From Makassar to Labuan bajo (Flores)

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April 11th 2013
Published: April 13th 2013
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The Pondok Suada Indah Hotel in Makassar has become our basecamp more or less. They begin to know us. 'Hey Linda, hey Andre, back again?', says the man at the reception. We like it here and also the Galeal foodcourt around the corner and the terraces at the Jalan Penghibur along the sea. Fort Rotterdam with its old Dutch colonial buildings gives us even a feeling of home. 'The governor came from Rotterdam; that is why it is called Fort Rotterdam', tells our guide. His name is Matthew van der Sar and I see some Dutch traits in his face. He tells that the fort was the administrational center for East Indonesia. 'The spices came in here and were stocked before they went oversea to Holland.' He is talking so much, that I hardly can follow it anymore. About the first sultan, about the name Makassar, which means seaturtle, about the Indonesians who traded with the aboriginals in Australia long before Cook discovered the continent and so on and so on. After an hour we decide to go on on our own. We visit the museum, which displays the history of Sulawesi from the time of the stoneage till now. Everything is well maintained. There are even captions in English. But the letters are so small, that I cannot read them.

Next day we make a trip to the caves at Gua Leang Leang. Our driver/guide is called Amir. It is a nice man, though he has his own agenda as we will find out later. The scenery is amazing with its forested Karstformations protruding out of horizontal ricepaddies. At the entrance with its dramatic stalagmites and stalagtites are handprints and drawings of deer and pigs on the walls. 'The drawings are 5000 years old', tells Amir. At one of the entrances we find rests of seashells. 'They ate the snails and the rests they threw away', says Amir. We look around and see only mountains and ricepaddies. Where was this sea?, we wonder.

Afterwards we drive to Bantimurung. There are big waterfalls and nature is beautiful, though in weekends it seems to be overcrowded by people from Makassar. At the entrance is a gigantic statue of a butterfly. Since the reknown naturalist Alfred Wallace explored this area 150 years ago it is famous for its butterflies. We see indeed some beautiful specimens, but most butterflies we see are displayed in the showcases of the stallions near the entrance. There are even T-shirts with butterflies. We do not buy anything. The T-shirts are too small and we cannot agree that butterflies are killed to put them in showcases for tourists. Amir thanks us for not buying them.

The day after Amir takes us to Malino, a little mountainvillage, about 75 kilometer from Makassar. It will take only 2 hours, told Amir, but it became 4 hours. When we arrive we are welcomed by the manager of the secondary school. They had made a big lunch for us. Amir had told us they desperately need teachers English. We meet two local teachers Dhian and Ahmad. Dhian is not only teaching English, but also biology. She shows me their book. There is a lot of text and only a few little greyish pictures, like one of a giraffe and one of the meiosis of the cell, so that the chromosomes are visible. She finds it difficult. She hardly understands it herself, she says, specially genetics. When we enter the classroom about 40 pupils are sitting silently on their chairs, the boys at the left hand side, the girls right. 'Helly boys and girls', I say enthusiastically. No reaction. 'How are you today?', I try again. Again no reaction. 'Maybe, you can introduce yourself', says Dhian. I tell them who I am, where I live and so on. Then I ask: 'Can you follow me?' 40 pairs of eyes are staring at me. 'Raise your hands when you understand what I am talking about.' Nothing happens. 'Well guys, thank you very much, we have to go again. Bye!' But then Dhian asks if they may take some pictures. 'Of course', I say, and suddenly everything is in a mess. The kids jump from their seats and surround us as close as possible and from out of the blue they have mobiles to take pictures with, while giggling and laughing and making joy...and I...I am moved. 'What do you think?', Amir will ask me later. 'Is it something for you?' I think of the isolated spot, the small simple room in the house of the manager. How can I survive here? 'I find it difficult', I confess, 'but I also find, that these kids should have a proper education.' I promise him to do my best to find a solution. If anyone reading this, has an idea, please

They blew blood over their hands to make a print.
contact me. They need 5 teachers English. Food and housing are free.


We are astonished when we enter our hut of the Pelni ship heading to Labuan bajo (Flores): two beds with bedlamps, a writing desk, a tv, a big cupboard and an own toilet and shower. And all meals (and they are fine) are free. I even got discount, because I am 65. There are restaurants, a pub, a mosque, a toko and even a cinema. A lot of people are aboard and it seems that everyone likes to talk with us since we are the only foreigners. Sometimes someone stands suddenly next to us while his/her partner takes a picture. I guess they show it at home or to their friends or colleagues: 'these are good friends of us; we have met them on the boat'.

When we arrive next morning at 6 at Labuan bajo we see a jawdropping bay with beautiful schooners, surrounded by mountains as if we arrive at a Mediterranean village. And indeed once ashore we see numerous Italian restaurants. Why to create a Italian atmosphere?, I ask myself. I rather like to be in Indonesia. Everywhere are diveshops and every travelagency likes to take you
The entrance of BantimurungThe entrance of BantimurungThe entrance of Bantimurung

Alfred Wallace collected butterflies at this spot.
to the Komodo Natural Park. Suddenly we are not gaped at; here are so many foreigners, that everyone, even the toddlers, are accustomed to them. We have a fine hotel on top of the hill. Though it is called 'Chez Felix' it is very Indonesian. All family helps, from the owner and his wife down to their grandkids.


Next day we chartered a boat to make a trip to Rinca Island. It takes 2 hours and it is wonderful. Everywhere are little islands, sometimes as small as some stones, volcanic outcrops in a blue sea. Around the bigger islands are mangroves, but higher up it is empty with only savanna, as if it is the bald head of a monk. There are only some gigantic Lontarpalms (Borassus sylvestris or B. sundaicus). 'They make arak, palmwine and palmsugar of it', says Aji, who guides us around on the Island. 'The Dutch made paper of it to write upon', he continues, 'and the local fishermen used it as paper for their cigarettes, because it is waterproof.' Now we see also other trees like a lindenspecies, tamarinde and casanti. 'No sandalwood here?', I ask. 'No those are near Kuping in Timor', says Aji. And
The school in MalinoThe school in MalinoThe school in Malino

They are desperately looking for teachers English.
then suddenly in between the trees we see the monsters: komododragons. They are about 2 to 3 meters long. The only weapon Aji has is a stick with 3 points. 'Last week one of our rangers was attacked', he warns. The whitish tongue slips every now and then out of their mouth. Like snakes they have an Organ of Jacobson in their nose. The tongue touches the organ, so that he can smell. They move around like Sumo wrestlers, because their upperarm stands out. The Komododragon is a real killing machine. They kill big preys like deer and waterbuffaloos, the males kill each other and the youngs, the youngs kill eachother, actually everyone kills everyone. Still the population is growing. On Rinca in 1985 600 specimens were counted, now there are 2342. On Komodo Island are 2865 dragons and then there are a few on Padar Island and Motang Island and on Flores itself. Why they are only here and not elsewhere is not known. 'Maybe because the circumstances are favourable', says Aji. He tells about a legend, in which a princess gave birth to a twin. One of the two was a normal boy, the other an egg. She brought the egg to the forest and saw a lizard coming out. Since then it was forbidden to kill them.

'They were discovered in 1911 by a Dutchman, called van Hensbrack, when he shipwrecked here', tells Aji. 'In 1912 Peter Ouwens, curator of the Zoological Museum of Bogor (Java) described them.' Meanwhile we are walking over the Island. It is bloody hot at the savanna, so we stay close to the trees near the coast.

After Rinca we went to another island to snorkel. It was very welcome after such a warm day. The coralreef with all its fishes was amazing. Linda saw even some sharks.

Back home

We planned to do more on Flores, like the caves at Ruteng, to see where Homo floriensis was found some years ago. But Linda does not feel well. That is why we decide to take it easy.

After some days we fly back. From the plane we see the Islands of Nusa Tenggara. After Flores comes Sumbawa and then Lombok. They look empty, dry and without forest. It is because the rainy season is very short at the east side of the archipelago, so that trees cannot grow here anymore. We pass the famous Wallaceline between Lombok and Bali. West of this line (Bali, Kalimantan, Java, Sumatra) the fauna differs completely from the East (Lombok, Sumbawa, Sumba, Flores, Timor, Sulawesi, Papua). A difference as great as between South America and Africa or North America and Europa, as Wallace said. But there is no Atlantic Ocean here, which can serve as a natural barrier. The gap between Bali and Lombok is only small. According to Wallace sealevel was low during the iceage and animals could easily migrate throughout the islands of the Malay archipelago. But not between Bali and Lombok or between Kalimantan and Sulawesi, he said. The waters were too deep there. When we fly over the gap between Lombok and Bali we get the impression the sea is deep indeed. But will it suffice to explain the difference in fauna? Is not it rather the difference in habitat due to a difference in rainfall? The island west of the line are far more forested, while the east bears savanna's.

When we fly over Bali things become differently. No forests though, but villages. Bali is clearly overcrowded. When we arrive at the airport we are suddenly surrounded by hordes of tourists as if we arrive at the Torremolinos of the Far East. Till now tourists were scarce. Often we were the only ones. The Wallaceline was supposed to indicate two different faunas but it has become the watershed between two different worlds of tourism instead.

We did not stay in Bali but flew back to Makassar, where we stayed one night in our favorite Pondok Suada Indah Hotel. Next day we flew to Kuala Lumpur. The same day we flew to Bangkok. One day later we were back in Hua Hin (Thailand) again.

Additional photos below
Photos: 30, Displayed: 29


13th April 2013

Trošku ma uspokojuje, že Andrému deti nerozumeli aspoň nie som sám:)Nech si z toho nič nerobí a popracuje na svojej angličtine,škoda že som tam nebol s Vami mne by deti stopercentne rozumeli.Ten jašter je úžastný.Ja by som sa na Vašom mieste pokúsil nájsť vajce a odniespl by som si ho do Hua him a tam by som ho skrotil a hral sa s ním.
16th April 2013

Leuk verhaal weer. Lijkt me een hele aparte wereld daar. Over die die Komodo-dragons: Kon je niet wat dichter in de buurt komen voor een foto? haha
17th April 2013

komodo dragons
Ja, ik zei nog tegen Linda, dat ze iets dichter bij ze moest komen, zodat ze ook een foto van het inwendige kon nemen.
11th April 2014

In need for some help for Indonesia...
Dear sir, I'm really enjoying readering your blog about Indonesia. I will go there as well, so your information is very usefull. I have a question.... How did you catch the pelniboat from makassar to labuanbajo? I cant find any actual information of that boat!!! I hope you can help me out. Do you also know how many times that boat is going? Thanks a lot in advance, kind regards, Heidi (you can reply on my mail:

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