We arrived a couple of hours ago to Ubud, in the southern hills of Bali, which so far seems like a delightfully rustic and natural place at heart even though at present it looks a bit overrun by tourists and all the modern facilities that they tend to desire. We haven’t yet explored the place except for our lunch trip but I’m looking forward to doing so.
We arrived here from Nusa Lembongan which proved to be a charming little island despite the couple of accidents I had - falling from a mountain-bike while coming down a steep slope at high speed, which resulted in a few cuts and bruises under my right knee and falling on the deck of a small boat (which was mainly the “captain’s” fault as he started the engines without saying anything beforehand) and hitting the stairway, which resulted in a couple of big nasty bruises. Besides my accidents Ana had a new eruption on her lower lip which proved again that the insect theory for our skin outbreak problems is at least questionable.
We witnessed a local cock fight and had a delightful snorkeling trip on our second day there - the 10th of May. The snorkeling costed 150.000 IDR - boat trip and snorkeling gear for 2 included, while the cock fight was free to see as long as you weren’t interested in gambling and could put up with all the noise made by the betting locals - which personally I found to be quite entertaining, certainly more entertaining than seeing a rooster die every few minutes. The cock fight wasn’t exactly advertised for tourists and we were among the very few non-locals there, but we went to see it after we found out about it from a local villager. Strangely, Ana wanted to see the cock fight more than I did. The whole thing seemed to revolve a lot more around the gambling and ritual of it all than the actual fight which only lasted a few seconds. The roosters were brought in baskets to the “arena” where they first had a blade tied to their left foot with a piece of red string after which they were put on display for the betting mob. Then they were incited one against the other and set loose. The actual fight that followed had just one round that lasted only 10-20 seconds before the winner was decided and the looser fell quickly to the ground from what seemed to be a sharp cut. However, we later found out that the blades were poisoned and it only took a small scrape for the match to be decided.
Cocks are matched up according to their size and perceived skill.
The fight is made short by the fact that each rooster has a blade tied to its leg, called taji.
The snorkeling trip was also really great, as there were a lot of different, colorful species of fish and other marine life to be seen, and the whole reef seemed to be in a pretty good shape. We went snorkeling to the Mangrove Reef on the north-eastern side of the island, and as it was Ana’s first time snorkeling, her reaction upon diving her head into the water and seeing all the marine life was one of sincere amazement, she even shouted WOA! through her snorkel.
Many of the local villagers have shifted from farming seaweed to tourism related activities, like offering snorkeling tours.
The lack of underwater photography equipment unfortunately meant that we could only take photos at the beginning and end of our snorkelling trip.
The third day was spent on a delightful, albeit exhausting bicycle trip around the island with two bikes we rented for 30000 IDR each from a guy who initially offered us some motor bikes for rent (as a lot of people on the island are doing). At first inspection the bikes seemed to be a bit weathered but in a decent enough condition, the only noticeable problems being a very narrow seat (which caused serious ass pains) and a weaker back break on one of them. We first headed towards the mangrove forest on the NE road and stopped for a morning swim and some photos of Gunung Agung (Bali’s tallest peak, looming at 3142m) and island wildlife on a small isolated beach close to the western edge of the forest. Then we headed out to the mangrove forrest proper which covers a big part of the NE side of the island. We explored for a bit the small local community there, and the edge of the forrest after which, as it was already noon, we took a rest and had a couple of drinks at a local warung with a great view towards the beach and the edge of the forest.
A mangrove seedling.
The fruit of this particular mangrove tree were covered with colorful beetles, probably trying to extract some form of nutrition from them.
Sign pointing the way to the small warung where we had our refreshments.
Then we cycled for another hour and a half or so till we came to the south of the island where we cooled down with a couple of drinks from a small shop. A couple of hundreds of meters down the road we took some photos of some seaweed farmers taking advantage of the low tide. Also taking advantage of the low tide were hundreds of small very colorful little crabs roaming about the dry seabed, probably looking for something to eat. They were approximately 5-10 cm in size, had orange or reddish feet and blue backs with different patterns.
This old man was turning the seaweed to make sure it dries on both sides.
Hundreds of small mud crabs can be seen exiting their burrows on the sea floor in search for food.
Afterwards we continued our trip, but as it was already past lunch time we thought it would be a good idea to stop for a meal at a small little warung on the side of the road, not far from the Lembongan - Ceningan bridge. We were attracted by the advertised grilled fish but we had to negotiate hard with the waiter till we got him to understand what we wanted (even though the sign outside the place was written in English). Despite this and the fact that it took ages for them to barbecue the fish, we had a wonderful lunch consisting of two wonderfully grilled and tasteful fish, a tuna and a jackfish served with delicious onion and chilly balinese sauce and rice.
The view from the eatery, overlooking the Ceningan Strait at low tide.
After lunch the most difficult part of our bike trip began - it was already around four o’clock when we finished lunch and we knew it was going to start getting dark in a couple of hours so we knew we needed to pick up the pace in order to get back to our hotel at Jungutbatu beach. What we didn’t know, however, was that if we wanted to continue following the coastal road back to the northern part of the island we had to climb a couple of steep hills. Due to our lack of training, an error I made while shifting gears (instead of setting my bike in the easiest speed for the climb I had set it in the hardest ) and the fact that after I tried to shift gears again my chain blocked and I couldn’t pedal anymore, we were already tired after the first hill and exhausted by the time we got to the top of the second. We were alternating between pushing our bike and actually riding it and after we got on top of the hill besides being exhausted we came face to face with one of our biggest fears - a pack of about 10 mean looking dogs coming down the street toward us. The stray dogs proved to be one of the biggest problems of our trip to Bali. There weren’t actually a real problem but because we grew up in Romania, where we have a street dog infestation problem and they sometimes get pretty violent, we tend to get more scared of dogs than the average person, especially when they’re coming towards you barking loudly. The dogs in Bali also have a meaner looking face, somewhat resembling that of a pit-bull and they’re pretty big (maybe a sign of the fact that people in this part of Indonesia don’t eat dog meat). So we stopped about 150 meters away from them for a couple of minutes to decide how to approach the dog problem, as we knew from back home that dogs really don’t like cyclers and have a tendency to chase them, but we couldn’t linger too much as the sun had already started to set and soon it would start getting dark. To our luck, the dogs on the top of the hill, like most on Nusa Lembongan didn’t seem to care too much about people and were pretty calm even when in a pack. So after seeing a couple of motorbikes pass by them, without generating any reaction from the dogs, we decided we have to take our chances and cycle through the pack. Fortunately nothing happened, they didn’t even seem to take notice of us, but I’m not sure. I avoided making eye to eye contact with them, as that can complicate things. After we got safely away from the dogs and we speeded down the hill, something happened that proved to be a real problem. I suspect we made the mistake that lead to the problem while we were descending the steep hill - Ana was descending in front of me and she had a bit of a problem managing a rough turn and had a small accident in which she scratched her arm while falling on a bush. Right after the turn there was a crossroad, with the road to the left continuing to go down sharply while the road on the right headed up the hill again. Without thinking to much about it, and given that there was nobody around to ask we took the road on the right as the one on the left seemed to be leading to a dead end somewhere on the coast - and this I think was the mistake that made us take a much longer route that almost got us stuck in the forrest at night. About halfway down we came to a cross road again and again we weren’t sure which way we needed to take, but this time there were some houses around and we asked one of the women there which was the way to Jungutbatu village. She pointed to the right so we went that way, but after a couple hundred meters Ana pointed out that she recognized the places from earlier; I wasn’t really sure so we kept on going but then we passed the place in the south where we had the drinks that noon. There wasn’t any doubt anymore, we had taken the wrong road and were now going in the opposite direction. At this point we got a bit uncomfortable, as it was about to get dark. I asked Ana what time it was and she told me it’s 5:30. I replied a bit angrily that it can’t be 5:30 as that would mean it’s actually 6:30, because we hadn’t adjusted the time on our mobiles after leaving Java, and it would already be dark. I checked and the time on the phone was indeed 5:30 - to this day I don’t know what happened, either the phone automatically set itself to Bali time and then back to Java time, because the next morning it was on Java time again, or the sun set later that evening. Still not being too sure what time it was, but being positive that it was about to get dark soon, we rushed back up the hill to the crossroad and we asked again, this time a couple of older men, if they knew which was the way to Jungutbatu, and if they could localize us on the map we had. We had a photocopied map which we got from our hotel, but unfortunately the map wasn’t very detailed and it only showed the coastal road, going around the island. The men assured us, after starring in confusion at the map, that both ways led to Jungutbatu. Because we knew the road on the right was the road we had come on that morning and because we were sure there must be a shorter alternative we took the road that lead left this time. But to our surprise, which we couldn’t manifest at that time, after only a couple of hundred meters the road intersected with the same road we had come on that morning, so by process of elimination, the shorter rout, that followed the coast must have been on the road leading left at the very first intersection. But because going back would have meant a steep climb and more uncertainty we decided to take the road we had come on that morning and try to get to our hotel before it got completely dark. And when I say completely dark, I mean it, there’s no street lamps on the island - except for a few on the main road of the village - it get’s pitch dark, so much so that you can barely see to half a meter in front of you. So you can understand why the “getting dark thing” bothered us so much. The cross-road was also the scene of an event that further complicated our situation. Right before the intersection there was a steep descent and being in a hurry as we were I decided to accelerate on the descent to gain speed and momentum. When we got to the intersection however, a motor bike came from the left, and Ana who was already going slower then me slowed down even more so I had to break suddenly to avoid crashing into her, because I couldn’t go around as the road was narrow and the motorbike was taking up the whole left side. The road was covered with sand and gravel, so breaking suddenly at high speed wasn’t the smartest thing - my bike destabilized and I was thrown into the air, landing face forward on my right side. About half of my lower right leg was scratched and bruised and I had three deeper wounds around my knee, made up of multiple cuts. I also had some deep wounds in my right palm, from putting my arm forward in order to break the impact, and a cut on my right elbow. The pain from my wounds was pretty bad but I had to pick myself up pretty fast so that we could continue and get back to our hotel before nightfall. The guy on the motorbike, coming from the left, had seen me fall and he turned around and stopped to see if I was ok and if we needed assistance. We found out from him that we still had about 3 km to go, so we had no time to waste. We were past exhaustion at this point but had to carry on as we were far from any inhabited zone and the road passed through wetlands and the mangrove forest and there wasn’t any kind of street lighting and we didn’t have lights on the bikes either. It was already almost dark and on top of that after the crash the back wheel of my bike was rubbing against the frame, so that pedaling was noticeably harder than before. This, coupled with the extreme exhaustion and the pain from my injuries slowed me down quite a bit, but we had to push on as hard as we could as visibility was already pretty low, and darkness had almost fell. It was pretty agonizing and I can’t really estimate how long it lasted ‘till we found the first paved road that led left, which was a different one from the one we had come on that morning, but we knew it was in the direction of the village, so we took it nonetheless. After taking it we hit a patch of sand and I couldn’t pedal anymore; I almost fell twice trying to move the bike, I was that exhausted. And after I finally managed to get going again I passed through a forested region, I took a turn right and came to a house, but when I looked back I couldn’t see Ana anymore. I called out for her, shouting as hard as I could several times, but I didn’t get any answer - these were the worst moments of the day for me. I couldn’t pedal anymore, so I turned my bike around and started pushing it, i called out for her a couple of more times and there was still no answer. I knew she couldn’t be far behind as I hadn’t gone too far from where we had stopped previously, so I started fearing for the worst. Being in a patch of forest didn’t help in that moment either, as it was darker and I could barely see; I thought that if she wouldn’t reply soon and I wouldn’t find her, I could go to the house and ask for help, because I saw some people sitting in the yard when I passed it, I even think one of them came out of the yard to see what was going on after he had heard me shouting. Luckily I didn’t have to ask for anybody’s help as she showed up pedaling slowly right as I was taking the turn back. She told me she had a horrible cramp in her toes and that’s why she couldn’t pedal or walk anymore or hear me shout for that matter. We somehow managed to get back on the bikes and carry on as we knew we still had some distance to go before we reached the village proper, but we didn’t know exactly how much. After about ten more minutes we finally came to the village, but because we had taken the first paved road to the left we were at the western end of the village and we still had some way to go to the hotel, where we had agreed to meet the guy who rented us the bikes. But, as if the long day and the events of the last part of it wouldn’t have been enough we took the wrong path towards the beach, as they kind of all looked the same, and wound up about a kilometer away from our hotel on the beach. After we had a little argument, as our moods were pretty affected by our situation, we decided not to go back on the path, but rather push our bikes through the wet sand on the beach - a pretty tiresome endeavor even for a well rested person in a good state of mind. But, anyway, we somehow managed to get there right as the last traces of sunlight were fading away, as the sun was setting into the ocean. It certainly was a day to remember and if it wouldn’t have been for the wrong turn and the accident it would have been a totally pleasant one. I treated my wound with some Betadine, which I got from one of the owners of the hotel (a nice, elderly Australian couple), as I feared an infection. We went to bed pretty early that evening (not hard to imagine why), after having a really nice meal consisting of a large chicken salad for Ana and a Chicken in Pineapple for me, literally bits of chicken breast in a whole pineapple.
The low tide reveals a rocky seabed, with little to no sand, in the strait between Lembongan and Ceningan. A shot which we took a couple of hundred meters after we had had our lunch.
A little girl who kindly invited us to see her house after she had seen us taking photos not far from it.
Due to the injury to my knee which seemed to get infected I had to avoid getting into the water (a hard task when you’re on a tropical island paradise ideal for snorkeling, diving and surfing - if you’re into that) and we had to cancel our diving plans. So we spent most of our remaining time on the island writing and shooting photos and videos of the wonderful landscape and the seaweed farmers. We are contemplating doing a documentary on the current division in the jobs of the island’s inhabitants and how that’s going to change over the next few years. At present 50% of its inhabitants are working in the tourism industry and 50% are still doing the semi-traditional seaweed farming. But, probably in the next few years, all the seaweed farmers are going to convert to working in the tourism industry as more and more developments are built. Seaweed farming is semi-traditional as, from what we found out from the locals, it was introduced to the island about 23 years ago by French cosmetics companies for use in their products. The algae the farmers grow is not native to their region, but it seems to grow pretty well there, or at least it did until a few years ago. In recent years, some of the farmers that we’ve spoken to, said that their yields have gone down by almost four times, as the seaweed previously matured, and was ready for harvest in 12 days, but then the development cycle increased to 26 and now, in the last few years to 45 days, probably mostly due to the pollution caused by all the boats now present in the shallower waters surrounding the island. This means that seaweed farming is not as profitable to farmers as it once was, as the selling price of the seaweed remained constant at around 6000 IDR per kilo (approximately 60 US cents), even though the yield per family dropped from around 1 ton per month to around 300 kilos per month (and this is not taking into account the investment the farmers have to make in the wooden spikes and the strings for growing the seaweed plus the boats and baskets for the harvesting and the plastic sacks for the drying process and the transport). This is the main reason why more and more people on the island are giving up growing seaweed and are thinking of finding new jobs in the tourism industry. What will this all mean to the small island and its inhabitants in the following years remains to be seen, and it could prove an interesting subject to follow in a feature length documentary. A curious fact about the seaweed farming was that even though the French cosmetics and pharmaceutical companies brought the algae to the island 23 years ago, the farmers still haven’t found a way to sell their harvests directly to these companies and have to go through a Chinese middle man in Bali in order to do so, which further reduces their profits. Before farming seaweed the islanders were working as sea salt extractors, a job that they say was a lot harder to do and which paid a lot less, so when the French companies came with the proposal of growing seaweed everybody on the island switched to this activity, at least ‘till the tourism boom started about ten years ago. Tourists were coming to the island even before the seaweed farming started, but back in those days there were no facilities and they had to camp (they were “living in plastic houses” as one of the locals said) and bring their own food. Also the journey from Bali lasted a whole day by rowboat, unlike the half an hour by speed boat or an hour and a half by public boat that are available now. However, now there are a lot of bungalows, hotels, restaurants and a host of other facilities meant to cater to the needs of the tourists. The sharp rise in the number of tourists in the last 15 years also meant that what was once an island with almost no traffic is today home to hundreds of motorcycles, out of which probably a large percentage are brought on the island to be rented out to tourists. Another concern is the volume of trash generated by the tourists, much greater than what the locals would have produced for their own needs, which is not shipped away from the island, but rather deposited in a landfill in the mangrove forrest. Although the arrival of the tourists might have also influenced the garbage disposal practices of the locals in a positive way, as before they came, we were told that most of the people just threw their garbage into the sea. A lot of the locals that don’t have anything to gain directly from the tourism industry still do this, a fact which is most evident in front of the seaweed farming huts, a part of the beach where few tourists go to. However, given Nusa Lembongan’s proximity to one of the world’s most popular tourist destination, Bali, which stands less than 15 km away, it’s a wonder that tourists started arriving on the island in larger numbers only about 10 years ago. A wonder that probably can be attributed to ignorance, laziness and the fact that the stimulus to come got higher as Kuta and other popular destinations on Bali got more and more crowded.
Seaweed is cultivated in three varieties; the reddish-brown one being the most expensive.
Farmers’ Water Activities
Tourists’ Water Activities
Some other highlights of our ten day stay on Nusa Lembongan were a boat tour around the island (when I fell and got the bruises) and the discovery of a delightful little family run warung, Ketut’s Warung, which serves great thai food in very large portions at a great price for Nusa Lebongan. At this place we also discovered a fun game called jenga which we played while waiting for our food and after finishing our meals and which involves stacking wooden blocks onto an increasingly unstable tower, till it collapses and the person who collapsed the tower declared the loser of that round. Other highlights were a time-lapse that we did of the low tide coming in, while standing in turns with an umbrella over the camera for six hours to prevent it from over heating; waking up at 5:30 in the morning and climbing the hill to the south of Jungutbatu, from where we took morning photos of the island with a stunning backdrop of Gunung Agung in Bali, while huge red ants were climbing all over us and last but not least an invitation to dinner we got from the guy who helped us find an accommodation right after we arrived on the island.
The dinner was great and it consisted of a big grilled tuna fish, rice and spicy cap cay vegetables with chicken - it was a huge meal and the tuna fish was particularly good as you could feel it was really fresh. The guy, who first introduced himself as Ketut (which seems to be a very common name here in Bali, later told us a different name which I’m having problems remembering) was quite an interesting character - he told us he has been working as a seaweed farmer since he was 9, helping out his parents, but now he seemed to cater more to the needs of the tourists and was planning to open a small warung on his beachfront family property. After we first met him and he helped us find accommodation, we met him the next day when he arranged us a pretty good deal for a snorkeling trip and a few more times while we were shooting photos and videos on the beach. We started talking and shared stories, he told us of his family’s situation and the situation of the island in general and we told him stories about Romania which were quite impressive to him as he realized that not all European white people are living easy, worry-free lives; and that’s when he decided to invite us to dinner. Ketut, or whatever his real name is, would make for a great subject for our documentary on the island’s situation, as he has been working as a seaweed farmer since he was 9 years old, right after the islanders first started growing the seaweed, but is currently making the transition to the tourism industry by opening his own warung (a warung is an Indonesian style small restaurant where prices are cheaper and the food is usually quite good).
I’m looking forward to returning to the island, either for shooting the documentary, or just for enjoyment as the accommodations were nice, clean and cheap and the food was very good, even though, as all goods, it was bit more expensive as everything needs to be brought to the island from Bali. For the first 8 nights we stayed at Linda’s Bungalows for 100.000 IDR per night (breakfast not included), a nice place run by an elderly Australian couple who make sure everything runs properly (well, everything except cleaning the rooms on time which the staff seem to forget and need to be reminded of). The place also has an attached restaurant with great food which they advertise as being the best on the beach, and somehow I tend to believe them. The last two nights we really enjoyed the tranquil atmosphere of Secret Garden Bungalows (125.000 IDR per night, breakfast not included), a remote and very quiet place with lots of greenery, a semi-outdoor bathroom and great hammocks for relaxing. The room was maybe not as nice as the one at Linda’s but we didn’t mind as we had a big terrace, and a lot more space in the garden in front of the bungalows.
We haven’t, as of yet, made the feature film documentary about Nusa Lembongan we were considering, however we made an iPad app based on the photos we took and the short documentary we edited from the footage we shot while there.
The documentary is also viewable on our website and on Vimeo.
Also we uploaded a photo set with some of our best photos from the island, it’s viewable on flickr and 500px.