The pace of life on Nusa Lembongan is slow. This little island off Bali has somehow avoided the mayhem that has engulfed Kuta and the Gili Islands. On Lembongan all I did was surf and kick back on the deck working on stories… it was bliss.
I took the slow boat from Bali, we left from Sanur, on the East coast of Bali. The boat takes just under two hours to make the crossing. The bare timber felt good under bare feet. A mish-mash of travellers sat and leaned with eyes lost to the horizon. I met two girls names Lina and Michelle, from Sweden and Germany respectively. They asked about the island and I explained that there were no nightclubs; just restaurants along the shore and cheap accommodation, surfing by day and eating and chatting by night. Their eyes lit up “perfect” they said.
Off the boat we took up the offer of being shown some bungalows by some local guys. We jumped onto the back of their bikes and they took us up to the North end of the island where we found a bungalow with a view out to the Shipwrecks surf-break.
The guys weren’t pushy and wouldn’t take a dime for their help. We wandered the foreshore with sweat pouring and eventually found a place that had the right balance of comfort and price. It was cheap and had a great view.
On this side of Nusa Lembongan there is a lagoon that is protected by a reef. The surfing on the edge of the reef is amazing as there is a sharp drop-off into a really deep trench. Swell builds in the water that is kilometres deep and then unloads its energy onto the reef in the form of glassy, barreling waves.
What’s unique about Lembongan is that the waves are incredibly tide dependent. At low tide the lagoon is dry and the beds of seaweed, that the locals farm, are exposed and there is not a ripple of a wave on the reef. But as the tide comes in and the lagoon fills, that’s when the waves turn on.
Like magic, the swell lines appear, and bodies emerge from the shade, they load into boats or paddle across the lagoon to try their luck on the fast and powerful walls of Shipwrecks, on the lightning fast and hollow pits of Lacerations or over on the forgiving and relatively mellow peaks at Playgrounds.
With a high tide early in the morning I was able to surf first thing in the morning and again on the high tide at dusk. After the morning session I was often back on the deck with an omlette by 9am. After a banana shake I would pull out my computer and try to get some work done. There was wi-fi on the deck. It wasn’t super fast but it did the job, when there was power.
Black-outs were not un-common and they always seemed to come precisely when my laptop was almost out of battery and right before I needed to send an email. I had to confess to my editor at one stage that I wouldn’t be able to get a draft to him because I was on a small island in Indonesia and we had no power… I didn’t sense much sympathy.
I ordered coffees as the need arose and banana pancakes when I got hungry.
By midday I was in need of a swim so took a few steps and jumped into the ocean. The water was warm, like a bath, but the salt was nice on my skin. I would wander down the beach for lunch: Ayam Bakar, Nasi Goreng or Cap Cay. My favourite was Ikan Satay or fish with peanut sauce, after a solid morning of surfing and writing a big dose of Mahi Mahi was just what I needed.
After lunch, and while I waited for my laptop to charge, I would wander through the villages trying to stay in the shade. The island was amazing to explore. You could jump on a scooter and fly through the rainforest. The traffic was mellow and while the roads weren’t great it meant you slowed down and took in your surroundings. Mushroom Bay is beautiful and has some sweet hotels. There’s Cinigans reef which is between two islands and can be fun to surf when other spots are flat. There’s a little bridge that joins the islands, I remember it being super-rickety when I took my bike over it in past years but this year it was closed off to bikes, walking only. It had seen better days.
Afternoons were spent back on the deck editing photos, researching articles and writing stories for you, my dear readers. I got to know many of the other folks staying at the hotel and many of them I’d met out in the water. Some were confused when I explained I was researching bank reserve ratio requirements for an article on digital currency markets.
I had to agree I had an amazing office and I was lucky to be able to work on the road; but it was hard to explain that so much freedom also has its challenges. That there is no guarantee of a pay-check each week and that as with all the choices we make in life there are trade-offs. I’ve chosen to be my own boss and to escape the office but at the same time I’ve forgone financial security and stability. I’m still not sure whether it was the right choice, I’m just trying to make it work as best I can, to not waste this most valuable and rare freedom.
All through the day my eyes would be drawn out to the reef gauging the tide and the incoming swell. As the sun began to dip I would weight up how much light was left and how low the tide was. As others emerged with boards under their arms and cream on their noses I would click my computer shut and dash to my room. Zinc, shirt, leg rope, board. If it was only going to be a short session I would paddle out, but if it was looking like a long one then I would shout to the captain for a ride. 20,000 rupiah return.
There’s something really special about this island, but I can’t put my finger on it. Maybe it has something to do with the eerily deep trench that drops off beside the reef, maybe that affects the clouds that offer such sublime sunsets and bring in such perfect waves. It certainly has a lot to do with the mellow vibes of the locals. Nothing is a hassle, there are no deadlines, bills get paid when it’s convenient and there’s always someone to lend a hand with a smile.
I stayed for a little under a week and could have stayed for a lot longer. This was the first spot I came to when I got to Bali and I’ll definitely be coming back soon.