|21st Jan||Thur||Sydney 12.30pm to Bangkok 3.40 pm (6 hrs flying Air Asia)|
|22nd Jan||Fri||Denpasar 6am to Ende, Flores 9am (2.5 hrs Garuda) to
Moni 2 hours)
|23rd Jan||Sat||Moni to Ende (2 hrs) to Bajawa (4hrs)|
|24th Jan||Sun||Bajawa to Ruteng 5 hrs|
|25th Jan||Mon||Ruteng to Labuan Bajo 6 hrs|
Labuan Bajo to Rinca Island to Kanawa Island
|27th Jan||Wed||Kanawa Island to Labuan Bajo 1.05pm to Denpasar 2.25pm to Kuta, Bali|
|28th Jan||Thur||Kuta to Ubud|
|31st Jan||Sun||Bali 1am to Sydney 10.30am|
$1AUD = 10,000 Rp (Rupiah)
What it Cost
Sydney to Bali Return for two $692
Bali to Ende for two $267
Labuan Bajo to Bali for two $147
Labuan Bajo to Rica Island to Kanawa Island $150
Jimbaran Bay, Bali – Villa Puri Royan $33
Moni – Arwanty Homestay $35
Bajawa – Bintang Guesthouse $35
Ruteng – $60
Labuan Bajo – Gardena Hotel $22
Kanawa Island $50
Kuta, Bali – Sorga Bungalows $30
Ubud, Bali – Sania’s House 2 nights at $22 $44
Kuta, Bali – Mimpy’s $30
Final Total $1,616.00
Wednesday 20th January, 2016 Newcastle to Sydney
A hot day – predicted to be 37° – at least as hot as expected in Flores. While Mark heads off to work, I spend an hour at the hairdresser’s before Lauren and I drive out to Jackie’s for lunch with the dollies. At four o’clock Lauren drops us at Hamilton Station but doesn’t stay to wave us off – can’t bear saying goodbye to our darlings on the platform and we don’t want to upset the bubbas anyway.
At Central we change trains to the City Circle line, jumping out at Martin Place. From here we walk up past the Lindt Café where two people had been killed in a terrorist attack last December – then through the hospital to the Domain where stages and marquis have been set up for upcoming Sydney Festival performances. It’s a pretty, dusky time of day and we can’t wait to meet Jillian.
Soon we see her sitting on the steps of the Art Gallery of New South Wales which is where we planned to meet for the weekly Wednesday night Art After Dark lectures and music performances. We’re too late for the lecture but we can still check out the very cool band and, even better, cool people-watching. No way would we see these mad eccentrics in Newcastle – this is definitely a Sydney thing!
Mark and I store our backpacks at the entrance then we all wander around the vast foyer where a trendy jazz band is playing while super-stylish people are drinking wine and looking super-stylish. We’d love to stay longer but we want to dump our bags at Jillian’s and get to the pub – culture comes a poor second to getting pissed!
Anyway, we settle into Jillian’s apartment then the three of us order dinner at the East Sydney Hotel and have a great night catching up on news, gossip and getting drunk. Back home, I head for bed while Mark and Jillian stay up for a few more wines and talking lots of shit – ha ha.
Thursday 21st January, 2016 Sydney to Bali
At 7am we make breakfast then shower before waving Jillian off to work. Mark and I leave her apartment at 8.30am walking through Hyde Park to St James Station. It’s another hot summer’s day and we’re sweating already. The airport train arrives within minutes and we’re soon checking in our bags with only two people ahead of us. Immigration is super quick as well because of the new Smart Gates but inside is a mess with renovations still underway.
Instead of our usual McDonalds we order a Big Breakfast each at a nondescript café then buy Bacardi at duty free. I ring Jackie at work then our darling Lauren who is with Doug and the girls at Gary’s van at Fingal Bay. I don’t think Gary is coping too well after losing his beautiful Sharon in October.
Now, because we’re flying Air Asia – no food supplied except expensive, tasteless shit – I buy a fruit salad, a chicken pasta salad, muffins, kitkats and water as well as newspapers and a magazine. We board on time but sit for forty-five minutes on the tarmac. No worries as we have three seats each. As usual I sleep as much as I can while Mark watches movies on his laptop – a quick flight!
Just before we land the captain wishes two passengers a ‘happy birthday’ and we all hip-hip-hooray! As if this isn’t nice enough, he sings the Happy Birthday song right through with the whole plane singing along with him! He finishes the whole thing off with a hearty, ‘Welcome to Paradise!’ Bali has always been our own paradise, so my heart is full!
The only downside is the rain and we circle for ages before we can land – this means arriving an hour later than our schedule. This weather isn’t entirely unexpected, though, as we’re smack in the middle of the wet season.
At four o’clock, we land at Ngurah Rai, Bali’s new international airport which is very big and very impressive but just as hopelessly inefficient as the old airport ever was. Our bags are mislaid but we eventually find them sitting alone in the middle of the floor after everyone else has gone – wtf? Tourist visas had always been free until a couple of years ago but now we need to pay $54 US each – they must make a fortune these days!
Outside, the usual frantic mob of touts, taxi guys and hotel drivers are picking up package-deal tourists for their free airport transfers – probably one of the biggest travel scams anywhere – as if you can’t get a fucking cab from the airport yourself!
A couple of taxi drivers tell us that the fare to our Jimbaran Bay hotel is 2000,000 Rp (about AUD$20!!). Are you kidding! We can only bargain them down to 120,000Rp but we like a friendly driver called Nyoman, and it’s pouring rain by now so we just go with him. I suppose we’re still locked into the old Bali days when we could get a cab into Kuta for 50,000Rp.
We follow Nyoman to the car park which is now under shelter and much more upmarket but soulless compared to the original open-air car park surrounded by gardens and palm trees. Never mind, the main thing is that we’re here in Bali and at the start of another adventure.
The rain is really bucketing down as it only can in the tropics. Nyoman tells us ‘no rain for three weeks – just today – just now’ – ha ha. He stops for Mark to withdraw cash from an ATM (10,000Rp to 1AUD) as the machines at the airport wouldn’t work for our card. The time to reach Jimbaran is actually much longer than we expected but it’s still closer than Kuta or Legian.
The reason we wanted to stay near the airport is that we fly out to Flores at six tomorrow morning which means getting to the domestic terminal by about 3.30am. Since it’s five o’clock already there doesn’t seem to be any point in going all the way into Kuta as we plan to have an early night – have heard that one before but we definitely don’t want a hangover on the first real day of our trip.
I’ve already booked a cheap hotel called Villa Puri Royan that I found on Tripadvisor because last time we came to Bali in January we couldn’t get anywhere to stay. But Nyoman tells us that we’re now in the Low Season even though two weeks ago it was the Super High Season with so many tourists from Java that it took two hours to get from the airport into Kuta.
So it looks like we didn’t need to book accommodation after all but we’re very happy with our little cute hotel set in a dirt laneway running off the beach road. Mark checks in then we organise for a driver to pick us up at 4.15am in the morning. A few guests are hanging around the foyer that looks out onto a kidney-shaped pool surrounded by tropical trees and flowers. Our big room has a nice verandah only a few steps from the water and we even have a television and a bathroom – all for just $33!
After a quick change of clothes we head out for the beach in search of seafood and a drink. A lot of the smaller places aren’t open so we walk along the water’s edge where we can see tables and chairs set up on the sand further down. It starts to sprinkle so we make a run for the first place we find.
This has a nice, if touristy, atmosphere with a band of local musicians roving from table to table. The singer is very enthusiastic and beams a gorgeous smile from ear to ear through every song – he’s having a ball! There aren’t many tables left but we manage to grab one overlooking the beach. We order prawns and chips with a pineapple juice for me and a Bintang for Mark while I ask the band to play Country Roads – fortunately for everyone here, and especially Mark, I haven’t had anything to drink so I don’t get up to join in. Unfortunately the singer does drag me up but I don’t make a total fool of myself.
Mark only has one more beer so we’re surprised at the $60 bill although that does include free corn soup and spicy dips. Walking back to our hotel in the dark it begins to rain again – lovely, really, in the warm night air.
We can’t go to bed without a swim on our first night – more loveliness – oh, Bali!
Quick showers then Mark sets the alarm for 3.45am. Straight to sleep although I wake about three o’clock and think ‘I’ll get up in a minute’ but fall back into a dead sleep.
Friday 22nd January, 2016 Bali to Ende (Flores) to Moni
And guess what? The alarm doesn’t go off! Mark wakes at 4.30am, fifteen minutes after we’d booked transport and we haven’t even packed yet! It also means that I don’t have time to do my hair and makeup – an even bigger disaster! I race to the desk hoping our taxi guy hasn’t given up and left – but this is Asia, and of course, here he is waiting patiently with a beaming smile – oh yes, we do love Bali!
We tell him that we’re running very late, as if he hasn’t already guessed, so we fly towards the airport at top speed. I’m trying not to be stressed but I don’t want us to miss the Flores flight. In the cab I try to fix my hair and throw on some makeup in the dark – that’ll have to do. With barely a car on the road, and happily no rain, we’re soon pulling up at the Domestic Terminal. Surprisingly a lot of people are already here even this early but security is pretty lax and we check in our bags and pass through immigration quicker than we expected.
We even have time for a leisurely breakfast – so stop stressing, Virginia! Coffee, hot chocolate, a coconut muffin and a mushroom jaffle is a nice way to start the day. A bus ferries us out across the dark tarmac to our waiting plane – even though it has propellers it’s not so little and looks optimistically new. The morning is calm and warm and we feel very excited climbing the stairs into the roaring plane – only about thirty passengers so we have a window seat each. We take opposite sides so we won’t miss anything.
Take-off is just before sunrise and we fly into a soft pink sky. The one and a half hour flight passes over Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Penida then the bigger island of Lombok. In the last six months there’ve been lots of air cancellations to and from Bali because of Lombok’s Mount Ringani blowing its stack. Luckily it’s been quiet lately and I say to Mark, ‘Ringani must be just about directly below us’. ‘Look over there’ he says.
Oh, hello – there it is, massive and majestic on the left side of the plane and almost level with us – it’s huuuuge! The pilot flies as close as he can so we have amazing views of the crater that’s billowing out smoke and gases as we speak. This is brilliant!!
Sumbawa is the next island and even bigger than Lombok. Below we can see tiny remote villages surrounded by rice paddies and cultivated fields. The capital, Sipe, seems to be quite a big, sprawling town as we leave the east coast before we fly over Komodo where Mark says he just saw a dragon – not!! Now the lovely air hostesses hand out little lunch boxes of water, cakes and rolls with a cup of tea as well – very civilised!
This early morning flight is, without doubt, the loveliest we’ve ever experienced – blue sky, aquamarine water and lots of tiny tropical islands. On the descent to Flores we have a good view of the small town of Labuan Bajo where we’ll end up in about four days’ time.
Our plan is to fly to Ende on the eastern end of Flores then make our way back overland seeing sights on the way. Then, from here, we’ll visit some of the outer islands before flying back to Bali from Labuan Bajo on Thursday.
Coming in to land is between green hills where the runway weirdly seems to slope upwards. Mark and I wait on the plane while most people disembark and only eleven of us take off thirty minutes later. Once more we’re handed lunch boxes but can’t eat anything this time. It’s another hour to Ende but again we’re never bored with the scenery.
Instead of islands, though, we cross mountains and volcanoes, some obviously active with smoke wafting out the top. There seems to be volcanoes everywhere we look – impressively, fourteen are still active – it’s a wonder this whole island hasn’t already blown itself to smithereens!
Flores is actually situated right in the midst of the Pacific ‘ring of fire’ which mean it’s highly prone to volcanic eruptions, tsunamis and earthquakes. It was only in 1992 that an earthquake measuring 7.8 on the Richter Scale killed two and a half thousand people.
And from the air, it’s obvious that Flores is far more rugged and undeveloped than Java or Bali, with apparently only one road crossing the island from east to west. We can see it far below snaking around the endless mountains. Oh shit, it’s going to be a hell of a drive but I can’t wait – Mark will be dreading it, though!
We can make out the road’s path because the sun is glinting off the iron roofs of the houses that hug its edge. But besides a few small towns and some cultivation, it seems that most of the island is uninhabited.
We ask the air hostesses the name of a very pointy impressive volcano. ‘We not know. We ask captain’ – please forget it, just let him fly the plane! Don’t want to crash into the bloody thing!
From here we fly along the coast till we descend into Ende, Flores’ capital. It’s very spectacularly situated on a narrow peninsula surrounded by mountains and more volcanic peaks including the flat-topped Gunung Meja and the very active Gunung Ipi.
Ende is also the largest town on Flores with a small, busy port but apparently there’s little in town to attract tourists other than banks and ferries going to other islands. I’ve read that it does have a large, lively local market but we’ll check that out tomorrow on our way to Bajawa. Our goal today is to get to the village of Moni, a few hours north.
The airport is tiny with houses on either side of the little runway where we see people digging in their vegie gardens. With no immigration formalities, we grab our bags and organise a ride into the centre. Actually the airport is right in town anyway and we’re dropped at Hotel Merapi as Mark needs to use his emails for work. According to the Lonely Planet, Merapi is the only hotel with wifi although it’s far from grand. We sit upstairs in a big, empty dining room to order breakfast where Mark plans to work.
As we probably should have expected, Mark can’t get internet coverage and I can’t even get phone coverage. Then whenever we order something from the menu, the waiter replies ‘no hab’. Finally they do have sweet and sour calamari but it comes out wrong anyway – whatever! Let’s get the fuck out of here!
Meanwhile, our driver, who’d been pestering us on the way from the airport to take us all the way to Moni, is still hanging around. We told him we were staying here so he’d go away but I don’t think he believed us and is now pretending to order breakfast – ‘I very hungry’, he fibs. We do feel sorry for him but we want to catch a local bus to Moni and we’re not giving in. He finally leaves.
Now we decide to head into the main part of town to seek out the Visitor Information Centre to ask about buses and where we can find an internet that works. Setting off downhill, it’s a nice, if very hot and humid, walk past school kids, goats, lots of motor bikes and small local buses stopping to ask ‘where you go?’ We say ‘Visitor Information Centre’ but no-one can speak English so we just keep walking until we finally find it – shut, of course!
Dragging our packs, thank God for our backpacks on wheels, we eventually meet a young man who points us in the right direction for the internet. What’s been really nice is that everyone is stopping to help us – we just don’t know the right words.
At last we’re here – no signs of any kind so we’d never have found it. There are about six computers, all being used by young people playing games or on Facebook. When I ask ‘internet?’, the owner replies, ‘full’ – wtf? I’m just about to say ’kick one of these arseholes off’, when he does and at last Mark can do his work – ha ha.
The room is dark and shabby with the whole front open to the street. Sweat is pouring off both of us but poor Mark has to swelter inside for half an hour to reply to his emails. I hang around outside watching Muslim school kids across the road then talk to a guy about getting to the bus station.
He says he can take us on his motor bike and waves down another guy driving past. They place our big packs across the bike in front of them before we set off. Mark’s guy stops for petrol on the roadside from a tiny wooden stand holding petrol in old soft drink bottles. I ask my driver to stop because I don’t know why they aren’t behind us but they soon catch up.
We’re heading north out of Ende down a long, straight stretch of road lined with schools, houses and stores. Ahead is green countryside and mountains so we must reach the bus station soon. Turning left we slow almost to a standstill as we try to navigate our way through a busy market until we’re on the far edge of town.
Now the road starts climbing steeply and Mark and I are telling our guys to ‘stop’ – do they think we want them to take us all the way to Moni? But as we pull over, they signal us to wait, just as they flag down a little local bus – love it!
Mark helps a guy from the bus – the ‘conductor’ – to throw our bags on the roof then we’re inside and crawling towards Moni village. This should take about two hours and it feels like we’ve finally started our Flores adventure.
The bus has about twelve seats but there are only six of us including the conductor guy. Inside is old and worn, with open, rattley windows so it’s perfect! The only downside is that the conductor and two other men smoke the whole way but the scenery more than makes up for it – deep ravines, fast running streams, thickets of bamboo, terraced rice paddies and lots of landslides. In some places we see young women crouching on the ground sorting rocks into different sizes and grouping them into piles.
A bus going the other wat stops to say something to our driver, then the conductor climbs onto the roof to cover the luggage with plastic – there must be rain up ahead.
Later we pass ramshackle roadside shops selling locally grown vegetables and small villages each with a humungous church. Flores is mainly Christian so this shouldn’t be a surprise.
Here’s some interesting info – of all the Indonesian islands, only Flores and Timor are Christian, while Bali is Hindu and the rest Muslim. There still seems to be a fairly strong Muslim influence here in Flores as well, but Christianity is far dominant thanks to the Portuguese traders and missionaries who came here in the 16th century.
It was these guys who called the island Cabo das Flores (meaning Cape of Flowers) because of its thick green landscape. To continue with the history lesson, after the Portuguese took off, Flores became part of the Dutch East Indies in the middle of the nineteenth century then during World War II it was occupied by the Japanese. After the war it eventually became part of independent Indonesia – for better or for worse?
All these outside influences have left their footprints, leaving behind social and cultural diversity that makes Flores unique even as a part of Indonesia itself. History lesson over for now except to say that Flores had its own history long before the first traders or missionaries arrived and we’ll see traditional ways of living later in the week when we cross through the centre on our way to the west coast.
But back to our journey up the mountains. The road is still winding up and up crossing lots of bridges and with views of misty valleys way down below – Mark is never happy on these scary roads – ‘I only love you a little bit’, he says. I think tomorrow it will be ‘I hate you’ when he finds out how much travelling we’ll be doing – about seven hours over more mountains.
Then to make it extra scary, the rain starts bucketing down but doesn’t last long. Every village is surrounded by rice paddies, built spectacularly in terraces as we’ve seen many times before in Bali. Chickens cross the road and we dodge cows grazing on the grassy edges while water buffalo pull wooden ploughs in the flooded rice fields. The traffic has been scarce in both directions so we make good time.
Just outside Moni we stop at a straggly string of roughly built market stalls where everyone gets out to stock up on fruit and vegies. And ten minutes later we’re on the outskirts of the village.
Here I’d better say just why we’ve come all this way. Apparently Moni is the closest place to stay for visiting Mount Kelimutu which is where we’ll be heading tomorrow morning – that’s the plan anyway. And it’s nice to see that it’s no horrid tourist trap but still appears to be a traditional little town with some enterprising locals making extra money by building huts in their gardens for travellers.
The bus pulls over on the side of a hill and we guess this is where we get off. I’ve looked at a few places to stay in the Lonely Planet and on Tripadvisor but we love the look of Arwanty Home Stay just across the road. Attached to the family home is an open-sided restaurant with three thatched cottages built around a little pond. It looks gorgeous and we love it even more when we’re greeted by Angelique.
I ask her about a room and she’s very excited to show us one of the cute bungalows. It has a verandah with cane chairs and potted plants, bamboo walls, a cool, tiled floor and multi-paned windows. Inside has a big sitting room with bamboo chairs, a coffee table and a spare bed, a bedroom with a four poster bed and a large bathroom. Angelique explains that if we pay $35 AUD, she won’t let anyone else sleep on the spare bed – what? Of course, we agree and she’s thrilled.
About to use the loo, I realise there’s no toilet paper – ‘solly’, she says and sends her daughter off to find some. Anyway, the room isn’t made up yet so we decide to look for somewhere to eat lunch. Despite Arwanty having a restaurant, they send us off down the street to the C Restaurant which I’d seen on the net. It’s only about fifty metres away but the rain has started pelting down and we’re drenched by the time we get there – fun really.
Up a narrow set of broken cement stairs we find the most basic of places with a few rough wooden tables and bench seats and the whole front looking down over the road and the valley beyond. This is dotted with a few small village homes as well as the ubiquitous imposing church which actually looks really lovely set amongst tall spreading trees.
People walk by balancing bundles of sticks or long grasses on their heads and two scrawny old ladies head towards the fields carrying bush-type knives. Another skinny old lady is squatting against the back wall of the restaurant playing a card game with a group of little ones. She must be the grandmother while the mum and dad run the kitchen.
The mum takes our order – lots more ‘solly, no hab’s’ – but we finally end up with fried rice and vegetable soup with pineapple juice – all for only $5. Meanwhile a strange old man wearing a hat and sunglasses turns up insisting we take his photo as he performs funny poses – the family pull faces behind his back to tell us that he’s crazy – all good fun!
The rain is still heavy and doesn’t look like it’s going to ease up any time soon so we make a run for it back to our homestay. We’re both glad really as it’s a good excuse to lie around and read and nap for a while. I also want a hot shower but we don’t even have water. Dum, Angelique’s husband, runs around doing something with the tank outside and it’s all good.
After a sleep Mark also wants to shower but no water again – now we need to wait till the tank fills up which could be hours – ‘solly’ – they’re so cute! The rain has gone by now and the sun is pouring into the little, bamboo-lined restaurant. Mark says ‘it’s beer o’clock’ so he hangs out with Dum while I chat with Angelique. A couple of their cute little ones are hanging around as well.
Mark talks to Dum about organising someone to drive us the eight hundred kilometres across the island. Dum says that his brother-in-law, Toga, will be able to take us after driving us to Kelimutu in the morning. So ….. the plan is to leave for the volcano at 4am, watch the sun rise over the lakes (more about that later), return to Moni for breakfast and to pack the van, drive back to Ende then on to Bajawa. The next day we’ll drive to Ruteng and the following day to Labuan Bajo on the west coast.
Toga will stop to show us all the sights on the way which we wouldn’t be able to do taking a public bus. It’ll be a lot more expensive at $400 AUD but worth it for the convenience and also because the bus timetables don’t match up with the current weather situation. It’s the wet season which, in Flores, means torrential rain every afternoon and possibly all afternoon.
The buses only leave early in the morning which means we’d be travelling in the sunshine then miss out on seeing the towns once we arrived because of the bad weather. This way we can visit the villages, hot springs and other sights when the weather is fine and travel in the afternoon rain – not that travelling on wet mountainous roads is very appealing but not much else we can do.
So now we’re all organized and we haven’t even left our guesthouse – so easy!
Soon Angelique’s sister, Rose, comes over for a chat. She lives in a wonky wooden house just across the narrow street where she sells weavings from her front verandah. I follow her over to check them out. The weavings are the traditional ikat made in lots of villages around here. Rose’s aunty has made most of these and we could visit her if we had the time. The biggest weavings are wedding blankets and ‘this one, wedding birthday’. ‘Do you mean anniversary?’ I ask. ‘Yes’, she laughs.
I love them all but don’t want to spend too much and end up with a scarf that I need like a hole in the head. Rose explains about the natural dyes – yellow from saffron, red from the skin of the mango tree and black from tamarind. She also explains the patterns – flowers and spiders – mostly representing good luck.
Meanwhile back at the restaurant, Angelique is buying fish from a guy who’s pulled up on his motorbike. They’re fresh from the sea near Maumere and Mark calls out that he’d like one too if they could cook it for our dinner tonight. It comes to the very exorbitant price of $4.
Mark and I spend the next couple of hours having a few drinks while watching Rose and Angelique prepare our fish. Angelique is peeling tiny brown onions, garlic and saffron (looks like ginger but yellow inside) into a wide, flat cane basket as Rose smashes macadamia nuts by wrapping them in a piece of cloth and bashing it on a large stone. Nearby a younger lady is sifting rice and picking out the husks by hand.
On dusk we see lots of villagers walking home from the fields carrying tools and sacks on their heads. The two very old ladies we’d seen earlier pass by balancing bundles of sticks and I ask Rose how old they are. She explains, ‘have to work – no-one can feed them’. Later all the local kids come around as we hand out the little toy koalas we’ve brought from home. Even the teenagers want one.
So, anyway, this fish thing is taking forever and we’re getting a bit pissed drinking on an empty stomach. At 6.30pm Angelique asks ‘you want vegetable – carrots, beans?’ and minutes later Rose runs across the road to her house to bring back a handful of snake beans.
At 7.30pm we’re still waiting and becoming a bit worse for wear. Up the hill we can hear what sounds like karaoke but lucky for them I stay where I am. A friendly, trendy couple from the Czech Republic turn up and tell us about their travels across the island – they actually rode motorbikes all the way from Labuan Bajo which they say was a nightmare. They had no idea how tough it would be.
Now it’s eight o’clock and where’s the bloody fish? At last! Is it worth the wait? I’d probably say ‘no’ but Mark loves seafood so he’s happy. The skin is piled with a coating of garlic, onion, macadamia nuts, chilis, salt and saffron which looks very impressive and does taste pretty good.
As well as the fish we’re given a plate of tasteless vegetables and another plate of tasteless rice. There’s so much that we can’t eat more than half so we share with our Czech friends and give the rest to the family.
An excellent night but ‘time to go to bed now’ for our 4am departure to Kelimutu. ‘Selamat malaam, Rose and Angelique’, see you tomorrow.
Showers then drift to sleep like the rest of this early-to-bed little town.
Saturday 23rd January, 2016 Moni to Ende to Bajawa
For some reason we both wake five minutes before the alarm goes off at 3.45am. Grabbing our day packs that we’d somehow prepared last night, we meet Toga outside. He’s rugged up in a woolen beanie, long pants and wrapped in an ikat blanket. Mark is only wearing shorts and a short-sleeved shirt but we’ve brought our warm jackets as we’ve read that it can be very cold high up on the mountain.
Driving back towards Ende for a kilometre or so we turn left, climbing continually for three quarters of an hour to reach the entrance – Welcome to Kelimutu National Park. A few other travellers are here as well paying the $15 fee and waiting for 4.30am when we’re all allowed to drive into the park.
Another fifteen minutes and we pull into a small car park and the beginning of the steps that lead up to a dirt track. Following Toga, it’s still very dark so we’re grateful for our head-torches and I try to direct mine so Toga can see where he’s going.
The half hour walk is fairly easy with lots of flat bits and only the last kilometer of steep stairs to the top. We can see small lights bobbing on the track way ahead of us and we even overtake an Asian family. A lady about my age is doing it tough and I’m glad there’s someone less fit than me.
Finally on the summit we find a square, pyramid-looking thing has been built for even better views so we climb to the top to look out towards the eastern sky which is turning a brilliant red as the sun makes its way up over the far mountains. Before us we can just make out two of the tri-crater lakes that Kelimutu Volcano is famous for. The third lake is directly behind us but too dark to see anything at all on that side just yet.
So what’s so special about the three lakes and why are they Flores’ main tourist attraction? Well, not only are they all different colours, but they constantly change colour! Scientists say that it could be because of variations in the mineral contents as the water eats through the rock. But, Kelimutu is also a sacred place for the local people so another mythical explanation is that the changing colors are caused by neglected ancestral souls. A bit creepy so I’ll stick with science thing.
We’re very lucky to have a cloudless sky as sunrise is supposedly the best time to view the lakes. And we’re not disappointed. As the sky lightens, the lakes appear before us – the closest one a pale blue/white separated only by a narrow crater wall to the adjacent lake which today is a deep turquoise. A slight mist still hangs over them but is quickly lifting from the warmth of the sun.
We’re told that we’ll need to wait till about 7.30am for the mist on the third lake to burn off. We had no intention of staying here very long but we figure that since we’ve made all this effort to get here we may as well experience the whole thing.
So to pass the time we buy hot tea from a lady called Margarite. She, like other local vendors, carry thermos flasks of boiling water and other supplies on their heads all the way up the mountain.
Meanwhile the Asian lady has turned up and I give her a little cuddle. Mark has made friends with a Japanese guy with a selfi-stick who asks Mark to take photos of him with the sunrise backdrop. We also chat to a gay couple from Byron Bay. One is a photographer with an obviously expensive camera. When I say that everyone’s photos of the lakes will have an annoying woman in them – she’s taking endless selfies of herself standing on the edge of the crater – he laughs and says that his thing is to take photos of people taking photos – brilliant! Now he shows me his ‘favourite photo of Moni’ – a picture of the Japanese guy with a mong look on his face posing in front of the lakes – I nearly piss myself laughing. Fucking hilarious! Cruel but hilarious!
Some people are drinking arak and I have a swig, too. I also see Toga getting his share and keep an eye on him – definitely don’t need a drunk driver! Another man is climbing the stairs with a large bundle on his head – ‘yes, bring more arak’ jokes the gay guy.
By now the sun is well above the mountains but the third lake is still shrouded in mist. Mark and I sit on the edge and chat to an Italian guy and his Argentine girlfriend called Virginia. The Asian lady calls out goodbye as they’ve decided to leave early then everyone cheers a little down-syndrome boy when he reaches the top with his dad.
Finally the sunlight reaches the misty lake and forms a perfectly shaped rainbow. As the mist lifts we can see that the water is black so the three lakes really are all different colours – very glad we stayed.
But now it’s time get going so we say goodbye to our new friends then start the long, but down-hill, walk back to the car. On the way we stop to climb up to another viewpoint for a closer look at the first lake then I’m very happy to find a toilet.
Seeing the track and the surrounding scenery in the daylight is much nicer than I expected – very green and lush up here. The sun is hot in the open sections so we start to peel off layers of clothes.
Back in the van, we retrace our way down the mountain with views of deep valleys still filled with thick fog. As we drive, I awkwardly change into my swimmers on the back seat. Then on the edge of Moni village, we ask Toga to drop us at the waterfall that we’ve read about on travellers’ blogs. We could walk back to Arwanty but he’s happy to wait – good because it’s hot!
From the road we head down a steep dirt path with the sound of the waterfall below. We pass a couple of ladies washing clothes in a fresh spring then cross a narrow, bamboo bridge at the bottom. With no handrails it’s a bit scary but it’s the only way to cross the stream. The falls look very pretty with a deep pool beneath and surrounded by hanging trees and vines. The only problem is getting down to them from the bridge and over the rocks to the edge – Mark struggles across and makes it to the pool but I think I’ll just swim in the creek on the other side. Mark floats around then stands under the falls for a free massage.
At Arwanty we’re just in time to wave off Dum and Angelique who are about to jump on a bus to Maumere. A lady we’ve never seen before and a toothless man in a kufi cap now take our breakfast order while we shower and pack. Toga has gone home to grab his gear for the next three days as well.
Banana pancakes are good then I give the young woman some of my clothes that I’ve already decided to dump. Rose walks over to say goodbye and we have to remind her that we haven’t yet paid the bill. She can’t decide what to charge us for the fish and asks ‘what you want to pay?’ – ha ha. We say 150,00RP which is pretty good for them and we’re all happy. We pay $70 for our room, drinks, dinner and breakfast.
Now it’s big cuddles and waves as we drive off – goodbye beautiful Rose. I’ll never forget you!
So, today we plan to drive back to Ende, visit the local market, drive to Blue Pebble Beach then five hours to Bajawa stopping on the way at a traditional village. Sounds excellent as long as the road isn’t too bad.
Leaving Moni behind, we only drive about fifteen minutes when Toga pulls over – he’s left his driver’s license behind. Instead of going back in the car he borrows a motor bike from a guy on the side of the road – we suppose it’ll be quicker. To pass the time we decide to take a walk but then a man beckons us to follow him across to a small shop where local people are sitting around outside and one lady is holding a tiny girl. They invite us to sit with them.
The baby’s name is Tiara and will fit some of the clothes we’ve brought with us. On all our trips we pack as many clothes as we can fit into our bags to give to people we meet. This time it’s all baby clothes. The mum and dad are truly happy when we give Tiara five little dresses and a cute hat – pretty humbling.
Toga is back in no time and we’re soon on our way down the mountain for the two hour trip to Ende. With brilliant sunshine, it’s a very different drive to the heavy rain of yesterday. We stop a couple of times to take photos of terraced rice paddies and green valleys. Near Ende we realize that we have phone coverage so we call Lauren. She’s been 4-wheel driving in her new car on Stockton Beach – supposedly with that fuckwit Gino.
Anyway, after withdrawing money from an ATM, we head down to the water where the market is spread out along the beach. It naturally sells a lot of fish so it’s very stinky. We’re the only tourists here and the people are really friendly – ‘hello missus’ and ‘hello mister’ – and want to be in all our photos. We wander down to the black sand beach – the scenery is beautiful but the beach is a mess with rubbish all over it.
Toga picks us up an hour later and drives us to the only restaurant in town. Amazingly they have wifi so we load up photos onto Facebook while Mark can answer his work emails. Lunch is good, too – satay chicken, mie goring seafood and roast chicken. Toga eats with us and when I tell the owner that we’ll pay for him as well, he says ‘no, he free’ – we guess because he brought us here.
It’s twelve o’clock by now and time to hit the road. On the outskirts of town Toga stops for petrol then bounces on the car for five whole minutes to get every drop. Now heading west along the south coast the clouds have closed in. A storm is raging out at sea and with an impressive lightning show – hope it misses us.
At first the road hugs the coastline with tall cliffs on our right and mountainous Ende Island on our left. Coconut palms, stands of bamboo, banana trees, colourful birds, ladies weaving on village verandahs and Muslim school kids in snowy white uniforms make for a lovey drive.
Later we stop at Blue Pebble Beach. And it really is blue! All along this stretch of road blue and green stones have been piled high by the locals, sorted by size and colour. Toga says they’re shipped to Java and Bali where they’re used as flooring for showers in villas and hotels. Mark and I walk down to the water where the stones make a rattling sound as the tide washes over them. Once wet the colours are even more brilliant. Toga also tells us that the stones originate in the mountains behind us and not from the sea as it seems. And we can see evidence of this in the tall blue-greenish cliffs running alongside the road.
Just as we jump back in the car, the rain begins pelting down and it’s also at this time that we leave the relatively straight coastal strip to head inland towards the mountains. To avoid car sickness we both watch the road as it twists and turns its way ever upwards. Mark is also very unhappy with the dizzying drops of hundreds of metres to the valleys far below so he lies down so he can’t see.
About four o’clock we pull into Wogo village inhabited by the indigenous Ngada people who still live the old ways and still believe in animism. Their villages maintain traditional houses, megalithic stones and totem poles. A young woman called Maria greets us and asks if we’d like to be shown around. She’s learnt to speak some English but most of the older generation can only speak the Ngada language and don’t even understand basic Bahasa Indonesian.
We really expected these villages to be ‘fake’ villages set up to show the tourists how the Ngada people once lived. But this is the real thing – this is where they really do live! The houses are all joined together and all built in a square around a central area the size of a football field.
Here are lots of small thatched structures. Maria explains that the square ones are women and the pointy ones are men. The nine sets represent the nine families who live here. She then takes us to her house – they’re all the same – with rough wooden steps leading up to a verandah then through a low doorway into a long dark room with a lino floor. On the back wall is another tiny doorway that leads to a raised ceremony room which has something to do with spirits – can’t really get the gist of it.
Behind this is the most basic of kitchens with a black earthen floor, an open fire burning in a pit dug into the dirt and ducks and chickens scratching around. Her four little ones are following us having fits of giggling and showing off. Her husband is away most of the time working in Borneo.
There seems to be lots of kids and lots of old people but Maria explains that the rest are off working in the fields. She’s actually just come back from planting coffee herself. A couple of very old ladies are engrossed in picking nits out of a little girl’s hair while at another house a lady is weaving something with straw.
Just now a truck turns up and we watch a group of young men unloading long lengths of bamboo. They become very excited when they see our cameras and show off for Mark pulling funny faces just like the little ones had done earlier.
I also ask Maria about the strange roof-lines that are extra tall and pointy. Apparently the Ngada people believe that good spirits live in high places which means they’ll want to come and hang out in the pointy bit – fair enough. Sacrificing pigs and cows is also part of their belief system and every house proudly displays skulls hanging from their verandahs.
Finally, after signing the visitor’s book and giving her a donation we ask Maria if she’d take some clothes for the children. We give her the two huge bags because these kids are seriously wearing rags.
From Wogo it’s another half an hour of lush slopes and striking volcanoes to Bajawa. This mountain town is the largest in the Ngada district and is said to be the spiritual heartland of Flores. It seems to sit quietly in a little hollow surrounded by green misty mountains and smoking volcanoes.
I ask Toga to take us to Eidelweiss Guesthouse in the centre of town but it’s covered in scaffolding and looks horrible anyway. He says he knows a better place which is off a little laneway and we like it immediately. The Bintang Guesthouse is only $35 for a big room and bathroom plus a verandah with a magical view of Gunung Inerie – just one of the many active volcanoes around here.
After a read on the bed we head off just on dark in search of somewhere to eat. Downhill through the small town centre we find Lucas Restaurant which is recommended by Lonely Planet. An outdoor staircase leads up to the restaurant looking very cosy lined with warm wood and lit by candles. There aren’t any lights on this side of the street at all. We’re told that different parts of town have turns of electricity so I don’t know how they’re going to cook our meal.
Anyway we start by ordering drinks – coke for my duty-free Bacardi and Bintangs for Mark – our usual. Dinner is pork satay skewers, so tough we can’t eat them, rice and chicken and chips. We chat with a man called Moses sitting at the next table with his wife, Seri, and teenage son and daughter. They’d all lived in Adelaide for two years and speak English with an Aussie accent. He’s passionate about Bajawa and tells us how he’s trying to change the Flores/Indonesian teaching system to the Australian method.
Walk home through the quiet streets to be in bed by nine o’clock.
Sunday 24th January, 2016 Bajawa to Ruteng
Mark has set the alarm for 6.30am but we’re awake already. Showers, packing then breakfast downstairs in the cute, sun-filled dining room. It’s bare except for a couple of tables and the owner’s little boy watching television at the far end. Mark pours tea and coffee from plastic urns while I order omelets and toast.
Toga is waiting outside so we set off at 7.30am under a clear blue sky. Just out of town we head towards a perfectly shaped volcano with clouds hiding its peak. Every village we pass through is lovely with lots of happy children, chickens, dogs, goats and people heading off to church. Thick stands of bamboo line the road as we wind our way down the mountain. We pass Bena village which we’ll be visiting later this morning.
Half an hour later we cross a small stream then pull over at the entrance to Malanage natural hot springs. Following Toga, we scramble down the small dirt track to a tiny hut where we change into our swimmers then head down to the water.
A young local woman and her elderly mother turn up, both wrapped in ikat sarongs. They probably do his bathing thing every day and spend ages rubbing and scrubbing their bodies in the warm part of the stream. This obviously takes experience because in one section we’re nearly boiled alive and in another section we almost freeze to death.
This is because the hot volcanic water flows into the river from one direction while the cold mountain water comes in from another direction finally mixing together to create a natural warm-water spring. We have to position ourselves to be in just the right spot where the cold and hot come together. It’s like regulating the taps at home to get the bathwater just the right temperature.
Meanwhile Toga is downstream washing himself to within an inch of his life. He’s obviously been here many times before. After leaving a donation we set off for Bena village on our return trip to Bajawa.
More than any other area of Flores, the Ngada region has retained its traditions and rituals despite the veil of Catholicism. And Bena village is a great example of Ngada’s ancient culture. It’s amazingly picturesque compared to yesterday’s Wogo village. Surrounded by lush greenery and smoking volcanoes, this pristine settlement is like stepping back in time where ancient belief systems still exist.
Although Bena is supposedly popular with tourists, we’re the only ones here today. Like Wogo village, Bena houses regular people, doing everyday things. Some are weaving ikat, other old ladies are weaving baskets and others are shelling macadamia nuts. We buy some for us and some for Toga. We watch another old lady sitting on the floor of her verandah playing a game with a long wooden plate with holes in it and wooden balls.
In the village centre are ngadhu shrines, with carved tree-trunk bases, and bhaga – miniature houses. The ngadhu and bhaga symbolise male and female tribal ancestors said to live inside them.
But what makes this society different from the rest of Flores is that this is a matrilineal culture whereby the Ngada people determine their heirlooms through their maternal lines – I like that!
Anyway, after half an hour we’ve had enough of culture and just want to get back on the road and reach Ruteng as quick as we can. Like yesterday, the drive will be about five hours, probably along mountainous, gut-stirring roads and probably most of it in torrential rain.
But for now we still have blue skies above as we head back towards Bajawa then set off westward towards Ruteng. Again today, the road is a constant series of curves and switchbacks which is making Mark nauseous especially as we follow a truck carrying a load of smelly fish for ages because there’s nowhere to overtake it. I’m okay with the nausea but I need to use the toilet, fast! I ask Toga to find somewhere asap!
As usual, road works repairing the constant landslides slow us down almost as much as the steep climbs. At one spot a landslide had uprooted a large tree that’s fallen across the road. A group of enterprising young men have chopped off enough branches for the cars to pass and are happily accepting donations from the grateful drivers.
Both still feeling terrible – Mark about to vomit and me to poop my pants – it’s good to see that we’re heading back down to sea level and the village of Aimere where Toga says ‘toilet’. He pulls up across from a small restaurant letting the smelly fish truck sail off into the distance. I race for the loo out back near the kitchen and hope that the girls peeling vegetables on the ground outside can’t hear my pooey explosions – ah, the relief!!
It seems the entire population of Aimere is involved in making arak. Not far from the poo restaurant we pull into one of the distilling houses. It’s a humble place with a dirt floor and a thatched roof sheltering the simplest of distillation set-ups. Toga shows us how the arak is heated in barrels attached to six metre long bamboo poles with plastic bottles at the other end collecting the cooled arak.
The owner brings out samples for us to try. A shot of the 15% proof clear liquid is enough for me while Mark tastes the deadly 50%. No more thanks but Mark buys a bottle for Toga – that’ll be for tonight, not now!
Once again we head for the hills with still four hours to go till we reach Ruteng. We’ve changed our plans and decided that we want to catch the bus to Labuan Bajo in the morning which means dumping Toga in Ruteng. We ring Dum at Moni and negotiate the original price down to $330.
Within minutes of leaving the coast the rain begins. And up and around we go, there isn’t any relief from the stomach churning bends. Fortunately there’s a lot to keep us amused – women walking past with bundles of palms fronds on their heads, goats on the side of the road, rice paddies, corn fields and banana plantations.
The sun actually breaks out for a while but the clouds seem to be constantly hugging the volcanoes that are never far from view. As we climb higher, though, the skies really open up. Mark is feeling horrendous but at least we’re dry compared to the poor people riding on top of buses passing us in the opposite direction.
With the rain so heavy we can’t see anything out the windows and it feels almost hypnotic going round and round. I’d always thought hairpin bends were the worst but some of these are almost a full circle – fuck this!
It would be an understatement to say we’re relieved to reach Ruteng at three o’clock – still in the pissing rain. We let Toga take us wherever he thinks even though we hate it on sight – a modern trying-hard to look up-market place but we’re too brain dead to care. After checking in at $60 for our room (wtf?) – Toga drives us to a little travel agency to buy our bus tickets for tomorrow. For only $11 each they’ll pick us up at seven o’clock in the morning.
So, all organized, we wave goodbye to Toga who we’re glad to hear is staying in Ruteng tonight and returning to Moni early in the morning so he can make it back in one day.
Now we head straight for bed and sleep till 6pm. Mark isn’t feeling much better but we decide to have something to eat anyway. But after ordering dinner in the ‘posh’ dining room, Mark has to dash back to our room to throw up. Actually he doesn’t make it and leaves a vomit trail the whole way – I’m to find this out later.
Meanwhile, I stay for a club sandwich and to upload some photos then take a bowl of soup back to Mark. He can’t do it and we both have an early night.
Monday 25th January, 2016 Ruteng to Labuan Bajo
We’re awake at a quarter to six for a ‘snuggle’ – Mark is definitely feeling better! Today’s trip to Labuan Bajo is either four, five or six hours depending on who you ask but it probably depends on the transport. I think going in the minivan should be pretty quick as it’s direct so we won’t be stopping to drop off or pick up passengers. We’ll see anyway – you just never know in Asia.
After showers and packing we leave our bags at reception while we choose our breakfast from the buffet table. It’s all a bit strange and definitely targeted to Asian guests. Mark has a fried chicken leg and toast but I can’t stomach any of it. I ask if they can chop me fruit for a salad. It’s all a bit confusing but after lots of pointing and hand gestures, they finally understand what I mean.
At 7.10 the van arrives – a pleasant surprise to see that it’s not one of the horrible mini-buses we’ve been crammed into in lots of other countries. This is a lot bigger with plenty of leg-room and even some empty seats. And because we’re 1,200 metres above sea level the air is cool and fresh – no humidity here.
As we drive through town we have our first real glimpse of Ruteng. It seems to be a pretty place backed by a range of mountains and forested volcanic hills. For an hour after we leave, the land is relatively flat as we pass through green rice fields, coffee plantations and water buffaloes lying together in a muddy pool.
Small villages sell coconuts, vegetables and live ducks at roadside stalls covered in rusting corrugated iron while farmers in conical hats work in the flooded rice paddies. Some use wooden hand ploughs while others have water buffaloes to do the work for them.
Talking of rice paddies, Ruteng is best known for its spider-web rice fields. These have been made by the local Manggarai people. Different to the Ngada tribe, they speak their own language and live in conical houses arranged in concentric circles around a sacrificial arena. Even their rice paddies are round so that each clan gets a slice – like a pizza. Our kindly driver stops for Mark and I to jump out for a closer look – they really do look like spiders’ webs!
Later we stop at a police check-point, the first we’ve seen here on Flores but a familiar sight in most Asian countries. Of course, the only reason for it is to collect money from the poor drivers – police and political corruption is rife everywhere in Indonesia.
On a happier note, Mark is feeling fantastic! He’s sooo happy with our van with reclining seats and no cigarette smoke – he even lies down for a while on the empty back seat.
Soon, though, we’re back on the winding mountainous roads but the weather and the scenery is better today with long vistas of deep green valleys. I love looking out the windows watching the local life but I’m relieved to at last see the blue waters off the west coast far into the distance.
The road finally winds its way down to the busy port city of Labuan Bajo. We stop for petrol just outside and we all jump out to stretch our legs. After dropping two people at the airport we’re soon in the town centre with views of the cute little harbour – bright blue water, bobbing boats and tiny pointy islands just a stone’s throw away.
We both love it! A bit seedy and run down along the waterfront means that it has an instant appeal for us. There are cafes, guesthouses, dive shops and even a few massage places – oh, yes, we’re in heaven!
The van drops us at the bottom of the stairs that lead up to the Gardena Hotel which sounds good in the Lonely Planet. We drag our bags up through flower gardens to reach the reception then up through more flower gardens to our room.
For $22 we have a rustic bungalow with woven bamboo walls and carved wooden doors and windows. Our wide verandah gives us a perfect view of the water framed by overhanging trees and palms. Inside is a big bedroom and bathroom – no air-con but we prefer the overhead fan anyway.
Halfway back down the hill is a simple restaurant with the same lovely view so we stop for cold drinks. I have a lime soda and Mark a diet coke while we make plans for the next few days.
Labuan Bajo is the main jumping off point for trips to the Komodo National Park, and we want to get to Rinca Island tomorrow but we’ll talk to one of the little travel agents to see what sort of deal we can get.
We don’t have long to wait. At the bottom of our stairs a young guy approaches us ‘you want to see dragons?’ Yes, please, and within minutes we’ve booked a private boat to Rinca in the morning ($100), a two night stay on Kanawa Island ($50 a night), a three day snorkel hire ($30) and a packed lunch for the boat ($10). Apparently this is all very cheap compared to the high season prices.
We’re also told that Kanawa is ‘very nice’ with ‘many places to sit on beach’ – sounds perfect. I have read that the so-called resort is pretty basic but that’s fine with us. Just give me palm trees and Mark a hammock and we’re both happy.
Now we wander around town getting our bearings and looking for somewhere to have lunch. The dusty main street is about three kilometres long with the port about midway along. A mosque is blaring out the call-to-prayer and we notice that a lot more women are wearing hijab here compared to other towns on the island.
There also seems to be some obviously newly built restaurants which are surprisingly trendy in this basic little town. We like the look of an Italian restaurant with a big rooftop bar and comfy sitting areas. This wouldn’t look out of place in the middle of Sydney. Besides fresh, warm bread rolls in little hessian bags we’re also give a free entrée. It looks amazing with a long soft bread-stick sitting in a shot glass filled with a spicy tomato dip. The presentation is top class – well, by our standards anyway. Then we have the best seafood pizza ever with whole mussels and fresh calamari rings on top.
Later we walk around town then head back to our room for our usual afternoon sleep then up again on dusk. Our video camera seems to have packed it in and unbelievably the shutter on our camera isn’t working. We had this problem a year ago when it was still under warranty when we were able to have it fixed for nothing.
It seems that we have the same problem again so we’ll just have to use our phones to take pictures from now on. But the good news is that Mark has worked out that our video camera had just over-heated and is working again. But we’ve also run out of video footage so we need to buy more memory chips.
Dark by now, we wander up the street looking for somewhere that could possibly sell them – don’t hold out much hope. We finally ask a man in a small grocery store and he tells us that we need to get over to a place on the other side of town. We ask a couple of moto-drivers to take us although I doubt that it’ll be open at this time of day.
Driving through the dark streets is brilliant especially when a light rain starts to fall. And amazingly, the little camera shop is open and we come away with three video chips which are also a third of the price at home.
Back to the waterfront in the rain, we ask to be dropped at one of the seafood restaurants that only open at night. These are a string of roughly built open-sided shacks with fish being cooked over hot coals. Sitting amongst local families, we drink beer and coke bought from the store across the road. The food is simple and perfect – Mark is in his element!
From here we head back towards our guesthouse but stop for drinks at a new upmarket place right on the water. We don’t stay long as we’ve have a long boat ride in the morning and being hungover is not a good idea.
Tuesday 26th January, 2016 Labuan Bajo to Rinca Island to Kanawa Island
This morning the arrangements are to meet our boat guy at seven o’clock so we’re up at six to shower and pack. The weather is clear, calm, hot and sunny but the rain will surely come later – just hope we can see the dragons first.
We eat omelets and drink tea sitting under a little thatched pavilion overlooking the bay then drag our bags down to the travel agent. We follow him to the port where local people help us climb down onto the boat. It’s a simple wooden type with an open-sided cabin and bench seats at the front. We have a driver called Matthew and his young son, Israel.
The plan is to visit Rinca Island for a dragon-finding trek, visit another island for snorkeling then finish at Kanawa Island where we’re booked in for two nights. Matthew will return to Labuan Bajo and we’ll just catch another boat back here on Thursday morning before our flight to Bali.
Anyway, leaving the bay, it’s exciting to be heading for one of our bucket list destinations – Komodo National Park. It was founded in 1980 then listed as a UNESCO world heritage site in 1991 with the sole aim of protecting the highly endangered Komodo dragons – only a few thousand remain in the wild. The park itself is really the last resort for the dragons because they can only be found on Rinca and Komodo Island itself.
We decided on visiting Rinca because it’s only a two hour boat ride from Labuan Bajo compared to four hours to Komodo and anyway there’s supposedly a better chance of seeing them there.
Since we’re the only passengers we spread out on the seats and have turns of sitting at the pointy front bit – don’t know the nautical term. The water is mirror calm so it’s a smooth ride. We chug past endless small islands until we reach Rinca about two hours later.
At a tiny dock we jump out with our day packs and follow a guide to the ranger’s station about a kilometer inland. Our guide, Arif, gives us a rundown on the dragons. They’re the world’s largest and oldest living monitor lizards – adults can be three meters long. He tells us that they’re able to use their giant tails and sharp claws to bring down fully-grown buffalo or horses. At this point they get stuck in with their teeth and then the really disgusting part starts. The bacteria and anti coagulates in their saliva rots the wounded animal from the inside out as it bleeds to death over a couple of days.
This is probably the reason that all the buildings around here are built up off the ground. A few accommodation huts are available but I think we’d have nightmares so thanks but no thanks.
After Mark pays the entrance fee (40,000 rp/person) and government taxes (50,000 rp/person) Arif gives us the choice of three trails. We choose the one-hour medium trek because he tells us that most of it’s in the shade – stinking hot by now!
But before we leave we find six dragons lurking around the kitchen. No-one feeds them but they can smell the food and live in hope. Although a young one is on the move, the rest seem pretty docile but Arif warns us to ‘stay back’ – they might look sleepy but they can attack in a second.
Leaving the station, we follow Arif into the trees. He’s carrying a long forked stick which is all our protection from being attacked! But Mark isn’t worried – he says he doesn’t have to outrun the dragons, he just has to outrun me – nice!
Now we see a small komodo in the undergrowth, but that’s it! The track winds between nests that are empty at the moment. Apparently, the dragons live alone except during the mating season, of course. The eggs hatch after nine months and the small hatchlings head straight for the trees. They have to stay there for the next two years so the big ones won’t eat them!
Later we stop at a large tree which has the jaw bones of some of the unlucky victims hanging from its branches – animal, not human – then out into the sunshine across an exposed savannah studded with lontar palms. From here we have nice views across the island but are grateful to return to the riverbed for shade.
Back in the boat around eleven o’clock, the clouds suddenly blow in with a strong wind and driving rain. Matthew pulls down plastic sides to keep out the rain as well as the water bucketing into the boat as we dive into the waves. We tell him to forget the snorkeling stop and just head straight to Kanawa Island – he seems to be happy with that.
After two hours he points to a distant island – beautiful Kanawa! NOT!! Even from the boat we can see it’s a dump – an open stretch of sand on the edge of a scraggy island. Where are the swaying palms and coconut trees? Maybe it’ll be better close up.
A long wooden jetty leads us to the sand and, no, it’s even more horrible on shore. There aren’t many trees at all except for a few sad spindly things and the buildings are seriously rundown. We’re taken to our hut which isn’t too bad except for the barren surroundings. We have a little verandah with a dusty day-bed thing and an outdoor bathroom which is sort of cute except that the toilet seat falls off every time we sit on it and we have to pour a bucket of water into it to wash away the wee wees and poopedys. Oh, by the way, there is a hammock attached to a deserted hut behind us but it’s ripped right through!
Anyway, inside is okay with a double bed draped in a mosquito net but that’s it. No electricity till six o’clock so I sleep while Mark reads and drinks beers on the verandah.
At least the rain has stopped but we decide to get the hell out of here in the morning – luckily we didn’t pay for the two nights up front. Before sunset I join Mark on the verandah and we spend a funny half hour ripping the place off. On dark we wander over to the open-sided dining room for dinner. We seem to be the only foreigners here except for a gorgeous-looking young French couple with the rest of the tables taken up by local men.
Actually, things look much nicer at night and we move out to sit under the only real trees on the island which look quite lovely with big round lanterns hanging from the low branches. A few drinks but an early night – want to go snorkeling before the boat leaves for Labuan Bajo at eight o’clock in the morning.
Wednesday 27th January, 2016
Kanawa Island to Labuan Bajo to Bali
Up at six, I walk down to the water – not surprised to see that Kanawa doesn’t look any better today. I watch a teenage boy and girl making a half-hearted effort to sweep the sand then wake Mark.
The water is calm, which is good, but low tide, which is bad. But we still manage to swim out over the reef to see lots of colourful fish – always blown away at how beautiful it is under the surface. We’ve been snorkeling in the most amazing places and now we can add Flores to our list.
After packing and cold showers we order breakfast before checking out. The young woman on the desk can’t understand why we’re leaving – are you serious? We feel sorry for her and make up some shit about having to get back to Bali early. Actually, that really is our plan – we’ll try to change tomorrow’s plane tickets for a flight today.
In the meantime our boat has arrived so we board with the French couple (also escaping) and a local woman who’s already freaking out about the waves and a storm that we can see heading straight for us across the water.
One of the crew moves all our bags into the tiny wheel cabin so it looks like we’re going to get seriously wet.
About half an hour after leaving Kanawa the rain and wind hit, soaking the deck and sending us all running into the cabin to squash in behind the captain. The local woman is actually crying! The engines are cut to slow us down so we don’t ram into an island because we can’t see two feet in front of us. It’s all a bit scary but pretty funny when the captain hands over the wheel to another guy so he can stand out front looking for land.
Of course, we make it safely back to Labuan Bajo where we catch a little green truck to the Garuda office. While seats are available for this afternoon, we do have to pay an extra $100 because tomorrow’s seats had been through some sort of promotion and much cheaper. But Mark is keen to get back to Bali today so we buy the expensive tickets anyway.
We still have a few hours to kill so we head back into town where we’d seen a little barber shop – Mark is in dire need of a haircut. The tiny barber is very gay and very thrilled to be cutting Mark’s hair. He smiles from ear to ear, flirting with Mark the whole time. For $2 he does a great job.
Across from the barber shop we climb the stairs to a traditional warung to order a cheap lunch of chicken and fish. I watch the girls cook while Mark goes off to buy a hat.
Now it’s time to catch a taxi to the airport. It’s surprisingly big and new but as usual totally disorganized with not even anywhere to buy a bottle of water. But in no time we’re up in the air and on our way to beautiful Bali. Today is cloudy so we miss out on the lovely views we had on the way over – very lucky to have had great weather on that early morning flight last week.
Landing in Bali about two o’clock, we catch a taxi to Sorga Bungalows in Poppies I where we’ve stayed many times in the past. It’s perfectly located a few hundred metres off Poppies in a quiet laneway but within close walking distance of cafes, bars, markets, Kuta beach and massage places. And best of all, it’s cheap with a true Balinese style!
We book into a bottom floor room just off the pool then head out for food and drinks into our old favourite Poppies area. Not a lot has changed in the laneway since we were here two years ago and we head straight for The Secret Garden. Sitting up at the open-air bar on bamboo stools, we have a lovely time drinking Bintangs and margaritas under hanging paper lanterns.
Outside the rain is turning the laneway into a muddy mess but the warm night air and the fact that we’re back in our beloved Bali means that it’s all just part of the experience.
A couple of young girls are huddled under a shelter near the bar. They’re from the little beauty parlour next door and are still trying to pull in customers. We decide it’s definitely time for a massage so we make them very happy when we make a dash through the rain to their shop. What makes them even happier is when we also agree to a facial each as well as an ear waxing! Now that’s something we’ve never tried before and some horrible gunk comes out.
On the way back to Sorga we stop in at a couple of other bars before a very happy drunken walk home.
Thursday 28th January, 2016 Bali
Today we plan to head for Canggu not far up the east coast where we’ll spend our last few days in Bali. But first is a ‘snuggle’, a swim, showers and breakfast in Sorga’s little garden – scrambled eggs, fruit, tea and coffee.
I also want to have my hair washed and blow dried so we find a tiny place in one of the back laneways. The young girls can speak enough English for us to get by and I end up with a shampoo, ‘crem’ (chocolate flavoured) – whatever that is – and a conditioner. The water is cold but it’s warm outside already – another gorgeous, sunny day in paradise!
While the ‘crem’ is working Eva gives me a hand and head massage while Mark is pampered with a foot massage lounging back in the chair behind me. The ‘boss’ lady soon arrives and the girls proudly announce that she’s married to an Aussie.
Back at Sorga we organize for someone to take us to Canggu and at 10am we’re on our way out of Kuta with our friendly driver, Adit. Passing through the crowded streets of Legian, Seminyak and Kerobokan, we’re looking forward to the quiet, rural Canggu area.
But we don’t like it! There are the promised rice paddies but we hate all the modern villas and the young beachy people drinking organic shakes and eating bean sprouts and yogurt in shiny new cafes. Besides that, everything is very spread out with no real village centre at all.
Despite hating all this, we still decide to have a look at a couple of places to stay so we grab our packs and wave goodbye to Adit. At Echo Beach we don’t like the look of the guesthouses and the beach is horrible – black sand, windy and a rough surf! We’re leaving!
The Echo Beach Resort is a great place for lunch, though, and the food is excellent – prawn caesar salad for me and chicken in orange sauce for Mark – all washed down with lime sodas. While I watch the bags, Mark then heads off to find a driver to take us to Ubud which is where we’ve decided to stay instead. For 300,000Rp, a guy called Nyoman will take us there now.
Nyoman is friendly like all the Balinese but he’s trying a bit too hard. He points out interesting things on the way but always angling to take us somewhere else. No thanks, we just want to get to Ubud – the real Bali, as they say.
As we leave the coast, the more traditional way of life becomes apparent with endless rice paddies, little villages, temples and people going about their daily lives – this is the Bali we love and the Bali a lot of people don’t even know about because they don’t get their lazy arses out of Kuta – or Seminyak, darling!!
Coming into Ubud the traffic is much heavier and it’s true that it’s changed over the years. But driving down past the Sacred Monkey Forest, we feel the same thrill as always. Nyoman drops us at the market at the top of Monkey Forest Road just opposite the palace. Nearby is Sania’s House where we’ve stayed twice before and, really, it can’t be beaten for position, price and for being one of the most atmospheric places we’ve ever stayed anywhere. Through the busy market we pull our packs down the laneway which is now lined with stalls all the way. I guess this is a good sign that business is booming.
Through the traditional entrance gate we enter Sania’s peaceful garden surrounded by the family home. This is made up of different buildings – some for sleeping and some for ceremonies. Luck is on our side and we’re shown to a beautiful room on the second floor – amazingly the same room we shared with Lauren seven years ago.
For only $28 AUD, our room has intricately carved stonework around the windows and doors which are themselves made of intricately carved teak. The ceiling inside the room, as well as on the spacious balcony, soars to a high pitch down the centre and lined with thatch and wooden beams. All around are tropical orchids, frangipani and flowering bougainvillea.
After settling in, we wander through the market stalls in the laneway then out onto the main street looking for somewhere new to have a meal. We’ve been here so many times before and we want to try a different restaurant. Down a side road near the playing field we find a cute place with white wrought iron round the large verandah.
The food is good for the second time today – I have a salmon and olive salad while Mark has a chicken curry, both presented beautifully. We also entertain ourselves by eavesdropping on four women who chain-smoke and drink beer.
Back up past the soccer field where school kids are playing ball games, I try to find a massage place that Mark and Lauren and I had found. It was along a narrow alleyway that ran down to a small creek. No luck but we do find another lovely place so I stay for a foot massage while Mark walks back to the room to pick up the laptop. We want to find somewhere with wifi so we can use Facebook.
The massage place is called Nine Cloud and set in a quiet laneway opposite a lush garden shaded by palms and tall trees. I recline in a padded chair for my $7 massage listening to Balinese music – soooo lucky! Later another young girl brings me a cold glass of water then ginger tea sweetened with honey.
Mark hasn’t turned up so I decide to meet him halfway. I see him coming and hide in a shop till he walks past – ‘you want mathage?’.
Nearby we find a long narrow restaurant where the back section is sitting directly on the edge of a rice paddy. Where else would this happen? Setting ourselves up in over-sized cane chairs, we have a couple of drinks while we upload our photos and send messages home. Meanwhile the sun has set and candles have been lit on our table as well as in the two restaurants on either side that stretch further into the rice field – this is beautiful!
Later we cross to a big restaurant opposite. I have my usual Bacardi while Mark loves his happy hour caprinias. A band is playing songs we like but some are just too hard – my heart has been hurting today and the tears come easily tonight.
We escape the sad songs and walk up to the palace road to come across another really cool new place called Oops. Inside is packed out but the garden is even better. After a pizza and more caprinias, we wobble home through the market.
Friday 29th January, 2016 Bali
A sound sleep in our quiet, lovely room then up at 7.30am for a ‘snuggle’ and showers. While Mark dresses I order breakfast at the little office which they set up on our balcony – fruits, banana pancakes, tea and coffee. The setting makes my heart full – flowering orchids and bougainvillea and traditional Balinese architecture.
We ring home and talk to Abi who spent yesterday at her new school for an introduction day. Lauren said she was amazing and happy to get the teacher they wanted. Abi says ‘I did awesome, Ma and Pa’ and Elkie says ‘Pa, Pa poo’. We ring Jackie, as well, to hear her good news that baby Lila has just started smiling.
Packing our day bags we head off for Monkey Forest Road where we make a young man very happy when we hire his motor bike for two days ($20AUD including insurance).
As much as I love Sania’s House I’ve seen another gorgeous place on the net called Gusti’s and I want to have a look. It’s situated on the opposite side of the palace halfway up a long narrow laneway lined with restaurants, shops and other guesthouses. In through a traditional gate it’s a similar setup to Sania’s but with the bungalows built down the side of a steep slope with a bubbling stream at the bottom. A little stone path winds through the garden which is tropically thick and green as usual. The only room they have left, though, is almost at the bottom and we don’t fancy the steep climb back to the top every time we want to go out. So, as lovely as it is, we’ll stay at Sania’s again tonight but keep Gusti’s in mind for next time.
So, now we have the rest of today and tomorrow to do as we please. We head off up the hill not knowing where it leads but that’s our plan really – just get lost and see where we end up. On our many other stays here in Ubud we’ve visited all the main surrounding sites – Goa Gajah, Gunung Kawi, Yeh Pulu and Tirttaganga – so today we just want to ride around the villages and rice fields.
Where the laneway ends, a small steep track winds upwards through thick vegetation until we reach flooded rice paddies at the top. Farmers are working up to their thighs in water and losmens are dotted every now and again on the opposite side of the track. We have no idea where it will lead but it eventually runs out so we head back the same way into town.
At the market we watch a stream of local ladies giving offerings inside the Melanting temple. The temple is always busy with merchants praying for good fortune. They all wear batik sarongs and a temple sash as they place small freshly woven baskets full of flowers and burning incense at the base of the shrines.
This is one of the very endearing traditions that we see everywhere in Bali – nothing to do with tourism, all about everyday life and how it’s governed by their religion. Balinese Hinduism has the same basic concepts as Indian Hinduism but the Balinese version has also been influenced by Buddhism making it even more appealing.
Actually we’re also here to buy offerings for a special little ceremony that we’ve been doing here in Ubud since we lost Angie seven and a half years ago. Six months after she died in 2008, Mark and Lauren and I visited the Sacred Monkey Forest to place an offering for her near the Holy Spring. A month earlier, a friend of Lauren and Angie, Ineke, lost her sister as well so we always do the same for Alicia.
The Monkey Forest isn’t far from the market but, because we need to find a petrol station, we actually get lost. Mark finally stops at a small shop where we buy ice blocks to cool us down and to ask directions to Monkey Forest Road. This road is lovely with a string of shops and restaurants on the right-hand side with the forest on the left.
Leaving the bike in a shelter across the road, we pay the tiny entrance fee then buy a bunch of bananas. As usual the monkeys are hanging around the ticket office, ready to steal anything they can get their hands on – food, sunglasses, cameras and anything else that isn’t safely locked away. They even try to undo the zips on our bags – very cute.
The Holy Spring is at the bottom of a long stone staircase lined with monkey statues and real monkeys as well. The pool is the home to large orange goldfish and surrounded by moss-covered statues of ganesh and shiva. Soaring trees with long tendrils shade the whole place and ferns grow out of every crack in the rocks.
Sadly the place that we’ve always put the offerings is too hard to reach due to the building of a walkway but we still find a pretty spot above the stream.
Mark places them at the foot of a giant komodo dragon and lights the incense while trying to fight off a naughty monkey who’s trying to steal the flowers. It sort of lightens the mood which is lost anyway with all the tourists. We’ve never seen this many so next time we’ll come early in the morning. Back up the top we stop to watch more naughty monkeys while Mark takes a funny video of me being attacked by a little one trying to pinch my necklace. All good fun and we love it despite the crowds.
It’s a relief, though, to get back on the bike and we head straight for a pretty restaurant we’d seen earlier in the main street. Next it’s time for a massage at Nine Cloud. Mark isn’t wearing undies so he has to wear a paper pair – ha, ha – I try to take a photo. We have a one hour oil massage each then shower together afterwards.
Before going back to our room we decide to buy a few presents for home at the market. It’s all the same, same shit but we still manage to buy eight sarongs at $2 each and two shirts for Mark at $6 each.
After a swim, it’s time for our usual nap but we end up watching Australia’s Next Top Model on Mark’s laptop – tragic but run out of things to watch on our hard-drive. On dark we dress up for our last night in Ubud and our last proper night in Bali – we fly out late tomorrow night – oh, no!!
We move from one gorgeous restaurant to another – happy hour cocktails all the way. At the first place we order two daiquiris and two caprinias while we eat chicken broth soup and Asian tasters.
At another place the band makes me cry so we move on again. We pass a little girl asleep alone in a shop doorway so I put $10 under her arm – oh, God!.
We’re about to go home but I don’t want to go to bed feeling this sad so we check out another place where a band is pumping out sixties music. The bar is open to the street, packed and great people watching. As we leave I go back to find the little girl and I’m happy to see her mother is with her. I wrap my shawl around her shoulders and feel a bitch for not doing more.
Saturday 30th January, 2016 Bali
Our last day and we’re going to make the most of every minute. Up at 7.30am, swim – paradise! – then ride to Penestenan village where we watch farmers planting rice is green, green paddies surrounded by thatched roofed homes. Seriously, you’d have to be fucking idiot not to love Bali!
Nearby we pass a temple with an elaborately decorated gate and do a quick u-turn. We’ve been to Bali enough times to know what’s probably going on inside and we aren’t disappointed. We’re welcomed in to watch all the village ladies preparing for a festival which will take place tomorrow night.
They all wear a brightly coloured top, a sarong, a temple sash around the waist and rubber thongs. Some are weaving baskets and other decorations with long grasses while others are forming intricate flowers and fan shaped patterns from a playdoh looking paste.
More women are cooking in huge pots in a makeshift outdoor kitchen as others are chopping vegetables and herbs. The ladies are lots of fun and pose for photos especially one very old dear.
In another section of the temple, we watch the men sitting on the ground weaving long cream strips of grass for the very tall decorations that we always see but don’t know their significance.
Now we head for Champuhan and Murni’s Warung which has been an old favourite since we first discovered it with Angie and Lauren in 1998. It‘s actually been an Ubud institution since Murni opened it in 1974 as the area’s first real restaurant. It has four open-air levels that step down the steep hillside overlooking the river and the greenery on the cliff face opposite. Inside is dark teak everything – walls, roof and furniture. Murni’s own artwork is on display as well as expensive work from local artisans.
Breakfast is first rate as well and a lot more expensive than anywhere else we’ve been so far. Murni herself is having her photo taken with an old European guy. ‘I stand like this – make me look skinny’ she laughs posing side-on.
Outside I watch a local lady going through the offerings ritual at a shrine just outside the front door. We walk across the wooden pedestrian bridge which looks out to a jungle of overgrown vines and trees and we can see children playing in the river way down below.
Riding back to Sania’s we leave the bike to head back into the market. Now we buy more sarongs, ikat, and matching shirts for Mark and the dollies. In the laneway Mark buys penis gifts for trivia – hideous. After a quick pack, Mark returns the bike while I arrange with a guy outside the gate to take us back to Kuta.
About halfway, we stop in the village of Celuk to watch silver jewellery making and where I buy a pair of silver earrings. The traffic is heavy as we reach Jalan Legian but there’s so much to see we don’t care. We’re dropped off near the beach at Poppies I and walk to Sorga Gang to look for a cheap place to book into for the afternoon.
Our flight doesn’t leave till 12.30 in the morning so we won’t have to leave for the airport until ten o’clock. Mimpy’s Bungalows looks perfect, a short walk from the markets and only 300,000Rp. Like most Balinese hotels it’s lush and green with a pretty swimming pool and huts dotted through the gardens. The owner, Made, and his wife are really sweet and introduce us to their little grand-daughter. Mark points to Made and says ‘opah?’ which makes her giggle.
Our room is simple to say the least but will do for a half-day stay. After dumping our bags, we set off to the Havana Club for lunch just opposite Suzy Q. We promise the girls that we’ll have a massage after lunch. The food is excellent – a tuna wrap for Mark and a Mexican chicken wrap for me washed down with fresh lime sodas.
As promised, we both have a one hour massage with the Suzy Q girls – only $5 each! – then have a swim back at Mimpy’s. After a quick nap, we’re up at 5.30pm to set off for the beach in search of Nicky and Sexy Hotdog. We met them nearly twenty years ago when Angie and Lauren were with us. At one stage Hotdog had changed her name to Crazy Hotdog then she became Sexy Hotdog. Last trip she told me she was going to change it to Sexy Hotdog Big Pussy – hilarious.
Walking along the sand, the beach is packed as it is every day as both tourists and locals come down for sunset. It’s a happy family atmosphere even though beach bars are set up under the trees almost the whole length of the beach. I suppose ‘beach bar’ is an overstatement because they’re really just some Balo guy with an esky and a few plastic chairs. Our favourite is Bob’s Bar down towards Tuban which is where we start looking for the girls. Bob is actually Nicky’s husband and where we find Nicky we’re sure to find Hotdog.
I see Nicky first and she calls out ‘Hotdog’ at the top of her voice. And here she is, the same as ever – gorgeous with her gap toothed smile. I think she’s beautiful but she always says ‘I ugly – look like monkey’. Bob brings over chairs and drinks and we have heaps of fun with the ladies as the sun gradually sets. While I have a neck and shoulder massage plus a manicure – all pathetic, ha ha – Nicky makes me buy bracelets and necklaces that I don’t want and Hotdog makes Mark buy t-shirts that he doesn’t want. So funny and worth being fleeced. Every time we see a plane landing, Hotdog says, ‘more suckers to rip off’ – the best laugh we’ve had for ages.
Back to Poppies I after dark, Mark walks back to Mimpy’s to charge his phone while I have a pedicure and a hair wash at Smile Spa. I emerge with smeared toenails and stick straight hair. The young hairdresser is a sweetheart, though, and tells me that she has to bring her two year old boy here everyday. At the moment he’s sleeping on a makeshift bed on the floor. Her husband sells handbags in the market stall opposite so I guess it’s not too bad.
I meet Mark in a bar nearby and have hamburgers before heading back to our room to pack. We had Made order us a van earlier so at ten o’clock we’re on our way to the airport. Poppies II is blocked so it takes ages to get out of Kuta but we still make it to the terminal by 10.30pm.
The airport is packed with three lots of ticket checking – why??? Anyway we board on time with three seats between us and manage an amazing five hours sleep each.
Sunday 31st January, 2016 Bali to Sydney
Land in Sydney at 10.30am with thousands of people all trying to get through immigration and customs. We sail through immigration with our new passports but our bags take half an hour to come out. Luckily we’re directed straight through customs so after catching the airport train to Central we manage to catch the 12.15pm train home to Newcastle.
Another great trip!!