Having flown into the tiny airport of Labuan Bajo on a suitably tiny plane, one which used propellers to fly, a first for me, we were greeted by numerous statues of Komodo dragons, as the only islands in the world where they live in the wild are close by, them being, understandably, a national symbol.
Leaving the terminal, we found numerous taxi drivers bartering between themselves for our services so it was easy to get a good price for a ride and we were dropped of at our hostel which boasted what could possibly be the best room view I have ever had, the room itself being exposed to the elements and the beds protected by mosquito nets.
With it still being early in the day and after having taken in the view, we rented a couple of bikes and set off up the coast to find a nice beach where we could spend a few hours.
Eventually we did find one at a hotel resort which let us park if we bought a bottle of water. A fair and necessary deal as the temperature was around 30° and the sea water looked crystal clear.
After a quick beer and being forced to listen to the drunk ramblings of one of the hotel guests, we moved down to the beach and cooled off in the calm water.
Anna had a little float about as Joe and I swam over to one of the nearby islands and back. It didn’t look all that far away but I felt knackered about half way through the return leg and resorted to an unorthodox doggie paddle to get back to shore, its amazing how quickly fitness can decrease as only a year before I had comfortably completed a one mile swim for charity!
After having relaxed on the beach for a while, we returned to the town just as the rain started and consdquently continued all night which meant we were forced (totally against our will) to make the most of the offer the hostel bar had on beer.
The following morning, having extended the scooter rental we set off to find a waterfall which, as we were vaguely informed, was somewhere about an hour north of our position.
Around that much time later, we crossed a battered little wooden sign which pointed down a very broken and bumpy road which consisted of half cracked concrete and half mud.
Hilariously, this is the only way to one of the island’s main tourist attractions.
Another five or six kilometres down this road is a shack where you collect your local guide who will walk you through the jungle and to the waterfall.
After a challenging and very sweaty walk, a large wooden bridge appeared in the forest anf it didn’t look or feel too secure, wobbling a little as we crossed it. This was particularly unnerving as the wooden structure is around 15 metres above the rocks and a very shallow stream below.
The main attraction of the waterfall is two jumps which you can make from the canyon side into the water below, which on Google’s images looks a lovely shade of green, but in reality was a murky brown colour.
The first jumping point is just a couple of metres tall and the second is closer to ten metres.
After the three of us took the leisurely plunge off the shallow point, Joe got up and leapt from the large one, after some hesitation I must say!
After a coffee and cigarette, a simple time wasting and palpatation delaying tactic on my behalf, I stood on the edge of the drop for a few minutes before noticing a camera being pointed at me, something switched in my head and I jumped off, gratefully resurfacing injury free and with a huge grin on my face.
Before jumping I encountered the feeling you get either just before you do something you know is very stupid or when you are at the highest point on a rollercoaster just before you plummet down the tracks, only in this case there were no real security precautions in place.
After a couple more jumps each we walked to the top of the huge waterfall and took pictures as close to the edge as we dared to go.
What with all the excitement, we had grown pretty hungry and our guide, Maximus, offered for us to visit his house and for his wife to cook us lunch.
On the way to his house, situated at the top of a big hill, Maximus and another random local man jumped onto Joe’s bike, the smaller man fitting in between his legs which made for a hilarious ride back as Joe was completely unexpecting!
Maximus lives in a very modest building, in the middle of a village full of his extended family. On arrival, he climbed a tree and onto his roof to pick us some rasputin to eat before our meal, this tastes and looks a lot like a lychee.
After meeting some of the shy and very cute local children, we were given noodles and a shot of the locally brewed rice wine, I am still not sure how they call it wine as it tastes closer too 42% alcohol, not the usual 12% you get with wine, maybe rice liquor would be a more appropriate name which would prefer you for the deep throat burn you get when you drink it.
After a really nice couple of hours trying to learn Indonesian words, of which I can only remember one (ayam means chicken, and I only know this because I eat a lot of it) and sitting in this little village with the locals we took our bikes back to town and relaxed at the hostel taking in the view.
Our last day on this island was mainly spent booking ourselves onto a two day boat journey to Lombok and buying boring things we had run out of like sun cream and toothpaste.
There is still so much we haven’t seen on East Nusa Tengarra but that is all the more reason to return to this beautiful island one day!
That evening we got a little boat from the harbour and were taken across the water to a bigger boat which would become our home for the next two days.
After meeting the crew and our fellow passengers we were (genuinely this time) forced into having a boat party where the only way to defeat the anxiety caused by the whole boat load of people dancing on board was to consume a few beers and join in.
After getting into the spirit of things, over excited and having dancing a little too much, a few of us jumped ship into the harbour water to cool ourselves down before reboarding and sleeping on the deck of the boat.
It was the second game of the season between Sheffield United vs our city’s lesser club so I had bought a sim card with internet data on to watch this at the local time of 3am. I didn’t wake up for it however, probably due to the beers, but I don’t think I missed out toomuch as the score was 0-0.
We did wake up to the boat having already set off and shortly after we stopped at Rincha Island, one of only a handful of islands which is home to the Komodo dragons.
They are terrifying creatures and the ones we got close to were nearly three metres in length, the photo below taken by a man with a very big stick and even bigger balls!
After a short trek around the island, including a great view at the top of one of its hills, we returned to the boat and set off again giving us the chance to get to know the other passengers on the boat a bit better.
We stopped again around three hours later at a small, uninhabited island with some snorkeling opportunities just off shore.
We had never snorkelled with decent visibility before and despite the coral being largely bleached, there were some really colorful fish on display, I even found Nemo!
We were informed however that this wasn’t very good snorkelling in the grand scheme of things but even what we saw blew my mind, seeing a whole new world just under the ocean made me wonder what I had been swimming over whenever I have been abroad in the past.
After snorkelling and jumping off the boat mast into the sea, we again, set off, but this time we wouldn’t stop for around 17 hours.
Having gotten used to the waves, helped taking a nausea tablet, I was quickly rocked to sleep on deck, only waking up when dinner was ready, I was very happy to wake up to this as the on board cook was brilliant, serving some of the best food that we have had in Indonesia to us, three times a day.
Dinner had to be rushed however as we entered quite a violent storm, the crew quickly made us get to the back of the boat. Not long after, they joined us looking panicked we were told to get all of our belongings off the deck before being moved to the cabins under deck, a free upgrade!
After being thrown about the deck for a few minutes, we did make it downstairs with our things and sat the storm out before eventually falling asleep.
The whole ordeal was surprisingly fun in my mind and I never actually felt too scared despite the boat brutally rocking and the lightening crashing into the water uncomfortably close to our vessel. Anna may disagree with my point of view but Joe may probably agree as he was already asleep by the time I had made it downstairs!
The sea was much calmer when we woke up the next morning and we made a stop at another island where we walked through a small village and arrived at a rope swing off of a waterfall and into a natural pool.
This entertained us all for around an hour as everybody, including a retired German man we were sailing with, turned into big kids launching ourselves into the water below.
Swimming underneath the waterfall, you could find a small cave to float around in which was worth the uncomfortable seconds as we unnaturally swam up to and under the falling water.
After returning to and spending a few more hours aboard the boat, we made our last stop before Lombok, at a tiny tropical island, so small you could walk its circumference in five minutes and where we tried to do some more snorkelling with the coral here even more bleached than the previous day and the fish more scarse.
We only stayed around half an hour as we were due in Lombok that evening and later on, just before sunset we saw the huge silhouette of Mount Rinjani on the horizon.
Arriving in port, we caught a three hour bus to Sengiggi where we stayed for the night.
We explored Sengiggi the following morning before getting a very cheap private car a further two hours down the coast to Kuta Lombok. Sengiggi is a pretty quiet town and the only thing of note there was a section of cool graffiti on a wall.
Before leaving, we were stopped on the beach by some local school children who wanted to enlist our help in learning English, despite a couple of them probably speaking it better than I do! In my group (the class were split into three groups, one for each of us) I answered a few basic questions (what is your favourite colour sir, what is yiur favourite food) before being handed a list of words to say which they, in turn, repeated back to me.
Only half way through did I realise that this group of Indonesian teenagers were dropping their H’s and responding back in my lazy Derbyshire/Yorkshire accent so I quickly changed my accent to a posh southern one for their benefit so that should they ever make it to the UK, people south of Nottingham would have a chance of understanding them!
It is a quaint little town, full of little surf shops, hip bars and cheap restaurants, very much a surfers paradise, reminding me a lot of Aragum Bay in Sri Lanka.
Once we had found a hotel to stay in we rented a couple of bikes and drove around 40 minutes up the coast to Pantai Selong Beach, somewhere more suitable than the big waves closer to Kuta for Joe to get a surf lesson and for me to get back into it.
I was back to square one after making some progress in Sri Lanka and Thailand, only standing up once or twice but it was still nice to be back out on the water.
It started to rain quite heavily so we called it a day and we watched the sunlight disappear, joining Anna in the bar on the beach, prompting the many fishing boats on the ocean to turn all of their lights on which looked beautiful.
By the time the rain had stopped, Anna was quite merry after three large beers and two rice wines so I had my own little jukebox on the back of my bike for the drive back, which was needed to keep spirits high with the rain starting up again just after we set off.
It is usually a miserable experience driving a motorbike in the rain and wearing only a vest but with Anna belting out “Born to Run” by Bruce Springsteen I was still in good spirits when we got back.
The next morning we returned to the same beach via a book shop so Anna could keep herself entertained, even sober, on the sun lounger whilst we surfed and I decided to take another lesson which helped massively.
Later that evening, Anna and Joe went to an apparently very difficult yoga class as I passed out for a couple of hours, exhausted after my work out on the surfboard.
I had found some much cheaper accommodation than that we were staying in so we moved on the next day and ended up in a very nice little hamlet on the edge of town which consists of a few homestays, restaurants, a little gas stand and even a tattoo parlour. Every business here is owned by a different member of the same family. They even have a long distance driver, a surf instructor and a masseuse that I know about so you don’t have to look very far for anything once you arrive there!
To give ourselves a little rest from surfing for the day, we all went to a massage parlour, reccomended by a Scandinavian couple we had met and picked the ‘relaxing full body massage’. I was contemplating a more intense one as my back and shoulders were sore from the previous days of surfing but am glad that I didn’t as the relaxing one was painful enough, the lady’s fingers digging in much further than my muscles, I swear that at one point I felt her touch my kidney!
After this we drove down to Tanjung Aan, a postcard worthy beach with white sand, light blue water, green hills on either side of the bay and even a swing looking onto the water.
We drove up to one of the hills which formed the bay on the way back to watch the sunset but we were too early and despite the view being great, we were too impatient to wait another hour so we went back to the accomodation whilst the sun was still up.
Over dinner in the restaurant near our homestay, we met two American surfers who invited us out with them at 6am the next morning to go to a wave they described as “fine for beginners” so we agreed to meet them at that time before going into town for an ill advised couple of beers.
The nightlife wasn’t very lively despite its reputation so we returned after a while and we were back by midnight, luckily as Joe and I were awake at 5.30am the next morning.
Leaving Anna in bed to enjoy a lie in we set off on our bikes, bleary eyed but excited, with just one of the Americans as the other, his twin, was ill.
We had to pay a local to take us out to the wave break, named Grupok, in his boat. Approaching it I knew I was out of my depth as it was well over 2 metres high, some waves probably reaching around 3 metres…
Still, we paddled out to it saying to each other ironically and sarcastically “what’s the worst that can happen out there, its not like you can drown or cut yourself open on the coral 6feet below the surface is it?!”
I floated next to the wave on my board for a while watching the many surfers tackle it, surfers who, for the record, were definitely not beginners!
After psyching myself up I paddled in and waited for a wave to come and before I knew it I was on top of it, looking down on all of the surfboards and just as quickly as I had been on top of the wave I was then underneath it, getting barrelled, completely out of control under the water. Once I poked my head out and spat a mouthful of water back into the sea, another large wave hit me and dragged me through the water some distance as I tried to hold onto my board which floated better than I did to avoid the coral reef below.
It freaked me out quite a lot so after I had paddled back to where the waves break I couldn’t will myself to try again and I eventually returned to the boat, frustrated but alive.
Joe followed me in a while later having injured his shoulder but did give it a few more a tries than I had, commendably.
Having returned the boat and boards, we stopped at Tanjung Aan for some breakfast before I drove back and picked up Anna, returning to the beach for a while.
We decided to do another Yoga class and I joined them on this one as the name of the class was Yoga for Surfers.
It was difficult and I sweated ALOT but I couldn’t believe it when Anna and Joe had informed me that it was easier than the class they took a couple of days before.
It is alot more exercise than I am used to in one day so apparently I had fallen asleep by 8.30pm and didn’t wake up until 8am the following day, which is by far the most sleep I have had in years!
We had decided to go to the Gili Islands that afternoon but before we left Kuta I had to try and surf again as the previous day was playing on my mind heavily.
We had noticed a wave in the bay at Tanjung Aan so returned again to the beach, hired a boat and got taken out to it.
It was still quite big but a little more gentle, less crowded and in deeper water. Thankfully I managed to catch one, riding it quite far, only realising how far when I had to paddle back with my shoulders were getting really tired.
Joe had already gone in, aggravating his shoulder and I wasn’t too far off following him in as mine were full of lactic acid. It was a really long paddle back to shore and I was knackered by the time I got in, luckily I had a smile on my face this time unlike the previous day, which probably made me much more of a bearable travel companion!