While Bali is often referred to as the island of the gods or a tiny paradise on Earth, there’s an even tinier paradise just 30 minutes away — Nusa Lembongan.
The island is located southeast of Bali and can be reached by speed boat from Sanur, to take travelers either to Mushroom Bay or to the more popular destination of Jungut Batu beach.
I ended up at Mushroom Bay, which is located in the southwestern part of the island, by mistake.
But in the end, this mistake turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
As I trekked along the coast to walk to Jungut Batu beach, where my hostel was located, I was greeted with a breathtaking view of the sea.
While the walk required some minor climbs onto a cliff, the view from the top made it worthwhile.
From the cliff, looking out over the ocean provided me with a full view of the essence of Nusa Lembongan life.
In some parts, the seabed darkened like a patchwork pattern highlighting the location of the seaweed plantations — one of the main sources of income for the locals. Colorful fishing boats floating on the sea stood in a nice contrast to what would otherwise be a perfect blue painting.
Walking is undeniably the best way to explore and savor the true taste of the island. But for the lazy ones, renting a motorcycle or bicycle can be done for about $7.50 a day, including petrol. Cars on the other hand are virtually unavailable on the island.
After a one-hour walk from Mushroom Bay, I finally reached Jungut Batu beach and stumbled into “proper civilization.”
It is here where most of the tourists gather — Jungut Batu beach is to Nusa Lembongan what Kuta is to Bali, only on a much smaller scale and with a quieter atmosphere.
Seafront restaurants are burgeoning everywhere, while hotels and cheap homestay options are widely available.
Snorkeling in Lembongan is a must — regardless of whether you enjoy swimming or spending time in the sea.
The water is so clear and the corals so healthy, making it almost impossible to believe that this island is so close to Bali, where developments emerge quickly.
The nearest snorkeling and diving spot is called the Lembongan spot and is only 10 minutes from the shore.
Even though it is close to the residency, the water is so crystal clear that I could see the fish swimming beneath me in the water.
When my friend threw the end of an apple into the sea, crowds of fish swam over from all directions to try to get a bite.
Under the sea, a paradise awaits.
The healthy corals in Lembongan are home to a variety of tropical fish species. From a clown fish and a parrot fish to the local cakal fish — most of them can be seen swimming around the shallow water.
After several disappointing snorkeling experiences in Bali, it was a huge relief to see that there are still some well-preserved coral ecosystems on the island.
While I was busy exploring, excited by the overflowing beauty of Lembongan sea, I came across several ropes floating around. Out of curiosity, I tried to trace the origin of the ropes. One end led me to a big boat called Marine Walkers, while the other went to the “Marine Walkers” themselves.
Marine walking allows people to get up close with the fish without having to don the full scuba gear. People wear an open-ended helmet, that is connected to a scuba for air supply, which allows them to stay underwater by just putting it over their head.
Although I couldn’t quite grasp the idea of enjoying the nature through the protection of the helmets, I could see that the tourists — mostly Japanese — enjoyed the experience of walking and having their photos taken by their instructors.
Admittedly, my snorkeling experience in Lembongan was a memorable one not only because of the beauty of the sea, but also through observing the strange behaviors of the weirdest creatures on earth — humans.
After finishing my undersea observation, I continued my exploration above the water. With a rented motorcycle, my friend and I embarked on an adventure exploring every inch of Nusa Lembongan. We rode through a forest end even got lost in the middle of a graveyard at night.
While there are some asphalt roads, many others are muddy and rocky, requiring extra attention when driving.
Besides its spectacular nature, the biggest attraction in Lembongan comes in the form of its welcoming, friendly people.
Like true islanders, the people tend to be naive. Some visitors though, who may not be accustomed to the simple, yet laid-back way of island life, may find them a tad too nosy.
Locals will try to start a conversation by asking a simple “Apa kabar?” followed by “Where are you staying?”
But unlike in Bali, where a person asking a similar question would most likely be a travel guide trying to offer you transportation or a hotel, the Lembongan people usually have no such intention.
In fact, joining in the conversation can lead to very interesting revelations about their own lives.
It was a casual conversation like this that brought us to Lembongan village where we were introduced to the many unique facets of the seaweed industry.
The majority of the villagers in Nusa Lembongan are seaweed farmers. They cultivate the seaweed on sea beds and regularly harvest them during the low tide. The seaweed is then transported traditionally using a small rowing boat, or carried on the head by the women to the land. It is then laid out to dry and exported to Asian countries including Japan and South Korea for cosmetics or food.
Continuing onto the end of Lembongan village is the bridge that leads to Nusa Ceningan, the small neighboring island.
Walking on top of the rickety bridge is another thing not to be missed, although not recommended for the faint-hearted. I felt like Indiana Jones while walking on the 1-meter wide swinging bridge, while the locals drove past me on their motorcycles at lightning speed.
On top of the bridge, I saw the sun slowly set in the west horizon.
It glowed in a perfect round orange. How blessed the Lembongan people are to live in this paradise island where life seems like in utopia, and how lucky I was that they allowed me to share it with them, at least for a couple of days. (Nadia Bintoro JG)