It was time to leave Sumbawa and head to Lombok. Unfortunately we couldn’t take our time, as we needed to extend our visas (again – 30 days go by so quickly!). We needed to get to Mataram, the capital of Lombok on the west coast. Our plan was to sail along the south of Lombok and then zip around the south west corner into the calm protected waters of the southern Gilis – a group of tiny islands nestled off Lombok. From there we could get a taxi to Mataram and do the necessary admin.
The Alas Strait between Sumbawa and Lombok was quite choppy and the swells were bigger than we expected. It was impressive to see the local fishermen out in their one-man wooden boats, unperturbed as they disappeared in the trough of the swells. The stark sandy-coloured cliffs of southern Lombok came into view, and we negotiated our way through them into Ekas Bay, our first anchorage.
Ekas was filled with fish attracting devices (FADs) – floating wooden platforms that are used to attract fish and prawns. Some have little “cabins” where a generator is kept, and lights are switched on at night to really excite the prey. They are quite a sailing hazard, as they often have buoys and ropes hanging off them, but there was a distinct FAD-free channel where we could travel.
Ekas Bay has a couple of good surfing spots, but the swell was small so the boys didn’t make it into the water. We went for a short walk up to the resort on the nearby hill, took in the views, and watched a spectacular sunset.
The following day we planned to anchor in Gerupuk – the next bay along the coast, also known to have good surf. What a crazy bay to try and navigate in! If we thought Ekas was full of FADs, we hadn’t seen anything yet. Gerupuk was completely out of control! Not only was it full of FADs, but also many individual buoys and lines of floating plastic bottles holding up fishing nets. It’s a huge bay, but there was no clear channel, so we zig-zagged around the hazards, plunging deeper and deeper into the floating maze. Marco eventually called a halt to the madness – the risk of fouling our propellers on fishing line or rope became too great. We had sufficient time and decided to head for Belongas, about 25 nautical miles away.
The entrance to Belongas was pretty impressive, with a giant foreboding black rock jutting out in the middle. It’s apparently a world-class diving site, full of hammerheads and other sharks. There were many FADs in the bay, but fortunately grouped to one side, so we were able to enter and navigate around another rocky outcrop before turning to starboard into the right arm of the bay. The anchorage was huge, calm and protected – perfect!
Belongas has 2 surfing spots, one of which is a reform as the wave wraps around into the right arm of the bay. Unfortunately the swell was too small and the wave was breaking on the reef. We went for a little ride in the dinghy so the boys could “ooh” and “aah” about its excellent shape, and then headed back to the Ark for a good night’s sleep.
We were now at the south-west tip of Lombok, and needed to head north up the Lombok Strait (the passage between Bali and Lombok). This Strait is where most of the water drains from the north of the Indonesian archipelago to the south, and is known for its fierce currents. The current is generally south-setting, but can be a little unpredictable depending on the tides, phase of the moon, wind etc. Our aim was to get there at slack tide, and then hug the coastline where there is sometimes a northerly-setting current.
As we left the protected waters of Belongas, we headed into a strong southerly wind and pretty rolly seas. I was a little anxious, as strong southerly winds and biggish swells colliding with a strong southerly-setting current can produce big standing waves. Well, we were committed and there was no reason to turn back yet. The sea started churning as we entered the Strait, with white frothy peaks looming up behind us. We soon realised that the strong southerly wind and current were actually working in our favour, literally pushing us up the Strait. With our genoa out and both engines on, we surfed down the swells at around 9 knots, with 4 knots in between. This gave us an average speed of around 6 knots, which wasn’t bad going, given the 4-5 knot current we were heading straight into. As we neared Desert Point, the wind and swells reduced, and thus our speed, but we made it to the nearby anchorage at Bangko-Bangko with a couple hours of light left. We anchored in deep water, finally out of the relentless current.
Desert Point needs no introduction for surfers. It’s rated as one of the top waves in the world – when it’s working. Marco and Noah headed off in the dinghy the next morning to check it out. The waves were big and gnarly, so Noah stayed in the dinghy while Marco caught some smokers. I think Noah had his own adrenaline rush though – he said he was worried that big sets would break on him, or that the anchor wouldn’t hold and he’d get dragged into the breaking waves. They both came back exhilarated!
One more leg before we could rest – Bangko-Bangko to Gili Gede. This was an easy sail, in the mostly current-free, calm protected waters between the Gilis (meaning “islands”). Our destination was next to “Marina Del Ray”, not really a marina but rather a number of swing-moorings set up at the southern end of Gili Gede. There were 10-15 western boats moored there, and we were hopeful that this might be a safe place to leave the boat for a couple of months during the rainy season. Little did we know what “adventures” we would encounter in this place! For now we could drop anchor and get our visas sorted.
It was time to head for the smoking volcano! We left Gili Banta, our last island in the Komodos, heading for Wera, our first anchorage in Sumbawa. This route took us right passed Sangeang Api, one of the most active volcanos in the Flores Sea. We were quite excited!
Sangeang Api is actually defined as a “complex volcano”, and we could make out two peaks, one of which had smoke wafting out, the remnants of a recent eruption (July/August 2017!). It’s situated on Sangeang island just off Sumbawa, and the volcano pretty much makes up the whole island. The peaks are just under 2km high, and are covered in cloud most of the time. Fortunately for us, the clouds parted at times, and we were able to catch glimpses of the smaller crater. The land looks so fertile and green, as it would when it’s periodically drenched in lava, and there is a small village on the one side of the island. The currents around the island were pretty strong, and the water was bubbling like a cauldron all around us, but we were able to sail quite close and admire this wonder of nature.
It was then a short sail to Wera, which is apparently known for its wooden boat-building. We spotted a couple of half-built boats along the shore from the anchorage, and decided to dinghy ashore to check them out. The first thing we noticed was the beach sand – pitch black and almost metallic and shiny, undoubtedly a result of the neighbouring volcano. Really unusual for us, who are used to white or beige beach sand. We were immediately surrounded by friendly, chatty children, many in headscarves. Sumbawa is quite a conservative, Muslim island, and we noticed many more women in headscarves and men wearing a “fez”.
The kids were keen to show us the boat (which doubled up as their jungle-gym). Marco and Josh went off to see if they could find a “snack” for us, whilst Noah and I hung around at the dinghy. Some older teenage girls joined us too, and couldn’t stop remarking about how “ganteng” (handsome) Noah is. As usual, they asked if they could take selfies with him, and he was obliging as always. I couldn’t believe how they draped themselves over him, almost kissing his cheeks and striking various seductive poses – particularly one girl in strict Muslim attire. I wonder whether her father would approve! Anyway, Noah didn’t approve, and after putting up with it for a little while he squirmed out of their clutches and ran the meet Marco and Josh, who had finally come back with some food. Josh had apparently endured a similar ordeal at the warung – he was encouraged to kiss the baby during the photo-sessions there!
We suddenly heard a loud “boom” and everyone looked alarmed. I thought it was the volcano, but was reassured by one relieved lady that they were just bombing for fish. We couldn’t believe it – you hear about this happening, but to be there at the time was horrible – especially after seeing the destroyed reefs in Gili Banta. The whole village pretty much waded out to collect their share of the stunned fish, like it was the most normal thing in the world. There probably wasn’t a reef where they bombed – but it still seemed wrong. Later that evening a friendly old man brought us 3 little fish as a gift. They were baby tuna, probably 15-20cm long. We’ve seen so many of these juvenile fish being caught – and it doesn’t bode well for the future fish stocks.
We woke up at sunrise the next morning, greeted by a clear view of Sangeang Api with the trail of smoke from the now visible, bigger crater. We had a big sail ahead of us, 60 miles west along the north coast of Sumbawa to the village of Kananga. There seemed to be a strong current against us at times, and although the wind was good, we ended up having to motor-sail the whole way to make it before sunset. The north coast of Sumbawa is very green and mountainous – the most fertile island we’ve seen so far. We could see a massive cloudbank over Mount Tambora, responsible for the biggest volcanic eruption on record (greater than the more well-known Krakatoa). It erupted in 1815, and the top third of the mountain actually blew off in the explosion. Rock and lava shot 40km up into the sky, and the ash cloud affected skies worldwide for a year. In Europe, 1816 was known as “the year without summer” due to the constantly obscured sun, and William Turner captured some of these effects in his paintings.
We anchored in front of the gorgeous Kananga village, with its colourful houses, huge verdant trees lining the beach, healthy vegetable gardens, and with the now visible flat-topped Mount Tambora as a backdrop. There seemed to be a celebration of sorts on the beach, and we later heard that a nearby village was visiting.
Just across from Kananga is a little island called Satonda, which is actually the remnant of an extinct volcano. It’s basically a ring of land, with a lake in the middle where the crater was. We’d heard it was a great place for a hike and swim, so we set off in our dinghy the next morning. It’s actually a National Park now, and a ranger greeted us and requested the visitor’s fee ($10 each). It seemed a little crazy to pay to explore this completely deserted island – but then again, I didn’t mind supporting any efforts towards conservation. Quite an effort had actually been made – a little jetty provided to tie up the dinghy (high tide only – unlucky for us!), rubbish bins provided in various places, footpaths cleared and well marked, a small warung set up, and very little litter on the beach.
We headed for the crater first. It’s now a huge salt-water lake, with a higher salt content than the sea, about 80cm above sea level. It’s so tranquil – you can lie back and float, listening to the sound of birds and insects, with lush trees and vegetation all around. We then followed the steep path up the one side of the crater, to some beautiful viewpoints looking down into the lake. The path then wound its way down the hill to the beach. We stopped when we heard lots of screeching and squealing coming from the trees – and noticed thousands of huge fruit bats all hanging upside down, fanning themselves with their black umbrella-like wings. I’ve never seen so many bats in one place before – the trees were black with them! We ended up on the beach, and walked back around the island to where our dinghy was. It was a really enjoyable morning, and so good to get some exercise again (especially for the non-surfer)!
Our next stop was at Moyo Island, which is known for its diving and snorkelling. We arrived just after sunset and anchored using one engine, as the port engine wouldn’t start. Marco fiddled around with it a bit, and got it going again – he thought that no fuel had been getting through. We anchored in the huge bay next to a large boat called “Seawolf”. It looked like some sort of surveillance or exploratory vessel, but after Googling I discovered it’s been converted to a massive luxury superyacht (with it’s own catamaran on board).
The next morning we headed further west to a place called Potopaddu, a tiny little estuarine inlet in the middle of nowhere. Our Cruising Guide warned us that the entrance appeared narrow – and it certainly did! Marco wasn’t actually sure he wanted to attempt it at first. As we got nearer we could see a channel in. It was 10m deep, but reduced to a width of about 35m in places. It was here that we came across fishermen in their wooden canoes, fishing nets, lines and buoys completely blocking the entrance. Fortunately there was no wind, so we could wait while the fishermen moved the nets, and could then motor the last stretch into a calm protected little estuary. What a wonderfully peaceful anchorage!
All the fishermen paddled over to our boat – some of them mainly to ask for things like cigarettes, medicine, Coke, Bintang (beer) and stationery. It’s the first place in Indo where we’ve been asked for things. I had bought some extra stationery for this purpose, and we were happy to help out with some antiseptic powder – but sorry, no cigarettes or Bintang. It was also the first place that we had to close the mozzie nets on our hatches at sunset.
We left the next morning and could finally turn the corner and head down the west coast of Sumbawa into the Alas Strait. There are a couple of epic (although fickle) surf spots in the south-western part of Sumbawa, and we were headed that way. We encountered strong currents in the Strait as the tide went out. The water was churning and bubbling around us, and we only managed to make 3 knots with full sails and both engines on. The current reduced as we headed into the huge bay near the wave known as “Northern Rights”, and we anchored amongst a myriad of waves.
Northern Rights is in an isolated deserted bay, with only a couple of guys combing the reef and a sprinkling of farmlands ashore. There were a lot of trucks coming and going though – and we later found out that they’re busy building a road to link the 3 main surf spots in the area. The boys hopped into the water for a late afternoon surf, joined by 2 Norwegians who’d driven across from Bali.
We spent 2 days at Northern Rights, enjoying some down-time after sailing every day for about a week. Marco and I went for a lovely long walk on the pristine beach, and climbed the foothill which offered beautiful views of the bay. Unfortunately I didn’t have my camera with me, so couldn’t take any photos.
Our next stop was Scar Reef, quite a legendary wave when the swell pulls in. Although the prevailing winds were supposed to be south-east, we encountered a really strong south-westerly, pretty much head on. We figured that this could be a funnelling effect as the wind blows between the mountainous Sumbawa and Lombok. It was quite unpleasant sailing, and the waves were quite choppy. Marco wasn’t sure the anchorage at Scar Reef would be safe, so we pulled into Labuan Lalar, a wide protected bay en route.
We had intended to give Labuan Lalar a wide berth. Why, you ask? They are apparently big into dried fish, and the beachfront is full of fish laid out on wooden platforms, drying in the sun. This attracts … flies! Our Cruising Guide specifically mentioned the flies, and being a passionately fly-hating family, we were put off. Regardless, the weather had other ideas and we were forced to seek shelter in the fly-pit.
As we entered the bay I was standing on the bow, and remarked on how beautiful it was – the village looked quaint, set against green lush hills, and the bay was calm and clear. Maybe it wasn’t so bad after all! Well, that was until we walked inside the saloon – somehow the flies had found us while still kilometres offshore, and were infiltrating our boat. We quickly closed all the mozzie (fly) nets and hoped for the best. It didn’t stop hundreds landing on the outside of the boat, but at least we had a finite number inside to deal with.
Dealing with them was another story though – we had no fly-swatter, and dishcloths had a really low kill-rate. After going slowly insane for a couple hours, we decided to rather face the weather and continue to Scar Reef. Fortunately the wind had died down, and the anchorage was useable, if a little rolly.
I had hoped that the sail would have swept the flies off of our boat. No such luck – they basically camped out on/in the boat for days, just moving from cabin to cabin as we chased them around. I’d walk into the galley and see 10 flies lift off from the dishes, or we’d have them crawling on our legs in the saloon while trying to do school. What a complete nightmare! It made me completely mad. I can maybe endure them outside, but in my “home” is another story! We spent about 3 hours non-stop trying to get rid of them, and eventually constructed the “black hand of death” using a spatula and a rubber surf-glove. That seemed to do the trick, and we were slowly able to kill the horrid stowaways (over the next few days).
Momma’s going mad!
Scar Reef is in a really beautiful bay, with a couple of resorts along the shore due to the popularity of the wave. We ate a delicious meal (“Ayam Taliwang” – chicken with a peanut/coconut/chilli sambal sauce), washed down with a couple beers at Myamo Lodge, in their laid-back beach-villa atmosphere. I felt we really deserved it after the fly-ordeal! We also organised to be taken to the nearby village (Jereweh) to stock up on provisions, as we’d run pretty low. I’d been forced to be pretty creative – our last meal was a stew/curry made with soup mix and cabbage (gross). Marco and the boys had a couple of surfs at Scar Reef, but the swell was small and it wasn’t really working properly.
And so ended our travels through Sumbawa. It’s definitely one of the most dramatic landscapes we’ve seen, with soaring volcanos and lush fertile valleys. There are some beautiful anchorages – but we did not find the people to be as warm and genuine as on the previous islands we’ve visited. We felt that some of them saw us as dollar-signs and were more interested in trying to get money/things out of us than trying to connect with who we are as people. It just made the people on Rote, Sabu, Raijua and Flores seem so much more special.
We left Labuan Bajo after about a week, heading west to Sumbawa. We wanted to stop at a number of islands in the northern Komodo National Park along the way.
Our first stop was not very far from Labuan Bajo, at an island called Bididari (meaning “Angel”). You’d never think it was so close to Labuan Bajo, as it feels like you’re miles away from all the activity! The beach, coral and bay is pristine, no litter to be seen, just stunning white sand and turquoise water. We needed to make water (one of our weekly chores), and it was the perfect spot as it was so clear! The boys could snorkel to their heart’s content whilst Marco and I fiddled around with the watermaker.
We had a couple of problems with it – first the one pipe would not connect to the membranes, then we had to re-solder some of the submersible pump wiring, then the submersible pump stopped working properly. We eventually managed to connect the pipe – using all our strength and pushing against each other, and attached our powerful roving bilge pump to pump the water out of the sea. Problems solved – and 300 litres of fresh clean water made.
I managed to squeeze in a quick snorkel with the boys – and it was so worth it. They had seen 3 small black tip sharks earlier on. I wasn’t so lucky, but we were surrounded by huge schools of colourful fish, and spotted a turtle (Joshi’s favourite).
We then headed to the actual Komodo Island, which is fairly big. One of our fellow cruisers (on Dragonfly) had recommended an anchorage on the north of the island, called “Loh Serau”. The setting is really magnificent, kind of like our first anchorage on the south of Rinca Island. The mountains are high and majestic, but are fairly dry and barren (especially at this time of the year). The sea is a deep blue – but the real wonderland is UNDER the water.
The bay is deep and filled with abundant sea life. The fish were really active – we heard constant splashing, and saw schools of silver sparkling fish jumping out the water, probably being chased by larger fish. We spent 2 days in the bay, snorkelling in a number of spots and just having some down time, reading and resting. The reef looked so healthy and was full of life, so awesome to see.
We went to the beach for sundowners and a stroll up the nearby foothill, and the boys flew their drones around a bit. Marco was ready with the dinghy paddle in case any Komodo dragons came strolling by and thought we looked tasty (which they didn’t).
Whilst we were watching the sunset we noticed a far off mountain that looked remarkably like a volcano (to our South African untrained eyes) – and a smoking volcano, nogal! We hadn’t noticed it before as it must have been covered by clouds. After checking our charts we worked out that it was a volcano called Sangeang Api – but had no way of telling if it was currently dangerous as we had no internet reception. Oh well, we’d have to find out soon enough – when we were due to sail right passed it!
We then moved on to Gili Banta, which is just outside of the Komodo National Park, but soon to be included. The setting was again magnificent, but the litter was horrendous here and the reef brown and dead. Marco reckons it had been bombed or poisoned. So sad to see, and actually made me feel sick and a little depressed. The most common items of litter were plastic drinking cups – the ones with sealed foil lids. Second most common – plastic water bottles. I will NEVER buy or accept one of those sealed cups of water. So much pollution for such a little drink of water. We spent a fair bit of time discussing the pollution problem with the boys, possible solutions and the hurdles and obstacles that would need to be overcome to solve it. Not insurmountable, but not easy either!
The boys made the most of the place (as usual) and spent a couple of hours constructing a raft from pieces of wood that lay amongst the rubbish. It was looking good until they climbed on, when it all pretty much fell apart, and they were left paddling around on single wooden planks. Such a coincidence – in our Footprints curriculum we’re learning about how the trekkers floated their ox-wagons across the Orange River on rafts, and one of the activities is to build a raft! Seems the boys are one step ahead of me!
We really enjoyed a hike up the mountains surrounding our anchorage at Gili Banta. We woke up at 5am (yes, us!) and made it to the summit under cloudy skies, with a slight breeze blowing – so lovely. The views were spectacular – we could see the “fingers” of the island reaching out into the sea, and our boat nestled in the bay far below us. I managed to get internet up on the mountain, and was able to confirm that Sangeang Api was indeed active, and had last erupted in August 2017! In fact, it’s supposed to be one of the most active volcanos in the Flores Sea, and its status was deemed to be “erupting”. There didn’t seem to be any warning out though, so we stuck to our plan – which was to anchor at Wera Bay on Sumbawa, right opposite the volcano. This was going to be exciting – onwards to the volcanos!
My first time scuba diving was a brilliant and exciting success. I saw many creatures and amazing coral. If you want to know more about this interesting experience, read my story!
Before the diving day, I was really excited. I was so excited I couldn’t get to sleep for a long time. The day before seemed to drag on forever. However, surprisingly the day eventually came.
We had to wake up at about 7 o’clock, for the boat was going to fetch us early. We packed the things we needed – wetsuits, towels, hats, cream, booties, a water-bottle and some more. We also brought our flippers and masks and snorkels, just in case their masks or flippers didn’t fit us.
They fetched us at 8 o’clock, more or less. There were five people on board, but I only knew the names of two of them: Condo (the owner of the boat) and Grandy (the dive master). Their boat was approximately 30 feet long with three 175 horse-power engines, which is why we cruised along at such a ridiculously fast speed of 36 knots. We went so fast that we got to our first diving spot in 20 minutes!
Before the first dive, Condo and Grandy explained to us how to use the scuba gear. The BC is the ‘jacket’ that goes around you. There is a button to inflate your BC, allowing to you float. Another button you use to deflate your BC, causing you to sink. It functions just like a fish’s swim bladder, except a fish doesn’t need to push buttons to activate it. I put the tank on next. Actually some of the crew helped me put it on. Then I tested the regulator, which is a pipe that travels from the tank to one’s mouth, allowing one to breathe. It worked perfectly, once I was able to fit my mouth around it. Breathing through the regulator felt very strange and awkward, for I was breathing compressed air and it felt like I wasn’t pumping enough air into my lungs.
It turned out to be a wise decision to bring spare masks, flippers and snorkels. I tried on various masks and they constantly kept filling up with water, so I used my own one, which fitted perfectly. The flippers felt very heavy, for they were bigger than mine. However, they were much lighter in the water. I also had to use a weight-belt with two weights to help me sink. There were also more things that we could use such as the depth-gauge and the pressure-gauge. With all the gear on I could hardly stand it was so heavy. In the water it’s much less heavy.
First we did a practice dive. We swam with Condo, Grandy and another instructor on the surface to get used to the gear. The tank constantly kept rolling me onto my side if I leaned too much that way. However, I got used to it. Then we sank down to two metres, and I tried equalising, but I found I wasn’t able to. Eventually I “used the correct methodology” (as my dad would say).
The first and second dive were in the same area. When I was down amidst all the fish and coral I felt like I was basically part of the environment. The instructors stayed near us at all times, and one of them in particular paid a lot of attention to me. With the others’ help, we went down to eight metres.
There were so many fish around us in the first and second dive. I could identify a parrot fish and clown fish. We also spotted a lion fish. It was under a cave so we had to go deeper to see it. Before the dive Grandy had shown us signs of certain creatures, so now everyone was doing the lion fish sign. There weren’t just fish and animals, there was coral, too. Nearly all the coral was unharmed. It was pristine. One of the things that made the coral so good was the variety. I didn’t know any names for the coral, for I’m no reef expert. There were hard ones, soft ones, tree-like ones, pink ones, red ones, wavy ones and sometimes even blue or green ones. All the fishes’ homes were in coral juts or holes or caves. There were many fish among coral heads, too. If I stayed still, they wouldn’t be frightened of me.
After the first dive, I had a bit of a headache, but it soon got better. I think that helpful lunch with lots of chilli did the trick nicely. After the second dive I had a horrible headache, again. The instructors thought it could’ve been because I wasn’t breathing deeply enough, meaning I wasn’t getting enough oxygen.
Just before the third dive I still had a headache, and I nearly didn’t go. I was also cold, so when I got in the water I was even colder. I had to go on agreement that if I got a headache I had to leave and go back to the boat. The coral wasn’t great there, but currents converge where we were diving, and that’s where lots of manta rays are found. So on the third dive, our objective was to find manta rays.
I was glad that I went diving, because we saw a shark. As soon as we saw it, my dad and Condo rushed to my side like bodyguards, which was just as well, for I probably would’ve been scared without them. Condo called the shark to us. He took his regulator out of his mouth and made these strange noises. The shark came within 5 metres from us, and as it came closer I realized it was a 1.5 metre long black-tip shark. It stayed near us for a while and then disappeared.
I started getting a headache again, so I swam back to the boat. Soon afterwards the others came back, too. When we had all gotten our gear off, we spotted a manta ray. So we quickly put our flippers and snorkels on and went out to the manta ray. Actually there were two of them! We saw them gliding gracefully under us. Their wing-span was about 1.5 metres. After a while they swam away. That was the first time I’ve seen a manta ray!
Overall I had a fantastic time seeing all the animals and I really enjoyed being part of the sea life. It was also interesting diving with all the gear, for it felt very different to snorkelling on the surface. I hope my next scuba dive will be as much fun!
After our huge welcome meal at Made in Italy, we were ready for business. First item on the agenda – extend visas. So off we headed to the bustling harbour in the dinghy. We had read that there was a pier connected to Philemon’s Seafood Restaurant that could be used by visiting dinghies. The whereabouts of this pier was impossible to find, as there are boats everywhere – lines and lines of wooden fishing boats tied up to the main concrete pier, or to each other; smaller speedboats coming and going, loading and unloading fuel and passengers; huge ferries parked alongside; big wooden phinisi boats, some under construction; and a working dock with containers stacked high. And into this bustle, we had to find a spot to leave our insignificant little dinghy.
Luckily Marco is so gregarious, and it didn’t take long before he’d organised to tie up alongside one of the wooden fishing boats. The guys on the boat were really helpful – helped us climb aboard, took our bags, and helped us off the front of their boat onto the dock. The latter was a little precarious, as you basically have to pull the mooring lines to get the bow as close to the pier as possible, then quickly jump across before the boat moves away – all on a thin little tip of boat that’s 3m above the water, due to their curved shape. I had lots of hands helping me though – these guys are very chivalrous.
Once we were on land, we needed to get to Immigration, which is a little way out of town. We thought of hiring a taxi, but the more common mode of transport is on a motorbike-taxi (called an “ojek”) – and it’s a lot cooler too. There are lots of ojeks near the harbour, and Marco arranged with 2 of them to take us. One parent, one child and one ojek-driver per motorbike – off we went. It was a great way to see the town. I felt totally safe, as people drive slowly and use their hooters to warn of their approach. We arrived at Immigration 15 minutes later, cooled by the breeze and quite amused by the big karaoke party (with awful singing) going on at the government offices next door.
The Immigration offices are great – big and spacious, with ample seating, and even little mints and bottled water. There were very few people, and we were helped by a very friendly, efficient lady. She told us we needed a sponsor (which we hadn’t needed when we first applied for the visa). No problem, our friendly ojek-driver (Alfonsius) was happy to oblige. We filled in the necessary forms, Marco and Alfonsius went off to make some photocopies and buy the required stamps, and we submitted everything within an hour.
After all that morning activity, we were in need of lunch – and we were keen to sample some of Labuan Bajo’s other restaurants. I had read about Warung Mama – a local style eatery for the “discerning budget traveller”. That sounded good! It was better than good – the food was excellent, and such a great vibe, right in the middle of town, one storey up and overlooking the bustling Jalan Soekarno Hatta main street. We enjoyed rendang (beef curry in coconut milk), fried chicken, various types of rice, kangkung (water spinach), roast potatoes, marinated eggplant and fresh beans – for about $4 each.
Feeling suitable satiated, it was time to explore the town. Labuan Bajo is full of activity, but still feels relaxed and has a real holiday vibe to it. There are a lot of tourists around, and many restaurants and businesses set up to cater to this, but it’s still a totally Indonesian town, and the people are friendly and generally not jaded. Although Flores is predominantly Christian, there are many muslims in Labuan Bajo, and we spotted 2 mosques – a bright green one right near the harbour. We wandered down the main street, dodging motorbikes, mobile food carts, gutters, and sudden drop-offs leading to underground laundries or hardware shops. There are a number of wonderful ATMs – wonderful, because they are in these little airconditioned cubicles, so are a great place to stop in the heat of the day. We also managed to buy some provisions and top-up our internet.
View down the main street
Mobile food vans – pretty common sights
Marco was keen to buy some diving equipment – mainly to use if the anchor ever gets stuck, or there is a problem under the boat. We visited a number of dive shops to see if we could buy any, and ended up chatting about their daily trips out to the reef. Being in such a world-class diving spot, we thought it would be great to introduce the boys to scuba diving – and after some discussion we organised to go the following day with CNDive. The boys couldn’t believe it – what a surprise to come out of the blue!
CNDive is run by the legend of Komodo diving – Condo Subagyo, an Indonesian who discovered many of the reefs in the Komodo National Park. The employees are all Indonesian, which is apparently unique, as most other dive operators in Komodo are run by foreigners. We felt pleased that the money spent would go to local people, and were all looking forward to the day out.
It was an awesome day of scuba diving. Marco has dived numerous times, but I had only dived once before (20 years ago) and it was of course new to the boys. We were very happy with the attention and care that was devoted to the boys, as they each had an instructor with them at all times. I don’t want to steal their thunder, so won’t say much more about it – but watch for their blog posts which are coming shortly.
We spent just over a week in Labuan Bajo. We had to return to Immigration to have our photos and fingerprints taken, and Marco could then go that same afternoon to fetch our passports with the new visa stamp. All quite easy and straightforward. We started finding a rhythm and way of doing things – we made friends with a couple of boat owners who we tied our dinghy up to, we called on Alfonsius whenever we needed to get somewhere a little further away.
We also found some great spots to eat. Marco and one of the boys would often jump into the dinghy at 5pm to grab “di bungkus” (takeaways) from Warung Mama, or we’d head into town to try somewhere new (Mediterrano, with it’s cool beanbags and tables made from recycled wooden boats, or La Cucina with it’s great view over the harbour). Café In Hit had amazing chocolate milkshakes with whipped cream – what a treat! Bajo Bakery had yummy banana muffins and cheesecake. We celebrated our 15-year wedding anniversary at Made In Italy, and enjoyed more wonderful pizza and pasta.
Great vibe at La Cucina
Pizzas on beanbags at Mediterrano
Chocolate milkshakes, yeah!
The main downside of Labuan Bajo must be the litter. We were really saddened to see the amount of litter floating in the water around us as the tide receded, especially near the harbour. It seems that many people see the sea as their rubbish bin. There was also a lot of litter on the land, at beautiful viewpoints and along the road. On the upside, there are many people that feel strongly about this and have put programs in place that aim to clean up areas, educate people and change habits. It’s a big job, but really necessary for the future of tourism and to preserve the beautiful nature here.
The pavements are pretty shocking in Labuan Bajo, and you really have to watch where you’re going. I looked up for an instant and fell into a hole, twisting my ankle and banging my knee quite badly. Lots of ice and compression bandaging seemed to do the trick, and I was ok to hobble around after a couple days.
I also battled to find a good fruit and vegetable market. There were a couple of stalls and shops along the main road, but no big “pasar” like the amazing one in Nemberala. We did find some good supermarkets though that had the all-important Nutella, peanut butter, butter – and even pasta and tomato tins!
Noah even found ingredients he could use to make his speciality …
… chocolate balls
Despite a couple of negatives, we all LOVED our time here. It was a welcome bit of pampering and fattening up after living in remote places for 2 months, and the energy and buzz of the place is so good. We found the people to be warm and friendly, and always happy to help out and give of their time. I will remember the beautiful bay surrounded by islands, elegant phinisi boats anchored around us, being woken at 4am by the very loud muezzin, spectacular scuba diving with my boys, great food, cruising down the main street on the back of a motorbike and adventurous climbing on and off wooden fishing boats at the bustling harbour. Every place has it’s “rubbish” – in some it’s physical and more visible, and in others its hidden and subliminal, but if you look for the good things and put time into them, there is treasure to be found.
It was time to head north. Up until now we’d been exploring the southern Indonesian islands, situated at around 10 degrees south. We now needed to head north and west, closer to 8 degrees south of the equator, before the predominant winds started changing. We left Raijua in the afternoon so that we’d be away from land by the time night fell, and were planning to get to Waingapu on Sumba island by the next afternoon. It was to be our first night sail in a while – and first without our trusty crew to help with night watches.
It was a beautiful calm evening, with a gentle breeze pushing us along. The boys did their first “watch” together until 10pm, when Marco took over and pushed through until 4am. I got the sunrise shift, which was beautiful. We arrived at Waingapu a little ahead of schedule, and checked out the anchorage. The anchorage area was really small and tight, and surrounded by big working ships, ferries coming and going, and shallow reefs. The anchorage was also pretty deep (20m), which meant we should let out a lot of chain – which really wasn’t possible due to the limited space. A “helpful” guy paddled back and forth behind us in his canoe, trying to point out the best anchorage – but we really didn’t feel happy about it. In the end we decided to continue sailing through the night, with the aim of reaching the south of Rinca island by morning.
Marco was pretty tired after his long shift the previous night, so I did the 7-11pm watch, as well as from 4am onwards. It was initially quite rolly and windy, but calmed down after a while. There were some strange lights out in the ocean during my night watch – quite disconcerting as it’s so hard to judge distance and direction when it’s dark, especially if the boats don’t have port or starboard lights. The morning watch was so beautiful. As the light gradually dawned, I could make out the huge dramatic cliffs and peaks of Rinca island rising up ahead of us, as well as on numerous other islands dotted around nearby in the Komodo National Park. This landscape was totally different to the islands we’d come from. Volcano country – how exciting! The sea was like glass, and the sunrise magical.
My only concern was trying to ensure we didn’t collide with the 2 ferries that were speeding towards us. I worked out that if our speed and their speed were to remain constant, we’d cross the path of the first ferry with 5 minutes to spare. Seemed a little tight to me, so I changed course – which put us closer to the path of the other ferry. It was a little nerve-wracking, so I woke Marco up and he radioed the first ferry to confirm his intentions. In the end they passed on either side of us.
With that “ordeal” (for me, at least) over, we could all enjoy the beautiful sail into our first anchorage in the Komodo National Park. We were reminded of Chapman’s Peak as we entered the channel, with rugged cliffs plunging into the sea right next to us. There are a number of reefs and submerged rocks along the way, but thanks to our cruising guide and Google Earth KAP files, we were able to navigate without a problem, and dropped anchor at a place called “Lehok Uwada Dasami”, in a passage between Rinca Island and the smaller Nusa Kode. The mountains rising ahead of us in the bay reminded us so much of the view from Kirstenbosch Gardens, with rocky cliffs near the summit, and dense vegetation in the gorges.
The Komodo National Park is a world famous diving playground, with pristine coral and abundant marine life. It consists of numerous islands bounded by Flores in the east, and Sumbawa in the west, with beautiful white (or sometimes pink) beaches. It is also home to Komodo Dragons – 3m long lizards, that have a poisonous bite.
As we dropped anchor, I spotted what I thought was a Komodo Dragon on the beach. We immediately lowered the dinghy and headed off for some wildlife viewing. We weren’t disappointed! The beach was full of dragon-spoor, and we saw a number of them lazily walking along the beach, with their awkward wide-legged gait, and constantly dabbing the ground with their long forked white tongues. I must admit that I find them quite revolting – but I am not fond of lizards, snakes and reptiles in general (turtles excluded). They were quite fascinating, but I definitely don’t want to go near one, or have one drop out of a tree on top of me!
What did disappoint us was the pollution! The beach was littered with plastic bottles, packets, tubs, shoes and all sorts of debris along the high tide mark. It was so sad to see the primeval Komodo dragons picking their way through rubbish, and the beautiful trees with a carpet of litter underneath. It all arrives there in the sea, as no-one lives near the anchorage, and the visitors are relatively few. That being said, the sea was generally free of litter – except for certain patches as the tide came in. We really felt that the National Park authorities needed to send in some beach clean-up teams, but then again, the rubbish would just keep coming, and it’s more the mindset that needs to change. We spent the day resting, catching up on sleep, SUPing, snorkelling, dragon viewing – and making water.
The next morning we set sail for Labuan Bajo on the west coast of Flores – the gateway to the Komodo islands, and the place where we could extend our visas. The currents between the Komodo islands can be fierce, as a lot of water drains through here. Marco got some good local knowledge from the skipper of a nearby phinisi boat, and we headed north, aiming to get to the narrowest section (between Rinca and Padar island) at slack tide. We sped along between the islands, with a gentle breeze but strong current, and crossed the narrow section in good time. I’m glad we were there at slack tide rather than when the tide was at its strongest, as the water was swirling and churning, with whirlpools in places!
Once passed Rinca island, it got HOT! The wind died, the sun baked – and we realised that we’d left the cooler, more moderate part of Indonesia behind us. It was such an enjoyable cruise – the sea was flat and bright turquoise, and we were surrounded by islands as far as the eye could see, with a couple of gorgeous wooden phinisi boats dotted around.
We arrived in Labuan Bajo that afternoon. What a bustling bay – full of big wooden phinisi boats, fishing boats, dive boats, and the odd ferry and passenger liner. I couldn’t stop admiring the phinisi boats. They look like grand ladies of the sea – their lines are so artistic and graceful, the wood looks rich and lovingly polished, and each is painted and decked out in a different colour scheme. Apparently many are owned by foreigners and run as liveaboard dive-charters. We cruised around the anchorage for a while, admiring the boats and figuring out where best to drop anchor. In the end we picked a place quite far out, away from the major thoroughfare, right behind a huge immaculate phinisi (that the boys dubbed “super-nisi”).
Labuan Bajo is known to have great restaurants – something we were VERY excited about. We had been eating so healthily on the boat – mainly stir-fries with veges, rice, noodles, fish, eggs and tempeh – no cream, no chocolate, very little sugar (apart from Marco and his daily Coke). We needed some fattening up! In Rote we had already heard about a restaurant called “Made in Italy”, run by an Italian who has his own permaculture farm, and uses only the freshest produce from his farm in his food. As luck would have it, we were anchored right near the restaurant – and we agreed that we were obviously meant to eat there that first night. We were not disappointed! The pizzas were light and crispy, the braescola smoky and tender, the tiramisu rich and decadent, and the atmosphere classy yet relaxed. We left feeling totally stuffed and happy. If this was what Labuan Bajo was like, then we were in for a good time!
Raijua is a little island to the south-west of Savu. It is also known as “Savu Kecil” (or “Little Savu”). We didn’t have much time, as we needed to get to Labuan Bajo to extend our visas, but were keen to check out the island for a couple of days, so off we went with a fresh south-easter behind us. There was a strange hollow knocking near the boom of the main sail, and we noticed that the vang block had snapped. The vang is the rope that pulls the back end of the boom down (as the hoisted sail tries to pull it up), and is under immense pressure. Luckily Marco ensured that we have many spares on board and was able to connect two blocks together to perform the same function as the original block.
The sail was gentle and mellow, and only took a couple of hours given the short distance (around 15 nautical miles). We anchored near the main town (Lede Unu), in turquoise water and in front of a stunning white beach, which seemed to be under excavation in places. We were curious to know why they were moving the sand around – it turns out that they extract salt from the sea water, and move the sand to create salt pans that sea water is pumped into.
We went for a walk on the beach just before sunset and chatted to some friendly local guys. They gave Marco some good advice about where to find surf and anchorages on Raijua, and also mentioned a warung where we could get supper that night. It turned out to be a table against the wall in one of the local shops, but served tasty chicken, rice, vegetables and boiled eggs, with a fiery chilli sauce on the side. The owner was very friendly and knowledgeable on the island, and thought we’d be interested in a “very cheap” t-shirt saying “I love Raijua” for Rp 200,000 ($20). We thought we’d rather have 8 meals for that price.
Getting the local info
The next day we motored to the south-western tip of the island, which is most exposed to the swell. The reef is huge, and runs for many kilometres down the point, creating these huge thundering waves that peel for hundreds of metres. Marco couldn’t stop whooping and marvelling at the set-up. The only problem was that there was no obvious sand anchorage nearby, so we backtracked a little to a village called Kolo Rae, where there was a little break in the reef and a keyhole in which we could anchor.
Marco immediately jumped in the dinghy and headed off to surf. The boys and I did some schoolwork, and then grabbed the SUPs and headed for the shore to explore a bit. It wasn’t that easy to land as there is only a tiny break in the rocks by the beach, and quite a strong surge. We left the SUPs with some friendly fishermen and went for a walk up the hill that overlooks the anchorage.
What a beautiful view all around us. To the front was the ocean, perfectly calm and flat, except where the waves peeled down the extensive reef. Behind us were undulating hills with little village huts dotted around between trees. And on the hill beside us were lots of smiling kids, who thought it was very exciting to have these strangers setting foot in their village.
I also met a young teenage girl who was using the elevation to get good internet reception on her phone. It’s been really interesting to see how everyone is so connected and in touch with the “world” electronically, even on the most remote islands and where people live in grass huts. The internet is really bridging divides and enabling ideas and beliefs to be shared worldwide. Obviously this brings positives and negatives. I think our family features a lot on Indonesian Facebook, as we’ve been asked to be in photos countless times, and have been immediately uploaded to social media!
Marco and the boys had a couple of surfs, and he said the reef under the water was totally pristine. We unfortunately had to leave before feeling saturated, but will definitely remember Raijua as one of the raw gems of our trip so far.
This what Marco had to say about Raijua:
Finding Raijua is like going back in time where the reefs are still pristine, the beaches perfect and the island undeveloped. The people live simply and sustainably using the reefs to gather shellfish and crabs. There is a pristine perfect reef that extends on the south west corner of the island that runs for about 3km. The water is crystal clear, fish life abundant and isolated enough from the rest of Indonesia that there is no population pressure.
Right in the corner of the island there is a cliff. Waves wrap around the point, rebound off the cliff and form the first wave, which is a wedge peak. Further along there are a series of points that link up when it gets big. Who knows how long this wave can be?
It is not easy finding an anchorage near the waves, as the coral reef extends deep into the sea, even at a depth of 30m. I free dived in about 3 or 4 spots where I could see down to 20-25m, and there was still coral. We didn’t want to anchor in coral – 1, because you can damage it, and 2 because the anchor could get stuck in it, making retrieval difficult. This is where we can thank Google Earth for the satellite imagery which exposed a very small patch of sand right at the end of the continuous reef, near a village called Kolo Rae. Although it’s far from the wave, it was only a 5-10 minute dinghy ride. Noah, Josh and I surfed perfect peeling barrelling waves in an idyllic setting with no-one around. Josh even managed to get barrelled.
What makes the island particularly interesting is the topography, which includes rolling hills, cliff faces and easily climbable vantage points from which you can survey the island from a bird’s perspective. The locals are really friendly (again) and meeting them is like going back to a time when people possessed a natural innocence so lacking today in the modern world. To my mind this has been our best anchorage in Indonesia so far, due to the combination of raw nature, great locals and epic waves.
After several days in Ndana, we returned to Nemberala (on Rote) to stock up on food and prepare for a longer sail to Savu. There are a couple of shops that stock the rarer items important to us – like longlife milk, milk powder, oats, Nutella ($8 for a small bottle!) – and Coca Cola (for Daddy). We also bought a big Indonesian gas bottle and rigged up an alternate cooking system in the cockpit using our camp cooker. It’s quite difficult getting Australian gas bottles filled here, so we now cook “al fresco” when at anchor, and use the galley stove when underway.
We also visited a gorgeous little lodge in the hills above Nemberala called “Utopia Lodge”, run by an Italian/German couple. It is truly a little piece of paradise – stunning views over the bay framed by colourful bougainvillea, little rock paths that lead to different nooks and crannies, a swimming pool built into the rocks, and a communal open-air dining area. We managed to sneak a peek at their prime suite – so creatively designed, all in the open but private, and oh so romantic! Definitely a honeymoon spot!
We left Nemberala at first light, as we had a 12-hour sail to get to Savu. We dodged a number of buoys near Ndau (probably where the Rote fishing fleet moor each night when they’re fishing for squid), and from then onwards had a clear unobstructed sail. It got a little choppy between the 2 islands off Rote (Do’o and Ndau), but was otherwise smooth and very pleasant. We arrived at the Savu anchorage about an hour before sunset. The main anchorage is near the pier at the town of Seba, but there is also a smaller anchorage nearby that is a little quieter and in a little keyhole in the reef. Marco wanted to scope out the depth and state of the seabed before anchoring inside the keyhole, so we dropped anchor on the outside of the reef.
The next day we moved to the main anchorage so we could go and explore the town and surrounds. It was a short dinghy ride in, and a bit of a scramble to get up to the main pier where all the action happens. It’s quite a bustling pier (for such a small town) – there always seems to be a ferry docked, at least one comes or goes each day, and also a couple of working vessels with cranes offloading goods.
View of the port
Tying up the dinghy near the big ferries
Seba is a little busier than Nemberala, and not as quaint – but the locals are very friendly and were all keen for a chat and a laugh. Marco managed to find us 2 motorbikes to rent (with gears this time – new experience for me!), and we set off into the hills. What a beautiful island it is! Not the typical tropical island landscape, as it’s quite far south of the equator and pretty dry (this time of the year), but it has a rugged deserted beauty and simplicity of life that is captivating.
Once we left the busier part of town, the countryside was a mix of dry grassland, lontar palms and farmlands. I was quite surprised and impressed with how healthy the farmlands looked, given the dryness of the island. The answer, I think, lies in the myriad of canals that snake through the countryside, so water seems to be made available to everyone. I had to stop and admire a very healthy looking vegetable garden, flourishing with beans, tomatoes, pak choi, spring onions, peanuts, papayas, bananas – and water buffalo. The family were happy to show us their crops and insisted on us taking a backpack full of pak choi with us! We also rode through dry rice paddies, that are obviously flooded in the wet season. What a fertile island, despite the apparent dryness!
Lovingly tending his garden
Picking us bunches of pak choi
Most rice paddies dry in this season
Following the canals
We meandered steadily up into the hills, passing traditional houses, churches (it’s a predominantly Christian island), a school, lontar palms and even horses. We found a great viewpoint (next to the cellphone tower) and spent ages admiring the panoramic views and working out where we’d sailed.
Savu was a really social time for us. We met a really sweet family the one afternoon, when they were out on a family boat trip and came passed to say hello. The boys and I happily went for a putt around in their quaint long wooden boat, managing to converse and find out a bit about each other along the way. It turned out that the dad (Lifron) was the local policeman, and the mom (Chaca) a high school teacher in the town.
The next day they came to visit us on our boat, and the kids enjoyed seeing where the boys sleep, and paging through some books together. Lifron also managed to get some fish for us from the local fishermen – smallish “needlefish” or “half-beaks”, that eat other fish and are in turn eaten by tuna. They were really tasty fried in garlic – just a little time-consuming to eat due to the tiny bones. Lifron insisted on giving us his super-sharp fish-gutting knife. I think he took one look at our inferior one and thought we really needed it.
The following day Chaca invited us to visit them at their house in the town. It really struck us how the people here delight in meeting other people. In the West people often delight in “things”, but here people delight in “people” – which is how it should be really. The boys had a great time playing with all the kids from the neighbourhood – playing soccer, exploring their tree house, and climbing papaya trees. They walked us back to our dinghy armed with 23 fresh coconuts, and we felt really humbled by how appreciative they were of our visit.
What a cool tree house
In the meantime, we had moved our boat back to the quieter anchorage, and entered the gap in the reef after Marco had satisfied himself that there were no dangers. The bonus was that a bit of swell had pulled in, and a left and right wave were peeling down the reef. The swell needs to be pretty sizeable for the waves to be good, as they need to wrap a long way. Marco reckons that the right would be excellent in the right conditions. As it were, the waves were perfectly formed, and a great size for the boys to enjoy without fear. They spent many hours surfing – either school in the morning and surf in the afternoon, or visa versa.
We thought we’d try and buy some food in the smaller village just inland from our anchorage. The village turned out to be quite far inland, so we just enjoyed a walk through the dry rice paddies interspersed with flourishing vegetable gardens. Again, there was a comprehensive network of canals throughout, complete with sluice gates to change the flow of the water. So impressive!
Interesting sluice gates
A little Eden amongst the dry rice paddies
Cool place to stop off and rest
With the nearby village being a little too far to walk to, we had to take the dinghy back to Seba to stock up on food. There is apparently a market a little out of town – 1km? 5km? We couldn’t get a consistent answer, but managed to find a decent selection of fruit and vegetables from the various stalls in the town. We also took the opportunity to enjoy “nasi ayam” (fried chicken and rice) from a warung – so delicious, and great to eat chicken again!
After returning from our provisioning, we found a couple of kids with surfboards on our boat. They were jumping into the water from the cockpit – but we weren’t happy, as we didn’t know them. Marco had some stern words with them about coming on board uninvited. We did, however, realise that they hadn’t meant any harm and were really just coming to say hello. As it turned out, the boys ended up going surfing with them and got to know them quite well over the next couple of days. They joined us on the beach one evening for a campfire and a game of soccer, and rowed out to us with coconuts the next day. Noah and Josh were very sad to leave them when we eventually left.
And so, our time in Savu had to come to an end. A beautiful island with beautiful people – thank you for your hospitality and warm welcome!
This is a little out of date as we left Nemberala a couple weeks ago. However, it’s a great memory for us – and might give you a chuckle. The boys created little “pocket books” of interesting facts about Nemberala – here are a couple of extracts.
Can you believe it – we finally left Nemberala! Not that we went far, mind you – just to a nearby island called Ndana (“pulau” means “island”). It’s the southern most island in the whole Indonesian archipelago, and is uninhabited apart from a small military base.
We motored the whole way into a moderate south-easter – which took about 1.5 hours, being less than 10 nm away. The big Indonesian flag at the military base could be seen from a couple miles away, and our anchorage was in the bay right in front of the military base – which is actually hidden from view when you get there. We were blown away by how beautiful the bay is – clear turquoise water, jagged limestone cliffs with birds soaring the updrafts, waves peeling down the reefs on both sides, an incredible white beach – and not a soul to be seen!
Our first mission was to “report in” with the military. They allow people to visit the island (which is fantastic), but we were told that one has to report to them on arrival – preferably with a gift of sorts. I was expecting quite a formal bureaucratic atmosphere, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. At the top of the beach is a little palm-fringed beach hut, complete with hammock, benches and table – and a big sign welcoming visitors to Ndana.
From there, it’s a short walk along a track (complete with solar-powered street lights!?) to the main group of buildings. We found a couple of “marines” (as they called themselves) playing cards, and they entered our names in the official “Visitors Book”. Check in complete! They were young, down-to-earth and friendly, and we had a good chat and a couple laughs with them before heading back to the beach. They appreciated the Cokes we brought them – but I doubt they were necessary. One gets the feeling that it’s more of a holiday camp than a military base – and is probably there to maintain a presence in case of trouble / uprising in the area.
We now had the bay to ourselves – what a treat! The waves were beckoning to the guys, who went off to try them out. The swell was a little smaller and the waves were perfect for Josh, who relished having them all to himself! I grabbed the SUP and headed for the beach, where the reef forms a calm lagoon – perfectly for SUPing, swimming and exploring. The beach sand is really beautiful here – made up of tiny perfectly round balls like mustard seeds, interspersed with flecks of bright red coral and tiny seashells. I could have examined it for hours!
The next couple of days were spent much the same way – mostly in the water. Marco found a heavy hollow wave around the northern headland which he enjoyed, and the boys surfed the left right near the boat. Noah had a slight cold (I didn’t think one could get a cold in Indonesia!), so spent a little more time reading and resting.
One morning, when the tide was low, we went exploring the limestone cliffs and exposed reef. The cliffs are really jagged and look like molten lava that has solidified into strange shapes. There are many caves and tunnels made by the waves, and the cliff faces are full of crabs that scurry away into crevices and holes when you come near, making a bizarre rattling noise. One lost its footing and fell onto Marco’s bare back – aargh! There are numerous “brittle stars” (closely related to starfish) on the reef, and many unusual seashells and hermit crabs. We enjoyed a refreshing swim in a rockpool in a cave in the cliffs, and couldn’t stop photographing the reflections and unusual angles in this picturesque setting.
We came across a most unusual sight in the shallows – a snake/eel type fish that had literally bitten off more than he could chew! It was a long white snake/eel with a fish sticking out of its mouth – both dead. After some research I identified it as a “crocodile snake eel” – I had never heard of these before. They burrow in the sand and wait for their prey to come near, then grab it in their jaws. This one must have been too greedy, and choked to death! How bizarre!
We also did some snorkelling along the reef – there were some beautiful sections, with bright blue and turquoise schools of fish and big sea sponges. We didn’t venture too far from the boat channel, but I’m sure the reef would have been more pristine away from the main thoroughfare (albeit with minimal traffic).
I got a little experimental with food whilst we were here – making Nasi Kuning with fresh turmeric and lemongrass and Cah Kangkung (stir-fried water spinach) with dried shrimp paste. It tasted delicious – but I think I overdosed on the turmeric and ended up with a woozy tummy and pounding headache. Everyone else was fine – but I’d had seconds and more leftovers for supper, and maybe absorbed extra turmeric through my hands (or not). Anyway, I had a day of feeling horrible – and vowed to use the turmeric juice rather than the whole root next time (as stated in the recipe – but I thought I knew better).
After about 4 days we headed back to Nemberala. We’d run out of milk and milk powder (Noah’s worst nightmare) and cereal (Noah’s second-worst nightmare), and I was dying for a pizza or hamburger from Bekky Boos (no turmeric please!). Farewell Ndana – stay as untouched as you are!