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The Adventurous Route Home

Now that we had Noah’s Ark safely tucked into the Benoa Marina, we started looking for flights – and managed to find some reasonably priced flights from Singapore to South Africa leaving in just over a week’s time. This would give us time to prepare the boat for our departure, and get to Singapore. We were all very excited to be going home, to connect with family and friends and enjoy some land-time again before returning to continue our journey in the dry season.

There was only one problem – the erupting Gunung Agung. The winds had shifted, blowing the ash cloud towards southern-Bali and forcing the closure of Denpasar airport. How were we going to get to Singapore?

We decided to wait and reassess the situation after a couple of day. It sounds crazy – but we all worked 4 solid days to get the boat ready. The water-maker had to be pickled (so that bacteria don’t grow in the membranes), the outboards had to be securely stowed, toilets had to be flushed with fresh water, all the stainless and moving parts needed to be oiled, bilges cleaned, food given away and cupboards cleaned (to prevent insects from breeding), everything locked away … as well as a whole lot of admin. Marco also organised that Made would come aboard and start the engines once a week in our absence – so had to take him through the boat and explain the procedure, as well as problems to check for.

During this time, a cyclone was developing in the sea south of Java, bringing lots of rain and unusual wind patterns to Bali – blowing the ash cloud south west and closer to Denpasar airport. We even noticed that the rain droplets on the boat were slightly grey. Denpasar airport remained closed, and there was a growing backlog of people trying to leave Bali. After 2 days we suddenly heard the roar of jet engines and spotted the first plane coming in to land. The winds had shifted, blowing the ash cloud south east and opening a weather window for planes to fly in and out. We had to chuckle at some of the overseas news headlines: “Qantas sends Boeing 747 to rescue stranded tourists” – as if they were in a war-zone and their lives were in danger! Tens of thousands of Balinese were in makeshift shelters and their homes and livelihood were in danger, but shame, those poor tourists who had to spend a little longer in this beautiful island. I think it’s a healthy reminder that we’re not actually in control of everything!

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Planes constantly zoomed overhead once flights resumed from Denpasar

Anyway, with all the chaos and uncertainty at Denpasar airport we decided to take a more adventurous route to Singapore – which involved driving to the north-west of Bali, catching the ferry across to Java, driving to Surabaya and flying from Surabaya to Singapore. This would give us a chance to see more of Bali, and even a bit of Java – and I thought this would be more pleasant than fighting frustrated crowds in Denpasar.

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I managed to get Marco to whittle the surf luggage down to 1 board bag (with 3 boards in it) and 1 bag full of wetsuits, leashes and other surfing paraphernalia. Marco and I only had our old travelling backpacks from yesteryear on the boat – no space for hard suitcases! We didn’t have a big enough bag for the boys, so used a cheapie Transkei-trek bag for them, and piled their schoolbooks into a Bintang box. Together with hand luggage and computers, we were still pretty loaded – but thought we’d just manage carrying everything up and down stairs, on and off ferries, to and from airports etc in one go.

After finally sorting everything on the boat, we were picked up by our driver for the trip to the north-west of Bali. I had found a little B&B set up in the hills in Negara, only about 100 kms from the marina, but a 4-hour drive away due to the winding single-lane roads, and array of trucks, scooters and cars that meandered along them. It was a pleasant drive, becoming greener and more picturesque the further north we went. Big mountains provided the backdrop for vast rice paddies and coconut palm forests, with the ocean flanking us on the left. We stopped for lunch at Medewi – a known surf spot, and where a surfing competition was coincidentally being held. The swell was pretty small at the time, but Marco reckoned it was a beautiful long wave that would have been perfect for the boys.

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Beautiful countryside of NW Bali

The north-west of Bali is the least commercial, least touristy part of Bali – the locals say it’s how the whole of Bali used to be. It definitely felt like we were getting a glimpse of authentic village life as we turned off the main road and headed towards our B&B. We wove our way up and down village lanes, eventually finding a little track between rice paddies that ended at Uma Sari Resort.

It was a little haven in the most stunning setting. Our room looked out onto green hills and villages stretching out towards the ocean, and Java was just faintly visible in the distance. We had our own private pool – which we made use of immediately. The boys stayed at pool to relax for the afternoon, while I took myself off for a walk around the neighbourhood, armed with my camera.

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A great place to spend the afternoon

I really enjoyed taking in the scenery, chatting to a couple of the friendly village kids, and admiring the ornate architecture and statues I came across. I narrowly missed stepping on a snake – a thin one wriggling right on the path in the front of me. I somehow hovered over it, endured the inevitable adrenalin rush that comes with encountering a snake, and vowed to wear sturdier shoes on every future walk. I also came across a collection of traditional marimba-like instruments set out in rows under a makeshift shelter at the top of a rice paddy. Perhaps they get together and play music here in the rice fields? What a wonderful place to play. I felt a little inspired and tried out a couple of notes on the unusual looking instruments.

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Such inviting tracks – how could I not follow them
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Friendly Ibu guarding the rice paddy
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Peaceful lanes up in the hills above Negara
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Balinese “marimbas”

The owners of Uma Sari cooked us a delicious dinner of chicken curry and fish kebabs, with various soups and salads on the side. We left the next morning, and organised a driver to take us the last 30 km to Gilimanuk, where we caught the ferry to Java. Java and Bali are quite far apart in the south, but are almost touching in the north – with the ferry ports only a few nautical miles apart. The ferry crossing took about 45 minutes – most of which was spent waiting for our turn to dock in Java. The wait was particularly painful for the boys as we were subjected to endless videos of cheesy 80s B-Grade love songs. Luckily the words were on the screen too, so we could all sing along while Noah cringed in his seat.

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Leaving Bali – heading for Java

Josh got some dirty looks when he carried his Bintang box down the stairs and off the ferry – little did they know that he was lugging his schoolbooks, not carrying his parents’ stash of beer around! We all trundled off the ferry at Banyuwangi in Java, and now had to find a driver to take us to Surabaya. There are buses, but we were sick of lugging our bits and pieces from place to place, and were happy to pay extra to have a little more comfort and to take the more direct route. As always, Marco rose to the challenge – this time organising for us to be driven by a policeman. He was actually on duty – but when he heard what we needed, promptly took off his uniform, donned his plain clothes and agreed to drive us the 300 km to Surabaya!

Whew, what a looong journey that was! As in Bali (and probably most of Indonesia), the roads are pretty narrow and pass through numerous villages, wind around mountains and are used by an assortment of vehicles and people. It took us 9 hours to get to Surabaya. Big respect to our driver, as it was 9 hours of total concentration on his part. People drive pretty slowly in Indo (probably an average of 40-60km/h), but need to be completely focussed the entire time. Cars suddenly brake in front of you, pull in from the side, and overtake anywhere; animals and people wander near or into the road; trucks park right next to (or in) the road etc – and drivers just calmly anticipate and move in total sync with each other, it’s amazing! Hooters are used to warn others of an approach – and I have never seen any aggression or road rage, nor any accidents! There was probably little risk of our driver falling asleep with all the activity around him, but he must have been exhausted from 9 hours of sheer concentration! I did check his eyes in the rearview mirror now and then, and could see he was totally awake and focussed. Not only did he drive us there safely, but immediately left to drive the return journey back to his wife and child. Incredible!

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Intense Java driving

We stopped for a late lunch at a roadside warung, and enjoyed the hearty, spicy fare on offer. During our drive I’d been Googling some places to stay fairly close to Surabaya airport. Due to it being a big city (the second biggest in Indonesia), there weren’t any cute B&Bs – rather big non-descript hotels. The Lonely Planet did mention a rather grand, colonial hotel called Hotel Majapahit, describing it as a “memorable place to stay, exuding class and heritage”. I wasn’t sure that we’d be exuding class and heritage after the long road trip, but I was keen on collecting memories – so we called them. Delightfully we discovered that they weren’t that much more expensive than the other hotels, and were still cheaper than the budget airport hotels in Brisbane. We still had a day to kill in Surabaya and it sounded like a wonderful place to relax and rest before starting our flights – so decision made!

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So many yummy dishes to sample
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Whew, pretty spicy mom!

We must have looked a little funny arriving at this grand hotel at 8pm, in crumpled clothes from our long car journey, loading the fancy golden luggage trolley with our Transkei-trek bag, old backpacks and Bintang box, but the hotel staff were welcoming and friendly, bringing us hot towels to dab our tired faces and welcome drinks to whet our parched throats. We had been upgraded to a Heritage Suite, with a separate lounge area adjacent to the bedroom. It was very luxurious and tasteful, with a real old world charm. I had a lovely long hot bath while the boys went for a late night jacuzzi in the spa (as you do).

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I say, having very civilized conversations in our suite
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The Majapahit all lit up at night

Breakfast was one of those grand buffets, which the boys have not had the pleasure of experiencing very often. They thoroughly enjoyed sampling a bit of everything, including every flavour of yoghurt, most of the cereals, a full cooked breakfast, pancakes and baked goods. Marco delved into some of the local specialities – which included curries, stirfries and sushi (for breakfast?)

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What a grand breakfast!
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The baked goodies, mmm

After breakfast we wandered around the hotel, and learned a bit about its history. It is actually a significant landmark in Surabaya, having been built in 1910 by the Dutch Sarkies brothers (the same people who built the various Raffles hotels). During the Second World War, parts of Indonesia were occupied by Japan – and the hotel was made the Japanese headquarters in East Java. After the war, the Dutch took occupation of Indonesia again and set up their administrative headquarters in the hotel. Meanwhile, the independence movement had been growing among the Indonesians who were tired of colonial rule. When the Dutch raised their flag on the hotel’s roof all hell broke loose, and Indonesian civilians stormed the hotel. It is said that they clambered up the flag pole and ripped the blue stripe off the Dutch flag, leaving only the red and white stripes – which has since become the Indonesian national flag. Soon thereafter Indonesia gained its independence, and various agreements were signed at the hotel.

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The hotel’s previous facade – with the iconic flagpole above
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Fooling around on the hotel lawns

We spent the day relaxing after our long trip. The boys enjoyed swimming in the huge pool, and I unfortunately spent the whole day in bed. I seem to have picked up a tummy bug somewhere along our journey (the first so far!), and felt drained and listless. Amazingly, I slept the entire day and can confidently say that the hotel has wonderfully comfortable beds! Later on the boys went to the nearby mall to upgrade our Transkei-trek bag and Bintang box, and then went for supper at one of the hotel’s restaurants, whilst I kept sleeping into the night. It’s a pity I couldn’t fully appreciate and enjoy the elegant surroundings and facilities, but was glad that I had such a pleasant place to rest in. I’m not sure what impression the hotel staff had of me – Marco and the boys were out and about whilst I was hiding away in the hotel room with the “Do not disturb” sign on the door all day, and when we vacated they would have found a very rumpled bed and empty Bintang box.

The next morning we woke at 4am to get the taxi to the airport for our flight to Singapore. I really felt my worst as I woke up – and kind of reached my low point lying on the bathroom floor retching into the toilet. All I could think about was how I was going to make the 3 flights, and all the queueing and standing that would inevitably be part of it.

Miraculously that was my lowest point, and I slowly improved throughout the rest of the journey. The airline counters were all empty and we could check-in immediately. There were no queues at immigration or security, we never had our luggage or body cavities searched, everything worked like clockwork! Marco and the boys did all the carrying and admin, leaving me to rest whenever possible. In Singapore I even felt like food, and enjoyed some delicious chicken soup (it’s good for the soul!). The Singapore airport is so jacked, and we found some lounger-style chairs where I dozed for hours. The boys were so excited for the Singapore-Dubai leg aboard the Emirates A380 – the biggest passenger plane in the world, and by then I had perked up enough to feel their excitement too. They all passed out during our horrible 3-hour layover in Dubai (from 1am-4am), and I was rested enough by then to watch over my sleeping chickens. 1 more flight, Dubai to Cape Town and we were finally home!

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Rehydrating with delicious chicken soup

What an adventure to get home – but so many wonderful sights and lovely people along the way! With Noah’s Ark safely resting in Benoa, we can now enjoy time with family and friends before continuing our journey after the rains in 2018.

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Finding Shelter for the Wet Season

Living on a boat in Indo in the rainy season isn’t that much fun. It’s unpleasant to sail due to poor visibility, stormy conditions and frequent rainsqualls and thunderstorms. It’s also not that exciting being at anchor, as it’s difficult to get out and explore, and quite humid and stuffy on board with all the hatches closed. We were keen to leave our boat somewhere safe, and spend some time on land – possibly a combination of South Africa, Australia and Bali – and then continue our voyage once the rains had stopped.

Our little jaunt to Bali had helped us decide on a safe place to leave the boat. Although the marina in Benoa was expensive (for what you get), we felt that it was a far safer option than leaving the boat on a swing mooring – especially after all the dragging incidents! Now all we had to do was sail to Benoa and tuck Noah’s Ark in, safe and sound.

Sailing from Lombok to Bali isn’t a piece of cake though, due to the tumultuous Lombok Strait which needs to be crossed. We had already encountered the fierce currents and whirlpools in the Strait when rounding the south-western tip of Lombok, and decided that careful planning would be necessary to make the crossing relatively pleasant and doable within daylight hours. A fellow cruiser had encountered strong north-setting currents and taken 15 hours to complete the 45 mile journey!

We wanted a combination of neap tides, light winds, small swell and no thunderstorms – factors that did not align very often at this time of the year. Fortunately, one such day was predicted (with thunderstorms predicted later in the afternoon though) and we made plans to leave from Bangko-Bangko (Desert Point) early that morning. We would sail from Gili Gede to Bangko-Bangko the afternoon before, to cut an hour out of the journey. Plan A was to sail west towards Padangbai, then hug the Bali coastline down to Benoa. If progress was slow, Plan B was to anchor in Padangbai overnight (if possible) and head south the following day. Plan C was to anchor in Nusa Lembongan – an island between Bali and Lombok, not an ideal anchorage due to being exposed to the prevailing winds at this time of the year.

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We left Gili Gede, our home for the past month, and wove our way through the Gilis towards the Bangko-Bangko, where we anchored for the night. The afternoon thunderclouds had built up and Bali was hidden from view. We woke up at first light and then realised that we’d neglected to consider a fifth factor … Gunung Agung! This mighty volcano in the north-east of Bali had been rumbling and threatening to erupt for a few months now, but seismic activity had been reducing in recent days. We had just recently sailed past it in the ferry to and from Bali, and although it stood proud and tall above the clouds, it looked tranquil and unthreatening. The sight that greeted us now couldn’t have been more different. An ominous cloud of dense grey smoke was rising out the top, almost obscuring half the volcano, and had formed a dense bank of smoky clouds from one side of the horizon to the other. This was no little “puff of smoke” or “letting off of steam” – this was clearly a full-scale eruption!

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The sight that greeted us at first light
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Sky filled with ash-cloud
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Close-up of the crater

Now we were in a quandry – should we sail on, which meant initially heading straight for the volcano, or should we turn around? Turning back would mean more waiting, possibly for weeks or months, but sailing on could be disastrous! Could there be a tsunami if there were earthquakes? Would the marina be covered in ash? I had no strong feelings and left the decision to Marco – he felt we should continue. We could always turn around if we felt conditions were becoming dangerous.

So off we sailed, or motored rather, as there was very little wind to speak of. The currents were negligible too, and we glided across the silvery glassy water in an almost surreal dream-like state. It was weird and slightly unsettling – so peaceful, but heading towards such a powerful cataclysmic force! Suddenly in the distance we spotted figures jumping out of the water – hundreds of them, breaking the silvery gleam of the water with their dark bodies. Dolphins! I’ve never seen that many dolphins together – there were literally hundreds of them, covering a huge area around us. Some of them joined us at the bow for a while, before returning to their mates. It was such a special sight, especially in Indonesia where we hadn’t seen such prolific sea-life, and I took it as a sign that our journey onwards was being guided and blessed.

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Silvery calm seas

Our journey was truly blessed! We hardly noticed any counter-currents, and the sea was as flat as a lake. We zoomed across in no time, and turned to head south towards Benoa, finally heading away from the continually erupting volcano. The entire trip took us about 8 hours, and was one of the smoothest crossings we’ve ever had! So much for the treacherous Lombok Strait!

The channel to Benoa Harbour is well buoyed, but was a little difficult to navigate for a more unusual reason. The channel had become a parasailing playground, and was full of screaming, whooping, mostly-Chinese tourists hurtling around behind powerful speedboats that continually cut in front of our path. We took our time and eventually made our way through the maze of parachutes, and arrived at the marina entrance.

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Parasailing playground

Made, the Marina Manager, was there to greet us and direct us towards our berth. The boys and I busied ourselves with tying the fenders on, and completely forgot that we needed to tie the lines on too! It was Josh who finally pointed this out and there was a mad scramble to get the lines on before we reached the berth. See what happens when you’re away from a marina for 6 months!

Marco spent quite some time tying and retying all the mooring lines. The marina is a little grotty, with rubbish floating past on the high tide, but the walkways and cleats seem solid enough, and it’s perfectly positioned in a very calm inlet. Our berth is very convenient – close to the amenities (restaurant, showers, toilets), right in front of the 24-hour security guard and next to where the Police moor their boats. 2 superyachts are moored nearby, as well as a number of other western yachts. People come and go, and yachts are being cleaned, maintained and fixed. There are also some charter boats that dock nearby, with music pumping and tourists singing. All in all, we feel that the Ark will be safe here, and that there are enough eyes on her to spot any potential problems. Most importantly, she will be covered under our insurance policy whilst we are away.

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Safely tucked into our berth at the Marina

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It seems we made the right decision to leave Lombok, as the north-westerly winds initially blew the ash cloud from the volcano across to Lombok, rather than to southern Bali. The skies around the marina were clear and sunny, whereas Lombok airport had to be closed due to ash. Now that we’d finally found a shelter for our boat, we could focus on our trip. Where to go, and how to get there? With Gunung Agung still furiously erupting, just getting anywhere would be quite an adventure …

Bali – Uluwatu and Bingin

We left magical Ubud heading south towards the Bingin peninsula, the place which put Bali on the surfing map in the 1970s. We hired a lovely driver who took us round to a number of homestays and small resorts in the area, and we on Three Monkeys in Uluwatu. What sold it to us was the huge pool and sunny gardens, and also the proximity to the surf. The boys spent so much time in the pool that Josh ended up with bright red fingertips – from pulling himself out of the pool repeatedly (rather than a weird infectious disease, thank goodness).

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Three Monkeys Villas

The Uluwatu surf break was within walking distance, and we headed in that direction with boards in hand. It’s quite an impressive walk down the cliff-face to the beach – with steps winding down amongst restaurants and ding-repair shops perched precariously on the edge, ending in a massive cave where the sea rushes in at high tide. The boys paddled out and I found a good viewpoint at a restaurant higher up, and settled down with my camera and Bintang (purchased from a rather rude restaurant-owner).

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Walk down to the beach
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Ready to surf Uluwatu!

The wave wasn’t working properly and was pretty big and messy – but there were some sections that looked good, and the boys headed in that direction. As Murphy would have it, a new swell pulled in while they were out, with daunting freak sets that loomed out of nowhere and broke right on the line-up. Poor Josh got pummeled by one and got washed down towards the beach. He came in soon after that, but was quite proud to have survived Uluwatu. Noah made it his aim to sit in the “sweet-spot” – that being the spot where the big sets wouldn’t catch him, but also meant he was so far out that he had no chance of catching any waves at all. He managed to dodge the sets and came in unscathed. Meanwhile Marco had the time of his life, only coming in when a storm approached and lightning was crackling in the sky above us.

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I survived Uluwatu!
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Big sets and storm approaching

What a storm it was, a total tropical torrential downpour! It absolutely bucketed down for over an hour, and the stairs winding up the cliff-face became a series of rapids and waterfalls which we had to negotiate to get back to our chalet.

The next day we hired motorbikes and went to explore the peninsula. We avoided Padang-Padang, which charged a fee for parking as well as a fee to enter the beach (commercial = avoid!), and explored Impossibles and Bingin. Bingin is a charming area with a maze of lanes winding through the jungle, and cute villas tucked away between villages and temples. Although there are many resorts and homestays in the area, it felt less commercial and more authentic than Uluwatu.

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Exploring the lanes of Bingin
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I love these doors!

In our exploration we stumbled upon Temple Lodge, which I had read about but which had unfortunately been fully booked whilst we were there. We decided to check it out, just out of interest. What an amazing work of art the place is – with lush colourful gardens, cobbled pathways and ornate doorways leading to interesting nooks, and a variety of suites each with their own character and feel. To our surprise, we found that the owner was the brother of the owner of Utopia Lodge which we had visited way back in Rote, an Italian-South African nogal! We got chatting to him and he offered us a room in their “Annex”, slightly up the road from the resort but also as interesting and unique as the other rooms. I couldn’t wait to stay in this beautiful place!

Back in Uluwatu we relaxed by the pool and tried out some of the nearby restaurants. The Station served great burgers, and Outside Corner Organic Café had a great vibe – complete with table tennis and pool table, much to the boys’ excitement! Overall, Uluwatu is pleasant and the cliffs and beaches are stunning, but the people and facilities are definitely geared to the influx of surfers and tourists, and in my opinion, not half as quaint and authentic as Ubud. Although Ubud is touristy, it attracts those more interested in exploring the culture of Bali – whereas Uluwatu tends to attract surfers and party-goers, who (as Marco will freely admit) are often more interested in self-gratification than exploring and discovering a different culture.

When we arrived to stay at the Temple Lodge in Bingin we found we’d been “upgraded” to one of their prime suites, the Gecko Suite overlooking the ocean. What a treat! Every part of it was a work of art – from the antique double door leading into the main bedroom, to the huge wooden “day-bed” draped with comfy throws and cushions – the perfect place to read and laze during the day. The bathroom was sculpted out of concrete, with pebbles leading to an open-air volcanic rock shower with panoramic views of the ocean.

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Stunning main bedroom in the Gecko Suite
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The wonderful “day-bed”
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The artsy shower

Another bonus was that it was perched on the clifftops above Bingin surf-break. The boys could walk down the winding stairs by themselves, whilst we could keep an eye on them from our room high above. The surf was small, manageable and uncrowded, and they had great fun in the water. I treated myself to a massage at the Lodge – an hour of complete bliss for $16! Marco went for a “surfer’s massage” the following day.

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Off to surf Bingin
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Waves peeling far below
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Fun in the pool in between surfs
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Delicious healthy food at the Temple Lodge!

At sunset Bingin beach becomes an informal restaurant. Tables and chairs are laid out at the water’s edge, the fires are lit and the smell of braaied fish fills the air. We enjoyed a delicious meal of fish and roasted mielies with rice and veges on the side, in a casual candlelit atmosphere. The walk up the hundreds of stairs afterwards was a little more difficult on such a full stomach!

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Bingin beach braai

After a glorious 10 days it was time to leave Bali and get back to Noah’s Ark. We organised a driver to take us to Padangbai and caught the slow ferry back to Lombok, with the mighty Gunung Agung standing tall as we sailed away. A thought crossed my mind – “Imagine if it erupted now”. Little did I know how close we had come – and that it would indeed erupt the following day, throwing many people’s lives into disarray!

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On the ferry to Lombok

We were welcomed by the smiling faces of Junaidi and Lan, who took us up to Mataram for yet another visa extension, and then back to Gili Gede where Noah’s Ark was floating safe and sound (hooray!).

Bali had been an unexpected treasure. I really didn’t expect to enjoy it so much – I really thought it would be overdone, westernised and full of brash, drunk tourists. There are probably areas like that, but I was pleasantly surprised at how strongly the Balinese have held onto their culture, architecture and way of life. I was also surprised at the mix of westerners that travel and have settled there. I expected most to be Australian, but we encountered people from all over, including many from Italy, South America and even South Africa. It’s a place I definitely want to return to and explore further – and I now understand the allure and charm that has captivated people for decades.

Bali – Ubud

After about a month at Gili Gede, and still no solution in sight regarding where to leave the boat, we were all getting a bit edgy. We needed a change of scenery. I was really keen to visit Bali, and we figured it’d be a good idea to check out the Bali Marina and the moorings in Serangan, rather than rely on hearsay from other cruisers. So it was decided – we’d leave the boat on the mooring at Gili Gede, and spend a week or so in Bali. We felt the boat should be safe for that length of time, and our water maker membranes could probably last just about that long without bacteria growth.

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I’d been reading up on Bali, and Ubud just spoke to me. I’m not sure why – probably because it’s inland, surrounded by lush rice paddies and is supposed to be the cultural centre of Bali. I’d seen enough beaches and surfers for a while – time to indulge in some arts and culture! I spent many frustrating hours trawling the net trying to find the perfect place to stay, which was difficult given the short notice. I’d almost given up hope – but eventually found a gorgeous little bamboo cottage in the middle of a rice paddy (called Firefly Bamboo Eco Cottage). Perfect!

Preparing to leave the boat was time consuming, as there was so much to do – secure and stow everything properly, make water one last time, sort out food and fridges, pack surfboards and clothes, etc. Our friend Lan from Gili Gede, came to fetch us early in the morning in his boat. As we were about to leave, Marco discovered that the bilge pumps in the engine rooms weren’t working – pretty important things! It took a while for him to figure out why – but turned out to be a blown fuse and loose wire, which were easily fixed.  Leaving a boat is worse than trying to leave the house with small babies!

Eventually we were off, and Junaidi was waiting with the car to take us to Lembar, the nearby port on Lombok from where the big public ferries leave. We bought the tickets (around $4 each) and could walk straight onto the docked ferry, which departed about 30 minutes later.

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All aboard

The trip was comfortable and pleasant. Once we’d declined the many offers of fruit, fried rice, snacks, bottled water, t-shirts and sarongs, we were free to relax. The sea was calm (although we noticed some strong currents), and we sat outside on the deck to enjoy the breeze. 4 hours later we arrived at Padangbai, with the mighty Gunung Agung rearing up out of the clouds ahead of us. It had been rumbling and threatening to erupt for a couple months already – but still docile (for now). We disembarked, dodging the scooters, trucks and bemos that poured out of the ferry, and trying not to inhale all the exhaust fumes that had collected in the basement level.

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The mighty Gunung Agung rising above the clouds as we enter Padangbai

It didn’t take long to organise transport to Ubud. We were soon hurtling through the streets of Bali with Wayan at the wheel – the first of many Wayans that we would meet during our stay. (Wayan, Made, Nyoman and Ketut are names typically given to firstborn, second, third and fourth-born children, respectively). We whizzed through numerous little villages, past Hindu temples, shrines, statues and palaces, and along streets framed by tall curved bamboo poles which had been adorned with baskets, flowers and dried leaves. This was nothing like the other Indonesian islands we’d visited! It was bustling and beautiful and almost magical.

We later learned that these bamboo poles are called penjors, and that they are placed outside Hindu homes during the festival of Galungan and Kuningan. Our visit had coincided with this festival, and we were treated to beautifully decorated streets.

Our cottage was so hidden away that our driver couldn’t find it – and we were met by one of the staff (Ketut this time) who escorted us to a tiny non-descript footpath that led off the main road. Over a small rise, and there we were – in a sea of green rice paddies, with our little cottage tucked away in the distance. So close to town, but it felt like miles away! A little canal bubbled next to the footpath, as if edging us forward. We walked about 500m, passed through an elaborately carved doorway and were there.

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There it is!
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Through the doorway …

The cottage was everything I hoped it would be – gorgeous, artistic and a complete change from the boat! It was entirely made of bamboo, with bamboo mats for walls and an intricately woven roof with tall peaks at either end. It reminded me of those crazy goblin-shoes, called winklepickers. The boys were keen to swim, so we ambled off to the pool and lounge area where we spent the afternoon lazing on the oversized couches and chatting to the friendly staff.

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Art everywhere
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View out the bathroom window

I woke up early the next morning as I wanted to take some photos. It was so beautiful to walk in the rice paddies just after sunrise – the air was fresh and cool, the roosters were crowing and the Hindu morning prayers were just audible in the distance. The land is so fertile, and I came across many trees laden with fruit. One of the resident cats joined me and was constantly on the lookout for mice, which I’m sure are plentiful in the rice fields. As I returned, the landowners were placing their morning offerings in the various shrines dotted around the paddies. It was all such a beautiful, peaceful scene.

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Wakey-wakey

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My morning company
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Early morning offerings
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A feast for the ants, bees and birds

Breakfast was brought to us on our patio, and we chatted to Pandai, the owner of the land whilst he was checking the progress of his rice paddies. I studied the ever-reliable Lonely Planet and put together some Ubud plans – generally involving a walk and lunch.

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Breakfast time
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Pandai
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Gusman, one of the Firefly staff off to the temple on Kuningan

Just walking through Ubud was a treat. There are so many unusual and exotic things that catch one’s eye – like the shop selling myriads of pots of all colours and shapes, or the massive statue (of Indra, apparently) at the top end of the main street, the black and white checked cloths and umbrellas draped around trees and statues, or the locals on motorbikes, all dressed in their Kuningan finery on the way to the temples. The town is pretty busy, but once we turned off the main road and meandered up our chosen walking track it was quiet and peaceful again. We did the popular Campuan Ridge walk, which took us past a number of interesting temples and to a smaller village in the hills, where we enjoyed lunch with another gorgeous view.

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Amazing temple at the start of the Campuan Ridge walk
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Time for a rest – it’s hard work walking in 100% humidity!
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My favourite pot shop

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One of the amazing temples in town

 

We were unfortunately not able to stay in our cute cottage for more than 2 nights (as it was previously booked), so needed to find alternative accommodation. Gusman, who worked at Firefly, offered us a house just across the rice paddy (for about a tenth of the price – bonus). It looked like a temple with its ornate terracotta and grey coloured pillars and elaborately carved wooden doors and shutters. Marco and I stayed upstairs, with a spectacular view across the rice paddies, and the boys had their own room downstairs.

Ubud is known to be the foodie-capital of Bali, and I was keen to explore this side of life. I booked myself into Paon Bali Cooking School to learn some Balinese flavours and techniques. It was such a worthwhile experience, I can’t recommend it highly enough! It started off with a market visit, where the more unusual fruits, vegetables and spices were shown to us. I was familiar with quite a few of these, having shopped for food at Indonesian markets for the past 4 months, but it was quite new for many of those on the course. We were then taken into a rice paddy and the whole procedure of growing and harvesting rice was explained, which was pretty interesting and relevant given that one is often surrounded by rice in Bali!

It was then off to the kitchen. Puspa, the Balinese lady who runs the school, is the doyen who rules her kitchen with charisma and flair. Together with her efficient team, the school runs very professionally, but still with a personal and light-hearted atmosphere. There are long demonstration tables, separate cooking stations and big communal dining tables overlooking the jungle. We were completely involved in preparing, cooking and eating every dish – and received a copy of the recipes afterwards. Such good value – 5 hours and so much information, for $35!

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Puspa – Queen of the Kitchen
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Fresh ingredients all waiting to be prepared

So what did we make?

1)      Clear mushroom and vegetable soup – Such delicious flavours of lemongrass and ginger coming through.

2)      Gado-gado – A traditional Indonesian dish meaning “mix-mix”. A mix of various vegetables, leaves, sprouts and tofu covered with a peanut sauce.

3)      Chicken sate – Skewers of minced chicken roasted over coconut embers, covered in a peanut sauce.

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“Braai-ing the chicken sate”

4)      Chicken curry – This was my favourite, based on one of the most important things to master in Balinese cooking, Bumbu Kuning (yellow sauce). Shallots, garlic, 3 types of ginger/galangal, fresh turmeric, candle nuts, chillis, coriander seeds, nutmeg and shrimp paste are all pounded together in a huge pestle and mortar. The resulting paste is then fried in coconut oil, and lemongrass, salam leaves and palm (lontar) syrup added. It ends up as a very fragrant brownish curry paste that is used as a base for various Indonesian dishes. I have made it since the course, and I must admit it was delicious!

5)      Steamed fish in banana leaves – Fresh tuna spiced up with Bumbu Kuning (amongst other things), wrapped in a banana leaf and steamed. Divine!

6)      Bean and coconut crunchy salad – So unusual with coarsely grated coconut.

7)      Deep-fried tempeh in sweet soya sauce – Really more-ish. A lot of people on the course hadn’t tasted tempeh and raved about it. We already enjoy tempeh, but I hadn’t deep fried it before, and really enjoyed the crispiness.

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Deep fried tempeh

8)      Banana and coconut cream pudding – So simple but so delicious. Definitely on my list given the number of ever-ripening bananas we always seem to have on the boat.

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Our delicious plate of food

After all this inspiration I had to buy myself a traditional Indonesian pestle and mortar. They are flatter and bigger than the Jamie Oliver one I already had, and made of volcanic stone. The Ubud Market was the place to go – and I found the perfect one for $15.

One of our missions in Bali was to check out the marina at Benoa Harbour, so Marco and Josh set off on a motorbike to do just that – Josh in charge of navigation, thanks to Google Maps. It was quite a journey – travelling the 30kms took about 1½ hours each way, as the roads are narrow, winding and congested. To top it all off, Marco’s phone dropped out his pocket and into the water whilst he was at the marina, so they had to navigate back without Google Maps! The good news was that the marina seemed like a good option, albeit expensive. The other good news was that they made it back before the rain.

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Off to Benoa Harbour

Meanwhile Noah and I had been exploring a bit more of Ubud. We ended up at Warung Bernadette at lunchtime – known for the best Rendang in town. It was the best Rendang we’ve eaten in Indonesia thus far – such tender beef and intense flavours! The bad news is that we didn’t make it back before the torrential rain. Stormwater drains are pretty rare, so the streets become raging rivers. Noah and I waited it out under the awning of a nearby toko and enjoyed watching the motorbikes that continued unabated – the drivers just whip out big colourful ponchos and carry on.

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Amazing Rendang at Warung Bernadette

The one other thing I wanted to do in Ubud was see a traditional Balinese dance performance. Performances are held every night in various temples and stages throughout the town, and I picked one that had a mix of Legong, Kecak and Barong (different styles). I can only describe the dancing and music as … bizarre. It’s so different to anything I’d ever seen, and portrays stories and myths that are so foreign to Westerners. The music is played by a gamelan orchestra – one of the main instruments is called a bangso, and is kind of like an elaborately adorned xylophone played with a big metal hammer. The keys are all tuned into a slightly discordant chord (to my ear, anyway) – and the musicians hammer away in a frenetic rhythm that I think would eventually drive me crazy.

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The gamelan orchestra

The women dancers are beautiful and so interesting to watch. Their movements are so unusual, and involve elaborate twisting hand and finger movements, almost-impossible neck movements and big staring darting eyes. The men are even crazier – slow stork-like steps, and then a sudden flurry of jerks and stamping. One of the characters depicted was Juak, who has a frightening mask with bulging eyes and super-long fingernails. It was really interesting to get a glimpse into an ancient culture that is so different and foreign to me – but I’m not sure I’ll be incorporating any of these dance steps into my collection of dance moves.

After 4 wonderful days it was time to leave Ubud and head to southern Bali. It had been a breath of fresh air, a total change of culture, of lifestyle and scenery. I’m so glad that Ubud “caught my eye”, and it’s a place I’d definitely like to come back to one day.

Gili Gede

Gili Gede is an island just off the south-western tip of Lombok. Little did we know that it was to be our “home” for about a month. Our main reason for stopping here was to get to Mataram to extend our visas. On arrival, we were pleasantly surprised to find a number of western boats left at the “marina” (really just a number of moorings), and thought it might be a good place to leave the boat over the wet season.

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X marks the anchorage/marina
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Lovely calm waters between the Gilis – unless the currents start swirling!

First mission – extend visas. Marco went to the nearest boat drop-off and pick-up spot on Lombok, right across from our anchorage at a village called Tembowong. He met a group of guys that run various little businesses from there, and organised for someone to drive us to Mataram the next day. Junaidi, our driver, was to become a good friend over the next couple of weeks.

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Junaidi – such a kind soul

The drive to Mataram took about an hour and a half. The boys were excited to travel in a car again, and I enjoyed seeing more of the Lombok countryside. It’s a really lush, fertile island, probably the greenest island we’ve seen so far. What also struck me was the number of mosques – many still being built. Even the tiniest traditional villages with wooden huts had big ornate mosques, with elaborate concrete work. We passed Lembar, a big natural harbour, with many ferries coming and going. There is a lot of construction going on there too – roads being widened and improved, ferry terminals being extended etc. Lombok is definitely growing!

Mataram itself is a big busy city. No high rise buildings, apart from the gigantic turrets of the huge elaborate mosques. Junaidi negotiated his way through the traffic and got us to the large Immigration office. My heart sank as we entered – it wasn’t the quiet empty office we experienced in Labuan Bajo, but was buzzing with a good number of locals and lost-looking tourists, either queueing or sitting patiently and waiting. I mentally prepared myself to spend the whole day there. Surprisingly it was actually a fairly quick process. I filled out the 4 sets of forms (which do take a while!) while Marco and Hasan (Junaidi’s brother who had agreed to be our “sponsor”) went off to make the necessary photocopies and buy official stamps. We handed the whole pack in, had to wait about 15 mins to get the receipts and were told to come back 3 days later to collect the passports. In and out in about an hour and a half – hooray!

This called for a lunchtime celebration. Junaidi took us to his favourite local eating spot for some traditional Sasak (Lombokonese) food. We ordered an array of dishes, including whole roast baby chicken, beef rendang, roasted eggplant and kangkung. Wow, Sasak food is HOT! Such awesome flavours, with a strong chilli kick from all sides. The whole roast chicken really was a whole roast chicken – including claws and head. Unfortunately Joshua discovered the latter a little late – after he’d devoured the brains! Mmmm!

Mataram actually has a couple of modern malls. We’re not really mall-people, but after months of buying food from little tokos, markets or roadside stalls, we were keen to stock up on some luxuries. The supermarket was big and impressive, and we filled a trolley with tomato tins, pasta, olives, cream, cheeses, yoghurt, Weetbix, coffee beans etc. With a fully laden car we eventually got back to Gili Gede, exhausted but satisfied with a productive day.

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Hooray – Weetbix again!

With the visas sorted, our next focus was whether we could leave the boat here. The wet season was almost upon us, the winds were starting to turn northerly and afternoon thunderstorms were becoming more frequent, which makes sailing difficult and unpleasant. If we could find a safe place to leave the boat for a couple of months, we could head off somewhere. There were only a couple of free moorings, and we were directed to one by the marina. Marco wanted to dive to inspect the condition of the mooring – and was in fact busy getting his diving gear on when the tide turned and we noticed ridiculously strong currents which were pulling us (and many other boats) in strange directions. Before we knew it, we were dragging – right across the bay, heading for the Lombok shore! The engines did nothing to ease the tension on our stays, and Marco had to jump overboard and cut the mooring line to stop us eventually dragging into land! We dragged about 200m – what an ordeal! Thankfully we were on board and it was daytime! We went back to our anchorage spot and felt much more comfortable there.

This put serious doubts in our minds about the adequacy of the moorings. Marco dived many of them over the next couple of days, and was alarmed to find that they were just barrels filled with cement (that roll, obviously). The mooring lines were covered in sea growth and couldn’t be inspected properly. Even more alarming was watching the marina staff dragging our mooring back, ready for the next ignorant sailor to pick up. Marco had numerous discussions with Ray, one of the 5 owners of the marina, but we came away with the sense that the moorings were of questionable integrity.

In the meantime, we started exploring Gili Gede. It’s a fairly small island, encircled by a 11km path. I managed to drag the menfolk off for a number of walks, which gave us a good sense of life on the island. There are a number of small traditional villages, interspersed with a couple of small, tasteful resorts or villas. The Gilis to the north of Lombok are pretty touristy, but these southern Gilis are still undeveloped and are apparently the “next big thing”. We found a really pretty place called Tanjungan Bukit, owned by a French/Indonesian couple. They have a lovely little wooden deck amongst bougainvillea and coconut trees, where you can relax on bean bags and enjoy French crepes, or a glass of wine (what a treat!). We went back for dinner to enjoy the almost magical atmosphere created by myriads of hanging lights, and the delicious chicken rendang.

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Island walking track
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The path stopped at this raft and continued on the other side
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Relaxing on the deck at Tanjungan Bukit
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Such beautiful surroundings
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A post-dinner chess game

Another favourite was Palmyra Indah on Lombok, right opposite the moorings – owned by a very kind Frenchman. The view from the deck is stunning, and the boys played badminton and pool whilst I enjoyed a glass (or 3) of cold white wine.

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View of the anchorage from Palmyra (our boat second from left)
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Learning to play badminton
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Perfect place for a glass of wine

The villagers on Gili Gede are really lovely, always ready for a laugh and a chat. Many of them would pass us on their boats when their kids went to school, or as they’d head off to work or fish. Marco really hit it off with a guy called Lan. He is from Airtowa, a small village on Gili Gede which consists of 10 families, all related. We ended up getting to know them all really well, and spent many afternoons and evenings in the village. The boys have had such fun with the kids there – playing soccer, swimming, rinsing off at the well in the jungle, drying themselves by the fire, teaching each other English/Indonesian, playing on iPads (theirs, not ours!) and dancing to Indonesian pop music (Bergek is the big thing in Airtowa!) Us adults sat on little covered chill-out platforms near the houses, drank endless cups of coffee (or sugar water?) and chatted.

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4pm soccer game in the village
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Someone’s always fishing
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Communal shower at the well
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Drying off at the fire
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The boys in the ‘hood
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Lan often invited us to his house
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Men chatting and drinking coffee while the sun sets
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Beautiful Airtowa setting

We were invited to have supper in the village a couple of times, and I had an informal lesson on Sasak cooking. They use a huge pestle and mortar made from volcanic rock, and smash all kinds of fragrant ingredients together – including lots of chilli (and a teaspoon of MSG, unfortunately). The fried eggplant was my favourite, and I think I’ve managed to replicate it fairly well – much to Noah’s distaste (he hates eggplant). It was really special to sit cross-legged on the patio and enjoy the array of dishes that our hostess had prepared. Noah somehow ended up with an exorbitant amount of chilli-basted kangkung, and whimpered with streaming eyes that it was the hottest meal he’d ever eaten. We were sent off home with a bowl of spicy fried clams / molluscs that they’d picked off an old wooden boat at low tide that morning. We didn’t quite know what we were eating, but they tasted good.

Meanwhile we were still exploring options regarding the boat. Our Airtowa friends suggested we beach it in front of their village. This sounded like a great option, except that there was only a little gap in the reef which would make it tricky to navigate. They also suggested installing our own mooring in front of their village. The neighbouring village also offered their beach, and Marco met with the Kepala Desa (Head of the Village) and elders to get their official approval. We thought we had a great solution, until Ray got wind of it and said it wasn’t allowed, and that he’d report us to the authorities if we followed this route. The villagers were not impressed with a foreigner (Ray is Australian) deciding what could and couldn’t be done in their village. Marco met with the Harbour Master in Lembar and he had no problems with us beaching the boat – however, we were still unsure of the official law.

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The other village where we could have beached our boat

Ray eventually agreed that we design a mooring we’d be happy with, using various bits and pieces that he had available. Marco put together a design, involving 2 concrete-filled barrels, and 2 screw-poles for back-up security. This was installed, and we finally moved onto a mooring we felt comfortable with.

However, our joy was short-lived. Only 2 days later we experienced an afternoon thunderstorm with winds of up to 40 knots. Our mooring held, which was comforting, but 2 other boats dragged theirs – the one narrowly missing our neighbouring boat before dragging hundreds of metres up the channel! What does it help to have a strong mooring when you’re surrounded by others that may smash into you? There have been promises that the other moorings will be reinforced, but we’re still left with big concerns – plus our insurance won’t cover an unattended boat on a mooring. The options here are so limited, and we’re trusting that we’ll be led to make the right decision.

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2 boats dragging up the channel during storm

And so, Gili Gede has become a bit of a “home” for us. It’s a pleasant place, with calm waters and friendly people – and life carries on whilst we try and sort out the future. We’ve managed to do a lot of schoolwork, and Marco has done some engine and boat maintenance (which never seems to end), whilst dealing with all the politics. The boys have had friends to play with – mainly from the village, but also 2 young boys from a yacht moored nearby. We made friends with a Dutch couple who were moored / anchored here, and Marco and Ben have spent hours discussing electrics, engines, moorings and life in general. Josh recently celebrated his 10th birthday in the village – which is probably a birthday he’ll never forget (look out for his blog post coming soon). In between keeping 3 hungry boys fed and the boat in a liveable condition, I finally managed to finish the painting I started back in Rote.

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Boys having fun with 2 kids from a nearby boat
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SUPing around the beautiful islands
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Not a bad place to chill-out
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Finally finished

We are all a little frustrated, but the silver lining to our extended stay is that we’ve really connected with some of the people and been invited into their lives. It’s something you don’t get when you’re just a tourist passing through – and is something we’ll remember and value forever. Kami tidak lupa!

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Southern Lombok to Gili Gede

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.

Map

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.

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Lone fisherman
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Lombok’s southfacing cliffs

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.

 

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Ekas full of FADs

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.

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Ekas anchorage
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Our walk up to the resort
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Beautiful Ekas 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.

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Noah lost a tooth along the way

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!

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Sharky rock at Belongas

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.

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Exploring Belongas Bay
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FAD used for catching prawns

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.

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Rounding the south-western tip of Lombok
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Churning seas and current – the photos just don’t do justice

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.

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Anchorage at “Marina Del Ray”

Sumbawa – Land of Volcanos

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.

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Sangeang Api

 

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”.

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Wera beachfront

 

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Volcanic beachsand

 

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Wera anchorage – at the foot of Sangeang Api

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!

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Boat under construction
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Noah getting some design ideas
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Lots of excited girls!

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.

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Villagers collecting fish after the “bomb”

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.

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Kananga

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.

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Satonda
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Ready to explore

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)!

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Beautiful lake in the crater
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We made it to the viewpoint!
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The hillside was covered in black trees …
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… full of bats!

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!

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The tiny inlet to Potopaddu

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.

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Chatting to the fishermen in Potopaddu

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.

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Northern Rights

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).

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.

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Noah paddling out to Scar Reef
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Marco managed to get a couple of decent waves
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Scar Reef beachfront
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Momma’s happy time!

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.

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Exploring the Komodo Islands

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.

 

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Stunning Bididari island

 

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Not a bad place to do some schoolwork

 

 

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).

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Surrounded by schools of fish (photo by Noah)
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Spot the black-tip reef shark? (photo by Noah)

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.

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Heading into the “Loh Serau” anchorage

 

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Early morning reflections

 

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Dwarfed by the mountains

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).

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Josh ready to explore
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View from the nearby foothill – and our dragon-fighting stick at hand

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!

 

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A still from Noah’s drone footage – spot the smoking volcano in the background!

 

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!

 

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So disgusting – in the middle of nowhere!

 

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!

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Noah thought this was the perfect hiking stick
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So cool to be up in the mountains again!
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View from the top

My First Scuba Dive – by Josh

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!

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It’s a bit windy on top of the boat!
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Look at our huge wake

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Condo the captain

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.

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Getting used to all the gear

 

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).

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Grandy supervising us while we practise in shallow water

 

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.

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How beautiful is this diving spot!

 

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.

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Noah
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Condo and I heading off into the big blue

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.

 

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Happy after our first dive

 

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!

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The diving team – Noah between Condo and Grandy

 

Living it up in Labuan Bajo

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.

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We love Warung Mama!
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The spread laid out behind Noah

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.

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.

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Loading provisions onto our dinghy
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Josh happily chilling on the boat we tied up to

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.

 

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Celebrating 15 years of marriage

 

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.

 

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Litter floating by on the high tide

 

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!

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.

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