Asia Days 29,30,31,32
Similarly to the Rinjani tour, we booked a place with Kencana on a 4 day/ 4 night boat tour when we were on the Gili Islands for 1.6m IDR ($120). The trip would take us from Lombok across a volcanic archipelago of islands to Flores in the east of Indonesia- with the main draw being a visit to Komodo and Rinca Islands- the only natural habitats of the Komodo dragon.
We’ve been on several boat trips with travelers alike, which often end up in a booze cruise. Clearly, this was a trip that was at the other end of the scale- a cultural and exploratory adventure to see some of the most remote and unvisited regions of Indonesia. Therefore it was with great surprise that when we were dropped off at the office at 8 in the morning, ready for our tour, we were greeted by a 40-something year old Scottish man parading around the small room, beer in hand, stomping to the Proclaimers and taking centre stage to yell, ‘Ye can call me Captain Bintang.’
We were just as shocked as everyone else and there was a bit of a fracas as to what the fuck was going on, with everyone looking at each other mouthing- ‘Im not spending 4 days on a boat with him!’
With ‘Tartan Army’ now blaring through a set of speakers, the powerless Indonesians-who were supposed to be running the show- finally broke their silence, announcing that we were to be split into 2 boats of 8 people. Of course, we were matched up with the Scottish lout- Gary. This created a further kerfuffle as those matched on Gary’s boat, us included, demanded to be changed boats. With things getting heated the Indonesian owners were in a panic and with all jurisdiction lost, they opted to hide out in the back office; While those who were named on the first boat had quietly made their get-away, ensuring there would be no swapping. Realising he was at the centre of this mini-storm, Gary intruded and promised to quieten down. He was true to his word as he sank another half-dozen Bintangs and passed out on the bus to the dock!
We drove from Sengiggi- the main tourist strip to the west of Lombok, across to the eastern side where our boat was waiting. There was still a little bit of disgruntlement and tension within the bus, but the dormant Scot and the supply of chicken and noodles for lunch, put a brief halt to that.
When we arrived we boarded the boat which would be our home for the next 4 days. It obviously wasn’t luxury travel, but it met our needs. As we jumped on board and stowed away our bags, we were joined by two extra guests; Chickens. They were quickly shuffled and tied into the cabin at the back.
We were introduced to our captain- Mr Yoyo. His English was incredibly broken and he had an un-nerving habit of breaking down in fits of laughter after every sentence- probably to mask his lack of English- most likely because he was drugged up. Either-way this-possibly drugged up- mess of a man was to be lead us on a 4 day voyage across a sea where ship wrecks are only too well documented. He tried to explain our itinerary, but I don’t think any of us had a clue. A map did suffice though.
That evening chugged away at sea and despite the hick-ups with Gary at the start- who was now asleep in the corner- and the erratic nature of our captain and his crew, it was impossible not to be at ease and get completely carried away and lost in our surroundings. Here we were in the middle of the calmest of seas, where it was impossible to distinguish a horizon between sea and water and where yet another blood red sunset cast silhouetted figures of volcanoes in the distance. Indonesia continues to churn out stunning scenery and there probably isn’t a much better way to see it than this! This was bliss!
With our voyage now heading into the dusk, we were served up some dinner- which was pretty good actually- and surprisingly didn’t include any chicken. We spent the remainder of the daylight out on the bow, topped up with a supply of Bintang and watched the sun sink into the water.
The sleeping crawl-space may look pretty malign to most, but it wasn’t at all uncomfortable and it was pretty easy to doze off- more so with the engine soothingly chugging away. Perhaps though this was because I had spent the previous two nights shivering myself into a coma up Mount Rinjani.
The engine throttled into gear, stirring a few of us from our sleep. Fortunately there is no better way to wake up than with a sunrise, where the sun literally appears from the depths of the ocean.
Banana pancakes are a standard Indonesia breakfast. Its pretty bland and not the most nutritious of meals. Nonetheless, our minds were more pre-occupied with our surroundings and the prospect of the day’s activities ahead, which started with snorkeling around the waters of Moyo Island.
We swam to the beach and Captain Yoyo led us along the river into the jungle of this uninhabited, wild island. We were advised to keep a look out for wild pigs, deer, monkeys and bats- we saw nothing of the sort, but we did come across a blanket of about 100 butterflies.
We climbed up a small waterfall and took turns to jump into the pools below. It wasn’t a bad way to spend the morning- and a place that very few people have ever set foot or heard of; That in itself is always a cool thing to explore and be a part of- for oneupmanship at least!
Back on the boat we had lunch and continued our voyage around the deserted islands to Satonda. We were guided to the centre of this small island, which- much like when you make a small dam for your gravy to sit in your mash- was filled with a large salt-water lake. Bizarrely the water was saltier than the sea that surrounded it. Because of such salt levels, we were able to float (ever so slightly) on top of the surface, much like the much more famous Dead Sea.
Heading back to the beach, we watched as a silent lightning storm raged over a distant island, before we had another snorkel session and headed back to the boat to drift through into the evening.
Did I mention that Scottish lout Gary- aka ‘Captern Bintang’- was infact a ridiculously intelligent astro-physicist! Turns out he quit his job and has been travelling the world for the last 15 years. He has a metal rod in his leg, so cannot swim or walk too far, therefore there was nothing else for him to do on this trip other than drink and drift over to Flores. Funny who people can turn out to be!
We all sat out together on the bow, beer and cards in hand, watching another breathtaking sunset. This really cannot be beat!
The chickens, which we had not heard a peep from for 2 days and were presumed dead, were in fact alive…for all of the next 5 minutes, as they were quickly beheaded and served up with rice and noodles (of course) for dinner.
Full, we rejoined the bow of the boat and were joined briefly by 4 or 5 dolphins who raced in front of us and then, more impressively, by flying fish- dozens of them- leaping out of the water at sunset. I genuinely thought they were mythical creatures- but seeing them leap out and drift through the air for a good 10 seconds was pretty extraordinary. Bearing in mind that by now I was 3/4 of the way through reading ‘Life of Pi’ and here I was living my own crazy fictional tale in the middle of absolutely nowhere with fish flying in the air!
The day ended with more beers out on the bow before Gary eventually conked out in his corner once again. Long live Captiain Bintang.
We woke to sunrise next to another ridiculously colour-saturated island.
Our morning activity, would involve hiking to the top of the hill and chilling out here for a couple of hours. We followed an Eagle to the top and watched as he swooped through the fields, looking for breakfast.
From up here we could fully appreciate the extent of our loneliness. We were in the middle of absolutely nowhere, surrounded by a couple of sparsely placed desolate islands.
…It was also about now that I began to understand why hallucinogenic mushrooms are so popular in Indonesia! The place doesn’t seem real! As we perched on top of the rocks we spotted a family of 3 turtles that had come to the shore to breach, before taking their air and diving back into the turquoise waters. The shadows of a stingray soon followed. It began to dawn on us the extent of the marine life in the waters around us making us all ponder a lot more about our surroundings…no mushrooms had been taken at this point!
Back on the boat and we cruised through to waters to Pink Beach- yes it was genuinely and incredibly pink! From what we gathered- more through discovery than from Yoyo- rich, red broken up sea corral had over time varnished over the sand, giving a pink appearance.
Perhaps more impressive however, was the snorkeling around here, which ended up being one of the best snorkel spots of the trip. We finally got to see Nemo (a clown fish) amongst many other small schools of slightly less cool tropical fish and even a couple of Eels- one which was apparently and unknowingly dangerous.
Once we had tired ourselves out we were back on board and managed to re-route the boat, which was intended to head towards Komodo, towards the Manta-reefs, where schools of large Manta Ray are regular customers.
We searched the shallow waters for a few hours, before a dark shape swooped under the boat, encouraging us all to jump in. It was a large ray, but which type was unknown as none of us got close enough to it, before it dived and drifted off faster than our flippers could keep up.
We continued jumping into the waters, hovering near the Manta Dive boats with hope they knew something we didn’t. We didn’t get any clear sightings with any Manta, but once again the snorkeling was incredible and there were plenty of sand bars for us to swim over to.
By dusk, we had made it to the shores of Komodo, where local fishing boats where waiting for us- the first human contact in days- to sell us extra supplies of beer and crisps.
As the sun dipped, huge fruit-bats began to shape the sky. They were massive and again it was another pretty surreal experience; on the water, next to an island of dragons, under a full moon and with fruit-bats wailing in the air above!
The final day of our trip and we were finally going to see some Komodo Dragons. There are 2 islands to see the dragons- Komodo- from which the Dragons are named and Rinca- where the Dragons are much larger and more violent. We therefore chose to hike Rinca- even Gary came to join us!
We were given a talk for a good 10 minutes by a ranger. Asserting the dangers and the precautions we needed to take the guide then ended with, so how many of you managed to see the Dragon in the trees behind me….gasps all round!
The rangers and locals here have a genuine fear of the Dragons and carry large sticks around with them, always walking in twos. After-all these dragons- which can grow up to 9ft are fatally venomous with a single bite.
We hiked through the island, spotting about 5 Dragons in all and getting told impressive stories about their evolution and how they hunt in packs for Buffalo. At the peak of the island we gazed out at the heard of Buffalo- a scene that would have been fitting in the plains of the Savannah.
Just after lunch we headed back towards the boat. By now, the Komodos, which were quite dormant in the morning were far more active and we followed one as it played tour guide bringing us back to our boat. Komodo Dragons…Done!
We chugged towards Labuan Bajo- our destination and main port to the Eastern Islands of Indonesia. We approached a very choppy harbour, passing a few ship-wrecks on the way.
Many people decided to check into a guest-house or hotel from here, but in true back-packing style we opted to sleep one last night on the boat. Before that however, we all met at the highest restaurant/ bar overlooking the sea and gorged on stone-baked pizza and downed a few chuggs of beer. We made it our mission to get Captain Yoyo absolutely battered- which didn’t take long.
We continued our night in Labuan Bajo, heading to Paradise Bar, where we spent most of the evening, through to sunrise. So much for sleeping on the boat one last night!
I am getting all used to saying this after almost every post now; but this was a truly memorable experience in one of the most beautiful countries. Indonesia has blown me away- it is stunning and this trip is one of the great ways to see it! A fantastic, genuine and proper backpacking adventure!
Kencana Sea Adventure: 4D/ 4N: 1.6m IDR / ($120): *****