Underwater world exploration

Trip Start Mar 29, 2013
Trip End Apr 01, 2014

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Flag of Indonesia  , East Nusa Tenggara,
Friday, July 5, 2013

Bliss is a bungalow right next to the ocean.  For some reason they are not that easy to find.  It's blissful to wake up, crawl into the hammock strung on the balcony and watch the sunrise over the sea.  Having a sunrise under your belt already and the whole day ahead of you with nothing more complicated than reading a book or a swim in the ocean is the kind of sublime simplicity that makes all our sacrifice in our other existence worth it.  On a busy day we go diving, have to be on time and focus on what we're doing!  The best bungalow operations are run by transplanted westerners, they just are.  We can't quite place what it is that they 'get'.....it's the idea of privacy or rustic charm or something else, but they get it.  After weeks of tough roads, haggling, finding good food or running water, an extended stay in a bungalow fixes everything. Usually you end up eating at the same place so you don't even have to deal with money at all, just settle up when you leave.

Alor is an island at the far eastern end of Nusa Tenggara.  It attracts divers but is otherwise way off the path beaten by hoards of tourists to the west.  The locals were still headhunting here in the 1950's.  What makes Alor special is the relatively cold, clear water and strong currents that surround it, conditions that may have discouraged colonial occupations and casual swashbucklers, but are perfectly suited for growing soft coral and sponges.  The diving lived up to all the expectations and some of the reefs are the healthiest we've ever seen.  When diving, hanging on for dear life in strong currents or while photographing something, it's customary to hold onto bare rock or dead coral, but in some areas it was impossible due to the reef being completely covered with living organisms.

The place we stayed was owned by a French couple on Kepa, a small island off Alor.  Some of their huts were built in traditional local style with a sleeping loft above a communal open-air crash pad.  Meals were served family style and used every kind of local vegetable and flower available, and fresh fish.  The night skies out in the middle of the ocean so far away from any big city were awe inspiring.  The days melt together at a place like this, we left after 10 days because someone had booked our bungalow, not for any other reason

Don't for a minute think our travel is all comfort and ease, these little nuggets of paradise are difficult to get to, more so on a tight budget like ours where slow local transport is our usual means. The ferry from Alor to Flores took 28 hours, stopping at every island with a port in between and many volcanoes jutting straight out of the sea.  The islands looked fascinating and beautiful, we second-guessed our choice to go straight through this part. Our space on the ferry was four metal seats in a row with near-vertical backs, only room for one of us to awkwardly lay down at a time.  Once on dry land we endured another 4.5hr bus journey, that's after local touts trying to hustle us and the driver finally decided to get going once he's finished his smokes and food with his mates and we're drenched in sweat threatening to bail.

Flores was also tough travelling but beautiful interior, at it's western end is a fishing town called Labuan Bajo which we visited 10 years ago.  Until recently just a small far-flung departure point for trips to see the Komodo Dragons or diving, it has swelled to a major tourist destination due to stability of tourism in the country and Bali having multiple daily flights.  We enjoyed pizzas from a place owned by real Italians, quite a treat after 3 months of rice and fish.  There are many small islands between Flores and Komodo, we stayed on two different ones; Kanawa and Seraya.  One had great open-side huts called Bales right on the beach, we left the ocean-side shade up and were rewarded with sunrises over the ocean. 

The diving in and around Komodo National Park was amazing, you literally never know what you will see.  One memorable dive in particular had big Gray reef sharks cruising the drop off at 30 meters as smaller Whitetip reef sharks and Giant Trevally cruised the slopes above us.  Best of all so far was watching a cuttlefish mating session while snorkeling.  Fascinating creatures with complex communication abilities, this cephalopod soap opera included color changes, tentacle waving, duels, cock-blocking and even a teenage male cross dressing in order to get close enough to the action without getting pummeled by dominant males.  They were so intent on the festivities at hand we hung out for hours with them hovering all around us.

Rather than endure another overland bus ordeal or buy pricey flights, we opted to take the boat safari to Lombok, stopping at Komodo Island and several worn-out snorkeling spots on the way.  The dragons are still special but after four days we were really ready to be off the boat.  Touristy or not, our collective reaction was that Bali is a beautiful place.  We are happier still to be in Bangkok, Thailand now enjoying hot water, clean sheets, a modern city and cheap street food that no superlative can aptly describe.  We have collected our Indian visa and we're off to Delhi today.

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