The Neighbours Are Doing Quite Nicely, Thanks Very Much

By Hector

Some parts of this week’s diary were penned (though perhaps these days it should be “cursored”) at De Quake, one of the fine waterside eating places in Senggigi in Lombok. They do a nice lunch and they have wifi. It couldn’t be better, really. There’s a roof, so the fact that it rained on Sunday afternoon was not a problem. And The Diary sat upstairs to avoid the field of view becoming crowded with insistent little fellows anxious to sell you bootleg DVDs and all sorts of other impedimenta. It became temporarily overcrowded with tourists of French provenance. They always assume that any neighbouring Anglo is incapable of understanding their lingo and Sunday’s multiplicity of heureux fêtards was, as is the nature of the French, noisily indiscreet. But The Diary, itself the soul of discretion, silently outlasted the lot of them.

Our neighbouring island is an interesting place. It’s even interesting that the local government – of West Nusa Tenggara, of which Lombok is a part and Mataram the capital – seemingly takes the view that it can entice large numbers of recreational revellers from the Arab lands away from the fleshpots of Europe to enjoy themselves on holidays that will further the cause of Islamicising Lombok and beyond. That’s if the Wahhabi money from Saudi Arabia keeps coming in and the authorities can stop people stealing the runway lights at the new airport for long enough to land a plane. And if they can manage not to crack the runway on landing, they might even get to take off again.

On Lombok’s west coast – where it really is one of the best places to see Bali (it’s just across the Strait) – things are marginally different. That’s where the island’s substantial Hindu community is concentrated. It’s where the bulk of the tourists go – pre-eminently to the Gilis, of which more in a moment – and it’s where party-time is available on call.

Senggigi was not exactly buzzing, but there were enough tourists around to pique the interest of the street sellers. The Diary bought some lovely ikat while dining street-side one night; or rather the Distaff did – The Diary kept munching on the sensibly small smoked marlin plate that had been ordered as a main course.

The beach resorts in and out of town seem to be doing well. There are some new players around, apparently financed by Singaporean money (Silk Air flies the city-state’s flag to Lombok, a long-standing commitment that delivers welcome dollars to Lombok’s embryonic economy), and established resorts also seem to be having a high old season.

The Diary chose to stay at Puri Bunga, which is operated by Lombok Hotels Association chairman Marcel Navest. The tariff there is on the reasonable side of good. And waitress Novi, who despite her Ramadhan fasting always managed to serve infidels breakfast with a smile, would be our pick for employee of the month.

‘High’ Seas

There are some mutterings on the mainland of Lombok about the focus international visitors put on the Gilis, the three islands off the north-west coast that offer a different experience. One might wonder at the vacuity of visitors who travel from Bali to the Gilis, spend whatever time they have there within cooee of Lombok itself and never set foot on the island proper.

The fast boats are the attraction, apparently. The ones that don’t deposit you unexpectedly on some bleak East Bali beach when the waves get a little nasty and they start taking on water, that is. The dark theory among some of the Lombok crowd is that these are particularly popular because luggage isn’t scanned and all sorts of goodies that would otherwise be dangerously detectable travel free from interference.

Needless to say, the Gilis are at high-season overflow level at the moment.

On a Winner

Garuda seems to have picked its moment – and its scheduling spot – in Lombok. It flies Denpasar-Mataram-Denpasar once daily, at the locally unfriendly times of 7.15pm out of Ngurah Rai and 8.15pm out of Selaparang.

Its flights are full, because they are neatly timed to take international arrivals to Lombok the same day and extract returning holidaymakers from there in time to connect with mainly night-time flights out of Bali.

The “full service” is a bit of a joke. The cabin crew have time to hand out a fruit tea (in economy) and to momentarily flick shut the “them-and-us curtain” between cattle class to the rear and executive splendour forward.

It’s a pity though that they don’t seem to have time to clean the cabin between trips. The Diary and party, travelling in the same seats both ways, three days apart, found a plastic wrapper in the seat pocket on the return trip that the party had left there on the outward journey. And by the time we got back on board to return to Bali the bulkhead video screens – on which one is enjoined to closely attend to the safety demonstration – had given up the ghost too.

Another problem – it’s a perennial one – is tour parties. Our flight back had what seemed like at least a thousand Chinese, none of whom apparently could manage to sit in the right seat, or indeed, sit down.

She Loves Us

While in Lombok The Diary received a cheery email from a happy reader named Heidi who lives on that side of the Wallace Line. It’s always nice to get a compliment, though (see below) it doesn’t do to let them go to your head.

Here’s her little billet-doux:

“Hi Hector. I was just in Starbucks at the airport in Bali on my way back home to Lombok. I had the great fortune to find a copy of The Bali Times in their reading bin.

“Let me say I am an Aussie girl living in Lombok and one of my greatest joys when in Bali is to get a copy. The very best of compliments to you for a most professional newspaper; it is a rare find indeed.

“Long live The Bali Times … it is truly a shining beacon to us, possibly gila, expats who have chosen to take a path less travelled.”

Thank you, Heidi. Keep up the good reading.

Here Jack, Catch!

The Jakarta Globe had an article recently in which the newspaper discovered that there are a few things wrong with Bali. They’re not wrong, of course, in making that assessment or in publishing their recent illumination on such matters. And it is only right that a national reading audience should get the real picture.

What was rather more surprising was the fact that Jack Daniels of Bali Discovery Tours – a travel agent, one of the endemic oversupply of same on this island – chose to cut-and-paste the piece, co-opting it as a promotion for his weekly email update. From this we learned that Daniels had single-handedly already revealed the dark side of Bali. The Globe was just playing catch-up.

Good promotion, Jack; it’s just not exactly accurate. But it’s great to see you’re catching up, too. Just ease up a little on the blow-hard bit; there’s a good chap.

Right Priorities

The most telling comment to come from news that Governor I Made Mangku Pastika and his deputy A.A. Ngurah Puspayoga have refused to accept the new cars set to be provided for them in the current provincial budget – on the sensible argument that there are better things on which to spend scarce money – was made by the vice chairman of the special legislative committee for the budget, Ketut Adnyana. We report the story in the news pages in this edition.

Apparently, Adnyana was astounded by the novelty of such a gubernatorial caveat. He said in response that the governor’s and vice-governor’s vehicles often have trouble keeping up with the motorcades of the political glitterati when they come to town for high-speed car chases escorted by phalanxes of police armed with offensively loud whoopee sirens and very bad manners. Well, if that’s the case, perhaps in the cause of political harmony they could just try going a little more slowly; or even stay within the speed limits. Further, said Adnyana, the governor’s modest official limousine was often outranked by the plush carriages preferred by district heads.

There’s a grand old Australian slang term, now quite properly in use throughout the English-speaking world, which amply covers this pathetic excuse for a policy position. It is “bullshit.” The governor and his deputy have done all Balinese a favour – especially the poorer, pedestrian ones most at risk of being run over by politicians, plutocrats and lawyers in their disgustingly expensive motor vehicles – as well as everyone who pays tax on the island, and the budget, by foreclosing on such nonsense. There are indeed worthier things on which to spend money.

And as for the regents with their ramshackle budgets and shambolic administrations, any testicular-vehicular boy-toys in their possession are an unconscionable disgrace.

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