Bajawa to Labuanbajo

Trip Start Apr 30, 2004
Trip End Jan 28, 2005

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Where I stayed
Gardena Hotel

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Sunday, August 22, 2004

Sun 15 Aug - Day 105
after a breakfast of two thick pieces of toast and a hard boiled egg, we're n the bus by 7am. We're travelling to Labuanbajo on the west coast of Flores, a journey of 9 hours.

The mountainousterain on Flores means the road building is particularly difficult, involving endless loops, twists and turns as the roads continuously ascend and descend.

The road which runs the length of Flores from Larantuka in the east to Labuanbajo in the west, would be 375km ong if reasonably straight, but its the complete opposite of reasonably straight and it's actually nearly 700km in length. Because of this, and the stunning scenery it's regarded as one of the great bus journeys of the world.

The buses used to cover this route are small, taking about 30 passengers and usualy hve 2 sought of conductors, always young men, who hang out of the doors yelling at passers by, the buses destination. If they spot a potential customer a loud bang on the side of the doobus makes the driver stop. They then jump off and help load the person and their belngings on board. The fare is colected at the end of your journey and they seem to be paid a percentage of the buses takings, meaning the more overcrowded the bus the better for them. Young ladies on the bus turn these young men into performing chimps, climbing needlessly onto the roof and back while the bus is bombing along.

Apart from Rene and myself, there were 4 other tourists on the bus. Two Dutch girls, an American caled Con and Steve, a 45 year old English ex-physics teacher who'd been travelling since 2001. He wasn't prepared to acept his impending baldness and had long hair at the back, he was a nice man but had the eyes of a maniac. I reckon he's an on the run murderer.

Locals filled the rest of the bus. We were sat towards the front, next to a door with a small metal rail to hang on to. Rene, when travelling, always wears her trusty travel bands. I scoffed at her when she first bought them, but not any more, they work a treat and allow her to enjoy travelling with te minimum of queasiness.

For spectacular bus rides yesterdays would be hard to overtake, but todays overtook it and then lapped it. For the first two hours the bus descended 1100m to sea level. the driver was young and in a hury, a bus boy racer. We travelled at a hundred hairpins an hour, the road was very quiet and just looped and wound endlessly as we sped down the mountain. As we drove along a stretch of road, the next stretch was just below us, so the driver could see nothing was coming and would throw the bus round the hairpin at maximum speed. A full upper body workout to hang on.

Each small straight bit of road gave you just enough time to take in the next towring smoking volcano, or rice paddie terrace filled valley.

A non smoking Indonesian male is a rare beast indeed, so these small buses are invariably filled with cheap cigarette smoke. (A packetof fags is about 5000rp - 30p). Exhaust fumes also filter through the always open doors along with dust from the road. It's a heady mix.

By the time the roller coaster bus reached the small coastal town of Aumere three locals had been sick, it must happen regularly as there was a good stock of plastic sick bags on board. Rene's not good in the presence of a vommiter, the noise makes her want to be sick too, so at the first sign of someone chowdering it's fingers in the ears time.

The bus stopped at Aimere for 15 mins, mainly to let the brakes cool down. We were immediately surounded by staring children, an English speaking local on the bus told us they hardly ever se any Westerners here as the buses don't usually stop. We asked them a few basic quesions in Indonesian but they were very shy. Again they were absolutely fascinated with the camera, all crowding round to look at a photo of themselves, then running away giggling.

We followed the caost to Mborong, the flat calm sea was doted with small, traditional, brightly painted fishing boats and small volcanic islands.

We then turnd inland and stated to climb again, more winding hairpin filled villages and locals being sick. At the market town of Ruteng a completely bald tyre was changed and we had the chance t ostretch our legs.

Ruteng is the heart of Manggarai country. The Manggarai hill people are the best known of the many traditional ethnic groups in Flores. They are hard to miss in their distinctive black sarongs. We pass a market where they are selling their black haired pigs, there were about 20 live pigs lying on the ground with all four feet tied together, there's no refrigeration here so everything is kept alive as long as posible. Traditionally the Manggarai would carry out ritual buffalo or pig sacrifices to ask favours fromancestor and nature spirits, but now they're nearly all Christians and Ruteng has several large Christian schools and churches. In many of the villages we pass, the whole village it seems is either on its way to or from church.

The afternoon follows the same pattern as the morning, winding twisting roads, spectacular scenery and isolated small villages.

The bus is constantly stopping to pick up and drop off, at one stop a man jumps on holding a piece of string on the end of which is two chickens, tied at the feet and hanging upside down. They're perfectly still so we presume they are dead. He drops them by our feet and finds a seat further back. They're not dead and within a couple of hairpins are quite contentedly sat on our flip-flopped feet.

So there we were, mid afternoon, the bus absolutely packed with people, boxes and sacks of rice. We were wearing poultry slippers and all around us people were vommitting with the thrill of the ride.

Rene and I are very different travellers and being surrounded by people being sick on a crowded bus wasn't her idea of fun, but for me, all those times over the last 10 years when I've been in the dusty workshop doing something mindnumbingly boring and repetitive, and my mind drifted to the thought of travelling, this is how I dreamed it would be. In the middle of nowhere, on a battered old busfull of friendly locals, watching scenic wonders pass by the window. Flores is that place. This is the land that time forgot. It could not be more perfectly prehistoric. We keep expecting a pterodactyll to swoop down from one of the smoking volcanic peaks, but they're very shy and mainly eat goats. At work, ene had a colour printout of a deserted beach on the Bay of Fires in Tasmania. Turquiose sea, white sand and the chance of seeing whales and dolphins filled her dreamtime, so her moment of fulfillment is yet t come.

By the time we reached Labuanbajo 15 people had been sick, many of them over and over, all of htem locals. They must rarely use the buses and are just not used to the motion.
It was a hell of a ride and we couldn't believe Rene hadn't been sick; her ears were sore from having her fingers in them.

We find a room at the Gardena Hotel, a basic bungalow on a hillside with fantastic panoramic views of the bay. A world class sunset is followed by a world class meal. We both ordered the snapper fish sizzling hot plate. It was the biggest piece of fish fillet we'd ever seen, it filled the whole hot plate and was delicious, served with a lovely sauce and a bowl of chunky home made chips. We strugled to finish, need I say more. Probably the best meal we'd had since leaving home cost 15,000 rupiah (16,500 is a pound). Unbelievable, fish is as cheap s chips here. A large botle of Bintang Beer is 12,000.

We slept soundly.

Expenses: Bus Bajawa to LBB 80000, snack 4000, accom 50000, dinner 46000, beer 36000.
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