We had spent the last few days on our little rented scooter exploring the beaches and towns on west and south of Lombok, but now we were headed to explore the mountainous regions on the North of the Indonesian island, where the waterfalls are. It was a long journey to make, made all the more uncomfortable with the heavy packs we were carrying.
As we drove, the weather alternated between baking sun and monsoon rain. Twice we had to stop and take shelter from the rain in the covered entrances of roadside shops. Our route, directed by Janine on google maps, took us along the east coast onto the north coast, before sharply turning inland and up into the mountains.
We had driven about 150km in 6 hours, but we were nearing the homestay that would be our accommodation, a beautiful resort with a waterfall view. And a good thing too, as it was getting dark, and we were low on snacks, water, and, more worryingly, fuel. The road was climbing heavily forested mountain now, we were leaning forward hard on every especially steep stretch to keep our little scooter from flipping.
We hadn’t been able to check our progress for some time, with the internet totally absent here. Then the forest ended abruptly, and the road flattened out. We didn’t know it, but in the last 30km we had gained about 1km altitude. But something was wrong, we should have reached our destination by now. Fortunately, being in this flat empty area, we had phone signal again, and could check our maps. Unfortunately, we had made a wrong turn, back when we turned away from the coast. We were effectively up the wrong mountain.
Back on the bike, quick, down the mountain, shouldn’t burn too much fuel. Getting dark though, as if these roads weren’t precarious enough. We raced down the mountain like a rollercoaster. As we drove through the jungle in the half-light, I glimpsed something moving to one side of the road. A feral dog, very common on Lombok… but with no face. Odd. We drove on and then, in the road in front, was a whole pack of the creatures. “Monkeys!” Janine shouted, and I stopped to let the family of big bushy primates out of our path.
We continued down, reaching a small cluster of houses as the sky faded to black. We stopped to finish the last of our water, and look for fuel. Behind us, another motorbike drove up and stopped. A young man got off, and greeted us in English, asking if we needed help. I was naturally wary, but he seemed genuine. When we told him we were out of fuel he called something out in Sasak (the language of Lombok), and a woman came up from a nearby building holding a plastic fuel bottle (the most common way to sell petrol in Lombok), which we bought. The man offered us accommodation in his house, and after a quick haggle we got a reasonable price, about £10. He led us down a muddy track I hadn’t noticed, Janine negotiating the bumpy ground on the bike while I walked behind with the big pack.
We reached houses and the path wound between them, before reaching the centre of the cluster of maybe 20 houses, all made of wood with thatch or corrugated metal roofs. We parked the motorbike alongside our host’s, and he led us into the only cement house in the village, and showed us our room, and the mattress where we would sleep. We locked our belongings away here, and our host offered to give us a tour of the village.
His name was Rusdi, and the village was named Bilok Petung. It was his bed we were staying in. Tonight, his wife and child would sleep in her parents’ house nearby, and he would sleep on the large, sheltered bamboo platform in the centre of town where the unmarried men sleep. The village was dark, in the middle of a power-cut, and we made our way around with torches. The children and teenagers of the village gathered around us curiously, helping him give the tour, and cheering and posing whenever I pointed my camera.
Rusdi showed us the sites of the town: a large pile of rocks of unknown origin where they gathered to tell stories; and the oldest building in town, the traditional thatched mosque. He pointed to the house where his parents lived, and his brother, and his ex-wife and son. At 25 he’d been married twice already. We returned to his house to find his wife had made us dinner, rice with an egg, and hot sweetened milk for dessert. He explained that he was a teacher, but most of the village farmed cashew nuts. The unpainted walls inside the house were scratched and scribbled with graffiti.
We went to bed, and in the morning we saw the village of Bilok Petung in the daylight, before saying goodbye and heading off to where we were supposed to be. Looking back, I’m very glad we got lost. Bilok Petung is not the kind of place you can find on purpose.