All aboard as hemiexplorers head for Flores, surviving four days at sea and some close encounters with wildlife before heading up into the hills for culture and volcanoes…124 days in.
Call me hemi. Some days ago with what little money we had in our purse we did buy our passage to the island of Flores aboard the vessel Monalisa. We climbed onto the forecastle along with our EU landlubbers and so did begin the scramble for the best berths on the upper deck, of which we and two Canadians did not part take in, but gentlemanly they allowed us to choose from the remaining three foam mattresses! Mike’s been reading Moby Dick, in case you’re wondering where that came from and I should also add that due to previously high inflation, nothing sounds like ‘little money’ in Indonesian rupiah!
Our first evening’s voyage was a rocky one to which Mike reacted to rather poorly, having to dash to the gunnels straight after both meals then making an early retreat to his berth. I fared a little better but thoughts of lying on the deck reading a book or blogging as the scenery drifted past were for most of the trip out of reach. Monalisa, a name that conjures up images of beauty, ours was more of a beast with a large engine to keep us chugging along day and night. Her berths as Mike alluded to were 22 thin foam mattresses side by side, perfect when there’s 23, it was basic accommodation but all in all better than we were expecting and the crew cooked tasty food!
Life at sea was simple, the first two days included a few stops for snorkelling (i.e. taking a bath) and the occasional onshore hill to climb (freedom from the rocking waves and engine vibrations), joy! Meal time was always an occasion, with the ladybird playmat laid on the floor, the signal for the Spanish Armada to man the decks and vanquish half of the meat portion between the seven of them, often leaving us civilised Brits the remains of the veg and rice; you known perhaps we are better off out! Mike and his kindred French spirit Louis, could often be found scraping out the plain rice and coating it with thick sweet soya sauce to satisfy their hunger.
The epic 18 hour non-stop passage of Sumbawa certainly tested our resolve, fortunately by then we were hardened salty sea dogs and managed to pass the time with a book, watching the landscape drift past and sharing stories with our shipmates. After our long confined journey land was in site again and the highlights just kept coming: a stop at the famed pink beach not bad; a large inland salt water lake,nice and warm like a large salty bath; a pod of dolphins swimming along side the boat as the sun set, could it get any better? Then the search for manta rays yielded fantastic results as we lept, go pros in hand, overboard to swim with the fish as they ‘fly’ underwater. After lots of pointing from the crew back on board and us peering into the dark blue depths, all of a sudden Mike was within touching distance from one as it came from behind to give him a bit of a fright, although he didn’t manage to capture it on video this time.
Our final day on board, we dropped anchor at Komodo to walk amongst the fabled dragons. An island of scorched hills and a dusty woodland during the dry season, within minutes we saw our first one on the beach. We were then treated to two males at the watering hole soaking up the early morning sun and looking anything but the speedy killers that hunt deer and megapodes. But lightning fast reactions they indeed possess as we witnessed on the island of Rinca (the second of four islands native to the beast) as two young dragons were tearing in to a baby monkey that still wasn’t quite dead and a deer bore the mark of a recent bite to the neck which will lead to its eventual death and a months feast for it’s perpetrator.
Arriving in Labanbajo having eaten rice and vegetables for four days, we alighted our boat with two objectives, a freshwater shower and eat fish. The fish was delicious, the best we’ve had in four months – whole grouper, cooked at a BBQ shack along the quayside and for only £3.50, with rice of course! We had a hectic week ahead of us in Flores, most days would have a 4 – 6 hour bus ride in the morning to ensure we arrive in Maumere at the end of the week in time for our flight. The next morning didn’t quite go according to plan, in spite of getting up to catch the 7 am bus only to find it left at 6 am, never mind there’s always a taxi driver touting for business. Bus journeys aside, Flores has some beautiful scenery, we managed to squeeze in the highlights to our afternoons; spiders web rice terraces, traditional tribal villages and lots of mister mister, selfie selfie!
For those that have been to Southeast Asia before, you’ll know everyone has a scooter (moped) and most tourists use them to get around as well, until Flores we’d steered clear of them having seen tourists with various scooter related injuries. However, my reluctance to walk 3 km with our rucksacks in the midday sun meant we had to take an ojek (scooter taxi), surviving the ordeal uninjured we decided to hire two ojeks for an afternoon to take us to see the traditional tribal village, Bena, near Bajawa. It was a enjoyable ride through the tiny villages, observing the houses and the vegetables they grow, with the children waving and shouting hello mister (too fast for selfie taking now). Bena was a picture postcard village of tribal life as they’ve lived for hundreds of years, if you ignored the satellite dish and laptops, also our first time to experience one of the hundreds of regional languages in Indonesia as some of the villagers only just spoke more Indonesian than us! The highlight was meeting Mr Jakubus, a lovely friendly old man, blinded by cataracts who seems to spend his time playing when the saints go marching in on a woodern flute and after Mike started signing along I wondered if we’d ever get away!
Our final destination was Moni, another hillside village, most of our week in Flores was spent up in the hills and it was lovely and cool, a jumper was needed for the first time in a couple of months and the locals cook on wood fires, which gave the cool air a lovely smell. Moni is the closest village to mount Kelimutu, a volcano with three colour changing crater lakes, most people visit for sunrise but we fancied a lie in and had instructions from a french couple to walk up for free. The lakes were impressive, unfortunately all different shades of green but we put our brains to use to work out what causes them to change from red, green to blue throughout the year. Walking back down we followed the instructions and took the recommended ‘short cut’ or so we thought, firstly it turned into a long cut, then we got lost and finally in the hot afternoon sun ran out of water and despite passing through villages none had a little shack to buy a drink. Getting increasingly thirsty and well off the beaten track for normal tourists, Mike spotted a house with some strips of coffee sachets hanging inside and asked if they had tea. Thankfully they did and two cups of tea, two chairs and table were produced and most of the village sat on the floor watching while we gulped down tea and munched through noodles while attempting to chat to the villagers with their limited English and our few words of Indonesian. Although we were both verging on dehydration and I was pretty grumpy beforehand, I didn’t agree to walk this far… If we hadn’t got lost we wouldn’t have met the lovely people of Volloki and nothing says local community like women with a comb in the top of their hair (although they took them out for the photo).
I think we would have enjoyed Flores more if we didn’t travel across it so quickly, it was a week of twisty turny bus rides full of young men chain smoking cigarettes, although often they made each one last 30 minutes! However, our afternoons of sightseeing and stay in Moni more than compensated for the conditions of the bus journeys. Next island is Java after a brief stop in Bali!