A small island in Indonesia that’s too-perfect-to-be-real
Put Indonesia's Nusa Lembongan Island on Your Bucket List
IN ALL HIS WISDOM, the Buddha once counseled, “It is better to travel well than to arrive.”
Gazing out across the roiling waters of the Bali Sea where the tip of a slowly sinking ferry boat bobs beneath a tide of crashing waves, I am beginning to wonder whether I might not live long enough to experience either of those things.
A 60 kilometer swath of water known as the Bandung Strait separates Bali, Indonesia from a cluster of three islands known collectively as Pulau Penida. It is one of the most turbulent passages in the region, and the journey is made all the more perilous by the relatively dubious safety records of Indonesian ferries, which do little to inspire confidence in their passengers even in the most serene sailing conditions.
But boats are the only means of reaching this trio of islands, and perhaps it is this nautical gauntlet that every traveler must face to ensure that on the other side paradise still awaits. With no cars, no Western chains, spotty Wi-Fi, and sometimes even no electricity, a voyage across the strait is said to be like traveling back in time, to the glory days of Bali 20 years ago.
From largest to smallest, the islands that beckon across the water are Nusa Penida, Nusa Lembongan, and Nusa Ceningan. All have their charms, but I am like the fabled Goldilocks, fixated on the mid-sized Lembongan. It is the most developed and visited of the threeboasting everything from mangrove forests and fishing villages to Balinese temples and killer surf breaks, it seems to have a little something for everyone. The consensus is that Lembongan is neither too big nor too small, not too busy or too quiet, but just right. It sounds like perfection, but watching as the boat offshore finally slips to a watery grave, it’s hard to shake the sense that this is anything but a terrible omen.
The following day breaks with the sorbet hues of dawn punching through dollops of cloud as the sky swiftly shifts from warm to cool tones that match the surface of the sea. Rumor has it that the crossing is calmer earlier in the day, and I am first in line to buy tickets for the public boat that will ferry us across. I have heard horror stories of boats being dangerously overcrowded and overloaded, of passengers sharing the space with all manner of livestock for the 90-minute crossing, so I’m relieved to find that when we cast off, there are only a handful of other passengers and plenty of room to spare.
Although initially placid, about an hour into our journey the water turns choppy and hostile. Massive waves tear themselves from the sea and batter angrily against the sides of the boat.
Our captain does his best to steer the doddering craft around the swells, but even still, we are tossed about like rag dolls on a rollercoaster. It never feels as though we are in danger—the crew is unflappably nonchalant, suggesting these conditions are nothing to worry about— but just the same, I’m glad I caught the early boat. I’d hate to be out here when the weather is actually a concern.
As Nusa Lembongan finally glides into view, all cares and worries disappear.