Island Lembongan and Leatherjackets

Lembongan to BaliIt was a decade ago and a half ago. I remember the excitement I felt as I began to architect what I believed to be the best life possible. I was going to study computer networking and databases…yes, for real!

In my mind this would eventually lead me to a position where I could work from anywhere in the world. Of course that in turn led me to see myself on a beach in the tropics holding down the cyber-fort with my laptop.

My first position in corporate America was with a law firm for whom any chance of working remotely were quickly dashed. Next up was a consulting company. Working from a remote location was standard practice however being outside the continental US borders was not.

Kansas, no problem, Milwaukee, good as gold.

I left the consulting firm and started a travel company and a blog. My vision finally came true when I found myself sitting in a lounge chair out front of the Scooby Doo cafe on the harbor side of Lembongan Island, just east of Bali. 

White sand at my feet, crystal clear water lapping against the shore inches from where I lay, moored fishing boats retired for the day, the sun slowly sinking over the Bali filled horizon, and me…sitting in quiet contentment tapping away thoughts on my netbook keyboard.

I could think of nothing more perfect in that moment.

Lembongan Island is the little brother of Penida and can be found in the strait that divides Bali from Lombok. The journey to arrive here takes anywhere from 20 minutes to 2 hours depending on boat speed and departure point.

During approach, the high mountain ridge of Penida overshadows Lembongan so much so that making out the smaller island is almost impossible; they morph into one.

What is noticeable though, as you move out of the deep blue waters of the strait, is the quintessential tropical reef enclosed bay that is Lembongan’s gateway. The water so unbelievably clear and inviting, thatched bungalows dot the hillsides and cliffs, and the general unspoiled nature of the island makes a person feel like they are discovering a well kept secret.

It’s easy to forget about the banana boat tied alongside the floating water park at the reefs edge and the crowds of people descending on them; they will not be setting foot on the island so are of no importance.

They will spend their day in an aquatic only paradise; missing out on the real prize.

Exactly as you would expect, the boat lands directly on the beach; there is no pier.  Locals with an accommodation agenda rush the craft with offers. Bags are hoisted from the vessel and carried up the beach. Only a thin concrete footpath separates town from sand and its along this thoroughfare that most will find lodging, food, and activities for their stay.

Cast your eyes a little further afield and what you find may cause you to abandon future plans. You will find yourself, as I was,  absorbed and mesmerized into a sleepy blissful state by the rhythm and flow of Lembongan.

The island is encircled by one single lane road and traffic congestion is far from a problem.  After seeing, year after year,  the scrapes and gashes inflicted upon the multiple motorcycle victims of Bali I tend to stare clear of that form of transport and opt more for the manually powered bicycle.

Seeing as how the entire island is only 5 sq miles in size, and I was already somewhere in the center, I figured a bicycle ride would be a piece of cake. I have been wrong before and am quite sure it won’t be the last time.

Exploring the island was like taking a step back in time and fast became a place I regretted not venturing onto years ago.

Having a bicycle delivered to my bungalow is just part of the hospitality found on Lembongan.  With its arrival I was all set to explore.

My instructions were to head “that way”, said with a half-hearted directional head tilt delivered by my hotel manager; the understated energy a result of life in paradise. My only other instruction was to turn right when I came to the road.

Not much need for Google maps on Lembongan.

I decided my first stop would be Mushroom Bay. I had passed by it earlier while on the boat so knew approximately where it was however this did not interfere at all with my ability to get lost on a tiny, single road island.  Instead I ended up at one of the most remarkable beaches I have ever come across; the kind of beach you envision in your dreams.

Before arriving though I had to ride a little.

The road that passed through the harbor was at sea-level and therefore flat. Shops, small local restaurants, and palm trees lined this section and the pace of the ride was leisurely.

Within a few feet of the last shop the terrain took a turn skyward. Humidity, intense heat, and hills are not always a friend to a cyclist and this trio definitely took its toll on me in a hurry. Two hours of solid riding, nearly all uphill, and I arrived. The road at this point was little more than a track however at the end of it was a large piece of wood.

Carved into it were the words…”Welcome to Dream Beach”.

Beyond lay a restaurant, a series of thatched bungalows, a double infinity pool, a massage hut, a bar with its floor made of river stones, and a beach that lived up to its name in every way.

Dream beach is a small cove nestled at the southern end of Lembongan with water sufficiently turbulent to make swimming an adventure yet gorgeous enough to summon pleasure just by casting your eyes over its multi-blue palette. Just like landing on the island itself, arriving here makes you feel like an explorer; you alone discovered this beach.

The fish for sale on Lembongan range from the usual suspects of trivially, snapper, and tuna that are grilled or BBQ’d and served with rice and vegetables, to the tasty local fish known as the Leatherjacket.

Wikipedia states that this fish is only available in the Gulf of Mexico and the South Atlantic but I am thinking more than a few have made a very long swim. In any event I made a meal of one as I looked out over the ocean from the high cliffs that surround the cove.

This was a Lembongan highlight and I knew it immediately even though I had only been on the island for a matter of hours.

I eventually did make it to Mushroom Bay and spent some time at the Nusa Lembongan Resort which boasted a pool of equal beauty but lacked that rustic appeal of Dream Beach. The beach is way more developed and snorkeling trips, banana boat rides, and jet ski rentals make up the activities available here. You wouldn’t know it if you followed me this day but Mushroom Bay is way easier to get to than Dream Beach. Its close proximity to the town makes it a lot more populated with tourists.

Riding back was downhill most of the way and aside from the occasional speed wobbles when bicycle and physics are at odds, everything went smoothly; apart from the crash.

It was a classic mountain out of a molehill situation.  

My front wheel hit a small rock that made me skid into a larger one. That flipped me over the handlebars and splashed me against a small brick wall like a cartoon character attempting to leave a body outline. I crumpled into a heap.  Other bikers rode by and I heard them inquire, as they rode past, as to my degree of pain.

Waving them on, through my embarrassment, I dusted off, performed a “fit to carry on” body check and continued my leisurely ride in paradise.

I headed to the northern end of the island. The description “night and day” would accurately illustrate the difference in the opposing ends of the island.

The north remains traditional and most of the residents live in thatched huts while eking out a living as seaweed farmers. All along the road to the north seaweed is laying out to dry in the sun. It is sorted and cleaned by hand, as is everything in the north. Boats are mended by hand, baskets are weaved by hand; daily life is “island rural”. The only other form of industry in the north is the mangrove forest.

To picture this forest it would first be easier to get an image of the bayou or swamps of Louisiana in your head. The mangrove trees easily stand twenty feet above sea level. The density of the forest has allowed locals to develop their own cottage industry and tours through the maze are on offer.

The forest is in stark contrast to the southern end of the island and provides another activity for those needing to keep busy. It’s calm glassy waters, enveloping deep green foliage, and overall eerie disposition make a tour through the swamp a very unusual adventure in Indonesia.

Returning to the harbor as the sun disappears behind Bali I dropped off my bike and headed down the thin concrete thoroughfare by the beach to a local restaurant for dinner.

The menu tonight had but a single item; Leatherjackets fried, grilled, or BBQ’d.

For more photos of Indonesia click here

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24 thoughts on “Island Lembongan and Leatherjackets

  1. Such a beautiful island. I could totally spend some time there. Sorry to hear of your little trip over your handlebars. I did that once, followed by bouncing down a hill. As I don’t remember enjoying it very much, I imagine you didn’t as well. The rest of the trip sounded fantastic.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re right. I can’t say it was joy but it wasn’t a tragedy either and was able to laugh it off which made the day even more exciting for me.

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  2. Your stories always send my mind to daydreaming Tim. I think one of the truly marvelous things about life is how we sometimes find ourselves in places we’d never dream of going. When I first moved to Maui I decided I would figure out a way to work for one of the hotels because I learned one of the perks for workers was to be able to stay at sister hotels and I imagined this would be a great way to get to visit the other Islands At that point, that was as far as the goal took me. Ten years later I was a director of international sales riding the bullet train in Japan one month and the underground in London the next. Ain’t life grand!

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  3. It’s hard to picture you working on computer networks. It’s great that you have followed your passion for travel rather than staying stuck with a job that didn’t let you lead the lifestyle you fully wanted. There are times I still think about going back to working in national parks, even though I would be an old foggy compared to most of the workers now 😉

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    1. My dream is give it all up and travel for pleasure full time. But like everyone I have a need for money to pay the bills. You are right though, I can’t imagine working on networks either.

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  4. Lembongan Island does indeed look like something similar to paradise. But I still can’t believe that your vision of working from anywhere in the world didn’t conjure up images of Kansas and Milwaukee.

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  5. What a wonderful piece of paradise! It looks like Dream Beach was worth the ride, although I wonder if you would have been safer on a motorcycle after all? Thanks for the great photo tour!

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  6. Tim, beautiful pictures, wonderful story and exciting adventure – glad you found the career you enjoy and that you are sharing it with us. If I was going there I think I would prefer the north part – would love to see the old time ways of doing things.

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  7. Thank you for sharing your experience. You recall your experiences so vividly that I can actually picture the scene.

    I have often wondered what it must be like to emigrate to sunnier climates. I daydream about having a house in close proximity to the beach and looking out the window at the sea.

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  8. What a vivid picture you’ve painted of Lembongan Island, a place I’ve never heard of until now. So much to explore and discover on such a small space. You have to love a beach named Dream Beach. And the seaweed lying out to dry would be an experience to see.

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  9. Just goes to show, great things come in small packages! I loved this, “White sand at my feet, crystal clear water lapping against the shore inches from where I lay…” I think I’m going to dip my toes in now. Thanks for this post Tim. Love the beauty in the pictures.

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  10. These pictures are amazing…Lembongan Island sounds like paradise and Dream Beach looks exactly how it sounds. You even make the tumble on the bike seem a bit exotic (thank heavens you weren’t really hurt). Another lovely adventure….

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    1. For some reason me and bikes are not a good fit yet I keep opting to give them another chance. Fortunately the spills have mostly been humorous and I can look back on them with memories that make me chuckle.

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  11. Hi tim; for me i’m still trying to get past the idea of hanging out at a bar in paradise that happens to be called scooby doo’s? did you see any ghosts? did you run into shaggy or velma? 🙂 but it does sound like an amazing place, and your stories always make me wonder why I am still here in texas. thanks for sharing and take care out there, Max

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    1. It’s a big world out there Max and none of us will ever get experience it all…which is a good thing. Btw, no ghosts, at least that I saw.

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  12. I’m striving to do the same thing when this chapter as an ESL teacher comes to a close, though not sure how my wife and I can pull it off right now. Really happy to see that it worked out for you. Great story and love the pics.

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  13. It’s funny isn’t it, how we have our lives and careers all planned out in our minds when we are young? Have them all mapped out exactly how we think it is going to go, but then when we get started it is NOT what we anticipated. I am glad your vision for your life and career finally came to fruition. The pictures look like paradise!

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