Overland from Flores to Bali.
- This is a very basic journey, coming from Manila via Singapore
- There’s a Twenty Something Female Australian, Sylvia, a sixty something, Slightly Frail Male Australian, John, and a thirty something Very Capable Female Australian Leader, Joanna.
- The accommodation is wonderfully cheap, but basic – the shower is local mandi style - a large plastic barrel of water and a ladle.
- We use local transport and are crammed onto local buses along with goats on the roof and live chickens and sacks of flour inside as well as some very dubious odours. TSFA has already thrown up twice, bravely waiting for a gap in the tees and a scenic stop, by the lush mountains and rice terraces.
- Once, Sylvia and I are offered a lift with a guy who is working at the British consul - it’s a very nice car and we are exceedingly reluctant to return to the jolting buses after this taste of luxury.
- Flores is a spectacularly beautiful island and has enough interesting sights to warrant a longer stay.
- Maumere on the north coast to start, someone has stolen my sandals, which I foolishly left on the veranda of my bungalow. Joanna rounds up possible suspects and threatens an identity parade. They are returned.
- From Moni, in the centre, there are volcanic lakes of astonishing jewel like colours. It's mandatory to get up early to see them, driving up Kelamuta's hairpin beds in the dark - now John's vomiting - and it's bracingly cold up there at that time of the morning.We wake to mountain air and the scent of woodsmoke. The whole village dances for just the four of us, following up with an Ikat weaving sales pitch.
- A bus to Ende, now on the south coast - more spectacular volcanic scenery , complete with iconic cones. and piles of filthy rubbish.there are very few tourists and we are definitely the centre of attention.
- Bananas are our staple food,as we travel. Stilt villages, banks of spiky red ginger, clouds of fruit bats. Some excellent snorkelling with delicate spirals of coral, flamboyant fish, deadly lion fish among them. I’m pursued by three errant tuna.
- Bajawa - a woman is sleeping on my shoulder surrounded by fumes of clove and tobacco. Locals whispering:' White people on the bus!' Out of the window are clouds of orange daisies and royal blue morning glory. The hangers-on (literally) leap off the bus as we arrive at the hot springs. Cascades of piping hot water, sliding down gullies into small pools. It’s a hugely enjoyable natural water park. A small village clinging to the mountain slopes and circled by more classic volcano cones. We’re invited to watch boxing. It’s part of a wedding ceremony - we’ve already viewed the parade winding down the main street, parasols bobbing and drums banging.
- Ruteng – baskets of tiny bird’s eye chilies on the bus today and an onward tortuous journey. The brakes are failing, we have a flat tyre and there are numerous pot holes filled with rocks.
- Labuan Bajo, whip fighting, (suitably aggressive, with colourful headdresses), and more excellent snorkelling across the straits towards Rinca with attendant jelly fish - I still have the scar). The sunsets are astonishing, capturing the fishing boats beautifully in silhouette. I meet Nick here, at our 'hotel' playing cards on the veranda (see Myanmar).
Rinca and Komodo
- By boat to the small islands of Rinca and Komodo, where the snorkelling is whatever the next grade up is from excellent. Our SFMA is not a good sailor and has to be mollycoddled by the VCFAL. Our crew of six are on better form. They feed us gado-gado and we all sing till our tongues are in ribbons.
- The renowned dragons are marauding around. They are indeed huge. I am persuaded to pose for pictures brandishing a forked prodding stick behind one. Next week, I read an article in the paper about an attack by a zoo based Komodo dragon on Sharon Stone’s husband; he has lost some of his toes and is thought to have come off lightly.
- We bypass Sumbawa on our vessel – we’re told it’s not very interesting and the roads are bad. There are no lights on the boat- they use torches. SFMA may not be a good sailor, but he has got very good at whining. VCFAL is admirably patient.
- Lombok offers more cultural delights. Here we have stick fighting (the regalia is less splendid but it’s more brutal) and some tourist villages where we can watch the local artisans and barter for more Ikat weaving. There's also a wedding on the way.
- The beaches here are stunning white sand, palm trees and limestone pinnacles. Unfortunately, there are now also tourists. The upside is we have a hotel with hot water – and a swimming pool.
- Damian, yet another Australian, who I meet at a local restaurant, persuades me to take to the pillion of his motor bike and I get a bumpy view of the rural island. Damian (I should have been more wary as soon as I heard the name) can’t decide if he wants to come with us to Bali or not, so I say my farewells
- Another boat, a ferry this time to Bali and the tranquil rice terraces and extravagantly, gorgeous temples. We start at Lovina and an Indonesian banquet on the beach. The highlight is spiritual Ubud, with its cafes, health food and furniture shops. This is our last stop, where our hotel is a resplendent carved idyll surrounded by paddy fields. Damien is waiting to welcome us. But he’s not sure if he wants to stay in touch when I leave or not. (See Australia for more on this story!).
- More on Bali here