Flores

Flores – Indonesia

 

The ferry arrived in Aimeure, Flores (mid south coast) a couple of hours late at 11am with a series of jolts and bumps as it ground its way along the jetty, throwing people and provisions (and me loaded up with my luggage) around like ragdolls.  By the lack of commotion I assumed this was normal practice and wondered if the ferry (and jetty) would live to see next Christmas.

I was eventually off and on my way by 11:45 after the expected chaotic mass exodus, with everyone trying to squeeze through the ferry exit ramp at the same time before it had even touched solid ground.  I waited until most were off before exiting somewhere between the trucks and the chickens.

The road layout on the island was a bit of a mystery to me because I couldn’t find any detailed maps on the internet, and the only two I had found were very basic and contradicted each other showing different roads.  Useful.

Basically, Flores is about 650km long and has one main road running east-west, snaking tightly up and down mountains and volcanoes as it goes.  Like West Timor the road was generally in great condition, and it was great to have them practically all to myself.

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View of Aimere Ferry Port from the first mountain top riding east

The population & population density of Flores is similar to that of Indonesian West Timor – around 2 million, and is one of the so called Indonesian ‘Lesser Sunda Islands’.  Like all Indonesian Islands, it is located on the Pacific ‘Ring of Fire’ and liable to regular seismic activity.  The last big earthquake (measuring 7.8 on the Richter scale) occurred on 12 December 1992, killing 2,500 people in and around the largest city Maumere.

The first thing I will say about Flores is that it appears much more scenic and green than Timor – as its Portuguese name ‘Flores’ (‘Flowers’ in English) would suggest – and it is indeed beautiful with steep, towering volcanoes shooting up from sea level and beautiful views of coastline, jungle and paddy fields.

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Beautiful, green and towering volcanoes rising into the clouds

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I liked Flores already

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Plenty of Paddy Fields – Rice (Nasi) being the Indonesian staple diet

The second thing I will say is that it takes much longer to get anywhere than expected due to endless tight switchbacks going up and down steep terrain and occasional road-works, where it is not uncommon to sit and wait 30 minutes for a bull-dozer to finish clearing away a landslide or lay down the foundation to a new road.

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Waiting for a recent landslide to be cleared. These are common and can add hours to your journey time

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Beautiful estuary

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Famous ‘Blue Stone’ Beach, in case you need any

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Another old volcano to the east

I didn’t know much about what to see and do in Flores, but I was told by Donovan not to miss Kelimutu Volcano with its three famously different coloured crater lakes, created by varying mineral content.  On the ‘toy’ map I had it didn’t it look that far (2 fingers), so I decided to take a look.

I arrived 5 hours later.

I just made it before the man in the security hut at the park entrance closed for the day (at 5pm).  After paying him a ‘few extra’ (I’m sure), he let me in and I rode the last 12km to the car park at the start of the hike to Kelimutu’s three crater lake view point, which was certainly worth the effort.

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Two of Kelemutu’s Crater Lakes. The different colours are created by varying mineral content added from rising volcanic gasses

I had originally thought I would carry on and make it to Maumere further east by the first night (another 100km), and would have done had the ferry docked on time, but seeing as it was now dark and I was knackered after 220km & 5 hours of twisting up and down mountains, I instead decided to stay in the pleasant, small tourist village of Moni at the base of the Kelimutu National Park (a favourite holiday spot for Billy Idol I imagine).

When I arrived at the village everything looked pretty dead in the dark.  I came to the end of the village before I’d really noticed I’d entered it, and so turned around and headed back, slowly.  As I passed one promising contender, Hotel Bintang (promising because it had a light on and 2 obvious tourists sitting in the restaurant, as well as being called ‘Bintang’ – an Indonesian beer), a man ran out from inside and greeted me.  His name was Billy and, as luck would have it, he had a room for the night with my name on it.  I asked him how much, although I was so tired & hungry I didn’t really care, and he said “$15”, and I said “Deal!”

Later at dinner, charismatic Billy, the owner’s son, told me he liked British people, and I instantly guessed there must be a girl involved somewhere.  Indeed there was, and she had invited him over to sunny Leeds, to enjoy the weather no doubt.  I later found out he also liked most other nationalities – and why not!  I was happy to settle for the Bintang, which incidentally tasted like heaven (if it were a beer).

Moni to Maumere

When I woke up in the morning I had no clue what day it was; a true sign I was completely in holiday mode; or that the Bintang wasn’t really a gift from heaven.  Billy told me Maumere was only 98km away, or around 2.5 hours, so that would be a relaxing day’s ride compared to yesterday’s twisty marathon.  But first I needed more fuel and the only fuel I had seen in Flores so far was sold in dirty looking 1.5 litre bottles at wooden shacks by the side of the road.

Luckily I was prepared for this eventuality and deployed my paper coffee filters inside a funnel to catch any nasties as the nice man filled me up.

In the end the journey only took 1.5 hours through more stunning scenery as the roads were not as twisty as yesterday.

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More rice paddy fields

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Flores

One great little detour was down a very rocky, sandy track leading to ‘Koko Beach’.  As soon as I’d left the road I regretted the risk taking my dodgy clutch down another steep, rocky path.  Fortunately it didn’t turn out to be that bad, and led to two adjoining beautifully secluded bays.

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As soon as I’d left the road I regretted the risk taking my dodgy clutch down another steep, rocky path…

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Fortunately it didn’t turn out to be that bad, and led to two adjoining beautifully secluded bays – Koko Beach

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Koko Beach

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Some local monkeys wanted their picture taken

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…and then kindly took one of a bigger monkey

I didn’t like Maumere – it was too crowded with people and traffic and the beach was filthy, covered with litter.  As soon as I arrived I felt like leaving again.  Litter is a big problem in Indonesia, and most people are so used to just throwing it on the floor, it’s sad when otherwise beautiful places are polluted in this way.  I feel the Indonesian Government needs to spearhead a massive education programme to clean up the country, and provide ways & means for the litter to be recycled.

I needed more fuel again after my 1.5 litre top-up and I passed 3 fuel stations – the first I’d seen in Flores that were open (I’d passed several earlier but they were always chained off and closed).  However, each one had a mass of scooters lined up at the pumps (more than 10 in each queue) and I didn’t feel like waiting for ages in the sun.  I thought instead I’d ride along the coast for a bit towards Larantuka at the far east of the island and see if I could find any of the nice beaches that Maumere is supposed to have.

It wasn’t long (15 km or so) before I found the Sea World Beach Club, and wow! What a difference!  This ‘exclusive’ dive resort is a far cry from the manic congestion of Maumere town, and the perfect place to hang up my helmet for a day to relax on my own private balcony on the beach.  Amazing what happens to a place when all the litter is cleared up!

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Result! My own private beach at Sea World Beach Club

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My luxurious beach hut – thought I’d spoil myself for only 40 quid

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Not a bad life after all!

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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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Komodo National Park, Indonesia – Diving and Dragons

 

With my 2 day dive trips and dragon excursion booked I was a happy camper.

The dives were taking me to Castle Rock, Crystal Rock, Tatawa Besar (3 of the supposed best) and another ‘fill in dive’ on the way to see the Komodo Dragons on the island of Rinca, Komodo National Park on day 2.

On day 1, forced to get up early (I still love early mornings! :/ ) I rode down to the dive shop on my Tiger after missing breakfast, collected my rental dive gear and wondered down the short walk to the harbour.  Here I found the usual ‘organised chaos’ as dozens of dive boats tried to embark all their divers at once and leave all at the same time.  Our group hung back a bit and let everyone else leave before setting off on the 2 hour ride to the first dive site.  We were on the ‘slow boat to China’ so no point in racing.

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Embarking the dive boat for Komodo National Park

I took my time and set up my own dive gear, even though the trainee Divemaster onboard offered to do it.  A good service for some maybe, but I personally think all divers should set up and check their own dive gear before a dive – after all, their life may depend on it (this is what I used to teach anyway).

The rental dive equipment was in the standard state of repair I usually find it in at many ‘bulk-tourist dive operators’, and I’m glad I checked it.  The tank O-ring had a small leak and the octopus demand valve mouthpiece was almost bitten through (some poor soul had been chewing on it!).  Luckily they had spares at least.

I always bring my own mask and roll-up snorkel with me, as nothing spoils a dive more than a leaky, poor fitting and foggy mask.  I also always bring and use my own dive computer so I can look after myself, as too many times I have seen bad instructors or guides run divers into unplanned decompression (Egypt is a prime example).  But don’t let this put you off – do the correct course (such as PADI Open Water) and it’s easy to dive safely; with a trustworthy buddy of course!

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Getting ready for the first dive – Castle Rock

On the boat there was the usual eclectic mix of divers; a long haired fellow from Istanbul, a Swiss backpacker, a Chinese tourist and a French dude.  Our guides were local but our trainee Divemaster was a Czech who was escaping the ‘rat race’ for a life under the waves – good for him!

In any group of divers there is always one ‘wally’ who doesn’t listen to the guide, dives too deep and lays on all the coral (which may kill it).  In our group it was the long haired fellow from Istanbul.  He made me realise I don’t really miss teaching diving at all.  I got well with the French dude, Marc, who was on a few weeks’ holiday and touring around Indonesia on a 150cc Yamaha he’d rented from Bali.

In summary, the diving was pretty good.  Currents were strong, but that’s fine if you don’t fight them and drift, and the coral and sea life was pretty in places.   The surrounding islands were also beautiful – if a little baron.  Komodo National Park is actually a collection of 29 volcanic islands in between Indonesian islands Flores and Sumbawa.

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Komodo National Park – a collection of 29 islands in between Indonesian islands Flores and Sumbawa

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At anchor for the first dive

Pre-dive

Here we go!

I have a pretty good underwater camera at home but as it’s too bulky to travel with me on my bike, so I instead travel with my GoPro Hero 2 (with underwater case and red filter).  However, I’m never really too happy with the still photos it takes, and so here are a few screen shots I’ve cut’n’pasted from the video I took, which although not great in resolution or quality, I think give a better representation of the dive.

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All down for the first dive!

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Some nice colourful coral and sea anemones

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Squirrelfish – their big eyes are for night time hunting

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Hello Mr Moray!

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Bad photo – but can you spot the Stonefish looking at you? Don’t put your hand on him, as it will hurt a lot!

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Staghorn Coral – one of the most important corals in terms of contribution to reef growth and fishery habitat, growing 10-20 cm (4-8 inches) per year (quick for a coral)

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End of dive one!

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Where’s the dive boat?!

Highlights included a couple of reef sharks (always good), including a group of 4 baby white tip reef sharks hiding under a ledge.

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Whitetip Reef Sharks spend much of the day resting in caves or holes (pumping their own water over their gills to breathe) before emerging to hunt at night

Turtle are also always good to see, and I got pretty close and personal with one for a while, until it tried to eat my camera.  Turtles – you can’t take them anywhere!

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My playful buddy turtle

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He’s taken a liking to me (is it a ladyboy turtle?)

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Yes, I think you’re rather nice too…

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Steady on old boy! No tongues on the first date please!

Ever since I was lucky enough to dive The Galapagos Islands, I always feel I’ve been spoilt with diving, and although Komodo was good, it didn’t really get me that excited, and didn’t live up to the hype I’d heard previously.  How spoilt is that!  So, here’s a quick advert for you:  dive The Galapagos if you ever get the chance! – Best diving in the world (so far, for me anyway).

On day 2 after the 2nd dive we landed on Rinca Island, Komodo National Park, where there be Dragons.

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Rinca Island, Komodo National Park

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I want this gate outside my house: Enter at Your Own Risk – Dragons!

I must admit I was expecting something HUGE, and when I saw them I was a little disappointed.  Having said that, they were big enough to do damage had they wanted to.

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Komodo Dragons – big enough

With an average length of about 8 feet (2.5m) and weighing 200 pounds (91kg), Komodo Dragons are the only lizards that will attack & eat something bigger than they are (including humans and buffalo), and can consume 80% of their body weight in 20 minutes.  That would be like an average human man eating a 140lb (64kg) steak in 20 minutes – Man vs Food eat your heart out!

Most of the Dragons were hanging underneath the kitchen as I think they must be fed by the locals (although they said they didn’t, as that would mean food association with humans).  Except for this one that headed straight for us on the path, meaning we had to climb up an embankment to keep out of its way!:

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Rule No.1 on Komodo – always give way to Dragons!

As well as a ferocious, bacteria infested bite, the Komodo dragon has recently be found to be venomous (like other monitor lizards), causing rapid blood loss, inhibition of clotting, paralysis, and extreme pain.  This is a good reason to listen to the guides (armed with forked sticks) to keep out of their way, and not to sit down in front of them so as to tempt them (well, except for the quick photo of cause!)

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Don’t do this at home…

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Our protector and guide with his forked stick (when he wasn’t catching up on facebook)

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View of Rinca bay & Komodo National Park after a short hike

With my duty in Flores and Komodo National Park complete it was time to up sticks and jump on the ferry to the nest island in the Indonesia chain – little known Sumbawa.  As Marc was also heading back that way to return his rented motorbike to Bali, we tagged along together.  This was good for me because he had a map – I didn’t!

You may think catching a ferry from Labuan Bajo to Sumbawa is fairly simple, but fate would have it we had come at the busiest time ever known to the city – the opening of ‘Sail Komodo 2013’.  In a few days Labuan Bajo was to be the final destination of a yacht race from Darwin that started back in July, and the Indonesian President was inbound.  This was great for tourism, but not so great for catching a ferry to leave the island because the ferries were planned to be used as floating accommodation for the thousands of visitors flooding in.  They even enlisted their military hospital ship as a floating hotel.

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Preparing for the Indonesian President’s visit for Sail Komodo 2013. They even enlisted their military hospital ship as a floating hotel

After a couple of false attempts where departing ferries mysteriously departed early, or not at all, Marc and I had to stay another night until we eventually heard on the ‘local grapevine’ that a ferry was departing at 4pm (after the 8am one didn’t).  Relieved to finally be onboard and about to set sail to a new destination, I suddenly felt great – how lucky was I to be travelling the world and island hopping across Indonesia on my Tiger?  I celebrated with an iced tea and biscuits, because that’s all they had onboard, but I didn’t really care.

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We finally got the ferry to Sumbawa – no mean feat!

Marc and I relaxed on the stern, watching the ferry load up.  It was surprisingly empty.  The journey to Sumbawa was only around 6 hours, which meant we’d arrive before midnight – perfect.  A bit worried about the stability of my bike (with no tie-downs), I went back down to check on it before sailing and found some helpful soul had spider-webbed a couple of ropes across her to steady her.  Nice they didn’t bother to protect the seat, but I guess she’s had worse (my bum, for example).  At least she wasn’t going to fall over.  Sumbawa here we come!

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Tied down for sea – Indonesian Style – but it worked!

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