Once I'd decided to head east from Bali to the neighbouring island of Lombok, it all fell into place; in the end, I managed to get from Ubud into the thick of Lombok in just two days, which struck me as pretty reasonable. I left Ubud on a Wednesday morning, jumping on a couple of bemos that took me across Bali to the port of Padangbai on the east coast. On the way I shared the inside of a tiny van with 22 other people, and even had a little kid throw up on my backpack, which was a nice touch. Still, I count myself lucky; the breakneck driver didn't hit anything, I didn't have anything stolen, and I got the feeling back in my legs and bottom within about half an hour of arriving in Padangbai.
Shrugging off the hawker trying to sell me hugely inflated prices for the tourist buses in Lombok, I managed to track down the ferry ticket office, paid my 5500rp fee and ran all the way up the gangway, jumping on the 12 noon ferry just as the ropes were falling off. The four-hour journey went pretty smoothly, as I managed to sit next to a couple of interesting English couples who killed time by providing me with tips on Malaysia, Thailand et al (and I reciprocated with bits and bobs about Australia and New Zealand, a ritual that soon becomes familiar on the road, but never tiring).
Docking in Lombok after the crossing didn't quite go according to plan. We got there spot on four o'clock, but then spent 40 minutes circling round the harbour in the marine equivalent of the plane stack above Heathrow. There was another ferry in our spot, and when it eventually filled up and headed off, a ship's horn slagging match ensued that left the passengers on both boats deaf, but the captains sufficiently de-stressed. I've never witnessed the maritime equivalent of road rage before and it's quite something, though it's mainly bluster, seeing as the captains can't leap out of their vessels for the traditional punch-up.
Despite my, er, relatively extensive experience of bemos, I got stung on the ride from the port of Lembar to the main city of Mataram. Yes, I was grabbed and bundled into what I thought was a bemo, and yes, they thought I'd pay them the extortionate fee of 3000rp they had mentioned; but I told them when I got in that I wouldn't go above 2000rp, not realising that this wasn't a public bemo, the rate for which was about 700rp. Oh well; private citizens on the make I can handle, but when they refused to budge on the price and so did I, they kicked me out of the van in the middle of nowhere, and one of their accomplices stuck me on a public bemo to Ampenan (the suburb I wanted to go to). It was another learning experience; don't trust anyone who's simply after your money.
Soon I was wandering around Ampenan, trying to fit my map to the roads themselves. The concept of road signs is apparently alien to the Indonesians, and after walking around for half an hour with no success, I collared a passing horse cart and asked him to take me to the Hotel Zahir. These wonderful little constructions, called dokars if they have two wheels and andongs if they have four, are a pleasant way to get around; the cart is tiny, seating four at a push, and the donkey trots along the road, crapping when it feels like it and adding to an atmosphere that is already explosive enough. The cost is the same as your average bemo, except you tend to bargain more with a dokar, knocking him down from his initially ridiculous offer to something that's only about four times the price the locals will pay... and it all adds up to a heap of fun.
The Hotel Zahir, at a whopping 8000rp per night including breakfast, was a rather more earthy hotel than the one in Ubud. As I arrived, a disgruntled Australian woman was complaining that she'd given 10,000rp to a masseur, who'd then gone off to change the money in the market and hadn't come back. The Aussie was miffed and the proprietor was offering to refund the 10,000rp himself (because the masseur, Maria, was a regular at the hotel), but in a fit of obstinate pique, the girl was having none of it. She looked over to me sipping Indonesian tea outside my room door, warned me not to buy anything because I would probably get ripped off, and stormed off in a huff and a sarong. The masseur turned up five minutes later, of course, having had trouble changing the large denomination note, but it made an impression on me; how stupid complaining westerners can look when banging their heads against problems that only they perceive as being problems. It beats television any day.
After booking in and using the mandi, I ducked out to a warung – a stall on the main street, selling fabulous nasi campur that I ate under a makeshift tent next to the stall – and there got talking to a friendly couple from Holland who were over here on a three-week holiday in Bali and Lombok. We were on the same wavelength, so we went off for some pisang goreng (fried bananas, 50rp each, or about one penny) and then a bir bintang (a surprisingly pleasant make of beer) in a local watering hole. It never ceases to amaze me how I keep meeting people in the middle of this social quagmire; I suppose when you're bouncing around in a boiling pot, you're going to bump into a lot of other bubbles.