Maumere to Labuan Bajo, Flores, Indonesia

Maumere to Bajawa

Somehow, yet again, I find myself hopelessly behind writing my blog, so it’s time to book into a hotel for a couple of days, chain myself to my laptop and whip myself until I catch up.  Again, I am amazed at the speed time slips by, and how easy it is to keep putting something off once you’ve already put it off for a couple of days.  Which is amazing as you may be thinking what else have I got to do?

Well, on the one hand you’re right, but on the other you may be surprised; at least I surprise myself sometimes.  My new year’s resolution will certainly be to be more organised and travel with more structure, so I get the most out of every day.  This mostly involves hauling my ass out of bed before 8am!  Luckily I have my notes and photos to remind me of what has happened since our last meeting…

After my relaxing beach break in Maumere, the largest city in the beautifully hilly and volcanic easterly Indonesian island of Flores, I started the long ride back west towards Aimere where I had arrived on the ferry from Timor a few days earlier.  My destination was the port town of Labuan Bajo on the far western coast of the island, the gateway to Komodo National Park.

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Beautiful Flores

I didn’t mind going over the same ground for a couple of hours because the scenery & views were so beautiful, the roads were so good, twisty and empty, and I had time on my side.  Maumere hadn’t impressed me too much and I was looking forward to escaping the city; I had become accustomed to large open spaces, and didn’t like meeting 47,000 people in one place.  Laughable really – I hate to imagine what Jakarta will be like, with its 10 million people!

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The black, volcanic sand of Flores’ beaches

Maumere was where the Portuguese first landed and settled on Flores in the 16th century, which is why, like Timor, the prominent religion is Christian.  Having passed only through the Christian islands of Timor and Flores so far, it’s strange to think that Indonesia is the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation (87.2% of their 238 million people are Muslim).  Did you also know Indonesia is the 4th most populated country in the World after China, India and the USA?  You do now!

Another factual snippet: On 12 December 1992, an earthquake measuring 7.8 on the Richter scale and ensuing tsunami, killed 2,500 people in and around Maumere and destroyed 90 percent of the buildings; the price of living on the Pacific Ring of Fire, paradise though it might appear.

Bidding farewell to Maumere, I enjoyed the ride back west immensely, covering 250km in 5 hours (pretty good going on the twisty mountain roads) through to the mountain town of Bajawa.  On the way I again passed Blue Stone Beach, banana plantations, green paddy fields and amazing views of the majestic active stratovolcano Ebulobo.

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Blue Stone Beach, near the town of Ende on the south coast

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My new found best friend wanted to know if I wanted to buy some of his blue stones, instead of picking my own up at my feet… Yes please! 🙂

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Riding through beautiful banana and palm plantations

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Amazing views of active stratovolcano Ebulobo – built up into the classic cone shape by layered lava flows over millions of years

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The fertile volcanic soil is ideal for growing rice on the stepped terraces

As I rolled into Bajawa it started to rain for only the second time since I’d been in Indonesia.  High in the mountains (1100m/3600ft) the cooler temperatures of Bajawa are a welcome relief to the heat of the lowlands, although the rain didn’t do much for my hairstyle.  Not wanting to get completely soaked, I quickly looked for a hotel.  My first choice being fully booked, I checked into a pretty ropey ‘hotel’ called Edelweiss, which wasn’t nearly as nice as the word suggests.  I could have looked around for longer but I was tired after the ride, and needed a Bintang to perk me up.  At least Edelweiss had no bed bugs; I can cope with almost anything apart from them.  And Gangsta Rap (both together must be what Hell is made of).

I liked Bajawa – cool and friendly, it had a nice ‘feel’ to it, and it wasn’t too crowded like Maumere.  The restaurant over the road from me sold great local food, and everybody’s favourite beer – Bintang of course– so what more could I ask for?  (except for a new clutch perhaps).

Bajawa to Labuan Bajo

As much as I liked Bajawa, in the morning it was time to pack my bags and move on; however, I did stay for breakfast.  I was looking forward to getting to Labuan Bajo and arranging a diving trip to Komodo (reputed to be one of the best places to dive in the world), and seeing the famous Komodo Dragons.  It is also the port where I’d catch the ferry to the next Indonesian Island on CNB’s World Tour, Sumbawa.

I covered the 270km in 6 hours over much the same twisty, volcanic scenery I’d seen over the past few days.  Every inch of the lowlands was taken full advantage of, housing endless green paddy fields.  Green is my favourite colour and Flores certainly had plenty of that to keep me happy.

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My favourite colour – the bright, lush green of Paddy Fields

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Every inch of the lowlands is taken full advantage of, housing endless green paddy fields

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What better place to stop for a drink?

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Hard to beat the Flores views on offer

When I arrived I made my way directly to the German run dive centre I’d been recommended by Domonic in Kapung – ‘Bajo Dive Club’.

For the first time in 2 months (since leaving Australia), on entering the city I was confronted by the familiar streets lined with bars and restaurants that normally spring up around western tourist destinations.  And it actually felt quite good.  I don’t usually head for the tourist traps, but strangely I found my body and soul craving a quick fix of western junk food and cold beer in familiar surroundings.  This I found in the bar across the road from the dive shop.  And after that I was ready for another 2 months of rice and noodles.

 

Having booked a 2 day dive package which included 2 of the (supposedly) best dives in Komodo and a trip to see the Dragons, I was full and happy and wondered off to find a hotel.

I liked Labuan Bajo.  I like it a lot.  It had a kind of hippy feel to it, and although touristy, it wasn’t too touristy – is their such a thing as Goldilocks touristy?  The surrounding beaches were great and there were great views from a few restaurants perched high on the hill overlooking the town.

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Not the best beaches in the world, but pretty nice, and plenty of shade under the trees

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Labuan Bajo – amazing hilltop views of the city & port

The John Fawcett Foundation

 

That evening while admiring the views at night across the bay, I was fortunate to be dining next to Leroy Hollenbeck and his lovely wife Philomena, an amazing couple from the USA/Hawaii now living in Bali.  Leroy is the CEO of The John Fawcett Foundation, a humanitarian foundation which helps the poor in Indonesia free of charge, particularly those with medical problems.

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Evening view across the bay

They were in Flores for couple of days with a team of eye surgeons to conduct cataract surgery for people who needed it, and who would otherwise remain blind because they couldn’t afford the relatively high cost of the surgery in Indonesia.  They kindly invited me along to watch cataract surgery taking place in their mobile clinic (inside a modified bus), but as I was diving for the next 2 days I would unfortunately miss it.  However, I did promise to pop by after the diving and see the mobile clinic, and to visit their HQ in Bali when I passed through.

Three days later I did return to see them.  They had screened 1,474 people and conducted 74 cataract operations.  All those screened who needed glasses, eye medication or both, received it all, free.

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The John Fawcett Foundation – some of the 1,474 poor people that received free treatment, including 74 cataract operations – amazing work

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Leroy’s lovely wife Philomena couldn’t resist a spin on the back of the Tiger. Well, you can’t blame her!

Of course many of us are lucky enough to take our sight for granted every day, but to be able to give the gift of sight to someone who cannot see is a wonderful thing.  Just seeing the joy on the faces of patients who could now see was enough to know what incredible work The John Fawcett Foundation is doing.  The cost of a cataract operation is only £34 (US$55) and if you’d like to know more or donate please go to:

http://balieye.org/help.htm

 

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