OYOP: The Serene Village of Senaru, Lombok, Indonesia
Throughout life, people have often told me about the connections they feel with physical places. For some people, it is their hometown, the place they were born and would never dream of leaving behind. For others, it is a passion they feel about another place, perhaps even one they have never visited but are strongly drawn to, like Machu Picchu or Paris, where they can foresee the experience will touch them in some meaningful way or make them feel at home.
I always felt that I was missing that strong draw to a place, a city, even a country. As long as we’ve been traveling, I have certainly missed New Orleans as it is truly one of the world’s great cities, I have a life there, and so I have felt the strong urge to be more intimately connected with the community upon return. But still, I’d wondered if I’d come across that sort of dreamy stupor feeling at some point in our travels and had resolved that I would not, as I have been fond of most everywhere and at the same time, easily able to move on to the next stop.
Well, I suppose it was bound to happen at some point. For me, it happened in the small village of Senaru on the island of Lombok in Indonesia. While we were on the Gili Islands, we had 4-5 days without plans before we were to stay in Sengigi, a touristy beach town on Lombok, where we’d treated ourselves, with hotel points of course, to a nice beach resort for 4 nights to celebrate our one-year anniversary. In researching the island to first fill those extra nights, I kept coming back to the village of Senaru in the northern region of Lombok. Though very small, it is the base city to hike for 3 days to Mount Rinjani, an active volcano and the second highest volcano in Indonesia. Mount Rinjani is home to a crater lake, hot springs, and immaculate views. It looked incredible, and at $100 per person for 3 days for a guided hike with all camping equipment and food included, the price was unbeatable. But a couple of things happened to prevent us from taking on this hike. First, we found out about the trash along the trail. The entire path on the trek is littered with the trash created by people hiking the trail. Tour guides dump all of the trash of their groups along the trail, and it just remains there. We did not want to take part in this trashing of a beautiful natural site and were confused how people could sign up for this, and whether they knew to what they were contributing. We saw a few companies that claimed to carry the trash and properly dispose of it, as you would expect. The cost, of course, was much higher, and we still weren’t sure if we wanted to hike the trail knowing we would be looking at and smelling mounds of trash along the way.
Then, we both got sick. We caught terrible colds, coughs, fever, the whole deal, and we started to extend our stay on Gili Air one day at a time, where we had a comfortable room and a host who ran out to get us medicine and a local restaurant owner next door who delivered us dinner to our doorstep. I’d insert here another long rambling about how the kindness of people never fails to amaze me, because it really does astonish me, but I will continue on about Senaru instead. Each extra day we stayed on Gili Air, it looked like we’d have to reshape our plans. Soon, we didn’t have enough days to climb Mount Rinjani anyway, so the choice was made for us. I still continued to push for visiting Senaru, convincing James it was still somehow worth the travel out of the way over 2 hours drive to the north of Lombok before going to Sengigi even when, in the end, we only had one day to spare when we were finally feeling well enough to move on from the Gili Islands.
So, we went. We took a boat from Gili Air to the harbor in Lombok, a quick horse ride to the shuttle bus area, and a two hour shuttle bus to the village of Senaru, just to spend one night. We were dropped off right at Pondok Guru Bakti Cottage, the bed & breakfast of Mr. Di, who I’d hoped would still welcome us with a smile even though we’d changed our reservation date three times and decreased our stay until we were down to one night. He did. I smiled back and as I looked at the view of Mount Rinjani and the entire countryside from Mr. Di’s, I immediately felt a validation of the draw I’d felt toward this place and sighed at the irony and misfortune that I should finally feel this way about a place I’d only be able to stay for one day.Right away, we arranged with Mr. Di to have his cousin, Macho, take us on a 5 hour “soft trekking” tour of Senaru and the surrounding area. James was pretty skeptical. Except for free walking tours, we almost always opted to walk around new places ourselves, even massive cities, so it naturally felt unnecessary to need a tour of a place that was easily explorable on our own. Still, I insisted. I just had a feeling about this place, about Mr. Di and Macho and this tour. Macho met us a couple of hours later at the cottages, and the three of us set off.
It was quiet at first. We walked down the empty streets with little to say to one another. After a short hike up a hilly road, we reached the entrance gate to Senaru’s waterfalls, the town’s biggest attraction besides Mount Rinjani. Macho paid the 10,000 rupiah (less than US $1) for each for us to get in, and James rolled his eyes sincd we’d paid 600,000 (US $37) for the tour and we could have easily walked here ourselves. Macho told us a bit about the waterfalls, then we broke off on our own to climb trough the rocky creek to get a closer view of the gorgeous falls.As we made the strenuous hike back up hundreds of concrete stairs away from the waterfalls, the tone started to shift. Without our asking, Macho began to passionately speak about Mount Rinjani, which he’d been climbing for 23 years, since he was 13, by himself then as a porter then as a tour guide. He told us that the tour guides were mostly from elsewhere around Indonesia, not Senaru, and had different cultures that made it difficult for them to understand the significance of the trash problem. He told us about his many efforts educating tour guides, pleading to the local government, and volunteering to teach schoolchildren the importance of preserving their precious natural wonder. As he spoke, he picked up any random piece of trash or water bottle strewn aside and kept them in his backpack until we’d reach a trash can where he’d dispose of it. From that point on, we started to bond with Macho. We had hours of endless conversation about Senaru, nature, education, religion, and community.
Macho took us to a local village community where the homes are all huts made of straw and bamboo built on a few large dirt acres. We met villagers and were invited to sit with one man at his home and try his homemade alcohol. It’s a small town, so of course Macho knew everyone, from the oldest lady to the youngest child. I kept thinking there was going to be a sales pitch, where we’d be led to purchase some of the villagers’ homemade crafts or food, but it didn’t come. Macho told us about life in the community, which uniquely follows the Muslim faith but practices Hindu customs and ceremonies. The result is a relaxed set of guidelines, an emphasis on the rule of karma, and an extremely costly endeavor for families, who must save tremendous amounts of their hard-earned insignifant wages to pay for extravagant ceremonies like those for circumcisions and burials. Macho himself, who as a tour guide, farmer, and educator in the community, makes more than most, spent 5 years of savings on his son’s circumcision ceremony, an expense expected of all parents in the community. He is actively working with community members to be a voice for change for the next generation to spend less on customs and more on education and opportunity.We spent the rest of our time with Macho walking through farmlands of rice, green beans, corn and peanuts, which Macho farms in the climbing off season on his in-law’s property. We met nearly his entire wife’s family, when we went to their home and sat on the small open-air outdoor hut that many people have outside their homes solely as a welcome space for guests, the Indonesian version of an American home with a foyer and sitting room. We sat and enjoyed a coconut from a palm tree that Macho climbed to get down, and we were happily greeted by his family. All of the young children lined up to give us long, curious stares, and the really outgoing ones practiced their English with us, asking about our country and who might be the next president. On the walk back into town, we took forest paths and hillside streets to enjoy sweeping views from above of the entire valley landscape of rice fields, Palm trees, and rolling hills. We passed ladies gathered cheerfully talking in the streets with children, one of them Macho’s daughter who we met briefly, and encountered an overall air of simple joy, peace, and a harmony with one another and with nature. It felt like the kind of people that made the best of what they had and put a higher value on the happiness found in friendship and family over comfort and wealth. I wanted to go pick up every last piece of trash on Mount Rinjani. I wanted to share a meal with each of the villagers and hear about their lives and ideas for the future generations. Of course, meeting and talking with someone as respectable and wise as Macho had much to do with it. But I could see why he wanted to preserve the beauty in this village while still working to make it a better life for his children, instead of moving away to a bigger town and working for a higher wage at a big chain hotel, which he could easily do as a fluent English speaker.
Before we headed back, Macho invited us to his home. We only just stopped by, but we were honored. We saw the bags of rice that his wife had been gathering in the fields all day, saw the home improvements he’d made on his own and learned more about his family. It was memorable. I wished deeply we’d had more time and felt strongly that I would love to return here, hike the mountain in a way that promotes responsible tourism, perhaps with a cleanup crew, and overall, just felt a simplicity and a peace that I think I’ll carry with me for some time.