Woke at 9 and had breakfast sitting on a table outside that was swarming with ants who had invaded the sugar pot and were busy escorting the sugar crystal prisoners back to the nest. I tried in vain to keep them off my toast and papaya, and accidentally buttered a few into my toast. Today I’d booked a day-long ‘tour’ of Lombok, and my driver was Okat, who turned up just after 9. He had long hair, a checked shirt, and light denim jeans, his hand tucked casually into the pocket. He was friendly, and a mine of information on Sasak tradition and culture, and we bonded in the SUV over talk of women, music, and genuine interest in each other’s culture.
We drove towards the south, to Kuta. On the way we drove past and through some fantastic scenery. Countryside quilted with emerald rice fields, tobacco fields and fruit orchards, dissected with silvery streams and gurgling brooks, dotted with villages. I saw a lot of farmers working the fields, some with the now favoured machine ploughs that have the power of 2 buffalos. Some farmers still use the traditional buffalo, but they’re getting phased out as modern technology has caught on even in these quiet and relatively isolated Indonesian villages. After driving through the choked streets of the capital, Mataram, we were in village territory. We stopped off at a village where they weave ikat and songkat – traditional sarongs worn by men and women respectively. I saw a few women in action, weaving away on the complex looking wooden looms. I bought a couple of ikat and songkat from a small shop they sell them from, direct from that village, straight from the loom.
After this, we drove on, and came to a small village with a few women squatted down over a pot stirring a kind of yellow soup. Excited cries of ‘tourist’ rang out as I hopped out from the jeep and went to have a look. The ancient looking women around the fire all gave toothless, gummy grins and I took a few photos. I had a peep into one of the tiny, cramped huts, where more broth was being made. There were no men around – probably working the fields while the women cooked and looked after the children. Everybody here was so friendly. I was even offered a young bride, but politely refused. The people here seem relatively untouched by tourism, and carry a general air of innocence and naivety around them, unlike the bitter, scheming, money-grabbing people that some of those whose lives are directly affected by tourism and tourists become. It was refreshing.
We headed on, and came across a traditional Sasak wedding, to which the whole village had been invited. Okat stopped the jeep and suggested I go and take a look. Intitially I was reluctant – I wouldn’t want a foreigner gatecrashing my wedding, but then curiosity got the better of me. A load of villagers were sat on blue plastic chairs eating, dressed smartly in their best ikat and songkat, and at the front on a stage, like a king and queen observing their kingdom, sat the bride and groom, in royal gold and green Sasak wedding outfits. Interestingly, the groom was a foreigner – an Australian, and his wife a local from the village. He was far from home, none of his friends or family were here, but he was happy. I introduced myself, and the slightly majestic aura around them disappeared the with the down-to-earth nature of the groom, as well as his rather plain name – Steve, and his wife, a rather plain-named Sarah. Steve invited me to stay and eat, and he seemed glad of the chance to have an informal chat and get off the pedestal. He works as a teacher in a university. He had met Sarah a year before while holidaying in Kuta, and when he’d gone back to Oz they kept in touch. Steve’s first wife, from Borneo, had died from a horrible disease that crippled her legs and arms, despite being fit, eating correctly and exercising. After seeing his once fighting fit wife reduced to a motionless vegetable, Steve had adopted a new philosophy on life – live for the moment. He said there was nothing for him in Oz – his friends are all married with kids. He told me he wasn’t ready for his pipe and slippers just yet. He boasted that he still climbed mountains, still ran marathons….he wasn’t going to worry about the ‘what ifs?’ Good for him. 61. His new wife, 41. She used to work as a maid in Saudi Arabia. Sounded like hell. Steve had bought some land in Kuta, dug a well for water….he had his own little plan, wasn’t giving into the pressures of society, going his own way, carving a path he wanted to tread on. I fully support his philosophy. Live for the moment. I left after eating, not wanting to outstay my welcome. It had been an honour to have sat in on a Sasak wedding day.
I got back to the car. Okat was waiting, not allowed entry to the festivities himself, as he’s not from that village. He was in nostalgic mood for some reason, perhaps seeing in me the fire and curiosity he once nurtured. He told me of his younger days, when he would entertain foreign women who would fall at his feet. He said he learned black magic from his grandfather, and used it on stubborn girls who were playing the arrogant card and rejecting his initial advances. I asked him to share his black magic secrets, but he wasn’t having any of it, laughing off the request. He said after all the fun with ‘bule’ women, he still settled down with a local Sasak girl, as he is from a traditional village, and it is expected. Still, he remembers the days of chasing white skirt fondly.
We got to Kuta eventually. Lots of development has been earmarked for this area, boasting a beautiful series of crescent bays licking white sand beaches. Not much has been done yet, and it’s still remarkably peaceful and low-key. It’s beautiful here, with a backdrop of rugged coastal hills patched with lush tobacco fields. I walked along the beach, where the sand is grainy and so soft it’s like walking in quicksand. It was hard work walking towards the hilly monkey forest at the other end of the beach, and I had to stop for a coconut break and to have a chat with Caroline the batik, ikat and coconut seller. 2 local kids came over and showed me a glass jar filled with little crabs in their shells, all clambering over one another.
I walked on until the forest area, then back by road to the jeep. We drove to another area, and I climbed a hill on the beach for some truly amazing views of the different bays of Kuta, lush palm trees behind white sands sweeping into the turquoise sea. A lot of locals had travelled here too, as it was Sunday. Incredible, unspoiled beaches. This is what Kuta in Bali might have been like about 30 years ago, before it became the mess it is now.
We picked up 3 beach kids on the way back to Central Kuta. As it was a Sunday they’d been selling bracelets on the beach, and had sold over 20 each. Okat gave them a lift as he said he remembered when he was a kid and he’d try to get a lift back from school everyday. Okat has the type of kindly ‘man of the people’ face you can instantly trust, and he seemed genuinely happy to show me around and to have these 3 sandy urchins in the back, who yelled out of the windows at their friends, boasting of their good fortune. We dropped them off and headed back to Mataram.
On the way back, we were held up a number of times due to all the weddings taking place. Swarms of people from whichever village the wedding was in were out in force. The whole village is invited to a wedding, and processions on the street with dancing, singing and music are all part of the huge, joyous, colourful celebrations. We stopped and got out to see one procession. First in the procession was a drunken old man, topless, wearing only long pants, dancing in front of everyone, getting the energy up, encouraging everyone to dance. This is always the ‘job’ given to one of the elders in the village, and is a good chance for them to get rat-arsed.
Next came a group of flagbearers and a band, followed by the bride, dressed majestically in yellows and greens, flanked by bridesmaids and holding a large yellow traditional umbrella over here head. Then came another line of flagbearers, followed by the groom, dressed in his best songkat, his best men holding a large yellow traditional umbrella over him. Next came a huge stereo system on wheels, and a large group of village youths all dressed in black danced together wildly, celebrating the occasion with relish. How magnificent this wedding, I thought. Such effort is put into it. The Sasaks are a proud people, and their culture is strong and rich. I found out a lot about Sasaks through chats with Okat. Sasaks make up 90%of people in Lombok, but are much poorer than the Balinese minority. They are all Muslims, but still retain less orthodox Wektu Telu beliefs and ancient animist rituals. These indigenous and animist traditions play an important part in things like marriage.
After this exciting display of culture, we went to the Mayura Water Palace, which was built in 1744 and seems to have been preserved very little since. There is no entrance fee, just a ‘donation’. The clever scamsters at the entrance show you a book with people’s names and donations, each one at least 300,000Rp. Nice trick. I donated 10,000, and wrote down my name. No doubt they’ll tip-ex that one out. The water palace is crumbling and of little interest. Pura Meru Hindu temple is just behind it, but inaccessible. After walking in the grounds, I got a the botol, and headed back to Senggigi with Okat. He wanted to show me some traditional rattan stick fighting (the Sasaks have a fascination with heroic trials of strength, physical prowess and one-on-one contests), but it had started raining, and they don’t fight in the rain. He dropped me off and I chilled out for the rest of the day, heading to Happy Café for a chicken cordon bleau, a beer, and to listen to a stripped down band with no Eddie guitar hero. I’d had a great day.