Couchfish: Slowly slowly

Couchfish: Slowly slowly


Sorry about the recording quality—I’m at a cafe right by the surf!

I’m standing with Richard in knee–high grass looking across the water towards Adonara. There’s a long stretch of sandy beach and a beautiful shade tree set just back from the high water mark. His block runs a long way back up a gentle rise from the sea and he’s explaining what he wants to build.

Richard runs Hotel Rejeki, Lewoleba’s traveller hub on Lembata, in Indonesia’s Lesser Sunda Islands. I call it a traveller hub, but given a busy week for him is a couple of foreign faces, calling it a “hub” is an overstatement. Despite the paucity of trade, he’s excited about the potential of his block of turf. So am I.

Hello Ile Bolong. Photo: Stuart McDonald.

Richard knows what I do for a living and he asks me what he should do with it. The potential is obvious. While he is thinking a few simple cinderblock rooms, I’m letting my mind outrun either of our chequebooks. Start with a few small wooden houses, ideal for couples or solo travellers, I say. A larger family–house could sit on the hill over there. An open plan restaurant to our left and a yoga sala beneath the broad shade tree.

“Yoga?” he asks—he hasn’t even considered yoga.

I point out the view straight across to Ile Bolong on neighbouring Adonara. The sun is already dipping towards its summit, bathing us in the late light and the serenity is palpable.

Plenty to explore. Photo: Stuart McDonald.

“Yeah,” I say, “I don’t even do yoga and believe me, this beats Seminyak. Get someone to run retreats here once a month, then you’re full for a week a month.” We both know this is far easier said than done, but the potential is there.

The potential—oh how often I encounter that word.

He mulls is over and we keep wandering. Pacing out areas, looking at views. There’s a clutch of what were from memory enormous sugar palms, and he talks about removing them. I suggest he try to keep them—build around the nature rather than changing it. It is such a beautiful spot, it lends itself to as little change as possible.

Today in bloody awful. Photo: Stuart McDonald.

He points out (rightly) if they’re left standing they’ll obscure some of the view. We walk up the hill a bit and stand behind them. He’s right, but if we put a house over there instead, and hammocks here, the trees would cast some shade perfectly. He nods.

Further back, we stand where the vegetable garden would be. At this point we’re about 100 metres back from the sea. I raise my arms and gesture how two garden paths could weave down the slope, depositing guests at the seaside cafe. I’m dreaming of a magical garden style spot, a hideaway.

Calm waters. Photo: Stuart McDonald.

It is though, just a dream. Richard has the land but not the funds, and I have ideas, but also not the funds. We agree to keep in touch and do for a spell.

Lembata’s western coast is lined with beaches like the one Richard’s block faces onto. One after the other running down the coast. Some host small fishing villages, others seem totally deserted. When I ride the coast on one of my trips to Lembata, I name one beach “Red Boat Beach”. Why? I can’t find a name for it and as I stand there on the white sand, a red sampan and fisherman drift by. It seems as good a name as any.

Pasir Putih, next stop—Kupang. Photo: Stuart McDonald.

Around the southern tip lies Pasir Putih, a glorious white sand beach with a surfable wave given the right swell. I walk and walk, plentiful shade the entire way. Deep golden sand and refreshing waves wash around my ankles. There’s a couple of villages, and kids show me fish they’ve caught. The looks are curious but the smiles are welcoming. I get the feeling they don’t get many of my kind in these parts.

A few days later I’m back in Lewoleba, I’ve tracked down Jim, a Dutch Indonesian guide. He used to run a guesthouse and lead the occasional Dutch tour group in the region. He shut down the guesthouse a few years earlier due to lack of business, but it remains a comfortable spot. We sip coffee and shoot the breeze in what was once the common area.

Getting all contemplative at Uran’s Prayer Garden. Photo: Stuart McDonald.

“Foreigners stopped getting off the boat,” he tells me, “now they fly here, fly there, no time for Lembata.”

I checked Google Earth while working on this piece and Richard’s block is easy to find. A single rooftop near the centre is all the satellites are giving away—though it looks like the sugar palms are still standing.

One day maybe.

The Couchfish podcast. Following a day by day itinerary through Southeast Asia—for all those people stranded on their couch.