Lombok, Monkeybite and Cloud-nine

Lombok, Monkeybite and Cloud-nine



We woke up to the sun’s earliest rays of light. It was really early, indeed, but today we had to prepare for the land cruise. Mom, who devoted most of her free time in the room washing clothes, checked her array of clean-but-wet clothes that she had hung on the balcony’s wooden fence. She was the earliest to be greeted by the salubrious breeze.

After breakfast, Simon, Agung’s friend in tourism business, picked us up. We’re bound for our last adventure in Lombok, that would cover the mountainous upper half of this island-from Senggigi in the west to Khayangan in the far east and back, stopping by that illustrious Sendang Gila Waterfall in the northern highlands of Bayan. We didn’t have more time to trek the majestic Mount Rinjani; we would encircle it instead.

The car climbed its way into Pusuk Forest (known to all as ‘monkey forest’), passing Sidemel, along whose road, every ten meters or so, stood a stall selling palm sugar syrup. Out of curiosity, I bought a bottle of it. Firstly, the smell was downright awful-like gastric gas!-and the taste was a bizarre blend of sugar sweet with a vinegarish tinge to it. Simon said that this beverage is good for health-somewhat cliché advertising-specifically for lowering blood pressure and reducing gastric pain. We all gave it a try, however, and none claimed to love it.

We stopped by a spot in Pusuk to feed the monkeys. They all came in many sizes, but from one species only. These monkeys, somehow akin to humans, showed respect (or fear, perhaps) to their leaders: There are two of them at that particular place, as Agung later told us, that have to have the peanuts first, otherwise, the rest won’t feel comfortable to feed from us-their eyes in constant watch at their unfed kings.

All was well until we heard Shierly’s yelp. A naughty monkey had bitten her. She was feeding with her right hand one peanut at a time, holding a lot more in her clasped left palm. But this cunning monkey seemed to know. It wanted to grab hold of the whole treasure, but Shierly kept her left hand tight, and pulled it away from the menacing monkey. It bit her, for sure, and left a three-millimeter deep cut on her index finger. What she did afterwards were merely looking at her wound and pushed it to let the blood out. Simon, as a gesture of his uncalled-for responsibility for the situation, applied on the wound the juice from certain leaves, taking it as “a natural remedy.”

Fearing the attack of tetanus or rabies, we decided to halt the land cruise and asked Simon to take us to the general hospital in Mataram. Forty minutes later, we pulled up right in front of the white-green building of RSU Mataram.

In a beautiful, bountiful, hassle-free land whose people are so cool and so used to doing everything the usual laid-back style, here are a few things you better not encounter: hospitals, fire brigade, cops. Here’s why. RSU Mataram is the best hospital in entire Lombok, but its service-I couldn’t help comparing it with those of my hometown-was nowhere near first-class. The pharmacists, the nurses, even the resident doctors were slow to act-as if nothing was really emergency in this Emergency Room.

The doctors were nice, of course, in the sense that they smiled a lot, trying to ease our worries. All was still well. Although monkeybite is rare, they said, it is not unheard-of. No matter what, thorough cleansing of the wound and, above all, the antitetanus shot, were necessary, the resident doctors added. As for rabies: We were assured that those monkeys in Pusuk were healthy ones. (Rabid animals tend to bite without provocation. A bite from a wild animal while feeding it, or trying to fondle it, as I later learned from a source in the Net, is considered a provoked attack.)

Altogether, the vaccination and the first-aid treatment of the wound cost about Rp 160k and lasted about less than an hour. At 11, we were all set to continue our voyage, but with a major change of route. Instead of circling Rinjani in clockwise direction, we would now travel counterclockwise.

Eastward we went, past Cakranegara-where we stopped for a while at the Chinese drugstore Tjintjin Lima to buy medication for Shierly’s wound-then Sweta, Narmada, thus into the entrance gate of Lombok’s middle part. The first town that captured our attention was Masbagik with its huge, regal mosque. Onwards, we drove smoothly past a sweep of green, thriving tobacco fields. An hour and several unremarkable towns later, we came into the eastern part of Lombok, whose people “all adhere very strictly to Islamic principles,” Simon noted.

Things are absolutely cheaper in east Lombok than in the west. This is perhaps due to the rarity, if not total absence, of foreign tourists coming and staying in this area. In the village of Wanasaba in Aikmel, we had a cheap lunch-Javanese noodle with meatballs-by the roadside, and bought snacks for a little sum of money at the neighboring warung. We were lucky to see here a very quirky but efficient method of knotting small plastic packages. This interested me very much that I wanted to try and learn. Regrettably, we left the place without mastering the art of it.

From there we moved on to Labuhan Lombok, Khayangan, on the east coast, then up north to Sambelia where we came across a patch of land where giant trees stood. Along the way, Simon had talked a lot about these giant trees. We were utterly awed to see them with our own eyes. These tree ferns-which number to at most fifty-stand to twenty meters tall, with a trunk diameter of no more than two meters from mid-height to top, but on the ground it probably reaches seven to ten meters thick.

The more you see the intricate reality of nature, the more humbled you will feel. We humans are naught compared to this colossal, immobile organism that has withstood the evolutionary test of time over millions of years. And yet, I said to myself, you haven’t seen the Sequoias-the most massive of all living beings on planet Earth.

En route to Senaru, we went by Obel-obel, whose view of the rugged coastal hills was mesmeric, with sun-drenched sea glittering like a meadow of sapphires. Look on the other side, and you’ll see cloud-capped mountains and plains awash in copious fields of corn and tobacco leaves. Fishing boats stranded on shore. Horses and cows grazing on lush pastures. Riverbeds with steel bridges above them serving no practical purpose: There was no water below. Sun shone much more fiercely here than in western Lombok-hence the patches of parched earth here and there, intermingled with coconut palms, banana and frangipani trees. This is the playground of Drought and Profusion. Still, everything feels like they are there only for you, the ultimate observer. Even the lonely bird that pompously soared the open sky while I was photographing. This is a treat of nature: You don’t get to see this kind of miracles everyday.

Half an hour driving through the jagged path with tortuous twists and turns into the heart of the jungle brought us to the highlands of Bayan, right at the slope of Mount Rinjani-Indonesia’s third-tallest mountain. In this height, the cool breeze is palpable. But no less tangible is the riotous blend of colorful flowers blossoming with intensity: pink impatiens and frangipani, yellow-white jasmine and blue hydrangeas amid a vivid multitude of green.

Simon motioned towards a cap-wearing man who seemed to be a local guide to the waterfall. This man politely introduced himself, “Padli,” showing us his official nametag. After a brief preparation, he led us in trekking down the valley. Sendang Gila thundered vociferously from afar.

It was an honor to be guided all along the trek by Padli, who usually went up and down guiding tourists several times a single day. His recounting of the waterfall’s myth was most illuminating: Legend says a lion once came from a forest and ravaged the villages. The villagers hunted it down, yet it managed to escape to this very spot-and disappeared. Through this hole then a waterfall emerged. In the reign of a certain king, an almost-impossible attempt was made to construct a massive waterway that would convey the clean, fresh water to the garden pool in the king’s palace. During the initial stages of construction, forty people, all connected to this project, suffered unexplained and terrible deaths-the plan was soon discontinued. To this supernatural mishap does the waterfall’s name owe its origin: “Singa-nggila” (crazy lion), which subsequently evolved to “Sendang Gila” in Sasak tongue.

A quarter of an hour and hundreds of stairs later, we finally had the idea how incredible this waterfall was. The voluminous amount of water it disgorges from three major cavities is testimony to its earned reputation. There were youngsters that played in the shallow pool where the water broke, luring us even more to join them-to get ourselves all wet.

Heny, Shierly and I came down to try the water. It was numbing cold. Showering below it feels so much like having your own personal oblivion: First, the roaring sound deafens the ears, then the white blades blind the eyes, and finally the liquid ice freezes the skin. Maybe the brain, too, dies, even if for an instant.

Soaking, we trailed back to where we had started, short of breath. We had a meager afternoon snack at Pondok Senaru, one of the many trek centers up here in the hills, before going away.

From Bayan, the car drove downhill and then westward. Before us was the crimson sun, slowly going down. In Gondang we stopped for a while to relish the ultimate sunset of our ten-day trip. The rest of the drive, through Tanjung and Pusuk (where we had originally wanted to start from), was done in twilight-then darkness. Sleepily, we talked with him about commodities of Lombok-tangy garlic, pumice, tobacco leaves-as the car wound its course home. We arrived at Senggigi at 8 p.m., feeling so hungry.

Throughout that demanding road trip, Simon showed us the prime qualities of a professional tour leader: excellent driver, elucidative storyteller and most importantly, understanding companion. He didn’t mind at all our arriving too late at Senggigi, due to that nasty situation in Pusuk. Rather, he had even offered us to dine in a restaurant where he regularly entertained guests. (He was, to our surprise, a solo piano performer as well!)

We didn’t dine at Ilir-ilir, which Simon had recommended, but at Happy Café in Senggigi instead. It was quite crowded at that time; live music was playing on stage. We sat at the far corner close to the street. Mom’s gado-gado didn’t fit her expectation, neither did my chicken lemon. But Shierly and Heny each savored the spaghetti bolognese and T-bone steak. We returned to Jayakarta Hotel all spent-and slept shortly.

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