60,000 $4 day) Semarapura is about 25 km south-east from Ubud.

Entrance Fee: Rp12,000/ adult ($0.79)

Dress Code: Sarong is required to enter the temple as parts of the site are considered holy.

photography – all rights reserved – Ana Rocha

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Sidemen, the hidden gem of Bali

What about starting by saying that Sidemen was my favorite place in Bali. This picturesque village took my breath away and become my number one place on the island. Despite the overdevelopment elsewhere this unique region in east Bali still has the feeling as if not much has changed.

IMG_9831Just try to picture hills and valleys covered in lush jungle as far as the eye can see, morning mist, blooming flowers, and a place that emanates tranquility and beauty and puts you in close contact with nature at its best, this is Sidemen.

Here you can relax, contemplate the views and do some hiking trails and paths through some delicious green scenery.

In opposition to most of  Bali island, that have too many backpackers, too much traffic and way to much noise and pollution Sidemen is just a piece of heaven. The small villages are surrounded by rice fields and agricultural land, small traditional Hindu temples, and rivers.

Here they grow rice, corn, tapioca, coffee, salak (snake fruit), chilies, and flowers that are used in the canang sari offerings.

Sideman is found about 90 minutes’ drive northeast of Ubud and is a fairly easy ride by motorbike.

Sideman is a great place to get away from the hustle and bustle of other tourist areas in Bali. The perfect place to relax, hear and feel the sounds of nature.

photography – all rights reserved – Ana Rocha

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Mount Bromo, for Free & Without a Tour

Mount Bromo

Mount Bromo stands at 2329-meter-high and is an active volcano from east Java, Indonesia.

On Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park, you can find 2 active vulcanos the Mount Bromo and Mount Semeru surrounded with a sea of sand.

For me, Indonesia was never about the beaches but about the luxurious greenery, mountains, traditions, culture, food, and the volcanos.

Going close to a volcano was for a long time on my bucket list, and I finally had the opportunity to visit one in Indonesia. My favourite one was by far the Mount Bromo.

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If you are planning to visit Mount Bromo, remember that you can do it for free, and without joining a tour. Here is how to do it.

How to get to Cemoro Lawang

Wherever you are in Java you need to head to Probolinggo. That can be done by bus, taxi or train.

In Proboling they are quite good at scamming tourists, so be careful and go to the bus station. Don’t believe if they say that there are no buses and that the only way to go is by joining a tour.

Outside the bus station, you have the minivans (called Bemos) that will take you to Cemoro Lawang (a village right next to the crater of Mount Bromo).

Unfortunately, there is only one option here. These minivans don’t have a schedule neither depart regularly so you need to wait for sufficient passengers to arrive. They charge Rp.35.000 ($2.50) if the bemo is full with 15 people, but they are happy to leave early without waiting to have 15 people as long as you pay the difference.

The ride from Probolinggo to Cemoro Lawang takes approximately 1 hour and a half always up the hill. Sometimes felt like the minivan wasn’t going to be able to go further up, but in the end, we arrived safely.

To go back to Probolinggo it’s the same route you came,  find a bemo in the centre of the village, and wait for more people to arrive.

At Cemoro Lawang

Once at Cemoro Lawang its easy to find a place to spend the night, it felt that everyone in town had a room to rent. Just make sure you have hot water because it’s really cold there, and you will not want to take a cold shower when is 5ºC outside. Cemoro Lawang is a village high up in the mountains, 2217m above sea level, so you can imagine how chilly it is.

Cemoro Lawang doesn’t have great food at all neither accommodation options, and because of the lack of offer, the prices are a bit higher than in other places in Java.  We paid Rp.200,000 ($14) per night for a basic mouldy room. We didn’t struggled to find plant-based options.

How to Hike Mount Bromo for Free, Without Using a Tour or a Guide

It can’t be easier to visit the Bromo for free. Just find the passage next to hotel Cemara Indah. Walk through a narrow passage near the hotel, and this way you don’t pay any entrance fee (Rp.350,000~$25). The path is quite straightforward, you go down the path, cross the sea of sand and then go up the volcano. It took me around 1hour and a half to get to the crater.

I recommend using the free offline map app – maps.me so you don’t get lost.

Both crossing the sea of sand and peeking inside the crater was definitely an experience of a lifetime.

How to avoid the crowds

Mount Bromo isn’t the highest peak of Indonesia, but it is very popular among tourist and locals. If you don’t plan your visit carefully, you might end having your experience ruined.

Avoiding the tours is the key and the only way to have a nice time exploring the area. So keep in mind that all tours go to see the sunrise first and then visit the volcano, so from late morning and afternoon the place is empty, there will be close to no people around it, and you can thoroughly enjoy your walk on the moon like landscape in the company of the wind and some clowns.

Be kind to all kinds

You will get a lot off offers for a horse ride up to the volcano, please don’t use the poor horses to transport you, they look sick, malnourished and tired. These horses are severely mistreated, and they are too small for riding up slopes with people on their backs… Please don’t support animal abuse 🙏 be kind 💚

Must have
  • Warm clothes
  • Decent shoes
  • A scarf or a buff,
  • app – Maps.Me
  • snacks and water

photography – all rights reserved – Ana Rocha

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Yeh Pulu temple _ Bali

Yeh Pulu is a small archaeological heritage site from the 14th century located in the middle of beautiful rice fields and freshwater springs. This archaeological site is located in the central Bali highland village of Bedulu.

The site is located close to Ubud so you can get there with your own wheels (~10 to 15 minutes) and it’s also possible to walk through the rice fields from Goa Gajah to Yeh Pulu (~45-55 minutes walk).

The temple is quite small but displays an impressive 25m-long array of carvings. The name Yeh Pulu means ‘water of the stone vessel’ in archaic Balinese.

How to get there: the best way is to rent a scooter (~Rp.60,000 $4 day) the traffic between Ubud and Bedulo is quite heavy but is a short distance.

Entrance Fee: Rp15,000/ adult ($1)

Dress Code: Sarong is required to enter the temple, and can be borrowed from the temple’s entrance for free.

photography – all rights reserved – Ana Rocha

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Traditional farming village of Pejeng _ Bali

The Pejeng village is located in the Petanu River valley in the island of Bali, 5 km outside the buzzing town of Ubud. Is rural area with extensive, and ancient, irrigated rice cultivation.

The village is surrounded by beautiful rice fields and has 44 temples and a museum called Arca. The temples didn’t really impress me as much as others on the island. Although it was nice to explore this untouristed traditional farming village and take part in the daily Balinese life.

One of the most famous things they have in Pejeng is the Moon of Pejeng a bronze kettledrum believed to be the largest bronze-age antiquity in the world. The bronze kettledrum is in the Pura Penataran Sasih (to the right off the main road from Bedulu).

This town has a lively morning market and a night market and plenty of Warungs to taste vegan Balinese and Indonesian food.

Pejeng is also a Wildlife Sanctuary and a great place for birdwatchers.

How to get there: you can easily bike from Ubud to Pejeng, or rent a scooter (~Rp.60,000 $4 day).

Entrance Fee: temples and museum have admission by donation

Dress Code: Sarong is required to enter the temples.

photography – all rights reserved – Ana Rocha

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Pura Besakih, The mother temple _ East Bali

The Besakih Temple is known as the “Mother Temple of Bali“, located 1000 metres high on the slopes of Mount Agung. It is the most important, the largest and holiest temple of Hindu religion in Bali, and unfortunately, it’s also a place where tourists are scammed and ripped off.

 

About Pura Besakih

Pura Besakih is a complex of 23 separate temples, the largest and central is the Pura Penataran Agung. The complex is located in the village of Besakih in eastern Bali, Indonesia.

The Pura Besakih complex hosts countless rituals and ceremonies every year, so it’s quite easy to step into one. Each temple has its own odalan (temple festival), based on the 210-day Pawukon calendar. They also celebrate the full moon each month as well as major holidays.

 

If you visit the complex during a ceremony expect large crowds dressed in traditional clothing.

 

What to expect

It’s possible to visit Pura Besakih on a day trip from Ubud, without being part of a tour, but be extra careful at this place since there are numerous stories of scams here. Because of this many people had a disappointing experience and wished they didn’t have visited the Pura Besakih complex.

I knew about this before, so I was aware of the scams beforehand. I didn’t have any problems but I saw many tourists being hassled. Visiting Pura Besakih can be definitely frustrating but for me was still worth the visit. Although its difficult for me to say, that you should visit the temples after all I read and saw.

Entrance fee: RP.60,000 ($3.95) (the most expensive temple I came across in Bali)

What you need to know before you go:
  • You do not need a guide, kindly say no and ignore them. You can visit the complex on your own even during ceremonies. Don’t believe if they say that there is a special prayer and it’s closed to tourists but the guide can help you visit the temple.
  • Don’t believe when they say the temple is closed for ceremonies, you can always walk among the temples and there’s no guide that can get you into a closed temple.
  • You can go anywhere you like, since you paid the ticket but not to the shrines.
  • Donations are not mandatory (you give money if you want to) that’s why they are called donations and not entrance fee.
  • If you want to give a donation do not believe the donation amounts that are in the guestbook. They are known to add a zero or two to entries, so you feel bad if you don’t give the same.
  • Bring your own sarong to avoid having to rent or buy one. The Sarong is not included in the ticket price.
  • At the parking lot, sellers will try to sell all sorts of stuff saying that you need it to enter the temple or ceremony you do not need anything except a ticket and a sarong.
  • Don’t accept the offer “come and pray with me” if you enter in a forbidden temple you can be fined.
  • Don’t allow anyone to keep your ticket, or you will need to buy another one.

Keep all the above in mind and you will be fine 🙂

Have you been to Pura Besakih or have you heard about other scams?

 

photography – all rights reserved – Ana Rocha

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Tirta Empul, the temple of purification _ Bali

Tirta Empul is a temple complex and a holy mountain spring, located in the village of Manukaya in central Bali. It’s perfect to visit as a day out from Ubud. The village is a 30-minute drive from Ubud (approximately 15 Km~9 miles).

The temple was founded around a naturally occurring spring (Tirta Empul meaning Holy Spring) and is over a thousand years old. This temple is dedicated to Vishnu, who is the Hindu god of water.

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Tirta Empul was discovered in AD 962 and believed to have magical powers, the holy springs here bubble up into a large, crystal-clear pool. The spring feeds various purification baths, pools and fish ponds, which all flow to the Tukad Pakerisan River.

 

Hindu worshippers stand in the pools waiting to dip their heads under the water spouts in a purification ritual known as ‘melukat’. The water in the pools is believed to have magical powers and local Balinese come here to purify themselves.

 

Visitors are welcome to take part in this self-cleaning process. Just bring a towel and a change of clothes if you want to take part in the purification ceremony.

Behind the purification pools, is the ‘inner courtyard’ the place where people go to pray.

 

How to get there: the best way is the rent a scooter (~Rp.60,000 $4 day) the journey is very pleasant and beautiful through lush green rice fields and coconut trees.

Entrance Fee: Rp15,000/ adult ($1) and Rp.2,000 ($0.13) to park your scooter

Dress Code: Sarong is required to enter the temple as parts of the site are considered holy. Sarongs are available at the temple’s entrance to be and can be rented for a small donation.

Other information: 

There are lockers and a changing area available, and women should wear a shirt, preferably one that covers the shoulders.

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photography – all rights reserved – Ana Rocha