“Our ferry is at 11:00,” said El as we woke up on Saturday.
Baz and I wanted to present our host with a gift, a photo of us with him and his brother, Perfect, so we hitched a taxi and an O-jek (a scooter-taxi) to Aron’s Foto booth where $1.50 later the two photos we wanted to print were in circulation.
“Come back, three o’clock,” said the shopkeeper.
“When do you close?” I gestured with my hands.
“OK,” Baz said. “See you then.”
Our ferry turned out to be a long, roofed boat that had us ducking with no seats, more like a water-bus. We sat on the deck, legs dangling over the side. Looking at Bazza’s watch, we figured keeping time schedules wasn’t big in Indonesia as we left port at half past 12.
We were travelling with Kon, El and his mate Burges (who hired out his bike for us). We noticed the amount of rubbish being thrown overboard and preached to El, with his political aspirations to educate the people regarding rubbish and recycling.
“Plastic is bad,” said Baz. “It doesn’t break down and it kills everything.”
“If you clean up and keep the place clean,” I chipped in, “more tourists will come and visit.”
El was all about promoting Alor to draw in westerners. We explained further the meaning of biodegradable and could only hope that it all sank into him, like the sinking plastic that was discarded overboard.
We pointed out Tropicbird and, as we came round Kepa Island, I spotted some dolphins. Then we passed another Titanic –sized super-mega yacht called, ‘Galileo’ with a British flag. We waved to the crew on board as we passed more humble dive boats as Alor’s major draw is its diving and snorkelng.
El had bought all of us lunch – fish heads with hard-boiled egg, steamed rice and egg noodles, all wrapped up in paper like a small parcel.
We chugged along and cut through the dangerous rip that was at the entrance of the channel. After an hour and a half we docked on Pura Island.
Pura is famed for its snorkeling. It’s also where El works for the government during the week . His office building is right on the beach. As we walked through the tiny village I noticed that there were no motorised vehicles on the island – which made sense as there were only footpaths – a refreshing change to the hustle and bustle of Kalabahi.
El collected the keys to his government-funded rental house that was located in prime real estate location.
“Bro,” Baz said, balancing on the rope anchor just off the small fishing boats. “The waters so clear you don’t need a mask.”
I put on my flippers and mask and dove down, my breathe escaping me as the bluest of blues greeted me with a garden of coral and reef spread out below. The depth was about 3 meters before it dropped off a cliff edge into a deep blue abyss.
The fish were an astounding array of blue, black, orange, purple, yellow, pink and green. A huge Napoleon fish swam by, spraying a cloud of shit as it dove for the deep. In the distance, I could just make out a school of very large, silver coloured fish.
Three meters below me I noticed a large piece of material lying on the coral, suffocating it. I took a deep breath and dove down, hoping that there wouldn’t be any nasty surprises under it. I lifted it up and brought it to the surface, passing it to El who was making his way back to the beach.
I continued to explore the alien world beneath me, fluorescent blue star fish dotting the reefs. I ventured out over the deep, diving down, equalising and floating about, feeling right at home below the surface.
We wrapped up our day and caught a ride on one of the small fishing boats that were anchored where we had snorkeled. El’s mate, Namu, fired up the diesel engine, covering Baz with black diesel fumes.
The boat was more of an elongated dugout canoe. We couldn’t move about as we would capsize so we sat still, growing deaf with every stroke of the engine. I was bailer, bailing out water every half an hour as we chugged our way to Alor, just off Kepa Island.
We waited to catch a bus but none turned up.
“Hey, Baz,” said El, motioning down the road to two tall blondes and a shorter Asian girl who were approaching us.
They were dive instructors. The two blondes were from Spain and Barcelona, the Asian we don’t know but she spoke fluent Indonesian and managed to hire a taxi bus which she drove back to Kalabahi.
We had about 20 minutes to reach the photo shop to get the photos. We hopped off at El’s building site and picked up Perfect’s bike to get the pictures and do some provision shopping for the morrow’s ferry ride. We bumped into our gang at the supermarket and scheduled to meet up later for ‘goodbyes’ at their hotel.
Back at El’s house I was contemplating giving my guitar to Mory and Peter. They had one that was broken and unplayable and I was getting apprehensive about carrying it around with so much gear (although Baz was acting as roadie and kindly carrying my guitar while I lugged my surfboard).
I unsheathed it and sat down to play it. After banging out U2’s ‘Desire’ with Perfect playing an incredible rhythm section on the table, the urge to rid myself of the guitar disappeared. And when I finished playing Led Zeppelin’s, ‘Stairway to Heaven’ I knew that I could never part ways with my six-string.
We headed out to say ‘goodbye’ to El’s amazing family. His mother apologised that she couldn’t give us anything.
“Don’t be silly,” I said. “You gave us El. That’s plenty.”
We took a group photo and hugged and headed out for a dinner of Bakso Baso from where we headed over to the hotel and hung out with the crew, prolonging our time to say ‘goodbye’.
“Where’s your guitar?” Orla asked as I was to drop it off since the crew were meeting up with Mory and Peter for Orla’s birthday beach party on Sunday night.
“I’ve decided to keep it,” I grinned.
“Why the change?” asked Olivia.
“Because he took it out and rocked it,” said Baz, slapping me on the back.
As my eyes grew heavy from the day’s watery adventures, we hugged our new life-long friends and rode home in the chill evening of our last night in Kalabahi, Alor.