Saturday 7 December – After a not too bad 7 hour boat journey we arrived into Flores around 17.00pm. We were excited about what lay ahead in Labuan Bajo; as it is the main gateway to the Komodo Islands it has seen some recent growth from ramshackle port town to a new tourist destination. It’s not like we’ve had it tough but when we get to a room and all we want to do is shower, though in Indonesia the bathroom consists of a cold water hole and plastic pan, an army of mosquitoes and a build up of dirt, it’s not that appealing.
When we got off at the harbour it wasn’t exactly what we imagined. It’s a tiny little town, the main road is only a few miles long. There were a lot of foreigners though, which was a bit of a bugger for us as the two places we’d looked up were full. The second full place we went to had the three sweetest little boys who introduced themselves to Paul; ‘Hi I’m James, this my brother John and the little one is Jericho’. Flores is predominantly a Christian island hence the more familiar names. The boys all posed for a photo in their various gangster inspired shapes.
We ended up in one of the crappy rooms I was talking about for the first night. When we pulled up outside there were of few men hanging around, they were friendly but it always makes you a little on edge when there is no secure parking and they are really interested in the value of the bike. In the room the walls were so thin it felt we were actually sleeping on the road and it had the standard plastic pan as the shower. Victor, the owner was always pushing his Komodo tours too which was a bit irritating.
As Flores is a predominantly Christian island we got our first reminder that is was actually nearly Christmas. There were a few Christmas trees and “Merry Christmas” signs dotted around, which was a nice. I’m a little envious of people we have followed on their trips, arriving home just in time for Christmas to great parties. Arriving into New Zealand for Christmas was our original plan and whilst I know we’re very lucky to be where we are, there is definitely a part of me that would like to be tucking into a huge tin of Roses infront of the woodburner watching Elf, snuggled upto to my little niece and nephew.
The next day, we spent the morning looking around for a boat trip to the Komodo Islands; keen not to go with Victor (hotel owner) we sneaked next door to some small tour office, I actually hid when I noticed Victor sweeping up just outside. We then moved to James, Jon and Jericho’s place, it was just a little out of the town which is perfect as it meant it had beautiful views over the bay and was off the main road so there was no noise. In fact once the AC was off it was eerily quiet.
Labuan Bajo has grown due to the increased popularity of the Komodo islands which are now one of the 7 World wonders of nature, so most people are here as a base for diving or trekking and Komodo dragon spotting. The town itself doesn’t have a great deal of things to do though, there is a bustling fish and veg market that absolutely stinks, then flowing out into the streets is a kind of carboot sale without the car’s. A whole mixture of tack/junk was on offer. 2nd hand clothes, every tool you could dream of and the more unusual live coloured chicks. My theory was they were dyed, Paul’s theory is they were spray painted and a gullible Canadian we met the next day had a theory that they were given hormones. Paul wanted to buy them all and set them free “just for a laugh”.
A downside for the town is that is has a bit of an issue with rubbish. It’s everywhere. There are bins but I’m not sure they get emptied. There’s a tolerance of people throwing it on the street. I’ve seen a lot of kids and adults come to the front of their own home and just chuck wrappers, empty cartons and food waste on the floor. I saw a whole field just filled with plastic bottles, the port itself is filled with rubbish and when we drove out to the public beach it was covered in plastic. It’s been like this all over Indonesia but not usually this bad.
On the way back from the public beach we spotted a little boy carrying a small shark he had just caught. He was only too happy to pose for a picture with his catch of the day. Look closely at the picture and you’ll see he has a huge knife in his hand. He couldn’t have been much older than 6.
Monday 9 December 2013 – We got to the concrete hole tour office promptly the next morning and there was one other girl joining our boat – Jen from Canada. It was an odd start, the guy we booked it with wasn’t around it was some other guy. He led us to get our lunch from a place with the most flies I have ever seen. He then led us down to the port. It seemed like he was only then chartering the boat to take us. Probably agreeing the price there and then, when he was done we got on a wooden boat with a crew the average age of 12. An older man, stripped down to his grundies, donned a mask and jumped in armed with a propeller in his hand. He was going under to fix the boat we were going on. After his early morning snorkel he became the captain.
After a 2 hour boat ride which Paul enjoyed as he got a rest from me, but poor Jen from Canada was an unsuspecting target. I’ve not had ‘girl’ company for a while now so I think I probably scared her a little with my non-stop talking. We were dropped off at the pier to the national park. All the rangers hang around there and then take you into the Park. Just off the pier, on-route to the ranger’s office was a priceless moment Paul stopped in his tracks and remarked ‘oh shit’ he was taken by surprise at seeing one so quickly. There was a Komodo Dragon lying in amongst the mangroves, that was the first sighting. He was big, but not as big as I thought they would be. I’m pretty sure the Monitor Lizard I saw in Thailand was bigger. Then once we got to the rangers living quarters there were four docile Komodo Dragons under the kitchen. The guide insisted they didn’t feed them and they only hang out there because of the smell which is a bit suspicious, they looked like they were in food comas. He warned us not to get to close, as even though they looked lazy and fat they could actually run really quick and they’re bite is deadly. The saliva has a bacteria that will kill you within a week. That’s how they attack the poor Buffalos – bite them, they die a slow death and a week later the Komodo gets a good feast. The guides carry sticks to protect visitors.
We then headed off on a walk to find the Komodos that didn’t opt for the free school dinners, though we only managed to see one female guarding her nest again under the bushes. The guide tried to compensate with the sighting of two buffalo by saying we were really lucky to see them. Bit of a joke as we see about 10 Buffalos a day. The only other wildlife we saw was a wild pig running round the hills, though the views made up for it a bit.
After the disappointing trek we went snorkelling at a very small island. The coral was colourful and there were lots of fish but it was a bit cloudy and not as good as Gili Air. I have to say the trip overall was a bit of let down. We headed back to the port and hit a storm so got a full on soaking. It was pretty cold and not a very enjoyable end.
Tuesday 10 December – Today we were heading for Bajawa, we asked the rasta guy who looks after the hotel if he knew anything about the ferry to Timor as we know from others that have done similar journeys that this particular crossing can be quite tricky as boats can be once every two weeks and information on exactly when is hard to come by. He didn’t know the days but said he preferred the Ende boat as its in better condition than the Aimere one.
The road was beautiful, it started off passing through rice fields, then it was almost perfectly surfaced and smooth all the way up the road that clung to side of hills, which were probably volcanoes, and round some steep hair pin turns. The scenery was really beautiful. The landscape is not so tropical anymore, there are still palm trees but it looks more like normal forestry rather than pure jungle and there are pretty red and purple flowers too. As we were pretty high and it was a clear morning we could see right out to the coast. All that within about a 20 miles stretch.
There is definitely a different feel to Flores compared to Sumbawa, but then we’ve felt a difference in all the islands we’ve been to in Indonesia. They’re each like their own little country. Religion definitely adds to the changes. We are seeing churches again for the first time since Sumatra and lots of Jesus statues.
One of the biggest differences has been the sheer number of people shouting out and waving at us. ‘Hello Mister, Hello Mrs’ everywhere. The kids and adults all wave, but it’s not the occasional person, it’s nearly everyone we come across.
Around a third of the way we came across a Dutch father and son stood amongst a group of locals. We stopped and gawped at them for a while, before we spoke. We’re not use to coming across other white people on bikes. The only person we have seen in Indonesia was Bruce and we arranged to meet him so it took us by surprise. They were on bikes they’d brought in Indonesia and were doing a loop around from Jakarta, the father looked like an older Gordon Ramsey and kind of had a similar personality. His son was very chatty and insisted we take one of his 6 spare Go Pro batteries as our only one had died. Not long after we saw them the rain began and didn’t stop for the next three hours continuous riding. Wet and cold, we took shelter in a little roadside hut. A cup of pop mie [like supernoodles] sorted us out and made the wet weather seem more bearable again. This was just outside Aimere, one of the potential shipping ports to Timor. As we reached the coastline, there was a complete lack of infrastructure, no sign of a dock or even a hut for tickets. We passed through Aimere and continued to Bajawa. We climbed a lot on this road, barely getting out of second gear. A common occurrence with the wet weather for us is the cloud obscuring our view of what was probably amazing landscape overlooking volcanoes. We got to Bajawa about 17.00 ish all our stuff completely soaking we were glad to find Happy Happy Hotel run by an elderly Dutch couple who served us hot tea to warm us up and had a huge drying rack. They are obviously very use to damp travellers. All our clothing was wet so venturing out was pretty chilly in this little cold hill town. No chance of anything drying either as we would be leaving the next day.
Wednesday 11 December – Our plan for today was to reach a small village called Moni near Kelimutu National Park, home to the three coloured volcano crater lakes. Scientists aren’t sure why but all three of the volcanic lakes are different colours and they all change colour too. I’m sure our friend Tilley could tell us if he were here. As Ende was on-route we made a plan to stop and find out about the ferry to Timor. In the morning the owner’s wife asked us where we were heading. We told her and our plan of heading Ende for the boat to Timor which was due to leave on the 14th according to the only information we could find online with a company called Pelni. This is when she said ‘but the Pelni ships are passenger ferries only I think’ maybe our plan was a bit flawed. We’d just have to head to Ende to find out.
On the way out of town we passed a massive group of young lads heading into a school, a vast majority of which were carrying huge machetes strapped across their backs. It’s not the first time we have seen young lads carrying huge knifes. Can you imagine the crisis if some youth turned up to school with a machete across his back, it would be headline news or a 5/6 year old ran across the road with a huge fish gutting knife in his hand. I couldn’t imagine arming my nephew with a knife, he’s dangerous enough with some toy plastic golf sticks, he’s not violent just a bit excitable and waves them all over the place. I guess they’re brought up using them though but it’s still odd.
As we carried on we passed lots of little old ladies with shiny red jungle juice mouths, they chew on some kind of leaf that makes their gums and teeth pillar box red. The road snaked through some jungle with furry roofed cottages. Around Bajawa there are still a number of traditional villages where inhabitants still participate in animal sacrifice rituals. One of the villages sits in a spectacular location at the foot of a huge volcano and has views right out to the coastline. The houses are all set around a central communal layered courtyard which is dotted with graves. Some stone henge type monuments and some simpler rocks and pebbles. Some houses have a number of Buffalo skulls on their door, with the amount indicating their respect and status within the community. We had a wander around giving a few nods to the village elders then got back on route towards Ende.
We needed fuel but the station we came to was empty. This has been a common occurrence on Flores, not always dry but massive ques which means the station ahead or before must be dry. The locals must know when this is about to happen and stock up for when people need it. We had to buy a bottle from the roadside sellers to keep us going.
Intrigued by the traditional village we’d seen earlier this morning, Paul pulled off down a crappy road in search of another village he thought he recognised the name of. He was mistaken, it was just a normal village. The locals just looking really confused as to why we’d ventured up the narrow pothole ridden road. Luckily to save face there was a volcano lurking in the background so we pretended that was obviously the reason we were there and took some pictures.
We only made one stop on the rest of the journey and it was actually to take picture of the coast views but three little girls came over all giggly and made a chorus of ‘Hello Mrs and Hello Misters’ so we stopped for something to eat. I tried and failed to get them to say ‘Hello Mister’ to the camera, couldn’t get them to shut-up any other time. When I pointed the camera at them they struck their best model pose instead which required silence and concentration. They stayed around while Paul ate some noodles and treated us to the alphabet, counting and then a trio singing performance. They had to keep running off to confer with their mother when they forgot the words. So sweet.
On the approach to Ende I spotted a port behind us which looked very much like all the other ferry ports we’d been to. Convinced that there couldn’t be too many ports in Ende I got Paul to turn around to take a look. There had been no sign posts or anything on the main road and the road we actually had to turn down was overgrown and looked unused. When we got down the port, it also look unused and abandoned. Convinced it was an ‘out of service’ port we continued onto Ende centre.
Just before the main town there was a beached ship now half submerged under water that had become the new playground for local kids who were jumping in from the highest points they could climb to.
When we got to the town centre the chaos began, if we thought getting information on the web about this ferry was hard this was a new level. We started by visiting the Pelni office; the only ferry known to us, however turns out the Dutch lady at the hotel was right and they only take passengers. The ticket man however pointed us in the direction of another port. Ipi Ipi port was only around 10 miles away but to get to it you had to travel a series of backalleys which was strange being a port. When we arrived it looked just as abandoned as the one we had previously pulled into, though there were a few men sitting around so we tried asking them, none spoke English but their hand gestures clearly showed it had gone already, damn. We tried to find out when the next one would be going and so very quickly learnt our days of the week in Indonesian, they said head to the other port. For the rest of the afternoon we drove between this port and the other port in the town centre numerous times, trying to get some information however we got different days from everyone we spoke to. We finally found a police officer at Ende port who seemed to have some clue, he said the next one is Sunday but from the port we had originally seen on our drive in which was completely abandoned, he then had an epiphany and said “Tommorow”. So off we toddled back to the original port 10 miles the other way, where we found a couple of fisherman knocking about, they all agreed that there wasn’t one tomorrow but there was on Sunday. After hearing Sunday the most times out of all the days of the week we thought that’s our best chance and gave up. It was 18.00 by this point we’d spent four hours trying to get the day and time of the ferry, so our original plan of making it to Kelimutu went out of the window and we decided to stay in Ende for the night. Another shit hotel was on offer and we ended up walking a few miles to get a cold fish and rice dinner. I actually found it really tasty but it would have definitely benefited from some heat.
With a few days till the ferry we had a bit longer to visit Kelimutu volcano. Before we leave left for Moni (village nearby Kelimutu), we thought we’d try and get some more confirmation. Paul went out alone first to the policeman, who was now going with the majority and was certain it was Hari Minggu (Sunday) too. Just for some final final confirmation, we went to the port and the common answer amongst the fishermen was Sunday. That was that, we’d be back in Ende on Saturday for the Sunday boat. All we could do now was hope it turned up.
It was only 60km to Moni so a pretty short drive. The climbing road was on a edge of a huge river, and there was some massive cascading waterfalls along the way. Half way up we met a jam. There had been a massive landslide and a huge rock had blocked the road. A chap came to speak to us and said he’d been there three hours already. It wasn’t too bad for us, we must have got there just as they finished clearing as we were waived through 15 minutes later, all be it with just one guy at the side of the road keeping a watch out for anymore falling boulders from the Cliffside above.
We got to Moni which is a tiny little village made up mostly of wooden huts. We found somewhere basic to stay and headed out for lunch. Paul sampled the local delicacy which is called ‘Moni cake’ which is ‘a pie with layers of potato and veg’ I was kind of envisaging a shepherd’s pie minus the mince meat and gravy. It was nothing like that. It did not qualify as a pie that’s for sure. Instead they were the size of the special edition £5 coin, about a centimetre thick, deep fried, potato cakes. Nice enough but a little bland. We watched some kids make homemade fireworks in the field across the road from the cafe. They got a few bangs but no colours.
Not a lot else going on in Moni, and to be honest we were having a day where we felt like doing nothing so we just watched a DVD and then went out to find dinner later on. All the places were empty and only really small bamboo huts but the food was tasty.
The next morning we got up at 5am to ride up the Kelimutu Volcano famed for it’s 3 different coloured crater lakes. It’s a short walk from where we parked to the lakes. We went for a peak over the edge, where we could only see two of the three lakes so then climbed up to the better vantage point to see the third.
When we got to the top, the third lake was missing as a huge cloud was sitting right in it. Two of the lakes were similar in colour – dark brown/black. But the turquoise lake was sparkling. The sun was wrecking the pictures though, it was too bright to pick up the colour, an hour or so passed and it was perfect picture time. Some others that were there had gone by then, leaving us the whole place to ourselves.
Just like Mt. Bromo it was really quiet, a very still eerie quiet. It must be something with being so high up as it reminds me of the silence going up on a ski lift. We went up to the edge to throw some stones. The surface of the lake didn’t look that deep into the crater but we lost sight of the stones as they plunged and the sound was very weird. Not like a plop into water, more like a crash. By the time we got back it was only 9am so we had a day to kill in a very small village.
We were going to clean the bike but turns out we were both too lazy to get on with that. So went to a waterfall instead which took up all of an hour. We tried to use satellite internet up the road but that was off until 18.00. Another film it was. When the internet did come on we got some bad news. The ship schedule between East Timor and Darwin in Australia had completely changed. We had been working all our plans to meet this schedule and thought we had made a good judgement as there was originally one scheduled for the 21st and 26th of December so we would have a back up. Though these two ships were now omitting East Timor completely on their way from Singapore and the next one wasn’t scheduled to 8th January. We always knew this crossing was flakey, we’d read too many stories about how the dates ALWAYS change and they did unfortunately.
Christmas in East Timor was looking really likely at this point. The possibility of Air freighting from Bali was considered for a nano second but in reality we couldn’t hack going back on ourselves. We made a decision to continue as planned with the sea shipment and maybe we’d get lucky but if not leave the bike in the container at the shipping yard and fly ahead to Australia for Christmas. As accommodation is really expensive we’d either have to camp, couch surf or Paul’s ingenious idea to hire a campervan – so we have a bed, kitchen and transport. That all had to wait until we had better internet connection to see our options. Back to Ende tomorrow for the ship on Sunday.
Saturday 14 December – The journey back to Ende was uneventful as we passed the same beautiful scenery as on the way up; we did however see a cow on the bus in front and had to que for about 45 minutes just to get some petrol. Back in Ende we decided to use the rest of the day to gather some of the things we would need for the tasks ahead. Saturday is market day which was perfect. We got so much stuff to clean the bike with for Australian Quarantine inspection, picked up a very cheap holdall, even a gas stove for £10 so we can eat something hot in Australia. We were on a roll and even managed to clean the bike and boxes a little.