I am sure my 4 to 5 readers have been truly devastated by my lack of activity recently, but I’m back now. There’s a lot to catch up on, particularly my adventures in Australia (spoiler alert: I got pecked by an emu), but I want to finish up the Indonesia trip first.
Expressing my views on Lombok is quite the moral dilemma for me: basically I hated it, but I want more people to go there.
I had loved Indonesia so far, and Lombok was billed as the more chilled out, laid back, less touristic version of more well-known destinations – “like Bali 20 years ago”. Beautiful beaches, mountains and waterfalls without the tacky bars and crowds of pretentious travellers, finding themselves and updating their blogs (cough).
To be fair, it is a beautiful island and the scenery is excellent. So it’s a shame that it’s quite dirty and the beaches are visibly polluted with plastic. Apparently there is no refuse collection on the island, so people tend to throw their rubbish into the sea or burn it – both unpleasant and environmentally horrible options.
As for the “not touristy” claims – I beg to differ. I did expect that there would be people making their living trying to sell to us, and I don’t have any objection to that. But I didn’t appreciate people stopping their cars or scooters at the side of the road to try and sell us stuff as we walked along the pavement. Then driving on and pulling over to repeat this again, but pushier, 10 steps later after we’ve already said no thanks. We had people selling everything from souvenirs, jewellery, boat trips, drugs and taxi services following us around the town, waiting for us to come out from shops or restaurants to pressure us again. One guy actually came into a restaurant and sat at our table, then the one beside it, trying to make us sign a very suspect agreement to hire a scooter while we were trying to get some lunch. Basically, I didn’t feel comfortable exploring this place on my own, which is a big deal for me, and didn’t particularly enjoy going out at all as I always felt we were about to be scammed, followed or harassed. Once I started feeling on edge, that suspicion and lack of trust in the back of my mind was unfair to the people who were honest and reasonable. The atmosphere was bad for everyone. There was also an unpleasant situation at the place where we stayed, but it’s not fair to tar the whole island with that nasty brush, so I won’t go there.
I’m aware that it’s difficult to criticise Lombok without sounding heartless and insensitive. It is often hit by earthquakes and there was some serious damage done in August last year. This naturally caused devastation to the people who lost family and shelter but also their income source, as tourists are less willing to go there. I can see how such a disaster would leave people feeling desperate, and it somewhat explains the more aggressive tactics we encountered. I get that – but I still can’t pretend I had a good time.
We were warned to avoid certain areas as they were not safe, that there were some temples and sights where tourists were targetted by criminals, and to watch out for scams. Having read a lot of other peoples’ experiences in Lombok, this is not unique to us or to the fact that we visited in the months following an earthquake. I know lots of people enjoy it and have a great time, but plenty of people also report the negative experience that I had.
Logic tells me that people who need tourism to thrive would be aware of the fact that visitors who have a nice time are more likely to talk about it and recommend it to others, thus boosting future tourism, etc. I feel this all over Malaysia, where the locals are friendly, kind and keen to know that you are being treated well and enjoying their country. On one view, it’s because they’re nice (and I believe that), but even taking a pragmatic view, they feel that tourism and their international reputation is important, so they treat people well. At the risk of sounding really patronising, it’s a shame that a similar culture hasn’t developed in Lombok.
I’m in a catch-22 situation when it comes to describing this part of the trip. I believe that if more people visit, creating more stability and sustainable income, the incidents of scamming, crime or generally making people feel harassed and uneasy would subside, so the right thing to do would be to encourage more people to go. But I can’t recommend it as a destination based on my experience, because I simply didn’t enjoy it. For now I can rest assured that I’m not exactly a major influencer and my opinion, one way or another, is not going to change anything. But I do hope that something changes, because the situation as it was during my time there was not positive for anyone.
Let’s finish on a high. Here are some of the best bits, including the pool, sunsets on the beach, and a cat that joined me for a beer: