LEBARAN IN LOMBOK!
Over the next week, the whole island will be celebrating the end of Ramadan on 19 and 20 August. Idul Fitri, or Lebaran, is one of the most important times of the year in Indonesia… a time of celebration and reunions with families and friends.
The Indonesian government estimates that around 20 million people will be travelling across the archipelago over the next two weeks, returning home for the holidays. This will create a lot of congestion at airports and ports, but mostly on the roads, with an estimated 10 million people travelling by land! We hope that those who are making the journey for Lebaran reach home safely.
To all our readers, The Lombok Guide wishes you a happy and safe Lebaran. Selamat Hari Raya Idul Fitri… Minal aidin wal faidzin!
To find out more, pick up a copy of The Lombok Guide from the locations listed on http://www.thelombokguide.com/distribution.html or visit www.thelombokguide.com and discover the magic of Lombok for yourself… like thousands of others, you’ll be enchanted!
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AVOID LOCAL ARAK BREWS!
Travellers and residents are again being warned of the dangers of drinking Arak and local cocktail brews often served in bars and nightclubs in Bali and Lombok.
A number of foreign news sources are reporting that an American tourist suffered poisoning that left her partially blinded after drinking local distilled liquor or arak at a Bali nightspot.
Australian newspapers reported on 3 August 2012, that the incident left the woman partially blind.
The American, said to be 19 years of age, is reported to have suffered methanol poisoning after she imbibed an estimated 8-10 glasses of free cocktails made from juice and arak at a local bar.
The woman backpacker arrived in New Zealand with symptoms of shortness of breath and, 35 hours later, developed loss of vision.
Paramedics in New Zealand made a diagnosis of methanol poisoning linked to the 8-10 free drinks containing Arak that the girl had consumed at an unspecified tourist bar in Bali.
Arak is an Indonesian drink made from fermented rice wine. It is popular with tourists because it is cheap and quite potent. It is often used in cheap cocktails, or sold as “Arak Attack”, or mixed with honey and lime as “Arak, Madu”.
Methanol (or Methyl alcohol) is a toxic chemical compound often used in paints, solvents or as an anti-freeze agent. It is used in Indonesia as a fuel for lanterns.
Small amounts of methanol are contained in the “mash” of brewed alcohol as a natural by-product of the fermentation process. Still operators will usually discard the first 50 – 100ml of a brew to prevent the drink from being contaminated. Most alcoholic drinks contain small amounts of methanol, as do many fruit juices and artificially sweetened drinks containing aspartame.
Bali police headquarters claim they have yet to receive a report on the alleged poisoning involving an American citizen that would allow them to commence a formal police investigation.
A batch of arak contaminated with methanol and sold in Bali in 2009 killed 25 people, and there have been several other deaths since then. As recently as April this year, an elderly Japanese man died in Sanglah Hospital, Bali, from suspected arak poisoning.
As a general guideline, travellers should avoid locally brewed drinks sold on the side of the road and in cheap bars and restaurants. Be cautious of cheap cocktails, particularly ones with local names, or “free welcome drinks” (which often contain arak and fruit juice) and avoid binge drinking.
Cocktails sold in up-market bars and restaurants, where bottled and brand-name liquors are sold, are usually safe. If in doubt, watch your drink being made or stick to bottled drinks such as beer and wine that can be opened in front of you.
The initial symptoms of Methyl alcohol / methanol intoxication include headache, dizziness, nausea, problems with eyesight, central nervous system depression, lack of co-ordination and confusion.
As methanol metabolises in the body, symptoms can occur up to 36 hours after ingestion. If methyl alcohol poisoning is suspected, seek medical assistance immediately and tell medical staff about any drinks consumed.
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• If you’ve ever wanted to learn to speak Bahasa Indonesia but didn’t know where to start, now is the time! Sekolah Nusa Alam (Lombok’s only international standard school) is about to commence teaching Indonesian language classes for adults.
Options are available for both beginner and intermediate classes, conducted over a 10 week term. Classes commence in October, so make sure you enroll now! See their advert in our Pasar Classifieds section or phone 0370 647514.
• People keep sending us emails about a new article that has been added to the Air Asia website recently. Entitled “Air Asia Lombok Guide”, the section on Lombok is woefully inaccurate (10 minutes from the city to Kuta, Batu Bolong is a temple ruin at the foot of Mt Rinjani, etc) but it is exciting to see that Air Asia is actively promoting Lombok.
Rumours of Air Asia direct flights to and from Lombok have been circulating since the opening of the Lombok International Airport in October last year but, so far have not been confirmed by the airline.
The news coincides with the opening of the company’s regional headquarters in Jakarta on Tuesday, 7 August 2012. The opening of headquarters in Indonesia is said to be part of the airline’s program to rapidly expand its operations in Southeast Asia.
Speculation is rife that, if the airline does commence direct flights out of Lombok, the first route will be Kuala Lumpur. However, Perth in Western Australia is also tipped as a favourite. Fingers crossed!
• Ciokolata Boutique has just restocked with their new “Summer Collection”. The popular boutique, located next to Senggigi Jaya Supermarket on the main street, is featuring a new range of stylish and feminine clothing, with the emphasis on light-weight fabrics and elegant simplicity.
Designer clothing includes pretty sundresses for day, and beautiful party and evening wear, great designs for trendy children and a good selection of coordinating accessories. www.ciokolata.com
• After many months of building, Living Asia Resort in Setangi (7 minutes north of Senggigi) has finally opened. The upmarket resort opened 20 rooms at the beginning of August and is already attracting positive reviews, especially for its beautiful and uncrowded beach location.
The resort also opened its Malaka Restaurant this month, which overlooks the beach and takes advantage of panoramic views over the ocean to Bali.
Due to open in the next week, the Living Asia Spa will offer luxurious Asian-inspired beauty and body treatments in its purpose-built treatment rooms, alongside a “health bar” serving fresh juices and smoothies. Definitely worth the wait! www.livingasiaresort.com
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DAY VISIT TO THE MUSEUM!
Most visitors to Lombok are keen to know more about the island – the people, the culture, the history and the evolution of a tourism destination about which little has been written.
This is an island that was once part of the famed Spice Islands trade route. Its shores have seen successive waves of Chinese, Indian, Arab and Dutch traders and explorers from around the world, who have all left their mark.
It is a land that was once ruled by kings and invaded by empires, and tales are still told today of beautiful and noble princesses, wise rulers and the mystical spirits that inhabit the land.
Hints of this rich heritage can still be seen today in the traditional dances and theatrical performances that often re-enact stories from the past. For those who wish to know more, a visit to the museum is an interesting way to learn about Lombok.
The Nusa Tenggara Barat (NTB) State Museum is located on Jalan Panji Tilar, near Ampenan, and is around 25 minutes’ drive from Senggigi. All tour companies and taxi drivers know where it is or, if you are making your own way, follow our map on page 56.
The museum houses historical and cultural artefacts from Lombok and its neighbouring island, Sumbawa – the two islands that form the Nusa Tenggara Barat (abbreviated to NTB) province.
It also occasionally hosts special exhibits and one of these events is scheduled for mid-September and will feature traditional musical instruments from museums all around Indonesia.
After paying the modest admission fee of Rp 5,000 per person at the ticket office (discounts for local people and students), we were met by Hubertus – a guide who has worked for the museum for around 20 years and spoke quite good English. His extensive knowledge and informative explanation of the exhibits was invaluable.
The first section of the museum focusses on geography, astronomy, geology and biology, and is especially aimed at providing education for the large numbers of school students who visit the museum.
There is interesting information about volcanoes and two glass cabinets display impressive scale models of Mt Rinjani on Lombok and Mt Tambora on Sumbawa – two of the most important volcanoes in the region.
There are also displays by PT Newmont, the gold mining company based in Sumbawa, about geology and minerals in the region, as well as fossils, woods, shells, and native flora and fauna found on the two islands.
The spacious interior section of the museum was renovated by the national government in 2010 and houses a collection of 7,600 interesting and often rare exhibits.
One display case shows old costumes worn by the Sultan of Bima, together with the original letter of agreement from the Dutch government giving the Sultan territorial sovereignty. Other cases show old land certificates, stamps and seals, records of genealogy and other historical documents.
Old helmets, weapons crafted from wood, stone and metal, and an intricate chainmail shirt, all give testimony to the wars and battles fought between kingdoms in the past, and later during successive occupations of Lombok by Dutch colonists, the Balinese and the Japanese during World War II.
There are also many interesting exhibits explaining traditional lifestyles of the native Sasak people, as well as handicrafts; household utensils and everyday items used through the centuries; trapping, hunting and agricultural implements; equipment for weaving textiles, and some beautiful examples of woven ikat and songket with distinctive Lombok and Sumbawa motifs.
Ceramics collected from around the island are also on display, including an ancient Chinese vase from the Tang Dynasty (June, 618 – June, 907) unearthed in Sekotong, West Lombok.
In a separate locked room (ask the guide to open it for you) are more valuable and rare exhibits, many of them collections from the Sultans of Sumbawa. Beautiful traditional jewellery gleams under the lights, showcasing intricate silver and gold arm bands, collars, belts, hair accessories and crowns.
Another exhibit features hand-crafted jewellery found while digging at a mosque near Selong, in East Lombok, and coins from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, some of which were used for trading in times before money had nominal values.
There are also many ceremonial knives or kris collected from around Lombok, Sumbawa, Bali and Java – showing the different styles of the regions. Some are made from gold or silver, or inlaid with precious stones such as rubies and sapphires; others have decorative handles made from precious metals, intricately carved wood, and even ivory.
At the end of the exhibits is a line of display cases showing the evolution of different religions and belief systems on Lombok. One case holds ancient artefacts attesting to the animist roots of the island, with charms for protection, stones used for divining the future and ritual tools used in ceremonies.
Another displays an ancient Quoran from the 16th century, entirely hand written and bound in bark, together with old manuscripts recording mythical tales from the past, figures from different empires and drawings of astrological charts.
Another display is home to the exhibition of Hindu artefacts collected around the island, including old metal statues of Ganesha and Shiva obviously originating from India, and bronze fragments recovered from Gangga in North Lombok.
Nearby stands a huge ancient kettle drum discovered buried near Sambelia on the north-east coast, used at traditional ceremonies and as a call to war.
Outside, sitting on the lawn, is a large stone Linga and Yoni statue, believed to be from the 12th century, which was discovered near Bayan, North Lombok.
The museum provides an important role in preserving the history of both Lombok and Sumbawa and is a fascinating place to visit if you have a few hours to spare.
A guide is helpful for explaining some of the exhibits and giving a more in-depth insight, although most displays have short explanations posted in Indonesian and English languages. Please tip your guide generously – the museum is poorly funded and wages are very low.
The NTB Museum is open Tuesday to Sunday, from 8am to 3.30pm (except Friday, 8 – 11am and Saturday, 8 – 12.30pm). Ph: 632159 for more information.
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LOMBOK… Through a Traveller’s Eyes
We met Don and Jerry – two intrepid 60-something travellers from Arizona in the US – when they visited Lombok last month. Don is an accomplished painter and an avid writer of travelogues about the many places they have visited around the world. Below is Part 1 of an extract from his writings about Lombok:
Our adventure begins when we board our tiny Indonesian plane for our journey from Bali to Lombok. As we flew for 25 minutes over the ocean, the island began to appear outside our plane window, looking emerald green due to the rice fields that covered the area.
We landed at Lombok’s beautiful new International airport, where a car from Qunci Villas met us for the drive up to the popular ocean-side resort.
The one hour drive through the villages and countryside was beyond awesome. It was as if bits and pieces of the culture, sights and sounds of most every country we have been in – from Cambodia, India, Egypt, Thailand, Africa, Tahiti, Bhutan, and Turkey – had all been mixed together and plopped down on an island called Lombok.
Sometimes we passed seemingly endless, brilliant green rice fields, or groves of coconut palms, or banana trees that lined the road. Sometimes we passed small roadside fruit stands, women balancing baskets of fruit on their heads as they walked alongside the road, or horse-drawn carts, or the endless number of motor bikes zooming by.
And once we were even stopped, dead still, in the midst of a wedding party, with hundreds of jovial onlookers filling the streets as the bride and groom and wedding party marched by like a parade, totally unconcerned by the long line of traffic they had halted.
Like we had never travelled to a foreign country before, wide-eyed Jerry and I had our noses to the van windows, in awe of what we were seeing; like a movie screen disclosing so many different incredible scenes before our eyes.
Soon, before we were even ready to end the show, we arrived at the beautiful entrance of Qunci Villas, stated in their advertisements to be “Your Key to an Idyllic Lombok”.
We were greeted by a handsome, young Indonesian man offering us cold wash cloths to cool ourselves after our drive and, from that point on, we were known and greeted with a dazzling, gracious Indonesian smile from everyone on the staff as “Mr Don and Mr Jerry” (although, we later came to realise, they treat all of their guests as special).
We walked through the entrance and across cool pathways over clear still pools, reflecting the tall coconut palms over our heads, and on past the spa where, at the base of the stairs to our upstairs bungalow, a pretty young Indonesian girl greeted us with a tray of ice cold fresh fruit drinks.
We opened the door to find the most amazing Indonesian style room imaginable. In the centre of the enormous pure white bed, yellow blossoms from the property’s many blooming Frangipani trees had been arranged in a large heart shape on top of the bedspread.
Flowers had been placed on the pillows and sprinkled around the bed. On a long narrow table that went across the length of the head of the bed, five tall, majestic white orchids in glass vases were arranged to tower over our heads and, set in the same glass vases were long bamboo poles, four to five feet high, crisscrossing each other. Hanging from those poles were seven clear glasses holding white candles ready to be lit.
One wall of glass, floor to ceiling, had doors that opened out onto our upstairs balcony, with a table, chairs and colourful couches. There, framed by blooming Frangipani trees and coconut palms, was a view of the three infinity pools that overlook the strip of beach and the ocean. And…poking its head out of the ocean like South Pacific’s mythical Bali Hai, was the island of Bali.
We were pretty overwhelmed by it all. Later, when we joined our friends at sunset, the wine, the company, the tranquillity – and one of the most glorious pastel sunsets over the Lombok Straits – did the trick in relieving the stress of our long journey. Relaxation it’s called… forgetting everything else and just being in the moment.
The resort had arranged for a barbeque that night and tables were set up along the boardwalk overlooking the ocean. Glowing candles were set on the tables and lights, creatively placed in the palm trees, and around the pools and fountains, added a magical glow to the place.
Cooks, at stands near the beach, barbecued chicken, fish, shrimp, and steak; tables were lined up with fresh fruit, salads, vegetables and deserts for us to enjoy. Near our table, three men with acoustic guitars and decent voices entertained us with their music, creating a special evening.
When Jerry and I returned to our room, the candles hanging on the bamboo poles over the white orchids and on various tables had been lit, giving our room a special glow that called an end to a perfect day.
The next morning, we enjoyed breakfast on our balcony overlooking the beautiful blue ocean, and then strolled around the lush grounds looking at the ocean and beaches that the resort is built around, as well all of the lavish art works, paintings, sculptures, and ceramics spread around the grounds.
We admired the beautiful complex that just calls for soaking in the sun and gives off an atmosphere of harmony, serenity and rest; which is exactly what we did, lazing on the comfortable umbrella shaded lounges, listening to the waves lap against the shore, or the bubbling water bowl fountains, as we joined the beautiful people around us.
We instantly noticed there seemed to be no other Americans as we could not understand the language of any of the guests around us, “Probably,” Jerry said, “due to the distance.”
And once, when we saw the Qunci guest list during our stay, it read like this…. Italy, Spain, England, Australia, Holland, France, New Zealand, USA (just the two of us), Saudi Arabia, Switzerland, Indonesia, Singapore, Canada, Russia, Norway, India, and Africa.
People of so many different nationalities, races, and colour. No discrimination of any kind here. In the 17 days, we witnessed honeymooning couples, loving families, same-sex couples, inter-racial couples, from different walks of life, from different countries, all sharing space together in harmony with each other. In all of our travels, only at Qunci have we experienced this.
Men and women alike, lounged around in skimpy swimsuits and bikinis looking like models from travel magazines in a most gorgeous travel setting; while Indonesian women on the beach, with baskets of pineapples or colourful, folded sarongs stacked high on their heads, and men selling sunglasses, t-shirts, and watches tried to get our attention and tempt us with their goods.
Instead of a being a nuisance, they created amazing photo shots with the ocean in the background and, on my part at least, friendly exchanges of “How are you? My name’s Don…What’s yours?” You had to walk over and approach them as the rule is that they had to stay on the beach.
I love to mingle with the locals and get to know a bit about them and their way of life when I travel. Some of my favourite moments were in India, shaking the dirty hands of the young urchins on the banks of the Yamuna river, across from the Taj Mahal….or the children of the hill tribes in Thailand swinging on my arms as we walked through their village together, or the boys in Egypt interacting with me as we walked through their monastery…or the Masi, Joseph, on the Mara in Africa… or the novice monks in the Punakha Dzong in Bhutan. I wouldn’t miss my chance to leave a part of myself with the people of Indonesia.
Of course, on this day I ended up buying a t-shirt or two, and as I bought from one, seven or eight more hovered around me trying to get me to buy.
“My handmade bracelets, Mr Don!” “Sunglasses? Bowls, Mr Don?” But, at the same time, I shook their hands…I said “Hello”… I asked their names… I learned a bit about them and they learned a bit about me.
Before dinner, at Happy Hour, we once again found our favourite table overlooking the beach, and sipped our El Mojitos, Moscow Mules or Chardonnay while nibbling on “Qunci Bites” of Beef Rendang Crispy Ravioli and Thai fish Cakes. A dramatic sunset took place with pastel colors so exquisite the sky was like a cinemascope screen, curved in a kaleidoscope of color in front of us and over our heads. It was stunning!
For “Indonesian Night” dinner, a food court of cooking carts was set up on the grassy area outside the restaurant and our friend took me around to each, explaining every Indonesian dish to me that the young men were preparing for our Indonesian dinner.
“Look Don, this is Mie Bakso – famous Indonesian meatball soup with noodles… and this is Gado-gado, vegetables with peanut sauce… and look Don, this is Nasi Bakar… you will like it: rice grilled in a banana leaf with peanut sauce.”
We sampled some of the dishes while a trio, dressed in wonderful costumes, played Indonesian music on interesting, traditional musical instruments.
One morning, while Jerry relaxed in his usual lounge by the pool observing the activity, I decided to take a walk along the surf when Ali, who had been trying to sell me something, spotted me and followed along opening up his display case of trinkets, trying to sell me a bracelet or a necklace for Rp 10,000.
Most wages for the young men and women who work around the resorts are $3.00 per day, so when we pay $7.00 for a bowl or t-shirt, or when we tip $5.00 each for a massage or manicure, they are very happy.
“Look, look,” Ali kept calling to me, “bracelet made of ancient Lombok coins given to me by my grandfather.”
I told him “No, not now. I just want to walk.”
He dropped his sales pitch and continued to walk with me… and talk. He had to think when I asked him his age, as he said they do not celebrate birthdays. They know the year they were born but rarely keep track of age, nor are they concerned about your age.
“Thirty-four,” he finally answered. “Married,” he said, “four year old girl. Poor family. Live in nearby village.”
He told me their philosophy in his country is “Love…create peace… and show kindness to others. It will come back as love, peace and kindness to you.”
I answered, “That’s my philosophy, too.”
To be continued in Issue 123
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ANGKASA PURA I TO TEAM UP WITH LION AIR
The Jakarta Post reports that state-owned airport operator Angkasa Pura I (AP I) will be collaborating with the largest domestic budget airline, Lion Air, to further develop facilities in four airports across the country.
AP I president director, Tommy Soetomo, said the airports earmarked for the improvements were: Lombok International Airport in Lombok, West Nusa Tenggara; Frans Kaisiepo Airport in Biak, West Papua; Sam Ratulangi International Airport in Manado, North Sulawesi; and Sultan Hasanuddin International Airport in Makassar, South Sulawesi.
“The collaboration will include constructing hangar and aircraft maintenance facilities for Lion Air,” Tommy said on the sidelines of Soekarno-Hatta International Airport’s ground-breaking ceremony in Jakarta on Thursday, 2 August 2012.
He refused to elaborate on the collaboration, however, as a full announcement is planned to take place next week. “This is going to be a positive joint venture with one of the best airlines in the country,” he said.
Contacted separately, Lion Air’s General Affairs director, Edward Sirait, confirmed that Rusdi Kirana, the airline’s President Director, was scheduled to officially announce the move in Jakarta. Previously, Lion had stated that Manado would become the airline’s hub for eastern Indonesia.
The company’s full-service carrier, Batik Air, plans to open international routes connecting Manado with major cities in Southeast Asia and East Asia in 2014. The new routes will link Manado with Manila in the Philippines; Seoul in South Korea; and Tokyo in Japan.
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WILL THE EUROPEAN CRISIS AFFECT TOURISM?
According to local tourism experts, the deepening economic crisis in Europe is predicted to result in declining number of European visitors to Bali and Lombok.
The chairman of the Association of Indonesian Entrepreneurs (APINDO), Panudiana Kuhn, said on 7 August that he expects the expenditure of European visitors in upper class segment will remain stable.
As reported by Bisnis Bali, Kuhn said outbound travel from Europe to overseas destinations, including Bali, would decline as the economies of the European Union falter.
He said that any decline in European travellers to Bali may be compensated by increasing levels of domestic tourist arrivals to the island. Kuhn said that he predicts domestic tourism may increase 20% in 2012.
According to Balidiscovery.com and Bali by the Numbers, European tourist arrivals to Bali for the period January to June 2012 totalled 297,413 – an increase of 4.1% over 2011.
The APINDO chairman predicts that four and five star hotels will be favoured by European visitors to Bali.
Kuhn said it will take Europe at least two years to emerge from its current economic crisis, or even longer if firm steps are not taken to address the region’s economic ills.
He said that Europe’s sickest economies of Greece, Portugal and Spain remain minor markets to Bali. Meanwhile, European tourists from Germany, France and Holland remain chief markets from Europe to Bali.
Kuhn failed to mention the United Kingdom and Russia – both of which remain major players in term of Bali tourism.
Kuhn compared the current European economic crisis to the crisis experienced by Indonesian in 1997-1998 and the American economic crisis of 2008.
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LEBARAN TOPAT… uniquely Lombok!
The end of Ramadan is a time of celebration all over Indonesia, but in Lombok it is a time of double celebration.
Idul Fitri, the holiday that marks the end of the fasting month of Ramadan, was celebrated on 19 - 20 August this year. For most people, the holiday lasts for a week or more, with public offices closed for the longest holiday of the year.
One week later, Lombok will celebrate with a second special holiday, not seen in other parts of Indonesia – Lebaran Topat.
Lebaran Topat occurs seven days after the Idul Fitri holiday; the 7th Syawal in the Arabic Calendar. In Lombok, some people will fast for another six days right after Idul Fitri, and thus Lebaran Topat becomes a double celebration of the end of fasting.
Lebaran Topat also plays a special part in continuing the older traditions of pre-Islamic Lombok, or the time when the beliefs of the Sasak people were evolving from animist traditions to Muslim practices.
Early in the morning on Lebaran Topat, many Lombok people will gather at the graves of ancestors and religious leaders who have played a pivotal role in bringing Islam to Lombok.
The cemetary at Loang Baloq park, near Tanjung Karang beach, is an important center for this celebration. There are three sacred tombs here, one of which is the final resting place of Maulana Gaus Abdurrazak, a spiritual teacher who passed away sometime in the 18th century. During the week between Idul Fitri and Lebaran Topat around 25,000 people will visit Loang Baloq.
The ceremony begins with the nyangkar makam, spreading flower petals and sprinkling perfumed water on the grave. Participants then approach a giant Banyan tree nearby, which is believed to be hundreds of years old, and tie decorations on the tree, from drinking straws to colorful ribbons, while making wishes.
The highlight of the celebration is the kuris ritual, during which Muslim children have their hair cut for the first time. At the end of the ritual, participants and observers enjoy a public feast, with many visiting the nearby beach and eating fruit and topat from the presented offerings.
The presence of offerings during Lebaran Topat is evidence that the celebration contains pre-Islamic elements and forms part of the dwirgami traditions – the traditions followed by ancestors prior to the introduction of Islam to the island.
For other Muslims, the day will start with prayers at the mosque or musholla in their village, where they will pray for happiness and prosperity; sometimes later visiting family graves to pray there also.
Batu Layar is an important traditional landmark in West Lombok; a site of ancestral graves and the final resting place of one of Lombok’s holiest men. On many weekends there are bus loads of people from East Lombok and other villages around the island visiting the graves and praying in the shade of the old musholla overlooking the ocean to Bali.
At Lebaran Topat, thousands will flock to Batu Layar to pray at the graves and to wash themselves and their children in the well there, which is believed to contain holy water.
The somber part of the day is always followed by gathering together for a feast involving specially prepared ketupat (topat) – rice that has been wrapped in parcels of plaited coconut leaves and steamed.
Groups of families and friends often spend the day picnicking on the nearby beaches; swimming, relaxing and eating topat, which are served with a variety of different dishes, especially the delicious chicken and coconut milk curry called Opor Ayam.
Thousands of people from all over the island participating in Lebaran Topat crowd the roads and beaches from Ampenan to Senggigi – it’s an event you can either join in, mingling with the crowds, or avoid altogether by not planning to travel on that day. Of course, all are welcome to join in at any of these festivities… for a uniquely Lombok experience.
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CELLAR PARTY @ SQUARE RESTAURANT
The Cellar Party, held on the first Friday of every month at Square Restaurant is fantastic value and a great way to meet
people. This month guests enjoyed free flow wines from Australia and SOuth Africa and a delicious array of foods prepared by Executive Chef, Made Suyana.
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MR FIXER (Tongue-in-cheek answers to your personal and building problems)
QUESTION: My wife and I are holidaying in the sunny paradise island of Lombok at the moment and it seems every restaurant and café now has free Wi-Fi.
This comes in very handy to check up with my family and friends back in Europe. I have joined Myface (or whatever it is called) and now I have over 500 friends.
My wife spends so much time checking in with her Twitface friends that she seems to forget about me. It is her birthday soon and I don’t know what to buy her. What do you suggest?
MR FIXER: Nobody has over 500 friends! My friend George bought his wife a memory stick recently. Since the first beating, she hasn’t forgotten anything.
QUESTION: I have just arrived on the holiday island of Lombok following a traumatic and messy divorce with the b*tch from hell. I am still feeling emotionally tender from the experience but would like to find a new partner to help take away the hurt.
I would like to put down some roots and am thinking of renting a small villa or maybe buying some land. I have met a nice Indonesian beauty who seems to have all the qualities I am looking for in a woman but I am still not ready for a fully committed relationship. Is there anything you can do to help?
MR FIXER: There are several important qualities a man should look for in a woman. The first of these is honesty. You should find someone who is faithful and will not tell you lies.
A man should also look for a woman who is a good cook and keeps the house clean and who does some ironing occasionally.
It is equally important that you choose a woman who is sexy and looks good when you take her out for the evening.
The most important thing, however, is that none of these three women should get to know about each other… otherwise you might end up where you are now!
QUESTION: I am a dog lover who has just rented a nice villa with a large garden in the idyllic island of Lombok. I saw a sign yesterday which said “Talking Dog for Sale – USD 10”.
I went to knock on the door and the dog answered. “Yes, can I help you?” it said.
“So it’s true!” I exclaimed, “You can talk!”
“Of course”, the dog said, and then he began to tell me his story. Apparently, he discovered he could talk at a very early age and was employed by the CIA as a spy. No-one suspected a thing as they wouldn’t believe a dog could talk.
He eavesdropped for 8 years and was jetted all over the world as an undercover agent. After that, he worked for a large international airport as a terrorism expert.
Two years later, he retired, got married and had some pups. It was absolutely amazing to think that this dog was for sale for only USD 10! Do you believe it?
MR FIXER: The reason he was for sale so cheap is because he is a lying dog! I’ll bet he has never even been out of the garden!
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Now that Ramadan is over, party nights return to normal and the all night crowd can party the night into morning.
Although there are plenty of places on the island that have a lively scene any night of the week, the rotating “party nights” are the biggest and most popular.
Monday: Blue Marlin Dive. Upstairs, on the second floor of the dive shop, dance til you drop with throbbing house, trance and tribal tunes. From around 10 pm, all four bars are open and the DJs play enticing rhythms until the early hours. Blue Marlin parties often have a theme, so get in the mood to dress up for a chance to win special prizes.
Wednesday: Tir Na Nog. An Irish Bar on Gili T? Yes! This place is lively any night, but on Wednesday nights the crowd spills onto the street. With great music, a lively crowd and plenty of action… plus good, reasonably priced drinks and cocktails… most people end up at Tir Na Nog at some time during their holidays!
Friday: Rudy's. The oldest party institution on Gili T, this is one of the island's original bars and it still has heaps of appeal today. Locally owned and operated, it's the place to meet people from all over the world, rubbing shoulders with expats and locals while downing their legendary magic cocktails. Rudy's is a lively place any night of the week, but it's a traditional Friday-night spot.
Any night: Sama Sama. This bar is popular any night of the week for great live music and impromptu jam sessions with talented local musos. Some of the best reggae music can be heard here not only from the band but from the lively musical crowd.
For those who aren’t into the party scene, but still want a good night in a friendly atmosphere, check out the following:
The Beach House is always popular and usually has a friendly crowd at the bar from late afternoon. The seafood barbecue every night is hugely popular – with a big selection of fresh fish, lobster, prawns and other seafood grilled to your request and accompanied by a generous salad bar.
Next door, Scallywags has an equally good reputation with an interesting and innovative menu for all day dining. Quirky extras include organic wheatgrass shots and a fab selection of ice creams. They also have an excellent seafood barbecue in the evenings… good value!
Looking to escape the crowds of the east coast? Hop on your bike or take a stroll in the late afternoon down the south of the island and around to the west coast. After The Trawangan, development thins out and you can still get a glimpse of “the old Gili T”.
Large stretches in this area are still natural and you’ll often see goats grazing on the shrubbery and old timers wandering along the tracks herding their cows.
Little funky places are dotted here and there along the beach… surfers hangouts, close to the surf break, play reggae and offer tickets to the moon… places like The Exile offer budget accommodation in thatched bungalows and chilled out evenings on the beach listening to Buddha Bar and watching the glorious sunsets.
Further around, on the west side, the beaches aren’t the best as the tide is usually low over rocks and reef; but the white sands, peaceful vibe and the sight of the sun setting over Bali across the ocean make up for the lack of swimming spots.
Two large resorts sit side by side – Ombak Sunset and Queen Villas and Spa. Both have beautiful beachfronts and large bars overlooking the water. Relax back in one of the sun lounges, order a cocktail or two and watch the sunset.
If all the walking and partying is taking a toll on your body, spend a day indulging in some spa treatments at Roemah Spa at Vila Ombak. This is a beautifully appointed spa with private treatment rooms and offers everything from hair care to manicures and pedicures as well as a huge selection of massages.
For ultimate relaxation, go for a package deal like the Royal Java Lulur. This starts with a one hour body massage to relax and prepare your skin before the lulur is applied.
The lulur treatment is inspired by the beauty rituals of the royal Javanese family and is fabulous for cleaning and smoothing skin. A fine paste of turmeric and spices is smoothed all over your body and allowed to dry slightly, before being gently rubbed off – taking with it any dirt and old dry skin cells and leaving your skin beautifully smooth. Finish by soaking in a luxurious aromatic milk bath to leave you sparkling clean, baby soft and totally relaxed!
MAHAMAYA Boutique Resort has recently opened their new boutique shop called Nik-naks.
This includes a collection of delightful Tungsten jewellery, some designer bikinis, lovely bags and accessories, alongside holiday essentials and traditional sarongs.
Also available are postcards and calendars, all monies from sales are donated to the Yacuba fund which supports education of the local island children.
MAHAMAYA Restaurant is receiving rave reviews for its excellent cuisine. Executive Chef, Jar, has over 10 years International restaurant experience working for a large International 5 star hotel chain.
The restaurant offers a set menu and also some very creative daily specials. Popular dishes include Grilled Jumbo Prawns or Fillet Steak with Dauphinoise Potatoes, but also try the Creamy Linguine with Chicken and Vodka Chilli Sauce… a fantastic combination!
At sunset, head for the bar and enjoy sensational two for one cocktails created by barman Fi during happy hour. The menu and the service are a step up from most other places and the gorgeous setting on the beach makes for an idyllic spot for lunch or dinner.
The locally-run Bolongs Turtle Sanctuary in front of the Gazebo Hotel is helping conservation on Gili Meno and there is an undoubted increase in the green sea turtle and loggerhead turtle population due to their conservation efforts.
The sanctuary works hard to save turtle eggs from predators and permit them to hatch naturally. Young turtles are then raised for one year before releasing them safely into the sea. Injured turtles are also cared for until they are well enough to be released back into the sea.
In 2008 and 2009, a total of 2,000 turtles were released back into the sea. Go along, see the work and lend your support. All visitors are welcome to visit the sanctuary and payment is by donation only.
I have noticed that many guide books for the region either do not mention Gili Air at all or, if they do, the information is out of date. So in this column I want to cover some of the things that you are unlikely to see in most books and to remind people that they have to treat all guidebooks like a guide and not a bible.
The first thing to look at is money; it’s usually top of peoples’ priority lists. There is now an ATM on Gili Air. There is no charge for using the ATM itself, but remember to check with your bank to see what you’ll get charged back home for using an ATM aboard.
You can also use your credit card at many places on the island: a few of the restaurants accept cards, including Scallywags and Biba Beach – two island favourites.
The larger hotels on the island and also the majority of the dive shops also accept cards. In the past I have heard many tourists say that they would have allowed themselves more time on this lovely island but they believed there was no way to get money here, so they took out money for two or three days and then booked onward travel.
(I have also met several people who came here with the idea of leaving after two days but loved it so much they were still here weeks later).
Accommodation is another thing that has changed here. All around the island new accommodation is appearing. This ranges from the simple through to super posh, with prices during the peak season ranging from Rp 150,000 to well over a million rupiah.
The guide books say that booking is advised and, while this is still good advice, it is now August and travellers are still managing to find places to stay without booking first.
So now you know that you can get money on the island and there are lots of lovely places to stay. You also need to know how to get here. This is covered well elsewhere in this newspaper, so this is just a small note to remind people that lots of fast boats come to Gili Air, despite what some people may tell you on Bali.
The diving scene on Gili Air is something else that has changed dramatically over the past two years.
Most guide books only mention half the number of dive shops here. Gili Air now has nine dive shops that can be found all around the island. The shops follow the same pricelist and discount structure (for example, the PADI Open Water course is Rp 3.4m and fun diving is Rp 370,000).
Interestingly for this year, Gili Air dive shops voted not to increase the prices of their courses, so it is now cheaper to do your dive training on Gili Air rather than Gili T.
The general standard is four customers to one instructor or dive guide. This is a great ratio compared to many places around SE Asia. Plus, most dive shops offer divemaster internships and you can even train to be an instructor by doing your IDC with Oceans 5.
We also have some great dive sites now that I haven’t seen mentioned in any guide books. My favourite is Teluk Nara, which the harbour on Lombok, straight across from Gili Air. This is a world-class muck diving site (a site with a unique ecosystem created around manmade structures and refuse).
We have seen things at this site that can only be seen in a few places around the world, including the amazing mimic octopus shown in the column’s picture. This site is perfect for photographers and lovers of the weird and wonderful.
Guidebooks commonly state that Gili Air is not a party island, which could give the impression that there are no parties on Gili Air. Gili Air certainly doesn’t have the crowds that can be found on Gili T but parties can still be found.
Chill Out Bar is popular with divemasters and instructors, and Safari, Legend and Mirage Bars all have regular party nights. Busy dive shops will usually have at least one member of staff who knows where the best parties can be found.
After a night of partying, you could recover by spending time at H20 Yoga and Meditation Centre. This place has a great reputation, offering yoga classes every day.
If Yoga sounds like too much effort, try the Natural Spa. The staff there are friendly and they offer a plethora of wonderful treatments.
I haven’t seen either of these two places in the guidebooks but I’m sure they will get a mention very soon.
Lastly, something that may never be mentioned in the guidebooks but really deserves a place is the Citi Store. Five minutes’ walk inland from the harbour, you’ll find the largest shop on the island.
It is a store that sells everything from bicycle chains to quilt covers. It is a cluttered affair and they do insist on putting their dried fish stocks right in the doorway but, once you’ve braved the first few metres, useful items like sunscreen, bug spray and ice creams can be found inside!
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