Bali: Nusa Lembongan

Bali: Nusa Lembongan

I travel next to Nusa Lembongan, a small island off Bali’s south coast. I’ve chartered a small boat from Padangbai across the Badung Strait. Skimming my hand on the water’s surface, sea spray stings my eyes as the rudimentary engine chugs against the forbidding swells. Water seeps in through the worn wooden slats; traces of peeling paint the only evidence this was once a gleaming blue vessel. Alarmed at the rising water level around my toes, I turn to the captain, who’s broken off from his gentle humming to suck hard on a roll-up. “No problem,” he drawls, “we very close now.”
Peering into the water, deep blue shifts to an iridescent turquoise as we approach the island. Boats bob on the shore’s edge while further out to sea, surfers sit astride their boards, waiting for the perfect wave. And as the water shallows, seaweed plantations come into view, their green fronds rippling beneath the waves. Unlike in Bali, where tourism flourishes, seaweed farming is the main source of income for Lembongan’s inhabitants; the green stuff destined for the global cosmetics industry.
Bidding farewell to my captain, I hop onto shore, relieved at the absence of hawkers. I drag my bag along the sun-scorched sand, muttering to myself about the intense heat, until a haggard old lady crosses my path. I feel a pang of guilt as her scrawny arms buckle against the unwieldy mass of dried seaweed she’s attempting to balance on her head. I dash over, scooping the dehydrated fronds from the sand and into a cart she ushers me towards. Life on Nusa Lembongan, it seems, is steering clear of tourism as much as possible, despite a trickle of bijou hotels and beach huts.
I hire a moped and set off in search of Dream Beach and Mushroom Bay — its standout attractions, according to my guidebook. Roaring up the dusty roads of Lembongan, I cross a rickety bamboo bridge to the adjoining Nusa Ceningan, whose villagers are snoozing by the roadside while clutches of young boys play football; the smell of seaweed hanging heavily in the air.
I stop at a dilapidated warung for gas. “You jump?” the teenage girl asks as she pours the reddish liquid into the tank. Laughing at my raised eyebrows, she gestures at me to take a right off the main drag, and hops on the back of the bike, directing me high above the village and towards the island’s windswept cliffs.
It soon becomes clear. For 50,000 IDR (£3), you can jump from a 40ft-high limestone cliff into the seething swells below. The young lad in charge (Dave, as he calls himself) instructs me on the best way to throw myself off the cliff and climb back up the rudimentary ladder. I’m probably never going to come here again, I tell myself, and after several nerve-wracking moments, staring hypnotically at the raging white horses, I sign my life away. Feet rooted to the smooth cliffside, I glance over at Dave, who winks at me in encouragement. ‘Jump far from the rocks, bend your knees,’ I hear him repeat in my mind. A huge wave crashes beneath me, sending spray in a shower — yet I’m too high for it to touch my toes. I’m shaking. I’m sun-blind. And then I jump. Thrilling, mind-blowing and captivating — all at once. Bali just gets better and better.

This has been adapted from my original piece in the March 2013 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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