If we had known about Nusa Lembongan Island at the beginning of our trip, well, we would have skipped Seminyak and just come here. Actually, we did know about Nusa Lembongan, but only from what we read in the Lonely Planet guide. Famous for diving and advanced surf breaks, and not having ATM machines. Also, the boats drop you off on the beach, you put your shoes in a box and jump into the water to get off the boat. When you read travel guides, in spite of how well they are written, you often just don’t get a feel for a place. After reading the Lonely Planet guide, we were thinking Nusa Lembongan would be too rustic for us. How misinformed our first opinion was!
We had left the last four days of our trip open because we really did not know Bali, and that after two weeks in country we would have a better idea where we really wanted to go. We left the decision until the final night at the Swallow Guesthouse. There were two things we had not checked off our ‘To Do’ list – surfing lessons and snorkeling. Seminyak beach did not offer good surf for beginners, and the surf break we had seen was large and way out on reefs. Not the type of thing for beginners, and Gigi and Justin were not even part of the want-to-learn-to-surf equation. That left snorkeling. Amed on the northeast coast got high ratings for snorkeling from both the Lonely Planet and local expats we had talked with. The downside of Amed was its location which would make for a longish trip back down to Sanur and the airport. Also, we were told that without a car, you were pretty isolated and stuck at your hotel. Amed was loosing its pole position.
Nusa Lembongan, however, got high marks from a few expats we spoke with. Being right across the water from Sanur made it a short trip to get back to the hotel in Sanur for our last night in Bali. The snorkeling was supposed to be good (it was – see Jordan’s blog). So, our last night we changed plans and told Wayan at Swallow House to book us a car for Sanur and not Amed. This would be the first time of our whole trip that we were arriving at a place without prior reservations for accommodations. How adventurous!
The driver dropped us off at Sanur beach the next day, and it was crowded with Sunday beachgoers. A local tout helped us find the boat ticket office. We were surprised to see that even in Sanur the boat took off from the beach. Shoes in a basket, luggage on our heads we climbed into the back of the boat. It was a ‘fast’ boat with three outboard motors and twenty minutes later we were repeating the process in reverse. At first, we were a bit disoriented because we were not dropped off at Jungutbatu as we had expected. In hindsight this was a blessing, but our first thoughts were ‘how are we going to get ourselves and our luggage over to Jungutbatu where all the hotels we had researched were located. When in doubt, head to the nearest beach cafe, have a soda and some lunch, and take bearings. We realized we liked where we were, which was called Mushroom Bay. White powder sand in a crescent around a small bay with modern and traditional motor craft bobbing in the turquoise water. Lots of large trees provided shade in the one street village. Scooters were the favored transport. No cars, but some small, flatbed trucks were around to transport groups of people. We found Nicho’s Place, a family run bungalow guesthouse, just fifty meters back from the beach. It was only six months old with 4 thatched roof, wood-walled bungalows with air con and a pool. We booked two bungalows for $30 a piece. We only committed to the first night, but ended up staying there all three nights. Our host, Made (son #2), spoke English very well as he has worked for a cruise line as a cabin steward. We talked with 3 other people who had family working for cruise lines out of Fort Lauderdale. There must be an employment pipeline for Balinese as they are so pleasant and clued into the tourism economy.
We never had a bad meal in Mushroom Bay. There are at least 6 restaurants on the beach and another 6 along the one road leading inland. We ate most of our meals at the Bar & Cafe Bali Lembongan. Good music on the sound system, excellent shady deck overlooking the sand, a shower for rinsing off, and good, cheap food. By our second day the waitress was greeting Justin by name.
Other than eating, Gigi and I spent a lot of time lounging at the Bar & Cafe watching the boys swim in the water. We took paddle boards out one afternoon. The boys favorite activity was the 5 person ‘banana boat’ inflatable that was towed behind a motor boat. We also took a 3 hour snorkel trip in a local boat around the island and stopping at 3 different snorkel spots. We rented scooters for two days and toured the island. There was some serious poverty on the north side of the island where villagers living in houses made of woven bamboo and thatch made a living from harvesting seaweed. We had the pool at the bungalows to ourselves. One night we went to Bar Barbarella for the ’7:30 movie night’ that was advertised. It was just the four of us and we watched Total Recall on the flatscreen behind the bar. Mushroom Bay has a lot of day trip tourists coming over from Sanur, but at this time of year there were only a few tourists around at night. On the wall was a large framed marque poster of the movie Barbarella. Gigi and I giggled about the bar’s name when the boys were not listening. The barman had a copy of the movie and offered it as an option for viewing. Not quite family material.
The only downside to the stay was when I poked my eye on a pointy palm frond in our outdoor bathroom. The next morning my eye was already infected. Thankfully, Made took me on his motor bike to Jungutbatu to the medical clinic where the doctor immediately said, ‘Conjunctivitis? Infection!’ and gave me drops and 3 different tablets to take. I thought it was overkill, but my eye was swollen and watering and I did not want to take half-measures to cure it. Luckily, by today it is almost healed.
Having had such a nice time here, I find it sad that this little sliver of tropical paradise is so far away from California.