Good Times Roll

Trip Start Jun 12, 2011
Trip End Oct 22, 2012

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Flag of Indonesia  , East Nusa Tenggara,
Wednesday, October 19, 2011

We knew the journey to Labuanbajo (re-named by us as Badger – it's easier to say) in Flores was going to be a tough one. We were told the journey would take 26 hours; our own calculations put it at more like 30 hours.  The journey went something like this:  leave Air 8.30 am, short boat journey to Bangsal, 400 metre walk to a mini bus whilst being hassled by horse and cart drivers telling you the bus station is 2 or 3 Km away and so you must pay for a lift there (scam avoided), 2 hour bus journey to Mataran on Lombok where we had to wait 5 hours for the next bus at 3pm. 

SCAM#1: We were told that our ticket to Badger didn’t include our luggage and so we should pay extra, which of course we disputed but when faced with "pay if you want or don’t, up to you" the risk is that your luggage accidentally falls off the bus – Grr. We drove across Lombok, caught a ferry at 6pm arrived in Sumbawa 1.5 hours later.  The bus drove across Sumbawa through the night stopping at 10.30pm for our free included in the price dinner (not 8pm as advised).  We arrived in Bima at 5am got shuffled into a local bus and dropped in the port town of Sape at 7.45am. 

SCAM#2: We were supposed to be getting the ferry at 8am but were told that the ferry didn’t go until the afternoon at 4pm, apparently at this time of year only one ferry a day goes to Badger and the situation was like this for the last 2 months! (so the people who sold us the ticket would have known this!).

SCAM#3: In the confusion getting off the bus the bus driver, who was supposed to buy our ferry ticket, disappears.  Thankfully though a local man knows where he lives and heads off on his motorbike to go and claim our money off the bus driver so we can buy our own ferry tickets.  He also finds us a cheap room in a local hotel and so the 4 of us take a nap eat some food have a shower and prepare for the next stage of the trip.

The ferry left at 7pm.  All the sleeping areas booked up by locals so the choice was to find a metal chair to sit on in the open air economy area or, and the choice we went for, the padded benches in a hot room which had vaguely working aircon.  We later discovered this was 'business class’ and we had to pay an extra 1 to stay there (big deal!). So 8 hours later, 44 hours after leaving Gili Air, at 3 am and after 2 broken nights of sleep we finally arrived in Badger. 

For the first couple of days in Badger we slept chilled, ate at the lovely chilled restaurants overlooking the islands of Kimodo National Park and drank Bintang.  We also checked out all the dive operations and booked our dive safari with Dive Kimodo.  Unable to afford a livaboard but not wanting to do day trips to Kimodo for diving (its a 2 hour boat trip) a dive safari is a happy compromise as its really a day time dive boat but they put out mattresses on deck and give you all your meals so you get the best of both worlds for a really good price.

On our third day Team Badger hired mopeds to go find Cunca Wulang Cascades.  We were joined by Katrin from France and Indra from Java who overheard our plans.  We set off into the mountains driving though villages up windy roads with amazing mountain views past rice fields and rainforest.  It felt great to get out on the open road and see Flores village life close up.  As we drove though each village pretty much everyone stopped what they were doing to say hello and give us a wave... workers, mothers, ladies doing laundry or washing their kids, children playing or walking to or from school... everyone – it was great!  The kids would run out into the road (a little un-nerving) and try to give us a Hi5 as we rode past.  I’ve never encountered so many smiles on a journey before ever.  They do say that though the Indonesians have a smile for every occasion, I can believe it. 

It started to rain quite heavily so we pulled over and took refuge under some trees opposite a banana stall.  When the rain got heavier the man at the stall beckoned for us to come into his house.  So we found ourselves drinking coffee and eating bananas in what turned out to be the house belonging to local area’s Cultural and Arts Chief.  He showed us his traditional costume and played us beautiful music on a bamboo flute.  Thankfully Indra was able to translate for us otherwise the whole experience would have been very different.  It was totally amazing and we all felt very privileged to have, by fluke, stopped to shelter from the rain at the right place. 

Indra was able to locate the right turning off the road for us by asking the locals and we turned off down a dirt track with spectacular views looking out over the Komodo Park Islands.  At our destination we hired a guide and set off on our trek just in time for the heavens to open again.  After about 2km we came to the river and had to climb over the rocks and jump between them (scary!), we went past the canyon and clambered up a steep slope with a drop on one side, clinging on to roots as we went until we finally reached the top of the waterfall.  Totally spectacular!  Where the river had eroded the rock, bowls had formed in the rock and the water cascaded down the pools into a huge bowl at the bottom separated with naturally formed arches and then running out into the canyon.  We sat and ate lunch while admiring the scenery.

Lunch digested and we climbed back down to the canyon where we took it in turns to jump off the edge, a 10 meter drop into the water... woo hooo!  On the ride back to Badger the sun was setting creating an amazing backdrop as you look out to sea.  As we rode into Badger itself the sky was lit up red, purple and orange with the silhouette of the Kimodo Island in the background – stunning.

The next day, exhausted we set off on our dive safari.  In what I can only think of was fate and a bit of luck the boat engine broke and so we had to about turn and head back to Badger.  A blessing as Will was sick so couldn’t dive that day and we were all exhausted.  We got a free dive and free lunch en route as we waited for them to work out what was wrong with the engine, bonus.  We set off again the following day on the day boat with our safari boat to meet us in the evening once it was fixed.

We knew that there was a risk of strong currents at Komodo but nothing prepared us for our first dive there at a pinnacle called Castle Rock.  We had no warning either that any currents do not lead to a drift dive.  The dive had a negative entry which means you have to swim down due to the currents rather than drop in as normal.  The reef was amazing, like nothing I have seen before for the colours and variety of corals and the amount of fish around it.  Dynamite fishing is banned in Komodo National Park and that’s one of the reasons why this is one of the top dive areas in the world.  We swam around the sheltered part of the reef briefly before being faced head on with very strong currents.  We were told to hold on to the rocks and we sat there for a while, our bubbles streaming behind us as the head on and slightly downward current came in powerful waves over us.  I wasn’t bothered about this at first, looking up at the fish soup above and all around us was a nice distraction.  After a while though we had to battle the currents to get up to shallower water and do our safety stop.  At this point the others disappeared suddenly (later we found out that Bob was out of air from taking pictures in the current and so after a quick exchange between our dive masters, a buddy air supply grabbed and an emergency ascent later and that was resolved), meanwhile Will and me tried to get to higher ground but I was struggling against the currents.  It was a scary moment when I realised I was low on air too and we were still at 12m, but after a split second of panic we used the rocks to pull ourselves up until the DM grabbed me and helped me up to a rock at 5metres and we clung on for our safety stop before surfacing a little shaken.

The next dive at the Cauldron made me immediately forget any fear and is by far my favourite dive to date.  The mixture of a sandy bottom and lots of small pinnacles of beautiful beautiful coral and fish soup again, but the highlight was the unexpected manta ray that glided by slowly right next to us.  The majestic creature gracefully flying though the water was very surreal.  There were also turtles, an eel garden and a chimney to swim into, awesome!

We also dove Crystal Rock (beautiful pinnacle, octopus, moral eels, eagle ray), Wainilu on Rinca (muck dive), Batu Bolong (probably the most beautiful reef I have seen ever, hard and soft coral, big trevallys, sharks, massive napoleon wrass) and last but not least Manta Point (5 manta rays, eagle ray, marble ray, strong currents again but this time drifting or swimming across the current then when a manta is spotted holding onto a rock, to stay still for one, but also to keep low so our bubbles don’t go through the ray as they don’t like to eat bubbles).  This time the manta were so close you could reach out and touch them and they were huge.  One came and hovered above us for about 5 minutes while our bubbles tickled its belly.  All dives except Manta point and the muck dive were like swimming in fish soup.  I just wish that dynamite fishing could be banned in more places as it’s awesome to see so much alive reef and so many fish.

If that wasn’t enough to make our time in Flores pretty epic.... when we got to Crystal Rock there was a school of dolphins swimming around the pinnacle.  Unfortunately we didn’t see them in the water (except for Elliot) but they got pretty close to the boat and we had three swimming on each side of the boat for a while when we left.  The food and the crew on the boat were ace and the crew went to massive efforts to make our night sleep comfortable.  At night we saw some amazing luminescent fish glowing bright green and blue reacting with the boat’s lights. We awoke to a beautiful sunrise, different blue phosphorescence in the water and more dolphins, then headed straight to Rinca to see the Komodo dragons.  At the end of the day we arrived back into Badger as the sun was setting, Bintang in hand.

The journey back to Gili Air was not as painful, only 26 hours.  The Bangsal gauntlet was the hardest part and this time we got scammed and could do nothing about it.  We think we ended up on a public boat despite paying for a charter (told public boat had gone, bought a ticket for it anyway, waited then eventually caved in) and other westerners who had cleverly been kept away from us until we paid the extra appeared at the last minute but we didn’t do too badly only paying 2 each more than we should have done.

It was great to be back on Gili Air but alas we could only stay 2 nights then Team Badger headed off on the slow boat back to Bali, had one more night in Padang Bai and then Team Badger parted ways... we headed back to Malaysia to meet Mum and Elliot and Lizzy had one week left in Bali before flying to Oz.

Thanks for your patience reading this blog I know its a long one!  We also cant claim credit for all the pics as they are an amalgamation of ours, Elliot and Lizzy's, Berlinda's, Katrin's and Indra's and the underwater pics were a shared camera.  Enjoy!
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