On recommendation from Vici, who I had met at Serenity, I decided to seek out a more authentic travel experience. I found it, high in the mountains and jungle of Lombok.
Getting to Lombok
The ‘fast boat’ to Lombok, which my transport booker had insisted would leave at 9am, left at 11:30. When we were loaded into a tiny, rickety wooden boat with no life jackets, without any explanation, I thought of my Dad’s words “whatever you do, don’t get in a boat without life jackets” and felt sick at the thought of this carrying me across the open seas for three hours.
Luckily, it was just a small boat dropping us off at the slightly swisher (and by swish, I mean they sell pringles and show Avatar with subtitles on board guys) Eka Jaya Fast boat waiting outside the estuary. From here on, despite the late departure, the journey was relatively pain free, although I am forever grateful for seasickness tablets.
Edy’s eco village
I was greeted by Edy, my smiling host from Tereng Wilis Eco Village, and together we made the two hour journey from Bangsal port into the mountains of Lombok. 8 hours after I’d set off from my Lembongan inn, we arrived. Tereng Wilis Eco Village is a homestay at Edy’s family home in the middle of the jungle, recommended to me by Vici. I was the only person staying here for three nights, and indeed the only tourist in a significant vicinity, which made me feel like I was experiencing real Lombok, real Indonesia, and this was an incredibly eye opening experience.
The eco village is run sustainably and has been built from the ground by Edy. The property has two modest bungalows right next to the family’s house, with comfy beds and running water, and a beautiful outdoor decking area where you eat meals, drink tea and take in your utterly unbelievable surroundings of coconut trees and rice fields. I’ve never seen the colour green look quite so green!
When we arrived, the whole family came out to greet me with open arms and wide smiles. Edy climbed a coconut tree barefoot to pick me a fresh coconut and his mum laid out traditional Indonesian rice snacks and Lombok tea and coffee. I felt instantly overwhelmed with gratitude and part of the family.
I spent the evenings with the family and their friends eating delicious traditional Indonesian food prepared by the Mum and sister and talking about life and local conservation projects with Edy and his friends. They are passionate about nature and wildlife, and work as a group on a Lombok WWF conservation project planting trees and conserving the local environment. Over my time at Tereng Wilis I also learned that they are passionate about giving back to the communities they grew up in, with Edy – who speaks perfect English having gone away to college – volunteering his time to teach local school children English twice a week. The way in which he and his friends give so much time and energy to their community and environment with absolutely no expectation is incredibly humbling.
The weather while I was here was hit and miss, but we managed to get out and about and explore the local area on scooter and take a walk through the jungle to a local waterfall. I was totally taken by my peaceful, natural surroundings.
A stay at Edy’s cost me a modest £14 (250000IDR) a night, with approx £6 (105,000IDR) a day for meals.
My first injury and an awkward performance
On both full days, I went to teach English to children in the local schools. The first school has had foreign English teachers before, but I was treated as something of a celebrity (maybe this is the moment of recognition I’ve been waiting for my whole life?!) at both. The students at both schools were diligent and above all so excited to learn and practice their English – which I have to say was already brilliant. I have never really taught before but I found it incredibly rewarding.
My trip to the second school is perhaps the one to write home about. It ended up being an hour away by scooter and as I hopped off, desperate to relieve my numb bum, I slipped and fell to the side, burning my leg on the motorbike exhaust. It was only momentary but agonising as it seared all the skin on that part of my leg off. I have a condition which makes me especially prone to and at risk from any kind of leg infection so in the absence of my first aid kit, both pain and panic set in immediately. Anyone who knows me will know I am the most accident/illness prone person ever – in the fortnight before I came away alone I ended up in A&E with a kidney infection, fell arse over tit down the stairs at Tower Hill station spraining my ankle and fell into a barbed wire fence walking back from Sarah and Jon’s wedding down a country lane at 5am – so this will come as no surprise. I had no time to really look at my injury or think about it though because I instantly received a hero’s welcome to the school who had never had a Western visitor.
These gorgeous, intelligent young women, aged between 12 and 18, spoke almost word perfect English that they were desperate to practice so we had an informal question and answer session. Inspiringly, what they were most keen to know about was my education and career. Explaining PR is a challenge at the best of times, so in the end I decided to say I wrote in newspapers (not strictly a lie). I had to try not to laugh at some of the questions and responses. One girl excitedly mistranslated me being a writer as me having actually written Harry Potter and with wide eyes asked ‘YOU JK ROWLING?’. Others asked if i was friends with One Direction or lived next door to the Queen (um I WISH).
I found tears stinging my eyes when they asked questions like ‘Miss, Miss, what can I do to travel the world and be a successful writer like you’ because I hope with all the being in my body that those girls are afforded at least some of the opportunities I have had, but honestly I’m not sure they will be.
Just as I thought it was time to wrap up, the teacher asked if I would perform a famous English song for the class. Sure thing, I thought, mentally getting my best versions of Jerusalem and God Save Our Queen ready. This wasn’t quite what they had in mind; they wanted me to perform the school’s favourite song. What is it? I asked. “All About That Bass”, they gleefully replied. “You sing now on stage – and DANCE!”
And so, I stood alone on a stage awkwardly shaking my hips and singing – in fact, rapping no less – a song about men liking a little more booty to hold at night and the virtues of curvy women to a room of Muslim schoolgirls while they sang along; all while trying to ignore the growing burning pain on my right leg. Do these sorts of things happen to other people?!
I’m so glad I spent even a short time off the beaten path and to anyone considering doing something similar but unsure – do it! You simply don’t get to experience the real life and culture of the place you’re in a Western resort, as lovely and comforting as they can be. My anxiety has been at its peak at times during this trip and I nearly reconsidered going to Lombok because it all felt too unfamiliar and I was fearful. I’m so glad I went because I was made to feel part of a family. I was able to experience traditional life, eat beautiful food and meet the friendliest, kindest, most hard working people. I also found moments of true peace – and read an entire book – in amongst the rice paddies!
Thank you Edy for a fantastic stay and your hospitality and kindness. I will never forget our nights drinking endless cups of Lombok tea while the rain fell singing along to Bob Marley. I’ll be seeing you again!
Im now on the paradise island of Gili Air after another eventful journey, nursing my leg and enjoying the paradise hostel that is Captain Coconuts. More on that soon!