Published: April 13th 2010April 1st 2010
We bought our tickets in Padang Bai and said fairwell to Bali again as we set off towards Lombok. Other intention was to try to get to Flores - several islands further east - in order to visit Komodo National Park and see some Komodo Dragons in the wild, but the hassle of getting there was very off putting. We'd decided to go to the main bus station on Lombok to see how easy it would be to get tickets are far east as possible but if it was going to be too much grief, we'd skip the whole thing and perhaps climb another volcano.
The five hour ferry journey passed pretty slowly and was uneventful except for seeing a lone dolphin swimming and jumping in the water about half way through. Of course, the views of Bali are even more spectacular as you get away from the shore a you can see the higher mountains and volcanoes that are further inland.
The weather over Lombok was very stormy as we pulled into the port with impressive thunderstorms covering every inch of the sky. Getting off the ferry we hoped to get a bemo (small local minivan thing) to
the bus station and began the usual battle of bargaining for fares. The guide book warned that these drivers were pretty aggressive in their bargaining, but another view would be that they're just dickheads trying to rip off tourists. In the end, we refused to pay the extortionate amount they wanted when the locals were paying a fraction of the price.
During all of this, there was another guy trying to sell us a combined ticket to Flores and in the end despite my usual hesitation about buying combined tickets and against my better judgement, we agreed to it at a reasonable price on the basis we wouldn't be paying until we'd reached the bus station and were on the bus. The last bus was leaving at 3pm - in 40 minutes time - so we had a speedy ride in a minivan through the rain to Mandalika bus terminal and were handed over to 'the boss' who'd sort out the tickets.
We got on the bus and paid, with some added pressure to buy returns tickets but we plainly refused citing that we didn't have enough cash (which was true). He was keen to get a sale
and offered to take me to an ATM which I accepted as we had no idea whether or not there would be ATMs in Labuhan Bajo, the port town in Flores where we were headed. I didn't realise that it would involve a speedy motorbike ride in the rain with no helmet, but I didn't have much of a choice by that point so just went with it. I got the cash okay so we wouldn't starve quite yet but still unconvinced by the guy's story about return tickets, just had to flat out say no. He wasn't too happy but we parted amicably by giving him 5000 rupiah (40p) for the motorbike trip and departed on our way east, once again being the only westerners on the bus.
It was a two hour ride across Lombok stopping at many points along the way to pick up packages that were crammed into the bus luggage compartments. This is common over here as the bus operators also act as a delivery service and its normally fine although on this occasion, they decided to take our bags out an put them on the back seats to make more room for parcels.
Its really unnerving when people start messing with your bag, especially when its not in your sight so we didn't relax for much of the trip. The bus drove onto a ferry on the other side of Lombok which set sail for Sumbawa.
Sumbawa is a long island with one windy, potholed road running from west to east and is a place where tourists don't venture. It is strictly Muslim and the towns have little of interest so it made us feel like we were probably the only westerners on the entire island. We stopped for a dinner/snack which was included in the cost of the bus ticket and were pleased to see that it wasn't brain curry this time (although what it was exactly, I couldn't tell).
Problems started when we reached Bima - a town on Sumbawa towards the west coast, but still two hours away from the port. It was 4am and we hadn't got much sleep on the bus because of the state of the roads. We found out that the bus wasn't going any further and we'd have to change on to another bus for the final trip to the ferry port at
Sape, so grabbed our bags and stumbled on. When we reached the port, in the blink of an eye the bus driver took our ticket, tore it in half and jumped on the bus and set off leaving us on with no ferry tickets.
We tried to get on the ferry with our torn ticket but the security guards weren't having it. We were shattered and were now without ferry tickets - the ferry only running once a day. Very frustrated, we managed to convey what had happened and asked for their help. One of them set off on a motorbike and fetched back the guy from the bus who had the other half of our ticket and told him he shouldn't have torn the ticket and he had to buy us ferry tickets and claim it back from the other bus company. He wasn't please with this, fuming and trying to pretend that he didn't have any money to get out of this. I guess the ferry guys didn't buy this and they sent him to get the tickets, and sure enough he came back with two - handing them to us angrily and running off in a
sulk. All the ferry guys had a laugh at him and told us not to worry, which actually cheered us up a bit and we were still amazed that we'd got the tickets we were owed after fully expecting to be stranded on the jetty. The moral here: beware of combined tickets in Indonesia. In Thailand and even Vietnam, things run smoothly with minimal fuss but here people are simply not organised enough for it to work.
We hurried onto the ferry which was scheduled to leave in half an hour but in our haste we neglected to notice the slope of the ramp and its slippery state, meaning Warren took a tumble onto the hard metal surface under the weight of bags - ouch! (the bruising is still evident 2 weeks later...) Safely on the top seating deck we selected 2 reclining seats in the supposed a/c room where we attempted to doze, catching up on some stolen sleep. A couple of hours here was enough: the a/c was a myth and the place was stifling, so we decided to relocate to the outside deck where a breeze may be more forthcoming. The remaining time (4
or so hours - the trip was 7 or so long in total) was passed in relative peace, as long as you do not count the silly pointing and staring by adolescent Indonesian boys - honestly! The scenery was also notable at times, with majestic volcanoes and barren islands appearing along the way.
Our arrival at the port was a very much welcomed as by this stage we were very tired and looking forward to finding a place to stay and resting a little. The town is situated along a rather dusty street that runs parallel with the coast (although no beach exists - all jetty) that is lined with rather tatty looking shops, although at the port end this is a little more aesthetically pleasing with more modern fronts to restaurants and dive shops. We dragged ourselves past these sights (rather reminiscent of India...) to our first choice of accommodation and were shocked to find that prices had more than doubled! We had seen this before on Bali, but did not expect it here as it was so far flung - our mistake. The same story as to be found at two other places, and when we did
find a 'cheap' hotel we had a cursory look before deciding that I would not wish it on my worst student.
Eventually, after traipsing nearly to the far end of town, we located a reasonable room that even offered us boat hire for the next day at a cheaper rate than we were prepared to pay (although we did spend some time seeing if we could beat it - no joy). Dinner was also very appreciated after our strange eating patterns of the past day and a half and consequently, after one of the most taxing journeys we had made, we fell into bed happy and hoping for sleep to swiftly find us.
The next morning we were up for 7am (amazing, considering how much sleep we had to make up) and after a greasy banana pancake and coffee we were introduced to our captain for the day. A walk to the boat followed (the back way of course, through alleys and across rocks in the marina) and as we got comfortable on the benches as the only tourists on our boat we cast off, the captain's 8yr old son giving a helping hand - a very cute
It was a relaxing 2 hours spent reclining on deck, passing close to the shore of Flores until turning off for Rinca (pronounced rin-cha) - our destination for the morning. Although the island of Komodo lends its name to the infamous 'dragons', the creatures actually live in several areas, mainly Komodo, Rinca, a couple of neighbouring small islands and the north of Flores. As Rinca is closer to the main port town it is fast becoming a popular alternative to travelling the long distance to Komodo, offering the same (if not increased) chance of spotting a lizard or two.
As we pulled into the small landing area it was clear that although it was set up for tourists, the jetty would not be able to accommodate more than 4 or 5 small fishing boats like ours. What do they do in the busy season?! Regardless of this we ventured onto the mainland, passing several sleeping dragons positioned (slightly unnervingly) only a few metres from where we were walking. The thing with Komodo dragons is that, despite their docile appearance (they spend much of the day just lazing in the shade with only a few hours 'active both
morning and evening) they can move up to 18mph when they want to and react VERY quickly. They eat water buffalo - among other things - so are not adverse to taking a bit out of things bigger than themselves: this has included humans in the past. An amazing yet scary creature!
The path to the visitor centre was dry but thankfully short, and our captain led the way with a 'poky stick' that had a 'v' shaped end to keep off any curious critters....it didn't get used. After paying a small fortune over to the park authorities we were handed over to a guide who would be taking us for an hour ramble through the land in search of dragons. We soon found out he was a relative novice, something that would have worried us if it were not for the fact that the 'path' was obviously well worn and any threat would be clearly seen.
To be honest the trek, though unveiling some great plants and Komodo dens, was a little disappointing. We did not see any dragons roaming around but that was mainly due to us visiting at their 'dozing' time when they all hide
in the shade. However, we did see many nearer the worker's compound. They are attracted to the kitchen especially and, despite never being fed by the park employees, dragons flock to the place - just in case. Under the buildings (some 5ft off the ground) were at least 10 dragons of both genders, ranging from 1-2 and a half metres in length. The males are bigger than the females and outnumber them over 3-1: not good for breeding! Their scaly looking bodied are long in comparison to their rather stuby legs, but their claws are something to be reckoned with...
We spent maybe half an hour wandering around taking photos of them, with the highlight being our intrepid leader who decided to go over and poke a large male to make it move for us! Rather cruelly at times, he jabbed it in the side and grabbed its tail - I did rather fear for his life. Watch the video! They truly do move speedily.
Once we had seen enough we made our own way back to the boat (apparently no escort is needed on the return) and then onward to our snorkeling spot for an afternoon dip.
This happened to be a beautiful small island with a strip of white sand that rivalled any we had been on previously, with promised underwater sights off to one side. After a fun anchoring on the beach - very strong currents - we set off. The snorkeling was a little poor but relaxing on the beach was fantastic - very peaceful and idyllic. I collected a few shells, Warren went for a last snorkel (and typically found good spot) then we headed back to the 'main land'. The journey was rather bumpy to say the least with the boat rolling around and making me feel a little uneasy (not sick though, thankfully): Warren loved it.
That evening we tried desperately to organise some diving for Warren. The coral around the islands this far East is in fantastic condition due to few visitors and it now being protected by national park and promises some of the best diving around. Alas, as all the dive shops requite two divers for a trip - and so few people travel this far at this time of year - no-one could take him. So, a little disappointedly, we decided that the next day we would
make the return trip to Lombok with the aim of heading to the Gilis - small islands to the north west of the aforementioned island.
After a decent night's sleep (for which we were grateful considering the huge journey we were about to face in such close succession to the first) we made our way to the port in order to catch the ferry to Sumbawa. In light of our experience on the way out to Flores, we had opted to do at least the leg of the journey to Bima on our own; something which turned out to our favour. The ferry ride went well - a little long and at times uncomfortable - but uneventful. We were met at the destination port by a tout who promised us a bus to Lombok for 150,000rp (just under £11) so we caught a local bus to Bima and bought the ticket, catching a quick dinner before embarking on the last section of the journey.
Sleeping though some of the ride was achieved, but as before the shunting of the bus made consistent sleep impossible. Arriving at the bus terminal mid morning was a blessing and we organised transport
- not without issue (as was now expected in Indonesia) - to Sengigi, Lombok's tourist beach destination and the gateway to the Gilis.
There are more photos below