Words by Lottie Lewis.
The great Indo revival is upon us! The world's surfers are descending on everyone's favourite archipelago and we'll bring you all the action, interviews and more as it happens. Check it here.
Blazing sun was beating down on bare legs. A balmy wind ripped through our clothes. Scrawny chickens pecked at what they could find in a brown, arid landscape.
A long bumpy road, punctuated with ramshackle huts selling corn on the cob, stretched ahead of us. The hum of the bike had been a consistent soundtrack for the past five hours of our journey. Our left-hand sides were sandwiched between the engine and both our shortboards, a rucksack slung on my back and a backpack wedged on Charlie’s (my boyfriend's). front, squashed between him and the handlebars. His hands were sunburnt from clutching the accelerator.
Spot guide: Lakey Peak.
We had stopped pointing out things of interest ages ago and had settled into hungry silence. Who’s idea had it been to drive almost ten hours from West Sumbawa to Lakey’s on a tiny moped with two boards and two backpacks?
Our lengthy journey across Bali, Lombok, Sumbawa and Flores had led us to an island less travelled. Exploring Sumba felt like wandering through a land left behind in time, with no intention of catching up.
You’d think we would have realised what we were undertaking by now. By the time we were en route to Lakey Peak we had already picked up the bike in Bali, taken the ferry to Lombok and travelled down to Are Gulling, scored a few busy rights and once again jumped on the mopeds and made it to West Sumbawa. Hadn’t we had enough travel time?
To keep costs down (and due to my fear of the Indonesian traffic) Charlie and I had decided to rent one 50cc moped between us, cramming a twinny and a thruster, both our bags and whatever we picked up along the way on board too. Along with our friend, Tom, the three of us had rented a house down a rocky dirt track above Super Suck in West Nusa Tenggara.
Here, we took twice daily trips to and from Yo Yo’s and Tropicals, following sandy lanes to empty corners, surfing with dolphins and sea snakes, with many leash snapping moments and heavy hold downs thrown into the mix. Life in West Sumbawa was slow, just as we’d hoped. The busyness of Bali, the dodgy hotels in port towns and the sore arses of hours by moped were forgotten as we rose at dawn, drank Indonesian coffee on the decking, ate fresh fruit for breakfast and surfed until we couldn’t paddle any longer.
The warm, turquoise ocean delivered day after day of swell, and when the boys tucked into big glassy barrels I could see them flying along through the crystal lip. The locals were friendly, the days were long and we settled easily into paradise.
Fast forward a few weeks and Tom had headed over to New Zealand, leaving Charlie and I to plan our trip across the islands. With Sumba as a destination and no plans in between, we hopped on the bike and set off through the planes of central Sumbawa. With the promise of pointbreaks and famous barrels, we powered on at 40mph for the next eight hours, on our way to Lakey Peak.
Here we spent my birthday and Christmas. For a few days the waves were small and perfect, but the peaks were busy with tourists, locals and groms. Our trusty little bike awaited its next excursion.
That night we found ourselves stretched out on the metal deck of a creaking ferry, a rare cold creeping into the Indonesian night. A thick blanket of stars sparkled above us and the gentle ocean rocked us below. Bodies were draped everywhere, nestled amongst truck loads of bananas and backpacks for pillows. Colourful sarongs were used as tents and blankets, chickens in bags quietly crowed. It was late but the night was filled with the smell of sambal and engine fumes. Flores was calling.
While we didn’t find waves, we found a culture so rich and colourful we couldn’t help but stay a while. A group of local kids took us out to an uninhabited island in their tiny boat, which appeared to be carved from a single tree. When we arrived, we were led to a long, rickety wooden jetty that reached out to sea, looked over by grassy hillsides and a cluster of other islands.
The kids leapt from the walkway one by one, dragging us with them and diving down for giant purple starfish. Pulling on my snorkel I entered the water, suddenly surrounded by shoals of sparkling angel fish. I was completely blown away by the clarity of the ocean and the unbelievable array of marine life. Rainbow coral and dark depths spread out across the ocean floor and we lost ourselves for hours in the underwater world.
The drive through Flores was easier than the long, hot slog through Sumbawa, with the changing scenery and steep mountainsides providing a welcome distraction from our numb bums. Slow, strong buffalo wallowed in the mud at the roadside, and the higher we climbed the more luscious the rainforest grew.
The island of Flores is mainly Roman Catholic, and as the sun set over the banana trees and the scent frangipani was released into the air, the roads began lighting up with Christmas decorations. The contrast led us into the night, as we headed for our next destination; Sumba.
As we arrived, we found ourselves passing ramshackle huts on narrow roads that make up the capital city. The dusty streets, markets and dense traffic quickly switched to rolling desert as we headed west, before suddenly becoming lush and alive with greenery, occasionally spotted by warungs and pink pineapple stands.
The stretch of road that ran between the north east and west of Sumba passed through ever-changing scenery, weathers and cultures, and as we ambled along on our little motorbike, we witnessed the religions change from Muslim to Christian, houses morph from concrete sheds to towering wooden traditional homes and the blazing sun became torrential rain.
The moment we left the main road we dropped onto unmaintained tracks, gigantic ruts and potholes that had obviously claimed many motorbike tyres. Elderly people smiled at the sight of foreigners, baring red, gaping mouths, stained by the betel nut that they constantly chew. We passed rice fields dotted with herds of enormous buffalo and boys rode by on beautiful horses, machetes hanging from their belts.
The houses of the native villages reached towards the heavens, as locals believe that the higher your rooftop, the closer you are to God. Mopeds playing a constant, tinny ice cream jingle trundled down the tracks, supplying 5p lollies to the children in the isolated villages and rice farmers crouched amongst their crops.
Our lengthy journey across Bali, Lombok, Sumbawa and Flores had led us to an island less travelled. Exploring Sumba felt like wandering through a land left behind in time, with no intention of catching up. We ventured down tiny tracks that weaved back and forth amongst dense jungle. Our trusty little bike with it’s its many puncture repairs rattled down empty lanes ending in sandy beaches dotted with colourful boats and flanked by pumping, empty waves.
We paddled out alone most days, without seeing a single tourist during an entire trip across the island. While you won’t find Western comforts or easy access, visitors are rewarded with quiet pointbreaks, unchartered territory, inquisitive locals and a taste of unexplored Indonesia.
The journey back to Bali after two months on our little bike was an unlucky one. The unpredictable weather cancelled many of the ferries, and we drove back and forth across whole islands, trying to get the next boat as to not miss our flight. We were battered by tropical storms, ate nothing but Bakso (that's Indonesian meatball soup) for days on end - not a bad thing - snatched at sleep on the tumultuous ocean crossings and powered on in the early hours of the morning, and then the night too.
When undertaking a trip like that it can’t always be roses. At one point I found myself strung up to drip in the local hospital. We all suffered from Bali belly, raw sunburn and bribery run-ins with the police. But for all our shortcomings, our memories of incredible Indonesia couldn’t be tainted.
Every one of the islands was just so vibrant. A world in technicolour. People with hearts as wide as their smiles. Warm nights filled with the song of cicadas. Mornings bathed in the slowly stretching limbs of a dusty sun. Sunsets that put all other sunsets to shame. Perfect, peeling pointbreaks pinpricked by arching dolphins and diving sea eagles. Whilst five islands by bike isn’t exactly relaxing, taking the slow road allowed us to drink in the pure paradise and the rich culture of each place we were lucky enough to pass through.
Cover shot by Nate Lawrence as part of this feature.