Postcards from Tanjung Aan, Lombok
Five days ago I lay stretched out on a flat, grassy headland below the equator, staring up at the sky and savouring the gusts of wind blowing in from the open ocean. Bama and I were spending a week on the Indonesian island of Lombok, across the strait from Bali and a world away from the madness of Hong Kong or Jakarta.
In Javanese, the mother tongue of over 100 million Indonesians, Lombok coincidentally means “chilli”, but the island’s name is derived from lumbuk, the indigenous Sasak term for “straight ahead”. Today Lombok is undergoing something of a tourism boom, reaping the benefits of visitor numbers spilling over from its more famous neighbour.
Arriving more than 15 years since I last set foot on the island, it became immediately clear that change was under way. The tiny airport at Ampenan with a single-storey structure was replaced in 2011 by a much larger facility, connected to the capital of Mataram by a wide, tree-lined avenue with kerbs painted in alternating black and white. Throughout our stay we saw new villas being built, and countless “land for sale” signs sprouting along the main roads beneath swaying coconut palms. All were pointing to the fact that Lombok was on the cusp of great development, and it was for this reason that we chose to visit as soon as we could.
For the second half of our trip, we concentrated on the sweeping beaches of its southern coast, dotting the landscape between the rocky, surf-beaten headlands. A friend of Bama’s had recommended those at Tanjung Aan, a beautiful balloon-shaped bay with water as clear as a swimming pool. Here we stood in the shallows, observing the tide pull out and even spotting a sea snake. We walked barefoot on an empty stretch of white sand, the only company being the occasional enterprising local children – doe-eyed but surprisingly persistent – and a small handful of travellers who, like us, had arrived on a scooter down the pot-holed country roads.
Sadly, the entire coastline around Tanjung Aan has been earmarked for the Mandalika, an ambitious master plan to build a large-scale destination resort rivalling those in Bali and Phuket. Months ago I received news that the Balinese Tourism Development Corporation had stepped in, repaving the roads with great efficiency and encouraging Asian-Pacific developers to snap up plots of land. So far the sole resort is the isolated Novotel, whose Sasak-styled beach villas pre-date the master plan. I worry about the future accessibility of these shores – how local villagers may be priced out and the beaches made private, only to be enjoyed by the suitably wealthy. Another high-end, luxury enclave like Bali’s Nusa Dua may bring certain economic benefits, but at what cost?