On a recent vagabonding extravaganza, I took a recess from Western society for 10 months to explore the world. During this rebellion, I found myself enticed by the Indonesian archipelago, and of course, the ever-alluring island of Bali beckoned.
When you’re a vagabond, naturally, you can answer such calls with ease.
Exotic Indonesia, just north of Australia, is certainly all it's cracked up to be. Picturesque stretches of sand, a haven for yoga enthusiasts, a truly peaceful and laid-back culture, world-class shopping, and of course, pumping surf.
But what if Indonesia's 17,000+ islands have more to offer than just the well-known Bali? What if you wanted to "rough it" for a while and experience the side of Indonesia that isn't shown in all the glossy brochures? Surely you'd have to embark on a trek to an inaccessible island far away from Bali, right?
With backpack and surfboard in hand, I found one nearby (and very much understated) island that fulfilled my craving to score perfect, uncrowded waves, indulge in deliciously cheap eats, and discover a fascinating people whose office views crush any of ours.
From afar, it looked like a tiny wrinkle of water rising from the ocean's horizon. But as I slowly approached land in the small single-engine boat loaded with large sacks of rice and colorful vegetables, I was awed by the size of that wrinkle, which turned out to be a massive, lonely, flawless wave.
The 30-minute boat ride from Bali to tiny neighboring Nusa Lembongan is a painless one that allows a decent wave of curious travelers to spend a day or two away from busy Bali. In the 10 days I spent there, however, I discovered much more than just world-class diving and serene beaches, two of Lembongan’s main attractions.
Secret roads leading to empty waves and a culture of seaweed farming that's more art than actual labor were a couple of the main attractions for me.
That aforementioned wrinkle of water became a daily surfing playground of crystal-clear ocean that I could easily see from my modest, bug-friendly bungalow. In fact, the water was so clear and the reef so bustling with life that more often than not, while waiting for the next perfect wave, I’d be pleasantly startled by little fish curiously exploring my surfboard in a brave attempt to stow away in my shorts!
Another jaw-dropping wave was accessible only via a snake-like dirt road. No paddling was required to enter the water, just a little bit of courage as you jumped 10 meters from the makeshift platform into the oncoming wave of your choice. The reward: another liquid ramp of perfection, a few smiling faces to share waves with, and a cold Bintang beer waiting for you afterwards. With a healthy dose of phenomenal surf and minimal crowds, Lembongan is a surfer’s paradise.
Arriving here, it's impossible to miss the oh-so-smooth movements in which the locals manage their seaweed farming boats, nets and baskets. Seaweed farming is the island’s main source of income. With a backdrop of sparkling ocean and swaying palm trees, it’s always a good day at the office.
The routine is mesmerizing. As low tide approaches, the local farmers rush out to shore in one massive crowd. The exodus of boats maneuvers into an exact position that allows them to maximize their efforts as they wade into the knee-deep ocean. Eventually the boats are slowly dragged back to shore, where in the blistering sun, the slimy green gold is tossed into large wicker baskets and spread upon the shore to dry at its leisure. Any composer would find inspiration in this dance.
Although Nusa Lembongan island is just a stone’s throw from Bali, it feels a hundred years away. For the traveler who really wants to get away and spend more than just a day or two exploring, the rewards are eternal – and utterly surprising.