Lombok and Gili Trawangan

We have spent the last week or so in beautiful Medana Bay Marina on northern Lombok, Indonesia. Lombok is a massive, mountainous island with much to offer and Indonesia’s second tallest Volcano, Mt. Rinjiani, dominates the sky wherever you happen to be. Its home to great surf breaks along with some of the most ‘western’ (as much as Indonesia can imitate them) style markets and restaurants we have encountered so far. Lombok is a breath of fresh air and a slight relaxation of the stark cultural differences of Indonesia to the developed West. Lombok also is the home of the famous Gili Islands off its northeastern coast, and this is where I chose to visit for a few days in my first sojourn off the boat.


The Gilis consist of three small islands. Gili Meno is a quiet, idyllic sanctuary with low visiting population, beautiful sandy beaches, mellow resorts and a small lake. Gili Air shares some of each of it’s siblings’ DNA, being equal parts relaxing resorts and delicious restaurants with a few bars thrown in for just enough nightlife to keep things lively. Gili Trawangan is the party island, and the one that I chose to spend three amazing days on. 


‘Gili T’, as everyone fondly refers to it, is the largest and most populous; backpackers, travelers, and adventurers from all over the world arrive here in droves every day. Bars and restaurants line the beach for several miles, along with shops where you can purchase sorongs, drinks, groceries, and local art. Bean bags and swings can be found on the beach the whole island around for visitors to lounge on, shacks by the main road sell milkshakes that contain psilocybin mushrooms, and live music and beach parties thump into the early hours of the morning every night. The islands host easy access to some of Indonesia’s great diving and snorkeling, and while they are an artificially large population it is still magnificent to snorkel and swim with dozens of Hawksbill and Olive Ridley sea turtles or see the babies at the island’s hatchery.


My stay was some of the most fun I’ve had anywhere. I stayed at a hostel (except for one night asleep on the beach) with an amazing cast of people even though the staff was somewhat rude at times. It seemed the whole of Europe had invaded! Brits of every variety, Germans, Swiss and Dutch, even a couple Spaniards thrown in for good measure. I soon learned from the hordes of Germans and Brits in the hostel that it seems to be a vacation period for them of sorts. So I spent my days sauntering around the island, swimming and sleeping on the beach, eating hamburgers and pizza that I’ve been craving for months. My nights were spent dancing, chatting, and lounging with new friends from half a dozen nations. 

I came away from the experience soaked with enjoyment and maybe a little too much alcohol. There’s something beautiful in the fact that one can meet kindred spirits from the whole world over on a tiny little island in Indonesia, and that is the magic of Gili Trawangan.


When I arrived back at the marina with the equivalent of $0.42 in my pocket, I discovered that my parents had gone off gallivanting with their own Brits, Por Dos (confusing, I know…), to the Lombok Elephant Park. There they saw much amazing wildlife including tons of amazing birds and took all the amazing pictures you see here. While I had a fantastic time in Gili T, perhaps it’s better that I don’t have any of the photo evidence 🤙🏼. 

Now I sit in Amed on North Bali, and tomorrow we will arrive in Lovina Bay, from whence I will depart on my next adventure to Canggu and Ubud to surf and experience Bali!

The Volcanic Lakes of Kelimutu


One way to repurpose litter…

We woke before dawn on a Sunday morning and dinghied ashore to meet our driver Johnny, who we had arranged to take us to Flores’ most famous attraction, the three-color lakes of Kelimutu. Leaving Maumere with iron gray predawn light just beginning to seep into the eastern sky we drove south and west, clearing into the foothills of Flores’ mountain ranges just as the sun peeked over the horizon. The mountains were an interesting contrast to the drier northern coast of Flores we had sailed along before arriving in Maumere, their hillsides covered in rich tropical forests dense with cacao, papaya, macadamia, mango, and clove trees. Thriving villages are interspersed through the ridges and valleys, their crowds we passed on the way to Church all over the island, Flores being predominantly catholic. For three hours we motored, reaching and driving along the southern coast before turning again north from the city of Ende, climbing even higher into the mountains. The midday sun filled green valleys lush with rice fields and crops, beans, corn and more growing in abundance between stands of tropical trees. Bamboo, absent from the coast, was more and more in evidence both as massive stalks growing in the forests and as a building material for the higher elevation villages. 

 The approach to the lakes
Eventually we arrived in a parking lot high atop a cluster of mountains after weaving through a tourism village with all the hallmark souvenir hawking and tourist lodging that surrounds such attractions. The bright sun that had shown us so much of the island thus far was hidden behind a suddenly overcast sky. We were told that the lakes we had come to see lay about 20 minutes’ hike up a trail through the high forest surrounding us, and so we set off through the trees. Tropical foliage and ferns competed with pine trees that seemed more natural to me this high on the mountain, bright purple flowers abounded on either side of the gravelly path and lilting unfamiliar birdcalls brought the trail a musical life. About halfway through our walk a rustle in the bushes saw us facing the wizened, bearded face of one of many gray monkeys that now seemed all about us, peering curiously at us from the bushes. Hardly fearful of the tourists, they jumped and played and even walked along with us all the way for the rest of the trail, eating peanuts and various other foods that tourists either left in too easy of reach or threw to them willingly. A short walk further saw the forested path open out onto a broad hillside, the trees giving way to rhodedendron and scrubby bush plants as the trail turned from gravel to decoratively patterned concrete steps that rose steeply up the open hillside. We passed locals selling ornately woven blankets and shawls, and high above and behind them we could see sheets of steam rising from beyond the ridge. Following the steps, we stepped onto a viewing ledge to see the volcanic summit of Kelimutu and its lakes laid out beneath us.

From the platform we stood on the sheer cliffs of striated white and yellow stone swept out to either side, forming a massive crater. At the bottom lay the source of the sheets of steam, a large lake of vivid turquoise blue, striking in its contrast to the grand falls of white stone around it. A narrow ridge separated the bright turquoise from another steaming lake of opaque green as bright as any ocean water. Another short hike brought us to the lip of yet another crater, this one even deeper than its fellows and filled with a lake that seemed normal until the rare shafts of sun illuminated it, revealing deep greens and coppery tinges around the edges. 


All three lakes surround the true summit of the volcanic mountain Kelimutu, which is revered by local cultures as the final resting place for spirits of the dead. The natural magnificence of the lakes is augmented by the knowledge that they change colors frequently (in geological terms), sometimes changing from deep blue and green to an opaque blood red depending on the oxygen content of the lakes. The gases and thermal processes of the volcano cause these striking changes and give the lakes their well-deserved fame. Kelimutu is truly a natural marvel unlike any I have ever seen, and it is quite easy to see how local cultures would revere it as a holy place. 

 Mom and baby monkey

Another now-familiar three hour drive brought us back to Huck’s anchorage in front of the Sea World Dive Resort just outside of the city of Maumere. Here we had spent the greater part of a week resting, reprovisioning, and catching up with boats we last saw in Debut now arriving here from the northern part of the rally route. Having separated from the rally to travel southwest along the Forgotten Islands in little company through relatively untraveled waters it was nice to see familiar faces in Dragonfly, Wakanui, Island Pearl II, Taka’oa and Por Dos once again bringing stories of their own exciting journeys so far. After so much time spent in multi-day passages, we are finally relaxing and enjoying ourselves in front of a resort beach and looking forward to a much more leisurely schedule ahead of us. Now we make our way in small day sails westward towards the world-famous Komodo National Park, where we hope to find the Dragons that bear the islands’ name. Cheers all!

Debut and Tual Island, Indonesia

Six days of sailing across the Arafura Sea has brought us to the magnificent Kei Islands in southeastern Indonesia! Pulling into the anchorage was delightful, the entirety of the rally fleet tucked up in front of a small town called Debut on the island of Tual. Smiles and happy faces greeted all the boats as they arrived, everyone thankful and happy to have the hook down after passage. The shoreline is dotted with varicolor homes, churches, and mosques flanked on all sides by tropical forests, and throughout the day you can alternately hear the Catholic church bells and the Muslim calls to prayer. The national and local tourism bureuas have provided some necessary amenities and translators for the arriving yachties, helping to arrange for Indonesian SIM-cards for cell and internet signals, diesel and gasoline deliveries, laundry, and information about things to do in the area. 


Children from the local school came and participated in the ceremony to welcome us.

Debut

Debut is a delightful little town and an amazing first exposure to Indonesian culture. Initially the most striking thing is that as westerners almost all of the yachties are very rare sights in such a remote part of this country, and as such the children and locals are very excited to meet all the visitors and share everything they can about their town. For the first few days it was hard to walk around without stopping to take pictures with anyone who asked (especially if you’re blonde!), and walking around you often have an entourage of giggling children shouting ‘Hello Mister!’. You almost feel like a celebrity! 


Drums used in the welcome ceremony

The town organized a welcome ceremony for the fleet, hosting us to lunch, performing traditional dances, and blessing us by asking for their ancestors’ protection that we might be safe while we explore their islands. The people are incredibly helpful and welcoming even when they don’t understand anything we are saying, and as a whole they are amazingly hospitable and happy to have us all here.



Where we ate lunch in the city of Langgur

Difference in Culture

One of the most evident differences that we notice arriving in Indonesia from Australia is unfortunately that it is incredibly dirty. There is no expectation of keeping the ocean or environment clean and even just sitting at anchor near the town you can watch large amounts of trash and debris floating past. Walking around town and closer to the vibrant surrounding forests shows plastic in every bush and littering the roadside. Stray dogs and cats wander the towns often uncared for and in pitiful condition and to my shock we learned that parts of Indonesia use them as food sources. When we pulled anchor to set off for our next anchorage we spent fifteen minutes cutting off a mass of garbage that had gotten wrapped around our chain, a mass of plastic, shoes, cord and other detritus that litters the harbor floor. As someone who grew up in a place of astounding natural beauty with a constant expectation of caring for it, this is heartbreaking to see and somewhat difficult to stomach, but I try to see past it and enjoy the beauty that the Islands have in spades.


Goa Hawang

Goa Hawang

The highlight of my time in Debut was our trip to some caves nearby to our anchorage named Goa Hawang. A naturally formed cave system with spring fed clean water filling them, they are about an hour’s walk from Debut Harbor through the surrounding villages and countryside. Tucked back into a hill, if you didn’t know they were there you would almost walk right past them. A red brick stairway leads you down to the waters edge underneath overhanging dripping stalactite where you can peer into the small cave system. The water is as dazzlingly blue as it is clear, you can see straight down to the bottom easily and is plenty clean enough for a swim, which we indulged in to cool off after our walk there. A beautiful and memorable experience!


Goa Hawang

Breaking Away

Most of our rally’s boats are continuing north to the islands of Banda, but we have elected to forgo the northern route for a southwestern path along active volcanoes and isolated islands aptly named the Forgotten Islands before finally rejoining the rally path on the island of Flores. We will be joined by only a couple boats on this path and hopefully we will see some things that few ever do! Cheers!


Goa Hawang