Labuanbajo, Flores, Indonesia, 2015

August 10, 2015 at 3:52pm

Oh Lasse .. as he sat there on the curb doing his math, I knew full well that this would be a challenging and very long journey across to Labuanbajo. I can just hear him muttering “2 hours plus 1 hour .. then 50 kms for 3 hours … plus 2 hours of ferry … plus 3 Bintang ” .. We had to hop to the next island over .. then cross it .. then hop to the next very large island .. cross it .. then jump once again to the next island to reach Labuanbajo. 24 hours he says .. I’m thinking 3 days. It’s this, or we fly …. or we skip Komodo National Park .. which would have been a big blow to our trip, as it was the big highlight from our research. The flights were way too expensive .. and Sylvie made a good point that we had just lazied around the Gili islands for the last 5 days, and that we could now get back to working hard for some new rewards. Let’s do this ..

We hopped on the next ferry to Lombok and cabbed it to Mataram, the largest city on the island. We pulled into a deserted parking lot for buses at around midnight and I knew then that my 3 day estimate was to be correct. Lasse had been told that buses ran from this place every hour .. not so. This place was deserted, dark and a bit scary. We learned that the thieves that sell you tickets don’t actually leave the station .. they live there. There were 5 of them here .. the only 5 people for miles that were still awake. This city had shut down probably 2 hours prior.. dark and desolate. A bunch of stray dogs roaming around, the 5 thieves and our disgruntled cab driver standing by waiting .. knowing we were trapped and would need his services again. One of the thieves was sporting a guitar, so I borrowed it from him and started playing everything I knew while Lasse chatted them up and confirmed for himself that we were not going anywhere tonight. Our cab driver would then drive us to some dark street that had hotels for the night ..

The next morning we went back to the bus station to find it very much alive and kicking .. buses everywhere .. merchants, cabs, hustlers, customers. Craziness ! We spent about 45 minutes asking around for the bus we needed to get to Sape, the sea side town at the end of Sumbawa. It was very tough trying to figure out who was being honest and who wasn’t .. all 3 of us asking separate groups of people to get straight answers .. divide and conquer ! In the end, we found our bus that would be home for the next 15 hours… oh my .. As we sat there waiting another hour for it to leave, the musicians did their rounds up the aisle.. along with the banana merchant with the basket on her head .. the 4 different ladies selling rice chanting “nasi nasi nasi” ( rice rice rice ).. the 3-4 merchants selling liquids and chips and peanuts .. over and over, you have to say “no thank you” as they pass up and down the aisles over and over again.. sometimes it’s just easier to avoid eye contact and be that cold foreigner. And of course, the ticket thieves hanging around the aisle as well .. Allah knows why..

 

It took 2 hours to cross Lombok Island to the ferry and from the moment that we saw the ferry, till the moment we drove off of it, was a wopping 4 hours. The actual voyage across the straight was only 1 hour. Lots of waiting .. it took them 2 hours to load the ferry with people, trucks, buses and scooters. The seating area was out of control. Long rows of seats, like pews in a church .. and at least half the seats were nonexistent.. they had fallen off years ago leaving behind a metal bar with the sharp bracket still attached .. some hammered down to be less dangerous. Our seats were about 2 months away from falling over .. they had a nice backward lean to them. This area was super crowded and super hot .. and of course there was entertainment! First we had the guitar players and their singing .. not bad at all ! Then an infomercial from a guy selling cream .. it took 20 minutes before we realized he wasn’t preaching the word of god, but actually selling something. Then the final act was a drunk telling jokes in Indonesian.. he must have been funny, as people were generally entertained by him. Who knows, he was probably making fun of us in his act, as we were the only westerners on this ferry ..

When the ferry docked, we headed downstairs to where all the vehicles are crammed together .. running .. Carbon monoxide smog hanging in the air, so we moved quickly. We had learned that it’s easiest to exit the ferry right away if you can cram between the buses and cars to work your way to the front of the ferry where you can simply walk off in front of everything.. Very tight spots, climbing over boxes and crates, between scooters and sometimes squished between the wall and a bus with maybe a foot between .. à la Star Wars trash compactor. We found our bus and managed to work our way to the entrance which the driver opened about 1/3 of the way before the door rested against the car next to us .. we squeezed in the bus to find everyone was already on ! We were the last .. no one told us .. just by chance we decided to come in .. 5 minutes later we were driving off and tackling Sumbawa.

Back on the mainland the bus barreled along the curvy road .. climbing and coasting back down .. brakes, turn hard, gas, brakes, turn hard, gas, brakes, gas … this is where we realized that most of the seats were no longer connected to the bus. So every brake, I would notch forward and have to replace my seat in its proper spot. Impossible to sleep under these conditions. About ½ way across Sumbawa, in the middle of nowhere on the side of the highway, we picked up Liv and Anke. These 2 nice girls were headed the same way we were and it didn’t take long for Lasse to start weaving his magic with the new arrivals. Liv was from Holland and Anke was from Belgium. This wasn’t their first BBQ .. Anyone sitting in the middle of Sumbawa, on some country road waiting for THIS bus is no rookie.. they would be valuable allies in our journey to Labuanbajo. We weren’t the only westerners on the bus anymore. We were 5 now 🙂

We pulled into Bima at around midnight .. landing yet again in the middle of the night when everything is closed up and dark. Bima is about an hour from Sape .. so we weren’t done for today just yet. We needed to get to Sape tonight as the ferry leaving Sape was at 8:30 the next morning. Things were looking pretty bleek .. everything closed .. no buses .. not much action. Liv and Anke led the charge by simply walking towards the main road of Bima and then walking towards Sape .. in the middle of the night. This turned out to be a pretty good idea, as within 5 minutes of walking we were being followed by mini trucks, Toyota vans and Bemos asking if we wanted hotels or rides to Sape. We followed the girl’s lead as they turned them all down waiting for the price they wanted.. it only took 20 minutes of walking and saying “no thank you” until we finally landed a nice ride at the price we wanted. We pulled into the village/town of Sape at around 1:30 am .. found a hotel and had some Bintangs to celebrate having made it this far !

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The next morning we headed to the port to catch the ferry only to learn that it was still in Labuanbajo and that we would have to wait for the 4:30 ferry.. Really ?? a whole day lost .. in this 1 horse town with nothing to do. Sylvie and I went back to our hotel and slept till check out and then met up with the group to wait out the rest of the time. At 4:30 we boarded the ferry and by 6:00 we were crossing the beautiful stretch between west and east Nusa Tenggara. The waters were littered with islands and of course the main attraction of Komodo island. People slept on the dirty deck .. anywhere and everywhere .. so we did the same, minus the sleeping. It was a long 6 hours and for the 3rd straight day, we landed at our destination in the middle of the night when everything was closed. Walking down dark 3rd world streets looking for a hotel in Labuanbajo was no treat .. we were exhausted and hungry. We eventually found a very scummy couple of rooms .. it was the only place open 😦 Sylvie spotted 2 very large roaches in the bathroom and so I pulled the bed away from the wall and we slept with the lights on. We never went to the washroom that night … at first light, we sprang out of the bed and found a new hotel .. wimps we are haha.. bah, we are on vacation after all !

Two and a half days to make it here ..a mere 400 kms.. wow. But I wouldn’t take it back for the world. It was the most challenging trip ever .. something we will never forget. All this for Komodo National Park. The “National Park” is simply a geographical region that is protected. A huge patch of sea and many islands. Four of these islands have Komodo dragons living on them. They used to be all over Nusa Tenggara but they were hunted to extinction. These islands were the last refuge for this magnificent beast and we meant to see them first hand. This can be done a number of ways .. a tour being the default and easiest way. But we hadn’t travelled 3 days only to be crammed on a boat with 20 others and escorted around on a schedule.. Our little group of 5 agreed that we would hire our own boat and go to Rinca island ourselves ..

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Rinca is a smaller island which boasts a higher dragon population. You can’t visit Komodo dragons completely on your own .. On the island you need to hire a guide that takes you around because obviously, the Komodo dragon is a dangerous animal. They are very large and strong and can outrun a human easily. They advised us to run in zig zag if we got chased .. kind of like running down a hill to outpace a bear. You can climb a tree because the large ones cannot climb anymore .. however, the younger ones climb trees easily. Oh boy !! So, some people make the trip and never see a dragon .. some people come a few days in a row and never see a dragon. This time of year is mating season which meant that our chances of seeing a dragon were even less .. Luck was on our side and these beasts were crawling around the ranger camp right at the beginning of our trek. We saw 6 in total .. 3 very large ones and 3 smaller ones. The guides had a wooden staff with a Y shape at the end to pin down any dragons that got too close. Of course, this was never needed and the experience was pretty incredible. We were within a few feet of these things .. a younger one made a loop and came walking right beside us sticking out it’s snake like tongue. I am sure everyone has seen the nature specials on tv about the Komodo dragon .. it’s saliva contains bacteria that will kill you within a few days if not treated.. apparently it only needs to lick you .. then it follows you around for the next few days watching you die .. then it eats you.

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After visiting Rinca, our captain took us to a small island for some snorkeling. These waters are the clearest and more robust ocean waters I (we) have ever seen. Protected means just that and the fish are more plentiful and allowed to grow .. We saw the biggest fish here. It was actually starting to rain that afternoon and still the snorkeling was amazing.. Lasse spotted the lion fish.. thanks Lasse 🙂

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Aside from visiting the giant lizards we also took a little motor bike ride to a waterfall. Sylvie and I rented a KLX150 because I needed my motorbike fix .. Lasse and the girls crammed onto 1 scooter ! Oh my .. I just had to laugh watching them climb the hills at a snails pace .. or having the girls walk most of the off road section of the ride while Lasse man handled the scooter up or down steep rocky, muddy roads and trails. Hilarious. The KLX was point and shoot .. point in the direction you wish to travel, and press on the gas.. too easy. The waterfall itself was pretty cool and there was a challenge before reaching it. We found ourselves on a rock shelf maybe 5 meters above the river that led to the actual waterfall. And of course, this meant you had to jump in. These crazy Europeans had cliff jumped before and had no problems making the plunge. I regret to write that we actually chickened out and did not jump. We felt crappy about it then, and I feel crappy about it now. We had a another cliff jump planned later in the trip … in crystal clear ocean water to learn how. So, we decided not to do this jump and wait for our training jump later on. We found a safe entry point up the river and swam to the others to experience the waterfall… which was pretty cool. No photos .. and hard to describe ..

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Labuanbajo would be the place where we went our separate ways. Anke was to return home to Belgium so she was the first to leave .. by bus and ferry all over again to catch her flight out of .. Mataram ? Lasse and Liv were going to continue through the island of Flores for a bit before flying out to Sumatra. Sylvie and I were flying back to Denpasar to finish up our final week of traveling in the comforts of easy peasy Bali. All good things must come to an end. It was great having such experienced and fun travel partners and Sylvie and I will never forget the experiences we shared together. Thanks guys 🙂

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On our last day in Labuanbajo, Sylvie and I returned to the captain and hired him to take us to the desolate Kanawa island. A very small island surrounded by reef .. A French guy named Sylvain was looking for a boat to Kanawa, so we made a deal with the captain to pay less and he could charge the new arrival independently .. good deal 🙂 Sylvain was a nice guy and loved his snorkeling as well. We had the run of the island and snorkeled most of the day.

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Today was legendary .. It was today that our long search for a shark would end .. Sylvie spotted both of them and yelled through her snorkel “Shark !!!” .. it was music to my ears .. years of snorkeling and some scuba diving and I had never seen a shark .. and there it was swimming right by us .. The black tipped reef shark.. the second one was about 1.5 meters long .. We tried to keep up with the skittish fish but these things are fast .. We also saw a cuddlefish and a sea snake that traveled forward and backward so gracefully, that we had no clue which was it’s head or tail .. We also saw huge Trevalle ( Jack fish ) and other very large fish I can’t name. Sylvie also spotted a unique brown puffer fish which we followed around for a while. It was an incredible day .. my favorite day of snorkeling ever.

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The next day we flew out back to Bali .. very sad to leave this area of the world .. it’s so far from home and so far off the beaten track, I doubt we will ever return.

 

Our travel video for those who missed it ..

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