September 11, 2012 We were told that Lembongan today is somewhat like Bali was twenty years ago before mass tourism arrived. I’m guessing it was surfers who were the first consistent outside visitors to Lembongan as there are at least three quality set-ups on the island all of which sit a bit offshore from the port town of Jungutbatu which is where we posted up (at the Nusa Induh to be exact) our stay on the island.
The bay in front of Jungutbatu is mostly fringed by an outer reef and thus the waters are very calm within the bay which apparently helps in making it ideal for seaweed farming. I’d never seen plots of seaweed being cultivated like this and I’d never seen seaweed farmers at work. It was fascinating. There was something hypnotic about watching the farmers go about tending their crops and slowly steering their seaweed laden skiffs around the harbor using long bamboo poles to propel and steer the boats. Who knew that drinking Bintang and watching seaweed farming could be such a meditative experience?
As peaceful and calm as the waters were inside of the reef, it was the polar opposite on the other side of the reef upon our arrival as there was a solid swell running up from the Roaring 40’s and unloading with 10-12 foot faces on this reef and every other properly situated reef in and around Bali.
The best way out to the various breaks is to flag down a fisherman and have him run you out there for a one way fare of 15,000 Rupiah (which is roughly $1.50). Otherwise it’s a long paddle and my close to 40 year old shoulders aren’t nearly as game for long paddles as they used to be. We were lucky enough to be granted passage aboard Mr. Bali’s boat and, if you ever find yourself seeking a ride in Lembongan, do yourself a favor and ride with him as he has the widest and whitest smile I’ve ever seen and it’s bound to brighten your day, month and year.
On our first go out in Lembongan, we tackled a break called Shipwrecks, so named because there used to be a rusting skeleton of a wrecked ship lodged on the reef within throwing distance of the take off zone. Actually it would probably be more accurate to say that it tackled us. It’s a right hander with not too critical of a take off depending upon where along the reef you are sitting. As the wave runs down the reef it picks up speed and thus you have to have your foot on the gas from the get go if you want to make it down the line and into the potential barrel section. If you surf a wave there as intended, you’ll kick out into a bit of a channel. If you blow it on the first wave of a decent sized set, you’re probably going to end up over, on, in or dragged across the reef. You don’t want that as both Oscar and Ron ascertained within minutes of hopping off Mr Bali’s fishing boat and into the lineup. I ascertained the same shortly after their respective ascertainments.
During a big swell there is a lot of water moving over and around that reef which means diligent paddling is a full time occupation if you want to stay in position, something we learned the hard way by allowing ourselves to get dragged over to the impact zone where we made our acquaintances and several reaquaintances with the reef on a few of the many clean up sets that rolled through. The beatings weren’t too bad, the size of the waves notwithstanding, but they were certainly energy draining particularly when combined with the near constant paddling required out there. Booties were essential as it was common to find yourself in thigh deep water over sharp reef. In fact I believe Colonialist Ron might even have tread into a calf deep section of the reef after one particularly insistent clean up set. Ronnie. Shallow reef. Shallow reef. Ronnie. Nevertheless we emerged unscathed from our first session save for some tired shoulders and bruised egos from having failed to latch onto any of the bombs rolling through. We only got a mid-sized wave or two apiece as the crowd was also working against us. But they were quality mid-sized waves indeed and thus well worth the effort.
The swell slowly wound down over the next week but there were still plenty of fun waves to be had. The current at Shipwrecks was far more manageable with a little less swell and we all snagged some fun ones there over the next few days. We also surfed Lacerations which is a racy right hander with a steep takeoff leading into a very nice barrel section. For those of you wondering whether the reef is sharp and shallow at Lacerations, well, the name says it all. If you’re going to get clipped in the barrel section and pitched forward over the wave, making it a feet first entry would be highly advisable. The take off can be quick, steep and tricky all of which were in play when I went for it on our first paddle out there with a failed air drop takeoff for which The Colonialist had a front row seat. I’d deemed it makeable. He’d deemed it unmakeable. He deemed correctly… at least in my case. Apparently it was a rather spectacular miscue on my part such that he’d also deemed it a 50-50 chance that I’d be donating some flesh to the reef before coming up. But I surfaced unharmed and in the early lead for best beat down of the trip.
As with Shipwrecks, we all grabbed a few fun waves at Lacerations over the next few days although none of us were able to negotiate the barrel section for even close to a proper cover up. The locals, on the other hand, treated us to a barrel riding clinic one afternoon when the waves were running about head high. They knew exactly where to be on the takeoff, exactly how quickly to get down the line, exactly where to stall it for full on shackage, exactly how tightly to tuck in and exactly where to throw down an optional punt upon exit into the channel. If that’s not the definition of having a wave wired then I don’t know what is.
The third wave we surfed was a little more mellow than the other two as its name would suggest… Playgrounds. It was a sometimes barreling lefthand reef break over slightly deeper water with a deceptively quick takeoff. It also threw out a fun but short right. While the water here was generally deeper during optimal tide conditions, it too would get sketchily shallow if you found yourself on the wrong side of an ebbing tide. We met a young Aussie charger up on the hillside overlooking the bay one afternoon who could readily attest to that as he’d left a decent sized chunk of flesh from his lower back on the reef that very afternoon. When we ran into him, he was self-administering an oral alcoholic anesthetic before his attending physicians applied a citrus based topical disinfectant to his wounds. In order words, he was getting pissed so that he could better cope with the pain of having his mates squeeze a few fresh limes over his cuts, this being part of the preferred course of treatment in these parts for such an injury after first flushing the wound with clean water and before applying frequent doses of Tieh Ta Yao Gin which is some sort of Chinese wonder concoction that is apparently ace for dealing with reef cuts originating in the Indian Ocean. It may or may not contain potentially toxic heavy metals according to the interweb.
One more thing about this kid… he already had 4 stitches in the side of his head from a run in with the reef a couple of days earlier. They looked tight. So they probably weren’t put in by his mates. He also told us he’d perforated his ear drum a couple of weeks back during a long hold down at Shipwrecks. And yet you could just tell that he’d be out in the water again the next day eagerly pulling into whatever was an offer no matter how shallow and sharp the reef below it. Good on you, mate!
We didn’t just surf on Lembongan. We did some top notch snorkeling around the backside of the island near a mangrove forest. As Ronnie observed, islands that offer both solid surf and snorkeling/diving pretty much rule. Another day we rented motorbikes from the very cool bartenders/waiters at our hotel and raced around the back roads of Lembongan and the smaller neighboring island of Ceningan which is adjoined to Lembongan by rickety suspension bridge. One of our intended objectives on Ceningan was to partake in a little cliff diving. A dude claiming to be named Barack Obama maintains a cool little restaurant with a 13 meter high jump point. Unfortunately the waves were simply too heavy that day and thus he had the point closed to jumping. And if they think something is too dangerous in Indonesia, you better believe it is.
While there would be no cliff diving, there would be cockfighting. We stumbled on a match out near a lighthouse on the northern point of the island. Apparently we just missed a match that ended poorly for one of the fighters. I was fortunate enough to not see the beaten bird’s body removed from the ring. I think I was too busy watching this guy deep in the crowd as he made sweet love to his cigarette.
And that’s all I really have to say about the cockfight.
Being the chatty bar patron that he is, Oscar was deep in conversation regarding the psychology of early childhood development with a couple sporting a rather unique accent when Ronnie and I joined him at the Nusa Indah bar one evening. Turns out they are Maltese as in from Malta… like the falcon. They joined us for dinner that evening at another place on the waterfront and we all ended up learning far more about Malta than we ever could have imagined given that we were thousands of miles from Malta. The history of the island is fascinating as is the fact that the language, while rooted in Arabic which makes it mathematically based, has absorbed good bits from each of its foreign occupiers over the years e.g. Italian, English, Portuguese. Wikipedia it if you’re interested as I won’t be able to do it justice. Dinner with a Maltese couple on Lembongan. Awesome.