Flying vs. Overlanding



164_6445-4.JPGExactly two weeks ago we took the 70 minute flight from Denpassar, Bali to Ende, Flores. Just to illustrate how long it takes to get around in Indonesia, I’ve listed the rote and times of our return journey. Note that I’ve omitted Moni (roundtrip from Ende) and Gili Air (roundtrip from Mataram), so the following is actually the most direct overland/sea route between Ende and Denpassar:


Ende to Ruteng (10 hour bus)

Ruteng to LBJ (6 hour bus)

Labuanbajo to Sape (8 hour ferry)

Sape to Bima (1.5 hour bemo)

Bima to Mataram (12 hour bus)

Mataram to Lembar (.5 hour bemo)

Lembar to Padangbai (4 hour ferry)

Padangbai to Sanur (1.5 hour bemo)


In case you weren’t counting, that’s 42.5 hours in-transit (not including waiting times, walking, or intracity transport). Again, that’s taking the most direct land-sea route between the two cities. On one hand, we saw some of the most scenic and beautiful landscapes, mountainscapes, and seascapes that we’ve ever seen. On the other hand, it is a 70 minute flight.  

Good Gilis


164_6445-4.JPGIts always nice when you’re looking forward to a place and it far exceeds your expectations. Such is the case with Gili Air. One of the three Gili Islands off the coast of Lombok, Gili Air is like the other two in that it is a small island surrounded by a lagoon and reef and subsists on tourism and farming. There are no motor-vehicles on any of the islands and aside from the two bicycles I’ve seen, only horse-drawn carts ply Air’s sandy paths. We found a nice bungalow here, which in my opinion is one of the nicest sub-10 dollar rooms we’ve had on the entire trip (and under-10 bucks is where we stay 80-90% of the time). Nestled in a coconut grove with a few others and only 50 meters or so to the beautiful ocean, I’m pretty happy with our place. After ten days of roughing it across Flores, we came to the Gilis to do nothing; sleep in, lay around in hammocks, swim/snorkel, take a walk, eat well, etc. So far, we’re on task. Yesterday we did pretty much nothing after arriving, just a big lunch and even bigger seafood dinner split by a few hours of sitting at the beach and our bungalow. Today was: breakfast, relax for a couple hours, swim, lunch, swim, attempt to use the one internet place on the island (we gave up after ten-minutes, at which point Google’s homepage was half-loaded), relax some more, and finally an excellent fresh seafood dinner. On tap for tomorrow morning is either a walk around the island or some snorkeling. Decisions, decisions…Once it gets too hot, I think we’ll begin our afternoon of sitting around and talking at the beach or our bungalow. Nice room, beautiful beach, tons of seafood, cheap, what more could I ask for?

Made it to Gili Air


\"164_6445-4.JPG\"Clear blue waters, white-sand palm-fringed beaches, and undeveloped, Gili Air has all the qualities of a perfect island. It’s a good thing too, because stepping off the small wooden boat onto Gili Air’s beach was the last step of a 27-hour journey. We boarded a ferry at 7:30 am yesterday morning and of course it didn’t leave until 10:30. It wasn’t until seven hours later that we disembarked at the port of Sape on Sumbawa. From Sape, we took a hour and half bus ride to Bima, where we boarded an overnight bus which would cross Sumbawa, take a ferry across to Lombok, and then drive across Lombok and deposit us at Mataram. That whole part was not as bad as it sounds. Well, the ferry ride was pretty smoky and sweltering as we crossed a windless sea, but otherwise it was better than it sounds since we booked our travel from Labuanbajo to Mataram on one ticket. Although it costs a little more to book all the segments of our trip in advance, it lessened the headache of having to think during the journey and allowed us to avoid negotiating at every change of transportation. Plus, its what even the locals do, I figured it must be worth it. From Mataram, we took a 40 minute bemo ride to Bangsal harbor, where we walked the last 100 meters to the harborfront to buy a ticket and wait for the small boat to fill up. Twenty minutes later, we stepped off onto Gili Air. It’s a beautiful, undeveloped island and good place to relax for a few days after our recent jaunt across somewhat less comfortable parts of Indonesia.


I have discovered something delicious, and it is called a murtabak. I actually had one a month ago in Borneo, but didn’t know what it was. Essentially, it is just a pancake. But beware: if you order a pancake in Indonesia it will most likely be a flavorless gooey half-cooked bleh. Not so the murtabak. Tonight I saw it being made, so now I know how it all goes down. And it goes a little something like this:
1. Heat up a small frying pan to correct temperature (whatever that is).
2. Spread white colored batter evenly over pan (not as salty as Bisquick, nor as rubbery tasting as Krusteez, the consistency should be that to make a pancake of about half an inch).
3. Watch as bubbles appear.
4. Liberally sprinkle sugar and chopped peanuts over batter. Add some chocolate sprinkles if you’re feeling like a party.
5. Place lid over pan to aid in cooking. Note, do NOT flip.
6. When batter is done cooking, remove from pan, fold in half so that the golden brown sides are facing out and the peanut side faces in.
7. Butter the top if you’re feeling like clogged arteries.
8. Enjoy your murtabak. This is not just any old pancake.

Farewell Labuanbajo



\"164_6445-4.JPG\"Labuanbajo has been an interesting place to stay the past few days. Although my posts have focused on the spectacular diving and Komodo dragons, every day has begun and ended in Labuanbajo. It’s a small squalid little seaside town; dusty, dirty, and poor with a ramshackle little harbor. But at the same time, the view from the hills looking down into bay is amazing and the sunsets over the islands are a great too. I was going to write how everyone is really kind and friendly. But then we ran into this guy in town, Tony; short and stocky black guy with long dreadlocks. He recommended a hotel, which we ended up staying at. We saw him in town a few more times and our second to last night, he tried to sell us a boat tour to Rinca, which we said we’d think about. We ended up going through another middleman that offered a much better price. When he found out we bought it from someone else without consulting him, he was pissed and offered a few choice names and words for us, before he stomped off. So I couldn’t blog that everyone in Labuanbajo was kind. But then we saw him again and he came up to me, apologized, shook my hand, which turned into a hug before giving me a few pats on the back and reiterating he was sorry. So now, again, and in good conscience, I can say everyone in Labuanbajo has been very kind and friendly.


its a poor little town, like most on Flores and in Indonesia in general


but also like much of Flores and Indonesia in general, scenic

Earth Day

Just what did you think happened to all those bags anyways?
Its earth day here and a couple hundred high-schoolers are going out to some neighboring islands to pick up trash. That’s great, but I think it would be more useful if they picked up the trash in Labuanbajo to get a sense of how dirty this place is. However, the point of this little paragraph is not to rip on the littering citizens of this town, but to give them props on not using Styrofoam. Our boxed lunches come in just that, boxes, with brown waxed paper to wrap up saucy things to keep it from leaking through. Utensils are metal and reused. This is a nice change from the Styrofoam boxes and plastic spoons we usually get when we order takeaway.
The point of this second paragraph is to ask you to avoid using Styrofoam. Who cares if it’s cheaper, it is really REALLY bad for the environment. And try recycling while you’re at it. I’m ashamed to say, but will confess that we did not recycle at our apartment before we left. This was due to the fact that we had no recycling bins at our complex, and we were too lazy to figure out what to do with it on our own. But, traveling in otherwise beautiful places that have been needlessly littered with all kinds of recyclable and unrecyclable waste I often find myself asking, why don’t they do something about that? Can’t they recycle that or at least put it in a trash can? In the US, I’d say that for the most part we’ve got the no-littering thing down. But what about recycling? Even if where you live doesn’t have its own recycling pick-up, you don’t usually have to go that far to find a place. It’s definitely easier to find a place to recycle back home than in many of the countries where I question their own recycling nature. So let’s get with it and start recycling more!
Last, but not least, in the spirit of reducing waste, get yourself some reusable shopping bags—not just for grocery shopping, but for all shopping. If you’re not into the canvas tote thing, there are a lot of other options out there. One of my favorites is the old-lady Chinatown veggie roller cart, but I know that this may not be everyone’s cup of tea. Another option are brighter, lightweight bags, like these Envirosacks, that can be folded up really small so that you can have them ready for whenever.
Actually, I have one more last thing to say, and that is while biodiesel may be good for American farmers in Iowa, and politicians trying to get their votes, it is not any better for the environment or people who need to buy food. And I still have no idea why Bush went on a tour of Latin America promoting the stuff. But then again, he doesn’t always have a good reason for doing the things he does, does he?

There be Dragons


\"164_6445-4.JPG\"I cannot remember when I first heard of or learned about Komodo dragons, but I’ve always wanted to see them. Although we’ve seen various species of monitor lizards throughout SEA and we could’ve seen Komodo dragons in a handful of zoos, I really wanted to see wild dragons. The dragons can actually be found in some coastal regions of Flores, but they are most populous on the islands of Rinca and, their namesake, Komodo. So this morning, we hired a boat to take us to Rinca.


a scenic early morning boat ride

After a two-hour ride, we pulled up to Rinca’s shores and hopped off. We walked through some mud flats filled with crabs, before arriving at the ranger station, where we hired the required guide. Armed only with a long stick, our guide led us out of camp on a two-hour hike.


Luckily we saw a group of five Komodos right away, sunning themselves in the morning sun on the outskirts of the camp. Despite their lazy disposition, the sight of them was scary. Besides the 3 meter length of the two males, the first thing I noticed was the size of their enormous feet and claws. They appeared disproportionately large compared to the rest of their bodies. Even though the dragons we’re just sunning themselves, Sufrey, our guide, told us to stay at least 3 meters away. He said even though they look pretty lazy when they’re sunning, they could still move incredibly quick and lethally.


thats bigger than any persons hand I\’ve ever seen, to give you a frame of reference

We learned a few other scary facts, as well. The dragons occasionally kill people, the most recent victim being a village boy in 2007. The Komodos have no natural predators and they prey most commonly on buffalo, wild pigs, horses, and deer. They’ll also attack and eat baby Komodo dragons and people if the opportunity presents itself. While a group of dragons can kill and eat an animal at once if they hunt in a group, most hunting is done solo. Due to high-levels of bacteria in the dragons’ saliva, a single bite is all it takes to kill. Most often, a dragon will attack and bite a buffalo, only to leave until two weeks later. During those two weeks, the buffalo (or whatever animal was bit) develops an infection from the bite and dies, whence the dragon returns to eat. The toxic saliva is lethal for humans too, unless that person can make it to the hospital for a heavy and lengthy dose of antibiotics.


Adding to the list of scary facts, Komodos are excellent swimmers. On our hike, we passed a nesting area. Luckily females only guard the nests for the first 3 of their eggs’ 9-month gestation. We saw a couple more dragons on our hike; one sleeping under a tree and another walking towards us on the trail- we obviously gave it the right of way and plenty of room. Unfortunately my photos did not come out very well, though. You’ll have to take my word that their muscular legs, reptilian swagger, and flicking yellow tongues are one of the scariest things imaginable. Besides the dragons, we also saw a ton of wild buffalos, a few megapode birds, and a lot of little insects, reptiles, and plants.


It was a beautiful hike that took us high up on the island, from where we had commanding views of the surrounding islands and sea. It was an enjoyable hike and I got to see something I’ve always wanted to, not a bad day. Need a reason to stay awake at work? Our guide, Sufrey, told us a story that occurred several years ago. A dragon wandered into the ranger camp and entered the cafeteria, probably lured by the smell of food. The dragon was probably pleasantly surprised to find a cafeteria worker sleeping and attacked, biting the worker’s arm! The guy was lucky to have survived, but had to spend 3 months in the hospital and take a daily cocktail of antibiotics before he was cured.


My Dive Buddy



\"164_6445-4.JPG\"Even since her dive course, Joylani’s been having ear problems. For our nine-diving readers out there, diving is a no-no if you’re experiencing any ear or sinus problems since you could seriously injure yourself and/or lose your hearing. She missed out on the excellent diving during our trip to Sipadan, so we were both really hoping that her ears would be good for Indo. Having had ear problems for a month and half, she was pretty discouraged about it and a bit wary of going down. But having not felt much pain for the past few days, she decided to swallow her fear and give it a go.


 Joylani looking determined to go diving today

She got a bit flustered on her first descent, but after collecting herself and some help from our dive master, she was flying along the ocean floor with me in the strong current. Over the next two days, she dove deeper than ever before and doubled her total number of dives. For someone who initially didn’t want to dive and then got off to a rough start, she’s quite the diver now able to do drift and wall dives. I’m happy to have a dive buddy and I’m pretty proud of her.


look at her go :)

Diving North Komodo



\"164_6445-4.JPG\"Indonesia has some of the best diving in the world, with the waters around Komodo possessing some of the country’s best diving. And although the dive sites north of Komodo are among the best in the country and the world, I was reluctant to sign up for a second day of diving due to the cost. On the boat ride back from yesterday’s dives, I was trying to think of a way to justify another day of diving- we’re not going to any more diving destinations on our trip, we’ll just dive here instead of Bali or Lombok, the market rallied last week didn’t it- when Joylani asked, “Matt, when are we gonna be in Komodo again?” Good point. Our first dive was at Castle Rock, a large submerged cone of rock and coral. We dropped in a ways from the site and let the current take us to the site. Swimming around it to the side sheltered from the current, we were greeted by a ton of big fish. The first thing I saw was a Great Barracuda, about two meters long. Just when I was thinking about how good it would taste, some even tastier fish swam between us. I looked around and noticed tuna and jackfish (trevally) swarming around us. Yellowfin and dogtooth tuna zipped around, while the trevally moved in large schools. There were some other cool things around too, like white-tip reef sharks, lionfish, nudibranches, the Moorish idols that liked to play with my camera, and the group of surgeonfish that followed Joylani around, playing with her column of bubbles.




can you spot the scorpionfish? Joylani couldn\’t either…


school of trevally

Our second dive was to Crystal Rock, also teeming with life. We saw a ton of different species of sweetlips and even a moray eel swimming out in the open, an extremely rare sight as only their heads are usually seen poking out from under rocks. There was a ton of table coral around too. Joylani stayed up top while Fabio, our divemaster and I went down for a third dive near a place called Seribayu Island. It was a wall dive without too many big things, so mostly we wet up and down the reef wall scouring for interesting things.


my best nudibranch photo to date


don\’t know what he\’s stretching for though… 

There were a quite a few soft corals I’d never seen before, a couple species of nudibranches I’d never seen before, a couple of cuttlefish. Besides having eaten lots of dried cuttlefish, I didn’t know anything about them. They look really interesting and propel themselves with “fins” than run the length of their body. The coolest thing though, was watching them change color as we followed them- maybe they could sense how much I like to eat them….



Reading back over this post, I realize how much of a nerd I am listing and describing everything I saw, but I’ve realized that the diving community is pretty nerdy. Even the tough-looking hardcore divers start talking about marine life when they hit the surface: corals, reef-fish, nudibranches, pelagics, and so on. If you find my lists and descriptions of the dives boring, suffice it to say diving around Komodo is awesome.


our lunch spot wasn\’t too bad either…


parrotfish and surgeonfish feeding frenzy


shark photos are always cool

Diving Again


This rock was the tip of a huge pyramid of reef life under water.  You can see the change in the water surface cause by the current being diverted around the rock.

\"joylaniI finally went diving again.  It was a nervous decision to make, but I think it helped to know that if my first dive didn’t work out, I wouldn’t have to pay for any others.  With nothing to really lose, I decided to go diving with Matt.  At the start of my descent, I began breathing way to fast, and had to surface to calm down.  After a couple minutes I was ok, and Fabi, our divemaster, held my hand as I tried it again.  Success!  It felt nice to be back under the water.  One, two, three.  One, two, three.  I counted my breaths in and out to avoid breathing too heavily as I and the other divers were whisked away by the underwater current.  It was definitely a lot different from my previous training dives that had been beach dives into a shallow reef.  This dive was in the open ocean, and we were following a strong current in search of manta rays.  The water was moving so fast, it was hard to concentrate on seeing things because I was busy flailing my arms around and trying to stay set on the same course as the other divers.  All the flailing and my (still a little too heavy) breathing meant I used up my air faster than the more experienced divers.  But so did Matt and one other diver, so I didn’t feel too bad.  The three of us surfaced early.  Despite my lack of coordination, it was still a great dive.

The next dive felt much slower paced as the site was sheltered by a rock from the current (see above photo).  We swam back and forth along a wall and it was fun to look at the sea life from a new angle.  So much fun, in fact, that Matt and I decided to go diving again the next day.  Those two dives were even more fun than the last two because Matt and I were the only divers going out that day (in addition to Fabi), so we didn’t have to put up with anyone else’s bubbles and could go at our own pace.  Oh, and the dive sites weren’t too bad either.  :)


By the end of the day I felt like I had gotten the hang of this diving thing and am looking forward to the next time we go.  Whenever and wherever that may be, who knows?!


Looking up.


Colorful corals.


Fish Faces.


The bottom of the anemone.


Hello nudie branch!