In hindsight (a phrase I use often when referring to my recent trip to Indonesia), I should have known that celebrating Christmas in a largely Muslim country was probably a bad idea.
Unfortunately, I didn’t take that into account when planning my winter holiday trip this year, and it resulted in the worst Christmas morning ever.
We spent most of Christmas Eve travelling from Ubud, Bali to Senggigi, Lombok via van transfer and the slow ferry, so by the time we were dropped at the Lombok Tourist Information office we were tired and just wanted to rest.
The man behind the desk was very crafty (in hindsight) and told us that it was peak season and Senggigi was terribly full but he would see what he could do. He also found out that we wanted to head to the Gili Islands after Lombok, and warned us that it was peak season there too, but he would help us out.
In a suspiciously (in hindsight) short space of time, he had put together a package for us which included three nights accomodation in Senggigi, three nights on Gili Trawangan, a tour to central Lombok, a snorkeling trip around the Gilis and an upgrade to the fast boat back to Bali.
Normally I would not allow my trip to be booked that far in advance, or by someone else, or without having done any research myself, but a combination of exhaustion and the (in hindsight, exaggerated) threat of peak season meant that I agreed to it.
We paid a substantial amount of money, signed a contract (in what felt like blood) and got back into the rusty van to be driven to our acommodation.
I was feeling positive about this experience as we drove along a pleasant coast; I tempered my expectations when we drove into a very small township which was clearly not experiencing peak season; and when we actually drove up a dirt road into a slum and stopped outside a dirty building I allowed myself to feel a little disappointed.
The room itself was on the second floor, which meant we got a view of the corrugated iron shacks down the road, and contained only a double bed, and, in the bathroom, a squat toilet (and a bucket with which to flush it), sink and showerhead.
They were good enough to provide us with a mattress on the floor as well, which I was relegated to on account of my restless sleeping, and some geckos for company.
We were pretty cheerful about the whole situation though, and dumping our bags, went off to find the local nightlife.
There wasn’t any, so we had some dinner and a beer at one of the warungs in the little group of shops we’d seen earlier.
Tired and uninspired by the local scene in Senggigi, we retired early and relaxed on our ‘private terrace’ (still at optimism stage) before going to bed to wait for Santa.
(Please excuse the capital letters in the following section. They are necessary to express my feelings.)
At FOUR THIRTY IN THE MORNING we discovered that the deceptively named Hill View Homestay is RIGHT NEXT DOOR TO A MOSQUE.
You know how we found this out? You know what happens at four thirty in the morning at a mosque?
THEY USE THE LOUDSPEAKER SYSTEM TO CALL THE WHOLE VILLAGE TO MORNING PRAYER.
And when that speaker is pointed DIRECTLY at your window WHICH DOESN’T HAVE GLASS IN THE TOP SECTION you wake up IMMEDIATELY AND IN FEAR FOR YOUR LIFE.
This call to prayer goes on for TWENTY WHOLE MINUTES WITHOUT STOPPING.
Then, of course, when it’s finished, you’re awake and instead of going back to sleep you become PAINFULLY aware of the scooters revving and backfiring in the dirt road outside even though it’s NOT EVEN FIVE AM.
And then, to add a little something special to your Christmas morning, a man with a clown horn will stand outside your room and honk it repeatedly.
Yes, A CLOWN HORN. WHY DID HE HAVE A CLOWN HORN?? WHY WAS HE HONKING IT?? WHY WAS HE HONKING A CLOWN HORN AT FIVE AM???
I got out of bed and went to the terrace where I glared with all the fury of a Christmas lover who has been woken by a mosque on her most sacred of days. This is the closest I have ever come to assaulting another human being, though I don’t think that there’s a jury in the world that would convict me for snapping his clown horn in half and shoving it up his… ahem…
I was just about cross eyed with fury by this point, deprived of sleep and my favourite morning in the year, and it took only a brief consultation with the others to decide that we were going to ring “that jerk” as Yuko keeps calling him and demand that he move us somewhere that wasn’t RIGHT NEXT DOOR TO A MOSQUE.
I went to log onto Skype to discover that THE INTERNET WASN’T WORKING.
Soeng found a man sitting in a doorway at street level who appeared to equate to a receptionist, except that he didn’t speak any English. He understood grumpy foreigners in pajamas ranting though, so he went and found a woman who could speak English.
Reining in my temper, I explained to her that the internet wasn’t working, did she know why? I was dumbfounded when she said, “oh yes, I thought no one needed it so I turned it off last night.” (which explained why my Facebook chat had cut out).
I evil-eyed her while she plugged it back in, then thanked her before going upstairs to phone the jerk.
It rang and rang and rang and rang and went to voicemail.
Fair enough, it was still 6.45am, he was probably still sleeping.
So I rang again. Same result. And again. Same result. And again. And he had turned his phone off.
WHAT’S THAT? YOU DON’T LIKE BEING WOKEN UP BY LOUD NOISES EARLY IN THE MORNING?
We fumed for a while, took showers, made threats about going down to his office and inflicting bodily harm…
We went back down to the ‘reception’ and asked to use the phone. The itchy-looking ‘receptionist’ fetched the woman from inside again who was good enough to lend us her cellphone to call the jerk.
He answered this time, and I explained to him very calmly (I thought) that it was simply unacceptable that we were woken up at 4.30 in the morning, and furthermore, that we were staying in a slum, despite having paid such a sum of money. I politely insisted that he move us somewhere better and further from the mosque, and if that didn’t happen, that we were more than happy to come down to his office and wait FOR AS LONG AS IT TOOK.
Obviously the thought of having all three of us show up and stare at him until he made our lives better was horrifying, so he said he would do his best to find something by midday.
And from there, Christmas was looking up.
We had banana pancakes for breakfast, then took some very rusty mountain bikes and cycled round the coast for a few hours, stopping at beaches along the way.
When we got back, we were picked up and taken to a bed and breakfast further up the road which was 10 times nicer, closer to the beach and better restaurants and, most importantly, nowhere near a mosque. And yes, I checked before we even got out of the van.
Lunch was at a restaurant on the beach, then we went walking along the beach and swimming.
We went back to the same restaurant in time to watch the sun set over the water with a Christmas beer, before having a traditional Christmas dinner of gado-gado.
We ended the strangest Christmas ever by breaking into the Sheraton and sitting poolside to listen to the acoustic guitarist.
In hindsight, it could have been worse, but I hope never to have a Christmas like that again.