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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

August 31 – Sept 3, 2012 - Day 3 of Labuan Bajo, Flores - Komodo Dragons and a Snorkel Trip

Hendrick was our tour guide for the day. Very well spoken, he gave us some interesting history of the island of Flores, which does seem to be an unusual name for an Indonesian Island. Flores was settled by the Portuguese; hence many settlements including Labuan Bajo were named by them. The island was then taken over by the Dutch who ran the Portuguese all the way to the end of the island where they unceremoniously booted them off. The area where this occurred was aptly named "Ende", meaning "the end". The island remains 97% Catholic, a bit of an anomaly for this predominantly Muslim country.  We now understand why so may villagers own pigs.
Barb, Hendrick, Frank

We enjoyed a very comfortable double-decker boat ride over to the island of Rinca (aka Rinja) in the company of cruisers from the yachts Imagine, Island Sonata, Keris and Seamist. On the way over to Rinca Hendrick imparted to us information on the Komodo Dragons giving us some cautionary advice and asked us a rather interesting question: Is anyone here bleeding at all from any cuts and more importantly, are any of the women having a menstrual cycle? If so those persons are not permitted to enter the reserve because the dragons will smell blood and come after us. He recited several incidents of dragon attacks on humans that included deaths of tourists as well as attacks on park rangers, stressing the need for us all to stay together and not venture away from the protection of the rangers. The Komodo dragons appear sluggish but can move with lightening speed when on the hunt, and the smaller ones can leap and climb the trees. Oh Joy.

Arriving at the island, our boat pulled into a berth directly in front of the park entrance. We were assigned two rangers wielding long poles with a "y" shaped end. This is our protection from deadly Komodos? The rangers took us into the actual ranger station to register and suddenly one of them pointed to a nearby group of trees. We all looked wondering what he was pointing at when suddenly someone exclaimed; "Dragon!" Barely 10 feet away from us rested a large Komodo dragon. It appeared to be sleeping and when we leaned in for a closer look it opened its eyes & moved its head in our direction. We all gasped and started. The guide put his arm out to direct us back. My gosh it blended right in with the ground! We were assured that right now was the best time to view them because they are sunning to get warm and will generally just lie there until it becomes too hot for them then they will disappear into the bush.  If we were lucky we would see a few more. Today we were very fortunate. At least a dozen dragons were out and about. Eerily, they hang out AT the ranger station, even resting underneath the cabins. We spied one ranger sitting on the deck of his cabin reading whilst two Komodos lounged underneath him. It really was unbelievable. Suddenly a ranger called for us to come look as he pointed to a smaller dragon (about 1 meter long) in the wooded area that had caught and was consuming a very large snake. It was an incredible sight. We continued walking through the camp passing one dragon after another. Most were resting but a few of them actually got up and ambled to a more cozy spot to rest. It was creepy and a little exciting. Fortunately for us this was the largest sighting they'd had all week. The dragons ranged in size from about 1 to just over 3 meters in length.  We passed a few places where the skeletons of animals had been prominently displayed, apparent victims of the Komodos. From the ranger station we were taken on a hike to a mount for a panorama of the park. It is hot, dusty and desolate here. Along the way we spied several feral hogs, lots of monkeys and heaps upon heaps of Buffalo dung but no buffaloes.  On return to the ranger station the dragons had all disappeared back into the bush as though they had been a mere hallucination. It was now 11:30, so after a short stop at the small cantina for a cold drink and a snack of junk food we returned to our boat where we noted dozens more various sized boats tangled up in dock lines happily bobbing around in the small anchorage. Indeed we had been first to arrive and probably had the best sighting of them all. We had to walk across another boat to get back onto ours and then watched in fascination as several boat boys busied themselves at the lines to get us un-tethered and away. We only tapped one other boat getting out of there, which in and of itself is a miracle.
dragon trophies

a juvenile

smaller dragon eating a large snake

Back out on the water we enjoyed an incredibly scrumptious lunch prepared by Hendrick and the first mate. It was a varied spread large enough to feed us all several times. Bellies full, some of us retired to the cushion-covered upper deck for some rest in the shade before our snorkel stop. On the way over we spotted several dolphins and even a dugong/manatee. It was a lovely trip through clear water that was so many shades of blue and green that our eyes feasted on the passing seascapes. Eventually we came to a little island popular for its snorkeling and swimming beach. Frank, Stuart, Cheryl, Ruth and I donned our gear and dove in. The small reef was nice but not spectacular. What impressed us were the varieties and number of fish about. We followed several groups of them from coral head to coral head, passing several sea anemones teeming with bright little clown fish. The water was none too clear but we managed to thoroughly enjoy ourselves.

We returned to the anchorage at Labuan Bajo utterly satisfied from the day's outing. Amazingly, the entire trip cost only $45/person, all inclusive.

We had been invited to join the others back on shore for dinner but we were exhausted and needed to ready the boat for an early departure in the morning so we opted for a quiet dinner onboard.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

August 31 – Sept 3, 2012 – Labuan Bajo; Part 2 - Spa Day& More Great Food

At 8 AM the boat boys arrived with our diesel and very efficiently filled our tanks from several large jerry cans. Although we did use the filter it was hardly necessary. Frank ordered some beer, sodas and whatever else he felt we needed and while he was negotiating those transactions I caught a ride into town with Stuart and Sheila's boat boy for our spa appointments. We were early, so we popped into the Bajo Bakery to order some freshly baked breads to be picked up that afternoon. Visiting with folks who had been here for several days we discovered that we could charter a large boat to take us to the Komodo Dragon National Park on the island of Rinca (in Indonesian: Rinja). Sheila got the name of the tour operator and arranged for a group of 10 of us to go on Sunday, Sept. 2nd.

The Flores Spa is a world-class affair, owned and operated by an Italian expatriate who speaks both fluent Indonesian and English. My three-hour indulgence included a 30-minute reflexology, followed by a one-hour Balinese massage, and then a one-hour body scrub, ending with a 30-minute facial. The cost of this incredible pampering? Approximately $29 USD! Unbelievable. I tipped my gal 10,000 IDR ($1) that darn near made her swoon. Afterward, as we all relaxed over an aromatic cup of tea before leaving, I commented to Stuart and Sheila that I didn't think I was capable of much physical effort. They laughed but agreed that we were all so relaxed we'd been reduced to "useless". Wow, what a way to spend a morning. They returned to Imagine immediately because they had to get their fueling done, while I moseyed down to meet Frank at Mediterraneo.  He had brought his new iPad and was snuggled into a large beanbag chair on the upper deck, beer in hand and surfing the internet when I arrived. We moved down into the restaurant ordered lunch and then visited with the familiar faces that came and went over the next couple of hours, hearing of great anchorages and good adventures to look forward to as we head west. It was nice to have a cozy spot that felt like home to enjoy and just kill time. Afterward, we strolled the streets looking for bits of this and that at the various storefronts before the dreaded ride back to Destiny in the taxi boat.

Mediterraneo also owns a restaurant/bar across the bay on the beachfront in the resort area of LBJ and because tonight is the full moon, are hosting a big party. Several of us agreed to attend. This is a 5-star restaurant. It not only sits along the best part of beachfront on the bay, it boasts a pool, a lounge area with sand floor and giant beanbag chairs, a massage area and then formal dining. We joined Stuart and Sheila for pre-dinner drinks in the beanbag lounge before moving over to the dining area for our incredibly fresh and delicious dinner. I feasted on tri-colour salade and tiger prawns. Frank had a seafood risotto that left us both drooling for more. We ate, drank and enjoyed the night away for under $20. Again, unbelievable. Our bank account loves this country!   After dinner we joined a large group of cruiser friends who were reclining in the beanbag lounge area for after-dinner cordials. Frank and I decided that if we ever move back home and build a house near the water, this is exactly how we want our back yard to be.

August 31 – Sept 3, 2012 – Labuan Bajo; Part 1 - Inexpensive Fuel, Great Food, Scary Water Taxis, and Pearls (Oh My!)

Upon anchoring at Labuan Bajo, commonly known as LBJ, we were immediately "claimed" by a local Boat Boy. He appeared out of nowhere and made it clear that we belonged to him. The watercraft these guys use are long, narrow wooden vessels that have been obviously hand-made and appear to have been assembled from discarded bits and pieces of lumber, string, fabric and lawnmower motors, sans muffler. Hardly seaworthy, they convey their occupants across large stretches of water, all the while being driven with one hand and pumped with the other – the pumping action is to alleviate water from the bilge, which is a constant feat. Our guy had an unpronounceable name and spoke very little English, yet he was able to communicate to us that he would be our water taxi and as well provide fuel service, beer, water and any other commodity that we wished to purchase through his convenient delivery services for a nominal fee.

We arranged delivery of 400 liters of diesel fuel for the amazingly low price of 7,000 IDR per liter (approx 70 cents, USD per), and petrol for 10,000 per liter. Fuel is cheap here, and surprisingly clean. After arranging these services he then whipped out his Komodo dragon carvings and a large bag of strung pearl necklaces for our perusal. Everyone seemed to be purchasing pearls and carvings so we had a gander. The pearls are imperfect but not too bad, and so I picked out one black and one white strand and a dragon carving about 10 inches long. At first, he wanted to charge me 500,000 IDR per strand and 800,000 for the dragon (totaling about $180 USD). After some heated haggling, impressing upon him that the pearls are not that valuable, we managed to purchase the trio for 650,000 total (approx. $65.00 US). He seemed very unhappy with me, although I know he still made a darn good profit, and I felt very pleased with my end of the bargain. Now that we had all that out of the way, it was time to enjoy LBJ! We gingerly stepped down into the somewhat unstable "boat" and sat upon rickety planks that barely covered the sloshy hull beneath us. His wife, son and brother were aboard, huddled underneath a ragged overhang. I surreptitiously tried to snap a photo or two without offending the owner and his family (do they live on this thing???). It really is a marvel of boat building prowess, this strange little vessel that served as our water taxi. The price is $70,00 based on a R/T.  OK, for roughly $7, we can do this…I thought.
Our "Taxi"

After a very bumpy and wet ride into the town, we were unceremoniously dumped at a high concrete wharf. We had to walk out onto the tip of the bow and practically crawl up onto the filthy wharf. I was wearing a skirt for goodness sake! I told Frank I had high anxiety about getting back on that scary little boat, but what choice did we have?

LBJ waterfront

filling the diesel tanks

the streets of LBJ

We sought out Dana and Mark from Northfork who were already in town with Peter and Evelyn (Renegade). After a quick recon through the town we noted right off many, many dive shops. This is a world-class scuba area, specializing in live aboard dive adventures. We ran into several cruisers and other westerners strolling through the little tourist town. Of note were: the Flores Spa, the Bajo Bakery and the many upscale restaurants that offered free wifi. I plopped down at the bakery to join our friends from Christine Anne and Fayaway for an iced coffee while Frank set off to find an ATM. Eventually we wandered over to Mediterraneo, an upscale Italian restaurant that appeared to be THE favored hangout. Inside Mark, while lounging in an oversized beanbag chair, explained to us that Dana was at a three-hour spa appointment and that he and baby Walker were having a little guy-time over coffee and wifi. We like this place!  Frank and I enjoyed a delicious lunch with a large group of our friends who had also converged on this popular spot, and then afterward several of us walked over to book our 3-hour spa indulgences. Five of us booked out the entire spa for the next day from 10 AM – 1 PM.

Afterward, Sheila, Cheryl and I left the guys at the bar and set off to do a little grocery shopping. Well, that was the plan.  Every shop here is different and carries only certain goods, and of those most are dry goods and junk food. Anything fresh must be obtained at a roadside stand or at the open-air market. There is absolutely no cheese or dairy or refrigerated/frozen goods of any kind available (nor has there been elsewhere before this), so we don't know where on Earth the restaurants get their supplies. Amazingly, after having visited half a dozen shops I only came away with Mentos, crackers and some cookies. Yes, we thrive on a balanced diet.

Grudgingly, Frank and I finally returned to the wharf for our taxi ride back out to Destiny. The tide was way out, so fortunately our Boat Boy met us at the bottom of some concrete stairs so we wouldn't have to figure out how to get down into the scary little boat. Of course, the stairs were covered in SLIME, and we are wearing flip-flops. Great. We both very ungracefully slipped and slid down and then crawled up onto the pointy bow and literally crab-walked over splintery planks to a seated position, bracing ourselves for the wet and rolly ride back out to Destiny. Most of our goods got slopped with water over the low freeboard. I kept thinking to myself; "Thank God Karen isn't with us. She would be so sick by now!" That ride is not for the faint of heart or the queasy of stomach, especially for those prone to motion sickness.  We spent the rest of our evening just resting and recovering from the big outing into town and after a quiet dinner I hammered Frank in a game of Baja Rummy.

Friday, September 14, 2012

August 28 – 31, 2012 – An Awful Anchorage (Lingeh, Flores ) and a Lovely Anchorage (Gili Bodo)

The next stop after Riung was named Lingeh, Flores and promised to be an excellent place to stop for a few days of swimming and snorkeling. The anchorage was deep into a bay, well protected by a very large reef on all sides. Holding was excellent and the surrounding beauty very appealing, however, before we could even drop the hook we were set upon by heavily laden dugout canoes full of young people. They were so intent on attracting our attention that we nearly ran down a couple of them. Here again, these delicate people have no sense of the power and lack of maneuverability of a sailing yacht, and kept getting right up to the bow and stern in a robust attempt to grab hold of our gunnels while Frank is manning both the engine and bow-thruster & whilst I attempted to deploy the anchor. It was disturbing to us that they had no sense of propriety and absolutely would not back away from the boat under vigorous protests from us both.  As always, it takes several minutes for us to settle in, yet, immediately we were overrun with urchins. They grabbed at the rails, trying to heave themselves up, climbed up onto the sugar scoop at the stern and persisted in competing for our attention. We fully acknowledge and appreciate that they were very excited to see us. We understand that this is a big deal for them to have half a dozen yachts descend upon their little bay – they more than likely look upon this as an early Christmas and yet they were so aggressive, asking for money and clawing at our things that we found niceties had no place here. They were literally grabbing items from our deck, as Frank would say, "No, you cannot have that!" It was more disconcerting than anything we've experienced in anchorages we've yet been in. We hoped that as darkness approached they would return home and give us some peace, but it went on into the night, and began again before daylight. AT 5 :00 AM, they were banging on our hull. Needless to say, we departed at first light – all of us.

If we had to suffer through that to appreciate the next anchorage, then it was well worth the hassle. Gili Bodo is a small island off Flores, just a few miles from Labuan Bajo (our next rally stop), and provided us beauty, peace and a little bit of entertainment. The reef here is by far the most healthy and colorful of all. We snorkeled for hours taking in the absolute beauty and variety of the corals. There were types of corals and colors we had never before seen.  The fish were not large but bursting with a rainbow of colors! Neon and iridescent bright blues, oranges, reds, greens, yellows and pearly white. We felt we were snorkeling in someone's multimillion-dollar aquarium.

In the afternoon, the beach became alive with monkeys who appeared as if by magic out of the bush and would go right down to the water's edge to feed. Strangely they were very quiet – no screeching or howling – just frolicking and exploring along the beach. We could have stayed for days and days, yet we had to press on into Labuan Bajo to meet up with Northfork who were waiting for us there. So on Friday, the 31st we reluctantly left our lovely little paradise for civilization.

Friday, September 7, 2012

August 26 – 28, 2012 – Riung, Flores…Interesting Place

Riung is definitely not the garden spot of Indonesia, yet is rumored to be a fantastic diving destination. We anchored off one of the small islands across the bay from Riung where, according to friends who have been here and dived, visibility is not very clear. That's good because I'm not diving right now, having been tormented by this throat and ear-thing that has plagued me since Kupang. I'm hoping to avoid antibiotics

The town itself is tiny and I am sorry to say, quite filthy. We found a local café where a lovely English girl named Lily was working as she backpacked her way through Indonesia. A bit further down the road was the market where we didn't find much of great interest. I quickly tired of dodging what I've come to term; "betel juice" puddles, disgusting red puddles of spit from the betel nut chewers that stain everything RED.
a stilt home in Riung

The biggest agenda item for the boys was finding a place to restock their diminished supplies of Bintang. They actually had to order it from a local merchant who promised delivery late that evening. Well, I'm so happy we have managed to overcome that major obstacle. A cruiser without Bintang is an unhappy cruiser in these here parts.

I spent the afternoon reading while Frank dove in for a snorkel. He returned to tell me he was a little disappointed and that I hadn't missed anything. 

OK. We've done everything we came here to do and seen whatever there is to see. Time to move along. Tomorrow we ride!

Piles of tobacco for sale in the market

August 23 – 26, 2012 – Ngalu Liakura, Flores (Some Great Times With Good Friends)

Wow, what a nice quiet spot to drop the hook. This bay is peaceful and quiet – great holding, very protected and best of all the villagers couldn't care less about us. Four of us had traveled together so we arrived with Imagine, Sea Mist and Northfork. Early the next morning, I invited everyone over for freshly baked banana nut muffins and coffee. We are of course back in the land of very fresh and exceedingly inexpensive bananas. At 9:00 AM, they all arrived. Frank and I served up the goods and then the men folk gathered in the cockpit for Man Talk while baby Walker and the girls joined me below for a Hen Party. We have no idea where the time went, but suddenly it was 1:00 PM. We heard a dinghy pull away and a few minutes later, the men were passing around beer and peanuts. We had little to no good junk food on board, so I cranked up the generator and tossed bag after bag of microwave popcorn at the gang of hungry cruisers. The afternoon wore on as we all enjoyed each other's company in between more dinghy trips from the guys bringing in drinks and snacks. Eventually Renegade arrived and joined us in mid-afternoon. We managed to chat through 7 ½ hours and several varieties of nibbles including chips, crackers, cheese, nuts, popcorn, Easy-Mac and Mentos before Sheila and Cheryl announced that they were going to host homemade pizza aboard Sea Mist at 6:00. We took a short recess so that everyone could refresh themselves and then resumed the party over at John and Cheryl's boat where we absolutely feasted on the best homemade pizzas any of us have ever tasted. Cheryl had used filo dough as her base, and Sheila had whipped up her homemade pizza dough. Evelyn from Renegade had thrown together a delicious Greek-style salad.  Who wouldda thunk that a day beginning at 9:00 AM with coffee and muffins would have ended up over 12-hours later sending us all home happy and full of pizza? What a great bunch we have found to cruise with this season.

The next day, Saturday, we all generally took care of chores aboard our respective yachts, and then late afternoon, Evelyn made the rounds to invite us all over to Renegade for fish curry. We enjoyed yet another wonderful evening together. Evelyn's curry is to die for, and when we all asked her for the recipe, she admitted that it would be difficult to replicate because she had purchased a specially mixed curry seasoning from a lady in Fiji. Oh well.

Sunday morning we made a lazy departure for Riung, which is to be the next Rally stop. Unfortunately, however, we received word from our Rally contact, Sam that the Riung event has also been canceled. What on Earth is going on?

Sunday, September 2, 2012

August 22, 2012 Tour to Mount Kelimutu

We awoke at 3:00 AM in order to infuse ourselves with coffee, get into shore and walk up the road to catch the tour bus that was scheduled to depart at 4:00 AM for Mount Kelimutu.  The "bus" turned out to be a modified small pickup truck with two metal naugahyde-covered bench seats running down each side of the truck bed. The ride was mildly uncomfortable with 10 of us crammed into the back facing each other. There was a roof, and sides that came halfway up our backs. The rest was open…to dust and fumes. Nonetheless, the group in our "bus" was convivial and we enjoyed one another's company for the approximately 3-hour ride. Being pitch black out we couldn't see much on the drive up, so some slept, although I can't imagine how, and some conversed. Three of the couples were Amel owners and naturally the conversation would drift to their particular make of boat. We are learning quite a lot about Amels by osmosis. The other two cruisers with us were Peter and Evelyn from Renegade. Eventually the sun began to rise and the temperature dropped dramatically as we climbed in altitude, winding up to into the mountainous rainforest area of Flores. We passed village after village, and eventually came to a massive open market that ran for nearly a kilometer. We salivated at the thought of shopping here on the return trip. The landscape became beautiful green farmland lush with flora and dominated by rice fields. It truly was eye-catching. Dirty, stinky smells eventually dissipated to be replaced by the wonderful earthy smell of fresh vegetation in the air. It was as though we had been transported to another world.

We arrived at the national park at around 8:00 AM, very excited about this journey to see the sacred lakes at the top. Here is a little bit of history about Mount Kelimutu and why it is such a marvelous attraction:
The volcano contains three striking summit crater lakes of varying colors. Two that are separated by a shared crater wall; Tiwu Ata Mbupu (Lake of Old People) is usually red or rust colored, and Tiwu Nuwa Muri Koo Fai (Lake of the young and innocent) is usually blue. Tiwu Ata Polo (or the evil one) remains black. The colors of the first two lakes vary on a periodic basis. It is believed that spirits come to Kelimutu when people die and enter one of the three lakes. The spirits would first meet Konde Ratu the guard of the gate, before entering one of the lakes. Konde Ratu would determine which lake the spirit would enter depending on the age at death and the character of the spirit when alive.

Kelimutu is also of interest to geologists because the three lakes are different colors yet are at the crest of the same volcano. According to the locals at Kelimutu National Park, the color changes as a result of chemical reactions resulting from the minerals contained in the lake perhaps triggered by volcano gas activity. It truly is a mystical place and held very sacred by the people. Vincent stopped at the entrance on our arrival to pray to the gods, asking for a good viewing, and to thank them for letting us visit today. If the gods are not happy we will not see the lakes, which will be obscured by low-lying clouds. The summit is often obscured but is just as often visible early in the morning, hence our 4 AM departure. Fate delivered us a clear blue sky and a perfect setting for viewing the lakes. Strangely, the lake that is normally red appeared bright turquoise blue, and the one that is normally blue appeared a very milky turquoise with streaks of green algae. The black one was stunningly beautiful, reflecting its surroundings like a magical enchanted mirror. I recall that Satan was the most beautiful angel of them all before he fell from grace. Oddly, the "evil" lake was the most mesmerizing and picturesque. We spent a good bit of time there at the summit just gazing at the stunning lakes. As we made our way back down, thick low clouds began to move in rapidly, and by the time we had reached the base, the top was completely engulfed. Vincent must have a strong prayer line to Kande Ratu, or to whomever he was praying. On the way back out of the park, he once again stopped and offered a prayer of thanks.

Next was a stop for a delicious Indonesian lunch and a walk along the mountain roads to view the vast green gardens and rice fields. Returning back down the mountain, now that it was daylight, we could see the array of goods laid out and drying along the sides of the road in each village. The goods included nutmeg, cloves, coffee beans, cocoa beans, tamarind, cashews, rice, and some other products no one could translate for us. One entire village grew nothing but mandarins, and the trees we passed were bursting with bright orange. It was an artist's dreamscape. We eventually arrived at a small mountain market where we piled out for a stretch and some shopping. I purchased an entire kg bag of beautiful red tomatoes for 10,000 rupias: $1 US. We also purchased mandarins, and a treasure trove of fresh goods.

We were to have stopped at the Ikat-weaving village which is also where the massive market was located on our way up the mountain, but by the time we arrived there it was shut down already. Although bitterly disappointed, we felt that the day had been absolutely fulfilling nonetheless. Knowing that this bunch of cruisers would be really, really thirsty when we returned to the bay, Vincent had called ahead to arrange for delivery of large chests of beer, sodas and water for us all on the beach. This adventure had only cost each of us somewhere around 180,000 rupias (IDR), for the tour, park entrance fee, lunch and drinks which comes to somewhere in the neighborhood of  $18.00 US. Just amazing.