A ‘Happy Accident’ Guide to Sumbawa Island

A marvelous human oddity I met in Ubud, Robbie the Scottish hair stylist had set up shop in Dili, Timor Leste, where his stylin’ services were in high demand. According to the red head – in loud turquoise and jade – even school children sport coloured mohawks down in Dili. Also, Dili’s hair has variety, the Portuguese having spread their curls throughout. After a few days of meaningful walkabouts with the guy, I was invited to Dili and offered his guest room.

A storefront & residence in Bali

Possible Expat den in Denpasar, Bali.

Following in the two-way tracks of friends who’d ridden their Honda Varios all the way to the Komodo Islands and back, I left Bali‘s Padang Bai harbour with my Honda Scoopy rental scooter, disboarding in Lombok at three in the morning after a comfortable five-hour ferry. My short term destination was a surfer-haven known as Gerupuk (asking for directions at a foodstand might get you starchy shrimp crackers – under the onamponepeia kerupuk).

All southbound roads lead to Kuta. Clean white beaches with bamboo warungs – was Bali’s own Kuta ever so fine? As the sun rose I followed scooters with surf racks down the coast to Gerupuk. Here I would be getting back into Hatha Yoga under my old Instructor, Japanese Aota Yuuji. Outside of private lessons, to further jog my muscle memory I followed Yuuji’s early morning classes at Ashtari Vegetarian & Vegan Restaurant, hundreds of meters up overlooking the sunrise and distant surf. The small fee for each class included a healthy breakfast – even jus sayur asem, a rare and energy rich tamarind juice.

After a few days getting back on a healthy track, I departed to Pelabuhan Kayangan for the crossing to Sumbawa island. Loaded fruit stands every few kilometers made it easy to eat healthily and raw – three carved pineapples for a dollar!

Scooting my way through the last day of a municipal election, it dawned on me that I might be a strange colour. In one small kampung village, the streets were lined with voters, painted blue or green head-to-heel, representing their choice of candidate. As a few shirtless blue boys took to staring at me and having a good laugh, I had to wonder, what colour was I? Who was I voting for?

The further east you go, the cheaper the crossings. Fifty thousand Rupiah, about five dollars US, bridged me and my Scoopy to Sumbawa in the rain. Pushing on for a few kilometers on the other side, I stopped to watch a group of boys drag a large anaconda out of the forest and away – to become somebody’s pet. Before crossing the threshold into a family home, it wriggled free of the potato sack and slithered off.

I’ve had many great trips around rural Indonesia and been surprised by how safe it is, but I’m aware of the odds. The jalan utama main road had many large trucks on it, spilling sand and gravel as they went. Somewhere passed Sumbawa Besar, I took an inauspicious bend. My Scoopy slid on some asphalt-colored gravel and I found myself lying on the curb. My feet, hands, and knees were open wounds. In an instant, the island went from thruway to turning point.

Dazed and dizzy in the sweltering heat, I lay still for a while before some locals helped me to a nearby hospital. Though a small country hospital, my wounds were treated and dressed as they would have been back home in Canada. The only difference here: perfect strangers took great and empathetic interest in my condition. After some rest, a young man helped me drive hours back to Sumbawa Besar to get a room in a kos-kosan boarding house on the north coast.

Fitted with cable television, mattress, chair, and wardrobe my cheerful little bedroom was only Rp. 250,000 ($25 USD) for one week. The proprietor’s boys and cronies arrived each day to chat idly – about the size of my nose, where Canada is, what winter is like, leg hair, and whether or not we have dinosaurs and a soccer team. They were puzzled by my shopping lists, took two Bimo to the market and back, and spent their tips sitting on the floor of a game room playing PS2 in front of old cathode ray televisions. Neighbors either side saw to it I tried their home cooking and the days dissipated into conversations. The people of Sumbawa Besar were some of the most ramah friendly and easy-going I’d met in Indonesia.

I hobbled down dirt roads passed the many and bustling Mosques wearing a sarong wrap around with batik Cilebon, patterns of Cilebon, West Java. Children rode passed on horses. I overheard a woman in a doorway muttering something about a Canadian person who had a crash somewhere between here and Bima and was staying at the kos boarding house up the street. Apart from a few Koreans who ran a factory nearby, I was honoured to be the only foreigner in the area. The owner of the corner store lent me a chess board and a line up of teenage competitors arrived at my bedside. I howled with laughter watching Opera Van Java with total strangers.

In a small bengong shelter on the beach range for horses, goats, and strutting chickens, locals illuminated their island for me and I became glad not to have just passed through. Gold mines in the southern mountains, traditional villages where people lived in rumah adat traditional homes on a system of barter, the infamous hunters’ paradise of nearby Moyo resort island, brand new Universities near Taliwang, a local museum of artifacts, and dishes like plecing spicy tomato sauce and vegetables (similar to gado gado), and sinang fish soupa spicy culinary scene – all of these things nearly passed me by. I heard about local controversies surrounding the Dynasty Hotel, and how a motorcycle thief might be brought to justice under martial law. A local police officer, in relation to my accident, said that you have the choice between being safe and living dangerously in Indonesia – at least.

50 cents a bowl for some green pea porridge.

Stopping for some bubur kacang ijo green pea porridge on the way home – Mataram, Lombok.

It wasn’t hard to see the bright side of being stranded in Sumbawa Besar. The second part of the city’s name, aside from meaning big or large, is an acronym for Bersih Elok Sehat Aman Rapi clean, beautiful, healthy, safe and tidy. The name is only an aspiration, though it felt nearby and partially true. As usual in this country, the only thing missing was money.

After a week of healing, reading, playing chess and flute, after saving a slew of phone numbers I left Sumbawa behind hoping to come return some day.

Legs after a scooter crash.

I’ve always had a soft spot for showing off my gashes.


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