Good morning blog, good morning everybody.
After much indecision based on stories of previous boats sinking on the route, we decided to get a boat back from the Western tip of Flores to Lombok. The thought being the kids can now swim so all should be fine.
We set off for the boat at 9pm Saturday night, I still had my headphones in and was desperately trying to follow the Mighty Boro’s fortunes in the final game of the season until rudely interrupted by a mission to board a boat.
I enjoy transport in Asia especially the type which breaks all the rules of the European road and most of any others, so 2 toddlers hanging out the back of pickup, up and down some decent winding roads with questionable but enthusiastic mood music ticked all the boxes. Brilliantly, we spent a good 15 minutes travelling (in reality) about 300metres, as we circumnavigated Labuan Bajo on its one way system totally out of our way to arrive at the port. I was slightly disappointed we had taken the correct route as we ourselves had totally ignored the traffic flow rules\instructions in reaching the office on a scooter earlier. If our pickup had turned right out of the office and gone against the flow of the traffic for just 300metres we’d have reached the port in no time; no sane Vietnamese driver would’ve turned left.
Komodo national park is much much more than dragons, top dive sites in the world can be found here. We had previously spent 2 days diving with Divine Diving, we dived whilst the crew entertained the kids.
Why so good? The variety of the sites themselves coupled with a massive diversity of marine life and virtually guaranteed sightings of the Big Stuff: Manta Rays, Trevally, White Tip Reef Sharks, Groupers, Napoleon Wrasse. At a site called Mawan, we sat on the bottom gazing up at 4 big Manta Rays circling above our heads for 50mins, I could’ve reached out and touched one. Castle Rock was another beauty, dive down to 20 metres, clip on to the reef at the bottom as there is a strong current and watch the show, surrounded by schools of massive fish, with even bigger fish trying to eat them. I have never seen anything like it.
On board our cruise liner we had Family Newitt Travelling branch, a Kiwi/Chilean couple Arthur and Melina, Dian an Indonesian who studied in Australia and a lovely group of 6 Indonesian work buddies, one slightly surly crew and a fairly inept guide. Flores is full of friendly, fun and happy go lucky people, any of these people off the streets of Flores would’ve done a far better job than our guide. The cruise cost about £225 for all of us, full board in a cabin, for 3 nights and 2 days. Park fees are additional another £15pp, my guess was £10 for Komodo national park and £5 for personal enterprises, the kids are free as they have been at most places in Asia.
Park fees in Indonesia have been a fairly hefty £7.50 - £15 or a tenth of the price if you are local, official twin track pricing seems to be the norm which is fine but maybe some of the tourist prices are a little on the steep side. Churlish, I know, as a rich westerner to be complaining poverty in some of the poorest countries on the planet but nobody actually wants to feel slightly ripped off.
After an overnight stay on the boat post Boro being promoted, “we are premier league”, we were straight to Rinca island in the Komodo national park. This being Indonesia, it’s a park comprised of many islands, Komodo and Rinca being the most visited.
“No they don’t fly but they do breathe fire” this was a defensible position to the kids to avoid less than flattering comparisons to ‘real’ dragons. It was great, the dragons play their role, hanging around for photos and you get a nice walk. The islands are beautiful, scrubby grassland, volcanic force shaped natural havens. We saw a Water Gruffalo (sic), Dragon food round these parts and some stunning views but the spotable dragons sensibly hang around the kitchen near the guide station. They are big beasts and can shift over a short yardage like a grumpy Merv Hughes, they are mainly ambush predators which made me a bit nervous as me and Jess got separated from the rest for the group on the trek in some longer grass. Maybe watching How to Train Your Dragon was going to need to be more educational than first imagined. The obligatory photos were taken and we were off to find some snorkeling and another trek for some stunning views of the park.
As we had hoped the kids were starting to notice they had found a temporary additional 9 Uncles and Aunties a situation which they were to enjoy more and more as the cruise went on. We moved on to Gili Laba for another trek up what seemed a pretty small hill, halfway up I was very glad the kids had decided to stay and play in the crystal clear waters in the bay, it was certainly trickier than it looked. Kels to her credit also made it to the summit in flip flops and half the time I grunted to the top in, she was only able to set off when I had returned from the summit. A quick swim and back to the boat for the 17 hour cruise through to Gili Moyo, an island with a very refreshing waterfall and bathtub sized plunge pool just at the bottom of the falls.
On the way to Gili Moyo whilst we were putting the kids to bed we got the shout “Dolphins” and we had a pod of dolphins surfing the bow wave, coming to say hello and proving to be one of the most enigmatic of all the animals. Why do they do it? Curiosity, playfulness, communication, some shared empathy? Who knows but it was great.
On Gili Moyo the other guys on the cruise got to witness the good natured mayhem that happens when you turn up with 2 small blond children on a pretty remote beach filled with locals. A stampede was how it was described with several women sprinting across the beach to pick Jessie and Otto up. Often me and Kels feel more like entourage in a celebrity travel show, “Please no more photos…..” The kids are mainly overwhelmed or at panic stations or somewhere inbetween but they are going to miss the attention. When we were in Sri Lanka, Jessie was fooling around wearing my sunglasses and some fellow Sri Lankan passenger's across the carriage pulled out phones to take a photo, Jessie as though she was fresh from shooting Toddlers Next Top Model said “I think one photo with glasses on and one with glasses off” I’m sure Testino would’ve been proud.
The water off Moyo was gin clear and the coral in fantastic condition so our requests to go snorkeling were quite rightly met with a puzzled “we don’t go snorkelling here that's at gili Bola”, a quick rejig of the itinerary and we were into the waters for some pristine snorkelling and a few jumps off the front of the boat. Later at Gili Bola whilst we realised we had had the best snorkelling at Gili Moyo, the kids entertained the crew and our new friends with a daredevil step jumping display. The jumping platforms were the steps used to get back onto the boat after swimming. Initially they were reluctant to go higher than the first step of the ladder back onto the boat from the sea but a combination of sibling rivalry, very enthusiastic encouragement and the presence of many cameras had both kids in ‘Baumgartner’ mode and they were soon jumping down off the top step, a good six feet up. I was one very proud father and Kels was one slightly nervous mother, the boat had a top deck and it had been mentioned as the next step.
By this time in the journey we didn’t need to know the whereabouts of the kids as they were generally to be found hanging out with their new friends. So it was with some reluctance when we eventually disembarked in Labuan, Lombok and after an uneventful bus to Senggigi had to part from our majority and head onto Gili Trawangan but at least we still had the company of Dian.
Now just a week or so left in SE Asia after 7 months, before leaving for Australia. It has been a wonderfull experience, just as it was 16 years ago but for some slightly different reasons. We turn up to pretty much anywhere in South East Asia, (Sri Lanka included) hotel, restaurant, bar, beach, bus station and within 15 seconds we have had a friendly greeting, someone welcoming with a big smile. A walk to the port in Riung, Flores is like a meet and greet with anyone who happens to see us, this is an extremely family friendly society. Having 2 small children is like wandering round with a passport to kindness and hospitality, we probably embrace this far more than we did 7 months ago. I hope the kids remember deep in the recesses of their minds the kindness shown by virtually all the people we have meet on our travels till now. Top work South East Asia and we’ll see you again before 2 years is out…..
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Kelly and Mikey (but mostly Kelly). We sold up in the UK to travel with our two littluns for a year or so. If you want to know more click the about us!