Article first published as <a href='http://technorati.com/lifestyle/travel/article/bali-off-track-nusa-lembongan/'>Bali Off-Track: Nusa Lembongan</a> on Technorati.
So I’m still on the road in Indonesia and thought I’d do some cross-blogging for Technorati… here’s where I was last week. More to come!
Bali Off-Track: Nusa Lembongan
Just 12 kilometers off the coast of Bali, not far from the pounding nightclubs and pandering shopkeepers of Kuta, sits an island called Nusa Lembongan. This drowsy little mound hosts no cars, no post offices, no banks, and save for the morning cacophony of rooster calls, no distractions. Lembongan is home to some popular local surf breaks, as well as some of the best diving in the region, but for those who seek a break from the coastal action of Bali, this island retreat is the perfect spot to do as little as possible.
Part of the Balinese region of Indonesia, Lembongan is primarily Hindu; you’ll spot remanent offerings to the Hindu gods littering the dirt roads: sandwich-sized leaf baskets filled with flowers, rice, crackers, and incense. These offerings are made in the morning and at night to show Hindu deities gratitude and respect (which deities in particular, I’m told by a local hotel worker, can be quite complicated). Basket offerings are performed throughout Bali, but seem be more plentiful on Lembongan.
Life here is simple, but the people work hard. You’ll see petite, sun-hardened women walking down the dirt roads, barefoot, and with over-stuffed rice bags on their heads. Children, maybe as young as eleven, driving mopeds, with boxes of fruit precariously balanced on their foot-wide floor boards. Straw brooms briskly grooming simple storefronts. Lembongan is a step back in time, a quiet reprieve from the hectic woofer-thump of Kuta and the frenetic hustle of big-cities like Suryabaya and Jakarta.
A place perfect for a short-stay, Lembongan is not the typical resort island overrun with pasty-burned tourists and hordes of tchotchke shops. But there are some tasty local eateries, terrific water sports tours, and quaint bungalow homestays just off of the beach for less than 30.00 dollars a day.
From Bali, the fast boat drops you off at the main beach area, not far from the infamous Playgrounds and Lacerations surf breaks. North from there, you’ll find a smattering of hotels and homestays fitting all budgets and travel styles. We had no reservation at the Secret Garden, a budget-friendly retreat highly-rated on the travel sites, so with a nine-room occupancy, we weren’t terrifically surprised when we were immediately—but ever so sweetly– turned away. The Secret Garden boasts a two-minute walk to the beach, great diving tours, and the Yoga Shack, which offers twice-daily drop in sessions of Ashtanga and Hatha yoga, as well as Pilates. Eminently homeless and mildly concerned, we asked the friendly hotel-keeper for other options similar to Secret Gardens. He suggested taking a stroll down the beach to see what the other bungalows had available. It sounded dubious, but as it turns out, due to the supremely low-key profile of Lembongan, there are dozens of pretty, well-equipped, beach-adjacent properties not listed on any travel site. We walked no further than across the road when a older gentleman with that beaming Bali smile greeted us. “You need room? Come look.” That’s how we found Jepun Lembongan Villas.
Just fifty meters from the beach (literally a one-minute walk) Jepun has everything the off-track traveler needs. The property is just six months old, and the rooms have fresh teak furniture and the cleanest, most newly-appointed bathrooms I’ve experienced in Indonesia. 200,000 rupiah (about 24.00 USD) gets you a simply-decorated room with fresh beach and bath towels and a private outdoor veranda with a view of the lapis-tiled, heated swimming pool. Breakfast is also included, which consists of a fresh tropical fruit plate, fresh juice, toast, and coffee. There’s no WiFi, but internet is accessible through the various restaurants and cafes.
With a new home base, we toured the island to get the lay of the land. Often tourists rent scooters to tour the island, but wanting a slower, more physically-fit experience, we opted to hike around a bit south to Mushroom Bay. It’s about a 2.5 mile walk from Jepun, but the roads are clearly marked and easy to navigate, with lots of little watering holes and shops along the way. Take caution while walking, as you’ll share the road with scooters, cows, chickens, and the occasional tourist shuttle. Again by accident, we followed signs to The Beach Club at Sandy Bay, a perfect slice of paradise with all of the modern conveniences of the commercial mega-resort without the crowds, noise, or prices. A stunning cliff-framed oceanscape greets you as you walk to the back terrace, where you can flop down on a canvas beach bed next to the small but pristine infinity pool. The Beach Club offers a simple menu of sandwiches, smoothies, and fresh-squeezed juices, as well as a fully-stocked bar. Relax, check email (I know, it’s sounds wrong, but the connection at Sandy Beach is better than most), and soak up the sounds of crashing waves and gurgling local birdlife. Finish the visit with a healthy scoop of mint-choco ice cream (you’ll have earned it after trekking back to Lembongan Villas—it’s about a five-mile trek, roundtrip.)
The northeast side of the island isn’t widely accessible, being covered with a Mangrove forest and seaweed harvesters, so we trekked through Lembongan Village toward the center of the island, taking a slight shortcut back. We stopped periodically to snap shots of the gorgeous Hindu temples and statuary, which are sprinkled liberally through the island.
Once back, it was close to dinner time, so we strolled up the road to the local Warung Made,( “warungs” are cheap, outdoor, traditional restaurants found everywhere in Bali). The fried noodles with prawns are sweet, spicy, and utterly delicious, topped with a fried egg and fresh vegis. At 1.80 U.S., this was one of the most satisyfing and budget-friendly meals during our stay. Finish with a cold Tehbottle (Indonesian sweet tea) and maybe a sweet dutch pancake topped with ice cream and chocolate sauce.
We walked off our dinner and headed back to our private, pool-side villa for a quiet night of gurgling birdlife and the faint night buzz of mopeds. Sleep comes easy in Lembogan, far from the shopkeepers’ calls and pulsing nightlife just beyond the island’s shore.