Lombok and Bali are very close, geographically similar and of comparable size, separated by only 28km, 90 mins by fast boat or 25 mins in the air. The populations at 3.6m and 3m respectively are not dissimilar. They feel quite different though, for a number of reasons. Bali is considerably more economically developed, having benefitted from nearly a hundred years of tourist influx. Also, Bali is predominantly Hindu with an animistic twist, while Lombok is mostly Muslim; whether that difference has influenced it's popularity with tourists is difficult to say.
Alfred Wallace, (contemporary of, and with Charles Darwin, co-discoverer of evolution by natural selection) spent eight years on expeditions from Singapore into Indonesia, Malaysia and Papua, investigating zoology, anthropology, ornithology and biogeography*. He proposed that the biodiversities of Asia and Australasia met at a tectonically imposed border that ran north-south through the Lombok strait. Species found in Bali and to it's west were not found in Lombok and islands to it's east, and vice versa.
I can't claim to have noticed this difference myself (for obvious reasons), and current science suggests the border has been more permeable than Wallace postulated, but nevertheless this invisible division between Lombok and Bali is still referred to as The Wallace Line.
And so, having said farewell to Anna, I crossed back over the Wallace Line, this time by air, in seat 1a of a little twin-prop, an hour delayed by the afternoon storms and "professional reasons" according to the helpful announcement.
Arriving after dark in Lombok's two year old Praya airport, I was met by a throng of taxi touts. All of us knowing that I had no other option to get down to the south-west peninsula, (for that was my destination chosen hastily the day before), I haggled bravely for thirty seconds before settling on a price, and more importantly a driver much more quickly than I normally would have. Ten minutes later, seated behind the driver and his friend in the toyota's passenger seat, driving at speed down dark lanes in the rain, I was asking myself why I had not taken more precautions, like noting down the license plate. I had at least kept my bag with me in the back, but my hackles were definitely raised by the unusual and late appearance of the second driver. I surreptitiously transferred my valuables from my bag into the pockets of my swiftly deployed rain jacket and got ready for a rumble. The distance between buildings got greater, and the amount of traffic on road decreased until it was just us and the flood covered roads. We heading to the remote south-west peninsular beyond Lembar harbour. Covering my phone I checked google maps, to make sure we were still en route.
At the top of a very steep and narrow winding lane, the driver 'Jimmy' pulled up and got out, his friend did the same. I was only slightly relieved when they both got back in, having swapped driving duties. Three days later I discovered this was common practise in Lombok, but that didn't help my London-tuned paranoia at the time. I was exceedingly pleased to see the sign for the hotel I'd booked come in to view, and relaxed the moment I got out and paid the very friendly Jimmy and his mate, the agreed 350k rupiahs for the 90 min ride, I even took his phone number to facilitate a return journey.
Arriving so late at 'Bola Bola Paradis' a Dutch owned hotel, I couldn't really get a feel for it in the velvety rural darkness. I ordered nasi goreng before the kitchen closed, and enjoyed it in the large vaulted common area, with a sunken garden and open to the elements at each end, before retiring to my room in a twelve sided nautical style cabin out on the lawn. Drifting off to sleep while reading an interview with the legendary Chuck Yeager in their only non-Dutch magazine, and dreaming of pioneering flight and The Right Stuff.
It wasn't until the next morning that I got the chance to appreciate the hotel's location in a lovely secluded bay facing out onto my intended destination, the island of Gili Gede.
After brekkies, I wandered across the road and made friends with some local kids who were waiting for their rides to school.
Bukran the friendly hotel receptionist, (with an American accent gleaned from surfers who venture beyond here in search of legendary waves) kindly gave me a ride on his scooter back through the village to the public jetty from where I could get a boat over to Gili Gede. I had no accommodation booked and knew there were only three or four options there, so with fingers crossed I bade Bukran goodbye, on the understanding that I might return later that day. Here's my boat ride over to the island, that I shared with kids returning from school at 10am. It cost 20k rupiah, about a pound.
*It's fair to say Wallace invented biogeography. His interest in the geographic distribution and limitations of different, but clearly related species across the Malay archipelago gave rise to his own theories (almost) contemporary with Darwin's that would force Darwin to go public with his own work rather sooner than he'd planned.