“So we’re not taking the car?” I turned to El, scratching my head. It was a perfectly good car for packing all our gear in. Why would the option of using a scooter even come to mind?
Sure, the puke-green, 2-seater flatbed Landcruiser looked like it had come straight out of the movie, The Gods Must Be Crazy but if it got to El’s house then surely it could get to the harbour.
“No,” El smiled. “We take the bike.”
With my 75-litre pack on my back, my daypack on El’s chest and my surfboard lying horizontal between us, we rode through the empty streets of Kalabahi on a Sunday morning where El helped us purchase the ferry ticket.
There’s an 8-step system for purchasing a ticket on a ferry:
Step 1: Fill out a piece of paper with your name, age and destination.
Step 2: Place the paper onto a spike (or hand it over).
Step 3: Wait for your name to be called out.
Step 4: Keep waiting. Maybe grab a coffee or tea. You’ll have time.
Step 5: When your name is called, excuse yourself through the crowd to pay for the ticket.
Step 6: Repeat Step 3.
Step 7: Maybe grab a bite to eat. You’ll have time.
Step 8: Collect ticket when your name is called again and thank the ticket master (make sure you collect with your right hand) .
Our ferry was a barge. Its loading ramp was fully extended to accommodate the loading of scooters and two trucks along with 150 people, a goat and a handful of chickens. There were large, black mattresses for sleeping (which were hired out for 50 cents) and upstairs on the deck was the seating room.
To climb the stairs you must go through rock-climbing training in the Himalayas. They were almost at a 90° angle. Somehow, and with great difficulty, we managed to place all of our gear in what resembled a hospital’s waiting room complete with a flat screen television and metal benches (which, oddly enough, were comfortable – until your bum went numb).
Above every stairway and doorway was a cage with a colourful bird in it. There was a bright yellow weaver, a small green flock of feathers, an even smaller black bird, a large black bird with yellow flaps around its head and a white spotted bird that was very restless.
We explored the barge. And by exploring it wasn’t like going around the Titanic. There was the cargo area which doubled as the sleeping quarters, car and bike storage, the seating area and the outdoor deck in front of the bridge. From the outdoor deck we said ‘hello’ to the crew and watched the hustle ‘n’ bustle below us. The ferry was scheduled to depart at 08:00 which really was wishful thinking. At 08:45 the captain blew the horn, raised the ramp and off we chugged at a steady 6.9 knots.
“Goodbye Tropicbird,” Baz waved at the 50-foot Ketch that had been his home for a little over two months and mine for just eight days. “There’s another westerner onboard,” he said, pointing to a tall, dark-blonde haired man. “Betchya he’s German.”
“Hello, I’m James,” James introduced himself in an accent that sounded like a mixture of South African-meets-German-living-in-England. “I’m from London,” he said as we introduced ourselves.
“What’s that smell?” Baz sniffed the air. His face turned from wonder to one of disgust as the full scent of the biochemical weapon unleashed by someone in our vicinity reached his nostrils.
“Oh, yes,” James smiled, “I just farted.”
“Well, I guess we’re friends now if you’re breaking wind this early,” Baz leaned back, whipping at the invisible odour. “Good God, man, what is that?”
James could only smile as I cracked up, glad to be in his up wind. An experienced scuba diver and an underwater film maker, James told us of his other business entrepreneurs. We chatted for a bit and then he retired to his laptop, watching the second season of ‘Homeland’ while a few locals sat behind him, fascinated by his Macbook screen, ignoring the Angelina Jole and Ethan Hawke movie playing on the TV, direct off the satellite.
Baz and I hit the outdoor deck where the wind was a cool breeze. I whipped out the guitar and strummed away when Mr Ecky, a crew member, came and joined us. I showed him the harmonica and he blew on it as we jammed a bit before he was called up to actually operate the boat.
I put Baz to sleep with two hours of playing as we cruised through the channel and out to open sea. We had two ports to stop in on our 24-hour passage before reaching the town of Larantuka on the large island of Flores.
The food on board was a choice of purchasing chicken flavoured 2-minute noodles, resorting to the wafers we had bought and hope that some of the locals that had brought an entire kitchen’s worth of food (and utensils to match) might share some with us.
They did offer but we declined politely and bought the $1 chicken flavoured 2-minute noodles.
James had gone downstairs and returned just before lunch, holding a plastic bag to his elbow, wincing slightly.
“What happened?” I asked.
“I fell down the stairs,” he showed us his right elbow which looked as though someone had inserted a baseball under his skin. It was as if he was giving birth to a troll through his elbow.
“What’s in the bag?” Baz asked.
“They gave me some ice,” James said.
“They have ice?” Baz looked at me surprised.
I couldn’t stop staring at James’ elbow. “Holy shit,” I finally said. I was caught in the glare of his injury, like staring at the sun.
“That is awesome,” said Baz, taking a closer look. “Absolutely glorious.”
We offered what little assistance we could as we passed the time with sleeping (Baz) and writing (myself) and watching a movie (me again as Baz was still asleep) and more writing. When Baz woke up the TV was playing Spiderman but the captain had other plans. The international badminton championships were being held in China and apparently, Indonesia had some rank on the world scene.
We watched the mixed doubles finals, Indonesia against China which saw the Indonesians take out the championship title at match-point in the third set. If that wasn’t enough, in the men’s doubles final, Indonesia showed Denmark (Denmark?) how it’s done while in the men’s single final, China demolished Malaysia who pulled out late in the third set due to an injury.
The barge was in high spirits.
As night fell, Baz asked the captain for permission to let us sleep on the outdoor deck. Permission was granted and we rolled out our camping mattresses and sleeping bags (mattresses courtesy of Baz) and laid down, staring at the impossible starry sky, the Milky Way in its full glory, stretching above us.
“You can only sleep after you see a shooting star,” declared Baz.
Who could sleep with the universe at your doorstep? But the diesel engine of the barge did knock us out quite quickly.
I awoke suddenly to the night-piercing horn that the captain had blared out.
“What the fuck?” I said aloud, shooting to a sitting position. Baz cracked an eye open.
“What’s going on?” he asked sleepily.
There was a lot of action happening around us and as I rubbed my eyes to adjust to my surroundings, I saw the bright, stadium lights of a small town as we approached an island. Over the loudspeakers, orders were being directed to the crew. One of them threw a badly aimed line over to the people on the dock.
It fell short of its target and I watched as the barge overshot the port.
“I think we’re docking,” I commented and remained sitting, watching the commotion. Whoever was now piloting the barge took almost an hour to line it up to the dock. The ramp was dropped but the engineering abilities of the Indonesian people weren’t up to scratch with this kind of vessel and the ramp only went halfway as the dock was too high.
It didn’t stop the locals from loading and unloading cargo and even carrying the scooters over the ramp.
I resumed sleep a little past midnight and awoke (again to the blaring horn) in the morning to see that we had docked all night.
James’ elbow was looking a touch better as he relayed his travel plans on us. “There’s a small village on Flores called Moni that lies beneath a volcano. The craters have become large sulphar lakes.”
Baz and I looked at each other. “Sounds good,” we agreed. “How do we get there?”
“From Larantuka you have to take a 5-hour bus to Maumere which is a large city. From there you have to take another 4-hour bus to Moni.”
Since we were heading in the same direction we grouped together to become travel buddies. We debarked at Larantuka and a caught a bus to Maumere.
“Are we staying the night in Myanmar?” I asked, both gentleman looking at me oddly.
“It’s not Burma, mate,” said Baz as James laughed. “It’s Maumere.”
“Yeah, that place,” I deflected. “Are we staying the night?”
“We’ll have too,” said James. “It’s quite a large town so there’ll be decent food and perhaps internet somewhere.”
All of a sudden we heard a loud bang and the whole bus rattled. It felt like we were dragging a body. The driver pulled over and within 10-minutes he, the scout and the relief driver had changed the tire whose treading had ripped off.
“That spare doesn’t looking any better,” remarked Baz.
I agreed. It’s treading was a little too smooth and would never have passed Australian roadworthy standards. But when in Rome…
We continued driving through mountainous scenic scenes of coconut palms jutting through the thick, green canopy of the hillside jungles.
“Is it much further to Myanmar?” I asked again.
Baz cracked up. “It’s not Burma, bro. Think ‘hail Mary – Mau-mere’.”
It wouldn’t stick. I just couldn’t take on the pronunciation of the city.
“We’re not far,” said James as we rolled on.
Just after 16:00 we pulled into the Myanmar… I mean, Maumere bus terminal where local bus drivers were demanding money from the passengers, as though we had to pay some sort of entry tax. A local was hassling us for 50 cents but on principle we refused to pay.
“Fucking extortion,” I said to the man’s face, not that he could understand. He let us be and our bus dropped us off at the Wini Hotel.
The girls managing the place looked no older than 14.
“I am 19,” said Tootie, a girl who wouldn’t stop smiling and laughing. And although our $7.5 rooms were absolute dumps, the staff of barely legal teens made it worth the while to stay as we laughed and joked with them.
We hit the packed streets for dinner. Maumere made Kalabahi look like a small country town with the amount of vehicles and people on the road.
“Must be the New York of Flores,” I reckoned.
We found a Bakso Baso place and ordered three rounds of the delicious meatball soup. It was James’ first time trying the delicacy and he took to it quite well. The chili sauce on Flores was spicier by about 37 degrees. Something I realised only after I had dolloped a large spoonful of ‘lombo’.
“Jesus,” I sputtered, “I’m gonna feel that in the morning.”
Back at the hotel, Baz had roped in a bus driver who agreed to take us to Moni early next morning for $5 a head.
In the morning we hopped on the bus. The driver, Iman, seemed like a good character. Good enough to change a tire before driving around town for two hours trying to fill the bus up. Then he disappeared and let what appeared to be a 19-year-old kid take over the wheel.
The kid seemed to have aspirations of becoming Indonesia’s first international rally driver as he took the hairpin turns at breakneck speed – with one or two passengers sitting on the roof. He had all of us hanging on to whatever was stationary to keep from flying about the cabin. The music he played at nightclub volume was a mixture of auto-tune pop and auto-tune pop. I had to give Baz earplugs as his 6”4 height put his ear in the speaker.
After an hour I couldn’t take the music anymore and the usual laid back Aussie in me erupted to the typical pissed-off, just lost The Ashes Aussie.
“Oi!” I yelled towards the front from the back bench. The entire bus – 7 adults, 4 kids and 3 chickens – all turned around as I timed the call with the ending of a poppy auto-tuned number. “Can you please turn it down?” I added a mime to it, knowing the driver lacked any English.
He surprised us all by turning off the stereo completely.
“Thank fuck,” Baz said as he took out his earplugs.
I stared out the window as we raced through dense jungle cliff sides and watery rice paddies. It was a tranquil scene, reminiscent of Vietnam war movies from the 70s. Instead of exploding napalm bombs we had the 4 kids competing for the title of ‘Best Presentation of Breakfast’.
Baz had his money on the 10-year-old boy sitting between us. He saw that the kid was ready to chuck and smartly swapped seats with him, placing him by the window. The kid’s nana had given him some smelling salts which seemed to thwart off the impending outcome.
But it was the two toddlers in the row before us that showed us their breakfast all over each other, their mother and my innocent sandals, caught in the crossfire.
The infant up front in James’ row also presented what she had for breakfast – all over her father.
I handed the mother a wad of toilet paper just as the bus pulled into a small town for a lunch break. The restaurant was overpriced so Baz and I stuck to dipping our wafers into the chocolate spread we had bought in Kalabahi.
Continuing onwards with our would-be rally driver, we climbed up the mountain and entered the tiny village of Moni. To our slight disappointment, it was full of westerners. It was Baz and mine’s first touristy location and the prices matched.
We haggled with Allan, a dreadlocked, English speaking local over the rental price of a scooter to go up to Mt Kelimutu (which sounds Japanese if you pronounce it with the accent). He wanted $15 but Baz shoved $12 into his hand and with a reluctant smile, Allan took James on his bike and lead us up the mountain.
As we climbed higher through the Jurrasic-like rainforest, it became colder. Baz expertly handled the hairpin turns as I took photos of the landscape, the jungle going on through valleys and over mountains before reaching the sea far off in the distance. Great white cotton ball clouds were rolling in beneath us.
You know you’re high up when you’re looking down on the clouds.
We rode through remote villages and stopped to admire the immaculate rice paddy fields that seemed to be all the rage in Flores.
“Hide your camera,” suggested Allan. “It’s $5 to have camera on the mountain.”
Thanking him for the tip, Baz placed his Nikon in the seating compartment while I pocketed my Lumix. At the gate to the national park, we paid the $2 entry fee and the 30 cents for taking the bike up.
“Camera?” asked the ranger.
“Nope,” Baz and I said together.
We rode up through the lush forest, overhanging ferns all around among the trees. We parked by the stairs that lead up, “One kilometre,” said Allan.
We trekked up stopping at a crossroads. To the left and right, a 4-wheel drive track lead through the forest. Before us was a rock wall that suspiciously looked like it might be a crater wall.
“Very dangerous to go up this wall,” said Allan. “Almost all tourists go on the car track. But not us.” And he shot up the wall.
I was losing grip with my sandals so I went barefoot and was close behind Allan while Baz huffed and puffed behind me with James taking it easy due to his elbow not far behind him.
“I need to work out more,” Baz said, out of breath.
Allan had reached the top and I clambered over the last rock and stood frozen, jaw-dropped and spellbound.
“Guys!” I said, “you gotta get up here!”
We were standing on the lip of the crater. Before us was what appeared to be a hundred meter drop into a large, turquoise green lake, not a ripple in sight.
“Allan,” I turned to our guide, “this is amazing.”
He grinned as he pointed to the lake next to the one we were standing above. It had a greyish white layer on top the aqua green.
“Sulphar,” he explained. “Hot water.”
We could see the steam rising from it although there was no distinct smell of the component.
“ECHO!” Baz boomed out, his voice bouncing off the crater walls all around.
“About 5 years ago,” began Allan, “a man and woman come up here. They had argument and jumped. Very sad.”
Baz threw a rock over the crater wall which never hit the water. Allan laughed.
“You will never make it,” he said.
Baz, always up for a challenge, sling-shot his arm back and let fly of the rock he held. We watched it fly out and it seemed that it would hit the water but as it fell below we could hear it land on the rocks.
We trekked on up the hill, climbing 228 steps to the lookout point that overlooked the Black Lake on the other side of the two craters we had looked over. As we took in the view of the mountains, the jungle and the white fluffy clouds we heard a distant cackle.
“What’s that noise?” I asked aloud.
“Monkeys,” said Allan.
“Monkeys?” I repeated. And before I could question him, forgetting that I was now in a land where monkeys were as abound as kangaroos in Oz, three little makaks greeted us with begging faces for food.
It was the first time that we had been somewhere in nature that was actually clean and free of rubbish. I looked around and noticed the bins lining the pathways every ten or so meters. Unfortunately, the monkeys had taken to human food scraps and rummaging through the bins, they had emptied the rubbish out of them.
It was a Catch 22.
Still, cleaner than any other place in Indonesia.
We hiked back to the bikes and rode down, cutting the engine to save on fuel. We stopped to take photos of the eternal views and rice fields. Allan took us to a remote village where the locals had set up a bathing area that received natural hot spring water, the men and women bathing separately.
He then took us to a waterfall.
“Jesus, Allan,” I said walking behind him, trying to side-step the small mounds of rubbish that was piled everywhere. “You must educate your people to throw rubbish in the bin. This is disgusting. You guys are killing your nature.”
Baz backed me up. Since we didn’t have the time to help out with animals in shelters and couldn’t find any charities to work with, we decided that the best we could do was try and emphasis the importance of recycling and keeping rubbish in the bins. Allan could only agree and we could only hope that maybe he will educate his people.
All through the tour Baz and I explained our way of travelling. “We are broke,” Baz said to Allan. “We travel without money. We stop and work in places to make enough to keep going.”
I convinced Allan into letting us stay with him for the night in exchange for jamming together. James had already booked himself into a homestay where he was kind enough to let us leave our bags for the trip up the mountain.
Back in Moni, local population of 400, we ordered a late lunch. But because it was cooked to order in the home-cooking style of ‘Island Time’, our late lunch turned to dinner after we waited an hour and a half for the food.
“Tonight you play at Bintang Coffee,” Allan booked me in for a gig at the popular bar in the village.
After watching some of James’ amazing underwater films, we headed down at 19:30.
“I am Billy,” the young manager introduced himself. “Billy the Kid.” He pointed out where I could set up just as Allan arrived with a tambourine and a pair of bongo drums. I was surprised when Billy the Kid asked if I could play any Radiohead or REM.
“I know ‘Streetspirit,’” I offered.
“Fade out?” Billy confirmed.
I nodded in surprise as Allan set up beside me with the drums. The bar was full of westerners and I kicked off with my favourite, U2’s, ‘Desire’. There was a group of South African’s so I played a rough rendition of Jesus Rodriguez’s, ‘Sugarman’.
We jammed through the night, swapping the guitar for the bongo drums. Allan was much better than me on the six-string and did an almost perfect cover of The Eagles acoustic version of ‘Hotel California’. He belted out Bob Marley’s ‘Redemption Song’ and ‘No Woman No Cry’ while I played ‘Jammin’. We had the whole bar singing along.
Baz and Billy the Kid where trying to outdo each other with bar tricks involving cards, origami and toothpicks (not necessarily in that order). We mingled with a French girl working in Java selling cashew nuts, a family from Liverpool and a few locals that plied us with sopi, their local drink. The colour of it resembled Absent and the taste was that of a lemon that had gone off.
By 23:00 we called it a night. Baz had walked up ahead with James while I walked with Allan.
“So we’ll bring our stuff over now?” I asked.
“Actually,” he began, “it’s better you stay with your friend. No good staying with me. I live with my parents and they will not like it.”
“Oh,” I said, disappointed.
We parted with a hug and I promised to find him on facebook. I explained the situation to Baz and James generously offered us to sleep on the floor of his homestay room. We somehow managed to make space among the luggage on the floor and slept soundly.