Monday 26 September 2016

Riung, Komodo and Lombok

Indonesia 28 August – 12 September

Riung 28 August – 1 September

Our first impression of Riung was not positive. A long hot walk into town, a couple of restaurants that did not seem particularly inviting, a small fruit and vegetable market  - but they did have an ATM and we were running short of cash. You can get 2.5 million Rupiah from the cash machine each day, that is £150 but few places actually have one, so you need to stock up while you can.  The maximum note value is 100,000 Rupiah (about £6) and most ATMs dispense 50,000 Rupiah notes - a good few inches of notes to try and put in your wallet.

We arranged a trip to see the remote village of Bena which is high in the mountains with animistic rituals that carry on today, despite most of them now being catholic. We went with Beez Neez (Pepe and Bear from England) and Matilda (Bruce and Debs from Australia), setting off at 7:30am. Well we would have done if the car had been big enough. After half an hour the guide and the driver turned up with a larger car, one that we could all fit into. On route we agreed we would go to the hot springs for a swim although it would add an extra hour to the already three and a half hour journey to Bena.

The mountain scenery was beautiful as we relentlessly climbed higher. The roads were not so beautiful with  repairs were still in progress after the last monsoon season so we dodged pot holes like you have never seen (we will never again complain about the roads in the UK) and heaps of road building material blocking almost the entire road. We often had to slow to 5 mph so the car was not shaken to bits on the road.

A puncture high in the Mountains

The "garage"
Two hours after we set off we were on the road side while the driver changed a punctured tyre. However the spare was in an even worse condition and itself punctured. To our surprise a passing motor cyclist stopped and said that there was a garage 200m down the road – all we could see was a farm building. Nonetheless when we got there, we saw a small wooden hut and a couple of people with a crow bar. 

First attempt at removing the tyre
If all else fails!
An hour later while we watched them unsuccessfully try and get the tyre off the rim with their crow bar and the use of some small stones, they stopped a passing car to help. By placing the tyre in front of the car and driving onto the outside of the tyre, they finally managed to get the tyre off the rim. The inner tube from the spare was mended using a rubber patch literally melted onto the tube over a hot flame and they got the puncture mended and the car back on the road – 2 hours after we arrived at the garage!
Patching the inner tube

When I remarked how lucky we were to have a puncture outside the garage, our guide was less surprised, not because there are lots of garages but the nail that punctured our tyre was doubtless put in the road by the garage themselves – a common practice by some less scrupulous places.

The Hot Springs and Lunch

Six hours after leaving the boat that morning we finally arrived at the hot springs and indeed the water that bubbled up from deep inside the earth was very hot. We all looked like lobsters when we got out and plunged into the slightly cooler water further down the stream to cool off. A very pleasant interlude but we still needed to get to Bena which was a further couple of hours drive.

The quick stop for lunch on the way was anything but quick. We should have asked what they could prepare quickly and had that rather than wait for an hour for them to cook the curry our guide recommended. During lunch we had two minor earth tremors when the windows and tables rattled for about 30 seconds – a little disconcerting but no-one took any notice and carried on as normal.

Village of Bena

The village of Bena
The skulls
The village of Bena is made up of nine clans who live together in We could only stay an hour or so before it got dark but well worth the effort.
One of the weavers
groups of traditional wooden houses with high thatched roofs on either side of one street. The houses have the skulls of water buffalo and jawbones hung outside that
Commeration of past battles
signifies the wealth of the family. In the centre of the village are ngadhu (male) and bhaga (female) structures which are miniature houses built to commemorate ancestors killed in battles. There are also and megalithic structures where they ritually slaughter animals which is part of their traditional belief systems. They are famous for their weaving but also now are a tourist attraction, making money from intrepid tourists with enough time to make the journey up the remote mountains.
The drive back was on the direct road but still took another four hours on slightly better roads, but only slightly. At 10pm we arrived back at Riung and thoughtfully the guide had phoned our food order to the local restaurant (where he also happens to be a chef) so it was waiting for us when we arrived.  Along with a good few beers.

Chicken delivery for local restaurant
The next day we walked back into town, which by now was growing on us, and we bought the fruit and vegetables in the market for the next few days. We stopped at the café on the way back for some fruit juice where the local policeman who owns the café wanted to have a photo taken with us and almost made it back to the dinghy before being waylaid for a beer at the waterside café with some of the other rally boats.

The welcome ceremony was ironically planned for the last
Traditional fighting
afternoon we were there with a display of dancing and their traditional fighting – one man using a whip while the other defended himself with a shield. The locals whooped with joy when the man with the whip caught his opponent and then they changed weapons and carried on. All quite exciting.

Despite our first impressions, we had grown to like the town but we had to move on.

Bari Bay 1 August

We stopped at Bari Bay because it was the furthest we could sail in one day,and night sailing along the coast is fraught with problems – ships without lights and heavy wooden structures (fish attracting devices) anchored off shore. We anchored about half a mile from the shore at Bari Bay and soon as we arrived we saw the first children get in a canoe to come and say hello. It took them a long while to paddle out to us and we went through the normal dialogue – our names, where we were from, their names etc.  also giving out pens and books to them.

The first two canoes went back to the village and then the next lot came out in the same canoes. All this took a long time because of the distance so the number of children coming out was moderated by the oncoming darkness. The last canoe was full of girls, probably because there had been the call of prayer and the boys had gone to the mosque leaving the canoes available.

Gili Bodo 2 August – 4 August

We keep in contact with the other boats on the SSB radio each morning at 8am to find out where they have been and which places are worth stopping at. We were recommended to go to Gili Bodo for the clear water and excellent snorkelling and as it was only twelve miles away we decided to have a look. We did not leave for two days!

Other rally boats joined us and we spent the days exploring the reef in a perfect setting and a calm anchorage. The final night we had a drinks party on the beach and Michael and Ginny invited us all back to Wishful Thinking for something to eat. With great excitement we saw some squid swimming at the back of the boat and Ginny grabbed the casting net to try and nab a couple.

The net is about one metre in diameter and five metres in depth with weights at the bottom so that once cast it sinks over the squid. The art is to throw the net while spinning it so that the net lands on the top of the water in a wide circle before it then sinks over the squid.  Despite some good instruction on how to fold the net and how to cast it, I made it look difficult and failed to catch anything -others were more successful and caught a couple of squid. However, we then lost the net when Michael let go of the recovery line and it sunk in 7m of water. It was his boat and his net and I think we were all relieved it was him and not us that lost the net. It was all good fun and reluctantly we left the next morning to get to Labuan Bajo.

Labuan Bajo 4 – 6 September

Some of the other boats were already in Labuan Bajo when we arrived at lunchtime and we as soon as we anchored we received a call on the VHF to meet in one of the restaurants for lunch. The town was much busier than any of the other towns we had visited and had some good restaurants and bars to cater for the backpackers exploring away from the main tourist centre of Bali.

After lunch we explored the town and we were persuaded to have a quick drink before going back to the boat.  This ended up with us all staying the evening on shore and eating in one of the two Italian restaurants. We had our first bottle of wine with the meal which was a real treat- restaurants that have served alcohol only served Bintang (the local beer) and we had our first steak since leaving Cairns which was actually very good.

Komodo Dragons

The boat trip
The next day we had arranged with five of the other boats to take trip to Rinca which is one of the five islands where the Komodo dragons live. These are huge lizards that eat deer and water buffalo, and people if they get the chance. We were picked up at 7am to take the local boat across to Rinca for the hour and a half journey, arriving before the main tourist rush on the island.

Dragons at the base camp
Ranger with his stick
We opted for the two hour tour of the island with a couple of rangers who carry sticks to fend off the dragons should they attack. Five guides have died from attacks by the dragons, the last one was just two years ago so we were pleased to have the guides with us (and it is obligatory). The dragons live out in the wild and all that remain of their prey is the skull – they eat all the bones as well as the meat. Disappointingly they did not breath fire or fly.

Female guarding her nest
We came across a couple of nests where the female dragon buries her eggs and then spends three months protecting the eggs from predicators. Once born, the young dragons live in the trees to avoid being eaten by other dragons for the first five years, surviving on geckos mainly. Only when they are big enough to fight back do they live back on the ground, by which time they are too big and heavy to climb trees anymore.

Dragons can move at 30 KPH!
The typical tourist picture
A small number of dragons live at the base camp where the guides live, attracted by the food but we are told they do not feed them. We had our pictures taken with these dragons, protected by a couple of guides with their sticks in case of attack. It was a well worth while trip, seeing ancient animals still living in the wild and something you cannot see anywhere else.

We arrived back in Labuan Bajo in the afternoon and took a final trip into town to stock up on vegetables for our trip to five days sail to Lombok. The best part of the town was the night market which sold fruit and vegetables and had lots of stalls selling food freshly cooked over a wood burning BBQ. It was very lively with many locals eating at the tables but we were running out of time and needed to move on so did not get the chance to eat there. Ideally we would have liked to spend more time in Labuan Bajo but we needed to get to Bali by 13 September to get our visas renewed and we still had a long way to go to get there and places to see on route.

Komodo Island 6 -7 September

We had planned to spend three days in the Komodo National Park, renowned not just for the dragons but also diving and snorkelling. At the first stop we looked for a buoy so we could snorkel with the manta rays but they did not exist. Some local boat were at anchor so we did the same. That is until the dive boats started to turn up and we were all told to move on as we were anchored illegally. We saw the manta rays as we left but were unable to get in the water and swim with them.

One of the other boats who had anchored in another bay were approached by five uniformed men checking passes which none of us had. They were charged 450,000 Rupiah for a day pass which they would have to renew each day. Another boat was approached by another group, two of whom had sub machine guns and again were charged for being in the park. Fair enough you may think, if a little heavy handed, but none of them had identification and could not provide a receipt for the money.  Also the charges seemed arbitrary and we were well over the official charges made by the park so it looks as though it was a scam. Not that the boats were in a position to argue but everyone (apart from us) decided that they would move on out of the park.

We stayed another night and found some excellent snorkelling in the fast moving water between two of the islands. We took the dinghy up-stream and then enjoyed an exhilarating drift dive at some 4 knots over the coral, holding on tight to the dinghy painter as we drifted. Swimming back in shore enabled us to get out of the current and swim back to the start to do it over again. After a couple of hours we went back to the boat and slept well that night.

The next day we sailed 12 miles to the next island which was out of the national park. The current between the two islands was fierce, with wind against tide producing dangerous standing waves in parts. The anchorage was calm but very murky with the sand stirred up in the fast flowing waters off shore.

Travel to Lombok 7 – 10 September

The next morning we left at first light to sail the 60 miles to the next anchorage. Out of the quiet of the anchorage, we were back out in the main tidal stream between the two islands which was against us and we spent three hours covering 6 miles before we finally escaped the four knot tide. We managed to sail for about 6 hours, the first time we had sailed rather than motored for the last couple of weeks but then the wind died again.

Arriving at the next place at 6:30pm, we anchored in the twilight which was too late for the children to canoe out to us. We headed off two hours before sunrise since we had 80 miles to cover before dark to arrive in Lombok. Catherine spent an hour and half on the bow with a torch looking out for the wooden fish attracting devices before it was light enough to see and we could once again relax. It was a long day and we finally arrived in Lombok at 6pm and anchored in what was called a marina – basically a jetty, a marina office (an open area with a roof on) and a restaurant.  We would call it an anchorage in England.

Lombok 10 September – 12 September

We met up at the restaurant with about 15 of the other boats for a few drinks and dinner ashore only to learn that we had only one day there before we had to head off to Bali for our visa renewal – everything had been bought forward as there was a holiday in Bali the following weekend and they needed extra time to process the extensions. We would be fined if our visas run out before they were renewed.

Lombok still has a lot of horses and carts
Waiting for the peanuts
We joined with a couple of other boats the next day to take a tour of Lombok by taxi. Lombok is a developing tourist island and so has good infrastructure. The relative wealth on the island was in stark contrast to all the other places we had visited in Indonesia and there were a lot more white people there. We drove through “the monkey highway” where the road is lined with monkeys encouraged by passing m
Monkey's party trick
otorists throwing peanuts from their cars. We stopped to take some pictures and they were very friendly monkey and one even demonstrated opening a bottle of water and drinking from the bottle to our amazement.

After we paid our entry fee for the Hindu temple, we were given yellow sashes to wear as we walked round and refused a guide. However, the guide was not going to take no for an answer and corralled us to walk round with him while he explained the significance of each part of the temple. One of the more interesting points was that the temple is used as a meeting place for all the religious leaders of the island every month – the Muslims, Christians and Hindus. The purpose of the meeting is to maintain the harmony and tolerance that exists between all the religions on the island.

We arrived at the pottery village later than planned and after some hard bargaining we bought a couple of candle holders and a clay cooking pot which could be used on the stove and in the oven which they demonstrated – all for less than £15. I am sure we will find a use for it! There was an extensive range of pottery on offer and is one of the main tourist attractions.

After lunch we took a drive through the main tourist area which is a very attractive coastal route with many resorts, hotels and markets. We would have happily stayed in one of the resorts for a few days but we had no time to spare. In fact we could have easily spent a week in Lombok and felt a little short changed in having only one day there. It is probably like Bali was 20 years ago – still unspoiled but with some very upmarket places.

We decided to walk into the village that night to find a local restaurant along a very dark road with lots of traffic. After 30 minutes a car stopped and asked us where we were going, informing us that all the restaurants were closed as it was a public holiday. However the “Quick Chicken” place was open and he took all six of us in his car in two trips.

The food was quick but made Kentucky Fried Chicken look good. Our benefactor stayed in the restaurant with us and gave us all a lift back to the marina in his car. He was Irish, married to an Indonesian and had lived on the island for the last 12 years. He was now retired, at the age of 35, and was keen to learn of our exploits on the high seas in return for the lift. A fair exchange.

The next day we set off for Bali.

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