In the early evening hours, I rode a red and white bike with a basket attached to the handlebars that I had rented from a shop in Jungut Batu on Nusa Lembongan, a small island a 30-minute speed boat ride off the east coast of Bali. I sped past people sitting in front of shops selling textiles and coming and going through the entrances to homes and temples decorated with flowers and other Hindu offerings to the Gods. Toward the end of town, the numbers of people lining the road began to shrink, and the road began to rise. I downshifted the gear and stood up when I needed more leverage. The hills later spiked so steeply that I had to walk the bike for part of the climb. Thankfully, soon I was back on gentler ground, the hills more sloping than straight-up. I pedaled past a cemetery, a Hindu temple and turnoffs for the hotels around the Mushroom Bay area, eventually following signs along side roads to reach a place called Dream Beach with views of the ocean and the limestone cliffs surrounding it.
I had arrived on Nusa Lembongan two days before, sitting down my first day with a young man who worked at the guesthouse where I stayed. He told me he would soon be heading to Klung Klung, Bali, to prepare for a community cremation ceremony. His grandfather had died three years earlier, but like many Balinese people, his family did not have the money for an individual cremation, so they had waited to do it as part of the community’s group ceremony. We talked for more than an hour. When I happened to mention that I wanted to try bak so, a popular Indonesian soup made from meatballs, noodles, tofu and egg, he fetched two baggies of it from a pushcart vendor for us to have as a snack. The next day I walked to the mangrove forest area and chatted with a fellow traveler as I ate a delicious lunch of fresh jacket fish paired with green beans in a light coconut sauce.
Small, slower-paced Nusa Lembongan was suiting me. While “mainland” Bali could be beautiful, it felt tight and congested. Many places were too far to walk from my homestays, and since I do not drive a motorbike, I rarely had the independent, get-up-and-go mobility I like. On Lembongan, some roads were crowded, but I could walk easily to warungs (small, local restaurants), to the beach or to quiet back roads with few buzzing and beeping motorbikes. One evening, I sat in a chair on the beach as the sun smudged pink and orange on the sky and sea as if it were a watercolor painting. And the morning of my bike ride delivered another highlight. As I snorkeled with a group in the waters of Manta Bay off of nearby Nusa Penida, I spotted not only a sea turtle but my first ever manta ray. We floated in the choppy sea for about 10 minutes as the flat, diamond shaped fish glided through the water below, giving us a brief glimpse of its ivory underside as it made a turn. Of course, all was not idyllic. While at another snorkeling spot that morning we spent part of our time collecting pieces of plastic garbage that floated in the water—a sign of a sad reality in parts of Indonesia.
After paying for the snorkeling, I hesitated to spend more money that day. Still, I wanted to go for a ride, and the cost was only 25,000 IDR (roughly $2 USD). As I arrived at Dream Beach, the setting sun grazed the air. A young and toned Asian couple made photos of each other posing in the low tide surf. After a few minutes, I took the bike to nearby Devil’s Tear, where the high tide salt water splashes against sharp rocks and collects in pools that reflect the clouds overhead. One couple was taking advantage of the gentle light to take what looked to be wedding photos. Two American expats and their teenage boys shot photos of their reflections in the pools of water. The mellow tone of the light and the impression of the clouds in the water on the rock shelves seemed to have been torn from a magazine. I shook my head at how I nearly skipped this over $2. I rode back to town, passing clear views across the water of Gunung Agung—an active volcano on Bali that has the distinction of being the highest mountain on the island as well as the one the most sacred to Bali’s Hindus. I made a brief stop at the bike shop and paid the owner another 25,000 IDR to keep the bike until the following afternoon.
The next morning, I rode to Nusa Ceningan, another small island that is connected to Nusa Lembongan by a rickety one-lane yellow suspension bridge wide enough to handle only motorbikes and pushbikes. I passed several women with piles of seaweed in baskets or laid out to dry on mats, one of the primary sources of income on Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Ceningan, along with tourism. The roads were rocky and largely unpaved. As always, the air was hot. I wore a sticky shirt and pants that were the only items I was willing to surrender to the sweatiest days in Southeast Asia. The gear shift was now only turning when I wanted to go to a higher gear. Standing up only gave me so much momentum, so I was back to walking the bike for stretches of time. After a stop at the somewhat disappointing view at the Ceningan cliffs, I thought perhaps last night’s spectacular scenery was not to be had today.
I sweated the bumpy road over to the Blue Lagoon, stopping to buy water from a woman and her children running a small shop along the road and pumping the squeaky breaks as I popped down the steepest slopes. As I arrived at the Blue Lagoon, in front of me was a cove of water in shades of aqua, dark blue and a cloudy white. It was surrounded by tall cliffs. I sat on the edge of a cliff and watched the water move in and around the cove and then walked the perimeter, absorbing the colors from every angle.
The cycling was not easy, but the days on Nusa Lembongan had the loose, independent quality that I love. All in all, my time there was my favorite in and around Bali.
How I Got There: To get to Nusa Lembongan from Bali, you can pay for a package transport arrangement to pick you up from your guest house on Bali, take you to Sanur, where you get a speed boat to Nusa Lembongan, and then drop you at your homestay on Nusa Lembongan. The package price also includes the return trip, with a pickup at your homestay on Nusa Lembongan, the boat ride back to Sanur and, depending on where you are going in Bali, a drop-off at your next stop. I paid 500,000 IDR ($38 USD) for my package price, which included a pickup in Uluwatu and was supposed to include a drop-off in Kuta on my return so I could get a shared shuttle to Ubud (as a solo traveler, the initial rate I was quoted for a private transfer from Sanur to Ubud was too high). When I arrived back at Sanur from Nusa Lembongan, a taxi driver offered a cheap fare to Ubud, and I took that instead of going to Kuta for the shuttle. As best I could tell, the 500,000 IDR package was a good price, in particular since I was coming from the farther distance of Uluwatu. I got it by going to a tourism stand on Jalan Labuan Sait in Uluwatu and bargaining a bit.
Where I Stayed: I slept four nights in a fan-cooled private room with a private bathroom at Surya Homestay in Jungut Batu. The staff was very friendly, and the room was comfortable. There was no mosquito net on the bed, and I got a lot of bites, both in the room and anytime I went outside. I found out later that there have been cases of dengue fever on Nusa Lembongan. If I returned to Nusa Lembongan, I would pay a bit more for a room with air conditioning so I could keep the windows closed.