Thursday, 30 January 2014

The next day saw us exploring the area by bike and having a really good look around, there is some very beautiful coastline in the area. 

Then we made plans to do a boat trip to Komodo and Rinca Island’s for 2 days through an ‘agent' across the road and turn right, about 20 -30 meters from the hotel.  I would have no hesitation in recommending him either, sure he was drunk by 2pm most days, but hey, he wasn’t the guy driving the boat!  

We paid 750k Rupiah each for the trip, the more people you have, the less you pay, though I loved the fact the 4 of us had the whole boat to ourselves plus the crew were great also.
  Another sunset at The Lounge Bar with an awesome hamburger, all their food was excellent, with a couple of drinks after a day’s riding and we were getting some rest for the early morning start the next day.  

There would only be 4 people on the boat plus crew and it made for an excellent voyage, strangely the other couple was a bule girl and an Indonesian guy, throw me and Patty into the mix and it must have looked a funny sight!  They were great fun though and just added to the enjoyment of our trip.
We grabbed our snorkelling gear on our way to the pier in the morning, there are a ton of places to hire masks and fins from on the main street, around $2 a day if I remember rightly.  After walking across a couple of other boats we unloaded our gear on our new home for the next 2 days, I liked the look of it already.

  I love being on the ocean and as we steamed out of the harbour early that morning I could hardly wait, an overnighter on a boat in the beautiful Indonesian Archipelago plus we would be seeing the world renowned Komodo National Park and the Dragons’ it is famous for.
Just above the Mutiara was a restaurant/bar named Mediterraneo, that overlooked the harbour (most places did), I had my first couple of beers here and although the menu and food looked amazing, it was a little pricey for my liking.  Most mains were between $7 - $12, not a lot for the 3 week holiday maker but I rarely ever pay that for a meal.  The food did look exceptional though.  

Then it was onto The Lounge Bar and Restaurant, this quickly became my favourite place in LB, great food, service and atmosphere plus one of the best views of sunset over the harbour.
I was using their free wifi on the rooftop bar overlooking the harbour on sunset with a couple of cold drinks, thinking I was going to call it a night and head off.  There was few young guys all sharing a shisha and having a beer so I went over and got chatting and before you knew it we were about to start an epic night out. 
These guy’s had all met on one of the boat trips that goes from Lombok to Flores over 4 days, I was going to do that myself but had read a lot of negative reports.  I don’t usually let this sway me too much and like to make up my own mind, but there really was a lot of incidents to make you think twice. 

More than 1 of these boats has gone down due to sheer incompetence, I spend a lot of time on the ocean and I know what can happen out there and prefer to have my life in MY hands on the ocean.
 It was mainly the weather that decided it for me, I had been struggling over which way to go and in the end decided to try the more testing overland route.  I don’t regret for a second doing the overland crossing, but this would have been a great group to be on a boat with for a few days.
 After a few drinks at the Lounge Bar, we made our way to Paradise Bar to meet up with the rest of the boat tour group, this bar is the only late night venue in town and Saturday night is really the only time it gets going and has a live band.  Wouldn’t you know it….  It was Saturday! 
When we arrive there is a massive table set up and around 20 people that had just spent 4 days on a boat together, I was the stranger but they welcomed me warmly and we had a fantastic night, not finishing up until around 4am!  

Many drinks were had and stories swapped, once again being in the right place and not being scared to go up and say ‘hey, mind if I join you?’ paid off and really added to my experience. 
The only problem was that Patty arrived that Sunday without telling me and I was very hungover and catching up on sleep half of the day.  Boy did I get an earful when we finally met up, she had been waiting for a few hours in one of the cafĂ©’s as my phone had died and she couldn’t call me,  Ooops.  In my defence though, Patty was supposed to let me know when she was arriving and didn’t…  sooooo….
Coming into the harbour
Views from The Lounge Bar

Monday, 27 January 2014

The ferry was supposed to leave early, around 7am I think, but after boarding in the sticky heat, the boat didn’t actually leave until about 10am?  I didn’t mind that much, I slept through most of that and only woke up as we were leaving port.

 Once you board, go and look for the ‘beds’ and grab one, somebody will come around and charge you a bit extra (about $2.50) to stay in here but it’s totally worth it if you can handle everybody smoking in there.
Stop at the little stalls on the way in the morning and grab yourself snacks and most importantly water, at least 1 large bottle but 2 is better.  I spent most of that trip writing on the Ipad, but did get to meet a few locals, one I would end up seeing again on Komodo Island.  I actually really enjoyed the trip, I normally struggle with boredom but I was relaxed, got some more writing done and had a few naps.
I think the trip took about 7-8 hours and after another long day I was finally in Labuan Bajo, Flores.  When you arrive, walk out of the port/pier area, there is a small archway there.  Turn right and head up the street, there are a heap of places to stay, eat and drink, you don’t need an ojek.

  I tried a couple of places before settling into a different Mutiara this time, it’s right on the main street just up the road from the more popular (and expensive) Gardena. 
It is listed on Travelfish as Matahari though I'm sure it was Mutiara.  It gets a pretty bad review on there and is listed as poor value compared to Gardena.  I can't see how, Gardena wanted 300k for 1 night and I only paid 150k at Mutiara. 

 I can definitely recommend this place, it does come with breakfast, but by this stage I never wanted to see a bloody banana pancake again in my life. It's still a running joke with mates whenever I see banana pancakes!
I promised myself I would remember all the details and costs, but I can’t be 100% certain anymore, I’m pretty sure Mataram to Sumbawa Besar was 125k Rupiah (around $12), the bus to Bima was 60k($6), but I bargained very hard, get there early so you are not at their mercy 5 minutes before the bus leaves.   

Bima to Sape was another 20k ($2), $8 for my room (I actually paid $8 also for my 2 large beers, totally worth it!), then the ferry from Sape to Labuan Bajo was around $5 plus the extra $2 for a bed.  
So for $35 plus another $10 for accommodation in Sumbawa Besar you can cross from Lombok to Flores, have a unique experience and really mingle with the locals along the way.  It won’t be easy,  it won't be comfortable, but it will be worth it. 

 The journey is definitely not for the beginner traveller, but I would do it all again in a heartbeat, the people were super friendly and it was just a great experience all round.  I arrived in Labuan Bajo battered and bruised, exhausted from the journey, but the feeling as we pulled into the harbour, knowing I'd done it, made it all worthwhile and the first beers just tasted all that much better!

Friday, 24 January 2014

SUMBAWA cont...   
This was true travelling in all it’s (non)glory, a hot, packed bus with doors open, everybody smoking, hurtling through dangerous roads as fast as the beast would take us, stopping regularly to load more locals and tie even more gear to the roof.  This bus also apparently serves as the local long-haul transport system.  

The views at times were spectacular, other times a depressing culture shock, Sumbawa had some of the worst poverty and harshest landscapes I had ever seen.  

After what seemed an eternity of banging and crashing our way across the length of Sumbawa in a hot, crowded  bus with a numb ass and a whole body ache, we finally arrived in Bima after around 9 hours travelling, not for the faint hearted. 
But the journey did not end here, I still had another 2 hour bus ride to get to the port town of Sape, my departure point by ferry the next morning to finally make it to Flores.  This was the most insane bus ride I think I’ve ever been on, there were seriously, literally, about 60 or more people on a 26 seater bus??!!  I counted at least 53 just inside the bus, plus all the rest that were hanging off the side or riding on the roof. 
Here we were hurtling (sort of) through dangerous winding cliff side roads and these guys were climbing over, on, around the bus.  I may have done some car surfing in my youth, but this was just crazy, massively overcrowded, hot and dangerous.  I kept having visions of us crashing and nobody being able to escape the burning wreckage, oh well you just go with it and ‘find a happy place’. 

I would have taken some pictures but it was seriously so crowded there was no chance in hell of even being able to reach into my bag to get the camera out.  
The locals were pretty impressed that I could speak some Indonesian and after some limited conversations, aches and pains and stunning views, the bus ride from hell was finally over.  A huge sense of ‘survival’ and relief came rushing over me as I stepped off that bus, vowing never to try that again! 

 When you are dropped at the port, a quick 2 minute walk will see you find some very basic accommodation, I stayed at the Mutiara and at $8 a night, I paid too much!!  Basic was an understatement, but after being on hot, uncomfortable buses all day I didn’t care in the slightest.  A mandi shower (bucket of cold water thrown over yourself) saw me hungry and in search of a cold beer.
There is no alcohol allowed in Sape, but the owner of Mutiara can hook you up with his mate who will deliver large, almost cold Bintang’s to the hotel for you, not the cheapest I’d had, but man had I earned one! 

I slept well that night with a belly full of Bakso from the little stall next door, I had actually gone for a pretty good walk when I first got to town and there was not much  else around. 
Mandi shower,   this is what you get for $8

The next morning we have another day exploring on the bike again and it really is a beautiful place to do it, Lombok just had it all for me, everything you could want to do on one small, easily traversable island. 

Just enough facilities to make it a whole lot easier than some other places but without the masses of tourists (aside from the south coast/Kuta area).  A huge thumbs up from me and a place i know I will go back to.

Patty had to return to Jakarta for a few days for work as she also organizes wedding’s and parties so we were to meet back up in Labuan Bajo, Flores.  While Patty took the quick, easy option to fly there after her work was done, I had a few days to kill and figured I would do it the hard way, crossing over land and sea to get there via Sumbawa. 

It turned out to be quite the mission and put all of my solo travelling skills to the test, I wouldn’t recommend it without some knowledge of the language or at the very least some sort of book or translator.  There are actually some great apps by Codegent for your phone or Ipad for learning languages and I utilize them all the time.  I will be in Vietnam in a week and am already studying via app.

First up was a taxi to Mataram from Kuta, it is basically the same price as a bus, plus it drops you exactly where you need to be, so a no-brainer for me to use one, $8 from memory.  There are plenty of places that offer a ‘package deal’ all the way through to Flores, but after doing the trip my own way and reading many horror stories, I would only recommend doing it that way if you were really pushed for time.  But this area of Indonesia isn’t exactly the place to be for those on a strict time schedule.

From Mataram it was a 2 hour bus ride to Labuan Lombok with TiaraMas company, where I got a ferry across to Poto Tano, Sumbawa, which took about 2 hours, once there it was another bus ride of around 2-3 hours to Sumbawa Besar, the largest city on the island.  You will be on the same bus from Mataram all the way as the bus crosses on the ferry with you and you simply get back on once you reach Sumbawa.

Get some bearings before you go, I knew roughly which street I needed to be on to find accommodation (Hasnuddin St) and had the driver drop me off in the general area.  A 5-10 minute walk in oppressive heat saw me drop my bags at the first place I came across, even with some bargaining in Indonesian, I still paid too much really.  I think it was Hotel Suci.

 I hate doing that, after a big day travelling with non English speakers in rough conditions and then walking in the heat with heavy gear, it is too easy to take the first place you see.  I broke my own travelling rule because I was exhausted, hot and dripping with sweat, but sometimes you just don’t care.

 A quick stroll up the road later I found a place that was much better value and had wifi in the lobby, once again i'm unsure but fairly certain it was Hotel Dewi.  The staff were very helpful there, after letting me use the wifi they wrote down some info on the bus stations I needed to go to, in Indonesian for me.

There is a great eating place on this street also, I think it was Aneka Rasa Jaya but ask around about a place with beer and wifi and you should find it.  A great meal with a couple of icy cold and well deserved large beers, a spot of wifi on the Ipad doing a little recon and I was back to my room getting some shut eye for another huge day tomorrow. 

An ojek (motorbike taxi) the next morning got me to the bus station about an hour before I needed to be, there are snacks and drinks there while you wait, don’t take the first bus price they give you, always bargain.
I should have taken more pictures of the ferry ride


After the walk back to our guesthouse, we were soon loaded on the bike and riding off into the unknown again with some amazing yet very contrasting views at times.  The scenery switched from dry sparse fields, tiny villages, lush thick jungle, winding cliff side roads looking over the beautiful ocean and sometimes black-sand beaches. 

We stopped for cold drinks and noodles along the way or simply just to take in the view regularly at different spots, it’s nice to stop and stretch the legs, they are pretty big days on the bike especially for Patty as she has never really spent that long on one and doesn’t actually ride herself. 

After following the coast all the way over the top and down the East of Lombok, we aim to spend the night in Selong but on arrival very late in the day we have no luck in finding accommodation, there is some sort of festival happening and everything is full.

We scoured the whole town of Selong and surround’s with no result, continually asking locals for information, a near impossible task without Patty to translate, this part of Lombok rarely receives tourists and it shows.  We have no choice but to continue on and I am starting to lose my spirits, I’m exhausted and it is getting dark and cold, it has been a massive day on the bike. 

 While Patty is asking directions, some local guy stops to chat with me in pretty good English,  turns out we are heading the same place, he say’s ‘Follow me’ and when Patty returns to the bike he takes off at breakneck speed through pitch black winding mountain roads.  I’m no slouch on a bike, but with visibility this poor and all the trucks, bikes etc flying at you around every corner, I end up losing him?!
Not to worry, we end up in Tetebatu / Kutaraja ?  one of the 2 anyway and there are a ton of accommodation options and we actually see 2 Bule (white tourists) at the place we eat dinner, pretty much the first we have seen since leaving Gili Air.

  Plenty of local places to eat and drink and we are soon feeling human again.  The guy’s at our guesthouse even get a big fire going and we sit around it with a couple of cold beers to wind down, the night is cold and it’s a great way to cap off an exhausting and stressful day. 
Tetebatu is apparently well known and visited by tourists (compared to the rest of Lombok that we had just been through)  they turn up to visit Mt Rinjani for hiking to the summit to visit the spectacular lake that has formed in the caldera.  

That is a minimum 2 day trek and we simply don’t  have the time or fitness to undertake a trip like that, 10-14 hours a day hiking up a steep mountain side…  maybe next time!
They also have one of the coolest waterfalls I have been to, a nice little hike in through beautiful jungle brings you to almost a massive cave of sorts that has a nice flow feeding into a great little pool to swim in before cascading off through boulders and a downhill  jungle stream.  

We are thankful and happy that our accommodation plans fell to pieces in Selong or we probably would have missed this great part of Lombok.  In hindsight, no visit would be complete without coming to Tetebatu, a really great spot to chill out for a day or 2 with some of the nicest people we have met on our travels.
After the waterfall visit we head back to Kuta, another big ride gets us home and after the few days on the road, a drink and swim in the pool back at Alfa is heaven. 

Dinner and drinks in ‘town’ round out our night, I think the place was Cafe7, not our first visit there, great music, friendly host and delicious food.  Try the seafood stir fry, the western food was pretty good also, plus they have shisha if you’re into it.
The beautiful waterfall at Tetebatu


Day 2 on the road took us past some amazing coastline, some of the best in Asia, a very chilled vibe about the place and awesome winding coast roads to lean the bike into, seriously the only way to see a place like this. 

By pure chance we stopped for Bakso (a local meatball and noodle soupl) and a cold drink at a little beachside warung, I think it was called Ketapang Beach, somewhere around the town of Amor Amor. 

The food was good and so was the sunset, but it wasn’t until we took off again on the bike and looked back that we realized the sun was setting right behind the peak of Mt Agung, Bali.  It was magnificent but had we noticed only 15  minutes earlier we would have seen even more of this fantastic display of nature.  It was still great and I urge you to try to coincide a stop there on sunset if possible.

We finally made it to the town of Senaru, perched at the base of Mt Rinjani and the gateway town for only the very serious hikers, after dark and found a place to crash.  Pondok Indah served it’s purpose and early the next morning we made the trek to the famous Sendang Gila Waterfall (slightly crazy waterfall).  The guys at our guesthouse recommended an alternative route which we found easily. 

It was an awesome walk along a little dirt track that followed the irrigation channels that feed the farms and overlooked a huge valley of rice fields and palm trees.  Monkeys met us along the way and we didn’t see a soul all the way to the first waterfall which was fairly easy.  The other way in is apparently just stairs most of the way, I definitely prefer something more natural.

The second fall took us on another great trek through beautiful jungle and is well worth the visit to Senaru, I had read and heard stories of locals wanting to guide you there and actually becoming a little aggressive about it, but there really is no need unless you are absolutely new to the outdoors and jungle hiking.  

There is one section where the path stops, you simply cross the river, keep walking another 50 metres, then cross back into the middle of the river bed where you will see a little dry island.  Continue up the middle of the river until you see the path again on your left hand side, the same bank it finished on.   A path leads you all the way from there, very easy. 

The guides I believe try to charge anywhere from 50k to 300k rp or more and it is a total scam.  If it’s your first time outside the house, then maybe consider a guide, otherwise save your money.  The waterfall itself was brilliant, it comes down with such force it actually creates waves and you can swim into a cave almost behind the falL.  

local legend says that anybody who swims into the cave becomes a year younger or gains an extra year of life (something like that?!).  We had the place to ourselves for over an hour before some locals turned up, just as we were considering a skinny dip, lucky they didn’t come along 5 minutes later!

This was one of the most enjoyable walks I think I have done and the waterfall’s themselves were fantastic also, don’t miss out when visiting Lombok, the town of Senaru alone has a unique feeling about it and is surrounded by lush scenery.  

Sunset over Bali

On the walk from Senaru to Sendang Gila

Welcoming committee

Look for this sign for the alternative route

Near this place...


Local fishing

Some of the terrain we had to ride on


No rest for us though and the next day after a hefty sleep-in, we are off on the scooter again, loaded with our backpacks and planning to navigate our way around the whole of Lombok.  It starts out a great ride but once we are past the city of Mataram the scenery really comes alive and steps it up another notch.

  Although some of it is black sand beaches, the coastline is stunning, we ride in to beautiful secluded bays and beaches fringed with palm trees and not a tourist in sight, usually just a few surprised locals mending old wooden boats or cooking in thatched huts.
There are plenty of amazing hill top views over the coast, bays and eventually the Gili Islands also, Lombok really has an abundance of postcard perfect scenery.  We end up in Bangsal very late in the afternoon, where we decide at the last minute to jump on a boat and head to the island of Gili Air for the night. 

Gili Air is part of a trio of islands commonly known as ‘The Gili Islands’ (gili actually means island, so technically they are the ‘Island Islands’??!!) and they are a tourist hot spot in Indo.
  After the boat ride on pretty rough seas, we step foot onto the sand of the island and have just enough time to catch sunset and find a suitable room.  Don’t be afraid to bargain for your accommodation either, we got ours reduced by 150k rp by telling them it was too expensive and that we would find somewhere else.  

To get to the islands, simply turn up at Bangsal harbour and jump on a boat, no need to organize a 'tour', once again, always bargain and don't be caught late in the day like we were or you will pay to much.  We weren't planning to stay there our first night but made a late call, so try to be early for a much cheaper deal.
After a wander around 'town', a couple of rum and cokes over happy hour and a great meal saw us retire for the night, it was very windy and this island goes to sleep very early.  The next day was going to be a boat trip around the 3 islands snorkelling but with the weather still shitty we opted instead to take a pushbike around the island.  

We rode the whole coastline, a great little ride but extremely hot and you actually have to get off and push your bike about a third of the way.  A cold beer while we waited for the ferry back to the mainland, they only leave once there are enough people, and we were soon back on our trusty scooter and on the road again around Lombok.
 Gili Trawangan is the main party island if that’s what you’re looking for, but the other 2, Air and Meno are more laidback and suitable for those looking for a quiet tropical getaway.  Not a whole lot to do out there really, but that is what a lot of people go for, to relax on idyllic beaches with a cocktail or 2.  Sengiggi is a little to the South on the mainland and is the other main tourist hub on Lombok, but we just rode straight through.
Views around Lombok
 Buffalo taking a mud bath
Fruit stall in Mataram
Gili Islands,  you can see how choppy the water was that day
It was a rough ol' ride out to Gili Air, quite a few passengers were throwing up in the boat!
Sunset from Gili Air
Apparently they have horse 'raiding'
Around Gili Air