So what can I tell you about Sumbawa, one of Indonesia’s least known & travelled islands? Before I arrived I had been warned by a couple of people, and read on several traveller’s blogs, that Sumbawa was a very poor island with people so desperate I was liable to be robbed as soon as I dismounted my motorbike. Added to this, the roads were supposed to be terrible, weather hot and dry and food horrible. One blogger even quoted a journey across Sumbawa as the worst she’d ever done, and that there was nothing worth stopping for.
What I actually found when I arrived was extremely friendly people (many of whom spoke English fairly well), the best roads I’ve ridden on since leaving Australia (and some even better than Australian roads), a bit of rain (in dry season), great food and countless beautiful vistas well worth stopping for. Just goes to show never believe what you read or hear 100%, although I’m sure the roads used to be bad as they all looked pretty new.
True to its word, the ferry from Labuan Bajo (Flores) to Sape (Sumbawa) took less than 6 hours and we arrived before midnight. As Marc had been here before riding his funky little 150cc Yamaha Byson across from Bali, he recommended a couple of hotels he’d seen on the way close to the ferry. The first one we came across was cheap, looked OK and had a bed, which were my only criteria, and so it was settled.
On the ferry we had met an Aussie backpacker, Dan, who had also booked into the same hotel we were in. He had to be at Sumbawa Airport by 10am the next morning, which was 1.5 hours away in the town of Bima. Having not found a bus or any other way of getting there in time, I offered him a lift. I would have to re-arrange my luggage a little bit, but the Tiger could do it easily, and it would be a good reason to haul my ass out of bed early.
As it happens, Bima was only a short detour from where I was headed, mainly because there’s only one road that goes from east to west Sumbawa.
After dropping Dan off I planned to head directly to the west coast where I’d heard there were remote untouched beaches, and the port of Poto Tano where I was to catch the ferry to the next island in the chain, Lombok.
So up I got at the agreed 6am (well, 6.30), and by 7am we were on our way. Marc, who’s one of these weird early-bird people who never seem to sleep much (I’m envious really!) had already got up and left at 5, so we had said our farewells the night before.
Dan and I took our time cruising to Bima, enjoying every second. The roads were great, empty and all looked brand new, as they twisted up and down mountains and extinct volcanoes covered in green jungle.
Sumbawa actually has one of the highest GDP rates per capita in Indonesia because large parts of the SW have been monopolized by American firm Newmont Mining Corporation to mine gold and copper. I’m guessing the new roads are a result of this golden egg. The copper reserves are expected to last until 2034, making the area one of the largest copper mines in the world. However, Newmont’s operation has not been without scandals and police have fired upon local protesters in the past. I rode past this mine later on and it is indeed huge. Unfortunately, as is all too common in the developing world, the general population do not see most of this money and some still struggle with extreme poverty, starvation and severe malnutrition in children, particularly when the drought hits.
I’ve always seemed quite popular on the bike wherever I stopped, but here we seemed to generate an extraordinary amount of attention. Either it was my new side-kick Dan’s girly blonde hair, or people here really were much more interested in us. Whenever we stopped for a photo, people would suddenly appear from the bushes and ask for photos to be taken with me, the bike, and even (strangely) just of themselves. At one point I was surrounded by a small army of Oompa Loompas dressed in different colour dresses, but on each occasion they were happy and friendly so I was always pleased to abide.
Down in the valleys closer to Bima we came across the usual expanse of gorgeous green paddy fields, rice being the most widely consumed staple crop in Asia. Sumbawa appeared very fertile as other crops were also being grown extensively, and the brilliant greenness of these fields meant there were lots of photo stops. In fact, the volcanic soil does make Sumbawa very fertile, but is unfortunately subject to the occasional devastating drought.
As we approached Bima, and the time dragged on, we hit the morning rush-hour of a larger than expected city, and I began to wonder if we had made too many photo stops. The truth was, we had, but I didn’t want to let Dan down, so with a flex of the wrist I told him to hang on, and accelerated to warp speed 8. The good news about being on a motorbike in Indonesia is that you really can ride anywhere, including up the pavements when traffic is heavy, which we did.
Another good thing about Indonesia is that you can check in for a flight 50 minutes before it takes off. Well, it was certainly good for Dan at least, because he just made his flight.
After dropping Dan off at the airport I was again surrounded by curious and some bold spectators. I was happy for some of them to sit on the old girl, but stopped short of letting some random guy stick my helmet on his head as he picked it up; some things are just too personal!
Riding on west the road hugged the north coast of the huge Saleh Bay, producing some spectacular vistas I just had to stop and awe at. The roads continued to be superb, and better still – there was no one on them.
Now prepare for another informative Indonesia fact:>> Sumbawa’s most dominant volcano, Mount Tambora, exploded in 1815, and was the most destructive volcanic eruption in modern history. The eruption killed 100,000 people (directly & indirectly) and launched 100 cubic kilometres of ash into the upper atmosphere. This reflected significant amounts of solar radiation and lowered global temperatures by around 0.4-0.7 °C for the next 3 years. 1816 was known as the ‘year without a summer’, and in 1817 winter temperatures dropped to -30 °F in New York, freezing lakes and rivers, and 32 cm of snow accumulated in Europe and N America in August, killing recently planted crops and crippling the food industry. Although losing 33% of its height in the eruption, Mt Tambora is still huge and forms the entire 60 km wide Sanggar Peninsula on north Sumbawa.
Riding past the island capital of Sumbawa Besar, where most of the island’s 1.3 million people live (which I was glad to bypass), and the ferry port of Poto Tano, I rolled into Sekongkang 500km and 9 hours after setting off. Sekongkang is a good base to explore the secluded beaches up and down the SW coast only really known to a few surfers for some of the best waves eastern Indonesia has to offer, such as Yoyo’s, Supersuck and Scar Reef.
Before I found a room I cruised down to take a look at the beach just past Yoyo’s and, low and behold, I bumped into Mr Marc again who was already there taking photographs. It was quite funny seeing him there, considering we hadn’t planned to meet up, particularly down that small, sandy track leading to the remote beach.
Marc had already found a room in Sekongkand town, but I preferred to take somewhere on the beach and booked into Yoyo’s Surf Camp for only a couple of quid per night. This is how un-commercial and little known Sumbawa is – I was the only guest in the whole beautiful beach-side resort! In fact it was so good, Marc decided to jump ship and joined me there on the second day.
The next day Marc and I set off exploring the SW coast. Just south of Yoyo’s Beach the road turned to rock and rubble, and apart from the occasional small village, the only other people we saw were a couple of workers from the gold & copper mine driving 4WD trucks.
Past the mine the beaches were empty, secluded and beautiful; to some they could be Paradise.
Each little sandy track leading off from the rocky road led to yet another beautiful beach, with no-one else for miles around. When we were there the waves were small, but with a consistent south to southwest swell all year the whole area is an ideal surfing ground for surfers who like to get off the beaten track.
After a couple of days exploring it was time to move on to the next island – Lombok. Again, Marc rose early and jetted off before I had even crawled into the shower, but this time we had agreed to meet up in 2 days to climb Lombok’s dominating active volcano Mount Rinjani.
It was another beautifully sunny day, so I took my time riding the 100km back up north to Poto Tano where the ferry departed, and enjoyed the amazing views on the way. Marc said the ferry departed every hour, but I was sceptical considering both Indonesia ferries I’d caught up until now (from West Timor to Flores, and Flores to Sumbawa) departed more infrequently than Halley’s Comet.
When I arrived at the port I had a great shock; the process was almost ORGANISED! I rode up to a man sitting in a kiosk by the gated port entrance, bought a ticket for me and the bike, and parked in kind of ‘a line’ to await the next ferry that left hourly. The hour I waited was nothing compared to the days I’d waited for previous ferries, and when the ferry was only 30 mins late I was still very happy to be onboard and heading towards Lombok by lunchtime.
As we approached Lombok the skyline was dominated by the silhouetted huge Mt Rinjani which practically constitutes the whole island. And to think in 2 days I would be at the top. Looked easy to me!