When a wise close friend tells one on Christmas morning, by phone from Australia no less, to take care and to say no if you have any doubts, you should probably heed the advice.
Four hours later I tossed that advice around from one side of my mind to the other as I stood sheltering in the Scoot office on the Sanur beachfront…sheltering from the squalls of rain that were whipping across the grey expanse of the beginnings of the Lombok Straits...one of the world’s deepest sea channels, and the divide between Bali’s mainland and the usually tranquil Nusa Lembongan. Do we go or do we stay and wait….ahhh, fuck it all, let's go. How bad can it be? After all, Indonesia hasn’t a history of marine disasters, and the weather can’t get that bad, surely. Brigid asks the smiling girl in the green uniform with the clipboard who says, reassuringly, that it might just be “a little bit bumpy”.
So off we go, convincing ourselves that the storm that’s been rocking Sanur all morning is easing, that the big grey blob on the horizon is actually dark blue, and into the smallish Scoot motor launch which I tell myself is well and truly ready for anything, noting the lifejackets, GPS and obvious flares. And the crew, naturally, are very experienced.
That the captain / driver (I don’t know what one calls these people…it’s a boat, not a ship, but he does seem to have a two man crew) is chain smoking in direct, we are to find out on the return trip, defiance of Scoot rules, should have meant something. But, this is Indonesia and people smoking in confined spaces regardless of the discomfort of others is, like people who have no idea how to drive having full reign over the roads, something you take for granted.
The first few hundred metres, perhaps even kilometre or two, was relatively fine. As the lady said, a little bit bumpy. Aside from the engine stalling before we passed the Sanur reef of course (although the folks we spoke to on the return journey yesterday..which took some courage, mind..said that the day before they’d floated adrift for ¼ an hour before the crew had convinced the outboards to return to life). Then the first squall hit and off we went. Vision, in any direction quickly reducing to about two metres, the captain sent one of his crew, fag in hand, through the front hatch onto the bow, where, unattached to the vessel, he sat, god knows how he managed to…and the fag went out… for the next forty minutes and directed the captain with hand signals. I’m guessing that without his guidance, our next landfall may well have been Flores.
That aside, after the first twenty minutes it all went rather calm again. Of course calm is a relative term when that means the boat is simply crashing from mountainous wave to wave instead of lurching at an almost 90 degree side-wards swivel as we'd been a few moments earlier.
And, so, we thought it was over, in a good way. I guess I should’ve taken rather more notice of the frantic waving from the chap at the front and the nervous toothy grin emanating from the third crewman sitting opposite.
The cause of the frantic waving was, we were shortly to find out, the impending moment when we were to enter the collision zone between the famously brutal currents that rush past the bottom of Lembongan out of the Nusa Cenida / Nusa Penida channel (which is notorious for sucking innocent Korean snorkelers out of the mouth of Crystal Bay and handing them back three days later) and the fast rising gales whipping down the west coast of Lembongan.
And then we thought it was all over, in a really bad way. The waves were now substantially higher than the boat, the frantic man up front was literally holding on for his life as tower block sized waves crashed down on him. And the captain’s eyes bulged as he gunned the engines, which now seemed to be spending more and more time in the air as the nose of our scoot plunged into the wall of water.
The rain pelted down at Tanis Villas and we played 3 handed 500 and our pirated magnetic Indonesian Monopoly set (includes Train Station of Tokio, Harbour of Sidney and Unio Soviet amongst its properties but pays $20,000 on passing go…however you go around the wrong way and nothing is colour coded correctly, a bit like the country of manufacture).
And had a drink at the local cafe, but avoided the specialty cocktail.
How was your Christmas?