As the noon sun struck my bare arms, I looked up at the uneven, steep steps ahead of me and felt a wave of desperation washing over me.
My sweaty legs had cuts from the rocky slabs and my arms were sore from pulling my body up.
What have I got myself into?
I looked back to find my friend Sam in an equally distressed state, with the sandy Kelingking Beach and the vast Indian Ocean in the background.
“Look, manta rays!” a fellow hiker exclaimed.
I was distracted from my ordeal momentarily when I followed his gaze to three bat-shaped creatures flapping their wings in the clear turquoise waters.
We were at Nusa Penida, which, along with Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Ceningan, forms a trio of islands between Bali and Lombok in Indonesia. When planning our week-long getaway to Bali, Sam had raved about Kelingking’s beauty and was determined to visit. She had also warned me about the killer descent from the lookout point to the beach (and then ascent later), saying that it would be perfectly fine if I decided to just stay up there and sip coconut water.
I did not take her forewarning to heart until we were standing atop the cliff at 8.30am on the fourth day of our holiday, which we had reserved for a day excursion to Nusa Penida. The path seemed to be put together haphazardly to cater to the growing popularity of Kelingking as it started to appear on must-see lists.
I was never an outdoorsy kind of person but was feeling particularly adventurous that day, so I told Sam, “Let’s do this!”
Instagrammable from any angle
There were only a handful of other tourists, including two gorgeous bikini-clad girls retouching their makeup at either side of the narrow trail. Who could blame them when Kelingking was absolutely Instagrammable from any angle? From the top, the beach was tucked at the foot of a promontory that looks like a roaring T-Rex, much to the fascination of foreigners. The local driver we engaged for the trip explained that “kelingking” is pinkie in Indonesian (jari kelengkeng in Bahasa Malaysia), holding up his hand in a six (thumb and pinkie out) to imitate the formation.
Climbing down to the beach was tricky and strenuous, but the sound of waves motivated me to keep going. Every time Sam asked me, “Are you okay?” I replied with an overly enthusiastic “Yes!” even though I could feel my legs shaking. At one point, I bent over when navigating a steep stretch, and my sunglasses, which I had casually hung on my top, fell out and tumbled down the cliff face. Oh well!
It took us more than half an hour, but we eventually reached the end of the path. We hoorayed and jumped down from the last step with glee, excited to be among the first to arrive. The sand had been smoothened by the wind overnight, rendering the beach a silky canvas. We claimed a spot and chilled out – Sam taking photos of the huge, powerful waves crashing on the shore while I went for a dip (and got swept off my feet, literally, by a scary wave).
Sometimes forceful, sometimes gentle
A well-hidden gem, Kelingking rewarded those who braved the rough trail with an unmatched view. Sitting on the secluded, curved beach was like occupying a front seat to the ebb and flow of the ocean tides, sometimes forceful, sometimes gentle. Most visitors stayed away from the waters cautiously, only one or two dived in and bobbed playfully in the waves.
As the sun climbed higher in the sky, more and more tourists got down and crowded the beach. Sam and I packed up and left, and that’s when we both realised the ascent was more of a rock climbing session since some stretches were near vertical. We had to make a quick assessment of the trail ahead, pick the best spot for the next foothold and pull ourselves up by holding on to the bamboo railings tightly. The railings did not seem too secure; every time I wrapped my hands around them, I had this fear of plunging down backwards. Luckily, that did not happen.
Thirsty and desperate, I reached into my waterproof bag to retrieve my bottle but was utterly dismayed to find only a few sips of water left. Tilting my neck to finish the last drops of water, I felt like I had foolishly signed up for an extreme endurance race. Wasn’t our Bali holiday supposed to be just frolicking on the sand in flowy sundresses and watching religious rituals in temples?
Halfway up, another tourist asked me: “Are you okay? Do you need a hand?”.
I replied, “Please tell me I am near the top?” She chuckled and said: “Unfortunately, no.”
Just keep on moving
But there was no time to wallow in self-pity. A steady stream of visitors was making their way down and we most certainly did not want to block their way. The only way was up, and we just had to keep on moving.
After what felt like an eternity (while it was just slightly over an hour in reality), we made it to the top! Ignoring the busloads of tourists who were taking photos of Kelingking, Sam collapsed on the landing dramatically and heaved a huge sigh of relief and accomplishment.
We then sat down at a makeshift stall which overlooked Kelingking and gulped down a cold can of Coke to rest, before we left for lunch and then our next destination – Angel’s Billabong.
Nusa Penida is dry, jagged and hot. It is not as commercialised as Bali, but its wondrous seascapes have begun to draw tourists in. While there are many rented motorbikes to scoot around, a car is a comfier choice as most of the dirt roads are unsealed and bumpy.
Where angels bathed
I was nauseated by the half an hour’s drive to Angel’s Billabong, but was immediately soothed by the stunning view of the infinity pool. Shining in emerald green, the pool is said to be where the angels bathed. Of course, tourists were all we saw swimming in the seemingly serene pool nestled within a canyon. However, the site is known to be dangerous as rogue waves have sprung up and “swallowed” visitors before; the latest incident happened in July!
A short stroll away, the Broken Bay charmed visitors with its circular cliff that is punctuated by an opening to the sea. Our legs were extremely painful from our hike earlier, so we did not wander far.
Later in the evening, we got back to Nusa Lembongan via a speedboat and settled down at a sea-fronting bar. From the comfy sofa seat, we watched the sea glitter in front of us, wine glasses in our hands. Ahh, this was the Bali getaway I was talking about!