It’s Not Always Easy Getting to Where You’re Going. . . But It’s Always Worth the Effort

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February 23rd 2018
Published: February 23rd 2018
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It‘s Not Always Easy Getting To Where You’re Going . . .

I have alluded to the fact that travel is a commitment fueled by passion: by a desire to experience; to discover; to learn; to grow. I have also mentioned several times in various blog entries that travel is not always easy, as evidenced again by our recent excursion to Labuan Bajo, on the Indonesian island province of Flores.

Our journey begins at 7 a.m. on the island of Gili Trawangan, Lombok. Our scheduled itinerary will have us being transported by water taxi for fifteen minutes to mainland Lombok, where we will pick up another taxi that will deliver us to the airport in Mataram an hour and a half later. From there, we will fly to Denpasar, Bali, where we will pick up another flight to Labuan Bajo, Flores. According to our scheduled itinerary, we will arrive in Labuan Bajo at 15:15 that afternoon. So, considering we will have been up by at least 6 a.m. that morning, that will make for a little over nine hours in transit, involving four different transport changes. A long day, but hey, very do-able and not even bad considering we are island hopping.

But schedules and itineraries are guidelines that hopefully ring true, and when they do, it’s delightful. But we are in Indonesia, which by definition means we must be “flexible”, as the Indonesians would say. So here is the real story of how the journey unfolded:

Our first two connections are precisely on time, traffic is light early in the day, and we arrive at the airport two and a half hours before our 11:35 flight. Perfect! Except the 11:35 flight is over two hours late. We finally leave Mataram, Lombok, at around 13:35. Our connecting flight in Denpasar, Bali, is scheduled to begin boarding at 13:50, and we have a 90 minute flight route to get there.

No problem, we are told, as the connecting flight will wait for us, which it does. We arrive Denpasar around 15:00, and by 15:30 we are boarded on our next and final flight of the journey which will take us to Labuan Bajo. Its also a 90 minute flight, so we will arrive by 17:00. Only an hour and a half late, so not bad.

But here the real fun begins. We don’t leave the tarmac for another 30 minutes, waiting for the weather to improve. It is the rainy season, and the rain is heavy. We eventually take off, and fly with few issues for the next 90 minutes to Labuan Bajo.

Then the pilot comes on the intercom: “We are sorry, but due to the weather we cannot land in Labuan Bajo at this time. We shall continue to circle the area until the weather improves.“ We circle above Labuan Bajo for thirty minutes, until a second announcement comes from the pilot:

“We are sorry, but the weather has not improved and we cannot land at this time in Labuan Bajo. We are returning to Denpasar, Bali.” It is now close to 18:00. The return flight to Denpasar is another 90 minutes. We arrive back safely at the Denpasar airport at around 19:30, pick up our bags, find out the scheduled “make-up” flight is early the next morning, then depart the airport by 20:00. Traffic is heavy that evening due to the Chinese New Year holiday influx of visitors in effect, so the normally twenty minute taxi to our hotel is an hour and a half long journey. We arrive by 21:30. We have been up and in transit for almost 16 hours, and have yet to go out and find a place to eat supper.

Our next day begins at 4 a.m. Taxi picks us up at 5, and gets us to the airport by 5:30, with sufficient time to check in for our 7 a.m. flight. Weather today is beautifully warm, calm, and blessed with sunshine. We arrive Labuan Bajo safely and on schedule, at 8:30 a.m.

Total time in transit from Gili Trawangan, Lombok to Labuan Bajo, Flores: twenty one hours. TWENTY ONE HOURS! Triple the original scheduled transit time, which puts flexible scheduling at a whole new level. Of course we are tired - exhausted, actually. Of course we are disappointed when we can not land in Labuan Bajo on the first day of travel. Everyone on the flight is disappointed. But one thing that is quite remarkable is that - when we finally land in Denpasar after over four hours of flying on what was supposed to be a 90 minute flight - people on the flight are laughing. Making jokes. There is no visible evidence of anger. No one complaining or demanding anything. I am not sure that would be the situation with a similar flight scenario in the western world, but it is definitely another reason why we return to this part of the world every year. We return to experience first hand this positive energy, in spite of delays, frustrations, problems, challenges, and we try and incorporate it into our way of being.

My Bahasa Indonesian language teacher Putu sums up the unusual flight experience simply and beautifully: “The island wants you to slow down.” Well, I also want to slow down, so it seems the universe is helping me with that. Thank you my friend PutU for sharing your always deep and philosophical insights. Terimakasih banyak temain saya.

. . . But It’s Always Worth It The Effort

Labuan Bajo is a small town located at the western end of the province of Flores. It is the stepping off point to the Komodo and Rinca islands, where visitors travel world wide to get up close (but not too close) to the Komodo dragons, which I believe are found nowhere else on the planet. It is also the departure point to the 1,733 square kilometre Komodo Marine Park. The park includes the three larger islands of Komodo, Rinca, and Padar, and 26 smaller ones, as well as 1,103 square kilometres of water so abundantly rich with stellar marine diversity that serious scuba divers from all around the planet journey to dive here.

We do a little of each. Our first excursion involves a three hour round trip journey to Rinca island to introduce Stan’s sister Anna, who is visiting Indonesia for the first time, to the Komodo Dragons. We travel by local boat, arranged and accompanied by our friend and travel agent from Flores, Roberto Duad ( whom we met on our very first trip to see the Komodo dragons in 2014. His beautiful young wife Angelchea, and their two small children, also join us. It is a lovely family holiday experience for all of us, which includes an excellent five course Indonesian meal prepared on the boat. It also includes watching the quick and adept preparation by the boat crew for heavy rain, followed by an adventurous boat ride through Flores’ turbulent currents en route back to Labuan Bajo. And yes, Anna does have the opportunity to get up close to the Komodo dragons.

The second excursion involves only me, as I am the only one up for a dive experience given the shortened time for this trip. I can only do two dives, as we are flying out early the next day and a third dive will be cutting it too close to the safe no fly time after diving, putting myself at risk of decompression sickness. I am not willing to take that risk. As it turns out, both dives are very demanding, so I am quite content to lay on the top of the boat and rest in the sun while the others complete their third dive.

The Komodo Marine Park is renowned for its species of big fish - including the giant manta rays whose average width across is about 18 feet, although they can grow to up to 23 feet - as well as its incredibly abundant marine diversity, in large part due to the strong currents in its seas. This makes for challenging diving. My first dive is along a narrow island rock wall surrounded on both sides by currents that can quickly take you far out to sea; while staying along the middle of the island but drifting too far away from the wall, can have you caught in a down current that will pull you far to the depths of the ocean. Such is the Dive Master’s introduction to Batau Balong, Komodo Marine Park - deemed by Lonely Planet to be one of the ten best dive sites in the world. Needless to say, we are all pretty motivated to stay damn close to the dive instructor. I am on him like a fly on you-know-what. 😬 It is a beautiful forty minute dive, the highlight of which, for me, is seeing three large sharks circling repeatedly in one cove along the wall. They must each be over twelve feet long, although I hardly have my measuring tape out. In previous dives I have seen single sharks pass by, but never so many actively hunting together for several minutes.

My second dive is also a return to a site I had visited on our last dive trip to the park in 2016 - Manta Point - a cleaning station for the giant manta rays. On our last dive here, we were the only divers at the site, and we encountered four manta rays who were very curious about us - so curious that they swam right up to within two feet of us before turning away. They did this several times over a period of about fifteen minutes. It was incredible. Beyond words touching.

On this dive I see three manta rays passing by before we arrive at the cleaning station, where we stop for another fifteen minutes to watch two massive manta rays gracefully hovering just a few feet away from us. One of them is a rather rare black manta ray, which I have not seen before. His mate is the more common charcoal and white. They unfortunately do not greet us - perhaps because there have already been several other divers at the site when we arrive - but nonetheless it is spectacular just to stay and observe their eloquent angelic movements.

In order to avoid leaving the impression that this is an easy, laid back dive, I must clarify one point about the dive site. It may have been easy for the massive 1,000 kg manta rays, who love these strong currents, but for the four us and our dive master, it is a matter of finding some way to anchor our little bodies to the reef so we will not be taken away with the current. I have a pointing rod that I dig several inches into the ground and hang on to. The others find rocks to cling to. For the fifteen minutes we remain there, we are urgently clutching and continuously paddling against the current simply to stay in one place. Drift dives are typically fast, relatively effortless, and very exciting when you weightlessly drift with the current through a world of magnificent scenery. This is not the case when you are fighting against the current, but it is exactly what you must do if you want to get up close and personal with the giant, relatively stationary manta rays, while they enjoying a body cleaning by a small army of little fishes.

It‘s not always easy diving, but its a very, very worthwhile experience. And so it is with travel.

We look forward to more diving adventures later this spring, before we return home to Canada, but now we will be spending the next few weeks in our “home away from home” in Ubud, Bali. After moving, with all our heavy gear, to seven different locations, in two countries, over the past eight weeks, it will be a welcome change to stay in one place for a little while, unpack the bags, and just enjoy the beauty and the many diverse cultural experiences that will soon present themselves.

Thank you for your interest in our travels.

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23rd February 2018

send money and I'll join you guys stan looks like he's lost some weight way to go buddy
24th February 2018

It’s Not Always Easy To Get Where You’re Going . . . But Its Always Worth the Effort
Hi Jim! Thanks for leaving a comment. Yes, Stan has lost some weight and is looking and feeling good. Its the magic of being here, not to mention studying yoga for six hours a day, six days a week, for the first month. And he is continuing his practice. I am very proud of him. The trip has been great, for which we are very grateful. Hope all is well with you. And no, don’t be holding your breath for that money transfer :) Take care.

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