Bouncing through the waves on the back of an island-bound Jukong, the colourful Balinese traditional fishing boat, I can feel the sun beat down upon my upturned face, transforming the sea spray that coats my skin into salty crystals. The boat is basic, with long wooden benches and a roaring engine that sputters and kicks out a strong heady stench of petrol. The open space at the front is guarded by a colourful offering of flowers and rice, guiding us to safety; belying the stomach wrenching roll of the small boat as it smacks through the choppy waters.
Nimble footed Balinese men clamber from the sides of the boat to sit on the roof, only their dangling feet and ankles visible to the people inside, and as we draw closer to the shore they call out to other boats and fishermen passing by, their greetings ringing out across the surf. They jump down as we coast into the crystalline shallows, hefting luggage and backpacks from below deck and dumping them on the sand. I clamber down the makeshift gangplank and wade knee deep to the shore, my laptop in my rucksack clasped tightly to my chest, and stand watching the waves break under the vastness of a perfect clear blue sky. A warm breeze kisses my cheek and sugary sand coats my feet.
Nusa Lembongan is a sleepy surfer’s paradise of an island, set amongst choppy waves off the coast of Southern Bali. The beach front path winds along laid back hostels and guest houses and tiny bars, electricity is temperamental at best and it’s lights out at around 10pm – surfers rise with the sun to catch breaks on the outlying reefs. We wander along the beach front and find local guys willing to take us over to the other side of the island. Perching on the back of their mopeds, we lean into treacherous bends and steep curves as the road winds up to coastal lookouts, waving to the children who run out to greet us as we pass roadside cafes and tiny shops. Everyone is busy preparing for a mass cremation ceremony taking place the next day; the perfume of incense drifts heady from the temple and a rainbow of offerings line the sides of the road.
Arriving at a cliff top point, we jump off the bikes and thank the smiling drivers. Steep steps cut into the rock descend to a crescent of perfect white sand; a private cove of rolling azure waves and shimmering heat. The waves are strong here, crashing into the rocky outcrops that encircle the beach, and I dive into the shallows to ride the waves back to shore. Later, when the sun reaches it’s highest point and our feet burn against the sand, we retreat to the shade of a solitary cliff top restaurant overlooking the beach, where baby sea turtles swim in a shallow tank .
That night, our last on Nusa Lembongan, we sit out on a poolside deck on the edge of the ocean and eat the freshest seafood, spicy and salty from the barbecue, as the sun dips and blazes behind the horizon. I drain the last of the rum from my cocktail, listen to the waves and the laughter of my friends, and wonder at how I ever thought of doing anything else – because for the first time in a long time, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else but exactly where I am.