25 July 2021

Komodo Dragons & Giant Bats


Well, that’s the first time we’ve rented a place where - if you sit on the toilet, you’re in the rain. 



For good measure, the toilet is placed just beneath the runoff from the roof of the bungalow. Even with the umbrella that we’ve carefully placed by the bathroom door, it's difficult to stay dry. 


A tropical bathroom shower in the rain - is pretty standard. 

Maybe even romantic.

But - what if you have to spend a little TIME on the potty? 


The rain doesn’t mess around here, either. 

It comes down with intense tropical enthusiasm.




The place we’re staying in is quirky. In a good way. 
Most unusual. Kind of a tree house.

Up a narrow stone path and a slippery muddy trail, between rocks so tight that Stan had to turn sideways to get through. And this - after the taxi dumped us off on a side road god knows where. In the pouring rain. 



Stan - with his pack - and folding guitar.


There's a bar, but it only had 1 beer. (luckily a large one-)

We took it.




But the place has a great balcony. 

I keep thinking - where the heck ARE we? 
I think we're the only ones here.

Watching the scene below. 

Pretty pleased with our choice of being on the hill. 





I’m overlooking the city of Labuan Bajo. 
The port. On the edge of the island of Flores, Indonesia. Ships and containers. Tin roofs and the blinking lights of boats in the harbor. It's a working town. 




When it’s not raining, sounds of an impromptu soccer game, occasionally hammering from the boatbuilders. Roosters. Motorcycles and the sound of a van backing up. A bandsaw and a power drill. More laughing from the gang watching the soccer match. 



All sounds of a regular city, doing the things they do everyday. 



Handmade boats and lumpy green islands. 


Lots of cool old wooden boats. 
Fishermen, construction, mosques - and the occasional small dive shop. 

The diving, however - is awesome. 




Sharks and rays and turtles and corals and seahorses - SO much to see. 
It's a wonder world. We spend a LOT of time underwater.

Then, when someone mentioned we could go snorkeling with giant manta rays - and see giant bats, we signed up. We didn't realize we'd be stopping to see Komodo dragons, too. 




There weren't a lot of takers on the trip.
A lovely old wooden Phinisi boat.



Over 10,000 of the 17,000 islands in Indonesia are uninhabited. 

Islands in all directions, and so very green this time of year.


Even with the inhabited ones, transport between the islands is NOT straightforward. 

(I looked into going to Raja Ampat and the Banda Islands. The best I could find was 39 hours, with 6 transfers to get there from here! All - within Indonesia.)




But - back to the Komodo dragons. 




When we get off the boat, we see this sign. 
Crocodiles? - As if Komodo dragons aren't enough.


Looking for crocodiles.

These guys are dangerous. Shark-like teeth.
Their saliva is saturated with toxins. There's no anti-venom.

And - they're cranky.


A cranky Mama Komodo.

On the island, Komodo dragons are just - lying around. 
On trails. Under laundry lines.

We had to be accompanied by a local guy with a big stick. 

I can't believe people just - live casually around them. 

These are under someone's kitchen!

Plus, Komodo is home to poisonous snakes. 
Vipers, kraits, and cobras. 
Pythons, too.

Unbelievably, they allow camping here.
-Really.





Then: GIANT MANTA RAYS:

At "Manta Point", the waters between the islands churned and swirled. You could FEEL and SEE the currents working beneath the surface. It was impressive. Saw dolphins jumping along the way - all day…and sea eagles.



Snorkeling gear on, jumped IN at Manta Point, where the waters swirl around a rock - creating a sort of jet stream for fish and plankton. We were flowing WITH the strong current, and the mantas came towards us, huge mouths wide open, feeding on plankton. 


They are HUGE - 2-3 meters across. Their mouths are wide open, feeding on all the little creatures and plankton floating swiftly by us. 


Dozens of them. 

Beneath us. 

Next to us. 

Around us. 


We struck manta gold. 


Something I’ve never seen before, even though we have seen mantas in other places. The water was chilly, but - we were too busy watching all the mantas to care. 


WAY cool. I was totally impressed.  

This alone was worth coming for.





Just before sunset, we anchor off a mangrove island
Around us, hills and islands, green humps in the water, as far as we can see. 

No lights. 
Just hanging out. 


As the sun went down, thousands of giant bats begin to appear. 


Over a meter across, coming out of the jungle, flying slowly over our heads, into the night sky. They flew in front of the setting sun, and the rising moon, and all looked like miniature "Batman" signs - so much larger than any I’ve ever seen before. 





Slowly, thousands and thousands of enormous bats. They're fruit bats. Flying foxes. They come out of the mangroves and head for night feeding on Flores Island. Every evening.

 It felt like a classic scene from a low-budget horror film.


And then - we head home to Labuan Bajo. 
In the dark. 
With no lights. 

 The captain says he keeps everything dark so he can see the smaller boats - also with no lights - by the light of the moon. Lovely.

An impressive day. 


Can’t ask for much more than that.


Some day all of this will all be very popular, but for now, it's pretty low key. 
It's not easy to get here. It's hot. And accommodations are - interesting. 



KANAWA

Back in town, we found a small desk in a closet-sized office that advertised stays on an island called Kanawa. No idea. We couldn't find anything about it, but - we went. 


SO glad we took the chance! 

A small wooden boat picked us up with our packs. En route, there was engine trouble, and both the captain and first mate dived in to sort it out, leaving just us on the boat. 


Kanawa is tiny. 

Simple wooden cottages for rent - no electricity on the island. 
And a simple restaurant. 

But the best snorkeling I've ever come across. 



Right from the deserted beach - or from the handmade jetty. 


The place is so ridiculously laid-back and relaxed. 




The weather not as hot as I’d feared. Without electricity, there were no fans. 

Yes, the nights were a bit heavy and still under the mosquito netting, but - worth it. 





I snorkeled every few hours, and loved it. 




We saw our first sting ray before we even got off the boat. Underwater was even better. Small black-tip sharks, a wonderful octopus, large cuttlefish, great healthy coral formations, fish of all shapes and colors - I’d go back again. 


Incredible.



There were about 6-12 of us on the island at different times, coming and going. 

It was such a relaxed atmosphere, you couldn’t help talking to everyone. 



To use a trite phrase: Awesome.

Really, really cool. 





"Traveling seems to be me to be a profitable exercise. 
The soul is continuously stimulated by noticing new and different things." 

- Montaigne (French philosopher, 1500's)





"Ideally, I would capture the ounce of magic that exists in every moment."











23 July 2021

Gili Air - Mushrooms and Monitor Lizards




This is the first time I've worried about getting a sunburn IN the shower. 

The shower in our bungalow is exposed to the sky. 
Very beautiful - but HOT when the the sun hits it directly. 

We're in Gili Air. 

East of Bali, off the coast of Lombok.




It’s gorgeous. Total tropical paradise.





Not many people here. 





So we rented bikes - $2 a day - in Yahuuut.

 (yes, 3 u’s!  I wonder - what is the story on THAT?) 


Needed bikes to explore the island and find some place to stay. 




Came across Island View Bungalows on the quiet windward side of the island.


Bungalows - lovely gardens - privacy. Little wooden shelters on the beach to drink beer and watch the sun set. A sleepy bar, and a bevy of young men from Lombok who couldn’t be more helpful or friendly. 




Breakfast comes with the room. Served anywhere we like. 

On our balcony, at the beach, in the bar -


The "main road" goes through Island View Bungalows. 


In the first 5 minutes, I see a LARGE lizard, maybe 4-5 feet long, with a long forked tongue. Not at ALL like an iguana - crawling through the garden near our bungalow. My first Komodo-style dragon! Although I think it’s a monitor lizard. Which I guess a Komodo dragon is, too. 


It slid under one of the bungalows. -Glad it's not ours.


Our bungalow. A/C. Hammock on the balcony. On the beach. $42.



There are no cars on the island, so no need for roads. 

No cars, no motorcycles, no dogs. 





"Downtown" Gili Air.


This is the main road. 

There are tracks - and trails - for bicycles and horse carts. 

Even our scuba equipment is transferred by horse cart.





We got on our bikes and explored the island. It isn’t big. 

It's only about 2 hours’ walk in total circumference. 


It’s gorgeous, almost empty, not expensive. 

I think it might be rainy season.



There is a mosque and a school in the middle, and about 3-4 villages. 

They’re simple places. Everyone says hello. 

Women wear scarves or more. It’s a Moslem island. 


The tourists - mostly young backpackers - are on the edges, at the beaches. 

The locals all live in the interior, in the villages. 

Not bad. 




Gili Air is one of 3 tiny Indonesian islands. 
Gili means "small island".

We took a ferry from Padang Bai in Bali to get here. 


At some point, I got a call from Kilian - “Are you ok?”
I had no idea there’d been a 7.8 earthquake off the coast of Sumatra.

That's pretty big.
(Don't even THINK about tsunamis-!)


No sign of any earthquake here...



I told him we'd been invited to a "trance" party on the beach tonight by a gang of young travelers. Most of the visitors to Gili Air are young backpackers. It's firmly on the "Banana Pancake Trail". Complete with mushroom shakes and all that. 


(Magic mushrooms grow wild here. They even put them on pizzas.) 


Tonight - or early tomorrow am - is apparently a full solar eclipse. 



However - we decline - a cold shower and a glass of wine in our air-conditioned room just sounds SO much more appealing! We'll get up early to see the eclipse.



So here we are tonight in our new “feng shui” room, under the mosquito net, which gives it all a privacy and intimacy that’s kinda cool. I have with me inside the net: My Kindle, phone, and computer - and an almost empty glass of Bintang beer. 




Most visitors pass through the Gilis quickly. Since we're here longer than most, we get to know the fellows working here. They're mostly from Lombok - (I remember an older man we stayed with in Malaysia complaining about those charming boys from Lombok who come over and steal the hearts of their daughters in Malaysia-! He was quite serious.) 




One night, the lads caught a large tuna, and asked whether we wanted it to share it - grilled or sushi. We got both. With a Bintang beer. On the beach. With a view of Gili Meno in front of us.


UNDERWATER:



The diving and snorkeling here in Indonesia is impressive. 
(and I grew up in the Caribbean!) 

The dive instructors are often young Australians. 
Full of energy, very professional. The gear is usually good. 
The undersea wildlife is amazing. 

Plus, the wooden boats are just - fun. 


Today - Stan did a refresher course, since he hasn't been diving since Roatan. 
Diving:   490,000 rupiah (just under $40), including dives, boat, equipment, wetsuit. 

Can’t complain. 


The boats - including dive boats - are often handcrafted outriggers.



FOOD:


The food in Indonesia so far has been good: Nasi Goreng, Mei Goreng, Gado-Gado. 
Spices and noodles and rice and chilies. 
Not a lot of choices, but it’s filling and good.


 Most restaurants on the island are about the same, pretty simple but lovely, little bamboo platforms out on the beach. 




Tonight, had gin and tonics and Greek salad and spring rolls and satay - what international fare! 


Dinner main course is about 35,000 for something Indonesian (less than $3) and up - for fancy stuff. Wine is very pricey here - we’re trying to stick to beer. But the local beer is good.





THE PLAN:


 It's month 4 of our SE Asian trip. 

We've been playing it by ear for the last 3 months. 


At times, this feels like the BEST possible way to live! Always something new. 
Constantly learning - exploring - being challenged by the unknown. 

Finding unexpected corners of paradise, like Gili. 


But it's harder than I thought to keep making new plans and figuring out where to go next and -  how to get there. Especially in this part of the world, where we really don't know our way around, and don't know what's possible. Wi-fi is also difficult to find. Only in the occasional café or restaurant, where you share a signal with all the other travelers - until your work is done. 

Also, Indonesia is HUGE. 


Good-bye to all our Island View friends...

So we're off to Flores. 
It's only the next island but one. 
You'd think it would be easy! But - it's not.

By boat it would take 3-4 days, sleeping on the deck. 

That's not for us. 


We start with a horse cart to the ferry port at 7 am.

 Found a seat on the public ferry, after having to climb aboard through the water. 

Thinking about a ferry crossing on a public boat, I was a bit apprehensive, after the regular reports of overloaded Indonesian ferries capsizing in rough waters and people drowning. 

But Lombok isn’t far, and it turned out the ferry wasn’t half as crowded as the one yesterday. 
Not as rough as I’d feared, either.




There were a couple of other travelers on board, but for the most part, all local. Women in headscarves, workers going home on their day off. 

The fare was 12,000 rupiah to Lombok. About 85 cents. 



We were met at the Lombok port by someone who handed us off to someone else who handed us off to a driver who took us to the airport at Bandera. (Can't believe that worked.)


 'Taxi' stop in Lombok. Stan's pants wet from getting off the ferry.

About 1.5 hours' drive or so through the mountains. 

Our plane was delayed, so no rush. Our connecting plane in Bali was also delayed. (we have to fly back to Bali in order to fly east to Flores.) Both planes are prop planes, about 80 passengers, almost all locals. 


The further east we get into Indonesia, the less I know about it. 
I have NO idea what tomorrow will look like.




That's fine by me.

Life is good.