Updated: Jul 21, 2021
Back in 2019, I visited Lombok, one of the many islands in Indonesia that was hit hard from the 2018 Lombok earthquake.
Lombok is easily accessible from Bali by fast boat (Padang Bai to Bangsal Harbour, approx. 2.5 hours) or by public ferry (Padang Bai to Lembar Port, approx. 4 hours) - the cheaper option!
I took the faster option and climbed aboard the Golden Queen Fast Boat and headed to Bangsal Harbour. I was picked up by a friend on a scooter, so I missed the crowds of people offering taxis, or even the traditional transport of horse and cart (locally called Cidomo).
I headed north to the small village of Senaru, approximately 1.5 hours by car or bike, depending on traffic. It is important to note that Lombok is predominantly Muslim, so you should cover your shoulders and knees out of respect when driving around- it also prevents you from getting sunburnt!
I really enjoyed the drive to Senaru, through small villages, large areas of open forest and also along the coastline, you get to see all types of landscapes on the way!
Senaru village is located at the base of the astounding Mount Rinjani. I was greeted with smiles and waves by all the local people, making you really feel at home!
Senaru is home to the distinct Lombok culture - the “Orang Sasak Tribe” (Sasak people), which comes from the word “sak-sak” meaning boat, making up ~85% of Lombok’s population.
They have their own dialect, so my friend was my personal translator! I shared stories about England, and even educated them on basic 'western' first aid which came in handy when his cousin got into a motorcycle accident while I was there!
The air was incredibly fresh in the village I stayed in - you could even drink the tap water as it comes straight from Mt. Rinjani. This also meant that the shower was FREEZING, yet refreshing and super clean!
In terms of toilet facilities, it was basic, but saying that I got used to it very quickly, even the critters that sometimes sought shelter inside from the rain! The toilet was shared with the commune, and was the traditional squat toilet. The shower next door was a bucket of water with a scoop to clean yourselves - it did the job, and the villagers always ensured it was pristine!
Sasak houses are traditionally thatched with walls and floors smothered in cow dung. This is usually applied to the house every month to prevent mosquitoes and keep the house cool. This is most commonly found in one of Lomboks' indigenous Sasak Sade villages.
I didn't ask about the cow dung where I stayed, but I will say this - I did not get bitten AT ALL when inside the house - and people that know me, I am quite the attraction to mosquitos!
The house I stayed in was made from wood, with concrete floors, two windows and a metal roof. This is the best way to build due to the frequent earthquakes in Indonesia. Inside the house, there was no air-con or fan, but in the evenings it got much cooler, and with the use of thin blankets, I soon acclimated to the conditions. The bed was wooden and instead of a ‘modern sprung mattress’, they make them themselves with dried palm leaves stuffed inside fabric - surprisingly comfy!
After the 2018 Earthquake - The house with the lady is where I stayed.
Visiting Lombok was when I experienced my first earthquake.
No one can quite prepare you for your first experience - for me, it occurred in the early hours of the morning. It was a light shake, yet the walls surrounding the house were bending, lights swinging, water bubbling in the taps, and the farm animals making sounds soon woke me up as I was tossed from side to side in the bed. The worst part for me was not being able to see, as my eyesight is so terrible, I cannot see beyond my arms reach - after this, it was safe to say I slept with my glasses under my pillow every night! This was a small shake compared to what they have experienced before, so I cannot imagine how frightening larger shakes are!
The Sasak people are also known for their lack of technology, there were no luxury items such as flat-screen TVs or computers, and with the bad signal, internet data was almost non-existent. BUT, this was all part of the experience, and you are quick to realise how much time we spend using technology when there is so much more to life than staring at screens!
I spent most days around the village with the extended family, helping to collect leaves for the elders, drinking freshly caught coconuts, eating my body weight in village fruits such as rambutan and cacao, and drinking the speciality drink called “brem” (fermented rice wine) which is simply ‘enak’ - meaning delicious!
The meals were usually cooked by the ladies in the village, but sometimes everyone took part. I ate everything that was served to me, despite me sometimes being a fussy eater. I simply wanted to embrace their culture and live like a true Sasak villager! Most of the dishes were cooked on open fires, but the house I stayed in also had a gas stove.
As people from Senaru are mainly farmers, almost everything I ate was grown by them and the meat came from their village animals. They greatly rely on rice and vegetable farming as a source of income.
This meant many days were spent on the rice fields with the family drinking coffee and indulging in locally prepared snacks in the wooden gazebo to seek shade from the basking sun.
After a day on the rice field the afternoons were spent around the house and surrounding villages, meeting extended family and friends - I think I held and had a photo taken with every baby I met!
I arrived just before the celebration of Eid al-Fitr, which occurs after the month of Ramadan. I was invited to the “Festival of Breaking the Fast” in Senaru by the family- and can proudly say I was the only tourist there making it extra special! - Everyone I passed was excited for me to share the experience with them, and really embrace their culture.
Before this celebration, I spent the day with the local family visiting their deceased loved ones, where offerings were put on the graves, and we enjoyed a feast of different home-cooked dishes prepared by the extended family that also joined.
As mentioned, Senaru is located at the base of Mount Rinjani. While I was there, I got the opportunity to climb it with the fantastic eco-friendly tour company called Green Rinjani - however, we only made it to the crater rim due to the catastrophic earthquake in 2018 that crumbled the path to reach the summit.
Even if you are not the fittest person in the world (like me), you will still be able to climb it as there are plenty of pit-stops on the way to rest and have some food and drinks, all carried by your amazing porters - most of them climbing in only flip-flops!
The day after climbing Mount Rinjani, we were all feeling a little sore, so we visited Tiu Kelep Waterfall & Sendang Gile Waterfall to bathe in the water and stretch our legs! It was a perfect end to an action-packed trip!
For travellers wanting to visit Senaru, I highly recommend staying with the fabulous host Benji at Rinjani Sunset Hostel, a walk away from the village I stayed in, so I even stayed there for a couple of nights when we stayed up late listening to his daughter singing and playing the ukulele!
The dormitory room really embraced the local culture and the sea view sunset from the terrace is spectacular! - Plus it is such a good value for only 150,000-200,000IDR (£7-10) per person, per night!
If you want a bit more luxury, then escape to the hills and stay at Rinjani Lodge - starting from 750,000IDR (£38) per room, per night.
My whole experience was something I will remember forever, and I learnt that money really isn't everything. It is surrounding yourselves with family and friends, staying humble and healthy - that is the key to a happy life - if you do not believe me, go visit the Sasak people yourself!