Living in a tobacco drying house

6th October 2014

1rice

Upon leaving the disappointment of Kuta Lombok behind, we set out in search of something a little more authentic. We’d heard of Tetebatu, a small village located at the southern base of Mount Rinjani, but found scant information online and in our travel guide about it. Still we took the chance, hired a driver, left our dysfunctional family behind and blindly booked a room at Kembang Kuning Cottages, crossing our fingers and hoping our hurried decision would once again turn in our favour.

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There was surprisingly not much about Kembang Kuning online, only the (probably self-penned) piece on Wikitravel. But they have a decent website and answered quickly to our emails, and the price was right at only 150,000RP so it seemed like a good starting point once we arrived in town.

Once en route, however, the text messages started arriving from the owner asking our ETA so he could have our “welcome drinks” ready, and at this point we knew that, in his mind at least, the booking was final and we were probably trapped there. So we crossed our fingers a little tighter.

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The owner Chris turned out to be genuine, extremely friendly and helpful to a fault. Our welcome drinks were delicious, and before we could see our room or even get our bearings he had decided what we would be eating for lunch. It was fairly uncomfortable but once we tasted the excellent Sasak lunch that was prepared for us, it was hard to complain. It was even harder to complain as he lent us his own motorbike to take into town for the fortunately timed stick fighting tournament that night. We simply replaced the gasoline that we used – paying for our 70¢ of gas with a dollar and receiving bananas for change was a prophetic token that perhaps we would really like rural Lombok.

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And rural it is: our room is an old repurposed tobacco storage shed, with a fantastic sunrise view over the neighbours’ rice paddy. Ducks, chickens, dogs and goats play around us and we really feel like we are living as the local people do. Of course that brings with it a number of downsides too: this is not luxury accommodation, very far from it – we experienced complete power outages, a 24 hour running water outage, and more than one large cockroach right in our room. To his credit, Chris did handle the water issue admirably, fetching us water up the stairs by the bucket – but rationing water and frigid scoop showers are not ideal, and this is certainly not for everyone. Also important to note is the fact that there is a mosque a few hundred meters from the guesthouse – the most heavy duty of earplugs will not block the 4:30am call to prayer, no matter what. There is also extremely long and pitchy chanting-singing for quite a few hours at around bed time. We were thankful for that power outage 😉

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The highlight of the trip was the hike to the waterfall with Christ’s nephew, Izie. The countryside and farm land at the base of Mount Rinjani is majestic, green and lush. The walk is long and in parts tough; we were happy to be accompanied for a good part of the time by a friendly dog, but you see real beauty and get to see real life for the crafty rural Sasak people. Izie was a good guide and along the way we sampled and foraged for just about everything edible that grows or is farmed in this very fertile part of the world: chilies, string beans, rice, tomatoes, spring onions, coffee, vanilla, cacao, all sorts of herbs and than some.

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Frankly, the guided walk would have been enough, and the Jeruk Manis waterfall was a little disappointing (despite being a great – though freezing – refresh). The entrance to the national park is right at the end of the hike and costs 150,000 per person, which is, frankly, far too much. Christ actually negotiated a better price for us on that – I guess it pays to have connections. As it was, it was an anticlimax, but if we had payed full price I certainly would have felt a little ripped off. My recommendation – take the hike (and not only do you *need* a guide for this, it’s well worth it) but skip the falls at the end.

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We felt a little smothered by Chris at times; as the only guests we got the full brunt of his incredible hospitality. Sometimes it felt a little too much, as he thoughtfully considered what we ate for every meal (except, weirdly, breakfast; where we had a good selection to choose from) – but our discomfort at essentially being forced to eat at Kembang Kuning quickly disappeared every time once we tasted the fantastic, vegan Sasak specialities that were prepared for us. Truly, at all times he was honest, helpful and considerate towards our budget.

One sour point – we were planning to move onto Senggigi by public transport, but it turned out that Chris was taking a driver to pick up some incoming guests and offered us a lift – he didn’t make a price, since they were going anyway, and recommended that we simply pay the driver whatever we thought appropriate. I asked if 100k would be enough, and he confirmed that it was. Well – when we were dropped off the next day, he asked that I pay “a little more”. I slipped the driver an extra 20 through gritted teeth and just couldn’t understand why he wasn’t more upfront about it? Additionally, he had told us there was a public bemo service on to our final destination, and when this turned out to not be the case, we felt a little high and dry. Small points really, when you consider the transport situation on Lombok as a whole, but it did leave a bit of a bitter taste.

Don’t be discouraged, though. It was awkward, uncomfortable, rustic, tiring, strange and beautiful, and we loved every minute of it.

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