Bali and Lombok… two tiny islands in the archipelago of Indonesia. We honeymooned here for two weeks in July of 2002, opting to get off Bali’s beaten path to the beach and instead venture inland for the first few days of our vacation. We arrived in Denpasar, the capital of Bali, and were escorted to a van that would transport us to Sacred Mountain Sanctuary in Sideman. We chose Sacred Mountain Sanctuary for its sense of authenticity, untrammeled location and proximity to Gunung Agung — an active volcano and the highest point on the island of Bali.
Not far from Denpasar, the landscape changed from an unremarkable city to a procession of verdant hillsides. The road got rougher as we jostled around in the van wondering when we’d arrive at our final destination. Along the way we saw many Hindu women in gorgeous saris walking to temples carrying colorful offering trays on their heads. This was my first exposure to this religion and it was a welcome distraction from the long ride. Two hours later we entered a small town, crossed an antiquated wood bridge and exchanged gazes with the men working in the rice fields. Sacred Mountain Sanctuary was just up the hill and my digestive system couldn’t have been happier to disembark the van.
We were quickly checked in — the only guests at the sanctuary– and shown to our private two-story villa with outdoor shower, plunge pool and zen rock garden. Just as good as it looked on the internet, and just as remote as we had hoped! The grounds were lush, with beautifully manicured paths leading around the site to a yoga studio and a calm, blue pool as big as a tennis court. Our villa and its furniture were made from massive sections of bamboo, only somewhat impervious structures so the jungle noise and bugs were all around. We slept under a net.
We stayed here a few nights — indulging in potato dumplings, satay, walks into town and relaxation around the sanctuary. Eager to see more of Indonesia and having only booked the first few nights of our two-week vacation, we decided to ferry over to the next island — Lombok.
The beaches on Bali and Lombok provided great photo ops of fishing nets and sailing vessels, and gave us a small glimpse of beach life in Indonesia.
We caught the local ferry, waved goodbye to Bali for a few days and made our way to Alang Alang Boutique Resort on Lombok.
The resort is quaint, tucked off the main road and right next to the beach. Bungalows have a front porch, wood floors, Indonesian beds and outdoor bathrooms with stone showers. There’s a great little restaurant where you can dine on huge fresh crab with your toes in the sand, or sip a thick Lombok coffee as the sun rises over the island. The pool is perfectly small, with rocks to climb and fun places to sit.
Lombok is a cool little island — we had some unusual experiences in a handful of days. Mataram, the main town near the resort, is home to craftspeople who make baskets, masks and wood carvings so there’s excellent souvenir shopping. The streets are busy with horse-drawn carriages and motorbikes and an occasional ceremonial procession.
We rented a motorbike and drove around the island for a few hours, watching the monkeys on the side of the road and taking in the ocean views. In downtown Mataram we were flagged down by a policeman because one of us wasn’t wearing a helmet. He asked for identification so we handed him our passports. He began the process of ticketing us and telling us we would need to appear in court and pay a fine before we could ride again. Mr. Producer and I looked at each other, wondering what exactly that whole experience would entail — going to court was surely not something we were interested in doing on our honeymoon. Yet he had our passports in hand so we didn’t have many options other than cooperating. I searched my mind for a way to get out of the whole situation and then… demanded that we must IMMEDIATELY be escorted to the U.S. embassy. (No idea if there even was a U.S. embassy on the island but I figured it was worth a try.) He looked at us a little confused and then protested, but I kept insisting we must go now. We must go now to the U.S. embassy! He wasn’t sure what to do, but getting the United States of America involved seemed to be a bigger inconvenience for him than going to court was for us. He eventually handed us our passports and let us go. (I didn’t take any photos.)
Every night on Lombok offered a magnificent sunset before dinner. On one very memorable night we took a taxi to the Sheraton Senggigi Beach Resort for dinner — an unusual choice for us, but the hotel offered an authentic and nowadays uncommon Indonesian meal called Rijsttafel that we wanted to try. Rijsttafel is an elaborate meal adapted by the Dutch from Nasi Padang (an Indonesian feast). The meal typically includes over 40 (yes, that’s FORTY) side dishes served in a long series of courses. Each course here was served on a circular platter holding four to six ceramic bowls filled with myriad culinary delights. The dishes included things like spring rolls, fried rice, sliced meats, sauces, satay, eggs… and the list goes on. It was a true smorgasbord like never before experienced with many flavors unfamiliar to me and probably most westerners. In my entire 41 years on this planet, this particular meal goes down in my personal gastronomic history as A-NUMBER-ONE for the absolute most food I have ever consumed in one sitting. I was as full as a tick. I could have been popped like a helium balloon. What an experience, all while sitting cross-legged around a low table. I could have been rolled down the beach back to our bungalow. Breathe.
After a few days in Lombok we returned to Bali and Sacred Mountain Sanctuary, with the hope of ending our trip with a hike to the top of Gunung Agung. We checked into a new villa and went to bed early in preparation for the 3:00 a.m. departure. When we awoke, we grabbed our resort-packed lunches waiting for us in the kitchen and headed out with our guide to Selat. From here we started on foot up the mountain. At first we followed a fairly well-marked trail into the vegetation. After a while the trail became very steep and difficult to follow so we stayed close to our guide. For every three steps up I would slide back one step, grabbing trees and branches to hang on. After two hours of hiking we finally emerged from the trees and brush onto the rocky face of the volcano. We kept pushing on up the mountain, making better progress with better traction under foot. We finally reached the top just in time to see the sun rise and light up the cumulus clouds around the horizon below us. A handful of local men had made the same journey that morning.
As the sun rose it cast an enormous, perfectly-defined shadow of Gunung Agung to the west with the moon setting beyond it. We had reached our goal and ended our trip at 9,944 feet.
After returning to the bottom, we headed back to Sacred Mountain for one more night and then on to Ubud (known for its arts and crafts) for the last night of the trip. We indulged in massages and some shopping around town and then caught a flight back to the U.S. the next day. And just two months later, the bombing occurred in Kuta — Bali’s most popular beach destination on its south shore. Little did we know at the time how much travel and security would change in the coming decade.