Bali, Lombok, Sumbawa, Flores and western Timor
07.08. – 02.09.2014
When we arrive in Bali four days of our new visa are already over, and it's still a long way to go to East Timor. So we don't really have much time to spare at all and a lot of rushing to do. Bali and Lombok - the next islands in the chain - have pretty good ferry connections and are also not quite as big but after that it gets tricky. Sumbawa and Flores are both pretty long and you don't cross them in a day and with regards to the ferries it is said that they are supposedly somewhat more difficult to reach or leave. Well - we cross that bridge - or better piece of water - when we get there.
The ferry from Java to Bali is certainly unexpectedly frequent and even luxurious (by local standards) There is a boat every half hour and that all day long but still every single boat is quite full. There are even instant noodle dishes and drinks for sale (in addition to the hawkers who come on board in the harbour and wander across each deck with baskets full of food, drinks, cigarettes, nuts ) there is even a flat screen TV showing music videos - I am sat here as if nailed to the seat and hope to have a calm crossing (I was so often seasick that I am always feeling uncomfortable on boats ) and distract myself by focusing on the TV - although I could also watch the bustle around me of course for the same effect but hey - when do you get a working flat screen TV in Indonesia?
I'm really looking forward to Bali with its reputation as a holiday paradise .... One of Hanni's friends lives here and has sent us an itinerary of "must-do-and-see-places so we have some idea in which direction we want to go first. Because of the still ongoing migration of people after the Ramadan holidays we had to queue and see three ferries leave the port, until finally we were allowed to board a ship too and now the day is already quite advanced - so we will probably not get very far before we have to look for a lodging for the night. Together with hundreds of scooters we squeeze ourselves off the boat and to our surprise we have to show our passports before leaving the harbor area - this seems to be more a matter of routine however and soon we are on the road. Instead of following the majority of vehicles in the direction of Denpasar - the capital of the island - we take the first turn to the left and follow the north coast. Unbelievable - there is almost no traffic here and the roads are in an incredibly good condition! We have not seen this for ages and the ride is really fun. What a difference to Java and that not only as regards to the traffic. The architecture is very different too - well it's Hindu .... There are plenty of temples and then also the tables with offerings for the gods - placed under ornate umbrellas here instead of the small Buddhist houses - and we now also can smell incense sticks again and I realize that I missed them ...
We follow the coast road for a while until a road leads up into the mountains and lures us inland with the promise of bends. After the villages on the coast obviously were not touristy here they are full of hotels and home stays again. everything seems strangely professional - slowly the fear creeps in that we can not afford most of these places but one thing becomes more and more obvious : Bali is by far the best smelling place in a long time ... Everywhere is something blooming - lots of frangipani, angel trumpets, cloves and then of course the incense. Everything together mixes to an irresistible olfactory symphony, which is enhanced by the fact that the air is unusually clean. The sun is already going down as we decide to stop and find a holiday home on the side of a mountain Thanks to the fact that it is now so late that it is sure no one else will come that offers more we manage to haggle the price down to what is the outer most limit of our budget We even have a TV here and bathroom, great views over the valley and even a small kitchen where we can cook some pot noodles and coffees - so overall we end up well within average spending limits. After all those tight and overcrowded places in recent months we enjoy the illusion that we have found some peace and solitude and that with quite a lot of luxury on top of it. Although we are offered another night at the same price we still move on the next day .... We simply do not have much time and our further planning only has room for a short break when we get to Lombok. So we decide to ride to Padang Bay first as it is here where our next ferry goes, to find out where and how we can leave Bali again - this should then provide us with a clue as to how much time we can spend here. Two things are clear quite quickly: nothing is really far away and the southern part of the island (where most tourists are found) is a traffic jam area (ie to avoid). We arrive in Padang Bay quite early and actually we do not plan to stay here at all, but then we find out that there is one of Bali's best snorkeling areas here and the place is also not too bad, so we decide to stay a couple of nights. We find a cheap place to live opposite the ferry terminal and then we have a good look around the place - which is done quickly, because it is only a small village. However, we find a store where we can finally buy our own snorkel gear and then we walk around and see what else there is, I actually finally find some fitting baggy pants and a colorful T-shirt here, and then we study the menus of the restaurants along the promenade and treat ourselves to delicious fresh fish for dinner before we retreat in the hope of a restful night. Now there is a funny thing I have to mention here in terms of Indonesia and accommodation options: it is impossible to tell what you will get for a service just by the price of an accommodation - we have stayed in the cheapest guest houses offering air conditioning and breakfast included in the price and then we were in the more expensive ones which can not always be avoided, where everything was filthy and nothing worked. If you pay for a TV or air conditioning here it simply means that they are in the room, but not that they will work as well. Here we have for about 8 € a private bathroom - even with cold shower and no bucket - a fan even if it is quite weak and shaky and breakfast - but the horns of the ferries are sounding and trucks are rattling all through the night even though we have been assured that the last ferry goes by 10 pm .
Kev has no problems with this - his loud snoring is the proof and another factor that ensures that my night is anything but peaceful. I am totally whacked in the morning, but the prospect of finally being able to go snorkeling again drives me out of bed after all. We get a relatively good breakfast: scrambled eggs with toast and then we put the swimming togs and snorkeling stuff on the bike and start our search for the mentioned bay. Mr. Google said we should go by boat as it would not be easy to find and because of the strong surf it would be better to get to it from deeper water by the boat rather than to wade into it ... all balderdash. We find the said bay immediately and are also quite quickly in the water - the tide has just turned and the water is quite high on the sandy beach. This is our second snorkeling experience and although quite a few boats are bobbing about in a not too far distance and everything is full of snorkelers it's still a lot of fun. We spend hours in the water and since we got burned so much the last time that we shed our skins like serpents, this time we are smarter and both wear a T-shirt and long pants. Unfortunately even if indeed this works well against the sun it also - thanks to the fact that there is a relatively strong current - requires more power and really drains our strength - but this we realize only hours later when we finally want to come back out of the water ... ..
The corals here are much healthier - even if they are knocked about much and cut off from the flippers of all the snorkelers (as we have to observe). We see a small stingray in the wild for the first time and a lot of the strangest fish species but the greatest thing is a squid - it has moving lights along its body and changes its colors at the blink of an eye (unfortunately this does not come out in the pictures). Eventually I decide that I've had enough and try to get to the beach again, but now the tide has almost completely gone out and the beach no longer consists of soft sand, but also from sharp coral and I have worn out myself so much that I can barely fight against the waves and keep getting thrown into the coral, where I scratch my hands and feet pretty badly and also my one and only pair of pants that has no holes which is also new as I bought it only yesterday is torn in many places ... blast. As soon as I reach the beach i am being plagued by the hordes of hawkers - no, I would not like to buy sunglasses, or a pearl necklace and no sarong either ... .. although that one is really nice ... and so convenient too - it can be used as beach towel, blanket, skirt, dress, tablecloth and what ever else do I know. My argument that I have no money on me is quickly brushed aside, they will find me in the evening and then I can pay up ! Well and 5 € for such a beautiful and practical garment... when Kevin finally appears covered in blood the seller is just about to give up because I could almost convince her that I will not buy anything. Now we both have to mother him and the nice lady shoots off to find some herbs and coconut oil to put on the cuts he is covered in and then he says that her sarongs are beautiful! So I buy one after all Back in our place we have a quick shower and load all the new pictures on the computer to check the yield of the day - a whole 10% are halfway decent . Oh well, it is not easy to take pictures underwater with snorkel mask and without glasses. We are both famished and stiff, and Kevin has not only cut himself to pieces, but also sprained 2 fingers. We make our way to the promenade where we found a nice and above all cheap restaurant yesterday (fresh grilled fish with fries and vegetables here cost 3€ ) On the way we stop at the hairdresser's because unlike the beard, the hair must always be nice and short! Then we eat delicious grilled Barracuda steaks. Back at the digs a little look on Facebook and maybe I'm tired enough tonight not to hear the noise.
The next day we want to look at the famous Balinese rice terraces but the ones we find somehow are not particularly noteworthy - just rice fields - not different to Cambodian, Thai or elsewhere and definitely among the ordinary when compared with Vietnamese rice terraces we saw in the mountains but at some point we actually do find them - or better what's left of them - behind 3 rows of tourist stalls. They probably are even really worth seeing, but after we have dug ourselves through the sale offers we feel annoyed by the commercial hype and after a few obligatory photos we quickly make tracks again..
Perhaps it is worth to at least try and see the Batur volcano. If we continue to follow this road we will get right to it. So we get back on our bike and our way and when we get there, there is actually a wonderful view of the volcano, which lies in a deep valley. My navigation program shows a few small roads, one of which leads into the valley and seems to go out again on the other side and so we decide spontaneously to take this route. The descent is extremely steep and with loads of hairpin bends. The track passes through small villages and here we are definitely not in the tourist area - a pity that there seems to be no accommodation. We are curiously watched, but people all seem to be very busy. Around each temple congregate masses of people and all are dressed in their most magnificent traditional costumes and laden with baskets of fruit and other edibles. I'd love to know what all this is about - today definitely seems to be a special day - I'll have to ask Mr. Google again later. In the main town there is a complete blockade around the temple - the one and only intersection is completely clogged in every direction - it takes forever to squeeze through and when we finally find the road that leads out on the other side of the valley we have a problem: it is as steep as the one we have come down on - if not even steeper - but this one is full of holes and sand and we only make it to the first bend by the skin of our teeth but not an inch further because the sidecar starts to pull sideways and then slips uncontrollably back down. We give it several tries, but eventually we have to give up. But only after Kevin explores the state of the road behind the bend and a bit further by walking up there and what he finds confirms what I actually expected: after the first bend is already this steep. So we decide not to leave the valley on this road which most likely will get even more slippery and broken the further up it goes and prove therefore impossible for us. Now we have to jam past the temple in the village again and when we reach the other side of the valley the sun already goes down. In the last half-light we fight our way back up and then we are in another congestion, as this now is where one of the main temple of the island is situated and this place is full of sacrificing Hindus, who apparently all still urgently need to go to the temple. We decide to continue and try to get away from this hub of excitement before we start looking for a room and thanks to this end up in the pitch dark. As long as we're stuck in traffic that is no problem, but all of a sudden we're travelling alone, the roads are bad, winding unlit and on the bike only the side lights seem to work. Again and again we pass through small villages, but as always when you really want to find something there is just nothing there - this just seems to be an unwritten law so we have to keep going uphill, downhill - mile after mile - well in the end we have to go down all the way to the coast where on Bali tourism is never really so far away ... We find a nice home stay / apartment on the north eastern part of the coast where we spend the next 2 nights. Actually, we have the feeling that we have seen everything on Bali that is interesting for us but we can not leave because there is still one thing and it has become an obsession for me. On Bali you find suckling pig on a spit - allegedly at each corner and after we have sufficiently experienced Ramadan on Java with all its excesses - I must have it and that together with a beer - yep - as a kind of compensation. But it is like we are jinxed, during the day when we are still full from breakfast we see the bristly animal sizzling everywhere ... and then when we are ready for Dinner and starving hungry - there is nothing more! We end up driving to the resort Lovinia, because we think here between all the western tourists it should be possible to find what we are looking for and in the end after lots of asking we find out then that we are looking at the wrong time of day .... Suckling pig is roasted in the morning and when it is all gone it's gone ... after extensive questioning and searching we find at least one Chinese restaurant, offering dishes with roasted suckling pig meat , and that now will just have to do- at least it is really delicious and there is even a cold beer to wash it down with..
Now we can leave Bali and the beaten track - well thank goodness for that. Somehow, this island was not really able to grow on us and impressed us a lot less than some other places on our trip, but this was true for most areas that had been overrun by tourists - the locals are mostly driven by business and profits interest and otherwise happy to see the Western invaders from behind (well - I can not really blame them, for that) From Bali to Lombok is only a short hop but biogeographically the two islands are, however, separated by the so-called Wallace Line, and because of that the fauna and flora of Lombok no longer belongs to the Asian but to the Australian continent ... .. but that only on the side as an interesting tit bit.
In any case, this island is at the end of its dry season at the moment and because of that extremely dusty and yellow. Lombok is also no longer a destination for the insider and many tourists who feel that Bali now is already too crowded spill across to this island and therefore the ferries here are frequent, regular and relatively good. We reach the next city quickly and the next day it is no big ride from here to the small village where the boats to the Gili islands leave ... .. We even stop at a scenic lookout over the bay even though the place is full with our special little friends, the monkeys. They are fed by locals and tourists, but it is striking that these animals don't seem to be aggressive here - on the contrary, we have rarely seen the little-hairy rascals so tame and peaceful - they take the offered food from the hands of tourists and don’t even bicker among themselves - unbelievable. One of the local guides comes over to us and after a brief conversation I hold at least 10 of his business cards in my hands (although I assure him that we will definitely do not need a driver) and as a treat he enlightens us about the name of Lombok which he claims in the local language means Chilli and he thinks the island is called this way because this particular Chilli is grown here and also because the food is so hot... ..
Hmmm after some research in this direction I think this explanation is not all that correct I find that in Bahasa Indonesia (Indonesian official language) the word lombok really translates as Chilli but Bahasa is not the actual local language - that would be the language of the Sasak people and in this language the name of the island would translate to something like straight ahead - I have no idea why an island should be called straight ahead, but I also can not confirm that the food here is any hotter than elsewhere in Indonesia ....but then again I must confess that my ambition to research this matter any further has come to its limits at this point - one could say with a similar logic, that the name of the city of Hamburg means that some sort of ham was cured in a fortress (burg) ... .. However, I have consulted the relevant travel sites on the Internet to find out which of the 3 Gili islands we should visit and thanks to the information received, we decide to choose Gilli Air. Trawangan is the largest island, but has a reputation of being backpacker's favorite and party zone which really counts it out for us and Meno is described as a small island with little accommodation - this in turn probably means that everything is more expensive because the demand controls the supply.
On Air I have found a campsite and after I confirm with them in writing that it would be ok with them to bring our own tent and that it would also mean this is cheaper for us we're all set for going to this place. The only problem is that we have to leave our Liza on the mainland which in turn means that we have to take an awful lot of hand luggage and clamber with all that load on a small rocking boat and then hump it all about with us later on the island while we wander around until we have found the place - oh well - we always get there in the end .......
Although the island is definitely inhabited by at least twice as many holiday makers, as there are locals and there seem to be mainly, hotels, guest houses, holiday homes, restaurants, bars, gift shops and diving schools and although there is not much to do except diving, swimming and snorkeling (you need about 2 hours to walk all the way around the entire island at the most) it is still enjoyable. Apart from expensive 5 Star villas and restaurants there are also small warungs where even the western tourist can get a meal at normal prices. We put our tent up at the campsite owned by Sissi - a Frenchwoman who moved to this island - we live here relatively cheap For 3 days we stay at this place where we relax, snorkel and share stories with travelers from all over the world as well as information and music. But as always visa time is in our necks and we slowly need to get a move on so that we arrive in East Timor on time
So after the short break we unwillingly pull ourselves together, get back on the road and continue to Kuta ... .. now what a surprise: this place is also completely overrun with tourists - most of them cool surfer dudes, because there are supposedly some of the best Surfs (that's what the high monster waves that make swimming impossible are called in the jargon) in the world and this is where we end up even though we get the enticing invitation to join a scooter rally at one of the two famous and probably also beautiful waterfalls. After a short time of being really tempted we sadly decline the invitation - you can not trust yourselves sometimes and there is a definite chance that we would get stuck there longer than would be good for us.
On the 17th is National Day in Indonesia - they celebrate independence from Dutch colonial rule which ended on this day in 1945 so we decide to drive around in the area a little to see whether we can find any celebrations to mark the occasion (all week on Bali already we had seen marching bands and children everywhere preparing for this day and Sissi also recommended to us to go to such a party). First, we ride along the coast, and here we find indeed nice beaches, but otherwise only tiny villages where there no sign of any festivities. The beaches look inviting, but usually have more reefs than anything else and we're just not cool surfer types - alone the thought of me standing on one of these shaky boards with my forever twisted knee makes me laugh). After driving along the coast for a while I have a look on the GPS, to see if there would be a bigger town in this direction but there is nothing more than little dots so we turn around and head inland and finally we see a colorful crowd and can hear loud music. We stop and have a good look at the matter but we are not sure if it is a public or a private party and we're just stood on the fence looking stupid. Another German couple joins us and we wonder together until one of the locals waves us in and says: "OK!"
On the fence hangs the blood covered head of a cow covered in millions of flies, most of the people here are in the typical Hindu dress, which we know from Bali and many have instruments with them. We are invited to sit down and instructed we must take pictures - for this I really do not need any more prompting. After a while, we find someone who speaks a bit of English and who tells us that we are on a wedding party - great the wedding party crashers from Jerman are there ... We also learn that the celebration is going on without the actual wedding couple and they are either waiting for the two of them to arrive at half past four or maybe half past five or for meeting up somewhere with all the guests and then there will be a procession somewhere - we are not quite sure. Then food is distributed, we each get a plate of rice and other dishes with different sauces and meat chunks are placed in the middle. The musicians provide us with everything and then us foreigners try to master the art of eating with our fingers while everybody scrutinizes our attempts . We have been in Indonesia quite a long time now and have been able to learn quite a bit in this department and so Kev and I soon get a grinning thumbs-up while Ulrich and (unfortunately I forgot her name again) need a few demonstrations by our hosts until they are satisfied . Then there is a musical contest (I think one band is representing the bride and one the side of the groom) and we are allowed to remain seated at the center as guests of honor and take pictures and do as much filming as we like. We try to find out if we can make a wedding gift for the unexpected invitation and ask one of the women, who speaks English well enough - such things are tricky and you can not just go and give a sum of money in someone's hand - it must be done according to tradition because we definitely do not want to offend. In the end, we are told that we should give nothing, because our presence is honor enough!!! And we thought the honor was on our side! It is the first time that we can participate in a wedding party along the way and we enjoy the experience of partaking in a festivity that would normally remain closed to us. We stay until the procession is supposed to take off and then are promptly asked to come along too. Everyone leaves with trucks, cars and scooters and we follow on our bike. The rest of the party is actually quite a short affair - all walk with the bride and groom from his parents' home to hers and we learn along the way that 2 weeks before the bride had according to tradition been kidnapped by the groom - there they had the first party. Over the next 14 days, the two families are not allowed to communicate with one another in anyway, then the man has to pay the dowry for the woman - at least 3 cows (which are eaten at the ceremony) and with this symbolic reparation and reconciliation the wedding becomes valid - this is at least how we understand the explanations. After reaching her parents' house the party is over very quickly and all the guests, musicians, and the newlyweds just vanish and we end up surrounded by half a village because according to information we are the first tourists to be here (although the village is only about 1.5 km from the main traffic route between Kuta and the airport ) - and then we have such an unusual vehicle!
One of the women from the village makes fun by threatening to cut off Kevin's beard with a rusty carpet knife and I'm looking in my handbag for my Swiss Army knife which fortunately (as it turns out, ) I can not find. Instead I get my camping cutlery from the bag to demonstrate that this one would be much more effective in cutting off a beard - the woman takes the lot out of my hand - eyes shining - and with a tone of disbelieve says: "Terima Kasih" (Thank you). Oh crap - that was really not what I had in mind but what the heck - we had a great day and did intend to make a gift for the wedding after all... .Now I just have to swallow and smile and explain all the functions to her and how it all works - we wanted to buy some new camping cutlery in Australia anyway because this one was slowly getting rusty and the thought that our old camping cutlery from now on might be cherished by this woman is also nice. We then manage to say goodbye to the curious people - what a beautiful day - even if we have not found any celebrations for the National Day.
The next day, we move on again as there are rumors that the ferry from Lombok to Sumbawa can be classified as difficult and I have problems to pinpoint the port and sailing times .. Have I actually ever mentioned, that my navigation program is really stupid in Indonesia?
Time just flies by and of our 30 (extra) days in Indonesia only 15 are left. Again and again I wonder how some people manage to drive from Medan to the Timorese border in just 60 days, but then again very few people have to waste two weeks because of a CDI unit blown to smithereens and then on top of that another 2 weeks for lost passports and visa extensions at the end of Ramadan - the chaos factor must always be taken into the calculation.
We ride around the southeastern end of Lombok - here mostly tobacco is being grown and the fields are endless. From Kuta we easily and in one go manage to get to the ferry in Labuan and then on to the next island - Sumbawa -here you can not really get lost because there is only one road that leads from one end of the island to the other - but it is quite long. From this island, however,there is not very much to say, because we really only ride from one end to the other and need 2 full days for the trip.
Sumbawa island was once rich, and lived of sandalwood trade, but after a catastrophic volcanic eruption the place sank into poverty. In terms of tourism, the island is also a bit of a terra incognita (unknown Land) and most people just cross it as we are doing on the way from Lombok to Flores. In the dry season it is really mostly brown and dusty, there is little infrastructure and few accommodations and little effort has been made to change that. However, there are surf beaches, and also a bit of hiking tourism to be found. What gets me a little angry is the fact that we have been reading a false description of this island – many times I have decided to ignore what lonely planet and co have to say about countries, because how often does it happen that we therefore arrive somewhere with wrong expectations – the reason for that being the authors of the travel pages are ultimately only humans too whose perception depends on many things. if someone is freshly in love even the most boring backyard looks like paradise or maybe they were bribed or they 've been traveling for a long time and really want to go home and therefore did not see the beauty of a place anymore ... .. sometimes I have wondered whether the authors of travel literature have actually been even in the places or have just copied what the last person wrote about the a place 10 years ago .... Anyway, this island was described as incredibly poor with a starving population, which is why people supposedly might revert to crime due to their desperate situation. Of course, Sumbawa is not a rich island, but while we cross it and look for the signs of the hunger and despair we once more find that it is always better to make up our own opinion. We really just see friendly people (not looking starved at the least ) and the necessary precautions are no different of the ones you would reasonably exercise at any other place... Another misinformation concerning Indonesia and the ferries is that one should get their tickets in travel agencies before reaching the ports to avoid fraudsters trying to sell fake tickets in the harbours - our experiences here actually are quite the opposite, it is more likely to get false tickets in travel agencies then in the official port offices (and they are really to be found in every port) - there we have always and everywhere paid the correct price which you can even check because there are time- and price tables displayed. We talked once to a couple who have paid twice as much for their ferry as foot passengers than we did with our bike because they arrived at the harbour with a tour guide who offered to kindly get the tickets for them and made them pay 100000 rupees per person more than they should have and had told them the displayed prices were only for locals.
Our information regarding the ferry to Flores is that there is one ferry a day which leaves at 8 clock in the morning. We arrive at the ferry terminal around noon and only intend to have a quick look around to make sure we find everything quickly the following morning . Here we learn now that at least at the moment there are two ferries a day and the next one will be departing at 4 pm. This suits us extremely well because this way we save one overnight stop here and have an extra day for visiting Labuan Bajo - from where most trips to Komodo National Park leave. So we stick around the harbour for 4 hours and find a small cafe where we can sit, eat a simple dish and I can also charge my computer batteries, so maybe I can do a little desk work during the long crossing. When we get on the ship we get the offer of a cabin but we decide to sit in a lounge with the locals. At the end we still get sent to the first class section, even though we have only paid a normal ticket - I suppose because there are better tables where I can spread out with my computer we take the offer. I still don't write much because a young Indonesian girl joins me keen to practice her English and then I wander outside for a cigarette and Kev and I end up chatting most of the crossing time with a Spanish guy. We arrive in Labuan Bajo quite late at night and all hotel receptions are closed. We wander around - my GPS finds a few hotels, but these places are way beyond our budget - a room costs 1 Mio rupees for one night ... After some back-and-forth we find a reasonably affordable room for 300 000 - still more than we have paid anywhere up to now but for tonight we have to do it. Tomorrow, we'll be looking for something cheaper at leisure.
The next day after finding a cheap room we go looking for a trip to Komodo National Park, with a snorkel stop at Manta Point, (a recommendation of a couple who we met in Malaysia) usually one only sees the giant mantas when diving, but here is a place where you can watch them while snorkeling at high tide ... Initially we wander from one tour provider to another and are being turned down everywhere, they only do diving trips. Eventually someone takes the time to tell me where and how to book day trips with snorkeling opportunities and now we trudge to the small offices that offer such tours and we find what we are looking for - the prices are largely the same everywhere and also the associated program. It is not cheap, but when will we get another opportunity to see Komodo dragons and coral reefs. Which around the National Park are renowned to belong to the most beautiful reefs in the world - it is questionable whether we get this chance in our lives again and if you consider € 100 for both of us - the whole day on a boat with food, visit the National parks and 3 different stop-off points for snorkeling this is not really so expensive. To be on time for the high tide at Manta Point, we have to be at the office at 5 clock in the morning, which is not easy for me, but at least I have sufficient incentive to set the alarm clock - I'm very excited because today I will perhaps face Komodo dragons and manta rays - creatures that I can only see in nature films otherwise ... .. We are at the travel agency on time but there is no one to be seen so we look for a place where we can squat and wait - we are in Indonesia, so you can not expect that appointments are binding and being on time or even early is not necessarily regarded as good manners (well actually - being early might be looked upon as bad manners because you put a host under pressure) well that's just like it is. Even though they have made a point yesterday that we must make sure to be here early in order to be at Manta Point at the right time ... ..
Meanwhile, a young American , who is also participating in this tour has joined us and eventually the scene, comes to life. Slowly people seem to be crawling out of bed indoors. After a quick coffee and some sandwiches while waiting for the captain yet another hour goes by. We finally march towards the boat - with more companions than participants The crossing to Komodo takes 3 hours . Sometimes the little boat is rocking up and down quite at bit, so I just stay sat like a rock in one place at least for the moment. The island world around us is really beautiful in the early morning haze. We reach Komodo and I'm a little confused - were we not actually supposed to snorkel with manta rays first? We get told that the waves there were just too high and our companions were of the opinion that the snorkeling was too dangerous - they promise to try again on the return trip, maybe we have more luck -well that's too bad, but I am content.
During our hike through the national park however we are extremely lucky - we see 6 Komodo dragons. If one bears in mind that these animals can accelerate from a standstill to 20 km / h in a second, then bite and track their prey for days until they die of poisoning (the reptiles have toxic bacteria in their saliva for which there is no antidote) then one gets a little nervous at the sight of these muscle packed animals. We conclude that our guide knows exactly what he's doing and when he proposes at a particularly large specimen, which is lazing in the sun, to take a picture of us as we sit behind it we agree with apprehension - hopefully the big bugger knows as well that it is not hungry at the moment ... as you can read we are still alive to tell the story.
By now the sun is high, it is very hot with a bright blue sky. Over and over again I have the feeling that I have to pinch myself to make sure that I am not only dreaming the whole thing. A country bumpkin like me sees such exotic animals usually either at the zoo (I do not know if there really is a zoo, that houses Komodo dragons ) or on TV. After we had so much luck here we return to the boat and our young companions really seem to be very happy, as if they had personally made sure to compensate for the missed rays that at least an above average number of dragons were to be seen.. From here we sail to Pink Beach, a beach on Komodo and it really is pink. When we go snorkeling we also see why - the bay is full of corals in the most amazing shades of pink - just stunning. Honestly, you do not see something so beautiful often in life and we have already the feel to have seen more than enough for our money but the day's only just half over. We go back in the boat and again we sail past Manta Point the sea is now pretty calm, but now is at low tide, and therefore no manta rays are here anymore as they need a bit more depth - but what the heck we are still more than satisfied with our day. Next, we head to Kanawa island and I am totally blown away - we would both like to spend at least for one weeks’ vacation here. The island is small, and along the beach there are maybe 10 bamboo huts that you can rent, many with hammocks on the porch. From the sandy beach you can snorkel right into the coral reef - unfortunately this is not so great at low tide, because the reef is now emerging just below the water surface in many places and it is impossible to snorkel over it but it's still absolutely super. On the island there is a small mountain we climb up on (the guys from the boat are touchingly worried that I make it up and back down in one piece) and from here we watch the sun slowly going down but then we really have to make tracks and we make our way back, because in these latitudes, it goes pitch dark extremely fast and on the boat there is no lighting. While we were able to sit at the bow and let our feet dangle in the sea in the afternoon we now have to sit on the side, because on the one hand, it is again quite rocky and on the other the guys have to make the most of what little vision they have left. Of course we arrive safe and had one of the best days of the whole trip so far. We end the day with a delicious mix of fish dishes and one or two Bintang and know exactly how privileged we are, that we can experience it all.
The next morning we pack our Liza and off we go again. Flores is one of the larger islands and we need to get all the way across it - to Larantuka (no - not Takatuka), because from there goes the ferry to Timor and that only 2 times a week and we do not know on which days, it is impossible to find this information anywhere.
We take our time, because Flores is now our absolute favorite among the Indonesian islands. It is wonderfully green, the roads are in good condition and they wind up and down through the rainforest, rice fields, over volcanoes there is hardly any traffic and people are cheerful and friendly and obviously have not yet been steam rolled or spoiled by tourism. It's time for the clove harvest and the seed pots are drying everywhere and they smell so good!
Once we stop for a ciggy break on the road side when we are approached by a couple on a scooter and they invite us for a coffee (from their own harvest) at their home. There the whole family from Grandpa to aunt to numerous children are busy sorting and cleaning the clove harvest. We have a good chat, even if it is mostly with hands and feet, and in the end they invite us to stay overnight, but we know that someone here would have to give up their bed and sleep on the floor and we just can't bring ourselves to accept this even though we feel pretty bad to disappoint them - we talk ourselves out of the situation as we explain that we really need to hurry and get to the ferry. We continue our journey and wind our way on - past Ruteng and then along the coast which is full of beautiful green pebbles until we get to Ende. Everywhere we see people who collect the pebbles - probably they are sold as they are piled up and sorted by size. In Ende we could also take a ferry to Timor but this we do not know at the time, and anyway we also still want to see the Kelimutu National Park. There are 3 different coloured crater lakes next to each other, which change their colour due to volcanic activity. At the moment one is brown, one turquoise and the other one deep blue. According to folklore, the souls of the ancestors go into these lakes. Young souls go in the blue lake, the old souls in the turquoise one and evil souls end up in the brown crater lake. At the foot of Kelimutu is a small town that is (to us) unexpectedly crowded with tourists and the corresponding rat tail of souvenir shops and what else the tourists need and because we have stayed quite long in the national park we look for a place to stay for the night here before we continue towards Maumere the next morning. Here we somehow find nothing inviting enough to stay so we just keep driving for another 30 km and then stop at a little Beach Resort to ask if we can rent one of the little palm huts but unfortunately they are all taken, although at first glance it looks as if there is not a soul about (they all arrive by and by). We wonder about a bit and finally get the offer (after we tell them what is piled up on our sidecar) to put up our tent for a night and then move into one of the huts in the morning as one of the guest is going to move out then. An Englishman who lives in one of the huts offers us to share his "bath room" - which is a small annex with a bucket of water, a crouch loo and a hole in the floor for the bucket shower to drain, what more do you need? We stay at this little paradise for two nights. It's heavenly quiet and there is a kind of communal covered veranda where you reside in the evenings. A generator is started for a couple of hours and at this time you can also charge your computer. They also prepare one dish every evening that you can have here (usually fish or chicken). It is a family business and they do offer boat tours to a neighboring island as well - there are few people living on it who are mainly fishermen but most have left the place after the island has been hit by a tsunami, after part of a mountain slipped into the sea and many people lost their lives at the time. So we book the boat tour for the next day. First, we are brought to a reef where we can snorkel, we are being warned though, that there is a strong current here and we should not try to fight it - they will collect us at the other end, but what this means I understand only when we are already in the water - we are immediately pulled away from the boat at an incredible pace of knots but for the moment I decide not to worry about it and just push my head under water while drifting along. Of course after seeing the reefs on and around Komodo it is hard to be impressed anymore. Also there is not really much left of the announced reefs and after a while I start to worry because we get pulled away with quite some speed and are drifting ever further away from our boat. At some point the guys pull in the anchor and come after us. They throw a life belt on a long line into the water and it lands about 10 meters away from me. I try to swim to it, but I get pulled away faster than I can swim and though I give it my best efforts I am not strong enough to reach it - I start panicking and try even harder and then I end up envisaging myself in the midst of the sea surrounded by sharks when Kev's voice penetrates through to me - he tells me to keep a clear head and wait until the ring starts drifting towards me again and now I stop fighting and just kick water to try and slow down my drift- the stupid thing now floats right in front of me - I'm pretty relieved when they pull me back into the boat at the end ... ..
Next, we anchor in the vicinity of said island -but we are not aware of that at the time. We jump into the sea and are ... .. absolutely disappointed. The seabed has some cracks and there you can also see a few corals, otherwise everything looks as if swept clean. If you swim a little further out you come to a deep abyss, where you can not even imagine how far down it goes - here on the side walls also grow some beautiful corals and there are the most wonderful fish too, but somehow I do not feel like looking at this underwater desert long - I suspect the fishermen to have blown up everything with dynamite - I will not apologize for this assumption, even if it turns out to be wrong in the end, because, unfortunately, dynamite fishing is still not a thing of the past in Indonesia but is still and often practiced. and words such as preservation of environment in this country are more likely to be used in tricky crossword puzzles then in their actual meaning…. later however I am being enlightened that this reef has simply been swept away by the tsunami .
We sail to the island, where we eat our meal, lounge on the beach for a while and then we are being taken back to our lodgings. Unfortunately, we can not stay here any longer because we have found out that the day after tomorrow the ferry to Timor leaves from Larantuka and we can't afford to miss it because we now have only 5 days of our visa time left –which means that if we miss this crossing we won't have enough time to get to the border. It's not really far to Larantuka, but we are glad that we have enough time to scout out the forsaken hole and find out where our ferry leaves because there are 2 or 3 different ports all serving different island connections. The locals speak almost no English and it is a little trickier to find the right port. Especially since the terrain and related buildings are outside the town and also look like a derelict and abandoned factory building soon to be demolished. Because of that we ask at least 3 times to make sure we are really at the right place and what time we will need to be here tomorrow (the ferry sails tomorrow and from here? To Kupang? ... We need to go to Kupang! Ok so then until tomorrow?! here ?!)
So this is it - we are facing our last ferry crossing in Indonesia and then one, which is a horror to me for the crossing takes about 18 hours and this stretch of sea can get quite rough at times (there is more than just one sunk ferry to prove that tail) and then the boat goes only 2 times a week so it can be safely assumed that it also will be jam-packed ... .. In Larantuka there is not much you can do to pass the time - the place consists of one long one way street which goes through town – well actually it forms the town in a big circle there are a few shops and not much else. The only feature worth mentioning about the place is that there seem to be quite a lot of criminals here, because at every street corner we see a load of police men one even holds us back as we walk past him to ask us where we come from and where we are heading - and this in a police interrogation manner – very unusual! Up to now all our encounters of and with the police in Indonesia have been funny even when we went to report our passports missing…..
When we arrive at the ferry port the next day it looks quite different to yesterday - everywhere are small stalls, people and vehicles of all kinds. It does not take long before we can board the ferry - and once again we have the privilege to experience the Asian art of loading. It is unbelievable in the end there are about 2000 people plus all sorts of vehicles on board. The ship looks exactly as you imagine an Indonesian ferry .... Outdated and overloaded. On the car deck they play an advanced form of Tetris and every available spot is used, scooters are being lifted in the gaps - it is fascinating,(and scary at the same time) but in the end it is only possible to squeeze through the remaining gaps if you are as slim and nimble as an escape artist or Asian. For overweighed arthritic Germans it is near impossible to move back and forth between the vehicles - I have some problems and if I don't want to spend 18 hours wedged between trucks, parcels , scooters, animals with people climbing over me I have to see that I get on one of the upper decks as quickly as possible We squeeze through the crowd which quickly moves together like a jigsaw puzzle here only leaving little room for the last pieces to drop in their place so we push and clamber until we arrive at the top deck. Here we find a few free spaces, even two empty chairs at a table where we settle and my hope that we are offered a cabin (which this time I would have paid for with pleasure) I can safely forget. I feel quite queasy at the thought of the crossing and decide not to eat or drink a lot so I do not have to go to the toilet from now on, because there are only 2 of them for 2,000 people and they are on the deck below us - I do not see any chance for me to get there or back again in one piece. Around us sit students of an agricultural university - a few of them speak three to five words of English and we find out that the ship is taking an unscheduled detour to another island in order to load a truck with cows before returning to the actual route towards our destination. I hope I got that wrong, because this will extend the dreaded voyage to Timor by 2 hours at least (where will they fit in a truck full of cows?) Unfortunately the information turns out to be true - the process of reshuffling for the livestock transport of course takes time and so many of the passengers use this break of the journey the jump on the pier take the opportunity to stock up with some food ashore or have a chat with friends and family here, or simply a dip in the sea to splash about. Some kids have fun swimming along the ship and some of the passengers throw small coins and notes into the water for them which are quickly being collected by the young entrepreneurs no coin makes it to the seabed. At some point, everyone has clambered back on board and we are finally on the way to Kupang and I am so happy that my prayers were answered and we have a very calm crossing. I sit nailed to my chair and watch the goings on around us. Eventually, the sun is setting and all goes quiet on the ferry. Apart from us and a few other exceptions, everyone has somehow managed to find a place where he can lie and now it is impossible - for me at least - to even try to get anywhere without causing serious damage. Kev, actually makes it down the stairs to have a look at the car deck. He reports that down there people are lying on the backs of trucks and even on roofs and others sit between the vehicles and cook ... it is just as impossible to paint the overall picture with words as it is to capture the hight and steepness of mountains on a photo that truly reflects what the eye sees. We wrap our motorcycle jackets around us dozing with our heads on the table until at last the sun rises again. We watch as slowly movement comes into the still life of bodies, blankets and mats and then finally land's in sight. While the ferry arrives at the port of Kupang we try to find a passable way to our motorcycle - a bit like squeezing through an untidy maze where the hedges have never been cut in form - there are always impassable dead ends. But foot passengers have already swept towards the ramp and they have also taken some of the obstructing parcels with them so we do finally get to our bike. We are ready as the hatch opens just like everybody else we wait in the starting blocks to flood into the country. Outside there is a wall of people trying simultaneously to get onboard ... it's mayhem! By some miracle we actually manage to get off the ship without causing major damage to bodies and other vehicles - maybe we'll go over one or the other foot and knock a few elbows, but since we hear no sirens on the way into town we assume that everyone escaped with their lives. So now we are in Kupang, where we look at once and as soon as possible for a hotel - we take a brief look at the local backpacker hostel but after the uncomfortable last night I am, however, more than willing to splash out and pay 5 € more for the comfort of a clean room with a double bed and private bathroom. The hotel, which meets these requirements, is soon found and after we've checked in we even get a few slices of toast with jam and a pot of coffee. The nice porter asks where we come from and where we are going and then points out that for entry to East Timor we need a visa authorization letter issued by the embassy here and this usually takes 3 days. Because today is Saturday and the embassy is closed so we have to wait here until Monday before we can apply for the document - super - why is there never anything just easy and straight forward? On Tuesday our Indonesian visa runs out and instead of having plenty of time for a leisurely ride to the next country we will have to bribe the East Timor embassy to fast track the sodding letter ... Well nothing can be done about that until Monday morning so we spend a lazy weekend catching up on sleep and after a good rest do some exploring walks through the city, which is not really nice, but somehow has a pleasantly relaxed atmosphere. Striking here in Kupang are the decorations of the bemos (minibuses), A predominantly large proportion of the population here is Christian and the bemos are covered in Catholic-style portraits of Christ. The island has quite colourful past of invasions and fighting between different conquerors and the many native kingdoms but somehow the Indonesian Muslims did not venture down here so now there are only about 8% of Muslims on this island otherwise there is a mix of religions according to the faiths of the former occupiers: Netherlands (Protestant) and Portugal (Catholic) . During the evening, a night market is held where you can find all sorts of things - Kevin finally buys his Muslim cap - and then there are stalls with the most gorgeous fish meals and in our hotel we can even get a cold beer... we have lived worse than this. Monday arrives and we are at the East Timorese embassy early in the morning. We explain our predicament and they actually show understanding for our situation -we get all the necessary documents within half an hour and even without bribery and so we are back at our hotel before check-out time, pay and pack and then we are ready to tackle the last 350 km in this country.
Since we won't make it to the border in time today, we can split the journey in two easy bits and take as many photos on the way as we like - we are trying to find a particularly fine example of the traditional huts which we really like as they are unusual because they are round. It is noticeable that there seem to be many locals here who still chew betel nut. Much like coca leaves in South America, the enjoyment of the fruit causes a reduction of appetite, fatigue, and also a mild high a bit like caffeine. Since the use of betel nut is more harmful - an overdose can easily lead to death and also when used over a long period there is a high risk of cancer of the mouth and throat - governments of Asian countries are trying to discourage people from this habit - apparently in most areas relatively successful, because we've rarely seen the blood-red lips and teeth, which indicate the use of betel nut. Timor is one of the poorest areas in Indonesia which we have passed through - very dry and not very fertile. There are quite a lot of mountains, so that our journey towards the border meanders up and down. One thing that confuses me a bit is that many people here seem to have a different body language and facial expressions that I just can not read - it feels unusually indifferent. I often have the feeling they are almost dismissive of us, but then at the same time they show unexpected helpfulness, which collides with the outgoing signals and conveys the opposite ... very strange and alien.
Well - after one last night in Kefa we reach East Timor - with about 4 hours visa in the passport left.