It was a day that started serene, went chaotic and became serene again. A chaos sandwich, if you will

This is the final post in the series ’90 Days in South East Asia’

Bali | Gili Air | Crossing the Lombok Strait | A strange cure for seasickness | The Wallace Line |Tips for staying safe on the Lombok Strait | Frederico the Flamingo

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It was the final week of our three month adventure backpacking around south east Asia, from north east India, to Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Myanmar, Singapore and to Borneo; we had just left Ubud and Denpasar in Bali, to board a ferry at Padang Bai on Bali’s east coast. It was a far cry from the sanctuary of the yoga retreat we had left in Ubud.

We grabbed our boarding passes for the Ekajaya Fastboat from the ferry operator who told us to follow his man through the carpark, on to the jetty and then to wait for the Ekajaya, a green-liveried fast boat. There was even a picture of the boat on the ticket. Easy hey? What could possibly go wrong?

We lost sight of him; he had black hair I was sure, but in Bali that’s not a useful identifier. The carpark was low-level chaos, with vehicles parked as they wanted. Back-packers emerged blinking from the steamy interiors of minibuses, a dark claustrophobic netherworld, half-human and half-baggage. There were bekoning shouts from sellers of Bintang and water bottles; worse, there were fake ferrymen holding expired tickets like snake oil, beckoning us, trying to trick us in to making false choices.

We had more or less got used to the busy transport hubs of Asia by now. Lots of waiting, lots of being sold to and sudden manic action for seats as the boat/ train/ bus pulled in.

This was pleasantly different for a while. We sat on the jetty under the shade for an hour, our feet dangling above shoals of tiny fish in the clear aquamarine water. It was the loveliest waiting place in the world.

Soon the green fast boat, the Ekajaya, arrived and chaos ensued once more as people leaving the boat met head-on with people trying to get on; baggage being pulled off, rubbed straps with baggage being pushed on, some of it for Bangsal in Lombok and some of it for the Gili Islands.

Inside the boat was fine, we had perfectly comfortable PVC seats and sickbags. (Wipe clean seating suits me fine when i see sick bags). What else did we need? A distant TV showed Transformers the Movie.

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As we sailed away from Bali and in to the open sea, the raucous blue waves got rougher and rougher. Even the backpackers on the upper deck had to come inside. They were soaked through and their sodden dreadlocks drooped like wet tamarind.

The white horses leapt with abandon and made it the super-bumpiest ride I’ve ever been on (excluding that one time as a teenager at Giza when I mounted a camel on heat. I may have to revisit a missing comma in the previous sentence).

It was then I started to feel the faint calling of nausea. Crossing a wild sea is rather like drinking a fine whisky. Captivating to the senses at first but over-indulge and you’re bound to throw up.

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A cure for seasickness?
Vomiting is like yawning. Once someone starts, it creates a chain reaction. And on this boat neighbouring faces, pallid with puffed cheeks, gave full vent. The sickly sweet smell pervaded the air. I decided to stare out of the porthole to the horizon; it helped but most of the time there was little to see, not even the horizon, because the boat was swaying so much. A Sri Lankan friend once told me the secret to not getting seasick is to suck your own hair. Your own hair? Sadly, this advice has little value to a bald guy. Sri Lankans are an ancient seafaring people so there must be some science to this theory surely, some method in this madness? I decided to try it out. I took a lock of Sarah’s long hair and started sucking on it. She pulled her hair away and gave me a stern look under under furrowed brows that seemed to say, ‘WTF? Weirdo.’ She adjusted her earphones and carried on listening. Nowadays she doesn’t even ask for explanations. It’s just par for the course.

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The Lombok Strait, a remarkable and treacherous stretch of sea

This stretch of water between Bali and Lombok, the Lombok Strait, is just 24 miles wide. On a map it looks unremarkable. If you’re reading an atlas and eating a biscuit you might lose it under a crumb.

It’s a rather special patch of water, 250 metres deep, it has a fierce current because it’s a main channel for the the ‘Indonesian Throughflow’ which is matchmaker to two of the great oceans of the world, the Indian and the Pacific, which have differences in temperature and sea levels; coaxed on by monsoon winds, there’s bound to some marital argy bargy here and there. This accounts for why it’s such a treacherous stretch of sea.

The Lombok Strait is also significant in terms of zoology; it’s the geo-biological boundary between the fauna of Asia and Australasia; in other words, it explains why there are no elephants in Australia or Kangaroos in India. In the last ice age, 14,000 years ago, sea levels decreased massively. Animals were able to walk between islands across most parts of the world unencumbered by seas, channels or immigration control – but during the last ice age the Lombok Strait, one of the deepest channels on earth, remained a trench filled with water and it stopped the local animals from crossing over.

It was here, over 150 years ago, that the naturalist, co-founder of the theory of evolution and founder of geo-biology, Alfred Russel Wallace came to formulate his ideas by studying animals and birds which were distinctly different between Bali and Lombok. Today the strait has an imaginary line called The Wallace Line (more on this in a later post).

Author’s note: Stay safe. The Lombok Strait is sketchy stretch of water, it looks like a short ride but it’s open ocean where waves can be over 4 metres high; paired with poor safety conditions of Indonesian boats (many which overload their boats to ‘pack and profit’) it can make for a hairy ride. My advice to stay safe are:

  1. Research your boat company and its safety record, and avoid small fishermen’s boats with powerful motors. A four metre wave could easily sink a small wooden boat.
  2. Check the weather conditions and be prepared to delay your crossing even if the boat wants to sail.
  3. Make sure you know where the life jackets are, better still, wear one.
  4. Avoid sitting on the top deck in stormy conditions.
  5. You could take a flight from Bali to Lombok and take a small boat to the Gili Islands which avoids the open sea.
  6. Don’t worry too much. Your chances of surviving are very close to 100%.

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The Gili Islands got bigger and bigger. The sea was turquoise, the sky was blue; my breakfast had managed to stay in my belly.

We walked wobbly-footed across a wooden plank to the tiny island of Gili Air, the first island in a chain of three islands just off the coast of Lombok.

It sounds like a cheap airline but it’s an idyllic round island just 1.5 km in width, filled with sandy lanes; its air is salty-sweet, without carbon emissions suffused with sea air and a dash of manure.

On Gili Air there is no motorised transport, so we hopped on to a horse and cart. These are called cidomo (cika from Balinese for hand cart, dokar for pony cart and mobil for wheels). It’s also called a benhur from the Hollywood movie, but I couldn’t quite see myself as Charlton Heston in one. Here’s proof.

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The day ended as serenely as it had started; we walked Gili Air’s sandy lanes to watch the sunset over the sea. We met some digital nomads at a tiki bar, people who lived there and worked for clients in Europe and had tapped away at their MacBooks all day on a beach.

I was 90% happy for them and 10% jealous (or maybe it was 50/50).

We came home by torchlight to the Bambou Huts that had a big comfy bedroom, our own swimming pool and an inflatable flamingo which Sarah named Frederico (‘because he looks like a Frederico’).

He didn’t mind, in fact he didn’t say much at all; perhaps he was just a little deflated. And knowing the rather special 90 travelling days of our lives were coming to a close, and that in a few days time I’d be back in the office, that’s a little of how I felt too.

But then, all good things as they say come to an end. At least there was the return ferry ride to look forward to.

This post was the final part of the series 90 Days in South East Asia.

Previous posts in this series are below:

1) I’m backpacking around Southeast Asia for 90 days

2) Packing for backpacking: 16 useful things to take on your travels

3) How to sleep on a flight (aches on a plane)

4) Flying past Mount Everest

5) A storm in an Assamese teacup

6) On the lazy man’s road: the story of Dhodar Ali

7) Digboi, the oil town in the rainforest

8) To Sivasagar: home of the Assamese kings

9) Things to see in Majuli, the world’s largest river island

10) An unexpected treat on the river Brahmaputra

11) Helpful hints on how to climb a 17 foot elephant on your wedding day

12) Where the rhinos roam

13) The Assamese Bihu: a time of unbridled joy

14) A tale of a dry day in India

15) Kalimpong and a magical Himalayan wedding

16) Chiang Mai, a pretty little temple town

17) Replanning our route, re-routing our plan

18) Luang Prabang in Laos: the jewel on the Mekong River

19) A slow and unintended minibus to Vang Vieng

20) In the laid-back city of Vientiane

21) Laos: Caves, a jungle trek and the mysterious turquoise lake

22) On our way down south in Laos

23) Goodbye Laos, you beauty

24) Friday night at the Saigon Opera House

25) Getting over a fever

26) Vietnam days: Hoi An, Hue and Hanoi

27) Landing in the sea at Halong Bay, Vietnam

28) Mandalay Days

29) Bagan, the jewel of Myanmar

30) Three nights on Lake Inle in Myanmar

31) Finding a perfect perfume in Singapore

32) In Borneo, watching the orangutans at play

33) Watching turtles at Selingan Island

34) Thoughts on returning home after backpacking around Southeast Asia for 90 days

35) Things that can go wrong when travel blogging

36) To Bali and Beyond