27.05.2012 - 01.05.2012 33 °C
Labuanbajo and Komodo NP:
Alive! The cruise from Lombok was actually great and my misgivings were misplaced. It serves me right for reading too much before doing an activity. Note to self, “don’t read accounts of boats sinking before getting on any more boat trips.” However sleeping on deck was not as restful as one might have hoped and we were pretty tired when we arrived in Labuanbajo.
LBB sits on the edge of Komodo NP. A ramshackle fishing town with lots of dive shops, B+B’s and restaurants. While we overheard some less than happy tourists, Lynne and I loved its rough charm, tasty food, but most of all, its pick your jaw off the floor setting. It nestles on a series of green hills with a view out to KNP’s hundreds of islands. Sunsets with a cold beer were heaven.
We spent the first day recuperating and organizing after a solid sleep in. We booked a diving trip and, along with our new travel buddies Akke and Xander (a Dutch couple from the boat trip), arranged a driver to take us to the other side of the Flores on a 4N/5D adventure.
The next morning we were up early and cruising out into KNP with Divine Diving (a fantastic diving school with well earned amazing reviews). The same ubber currents that worried me during the cruise were in full flow, and this time we were going to dive in them.
Diving Komodo Dragon!
KNP view from dive boat as we cruised out to Komodo island.
Dive one was Batu Bolong (hole in rock). As we sat on the upper deck receiving our dive briefing we saw the currents in full force whirlpooling past the rock. Our dive was to take us into the current shadow of a large rock. We were to dive down and then zigzag our way back up the rock over the dive with the dive master leading us and giving hand signals when he saw the current at either side. Any misgivings soon vanished as were entered one of the most amazing dives of my life (and many of the other divers on the boat). Huge shoals of every fish imaginable, sharks, turtles, lion fish, scorpion fish, nudi branches and huge Napoleon Wrasse. Massive smiles.
Strong currents visible during briefing. Eeek!
Dive two. Manta Point, or Makassar reef if we didn’t see any Manta! A drift dive along a ruble coral bottom. For the last few months this sight was producing 30-50 giant manta’s on every dive. Then a week ago they left. We were hoping they might return. Our briefing for this dive included an explanation of the many divers who had followed Manta and then after a while realized they couldn’t see their dive group anymore. Aptly named “Manta Madness!!” As it turned out all we saw was a Manta tail cruising away from us. The dive was lovely in itself with some great micro life to see as well as the crowd pleasing macro life. I came across a smashing mantis shrimp. Fabled for breaking cameras put too close with its punching fists!
That evening Lynne and I celebrated my birthday a day early with a trip to a lovely restaurant after watching the sun go down in the Treetop Bar. Only mild stomach cramps from our rich pasta and cheesecake dinner. But they were well earned stomach cramps and it felt ok!
Ruteng and the Manggarai people.
We met our driver Sipriano at 8 am and were soon cruising out of LBB east along the Trans-Flores highway. It was more of a windy road than highway. Soon the beauty of Flores began to dawn on the four of us. Endless steep, green volcanoes with small villages nestled amongst their bases and on their slopes.
We were excited to be heading to see the spiderweb rice padis. The area around Cancur was particularly famous. These giant padi fields are owned by entire villages with the padi divided up to represent the importance of each owner (designated by notches on a post in the middle). As we approached Cancur we started to glimpse half webs of padi. We then pulled up at a steep slope and a local guide took us to the top of a hill just as the sun burst through the clouds. Two vast spiderweb padis covered the floor of the valley. Quite unlike anything I had seen before. But Flores was turning out that way.
Friendly kids at one of the many photo stops.
Now for an interesting little aside. The sort Indonesia and Flores throw up. Hobbits are from Flores. Not NZ or JR Tolkin or Peter Jackson. Just north of Bajawa an an amazing discovery was made. There were long stories of a tiny humans living on Flores but no proof. Then in 2003 in Liang Bua cave a tiny skeleton was found the size of a three year old child. But this was an adult skeleton. Whats more she existed 18,000 years ago, when modern Homo Sapiens (us) were the only (?) human left. Was this another case of giagantism and dwarfism that occurs in small island populations? A genetic disease? When did they die out? No body knows but Homo Floriens had been discovered. (Standing only 1m tall imagine them coming up against Komodo dragons which also live on Flores. Dragons often attack by standing up on their hind legs and swiping with their 1.5m tail to knock prey over. An even scarier proposition if you are a third of the size the Dragon!!!!)
By mid afternoon we had arrived in Ruteng and we checked into the local convent. Yes, convent. We were staying at Santa Maria convent. No drinking or smoking and the gates shut at 9pm. It was the cleanest place we stayed in all of SEA.
Late in the afternoon our driver took us to a traditional Manggarai village. Ruteng sits high in the hills and the village was shrouded in clouds. The traditional huts loomed large at the end of a raised stone oval. The center of the oval stood another raised platform, the village burial ground. We wondered around the village and sat down in side a traditional hut with a few of the villagers and Sipri as our translator. The villagers spoke some Bahasa Indonesian but Sipri was from Ruteng and could speak their local language. We sat for some time asking questions (I’m sure Akke won’t mind me saying that she is very good at asking questions!). We discussed traditional building methods as well as Cacai fights. These consist of two men from opposing villages, bare above the waist but with a shield and face guard trying to whip their opponent to submission. The villagers proudly told us you couldn’t go to jail if you killed your opponent and that a good win was when you got their eyes through the facemask. That took real skill!
First view of Manggarai village.
Manggarai village houses a little closer up.
Cacai fighting stick and shield.
Bajawa and the Ngada and Nagekeo people.
The next day we were off bright and early again and heading into another tribal region of Flores, the Ngada and Nagekeo. The Flores landscape continued to mesmerize with endless beautiful volcanoes and padis. With the volcanoes the Flores highway was continuously rising and falling while snaking around. The highway seemed constantly in a state of repair or landslide removal. The local technique of cutting vertically into the soil and stone slopes without reinforcement seemed bound to fail, but they seemed to press on regardless. Luckily Sipri was turning out to be an excellent driver, the safest we had experienced in SEA.
It was a long seven-hour drive and we were happy when we finally reached Bajawa and booked into the Edelweiss hotel for two nights. The town was again high in the hills but it was far from Alpine, anyway the rooms were cleanish.
After unpacking a bit we headed to the market for a bit of exploring. We bought some fruit and then got lost in the maze of a market. Dried fish, stomachs of some large animal, vegetables, batteries and well, anything else you could possible want or not want (to smell) was available.
The usual SEA market but with added "cobwebs" for dramatic effect.
That evening we arranged a guide to take us to some traditional villages the next morning……….
Stupid things travellers say (or write):
Another classic from the special people who don't engage brain before writing. This time a lady was complaining on Tripadvisor about her stay in an Indonesian hotel. She spent the whole holiday in the same hotel but said that every morning before it even got light she was awoken by a terrible racket like singing. This went on every day and she wouldn't stay there again. She gave the hotel a low mark.She ended by saying she had no idea what the noise was. Ok, so people may not have been to a muslim country before or heard the call to pray before, but perhaps engage enough with the place you are travelling to ask what the noise is. Arrrrrrrgh!