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Published: December 15th 2017
Way Of The Dragon
A majestic Komodo dragon on Komodo Island.
So here I was, on the last little leg, the last week of my journey that started just over two years ago as I boarded a flight from Barcelona to São Paulo
. When you're exhausted after so long on the road and you literally can't wait for the end - when the much anticipated relief of getting home overrides the excitement of exploring somewhere new and seeing some amazing sights - this is when you know that it is time to stop. I now just had one week to go.
With my cash budget almost exhausted and my body too, this therefore explains why I had chosen to fly in and out of Flores rather than taking a four-day boat from Lombok or what would have been the longest bus ride of my entire trip.
I was flying with local company Wings Air which had a stupid baggage policy. The flight only came with 10kgs of check-in luggage and since I was carrying almost double that, I had to pay excess baggage at the check-in counter, which involved having to go to a separate counter to pay the requisite fees before queuing up at the check-in counter again to collect your
Sunrise Over Mt Kelimutu
Not a bad place to see the sun rise.
boarding pass. Why not offer an option to pre-buy extra luggage when buying the flight online? The excess baggage fees took yet another chunk of cash out of my remaining cash budget but the overall price of the fare including the excess baggage was still well below the fare offered by the next-cheapest airline. With no person behind the designated counter either, the whole operation seemed to be a bit of a shambles.
I had to fly back to Bali to catch a connecting flight out to Flores but even there, the screens above the gates could be more up to date, especially with multiple flights using the same gates. It left most passengers (me included) wondering whether they were indeed at the right gate; we weren't, so we all had to scramble over to another gate across the other side of the airport. A shambles I tell you!
It is not often you can walk from the airport to your hostel so in an effort to save cash, I took advantage. Stupid mistake. With the way the roads were laid out on Google Maps and from what I saw flying into Labuanbajo, I suspected the terrain was hilly
We got to snorkel up close and personal with these magnificent beasts of the water.
and it was. But when Google Maps tells you there is only 800m of straight-line distance between the hostel and the airport, I felt I just had to take it on.
Arriving at the hostel - which was located at the top of a tall, steep hill - completely drenched in sweat from having to lug myself and all my stuff up to it, I then discover that the hostel has a free shuttle van that could've picked me up from the airport.
"That is it
!" I tell myself. "No more travelling!"
But if your hostel is located at the top of a hill, then chances are there is a decent view from it; and indeed there was. I'll let the picture do the talking but I struggle to recall a more amazing view to literally wake up to than I did here.
Arriving at the hostel a day after me was Kelly, a friend from home.
Kelly is one of the most travelled people I know and we've always talked so much about all the places we have both been to. So in this context, it is perhaps surprising that we've never actually travelled together. Back in
Another Stunning Sunset
Kelly and I enjoyed this amazing sunset in Ende.
2006, Kelly and Corb, another of my friends who has previously appeared in this blog
, travelled across land from Bnagkok to London in what remains one of the greatest adventures anyone I know has ever been on.
Now, Kelly has just done what I did almost three years ago and quit her job in order to travel; she was now on the start of a journey and I was coming to the end of mine. She'd just spent some time travelling in Australia and with Indonesia just next door, she thought that she might as well meet up with me while I was here. I felt it was fitting to spend the last few days of my journey with her; to spend them with someone from home, almost like a way to ease me back to New Zealand and someone who to an extent understood what I have been through and what I was going through as I almost reach the end.
Labuanbajo is the gateway to Komodo National Park - home of the magnificent beasts that are the Komodo dragons - which is what attracts so many tourists here.
We went for a walk around town looking for a good deal for a day tour into the park and
Streets Of Labuanbajo
I was surprised how poor the people here were.
found Labuanbajo to be quite the ramshackle fishing town. As Flores gains popularity you could really see the transition here that is transforming Labuanbajo from a diving and fishing outpost to a centre of tourism. But perhaps what struck me the most was just how poor many of the locals here were; while tourists walk around and hip coffee shops and artisan bakeries spring up, here were locals living out of shacks built on wooden stilts out of rusting corrugated iron, on filthy, littered streets. The waterfront is particularly dirty and could really do with a clean up. Hopefully the boom in tourism will help lift many out of poverty here so that the local children will no longer have to ask foreigners for spare change - but you suspect it won't. The situation is comparable to the poor areas of Vietnam and Laos - and perhaps even India.
As mentioned above, if the name Komodo sounds familiar to you then you have probably heard about the Komodo dragon - giant monitor lizards that can only be found on the nearby islands of Komodo and Rinca. The chance to see these majestic creatures in the only place in the
Me & The Dragon
I pose with a Komodo dragon on Komodo Island. They are actually quite docile though you wouldn't pat one.
world where you can find them, was the whole reason I came out to Flores. Having got up at 4.30am, Kelly and I were now on our way to the see the dragons on a one-day boat trip which included three other stops.
The first stop is the island of Padar where a 20-minute hike up to the island's highest point got you impressive views over the island, the sea and the rest of the archipelago. Most of the islands are pretty dry and barren. It took two hours for our boat to get to Padar and I managed to catch up some sleep on the journey.
Then it was time for the main event - Komodo Island. After paying our entrance fees, we are then led on a one-hour guided walk and it didn't take long for us to come across our first dragon. These magnificent beasts really are huge, up to 3m in length and will eat you if you're not careful. But mostly they just hang around, minding their own business. My photos show you just how close I got to them.
Our walk took us into the dry jungle where we spotted a couple more. They
Close up of a Komodo dragon on Komodo Island.
are literally all over the place - under houses, on the beach and in the shrubs. You really had to keep your eyes peeled as they are really easy to stumble upon and if you're not careful, you could end up as lunch. The guides had sticks to ward them off in case they fancied a bit of human. Apparently, the bite of a Komodo dragon leaves deadly bacteria on its prey and Komodo dragons will apparently wait for their victims to slowly die over a couple of weeks before devouring them. Komodo dragons are also known to eat their young! Surprisingly, there are loads of deer on the island, which are one of the dragons' main source of food. One deer can satisfy a dragon's hunger for a month.
Most of the dragons we encountered were just chilling but some were moving, loping around in their unique, languid style, tongues flicking out every two seconds. Our hour was up pretty quickly and we then had to leave the island - it was pretty cool to see the dragons in the flesh and to be able to get so close to them. You wouldn't pat them though.
A manta ray at Manta Point, one of the stops on our tour to Komodo Island.
stop at Pink Beach (which wasn't really pink) was fairly average - the water was emerald and clear though and there were many colourful fishes and corals in the spot we parked the boat.
The fourth and final stop we made however, was a highlight. Passing by a fantasy-like, sand island, we then got into the cool blue waters to swim with some manta rays! The things were huge! Some manta rays can measure 3m across. They looked like massive, languid sea bats gliding through the water. At times it was a little scary like when one came directly at me in the water, huge mouth wide open. It swam underneath me though and the rays more or less leave you alone. I had loads that snuck up behind me before passing me by. With their long, thin, sharp stings however, you wouldn't wanna touch them unless you want to end up like Steve Irwin. They were amazing though and were possibly more of a highlight than the Komodo dragons! Also, I have to say that buying the clear waterproof pouch I bought in Vang Vieng
is probably the best £1 I've ever spent!
The excitement of the manta rays and
Manta rays can be up to 3m across in width.
the Komodo dragons were almost enough to make the long, gruelling, two-and-a-half hour journey back to Labuanbajo bearable. Almost.
Apart from seeing the Komodo dragons, I hadn't really thought about what else I wanted to do on Flores - I just knew that there were enough things to see over a week on this relatively large island. I had however, overlooked the fact that seeing all the points of interest would involve a one way journey across the island over seven days. Rather than flying out from the other side of the island however, we were flying out of Labuanbajo which left us only four days to see as much as we could on a round trip. Thus the nice, relaxing end that I might've been hoping for to this seemingly endless journey around the world was not going to happen. Instead we had a hectic schedule of early starts and would be staying somewhere different for each of our remaining five nights. OK then, one last push.
It had become clear that I didn't have enough money to get through to the end of the trip and so I decided to to throw the budget into the
Taking local transport in Ende.
wind and started charging whatever I could on my credit card for my last few days. And in Kelly I had a handy cash machine who also topped up my depleting insect repellent, shampoo and toothpaste supplies. Indeed I was running out of everything!
Not keen on dragging my tired body through a ten-hour plus bus journey on board a local rickety bus, we managed to get flights for just £16 each way - only £5 more than the ten-hour bus (which was sold out anyway) - across the island.
Our flight took us to the town of Ende where a scrum of taxi drivers accosted us outside the arrivals hall at the airport a la Bali
. The one we settled on tried to convince us to let him take us to a slew of hotels (to try and run up a bill) to see which one we liked and even tried to get us to go to the village of Moni for IDR400,000. We were far too experienced to fall for those tricks and got him to simply drop us at our guesthouse. And sure enough, we find out that we could get to Moni the next day for just
Streets Of Ende
I found Ende to be surprisingly lively for town of just 60,000.
That evening, we decided to have a quick squiz around Ende and got inside a bemo
to take us to the waterfront. These shared taxis are the Indonesian version of a colectivo
and are ubiquitous here in Ende. It was my first bemo ride in Indonesia and was a good insight into local life.
Tourism has only really started to get big here recently and as such, the locals are still excited and curious to see and meet foreigners. They were very friendly and almost everyone who passed us said hello. I've become cynical of any local who says hi to me - what are they trying to sell me? - but it was clear here that the greetings and well wishes were mostly genuine. Indonesians in general have been much friendlier than I expected.
As for Ende itself, it is rather run-down and a little ramshackle like Labuanbajo, just with seemingly more traffic and more concrete buildings as opposed to wooden shacks. It delivered a cracking sunset on the rather dirty, black sand beach though and we enjoyed it in one of the many beachside cafes where the owners were keen to take their photo with us.
Sari Rasa Restaurant
The best food I've had in Indonesia. Yellow rice, ayam goreng, empal and rawon.
The rest of the waterfront area - which contained the local market - is a rather dirty affair and reminded me of India. Some bits looked like the epitome of ropey.
The highlight of the evening though was Sari Rasa, an unassuming local restaurant recommended by the Lonely Planet. It was spot on. The owner sat us down and explained every item on the short menu written on the wall. While the ayam goreng
with coconut rice and the braised beef rawon
were good, it was the grilled beef and coconut empal
which was the clear winner along with the aloe vera juice which had a generous helping of delicious aloe vera 'jelly' in it. I have to say that it was probably the best meal I have had in Indonesia. Yum!
The next day, Kelly and I caught ojeks
(motorbike taxis) to the bus station from where we would catch a bus to Moni. Like many places, it didn't seem like there was an official public bus but just a whole lot of private ones that went when the bus was full rather than at a specific time. As we sat underneath a bamboo shelter
A friendly farmer with a machete kindly guided us to this 40m waterfall in the countryside near Moni.
for our drivers to fill up the bus, we watched as they tried to rein in any potential customers on ojeks
like cowboys trying to rein in cattle with a lasso. It was rather cool and amusing just to observe local life like this, which is often the most interesting part of travelling. Some banter looked to have got a little out of hand between a couple of drivers but their mates came in to calm things down.
Some of the locals themselves didn't really look like your typical South East Asian with some of them looking like Pacific Islanders in appearance. I think that this contributes to the unique feel I get here in Indonesia - kinda like South East Asia but with a really friendly and laid-back island vibe.
The village of Moni is just a one street village; I was expecting a bit more development but it is extremely quiet. It was really cool to see some real village life though.
Most of this was seen on our walk around the area. We took a short walk to a nearby waterfall before trying to make our way to another even bigger one. The signage isn't really
Mutulo'o Hot Steam Hill
Hot geothermal water leaks out of a hill here resulting in this large deposit of steaming minerals in the Moni countryside.
great, we didn't have a map and we were relying almost solely on some rather vague, verbal directions given to us at the tourist office. We knew we were close and at an unsigned path leading up a hill which looked promising, we came across a friendly farmer who then showed us the way. We walked through the bush and across streams towards the mountains for a good twenty minutes and with the farmer speaking little English and wielding a machete, not quite at the back of my mind was the thought of whether we were being led to our deaths in the middle of an Indonesian forest. We were also thinking that like in similar circumstances that I experienced in Ella
, that we were probably gonna get charged for this guided expedition.
The end result however, was mightily impressive. The Murukeba Waterfall was at least about 40m high and reminded me a lot of the Cascada del Bejuco in Honduras
. He then led us to the Mutulo'o Hot Steam Hill, Moni's answer to Rotorua. Hot spring water bubbles to the surface along the slope of this hill, creating a large, steaming deposit of calcium and sulphur. After all this, the softly-spoken farmer didn't even
Free Public Hot Pool
There are hot pools like this dotted all over the Moni countryside. Locals take advantage by having a hot bath.
ask for any money - in circumstances like this, I thought that we just had to give him something for his time and energy. I liked that he didn't ask us for any money even though he was probably hoping for something; conversely, this made it more likely for me to want to give him something whereas being asked for money - like some kids earlier that day did - tends to put me off.
We stopped by at the free public hot pool of Kolorongo on the way back to Moni, literally a natural hot pool of water in the middle of some rice fields. Some locals were bathing in it and there are apparently quite a lot of springs in the area. There were hardly any tourists around which was nice, as was walking around the countryside that afternoon!
Now having been on the road for over two years now and having been to some of the world's poorest countries, you'd think that I have stayed at some pretty awful accommodation during my time - yes, that is true. Having had to put up with squat toilets, manual flushes and showers right over them in some of
Lakes Atop Mt Kelimutu
The lakes were aquamarine today but can change to red depending on levels of different chemical elements present in the water.
the most basic constructions, I thought that I had already seen the worst accommodation of the entire trip. I was wrong.
The place we stayed at in Moni was recommended in the Lonely Planet but goodness knows how. It didn't have a squat toilet but it did rely on a manual flush; we had hot water but we had to scoop it out of a bucket and splash ourselves with it on the bathroom floor. The room itself was dark, dank and didn't look like it had been cleaned or slept in for months. The sort of room that you just didn't want to hang out in.
Getting to sleep that night, I start to feel itchy on my back, my arms and my face. I was underneath a mosquito net so I knew it couldn't be mosquitoes. I've had this feeling 24 times before in the last two years. It could only be one thing.
But even with all of my bedbug experience, this was one of the worst infestations I have seen; some of them were huge and they were crawling over over the mattress, the pillows, the blanket. Some took a real squeeze to kill and then
Lake Ata Bupu
This lake is a little separated from the other two atop Mt Kelimutu and is usually blue although it was a very dark shade when we were up there.
they would pop, my own blood running down my fingers. There was no way I could continue to sleep on that bed, which now had bloodstains all over the pillow cases from squished bugs. I had to lay down Kelly's spare blanket in the middle of the floor and even then I got a couple of bites. These bugs were f*cking thirsty that night. I got fuck-all sleep. I couldn't believe I had to go through this again
so close to the end.
But luckily I didn't have to endure a whole night in there as we had to get up at 4.30am for the main reason we had come here; to visit Kelimutu National Park.
Atop Mt Kelimutu are three crater lakes that vary in colour depending on the weather and the minerals present in the water. Most people get up there for the sunrise, as did we, taking a ride up to the top by ojek
. Having had literally next to no sleep, I zombied my way to the summit from the parking lot. To be honest, it wasn't a fantastic sunrise as there was a lot of cloud around which hid the sun and any rich
Road With A View
The road down from Mt Kelimutu was quite boring although it did occasionally have some decent views across the countryside like this.
colour that may have resulted from it as it came up. The colours of the lakes were impressive however and locals regard Mt Kelimutu as a sacred place where spirits come to die. But have seen lakes like this before; both here
, so I wasn't overly impressed although in saying that, I was cranky and seething from the bedbug episode just hours earlier.
My mood wasn't helped by missing two turnoffs we should've made on the way back down, meaning our pleasant and interesting 13km hike back to Moni instead became a boring one following the road. Not wanting to take the road all the way back, I decided to try a shortcut going through a village. I knew the path we were on was coming to an end on Google Maps but I tried forcing our way through the bush down to the river. Going down a path that was obviously not a path and fighting our way through sharp bushes and fallen bamboo trees, we got to a plot of rice fields where we were told by locals the way to get back onto the road - which involved crossing a stream. The ridges that
Rice fields in the countryside outside of Moni.
form the boundaries of rice fields are actually quite tricky to navigate and negotiate, as was the crossing of the stream - because there was no bridge for us to cross, just some stones sticking out of the water. Skipping from stone to stone, I managed to miraculously keep my feet dry - Kelly wasn't so lucky. This sweaty, unwanted and unexpected adventure before 9am in the morning had me in a foul mood; once back on the road it seemed to take forever to get back and I just wanted to get the hell out of there.
The bus ride back to Ende wasn't the most comfortable and then we had a hot twenty minute walk in the sun to the guesthouse which also seemed to take forever. I decided there and then that I was officially over it. I hadn't been overly interested for most of Indonesia to be completely honest - I just wanted to go home.
I did like Ende though; you really got to see authentic local life and there were almost zero tourists around. I loved the feeling that I really was off the beaten tourist path here. I was surprised by the
Small but picturesque waterfall just down the road from Moni village.
amount of churches and Christians in Ende - perhaps a legacy of Portuguese colonisation. We went down to Ende's pasar
the evening before flying back to Labuanbajo; it wasn't too interesting. The city however is surprisingly bustling and there is always traffic.
We had one last meal at Sari Rasa - curry and mie ayam
. Amazing. I finished off with some pisang goreng
(fried bananas) from a street vendor, of course - they're one of my absolute favourites things in the world to eat so I had to make the most of the opportunity to eat them while I could!
Overall, I thought Flores and Ende felt like India, Malaysia and El Salvador
put together; a lovely mix of bustle, delicious food, wonderful jungle landscapes and colourful buildings. Although not by much, Flores has a distinct culture that is different to both Bali and Lombok. The cultural diversity among Indonesia's 17,000 islands must be vast - it must be fascinating.
We had an early morning flight out of Ende to Labuanbajo and I was glad to just lie the day away back at the hostel once we flew in. However, having thought I had finally done all the hard work
View From My Hostel Bed
Quite possibly the best view I've ever woken up to.
and had all the bad experiences, the airport shuttle from the hostel then failed to pick us up, we mistakenly got into another shuttle that dropped us off in town, which then meant that we another hard, sweaty slog up the hill to the hostel. FFS! Just. Two. More. Days.
Despite my exhaustion, I probably wouldn't change much of what we did for our week on Flores. While just sitting around near a pool somewhere for the last few days of a two year trip around the world would have been nice (and way more expensive), it also felt fitting that I should try and fit in as much as I could in the remaining time that I had. This whole trip has been about seeking out authenticity, great sights and culture; it is what I have always wanted to do on this trip and is what I have always done on this journey. It was great hanging out with Kelly too - we both love food and are well travelled, and it was nice not having to explain many of the things that I was talking about since she has probably eaten that dish or been to that place
Island we stopped at on our tour to Komodo Island which had a decent view at the top of it.
too. We have a lot in common and it was nice to have her company for the end of days.
As I put my camera away for the last time that night, having tried to photograph one last sunset, it then hit home when I realised that I may have taken my last picture of the entire trip.
With just two more days left after more than two years on the road, I am feeling so excited about finally going home. But perhaps the overwhelming feeling is one of relief; all the inconveniences of being on the road have gotten pretty old now, which is perhaps why I was so pissed off with the hardships of the last two days. I feel no desire whatsoever to extend the trip or to visit any more places; instead, I am excited about going to places I am totally familiar with, where I know everything inside-out; to not have to think about where to go, how to get there, where to stay and making sure that everything is within budget.; to no longer have to think about sightseeing, doing activities and the accompanying pressure of making the most of my time in
I got to snorkel with these colourful fish at Pink Beach, one of the stops on our Komodo Island tour.
a place; to not have to think about the photos I want and what to write in my blog entries, to not dealing with mosquitoes and bedbugs (please...no more bedbugs...please). But most of all, I am looking forward to simply not moving and having to drag my luggage with me. To waking up when I want, to not having any plans for a day, to watching YouTube videos, to watching sport, to having clean bathrooms with dry floors, to not sweating, to speaking English and being fully understood by everyone.
But of course I will miss meeting people and making friends for life in other countries; the amazing, famous and iconic sights I saw; the feel of being somewhere completely different; the exciting adventures I had; the fun interactions with locals, the sampling of amazing, exotic food. I will miss all these things - but not right now.
I will write up my feelings and sum up what can only be described as an incredible trip - a lifestyle - of a lifetime in the next couple of blog entries, where I will reflect on what I have learnt and got out of the trip, everything that I
Slip Of The Tongue
Apparently Komodo dragons use their tongue to smell in order to make up for poor hearing and eyesight.
have seen and experienced. But not right now. Right now, it's time to go home.
Sampai jumpa lagi!
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