If anyone is nervous about the new airport’s impact and the ascendance of the south, it is those in the more-developed northwest, not least the resort town of Senggigi. Senggigi, minutes north of Mataram, is a 10-kilometer strip of resorts and entertainment spots hugging a splendid coastline of beaches. While each resort offers its own brand of protected paradise, from the road the town is an unprepossessing place. The resort walls block the beaches from anyone not a paying guest, while the other side of the road is a hodgepodge of shops, tourist offices and restaurants, interspersed with vacant lots.
At nighttime the strip comes alive with flashing lights and competing wails from the numerous karaoke joints. But continue north out of town and you are back in that dark Lombok quiet, the hills rising on one side of you, the black nothingness of the sea blotting out the other. Drive a little further, though, and more lights appear in the distance: Gili Trawangan, where the partying really starts.
Gili Trawangan is the largest of the fabled Gili islands – the others are Air and Menos which entered backpacker lore years ago. They are a paradise for diving, snorkeling, lazing and partying (on soft drugs and hard), and have no motorized transport or paved roads. You can walk the sandy track around Trawangan in a couple of hours, past dive centers, souvenir shops, cafes offering mixed juice and magic mushrooms, sophisticated bungalows and private holdings to “downtown” a row of classy restaurants and bars, their tables and chairs in the sand. Inland are the houses, the villas, the local residents supporting the tourist industry
and all its demands.
Trawangan remains a mock desert island with mod cons and good food. On Trawangan, you can lie in bed to watch the sun rise over Lombok, then walk the 50 meters to the water and snorkel over the reef, taking in tropical fish and a turtle or two before heading back for breakfast on the beach. During the day, the white sand is dotted with pink bodies on deck chairs, as boats come and go for diving and sightseeing trips. At night, “downtown” is lit with lanterns; you can pick your own seafood for the barbecue or sprawl on cushions in a gazebo, sampling a dazzling range of cocktails before moving to a party where the band plays all night. People come to Trawangan for a couple of days and stay for a month, then return year after year for a brief island escape from reality.
But the Trawangan reality is not all peaceful charm. It seems that for every tourist sprawled by the water, there is a construction worker, and for every completed building there is one on the way. The money is moving in more families and honeymooners are visiting, where once it was just backpackers and divers – and now there are plenty of fancy places alongside the cheaper ones. Those who have been here a while complain of change from the influx of workers:
The sense of community is gone, they say, thefts are up and the illicit drug problem just keeps getting worse.
Like the community, the infrastructure is under pressure. Fresh water is at a premium: It all has to be piped or shipped in. The island’s only generator is overburdened, and blackouts are increasingly common. Development might be the long road out of poverty but, as Lombok is learning, growing means growing pains.