Do you have a cow? Lombok, Indonesia

January 6, 2007 14 Comments »

Boy in the Village

Boy in the Village

View Lombok Photography

Happy New Year! My travels continue in 2007! Every year for the Christmas Holiday my sister and her family go somewhere in Southeast Asia for a week, lay on the beach and relax before the kids have to go back to school. I decided that I would go with them and continue my travel adventures with them for a week. After all – I’ve traveled alone, traveled with friends, so why not try traveling with a family! This year they chose Lombok, Indonesia – an island east of Bali. We stayed at a swank family villa near Senggigi with our own infinity pool, open air dining room, and complete with a ‘butler’. I must admit – I was a bit confused at first what we were supposed to do with a butler – but I quickly got used to it when he asked me if he could bring me a drink…I love the Indonesian exchange rate! I quickly came to realize that Lombok is very similar to Bali in economics, and landscape, however it is a little gem of an island that hasn’t really been discovered by tourism yet. In fact- this was probably as non-touristy/remote as I’ve been in my travels to date. There is only a small part of the island that is really geared towards tourists with hotels, shopping, tours, and restaurants – and the choices were miniscule compared to Bali. The rest of the island is just typical village life – with virtually no contact with tourists or western visitors. In addition, the people here were mainly Muslim as opposed to Bali where the majority was Hindu. I thought it was strange that two islands that are so so close together, so similar in size, can be so different religiously. This meant that I was back to getting woken up at 5AM by the call to prayers at the mosque. However the loud, large geckos (I mean large…like the size of your ARM!) on the roof weren’t too quiet either.

When we arrived at our house the girls went for a swim and then we had dinner. Our nighttime butler, Adi, took care of our every need. At dinner Lindsey surprisingly announced, “This is the best day of my life!” I was a little stunned as there aren’t too many moments in your life where you can be a part of someone’s ‘best day’ – I guess I felt pretty honored. I asked “Why?” She said, “Because I’m with my family and we have our own pool.” You have to love the life and mind of a 7 year old!

Photo: Woman selling banans at the market
The next day we decided that we would hire a chef for the day since we had this great big house and our own kitchen – and it was dirt-cheap. The chef came but didn’t speak any English so our daytime butler, Vicky, had to translate for us. Cyndi and I tried to pick out a traditional Indonesian meal. In addition to the chef cooking for us, we were also able to accompany him to the market to get all of the necessary items, and then watch him prepare it. All 6 of us plus Vicky and the chef got in a little Bemo (open air taxi/truck of sorts) and went into town to experience the big wet market.
Wet markets are open air markets that sell meat, poultry, and produce. They warned us before we got to the market that it would be muddy as there was a great deal of rain the other night and the market was outdoor…ok – no problem, a little mud wont hurt anyone…however the smell and the various goods for sale…well – that’s another story. We went to the market at about noon…this was considered really late for the locals, in fact many of the little shops and the fish market had already sold out or closed shop. For the locals, their days start by a trip to the market at 4AM. Then they typically take their purchases back to their village on some other part of the island and sell it at their village. Wholesaling was alive and well in Lombok.

I always love trips to markets…they never cease to amaze me. It’s so different than going to Fairway on the Upper West Side (which certainly has it’s own challenges). First off – you can’t have a weak stomach, and you can’t really be a vegetarian (you can – but you will be pretty unhappy). You have to be ok with seeing every type of animal part imaginable…with flies all over it. And the smell…all I can say is that you eventually get used to it – but it’s certainly not appetizing. You have to get out of your world of sterile health standards. chicks
Finally, you always have to be prepared to see something that you never expected existed before – something that baffles your westernized eye. On this trip – it was colored chicks. They were selling little baby chicks – however the chicks were painted in bright colors. Pink, green, yellow, blue – they looked like someone tried to dye the Easter egg, but it leaked through and dyed the chick instead. It was a rainbow of tons of little chicks for sale on a bike cart. From what I could figure out, people bought the chicken to raise at their village. They would pick out a color so that they could tell them apart from one another. The Smiths had the blue chicks, the Johnsons had the pink chicks, the Andersons had the green chicks…you get my drift. Kind of like branding a cow I suppose. As the chicks grow into chickens – there still remains some of the bright color on the feathers, therefore you can also tell them apart as adults. At least this is the best explanation I could come up with….maybe they just thought the colors were pretty…who knows.

I think many of the people working in the market were as fascinated by us with our light colored skin, as much as I was fascinated by the colored chicks with their brightly colored feathers. We were quite entertaining for the locals. My nieces were troopers – they did a great job as they were surrounded by animal parts teaming with flies, with that foul odor of a butcher in warm weather, and the thick mud that we had to walk through. When I was 7 to 13 years old – I would have run out of that market screaming in tears!

Photo: Woman carrying rocks
The next day the ocean was too rough to go snorkeling so we hired a driver and guide to take us to see the waterfalls near the volcano on the island. Our guide’s name was Bahram, he lived in the village near our villa. We were driving for about an hour when we went through a small village and the road was closed down to one lane. There were hundreds of people all over the street and there was a man stopping traffic and taking donations. As our driver threw some spare change in a bucket, Bahram said that the village was building a new Mosque and taking donations. We drove by change collector and saw how the whole village came together to construct this mosque. It was like a barn raising in Amish country. Everyone was involved, men, women, kids, young, old. We immediately asked if we could stop and take pictures. Frank and I got out of the car armed with our cameras. bucket
Yet I mostly stood there in awe of their ‘old fashioned’ production line. Women were carrying big buckets of rocks on their head to a group of young boys that were mixing them with water. On the other side of the street they were mixing the rocks with some cement like substance. They would dip a pail into the cement/rock like substance and one by one pass the bucket up the ladders to the people at the top to be poured into the frames made of bamboo. It reminded me of ants on an anthill just working away in a massive ant trail…it was amazing. Of course we stood out again like a white chick amongst neon colored chicks. Everyone stopped and either waved at us or simply looked at us like we had just dropped out of the sky with our white skin and strange cameras.

Our next stop was to feed the monkeys. Of course my nieces were excited about this – however I was less then thrilled to come face to face with a monkey again after my monkey assault in Bali a month ago! Bahram assured me that these were nice monkeys (I doubt there really is such a thing), he said that they would not jump on me or steal things like glasses or earrings. I was persuaded to come out of the car …if my 13-year-old niece can do it – so can I. After the monkey feeding we moved on to a stop in the rice fields to watch them harvest the rice. The women were busy gathering bunches of rice and tying them up. They would give them to the young men who would then proceed with pounding them against a wooden slab that was positioned over a large tarp. rice
The pounding action of the rice bundles would make the rice fall out of their grass encasements and fall onto the tarp. Once they were done harvesting, the rice on the tarp would be gathered up and taken to various homes to dry in the sun. When we stopped at rice field to take pictures, this older woman, about 50 years old, came up to the road and stared at us. Bethany went over to her and said hello. The woman proceeded to stare and touch Bethany’s arm. She would stroke Bethany’s arm because this was one of the few Caucasian people she had ever seen. She wanted to feel if our white skin was any different. I knew at this moment just how remote the island of Lombok was.

Next we arrived at the volcano site where we were to do a small trek to a couple of waterfalls. We had a new young guide named Adi that took us to the waterfalls. The trek to the first waterfall was pretty standard, down a bunch of steps, over a groomed trail, and to the base of the waterfall. We then went on to the second waterfall – which was definitely a more challenging walk. It felt as if we were working our way deep into the jungle, and we followed this elaborate system of waterway canals that would handle the large amounts of water during the rainy season and provide drinking water to the villages. The trail abruptly ended – but no waterfall was in site. Adi then told us to take off our shoes and follow him. waterfall We followed him over the rocks of the river snaking across from bank to bank along the shallow parts and all of a sudden it opened up onto a great waterfall! The travel by water was a bit treacherous, but we were able to get through it with only one scraped knee and a few tears. Adi told us that he would take us back on a different trail through more water if we were up for it. We were all in agreement, however when we got to the new trail – we realized that it wasn’t really a trail at all – but it was a tunnel with the water flowing through it. He assured us that it would only come up to our knees and that it was safe to walk through. I was a bit skeptical – but I figured that it must be a short cave – and you only live once. We entered the tunnel and Adi told us to keep our hands up on the ceiling to feel for protruding rocks so that we (the adults) didn’t hit our head. We entered the tunnel and quickly realized that it was pitch dark. I couldn’t see Cyndi who was only 2 feet in front of me – you just had to feel around on the tunnel walls to figure out where to go. Finally we saw some light – I thought that signaled the end of the tunnel – however I realized that it was only a little opening in the tunnel to let light in, but the tunnel continued to go on and on and on! tunnel At one point I was taking pictures of the pitch darkness with my flash on and when the flash would go off we realized that it ‘woke up’ the sleeping bats and they started to fly around us. I was petrified! I honestly didn’t want to know what else was in the tunnel with us…spiders, bats, and lord knows what was in the water flowing around my knees! The girls were troopers once again – yet I decided not to publicize the bat epiphany…what they didn’t know wouldn’t hurt them. After 10 minutes of feeling our way through the dark tunnel and lots of laughter and screaming – we made it to the opening on the other side! We all agreed that we were happy to be out of the tunnel – however it was by far the highlight of our trek! This is what I love about travel – you have no idea where it will lead you – you just have to roll with it and laugh a lot along the way!

On our way home I talked to Bahram and peppered him with questions about his family and life on Lombok. He lived in a village not far from our villa with his whole family living around him. He was married at the age of 15 and now had 2 little girls. My favorite fact is that he learned English on the beach…no formal training…I was impressed. He seemed to dabble in everything – snorkeling tours, fishing, surfing, trekking, and livestock! This leads me to the title of this post…cows…well – specifically cowbells.
Photo: Bahram and his cow…and bell!
cow During this year of travel – I am not able to do much shopping as I really don’t have room to haul beautiful pottery around the world with me…and shipping home each little thing is expensive (plus Miles doesn’t have a large enough apartment to house it all until I get back!). However – since I’m at my sister’s house in Singpaore for a while – I’m able to do some shopping and store it at her place to be shipped home when I leave the Singapore area in April. Finally – I get to take advantage of some of these amazing bargains that I’m bombarded by…saying ‘buy me, buy me’! Ok – back to teh cows…Everyone in Lombok had a cow or two, the cows just roam around the village along with the goats and stray dogs. The cows have these great old cowbells – I was intrigued with the bells and wanted one of my own as apartment décor. I asked Bahram if he had a cow and he said that he had two of them. I then asked if they had a bell…”yes, of course” I asked if I would be able to buy a bell at the market.
He said “Do you have a cow”
…uh…”no – but I have a cat.”
At this point my sister turned around and looked at me like I was crazy – yet we both chuckled about the picture of me having a cow in NYC…grazing in Central Park. I said, “Maybe I could put the bell on the cat. Yet I think it may weigh her down a bit.” I think I lost Bahram. The concept of having a cow bell without a cow is completely foreign to him. The concept of having a cow bell for decoration – well – I’m sure he thinks that I’m crazy. After this humorous interchange he still actually invited us to visit him and his family the next day in his village. Of course I loved this idea and wasn’t going to pass it up a chance to see the every day life in Lombok!

The next morning the girls donated a few of their pens and tablets as gifts for our visit and we headed off to Bahram’s village to see what real life on Lombok was like. When we arrived we were greeted by a number of people. They really rolled out the red carpet for us…well – it was actually a woven mat made of palm leaves – but it felt like we were movie stars! They had us sit down in a little hut and brought us trays of fruit, and fried rice chips and tea.
Photo: Twin boys at the village
twins It was an outpouring of hospitality that I really didn’t expect. The village was sparse as I had imagined it to be. The homes were made of concrete – but it was basically one room that everyone slept in, ate in, and lived in. They had a well outside of the house where they could get water. There were chickens, pigeons, cows, and goats roaming everywhere. However the main commodity was kids…tons of kids running around – mesmerized by us – this family of white people who have come to visit bearing gel pens, American candy, and paper! This was my chance to get some great photos of the locals and it provided endless entertainment for the kids. kids
As soon as I would take a picture of them staring intently into the camera, I would show them the image and the whole group of them would erupt in laughter and wonder. We took tons of pictures and then my nieces showed them how to play catch with a beach ball – the kids were full of laughter and smiles – it was quite touching.

The remainder of our time in Lombok was filled with swimming, shopping , beach time, and great food. The girls spent every moment they could in the pool and teaching the various butlers how to do a ‘high five’. We came home from shopping one day and the butler, Ade, met us at the door and gave my sister and I a ‘high five’ to welcome us…I think this meant that it was about time for us to leave this island. Our work here was done – we had successfully corrupted the butlers. However – by the end of the week I decided that I knew the real reason the butlers were assigned to the villa…to catch bugs for sissy little foreigners like us! We were in the middle of tropical jungle…bugs everywhere. Big ones, gross ones, flying ones, hairy ones…thank god for the butlers. Now I just have to figure out how take one of the butlers along with me to Thailand and Vietnam to kill the bugs! Overall – traveling with family was very fun…and a bit more ‘luxury’ than backpacking by myself! However my favorite times were seeing my nieces embrace travel and the unusual world around us. The times in the market, in the village, in the tunnel – the times that were unexpected, and very real. They will grow up into great world travelers!

Photos: My nieces…Megan, Lindsey, Bethany
megan lindsey bethany

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