Saturday, August 30, 2008

Macro studies of Balinese art

I really should quit being lazy and use my macro lens more. A few months ago I ordered a 100mm f2.8 macro lens from b&h online and had my sister mail it to Cebu. It was specifically to photograph my daughter Cacing. A good buy I say. Nowadays, whenever I travel, I bring it with me but always, I use it mostly for portraiture or as an all around lens.

Seldom have I used it for real 1:1 macro shots that it was designed for. Not a lot of bokeh shots I confess. I have never been a flower person anyway. I just could not drum up enough enthusiasm to experiment on nature shots.

Anyway, one early August morning, and I think it was the day I left Bali, I found myself running out of stuff to shoot. I was in my hotel, the popular Nikko Bali Resort and Spa, and the sunrise bailed out once more on me. Weather was plain downcast. Right then and there, I decided I might as well try macros as the hotel was full of Balinese objets d’art. I had my tripod with me and I was not shy setting it up in the most incongruous of places- the lobby, the elevator landing, the gallery.

For subjects, I chose a Balinese doll, a banten decoration made from dried leaves and wood shavings, a wood carving of Rama and Sita, a traditional painting and a stone relief. Notes are provided.

Bali doll
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/2s, f/2.8, 100mm, ISO 100, +1/3EV
a doll at Nikko Bali Resort and Spa, Nusa Dua, Bali, Indonesia
phototip: Against a strong backlight which can blow up the details, use the proper exposure compensation.

Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/15s, f/2.8, 100mm, ISO 100, -1.0EV
a doll at Nikko Bali Resort and Spa, Nusa Dua, Bali, Indonesia
phototip: Better still, if it is possible, turn the subject toward the light. A little turn changed the lighting dynamics and allows the details of the face to come out.

Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/13s, f/2.8, 100mm, ISO 100, -1.0EV
a banten decor at Nikko Bali Resort and Spa, Nusa Dua, Bali, Indonesia
phototip: Focus on a point that is off center to provide better visual dynamic appeal.

Sita and Rama
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/6s, f/2.8, 100mm, ISO 100, -1.0EV
wood carving of Rama and Sita at Nikko Bali Resort and Spa, Nusa Dua, Bali, Indonesia
phototip: I set off Sita’s soft features against the masculine profile of Rama for high contrast.

Bali painting
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/4s, f/2.8, 100mm, ISO 100, -1/3EV
part of a painting signed by I Kt Kerus, Nikko Bali Resort and Spa, Nusa Dua, Bali, Indonesia
phototip: Keep the plane of field parallel with the canvas when shooting flat surfaces.

stone relief
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/60s, f/2.8, 100mm, ISO 100
black sandstone relief, Nusa Dua, Bali, Indonesia
phototip: In shooting faces, keep the focus on the eyes.

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Friday, August 29, 2008

Gunung Agung, part 1

The highest peak of Bali, Gunung Agung, is most revered. The Balinese collectively believe in its mystical power. It is so central to the Balinese Hindu religion that the island’s holiest temple, Besakih, is nestled almost a thousand meters up its slope.

At about 3,142 meters above sea level, Gunung Agung is an active volcano noted for its deadly rumblings. The last major eruption in 1963 claimed more than a thousand people and destroyed several villages.

From afar, the mountain is beautifully symmetrical and conical in shape. Up close though, one can easily see the jagged caldera at its apex.

lost in the clouds
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/500s, f/10, 42mm, ISO 200, -1/3EV
Sept 14, 2006, 10:24AM, as seen from a plane

I think most flights going into Bali would afford a view of this majestic mountain although it would take some luck to get a window seat at the side of the plane that would face the mountain. From above, the moment the peak appears out of nowhere from a sea of white clouds is a cause for joy.

Gunung Agung aerial
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/3200s, f/4.5, 75mm, ISO 100
August 3, 2008, 8:08AM, as seen from a plane

sunset over Agung
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/200s, f/5.6, 75mm, ISO 100, -1/3EV
August 23, 2007, 6:11PM sunset, as seen from a plane

Gunung Agung is a popular photographic subject. It is famous for its sunrise silhouette when viewed from East Java. For Agung sunset scenes, one has to go west of course, to Lombok.

Gunung Agung
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 25s, f/13, 45mm, ISO 100, +2/3EV
August 1, 2008, 6:41PM, as seen from Gili Trawangan, Lombok, Indonesia

to be continued

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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Pasar Badung, part 1

I’ve always been fascinated by public markets. They are a generous window to the psyche of the people. Markets throbs of teeming humanity- crowded, noisy, smelly and flashy. Now imagine that the market is Pasar Badung, the city is Denpasar and the island is Bali.

In the last 15 years, I have visited or shopped at Pasar Badung several times. Reasons were mundane. I would not even want to recall what pedestrian items I was buying. This time however, I went there with another mind set. I brought my camera. Difficult it may be but I wanted to present in photographs the cacophonous sounds, the heady aroma and the clashing colors that unabashedly are Bali.

As in most markets in Southeast Asia, Pasar Badung is a hive of commerce all day long. However, it is busiest late in the afternoon stretching into the night. I was there at 3PM, a bit too early. The courtyards around the building were just starting to fill up with vendors setting up their stalls.

pasar badung
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/4000s, f/5.6, 155mm, ISO 400, -1.0EV
fresh produce at the Pasar Badung, Denpasar, Bali, Indonesia

We wandered around the four storeys of the building but most animated are the activities outside, in the open areas, and not inside.

There are lots of things to preoccupy me at Pasar Badung. But a market experience would not be complete without sampling local goodies. My friend sought out the local ice sundae. I sampled it too and it was appropriately sweet, replete with fruits and local homemade condiments.

local ice sundae
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/200s, f/5.6, 18mm, ISO 400, +1/3EV
local ice sundae at the Pasar Badung, Denpasar, Bali, Indonesia

I preferred fruits though. I was looking for mangga manalagi but this terribly sweet mango variety is more common in Central Java. The Balinese version, the mangga harum manis (literally “sweet aroma”), was the one in season, so we gladly bought some. Price was cheap and was ¼ of the tag in supermarkets.

mangga harum manis
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/80s, f/5.6, 18mm, ISO 200
buying mangga harum manis (“sweet aroma” mango) at the Pasar Badung, Denpasar, Bali, Indonesia

As I roamed around the fresh produce section, I found myself gravitating towards my favorite vegetables: chillies. Plump and ripe, they screamed for attention. They are always highly photogenic. Eagerly, I tried to capture two varieties of lombok peppers in one frame to maximize the contrast of the deep red and the yellow orange.

red vs orange
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/1250s, f/5.6, 51mm, ISO 200, -1/3EV
varieties of lombok pepper at the Pasar Badung, Denpasar, Bali, Indonesia

Another particularly interesting and unique in Bali markets is the canang section. These are the offerings that every Balinese household offer without fail early in the morning and late in the afternoon at their altars, places of work or just about any place of consequence. Literally millions of these tiny cradles of flowers and food are offered and dispensed with on a daily basis so the commerce of flower petals, the preferred ingredient, is brisk everywhere.

canang swirl
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/160s, f/5.6, 55mm, ISO 400, +1/3EV
canang offerings for sale at the Pasar Badung, Denpasar, Bali, Indonesia

petals by sacks
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/125s, f/5.6, 30mm, ISO 100, +4/3EV
rose petals by sackfuls at the Pasar Badung, Denpasar, Bali, Indonesia

The flowers are cultivated in massive scale in the highlands of Bali so they actually are reasonably cheap. Moreover, you would be hardpressed to see places where petals, in mind-boggling colors, are displayed by sackfuls. Color mad, the Balinese are.

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Sunday, August 24, 2008

the Cacing Diaries #15

The biggest Cacing news is that she gave up on her milk (the brand is Nan). According to my wife and nanny who tasted promptly the old formula, it was too bland in taste and smell. Cacing probably got bored! Suddenly, she just gave up and decided to drink less than half the number of bottles she used to consume. Like a curve ball that hits you hard, this sent us into a mild panic.

Good thing that Nitzi, my ever knowledgeable friend who recommended Nan milk the last time that we had to replace Cacing’s old formula Similac (see diary entry #4), suggested that we try Promil Gold (stage 2). The new formula worked like a charm. It must be the combination of more sugar and a more pronounced sweet smell.

So normalcy is restored.

This early, everyone can tell that Cacing has taken the gene of “slight frame” from me and my wife. Like us when we were infants, she is on the low end of the weight scale. She simply does not eat or drink enough to be the typical cute fat kid. While she munches on every solid food we give her, we know that at her young age only milk can give her enough calories to get more heft and bulk.

Just like our own personal science project, we are doing the best we could egging Cacing to drink more, eat more and sleep more. Yet wherever and whenever, Cacing is a firebrand who is just too active, too talkative and too feisty. We can only dream on!

face off
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/100s, f/1.8, 50mm, ISO 16000, +1/3EV
My mom and Cacing facing off at a wedding reception. Carrying Cacing is my friend Dara. at Vistamar, Lapu-Lapu City, Cebu, the Philippines

taming the mohawk
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/200s, f/2.8, 100mm, ISO 200, -1.0EV
Cacing actually had 4 pony tails here. The 4th one at the back of her head cannot be seen in this view. at home, Cebu City, the Philippines

out of frame
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/30s, f/2.8, 100mm, ISO 100, -1.0EV
Cacing flashed her killer smile here but she moved out of the frame and focus. at home, Cebu City, the Philippines

channeling Jackie O

Today, I could not help but post pictures of Cacing in her Jackie O moments. The strawberry shades are a gift from my sister in NY and it is her first time wearing them. She doesn’t mind them at all. In fact, the challenge in photographing her was not that she wanted to take them off but that as always, she doesn’t want to look at me. Instead she took a liking to the table she was sitting on, trying to feel the shiny surface with her hands. It took me time to get into her good graces and she did not fail to emote.

Jackie O
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/640s, f/1.8, 50mm, ISO 100
at Lai Garden Restaurant, the North Wing of SM, Cebu City, the Philippines

Admittedly, taking pictures of my daughter is never easy and I can say it must be the same with others who have kids her age. They simply do not understand verbal instructions so the best I could do, and this I would recommend to others, is to be patient and be prepared to click as the next move could be the best pose yet.

check me out
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/2000s, f/1.8, 50mm, ISO 100, -1/3EV
at Lai Garden Restaurant, the North Wing of SM, Cebu City, the Philippines

strawberry shades
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/400s, f/1.8, 50mm, ISO 100, -1/3EV
at Lai Garden Restaurant, the North Wing of SM, Cebu City, the Philippines

I wanna be free
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/160s, f/1.8, 50mm, ISO 100, +2/3EV
at Lai Garden Restaurant, the North Wing of SM, Cebu City, the Philippines

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Saturday, August 23, 2008

Cidomo- Lombok’s horse-drawn cart

The horse is a beast of burden utilized for human and cargo transport for centuries. Different societies have various horse-driven carts but ever since the invention of the car, they have become obsolescent. While images of royal carriages, Western stagecoaches or old frontier wagons are still indelibly etched in the modern mind, they are paraded only in ceremonial affairs, touted as leisurely promenades for tourists or displayed as relics in museums.

In the Philippines, the horse carts, invariably called as the calesa, tartanilla or caratela, have also become rare, having been relegated in the most far-flung nooks in the countryside. The same is true in Indonesia. Bali’s version, the dokar is mostly for curious foreigners nowadays and Java’s andong or the delman are being pushed more and more into rural areas.

In the island of Lombok, there is one particularly unique variation, the cidomo, which remains highly popular. It is all over the towns, even in the islets as a means of public transportation.

Cidomo is a contraction from three words:

CI, for cikar, a traditional handcart
DO, for dokar, a pony cart
MO, for mobil, or sometimes montor, the car

The unique thing with the cidomo is that the cart uses car wheels instead of the regular wooden spoked wheels. Obviously, the preference was born of practicality as probably, automobile wheels, albeit expensive than wooden wheels, are longer lasting and easier to procure. Whatever the reasons are, the cidomo remains popular in Lombok, especially in routes which the public utility bemoh (vans) or bis (buses) do not ply.

Keruak cidomo
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/800s, f/4.0, 27mm, ISO 100, +1/3EV
Keruak, Lombok Timor, Nusa Tenggara Barat, Indonesia

The cidomo design is basic. Seats are arranged sideways. While they are often padded, they are not the most ergonomic in comfort. To put more load on the wheels, the cart is made to actually tilt slightly at the rear so the cart jiggles. Most first-timers get unnerved when getting on and off. A see-saw balance is not one thing we practice a lot in everyday life.

Gili Trawangan cidomo
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/100s, f/3.5, 22mm, ISO 100
Gili Trawangan, Lombok, Nusa Tenggara Barat, Indonesia

Modernization, howevery, is creeping up. Already, in Mataram, Lombok’s capital city, the cidomo’s routes have been curtailed from the main hi-ways as they slow down vehicular traffic and pose as safety hazards.

Sunset Bar cidomo
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/80s, f/4.0, 22mm, ISO 100, +1.0EV
a “parked” cidomo at Gili Trawangan, Lombok, Nusa Tenggara Barat, Indonesia

Meantime, cidomo continues to be a charming way to get around. Think of bells chiming with the gallops, bright painted patterns competing with yarn bonbons and tassels, and well, some malodorous poop dropping here and there. This is what local color (or smell) should be- raw, earthy and memorable.

Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/80s, f/5.6, 55mm, ISO 100
Gili Trawangan, Lombok, Nusa Tenggara Barat, Indonesia

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Thursday, August 21, 2008

Countdown to a sunset- Gili Trawangan, part 2

continued from Gili Trawangan escapade, part 1

For one afternoon and a night in August, I willingly got “stranded” in Gili Trawangan. I was coming off from work and the Gilis are only an hour from Mataram, the capital of Lombok. It was past 3PM when we got there, which left me just enough to see what the island has to offer.

Gili Trawangan has a sophisticated feel. August is high season so visitors mostly were white although there was a sizeable presence of domestic tourists. As expected of a really small island, the place is already peppered with hotels, villas, restaurants, bars, and diveshops and yet, it still is spilling with empty sand and undeveloped beachfronts that I bet more commercialization is yet to come.

After finishing our thirty minute tour, on a horse-drawn carriage called cidomo, we settled for refreshments in the bar in front of Villa Ombak, our hotel. The island is hot as it barely has vegetation over its predominantly sandy terrain so we wallowed in the comfort of our ice cream and sweets.

The sun was coming down slowly. At 5:30PM, the cidomo (horse-drawn carriage) we hired earlier came back to take us to the nearby Sunset Bar to, what else, view the sunset.

The Sunset Bar lies at the southwestern tip of the island, facing Lombok Straight and the island of Bali. The bar sprawls widely over an empty sand beach, just below a small hill. The architecture is modern Asia, unobstrusive in its all wood structure, and boasts a sunken watering hole station open only in the late afternoon. It also offers a wide promontory deck with benches that anyone can freely partake regardless of your intention to buy a drink or not.

Sunset Bar
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/200s, f/5.0, 18mm, ISO 100
5:45PM, waiting for sunset at the Sunset Bar balcony, Gili Trawangan, Lombok, Nusa Tenggara Barat, Indonesia

Sunset that day was 6:15 so we had ample time to observe the world. Slowly, people arrived, some on foot, others on cidomos. Others were on bicycles or on horseback.

I’ve done countless sunset photographs over the years and I thought it would be fun getting something different. Enviously, I looked at the hill over the bar but it was a private hotel and surely I could not gain access. A silhouette of the cosmopolitan bar could work but it sat too near the hill to shoot it from any appreciable distance. Ditto with the cidomos parked nearby. There was a large rock beside the bar but it got too much human traffic.

By 6PM, it became obvious that it would just be the sun and the horizon. As the clock clicked, I took several sunset photographs on the fly, with whatever came to my fancy. Here is then my own photographic countdown of the sunset at Trawangan.

6:12PM, 3 minutes before sunset

This is a pretty standard shot. I used the tidal flats to create the horizontal lines. That said, the blush of yellow crowning the fully circle of the sun is marvelous even to my sunset-cynical eyes.

3 minutes before sunset
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/80s, f/5.6, 255mm, ISO 100, +2/3EV
6:12PM, the sun setting down over Lombok Straight, at Gili Trawangan, Lombok, Nusa Tenggara Barat, Indonesia

6:13PM, 2 minutes before sunset

I decided to move and saw that my friends have settled on the sand. The scene looked romantic and they did not even notice that I took a photo.

2 minutes before sunset
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/80s, f/5.6, 170mm, ISO 100, -1/3EV
6:13PM, viewing the sunset at Gili Trawangan, Lombok, Nusa Tenggara Barat, Indonesia

6:14PM, a minute before sunset

The sun was sinking quick. Suddenly a girl in hijab came out from nowhere and walked across the beach. There was little time to move forward so I could not get a tighter shot. The photo below is a crop to compensate for this.

a minute before sunset
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/160s, f/5.0, 210mm, ISO 100, -1/3EV
6:14PM, sundown at Gili Trawangan, Lombok, Nusa Tenggara Barat, Indonesia

6:15PM, sunset

Just when the sun appeared to touch the horizon, I decided to get closer to the beach. The exact moment of sundown is always magical. Enough said.

sunset over Lombok Straight
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/125s, f/5.6, 300mm, ISO 100, -1/3EV
6:15PM, the moment of sundown at Gili Trawangan, Lombok, Nusa Tenggara Barat, Indonesia

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Sunday, August 17, 2008

Happy Birthday!

Today is August 17. It is Indonesia’ independence day. It is also the day Michael Phelps rewrote the record books by winning his 8th gold medal in one Olympics. But to me and my daughter, it is the birthday of my beloved wife.

I have lots of photos of my wife. She’s been featured in several pictures in flickr (tagged adlaw). But I can actually date most of these pictures. This year, in February 6, a new lady grabbed our attention like no other. Her name is Cacing.

Luckily, my wife understands and she herself pushes Cacing to be the focus of my lens. A mother always wants her child to come first. Today though, my beautiful wife, deserves the centerstage.

This post is purely for the lovely woman who means the world to me and to Cacing.

Happy Birthday my dear!

Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/400s, f/1.8, 50mm, ISO 100, +1/3EV
Cacing stealing the center stage from my wife, Lapu-Lapu City, Cebu, the Philippines

at Ulam, the day after the wedding
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/6s, f/1.8, 50mm, ISO 100, -1/3EV
me and my wife, sharing a private dinner a day after our wedding, at Ulam restaurant, Pantai Mengiat, Nusa Dua, Bali, Indonesia.

at Sheraton Bandara
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/15s, f/1.8, 50mm, ISO 800, -1/3EV
Dia checking the dinner menu at Sheraton Bandara, Jakarta, Indonesia, April 26, 2007

at Warung Kartini
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/125s, f/5.6, 34mm, ISO 100, -1/3EV
Dia at Warung Batavia, Kuta, Bali, Indonesia, April 21, 2007

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Friday, August 15, 2008

escape to Gili Trawangan, part 1

The promise of tropical sand, sea and sun lives in the Gilis of Lombok. Literally meaning “islets” in Bahasa Indonesia, the triumvirate of Gili Air, Gili Meno and Gili Trawangan is touted as the paradise destinations of not just Lombok but of the Nusa Tenggara Barat province.

When I lived and worked in Lombok in the early 90s, albeit in short and intermittent two week periods from 1993 to 1995, the Gilis already were building up a reputation as the destination islands to be. We could not even try and develop seaweed at the northwestern region of Lombok as they are off limits for any other commercial development except tourism. I never had the opportunity nor the time to visit the Gilis despite their proximity to our home base in Selong.

Finally, this month, I made sure I rectified this blip and spent one night at Gili Trawangan after my regular farm visit in Lombok Timor.

My original choice was Gili Meno. The map shows that although it is the smallest, at approximately only 2km x 1km in size, and is smacked right in the middle of Gili Air and Gili Trawangan. However, August is summer season in Indonesia and hotel bookings are an ordeal. Besides that, my trip to Indonesia was an unplanned and a last minute affair so I considered myself lucky when our reservations at Gili Trawangan, the biggest island in the west of the chain, were confirmed.

The easiest way to the Gilis is to go directly to the public port of Bangsal in Lombok Barat where there are regular public boat trips and boat charters as well. There is also a catamaran from Bali to the Gili Trawangan via Teluk Kode although I am not sure how expensive they are (www.gilicat). In our case, we knew we would be hardpressed with time so we made pre-arrangements with a local travel agency to pick us up at Mataram, the capital of Lombok at 2PM. A car took us directly to the private dock at Teluk Kedok of the Villa Ombak, our hotel at Gili Trawangan, which is another 10 minutes from the Bangsal harbor.

Gili Trawangan
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/1250s, f/8.0, 21mm, ISO 200, -1/3EV
a public boat leaving Gili Trawangan, Lombok, Nusa Tenggara Barat, Indonesia

I thought that our private speedboat of Villa Ombak was sleek, fast and stylish. We literally glided over the waters and in 15 minutes we were already at Gili Trawangan, docking at the beachfront of the hotel. There was no jetty so if you arrived at low tide, be prepared to wade several meters of shallow reef waters. Part of the deal I guess.

Villa Ombak is impressive. My friends and I were able to get the domestic rate of $110 inclusive of the city transfer and this being high season, that was a steal. The hotel is as first rate as you can get in Gili Trawangan so I suppose I will have to blog that at a later date. (For backpackers, there are homestays too).

Immediately after depositing our bags in our respective rooms, we decided to have a tour of the island. It was a little past 4PM and I’d like to check out the sites rather quickly so that I can choose and get at a nice spot for the sunset. Our driver earlier said that in the previous day, the sky was “terang” or clear and that the sun was “besar” or big. The mere mention of brilliant sunsets already raised my adrenaline like no other.

We chose to get around the island in a cidomo or horse-drawn carriage. While we can always walk – Gili Trawangan is only about 3 km long and 2 km wide – the luxury of time is not on our side.

cidomo Trawangan
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1.00s, f/22, 18mm, ISO 100, +1.0EV
a public boat arriving at Gili Trawangan, Lombok, Nusa Tenggara Barat, Indonesia

As coralline atolls go, Gili Trawangan is exhibit A. It is fringed with white sand, not the purest of white nor the finest in size, but competitively photogenic enough for postcards. The Gili chain offers clear waters that sport varying shades of aqua, from pale cerulean to deep blue. The island chains’ diving and snorkeling sites are world class, they say, as evidenced by the numerous dive shops in the locale.

Gili Trawangan beach
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/1600s, f/8.0, 18mm, ISO 200, -1/3EV
typical beach front of the east face of Gili Trawangan, Lombok, Nusa Tenggara Barat, Indonesia

There is no enterprise in the island except tourism. The island is too arid for agriculture. Here, foreigners, mostly white, are filling the beach in their bikinis and board shorts, sipping coolers, reading books or taking to the waters.

private space
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/640s, f/5.6, 55mm, ISO 100
a tourist relaxing at the eastside beach of Gili Trawangan facing Gili Meno, Lombok, Nusa Tenggara Barat, Indonesia

I have read that Gili Trawangan is the most popular of the three Gilis. There is said to be one beach party every night, hosted by agreement and on rotation by any of the European-run joints. While Gili Trawangan’s reputation as a wild party island has diminished, it still is comparatively decadant, considering that Lombok is tightly Islamic in religiosity.

Gili Trawangan tourists
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/800s, f/5.0, 38mm, ISO 100
Gili Trawangan south side gives a view of the mother island of Lombok, Nusa Tenggara Barat, Indonesia

Our cidomo took us around the island, using the singular circumferential road of sand (for a map, see There are no motorized vehicles or motorcycles allowed in the Gilis. Most establishments are concentrated in the east, anchored by Villa Ombak, the first highend hotel of the Gilis, in the south and the five star Villa Almarik in the northeast. In between are numerous diveshops, restaurants, boutique villas, all with varying views of the beach.

The west face of Gili Trawangan is the undeveloped part, where the sandy beach gave way to a rocky coast and what seems to me, choppier waters. Aside from a steel lighthouse and some sprouting villas of various stages of development, the logical site for sunset viewing, is well, the Sunset Bar. Empty during the day, it comes alive only at late afternoon as it opens for business to the tourists who gravitate to the place come sunset time. Fortunately, its wide wooden deck is open whether you buy anything from the bar or not.

In 30 minutes, our tour was over. As we were too early for the 6:15 sunset (again, I always check the internet for this), we chilled out first with some icecream and pastries at the Ombak Bar.

strawberry cheesecake
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/320s, f/2.8, 100mm, ISO 100, -2/3EV
strawberry cheesecake at the Ombak Bar, Gili Trawangan, Lombok, Nusa Tenggara Barat, Indonesia

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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Sumbawa: sprinting through volcanoes and dowry parades

I examined the map and squinted. "We can do Lombok to Sumbawa Besar by car in one day, you say?" My tone was incredulous but my friends avered that, yes, it can be done. Their math seemed to check out: 2 hours from Mataram to Labuhan Lombok, plus 2 hours ferry crossing, then 2 hours to Sumbawa Besar. Doubled the 6 hours for the trip way back and added some allowance and begrudgingly, I admitted that on paper it can be done.

The day did not start as early as we would have wished. There was some miscommunication and our transportation pickup from Teluk Kodek in Northwest Lombok was late. Another delay by our car rental at Mataram meant we only were able to leave the capital at 9AM.

Fortunately, roads in Lombok already are fully paved. East Lombok hiways are still mostly narrow but there were no potholes which were aplenty way back in the early 90s. However, it already was 11:30 when we turned by the circular bay of Labuhan Lombok, not 11AM as we would have desired. To our consternation, we missed the ferry by 5 minutes at the port of Kayangan. Ferry turnover was unexpected slow and it was not until 12 noon that we were able to load the car inside the ferry.

In the map, Selat Alas, or the Alas Strait in English, looks quite narrow but the ferry is not exactly the fastest moving boat either. We entered the bay of West Sumbawa in a little more than an hour but we had to wait for an empty berth at the port of Poto Tano so it wasn’t until 1:30 that we finally were on dry land again.

Labuhan Tano
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/100s, f/5.0, 150mm, ISO 100
one of several small islands across Poto Tano, West Sumbawa, Sumbawa Island, Nusa Tenggara Barat, Indonesia

Nothing touristy is in Sumbawa save for perhaps the pristine world-class surf breaks in the regencies of Bima and Dompu which only the most avid surfers seek and the volcano park of Tambora.

Tambora, if you don’t know, is the volcano which produced the most violent explosion in modern history when in 1815, expelling enough ash into the atmosphere that produce a "year without a summer" in North America and Europe, resulting to the worst famine of the 19th century and killing >70,000 people.

Sumbawa Barat landscape
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/3200s, f/4.0, 75mm, ISO 100
a chain of small islands around Poto Tano, West Sumbawa, Sumbawa Island, Nusa Tenggara Barat, Indonesia

The fantastic eruption consequently wiped away the entire vegetation of Sumbawa which still is bald and scorched to this day. The entire island is as dry as you can get. The rugged sandy terrain of East Lombok is nothing compared to the arid desert-like earth of Sumbawa peninsula. This entire 15,500 sq km island, one of Indonesia’s largest stretching from West Sumbawa through Sumbawa Besar and Dompu in the central region up to Bima in the east, is notorious for being a brown dust bowl during hot season – and August is summer.

arid landscape
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/1600s, f/5.0, 160mm, ISO 100
typical topography of Sumbawa during summertime, Poto Tano, West Sumbawa, Sumbawa Island, Nusa Tenggara Barat, Indonesia

Along the coast, there were hardly any major thickets of green forest. The highways are curiously lined by kapok and other trees that are strange-looking to me, leafless and almost lifeless. I remember that this is eastern part of Indonesia where flora and fauna are no longer Asian but Australian in character. (Read more on the famous Wallace_line.)

leafless trees
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/1000s, f/5.6, 55mm, ISO 400
leafless trees are a feature in Sumbawa Besar, Sumbawa Island, Nusa Tenggara Barat, Indonesia

Time went fast. We tried to cover the some 80km distance from Poto Tano to Sumbawa Besar but the best we could do was 2.5 hours, including a pit stop at Utan, West Sumbawa, for a quick lunch and a tire change.

By 4PM, we already were in quandary. We just arrived in Sumbawa Besar and by my estimation, we still are some 100km away from Kwangko, the nearest seaweed farm eastward. We pushed our luck. Some 30 minutes of driving could only get us as far as Moyo. It was 4:30PM. Even if we could get to Kwangko in an 1.5 hours, it would already be too dark to see any seaweed and too dangerous to get into any boat.

Having traveled 7.5 hours, we called off the trip and turned back. One thing became obvious, a Lombok-Dompu-Lombok road trip cannot be done in 15 hours. At least 18 hours is needed. The best itinerary to visit the seaweed farms in Sumbawa Besar and Dompu was the one we originally made: fly to Bima and work our way westward through Dompu and then Sumbawa Besar. However, Bima, being not a popular destination in Nusa Tenggara Barat (West Central Islands) gives to fickle flight schedules and the bookings we had the previous week were canceled arbitrarily.

Failure can easily turn to frustration but we merely shrugged it off. No, we laughed it off. Sure we grossly underestimated the distance but the road trip was fun. Sumbawa, the mercilessly hot land, is not like any Indonesian island I have visited and curiosity was sated. Too bad that in our vain drive to get to our destination we could not make more stops.

The sights in Sumbawa were unique. In Sumbawa Besar alone, I witnessed not one but two dowry parades, an age-old Muslim practice that is disappearing elsewhere in secular Indonesia. Apparently in Sumbawa, dowry parades are still the norm. They are given by the groom to the bride’s family in recognition for the loss of a daughter, as payment for the wedding cost, or as giveaway property to the new couple. The motorcades I saw featured curious bulky material properties being brandished atop pickup and trucks. I saw mattresses, cavans of food, traditional offerings of bamboo and sugar cane and large pieces of furniture like the cabinet below. Obviously, proud are the groom’s families who could afford to display these luxurious gifts.

dowry parade
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/800s, f/1.8, 50mm, ISO 100, +4/3 EV
a dowry caravan in Sumbawa Besar, Sumbawa Island, Nusa Tenggara Barat, Indonesia

Our trip back to Lombok was no less animated. Company became more enjoyable. Perhaps fun can be the domain of the frustrated. We were on the road at Utan when the sky turned red on us. Unfortunately, while we were traveling west, Sumbawa’s rugged terrain was blocking the sun. Nevertheless, a missing sun would not preclude me from enjoying the golden hour. The sky was a remarkable hue of pink – Sumbawa is definitely not industrial – so pollution was entirely absent. I took a few shots of rustic Utan, nothing fancy really, just some cows lazing by and women going home.

Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/125s, f/5.6, 300mm, ISO 400
a rural scene during sundown at Utan, Sumbawa Besar, Sumbawa Island, Nusa Tenggara Barat, Indonesia

When we got turned around a bay in the district of Alas, we came upon the majestic silhouette of Rinjani, Indonesia’s highest mountain outside of Irian Jaya. When all things go sour, somehow, nature’s sublime beauty could still manage to warm the weary soul, or in my case, entertain me and my lens.

Canon EOS 350D Digital, 8.00s, f/16, 55mm, ISO 100, +1EV
the silhouette of Mt. Rinjani, soaring over Alas, Sumbawa Besar, Sumbawa Island, Nusa Tenggara Barat, Indonesia

The way back to Mataram was a blur. Again, we missed the boat back to Lombok by minutes. Story of our lives! Having had 30 minutes to burn, we had dinner at a local eatery by the Poto Tano harbor. By 8PM, we got into the ferry and nabbed some much needed nap. We got off at Labuhan Kayangan at 9:30PM. Two hours later, we arrived in our hotel in Senggigi, northwest of Mataram.

Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/100s, f/1.8, 50mm, ISO 1600, +1/3EV
my dinner of fried shrimps in Poto Tano, West Sumbawa, Sumbawa Island, Indonesia

After 15 hours on the road, alertness turned to exhaustion. I just realized that we were able to skim through five of the seven regencies of Nusa Tenggara Barat province in one day: Lombok Barat, Lombok Tengah, Lombok Timur, Sumbawa Barat and Sumbawa Besar. It is not something that I would have the time to do again but certainly, sometime soon, I hope to visit Bima and Dompu. And beyond too.

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