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Published: January 22nd 2019
Dusk at Kuta Beach
What's the superlative of beautiful? Extremely beautiful? Extraordinarily beautiful? Awe-inspiringly beautiful? What if none of these fits the bill? I have come to such a place, for a fleeting moment and then it was gone, like an otherworldly sunset that disappears beyond the horizon.
But how did I get there? It was a long trek. It started with me landing in Bali, after my sojourn in Perth. I had a week to spare. Why? Because the boat that would take me near the place I have mentioned above (but not to it), would only leave in a week... from Tual, which you might remember lies on the Kei Islands. I decided to spent that week on Bali rather than the Kei Island, however pretty they are. It would be slightly cheaper, plus it gave me the opportunity to see a tiny bit more of Bali, or actually some islands off the coast of Bali. Lembongan and Ceningan to be exact.
Blogs and tourist brochures describe them as 'undiscovered', but 'slowly creeping onto the tourist map'. I guess compared to Kuta they might be undiscovered, but really? Lembongan and Ceningan are far, far, far from undiscovered. The bays are filled
with tourist boats, every other building on the island is a resort or restaurant catering to the tourists, and hundreds of (mainly) Chinese day-trippers get whisked around the island to the various viewpoints, or taken on snorkeling trips, or get dragged through the water on banana boats. If that's undiscovered, then it seems like a cruel version of undiscovered.
That's not to say the islands don't have their charm, the waters are suitably turquoise, competition means great deals on good accommodation are to be had, and there is a lot less traffic on the islands than on Bali proper. I spent four days on Ceningan, just across yellow bridge which connects the two islands. I made some nice, if sweaty walks, frolicked a bit in the waters and saw some superlatively beautiful sunsets. I can't complain. Undiscovered it ain't, but it is still beautiful, and a lot better than Kuta!
However, I was longing for the truly undiscovered, knowing that too was a misnomer for where I was going. Everywhere is discovered. But some places are still so far off, and so unknown to the world at large, that you could say they are as close as it
Yellow bridge with Lembongan on the other side
gets. To get to the unknown, I needed to catch my flight to Tual though. Theoretically it was going to take me 9 hours, in reality it took me about 30! Let's say that Lion Air might be cheap, but it isn't the most reliable of airlines. The last leg of my trip was cancelled due to a dearth of passengers. They sorted a hotel in Ambon for me, gave me a meal, and put me on the first flight out the next day.
Luckily I always make sure there is a bit of leeway between arriving and leaving. My boat was only scheduled to leave the next morning at 1am. I had a day and half a night to kill. Normally I would have wasted some money on a hotel, even though I would only be using it for a few hours. But it wasn't necessary. Stella, the owner of Tria Maria Cottages, one of the homestays I had stayed at on Pasir Panjang the last time I was on Kei Islands, knew about my plans and graciously arranged for me to camp out in her own house. Not only that, she also picked me up from the
The straight between Lembongan and Ceningan
airport, fed me, and to top off her amazing hospitality arranged to have me taken to the harbour at the appropriate time. Thank you Stella!
Now the appropriate time turned out not to be 1am, nor 4am as her brother thought, but 6am. The boat was delayed! Hmmm... I was noticing a common thread in my travels so far: cancellations and delays were haunting my every move.
As always I got myself a cabin, and went to bed, because with the shifting arrival times of my boat I hadn't slept the best the night before, being nervous I would miss it. The boat was taking me to Kaimana on the south coast of West Papua. It dropped me off at 3.30 in the morning. On Google maps I found a hotel near the port. I walked to it. It was closed, as small local hotels in far away towns mostly are at 3.30 in the morning. They don't have 24 hour reception. I knocked on the door. I called. Nobody wakened. So I sat down and decided to wait till the doors opened, figuring it would only be a couple of hours.
As I sat there, a
My hotel on Ceningan, not bad for 15 euros
motorcycle stopped and a man, named Sahrun, asked me what I was doing. I explained the situation. He in turn did what I had tried moments before, that is, knock and call, and was equally unsuccessful. He then left to try another hotel nearby, but it too was closed. Not being content with me sitting outside a hotel door, he offered to house me for the remainder of the night, for which I was suitably grateful.
And here is another trend I have noticed: I keep meeting incredibly friendly people on my trip! First Stella in Tual who treated me like a king, and now Sahrun in Kaimana.
The next day Sahrun took me to my hotel. But he wasn't finished helping me. When he discovered I wanted to get to Triton Bay, but that I couldn't afford to charter a boat to take me there, unless I found some people to share the costs with, he took me around town from hotel to hotel, so I could ask if there were any tourists around (foreign or Indonesian), who might be planning on going to Triton Bay. There were none. Most places seemed empty. In fact my hotel
was empty except for me.
Once again, he wasn't satisfied with the result, if I wanted to go, I should be able to go!
'I can take you! My uncle has a boat, you just pay for the petrol.' he said.
'How much is the petrol?' I asked.
'About 500000 rupiah.' was his answer.
Now 500000 rupiah is around 40 dollars, and 40 dollars I can afford. To understand the significance of his offer you need to know that chartering a boat for the round trip normally costs anywhere between 150 to 200 dollars. Or you can stay at the one resort that is based in Triton Bay, a diving resort, you are looking at 300 dollars a day for that option. Or alternatively you can arrange a trip on a live-aboard that goes that way, you're thinking in the range of 200 dollars a day there as well.
Kaimana doesn't get a lot of independent travellers, so I never had much hope of reaching Triton Bay to be honest. I had decided I would give it a try, but knew my chances were pretty dim. I thought the most likely scenario was me
And there she goes
simply hanging around Kaimana, not finding anybody to share the boat with, and eventually leaving to the next destination without ever having seen it. But then came Sahrun and all changed. Sahrun made Triton Bay feasible.
After a few hitches, think cancellation and delays for various reasons, in keeping with the thread of cancellations and delays that had plagued me so far, we finally left. We were supposed to visit a site where there was a big chance of seeing whale sharks, on the way to Triton Bay, but due to those hitches I mentioned, we left late and the beasts feed early, so it was a no show. There was some thousand year old rock art to admire though, on the cliffs overhanging the turquoise water.
As we glided along in our longboat on our way to Triton Bay, I almost felt as if I had gone back in time, and was seeing what some sailor on a Dutch VOC ship might have seen as they passed this land a couple of hundred years ago: unspoiled nature, impenetrable jungle, unpolluted seas. And then we came to Triton Bay, and the superlative of beautiful was upon me. Karst
Chinese tourists at the Devil's Tear, it was rather amusing to see them all crowded around the cliffs
islands sprung up out of aquamarine waters, hidden beaches appeared behind corners, we zig-zagged around the little islets, and I felt privileged to be there. Ahead was a hill and high up I saw a view point, I asked Sahrun about it, apparently it was newly built by the government. We docked at the start of a wooden boardwalk which took us all the way up through pristine jungle, a sweaty and exhausting slog up, but well worth it for the views, it took my breath away. Or was that the long climb up?
For long I stood there mesmerized, listening to the jungle sounds behind me, looking down upon the bay in front of me, a horn bill passed by below, heaven and earth met. I could have stayed there for days, but I had just one, and was whisked back out of this dream all too soon. Back to Kaimana, the town strung along the coast of West Papua, more like a village, with the jungle never far away. It's nice enough, but it isn't paradise. I'm not complaining though. I've seen something amazing, I'll cherish the memory. This is why I travel.
But perhaps the
And around the corner... Nobody!
most beautiful of all is the kindness of people like Stella and Sahrun, of random strangers helping a weary traveller out. I suspect they will linger on in my memory far longer than any sight, however paradisaical.
Now I'll wait for my next boat out, to the next town, to new sights and sounds, and new chance encounters with uber-friendly locals.
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