On our way home from Angel’s Billabong two days ago we were filled with ideas of what else to see on Nusa Penida. We hadn’t budgeted for things to go so right with our first visit – to find the place, get our fill of time alone in the pool, have perfect weather – so we didn’t really have any other plans. We went to sleep that night filled with ideas of what to do the next day. Well it turns out we spent the next day paying for the fun we had, with our backs completely seized up from the “massage roads” and our arses tender.
Yesterday we rubbed Tiger Balm on our backs repeatedly, devoured fried fish at a roadside warung, watched The Martian for the 100th time on this trip, and napped during the power outages. And that is why we didn’t get out again until Day 182.
This time we set out eastwards, to find one of two remote beaches (Suwehan being the other one) on the south-east corner of the island. Accessible only if you are willing to brave the effing “massage roads” and then climb down some really unsavoury cliffs, these little patches of sand reward those persistent enough to find them by providing calm surf, abandoned sand and rich reefs.
Since we are traveling in 2017, I set our google map to Atuh Beach and off we go, following a newly-paved road along the coast. Before long we encounter our first hiccup when google asked us to turn inland onto a road that would never in a million years pass North American road-grade guidelines. We stop at the bottom to consider whether our bike would be able to tackle such a steep climb. While we are talking about it a man on a scooter with his wife riding side-saddle on the back and holding a week’s worth of groceries passes by and breezily zooms up the hill and around the corner.
As I mentioned before, Lembongan and Nusa Penida seem not to believe in helmets for their scooters – for the locals or the tourist renters, yet these are probably the islands where we really need them the most. Grabbing our guts, knowing our parents would be disappointed in us, we rev the engine and climb the hill – successfully (!) albeit at a snail’s pace. Once at the top we pull over to celebrate… I realize we weren’t actually supposed to take this turn, but the next one. Oops!
We ride on through the hills, and the trees and the ferns and the palms. I love scooter trips with my husband in SE Asia, especially on a slightly overcast day like today when the breeze and lack of direct sun keep us less sweaty, and I can hold my hands around his waist and snuggle in as the countryside flashes by. The bright greens of the foliage bitch-slap me in the eyeballs the whole ride through, and the smell of the hot asphalt mixes with manure, then fresh breezes, then the smoke of a garbage fire.
We cheerfully wave at the locals and we whiz by: they are sleeping on platforms by the road, or sitting to enjoy a meal together in their compound. We ask a group of local kids (who reliably know English) which way to go and get some remarkably thorough directions. A serious group on one winding street – elderly man and two middle-aged women – perk up when we wave and call “hello” with big smiles. And they do this again the second time we pass. And then on the third pass they are laughing. Without making any right turns, and choosing a different way every time, we are going in a circle.
We ask a man scooting past (with an infant casually perched on one hip) for directions and he says to follow him. We scoot up the road and to a house, were he hands off the baby before beckoning us to follow and setting off again. We go to a paved street running along the ridge of a cliff but it ends in a steep (and I mean Indonesian-steep) gravel pathway that we had been by before but hadn’t thought to attempt descending.
Our little conga-line proceeds down this pathway and father still: into the bush, on a track as wide as one bike tire, invisible from the “road” unless you know exactly where to look.
We come to a clearing and park our bikes before our new friend leads us again onto an invisible path and down the side of the cliff, picking our way down rocks and dirt in a zig-zag pattern. It’s tough work – our guide is like a mountain goat, springing down the path and out of sight.
Finally we get our first sight of the beach. In a break in the clouds, the sun shines down on those idyllic perfect blue waters, waves breaking over a perfect undisturbed reef sheltered by a giant ancient rockfall.
We emerge onto the sand and directly into the fruits of our guide’s industrious family: a warung, complete with Bintang beers in a cooler and lounge chairs, all the way down here!
Ah yes, this is why our friend was so willing to chauffeur us down here – he’s got a brother running a beach bar down here! We tip him anyway (he has to walk all the way up again now, after all) and wander down the beach. We had been sent by our host to look for Wayan (I believe his uncle’s wife’s sister??) who runs a competing warung down here.
Once settled into our beach chairs, cold Bintangs in hand (it’s 10am after all… Bintang Time) we notice two things: first, there is a paved stairway coming down to this beach if we had come from the other side and secondly there is one lonely house, up there on the cliff, with the Best View Ever. For next time!
We found out this is actually an AirBnB!!
Marc and I are one of only two couples on the beach, we have the whole place (almost) to ourselves.
We alternate swimming with laying on our loungers and remarking repeatedly about our surroundings – so beautiful, so isolated, so undiscovered.
A group of Indonesian kids scamper down and take selfies on the rocks before disappearing again into the foliage.
I climb up the steps on the other side of the cove and look down on our little paradise, and I can see Marc’s orange swimmers marking him out on the beach.
The water is so clear over the reef that I can see actual fishes during the interval between waves.
Sadly, the weather starts to turn. The clouds darken and threaten rain, and we don’t want to be down here on the dirt paths when it lets rip, so regretfully we pack up and pay Wayan for the beers (and all the cute little Indonesian packaged snacks she gives us to try). We can’t attempt the walk down to Suwehan (even worse than the hike down to Atuh) in the rain, so we put on our rain gear and scoot home for another afternoon of fried rice and reading in our little bungalow.