Terima Kasih (thank you) Indonesia Part 2

In 1998, I went to Indonesia on a whim after I sold my van that got me from Sydney, Australia to Darwin, Australia.  I flew out of Darwin in September 1998 and spent six weeks traversing from East Timor to Lombok to Bali. This is but one part of my travelogue. 

Indonesia, for me, was life changing. I was able to be amongst amazing people both local and globally. I met incredible Indonesians that were living far differently from anything I had ever been exposed to. And I became fast friends with other travelers.  I ventured to Flores with the sole intent on taking a ferry to Lombok. It’s so beautiful that Indonesia is a series of islands, but it makes travelling between them sometimes a logistical nightmare. Also, from my experience, the Indonesians don’t use the same system for measuring time as we do. So a ten-hour bus trip may in fact be longer like fourteen hours.

Anyway, in Flores I meet seven other travellers that are also there to catch the now non-existent ferry. The Indonesian government has cancelled ferries between some of the islands so that local fisherman can earn money ferrying tourists between islands.  I’m already getting a sense of unease and only because I’m a skeptic. But as some of my new found friends have said, the government run ferry system is also flawed and there have been ferries that have sunk. So, here I am risking my life to get across the beautiful Indian Ocean. Just to digress a bit, I have to say that the Indian Ocean is one of the most beautiful oceans I’ve ever encountered.  It’s also one of the most deadly. Maybe somewhere in its waves we find irony.

So my travel partners are: Kim and Pat (Brits); Eric, Lisa (Kiwis) and Eric’s girlfriend Amanda (Canadian); Anton and Clara (Germans); and Dave (Aussie guy I met in Oz, but also met up with in Indo). Together we book a fishing boat (think rustic) for $40,000 Rupiah each (literally $6 Canadian). So for six dollars I am risking my life…oh well, you only live once or YOLO as the youngsters say.

This trip is epic. We are traveling from Flores to Lombok and stopping in at Rinca Island that is home to Komodo Dragons; Komodo Island (Komodo National Park); Sumba; and Sulawesi.  If I would have taken a government ferry there is no way that I would be able to see all these islands and Komodo Dragons.

This boat trip is estimated to take five days. But again, I don’t really know because time is irrelevant here. It takes what it takes and I just have to be okay with not knowing. 

Everyday in Indonesia is beautiful and especially so because it’s 35 degrees Celsius and the day we set out is no different. Today it is gloriously warm with a slight breeze. The captain and his crew of three including the cook look competent enough to man this wooden vessel with an upper deck and a lower deck. The lower deck is dark and that’s where we store our bedding, bags, and Beer Bintang. We bring a few flats with us just because… and also some rice wine which is akin to Saki. We are set for our five days adrift on the Indian Ocean. 

On Day 1, we make our way to Sumba. It’s a day of really just relaxing on the boat. To be honest there’s so much nothingness that it’s amazing. Indonesia is comprised of over 17,000 islands, so we see many islands on our journey. We encounter lots of other fishing boats and we even get to go snorkeling. Snorkeling here is amazing, but the sea lice are so ferocious. All of us are covered in bites. There are so many fish that I’ve never seen before and even a Tiger Shark surfaces near our boat. I’m a little freaked out and my fear only worsens when the cook tells us that Tiger Sharks, once caught in fishing nets, will play dead and when they are brought into boats they thrash the boat to pieces. They are unpredictable to say the least. Today, we are lucky that we got to the boat unscathed.

The cook is the only Indonesian on board that speaks English. He is great to talk to and we learn a lot about our crew and about Indonesian customs from him. He’s also a great cook and makes us great food. Actually we are pretty lucky that we get meals made for us; even if we are eating rice and fish an awful lot. The one thing I remember from scuba diving training is that the more beautiful the fish, the more deadly they can be. So I am a little wary about eating the fish he catches.

Day 2 provides us with more adventure. We make it to Rinca pretty late in the day. The sun has set and light is fleeting and we are trying to set anchor in a very rocky area. The crew and captain are freaking out because if they don’t come into dock just perfectly we could rip a hole in the hull. I’m pretty sure none of us wants that. All of us are deadly quiet. The crew has flashlights on either side of the boat and is trying to see where the rocks are under the water and are directing the captain which way to go. We inch along for what seems like hours. The captain cuts the engine with every turn. It is a little hairy for a bit, but we make it. All our faith is in the captain and he comes through for us.  We dock for the night and the cook makes a great bedtime snack of fried bananas.

Day 3 has us up at six am. Today we hope to see some Komodo Dragons. We jump off the front of the boat in exuberance like children. We are all beyond excited to see these ancient beasts that with a swipe of their tail can take down a man and a bite from them is poisonous enough to kill…so there is certainly some danger involved in this expedition. We hike for hours and see nothing; not a Komodo; not a bug; not anything. We make our way back to the boat and as we are walking toward the dock out of the corner of my eye, I see a Komodo running for us. I scream and start running. I feel like this island might be the last thing I see, but up ahead is a high platform. My friends and I take to the platform and clamber up until we are out of harms way. Hearts beating fiercely, breath gone, we are safe, but the crew of our boat is laughing. They played a trick on us. They taunted the Komodo with fish on a line and it was the fish that the Komodo was after. She could have cared less about us. Those buggers. We get aboard unscathed and full of life.  With the captain at the helm, we make our way to Komodo Island.

….Stay tuned. Later this week I will post the second part to this journey with the backdrop of a few more Indonesian islands.

~Jennifer Ward

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