It would seem that there are many of you, family and friends, who are under the impression we are on some sort of glorified extended holiday. We are NOT on a holiday! Riding a bike from London to Sydney is more like unpaid work, really. Expensive unpaid work at that. For example, we are very busy every day with planning routes, finding food and accommodation in strange countries, crossing borders, arranging visas, arranging bike shipping, writing blogs even! Well, ok, perhaps not so busy writing blogs as this one is somewhat overdue. Hmmm, so where were we when I last wrote something? Lombok for my birthday… two months ago.Yes, definitely not so busy writing blogs.
Turning… older (the nice thing about being old is you can forget how old you are)
I would like to say I’d forgotten I was turning 40, but unfortunately Tanja was standing by to remind me ‘ooh look, here where it says age on this form you’ve got to write 40 now’, ‘Brian’s 40, can you believe it?’ and other helpful comments like that. Still, it was quite a lovely birthday, staying in a flash hotel, eating delicious food, lounging around in a
A holidayish sunset
Can't be responsible for the weather!
bathrobe and sipping pina coladas. We even caught a boat out to Gili Air, a small coral island off the coast of Lombok for a swim and a snorkel… ok, thinking about it this may have been a bit like a holiday. However, none of the rest of our trip has been like this! Speaking of flash hotels, I should say a big thank you to the owners and all the lovely staff at the Puncak boutique hotel on Lobmok. It was a wonderful stay!
The next island: Sumbawa
Apparently there’s nice surf on Sumbawa. We don’t know, we didn’t see it. In fact we didn’t see much of Sumbawa, as there didn’t seem to be much to see. As there didn’t seem to be much to see, we rushed through in a day and a half trying to catch the 3pm ferry. We made it to the port town of Sape just in time. Well, just in time to discover that the 3pm ferry wasn’t running. It was parked broken in the harbour. Unhelpfully, no one seemed too sure what time next morning’s ferry was leaving either. We were told 7am, 8am and 9am.
Bike parking on the ferry
I guess the bike was travelling third class, while the vegetables had second class tickets??
Welcome to the world of Indonesian ferries – they get progressively more unpredictable as the island’s population decreases. Somewhat more unhelpfully, Sape is not a place you would choose to spend a night. If you can avoid Sape, do; if you can’t avoid it stay as short a time as possible; if that ‘short time’ turns out to be overnight, don’t expect much! Our hotel was crap. Our dinner was ordinary. We were up at 5:30am to catch the ferry, just in case it left at 7am. The ferry left at 9am.
Flores, dragons and flying water monsters
The next island, Flores, was an altogether much nicer place. The port town of Labuanbajo was quite pretty, there was a delicious Italian restaurant serving pretty good pizzas (when you’ve eaten Nasi Goreng as many times as we had you’re allowed to eat Italian food in Indonesia), but the best thing about Labuanbajo was this is where the boat cruises to see Komodo dragons leave from! Fortunately we’d met a few backpackers on our ferry from Sumbawa to Flores, so we’d all decided to pitch in and go on a boat charter to see the dragons together. Somehow
a one day cruise turned into a two day cruise, and pretty soon we were going to be sharing a small boat deck with four strangers. Our newfound travelling companions were all German, but as our boat lacked sun loungers it didn’t look like being too much of a problem.
The boat cruise turned out to be wonderful! On the first day we went to Rinca island and saw Komodo dragons lounging about the island’s camp kitchen. Apparently they don’t feed them, they just come because of the smell of the food (yeah, right). They are a pretty impressive lizard, particularly when seen up close. Even if they seem to be fattened up on kitchen scraps and are lazing about not doing much. After Rinca it was off to go snorkelling. We had a tasty lunch prepared for us on board (no, not pizza, Indonesian food) and then arrived at a pretty pinkish tinged beach on the edge of Komodo Island. The pink tinge was from the coral washing up, and the snorkelling was pretty damn good! We saw a turtle, more clown fish (Nemos) and many other pretty coloured reef fish …hmmm, alright, alright, a two
day island hopping boat cruise, meals cooked for you, snorkelling and swimming in crystal blue waters under glorious sunshine did rather resemble a holiday. But it’s not all like this!
If the first day was good, the next day was amazing. We started the morning with a walk around Komodo Island, where surprise, surprise there were some fat dragons lounging around the camp kitchen. Our guide on Komodo was a bit more honest though, and said occasionally they throw them some kitchen scraps. On Komodo we even saw a dragon in the wild… which turned out to be lazing around not doing much – it’s a dragon’s life, I guess. However, the best was yet to come. After we left Komodo Island we chugged our way up over some startlingly clear water and shallow coral reefs, spotting a reef shark on the way. Then we were amongst a school(?) of Manta Rays. We had been warned that the currents between the islands are strong, but the boat captain said it was ok to jump in and snorkel and they would pick us up downstream where we’d drift. We jumped in the water and were immediately surrounded
A nice change from bike riding
We are DEFINITELY NOT on holiday, ok.
by Manta Rays. They were HUGE, and they were coming straight at us. Their ‘wing spans’ were at least two metres, their mouths were wide open filtering the plankton, and we were floating straight at them. It was quite scary at first, until you watched them arc and turn, swerving gracefully around you, albeit at the last moment. We must have been amongst at least 50 of them, at times within easy touching distance. They were in front of us, next to us and below us. It was quite simply, amazing! After being picked up we did a second ‘tour’ through the school, pod, gaggle (what do you call a group of Manta Rays??) and then it was back on board to unwind. It was one of those experiences that is so overwhelming that it is only afterwards, when you have time to properly think about what’s just happened, that you appreciate it. One of the highlights of our ‘non-holiday’ so far!
Boat cruise over, it was back on the road to our final Indonesian ferry port… which turned out to be much like Sape; another dump with a different name, Ende. Ferry predictability also continued to
Another day, another Nemo
This one just off the beach on Komodo Island.
decrease, and it seemed no one knew for sure when the ferry to West Timor would leave. Fortunately, having been in touch with other travellers, this lack of any sensible schedule did not come as a surprise. It wasn’t all bad in Ende, though as we caught up with three other bikers there, a German couple (Helmut & Bea) and a sprightly young 60 year old (Paul) who’d also ridden from London… some of it with ‘Damo’ (poor Paul!). So there was a bit of camaraderie, a few beers and Tanja’s birthday to celebrate. As she was only turning an insignificant 31 our budget didn’t allow for flash hotels, which was quite a good thing because there aren’t any flash hotels in Ende! Slightly in contrast to my luxurious birthday Tanja got: a room with a cold bucket shower, a Happy Birthday balloon (which she broke within 5 minutes), a new diary for trip notes, a layer cake out of a plastic package and a tooth achingly sweet vodka drink… ah,‘tis the hard ‘non-holidaying’ life of international motorcycle travel.
After a few days doing not so much in Ende, there being not so much to do, we’d
They were on holiday, we weren't
Surely you can see the difference?
narrowed the ferry departure down to some time Monday morning, possibly early Monday morning. So it was up early again, to catch a boat that unsurprisingly did not leave very early. When it did leave it still had the odd surprise up its sleeve, for our travelling companions on this 17 hour crossing included: two roosters, one duck and a rather unhappy pig. We felt sorry for the pig and fed it some bananas. This seemed to rather cheer up the poor pig, at least for a short while. It also rather cheered up the chuckling locals, who clearly thought it was us and not the pig that was the strange sight on the Ende-Kupang ferry. Somewhat in contrast to European safety standards this all took place on the vehicle deck, where we had set up camp. Although it was a bit hot and noisy, it was actually quite pleasant amongst the bikes, trucks, chain smoking locals (and their menagerie of animals). ‘Safety’ on an Indonesian ferry consists of hoping your rusty boat doesn’t sink. We were even able to cook meals on our petrol stove without anyone batting an eye lid. I have to say, if you think this
bit resembled a holiday, then you must like rather strange holidays!
Timor, East & West
We arrived in Kupang, the capital city of West Timor, at about 3am and followed the Germans to a ‘guest house’ a friend had recommended. Even from the outside it did not resemble any sort of place you could sensibly bring a guest, it also didn’t look much like a ‘house’ any more either; more like something that once used to be a house. Tanja and I decided not to stay. It may not be a holiday, but it didn’t need to be that much of an ordeal! After a few days exploring Kupang (and discovering there’s not much worth exploring) we were issued with our letters of authority to enter East Timor at the land border. So it was back on the bikes and on our way to the penultimate country of our trip.
Our first impressions of East Timor were lovely, the country looked very poor but it was Sunday and everyone was walking along the roads to their local church all dressed up in their Sunday best. The people seemed happy and smiling. Unfortunately these
An unusual sight.
initial impressions didn’t survive the dustbowl that is Dili, the capital city. Dili is a hot, dusty and not particularly attractive town. The local population is poor, the United Nations personnel are not. There is a faint sense of western resentment, as the poor locals watch the huge UN four wheel drives blast up and down the streets. Still, I gather things are better there than they were under Indonesian rule. Unfortunately Dili is also expensive. In Kupang we could eat a meal at a Warung for a ridiculously cheap €0.75 each, whereas in Dili that wouldn’t even cover a packet of noodles from the supermarket! Still, for the first few days we had lots of bike cleaning to do; if Australian Quarantine spot a sniff of a seed, weed, bug or bit of loose soil on your bike then it won’t be leaving the port. We spent a full day cleaning each bike, taking off all the plastic parts and even laying them on their sides so we could get in to odd patches we’d missed. Finally, after the bikes were safely packed away in a shipping container, we did discover one of the ‘delights of Dili’ – snorkelling
over pristine coral just off the backside beach at the north end of Dili. It was the best coral we saw during the whole trip!
Next day it was on a plane to Darwin, destination Australia and almost the end of our trip…
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