We caught a tourist shuttle from Ubud to Sanur early in the morning and found a relatively cheap fastboat to the island of Nusa Lembongan. Fastboats are quite common in the touristy areas of Indonesia as they link the plethora of islands that make up the archipelago. They are covered boats about 40 feet long that tend to sport an unnecessarily high number of outboard motors. The signs for the different companies advertised boats with anywhere from 750 – 1000 horsepower. Ours turned out to be a very, very fast boat captained by a crazy, shirtless Indonesian man with a penchant for high speeds in high seas. We bombed across the strait between the islands, launching off big waves into the air and thundering back down into the next swell. The waters around Indonesia can get very rough and choppy during the rainy season and today was no exception. I found the crossing to be rather terrifying and even Emily, who thus far seemed to be missing the part of her brain that encodes fear, was a bit nervous. It was quite a relief when we cruised into the sheltered bay on the island and things settled down. I got into a better mood right away when I looked out the boat window and saw a dolphin come to the surface and dive down again.
Nusa Lembongan was really nice and we found a fairly cheap place with a pool right on the beach that we pretty well had to ourselves most of the time. We took it easy for the first couple of days and just relaxed and swam in the pool, testing our new snorkeling gear and underwater camera. On the third day there we took a sweltering walk around to the other side of the small island to Mangrove Point, a group of small warungs and tour outfits offering snorkelling trips on the reef and boat tours through the mangroves. We had bought our own snorkels and flippers in Kuta so we started wading out through a long, shallow expanse of water toward the boats and other snorkelers and divers about 250 meters offshore. Fearless Emily, who didn’t bat an eyelash when a 3000 pound rhino started to charge us in Chitwan, and enjoys terrifying Mach 3 bus rides, was mortified that she might poke her foot on an urchin and was moving very slow indeed. But when she bent down and picked a particularly spiny one out of the water, balancing it on her flipper, I was convinced that maybe this idea was a bit ill-conceived and we walked back to the beach. We wandered past a few more warungs and found a better spot with deeper water and better access to the reef, so we waded out through the mangroves until it was deep enough to swim. Along the way we swam over a number of seaweed gardens, which the locals grow and harvest, mainly for the carrageenan the plants produce which is used in a wide variety of processed foods and cosmetics. The snorkelling was amazing and we had a great time swimming around looking at all the tropical fish and corals. There were loads of colourful angelfish, trumpet fish, pufferfish, needlefish, and rainbow coloured parrotfish to be seen in the shallower areas where we swam. When we looked out into the deep blue water there were swarms of thousands of small fish flitting through the water. We spent about 2 hours swimming around and had a great time playing with our new underwater camera.
The following day was New Year’s Eve so we decided to do something a little different and rented scooters for about $6 to explore the island. We drove along the north side of the island around a huge area of mangroves on a fairly rough road full of broken pavement and deep puddles. I was having a great time navigating the bumpy terrain but I don’t think the rougher stuff was Emily’s cup of tea as she has numerous scars from a previous moped accident. Eventually we got to a big yellow suspension bridge over a shallow waterway that connected Nusa Lembongan to an even smaller island called Nusa Ceningan. It was quite narrow and about halfway across I was surprised to see a local on a motorbike come flying across toward me. He had to stop and lean his bike to the side with the handlebar through the railing to make room for me and Emily and the others behind us. Indonesians always seem to move frustratingly slowly until they get into something with a motor, at which point, without exception, they take off like bats out hell and leave all common sense behind in the dust. Nusa Ceningan was a nice little island and the small roads wound around and around in the hilly terrain, making for a very fun drive. We got to the top of a hill and parked at a little warung on the edge of a huge cliff that overlooked a deep ocean channel running between Nusa Ceningan and Nusa Penida, the larger island to the southeast. Penida was strikingly beautiful, covered in rolling green forested hills and lined with palm trees and cliffs, interspersed by a beach here and there. We looked right across to Crystal Bay, a very scenic little sheltered inlet with jagged rock formations, white sand beaches and turquoise coloured water. It is a world famous dive spot for seeing mola mola, a very strange looking deep water fish that comes into the shallows at certain times of year. We enjoyed the views over a mango juice and snack of calamari, then took off to a very photogenic small beach called Dream Beach, where we again dismounted and went for a small walk across a green field where we spotted a mother cow and two calves that looked surprisingly like deer. Across the field we found a spot called Devil’s Tear that consisted of a rocky section of coastline that dropped into the ocean. Right at the water level there was a half-submerged cave, and when the ocean swells rolled in a huge amount of air and water would get compressed within it and come spraying out in a loud, watery explosion.
Throughout the day I drove ahead because the navigating was definitely my department, but unknown to me Emily was having all sorts of adventures behind me. Several times I turned around to discover she was nowhere to be seen so several times I swung around in busy traffic to find her doing various things like getting her picture taken, talking to children or enjoying the views. After quite a number of stops for this reason I was well ready to park the bikes and have a few New Year’s drinks on the beach. Emily had other plans however and decided we should go searching for a fruit store down the busy main street. I reluctantly agreed, and after pulling over to talk to at least one child, a couple of false starts to wait for traffic to pass by that was about a mile away, and nearly causing no less than two accidents, she bought a small, not so sweet, single pineapple that she decided not to eat until the next day.
The stress incurred toward the end of the bike ride was swiftly washed away by a cleansing ale at our favourite restaurant/bar on the beach called Scooby Doo’s, which was conveniently located next to our hotel and served delicious, cheap food and cold Bintangs. We had a great feast of seafood pizza over beers, an overpriced rum based drink served in a coconut, some free New Year’s vodka shots, and some margaritas. While we were sitting at our table on the beach a big thunder storm rolled in from the sea with strong winds and driving rain so we moved inside to the bar. The proprietor of our hotel was at the bar enjoying a few New Year’s drinks and was much more talkative than he usually was during the day so we chatted with him for quite a while. He informed us that every New Year’s Eve there is a big thunderstorm and that is why he was sitting inside. He also explained that there were no big beach parties on the island because the police cracked down a few years ago and told the locals they weren’t allowed to drink in public or shoot fireworks off on the beach. He quite hilariously described Chinese tourists to be rich, but “like ducks,” because whenever he gives them directions to go one way they go the other. We bar hopped down the beach to a very expensive resort with a thankfully clean bathroom that I just barely made it to as some bad food consumed earlier in the day caught up to me. After that we made our way back to a pizzeria on the beach for some drinks and the countdown to New Year’s. The skies opened up again and we got fairly wet sitting at the only outdoor table left in the place, but we were having such a great time it didn’t matter. At this end of the beach locals were setting off fireworks every few minutes, so apparently the police hadn’t clamped down here as they had a couple hundred meters away at our hotel. The whole evening we were seeing loads of random flashes of light across the strait on Bali, which we determined must be small fireworks set off by the millions of locals on the island. As the countdown to midnight started the flashes ramped up until the entire coastline was alight with a dizzying array of flashes, big and small, and of every colour imaginable. They peaked right around midnight, but continued all night.