14.07.2014 - 30.09.2014 32 °C
Ooops, realise we have been a bit slow with the blog recently, right, better catch up before we go home. So we left off on the island of Flores, Indonesia:
Having spent a couple of days in Labuan Bajo before our boat trip to Lombok set sail, we’d seen a number of beautiful sail ships in the port hoping that one of those would be the one we were to spend three days and nights on. As we were walked down the jetty however on the morning we set off we were not too surprised to find that ours was in fact a small converted fishing boat with a mezzanine that was just a height you could crawl across, every inch filled with narrow mattresses, this was where we would spend 3 days and nights at sea…
The group was a good mix of people, so we decided it was going to be fun, if a little ‘cosy’. The first day, we did some snorkelling from the boat then first stop proper was Rinca Island where, at the end of an hour and a half very hot walk, saw we saw Komodo dragons - right back where we’d started, having seen none out on the trails. It was cool to see them, we did all move well out of the way as a large male came bounding by, they are massive. Even though they’re named for Komodo, the island next door, we had heard it was better to see them on Rinca as it is a nicer island and less touristy, so we are glad we had opportunity. After this was more sailing and more snorkelling around the bay, then on this first night we stayed up so that we could take a small boat over to Komodo Island village and watch the World Cup final with the locals, kick-off 3am! Since there were two Swiss-German girls with us wearing Germany shirts, everyone that went over decided to cheer for Germany, despite being mostly Spanish and Dutch.
Since the KO was so late/early we were only back onboard at sunrise, so then it was time to get off to sleep. This meant those of us that had gone to see the match missed a walking tour of Komodo Island, but since it was starting to rain and we saw the key sight, the Dragons, the day before anyway, we weren’t too fussed about this, sleep was far more desirable. We were woken up at lunchtime at ‘Manta Ray Point’, and quickly woke ourselves right up by diving into the clear blue waters, swimming with Manta Rays was amazing - they are majestic creatures. There was another great snorkelling point before sunset then off we set to the open sea (away from the protection of the islands in the bay), we would be sailing through the night. As soon as we were out in the open, away from the shelter of the islands, the sea got pretty rough and especially in our teeny boat, it was a rock and roll of a ride. Before too long Tess had turned decidedly green and without her having to say a word she was handed sea-sickness pills by the captain and instructed to hold on to a post and look out to the horizon.
A rough night at sea followed, with a couple of other unfortunate souls joining Tess in the green-brigade. It was a strange night trying to sleep on our tiny mattresses with the boat rolling so much we struggled to stay on our own spot! Next morning we found ourselves in calmer waters where we had a couple of stop offs at small islands off the large island of Sumbawa, the first with a saltwater lake then one with a freshwater stream and falls, everyone thus having their first shower in 3 days! Another rough afternoon followed as we sailed towards Lombok, Tess spent more time hugging her post and looking out longingly to the looming volcano on Lombok, pinpointing our destination.
After 3 nights and days at sea, we finally parted ways with our boat-buddies at Lombok, then we got a quick crossing to the tiny island of Gili Trawangan where we spent three days having a nice holiday from actually travelling, where we caught up on sleep, had lovely swimming and snorkelling, enjoyed a few beers and sunning ourselves. From there it was back to Bali, couple of days at fishing village of Padang Bai, the port for Lombok and the Gilis.
Then we made a stop off at Tulamben, a small village on the road that we were planning to take around to the north of Bali, after a recommendation from a friend that there were really good dive sites there. Here we did our first ever shore-dive (i.e. walking into the sea in SCUBA gear rather than heading out on a boat and diving into the deeper water), there is a wreck just 30 m from the beach and we saw some amazing sights including bump-headed parrotfish, which look like something from another world. The diving was excellent here, one of our favourites so we were glad we’d added it to the itinerary.
We then made out way around to Lovina, the largest tourist resort on Bali away from the busy South coast, but actually quite peaceful. We found a really good place to stay with amazing gardens and a lovely pool which was a nice treat. We had a couple of days here relaxing then it was a bumpy but not too long local bus journey to the ‘end’ of Bali and the ferry just across a short straight on to Java.
Probolingo, on Java, was our next stop but our reason for heading there was to visit the smoking Bromo volcano. As it was we missed out Bromo due to a series of things that annoyed us in trying to get there (basically more men calling themselves travel agents lying to us, after a very long wait and no progress once the bus touts realised we weren’t going to buy package tours with them we were going nowhere, everyone was being a pain in the arse), so eventually we sacked it off and got a local bus 2 hours down the road to the city of Surabaya, from where we would try to get a train to Yogyakarta (instead of another 12 hour bus journey).
Despite being told by a number of people (touts, really) that it would not be possible to get a bus as it was the end of Ramadan, we got one no problem and it was not full, in fact there was barely anyone on it! (More lies to get us to buy expensive private journeys!) So we went straight on to Surabaya and headed to a train station, where we were in luck. We could take a train the next day to Yogyakarta, although we had to buy fairly expensive executive tickets as economy was sold out, but still since this was another thing we’d been told would be ‘impossible’ because of the imminent Idul Fitri festival, we were happy to have it sorted. Surabaya turned out to be a pretty good city, not much in the way of tourist attractions but very green, tidy and organised with wide, leafy boulevards. It has a fascinating Arab quarter and lots of delicious, cheap street food. There is a pleasant riverside with an old navy Submarine that visitors can go inside, plus lots of shopping malls, which are good to get off the hot streets for a blast of air-con if nothing else.
Our last stop in Indonesia was the historical city of Yogyakarta (pronounced Jog-Jakarta, or Jogja), we initially planned to go right up to the top of Java and onto Sumatra where we could take a ferry over to Singapore, but having ventured down to explore Flores and spent our time travelling back, we pretty much ran out of time so booked a flight from Jogja to Johor Bahru in Malaysia, just over the border from Singapore (but a lot cheaper to fly in to!).
Hotels in Jogja were pretty full and ew trudged around a little longer than usual to find a room, the place we eventually settled on was a simple but nice and clean family-run place, but possibly the loudest room of our entire trip. It felt like the mosque speakers were in our room. While these are generally used to announce the 5 daily prayer times, which is quite a pleasant, atmospheric sound, due to this very evening being the end of Ramadan and the start of Idul Fitri celebrations, this was not the usual affair. Oh no; this was monotonous loud, painfully out of tune wailing that was repeated over and over, for hours! But it was a great, if slightly deafening, experience to be so close to the festivities nonetheless. (It was much better after the first night however!).
Next morning, looking forward to seeing the old town (called the Kraton) and Sultan’s Palace we set off to go and have a look, but this being Idul Fitri, everything was closed. From street stalls, to shops, to tourist destinations, everything was shut up and everyone was visiting family and friends and eating lots of food, (it is the Muslim version of Christmas basically). But we hadn’t expected it since all the hotels were full and there had been lots of foreign tourists the previous evening – where had everyone gone then if everything was shut up??
As it was we just wandered around the slightly quiet streets, which were very pleasant actually and we stumbled upon a large square with two banyan trees in the centre. We saw a few people in blindfolds walking in funny manner, arms outstretched in front of them and realised it was some sort of game. It turned out that the object of this pastime was to walk about 100m blindfolded and to end up in between to two trees. Rach had a go and was very good (the trick is to just walk fast, and not think about it), ending up just short but in front of the two trees. Tess had a go and ended up at the opposite side of the very large square! Ah it was a fun way to pass 20 minutes anyway!
The following day we had a very early get up (4am) to go to the famous Borodopur Buddhist Temple, probably one of the most famous and stunning sights in Indonesia. From here you can see views of volcanic mountains, covered by low lying clouds. This misty atmosphere makes the place really special and despite all the amazing temples we have seen already on our travels, this was still breath-taking. As part of the same trip we also visited the Prambanan Hindu Temple Complex, which was also worth a gander, however it was midday by this point and really quite hot in the sun so we didn’t linger at the temples too long. Within the complex though we did have a tasty lunch to pass the time til we had to return at 1pm to the car park. We got there to discover that that this bus had left without us! We a touch irritated since we had paid for the return bus and it had left early, without us on board, but, being seasoned travellers by now, we foud our way to the regular bus stop and paid (only a few pence) for the bus 15km into Jogja.
As soon as we got off the bus, a couple of guys from our trip saw us and confirmed to us that indeed the bus we were meant to catch had left early, instead of at the pre-arranged time of 1pm. They said they had noticed that two seats were empty, but no one had bothered to tell the driver to wait a few minutes! So, as annoyed as we were at the time, we did eventually laugh about it….of our 10 months in Asia so far, almost no form of transport had left on time. And yet this one left early! Grrrrrr.
Next day was our last few hours in Indonesia, we had our last lunch of Indonesian specialities then got a bus the short distance to the airport and off we set to Singapore (via JB in Malaysia, but only for cheapness!)