25 - Futile Intrigue (Sumbawa Besar, Sumbawa, Indonesia)


Kick my heels and spin my wheels. Round and round she goes. Brains and pains and mental sprains to keep me on my toes.

by The Nostomaniac




SUMBAWA: THE RED-HEADED STEPCHILD between Lombok and Flores. Poor. Underdeveloped. An impediment. An afterthought. By land, a necessary hurdle to get where most want to go—Komodo National Park and Flores. Except those damn surfers who come from far and wide for, what I’ve heard, are fantastic waves. There’s one exception, a place where everyone wants to be—Pulau Moyo on which sits the Amanwana Resort. Former tenants include Bill Gates and Princess Di. I wasn’t a damn surfer and I couldn’t shit gold bullion, but I was still intrigued. The Lonely Planet all but recommended a quick skip across Sumbawa. No matter, I would decide my fate as it unfurled. 

The road from Kuta to the ferry crossing in Labuhan Lombok was atrocious, the pavement more of an obstruction than anything. Better off tearing it up. Still, the road’s abysmal state couldn’t detract from a pleasant coastal drive. And pleasant coastal drives were one of the main reasons for securing my own wheels. 

On the ferry, I met an Indonesian Caterpillar technician (Dimas) on his way to a job site. He graciously invited me into his company truck (Toyota Hilux) for a chat and some air conditioning. This is a huge advantage to traipsing off the beaten path. Folks take an interest in you just for being there. He asked about my trip, I about his work. It was lovely. After trading Facebook handles, he treated me to lunch. The menu? Cow brain stew. That’s right. 




These random encounters are why I pine for those days on the road. Something about those kinds of exchanges that make the world, the people in it, and even I, feel more real, more substantial. The connection. The mutual curiosity. That’s why I was there. That’s why I threw it all away. It’s a drug, and I was addicted. However, my feelings of eating cow brain were slightly more ambivalent. But I had to do it. I just had to. In that moment, I earned a stranger’s respect and trust. I joined his tribe.

I disembarked (and avoided disembarfing) in Poto Tano. From there, it was a surprisingly blissful drive to the city of Sumbawa Besar. The road was superb, the best I’d ridden on by then. This caught me off guard in light of all I’d read about the island’s poverty. I’m guessing commerce requires at least a decent main thoroughfare to keep goods flowing. It didn’t last, and as soon as I left the highway, things deteriorated, but it was a mental respite from the constant vigilance required for traversing rough roads. 

With few tourists comes little infrastructure. No agents. No central booking. I was hoping to organize a diving excursion, but soon confronted the grassroots nature of such effort. The Lonely Planet brought me to a hotel where trips could be arranged…allegedly. I “spoke” with a gentleman who knew nary a word of English. The whole conversation was in Indonesian which means I was about sixty percent sure I know what happened. I gleaned from the few words I understood that the dive boat with fifteen Japanese passengers left the day before and wouldn’t be back for another week. The boat had all the equipment. So, if I wanted to dive I’d have to rent the equipment, a boat, and, I think, pay the gentleman to act as divemaster. Grand total? Somewhere between $200 and $500 US…I think. He also mentioned a speedboat but the relevancy flew over my head.

After my unsuccessful, yet linguistically stimulating encounter, I buzzed into the town center for a fuel up. I might as well have painted myself florescent pink and adorned the bike with flashing neon lights. Single white mutant. Shiny zoom-zoom mobile. Hazel eyes. The effect wasn’t subtle. People stopped what they were doing and stared. I’m not sure being naked would’ve drawn more attention. This was uncomfortable, but I grew accustomed. After weeks of this, I actually started to enjoy it. It’s all about me, goddamnit.

One exercise in futility deserved another. The next day I drove in circles, literally. My destination was the coastal port town of Air Bari. Allegedly, I could hire a boat to take me to Moyo Island (Pulau Moyo), where I could snorkel the coast and case the shore for Bill Gates. I followed the signs for Air Bari. I did. I really did. Five wrong turns lead me to the same loop no less than four times. The wheels on the bus. I stopped to inquire repeatedly, but no one seemed to have any idea what the hell I was talking about. I had real difficulty making people understand their own language. 

How many ways can you pronounce “Air Bari”? Pretty sure I tried them all. High pitch, low pitch, a lisp, southern drawl, South Boston, etc. Though frustrating, I couldn’t deny the hilarity of it. Someone would connect the dots and exclaim, “Ahhhhhh, Air Bari!” Yes, I suck. Yes, I had an incorruptible accent. Yes, Americans talk through their noses with a slow honk. Again, how many ways can you mispronounce three syllables? Plus, I was on a bike clearly going somewhere. But where? Not Air Bari, mother fucker.

When I did get directions they were erroneous, ergo the four-loop fandango. Or so I told myself. Given my level of Indonesian, I probably misunderstood, but I had self-esteem to consider. Strangers were sincere in their efforts, so I’m sure the confusion was unintentional. Nevertheless, I wanted to eat my own hair. 

Finally, I got what I believed to be accurate directions…or not. The guidebook stated Air Bari was a paltry fifteen kilometers outside Sumbawa Besar, about an hour by public transport. Fifteen kilometers in one hour? Um, red flag, anyone? The road was in terrible, terrible disrepute. Lack of routine maintenance or cluster bombs? Either. Both. A pedestrian reconfirmed the guidebook’s estimate—one hour. I drove for over an hour, took a few more wrong turns, and then asked again. I had an hour to go. Clearly, I needed Stephen Hawking’s counsel. Who else could help me navigate Sumbawa’s space-time vortex? 

How many omens does it take? I wondered, Even if I do eventually get there, where would I leave the Phantom? I considered making arrangements for the next day but wasn’t certain the motorcycle could endure another roundtrip. So, I quit cause I’m a fucking quitter. I turned ‘round and wallowed in defeat. This was unfortunate. I later met a young Swede who confirmed the island was indeed beautiful, and the snorkeling in fact excellent. Of course it is. Damn it.

On the way back, I saw a little girl sitting on the roadside next to a bicycle. She was adorable, so I thought I might snap a quick photo. I thought wrong. She looked at me like I was the devil himself, yelled for daddy, and began wailing like a banshee. My morning was complete. Besides cementing my status as the anti-Magellan, I also managed to scare a little girl shitless and make her weep. Smooth.

The afternoon was no more fruitful. I ran down a few more leads (more circles) but none lead to a thing. I stopped at another hotel and inquired about going to Moyo. They said it was too difficult. Of course it is. One gentleman suggested I stay at the island’s Amanwana Resort. Great idea. At eight-hundred dollars a night I’d be an asshole not to. Ummmm, if I was willing to do that, was our conversation not pointless? Also, how was I supposed to get there? Helicopter evac? Why not? I was crazy-rich asshole guy.

I did more research. Intrigue awaited south of Sumbawa Besar. There were things to see and do, but execution required great effort and ample cash reserves. Not only that, it would require subjecting the Phantom to conditions for which it wasn’t designed. Too early in the trip for such a proverbial piss pounding. I wasn’t against having a go, but it required a cost-benefit analysis. The analysis favored retreat.

Disappointing. Very disappointing. Sumbawa is worth a gander. No doubt. Amanwana Resort is there for a reason. If I’d been truly determined, I could’ve arranged it but the cost was leaning toward astronomical. I decided to save my dough for another adventure. So, my path was clear. Drive across the island to Bima for a night and then catch the ferry to Flores. Darn it.




*Drone footage courtesy of Kamera Udara.