Tetebatu: An Indonesian Village Where Time Stands Still

rice paddies near tetebatu

It’s hard to believe we spent less than 24 hours in this rustic, intimate village. Intended as merely a layover, we had a rich experience of village life.

The Listing that Stood Out

I was merely looking for a place to spend the night before our flight the next morning. We narrowed our search to within an hour of Lombok’s airport. It was the last day of our two week stay in Indonesia, the majority of which we spent on Gili Air, one of three tiny islands between Bali and Lombok.

As I perused the budget listings (under $25 a night) one listing stood out as being not just another small, dingy hotel room. Dream Catcher Camp was a row of thatch huts set on a beautiful wooded mountainside. I had to double check: yep only an hour away from the airport. That would work!

We arrived in the early afternoon and dropped our backpacks in the hut. Sam, our host, spoke perfect English. He asked what we wanted to do with our short stay – less than 24 hours – in Tetebatu. We were well rested and told him we were up for whatever.

Standing outside our hut at Dreamcatcher Camp

A Walking Tour: Monkeys, Rice Paddies, and a Waterfall

Our guide was an older gentleman. We weren’t completely certain if he also ran the camp or was just a friend of our host. He spent the entire afternoon with us hiking the surrounding area through one stunning landscape after another. We walked through forests where women gathered firewood and monkeys swung in the canopy. Next, we exited the woods and hiked through a landscape of small farms and terraced rice paddies.

gathering firewood in forest near Tetebatu
Gathering firewood just outside of the village.
overlooking rice paddies near tetebatu
Leaving the forest we spot an idyllic scene of small farms and rice paddies.
woman working in rice paddy near tetebatu

We eventually looped back toward the village. As we entered through one of the side streets, the “aunties” stopped us to fawn over our four-month-old boy, Finley. They asked us how old he was and we responded with one of our handful of Indonesian words – empat – four [months].

Upon reaching the center of the village, we all took turns grinding coffee by pounding an large wooden staff into a wood mortar carved from a tree stump. After that, Oliver and I followed an old woman into her rustic kitchen. We watched her roast coffee in a large wok over a burning sticks. Chickens and small children flitted in and out of the open doorway. One little girl came in at various intervals and exchanged teasing and giggles with my son.

roasting coffee in pot over stick fire
Roasting coffee the traditional way.
Grinding coffee in the village center.

After spending some time in the village we accepted another invitation to take a guided tour, this time to a secluded waterfall near the village. We had to wrangle and cajole our son, Oliver, who was blissfully enmeshed in a gaggle of children.

waterfall near tetebatu
Our guide leads our three-year old to a secluded waterfall.

A Taste of Village Life

As the evening wore on we settled down at the village Warung and ordered dinner. We were the only tourists in town, but, we felt completely at ease and welcome.

While we sat under the pavilion with the baby, Oliver stood at the perimeter of a circle of children playing a game with rocks.

In the meantime my wife and I relished a rare moment alone while baby slept and the village absorbed our oldest son. After a while, we looked up to see Oliver maniacally running back and forth with a gang of kids his age. Later, they made a game of walking up a fallen tree trunk and roaring with laughter when someone fell. It struck me how the language barrier seemed to evaporate amid childhood shenanigans.

As we ate, we were offered locally harvested spices: cinnamon, cardamom, whole chocolate beans. We bought several bags of each.

As dusk melted into darkness, Oliver and I accepted an invitation to watch television in a local family’s house while Liuan chatted outside. My son glued his eyes to the TV. I was busy taking in my surroundings, awed at being thrust into the daily life of normal people. That is not your typical tourist experience.

As tempting as it was to slip my camera from my pocket and record the moment, it felt like a tacky response to a kind gesture of hospitality. I decided to treat the moment as sacred and leave my inner tourist at the door.

spices purchased in indonesian village
Locally harvested spices.
Playing with the local kids: Oliver takes his usual place as class clown.

Back at Camp

Back at the camp, our host built a fire and pulled out his guitar. After he and I traded the guitar back and forth a few times he gave us the insider take on the local culture. He himself is half Indonesian and half Dutch. He opined about his Muslim faith and his experience of it in village life. Straddling the East and West divide, he was an apt guide to what was to us a cultural and linguistic black box.

In the morning we bathed. Our son shrieked and hollered under the cold shower (did I mention it was rustic?). After that, we spent an hour or so ambling along the hillside trails at the camp, trying out the extra-wide swing and gazing at Mount Rinjani in the distance. Sam told us that if we ever came back he could take us on a trek up that volcano.

We hiked back up the hill, ate our complimentary breakfast, and packed into the car that would drive us to the airport with plenty of time to spare.

We wish we had booked a longer stay. Even so, the experiences we had and the sites we saw seemed to overflow the bounds of our less than twenty-four hour “layover”.

At Dreamcatcher Camp
at Dreamcatcher camp looking at Mount Rinjani in the distance
Gazing at Mount Rinjani in the distance. Someday we’ll come back for that trek.

  • Matt

    Matt is a software consultant by day and a wide ranging hobbyist at night. He enjoys baking, art, music and lives for travel experiences. But what gets him out of bed in the morning is fresh roasted coffee.

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Matt is a software consultant by day and a wide ranging hobbyist at night. He enjoys baking, art, music and lives for travel experiences. But what gets him out of bed in the morning is fresh roasted coffee.

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