Rob and Karen Oberg spent a year and 7,200 nautical miles crewing on other people's boats in SE Asia and Europe before cruising the Med for 2 seasons with crewmate, Marc Beerts, on a Jeanneau 43 DS, Alcheringa (Alcheringa is an Australian Aboriginal word meaning 'The Dreamtime'). On returning to Australia they acquired a Whitby 42 ketch, renamed her 'Our Dreamtime' and now cruise Australia's Great Barrier Reef and soon the Western Pacific and SE Asia. Total sea miles to date = 18,059 NM.
Once again the wind only played the game for a couple of hours with a sea breeze through the middle of the day so the rest of our passage to the planned overnight anchorage at the little uninhabitated island of Gilli Bodo was another uneventful case of motor-sailing across very calm, crystal clear waters. We were joined by a pod of dolphins for some bow wave surfing for a while which provided great entertainment for them and us.
Fantastic anchorage and snorkelling at Gili Bodo
We arrived at Gilli Bodo at about 1.00pm which would normally be perfect conditions for seeing the fringing reefs but unfortunately the sky had greyed over with a thin combination of cloud and tradewinds haze which made visibility difficult. With Milin on the helm, Rob stationed on the bowspit, Karen on the port side and Marc on the starboard we slowly picked our way through the extensive coral and into the fairly narrow channel to the island’s anchorage. We did get close once but fortunately avoided any little love taps with the bottom.
We were rewarded however with a fantastic place to spend the afternoon and evening. Anchored in almost 20 metres of water we could see the sandy bottom and the reefs provided absolutely protection from every inch of ocean swell. We crew skipped lunch, had the dingy launched complete with snorkelling gear and were exploring the golden sand beaches and fantastic coral reefs almost before the engine was switched off. The snorkelling set a new standard with very little damaged coral seen. Instead it was alive with colour, big beautiful clams and loads of fish. Karen and Rob had great fun playing peekaboos with a big flowery cod that was hiding under a large plate coral. When Rob dove down near it, the fish would try to slink out the other side of its hidey hole only to find Karen waiting there for a closer look. It would then shoot out the other way almost running into Rob’s mask before doing a quick u-turn back to safety. The little clownfish on the other had charge out of their holes in the coral at you putting on a big show. We’re sure the Fishspeak – English translation goes something “ Bugger off. This is my spot.” There were also rumoured to be plentiful crayfish in the area but despite spending about three hours in the water they managed to evade our gaze and thereby also avoided our cooking pot. Gilli Bodo did set a new standard for snorkelling so far on the trip though.
At sunset we were treated to not only another amazing pink sky but also a parade of monkeys that had left the trees and were now combing the low water mark for any morsels they could find. The extended time in the water combined with no boat movement at all due to the protection of the reefs, a nice cooling breeze and the total absence of screeching Mulahs and their 4.00am calls to prayer also meant we had a fantastic night of uninterrupted sleep, a very rare event in Indonesia.
Gilli Bodo was a place we could of happily stayed for quite a few days. A number of fleet boats did, however, while cruising as crew on somebody else’s boat has many advantages, the downside is you are not master of your own destiny hence the anchor was up at about 8.30am next morning and we carefully picked our way back out the channel with many yelled instructions from the forward lookouts back to the helm as we edged close to the coral a couple of times. There was absolutely not a breath of wind by the time we cleared the channel so we didn’t even bother to unfurl any canvas and simply motored the short 22.8 miles into the Rally’s next stop of Labuan Bajo arriving at lunch time Sunday.
Once a small fishing village, Labuan Bajo is now a major port on the western end of Flores and also the closest stepping off point to the amazing diving and natural wonders of the islands of the Komodo National Park complete with the unique, and at times fearsome, komodo dragons that populate Rinca and Komodo Islands. As a result it is now a popular tourist spot, particularly with young adventurers. The main street near the waterfront is far from attractive with very dusty road verges and broken concrete footpaths along with the obligatory piles of rubbish, a large percentage of which seems to end up floating in the harbour. The upside however is numerous accommodation places with air-conditioned rooms for as cheap as $12-15 a night, a big selection of restaurant-bars offering everything from traditional Indo food to Italian, western, seafood and even pizzas, a night club and an endless number of dive companies offering their services, the town has become backpacker paradise because prices are so cheap.
Trendy Mediteranneo Restaurant was popular with us yachties
Many restaurants also provide free wifi as an extra incentive for travellers to linger. One such was the trendy Mediterraneo where we spent Sunday afternoon lounging around in bean bags enjoying a few $1.90 Bintang Beers and uploading our blog etc. On Sunday nights they have a buffet that’s free provided you buy a drink. It was certainly popular with the backpackers and even had satellite TV on a big screen. It was the first TV we’d seen since June and unbelievably the first thing on air was drag racing. It seems we can run but we can’t hide. Admittedly it wasn’t Oz racing but rather Pro Mod coverage from Qater complete with Arabic subtitles. The place really got cranking a little later when a DJ that looked remarkably like Matty McKnight, a friend of ours from home, wound up the sound system and unleashed a great club music set that very effectively drowned out the woefully out of tune Mulah’s painful prayer calls from down the road. The next day we even lashed out here for an absolutely fantastic steak dinner that, quality wise, would of been right at home being served in any restaurant in Australia. It was the dearest thing on the menu at $9.50.
Labuan Bajo also has very good supermarkets and wholesalers so proved a great place to reprovision the boat. Good frozen meat including Aussie beef and bacon, cheeses, a western style bakery with great sourdough and even diesel was available at the local price of about 50c a litre. Karen decided to replace her delaminating sandals with a new pair and after much hunting through shops to find the right type and size settled on a satisfactory pair. Now time to bargain. Karen asks the price and gets a quick response of 140,000 Rupiah (about $15) but with all her experience in Asia she knows how to bargain and was wound up and ready for him. “No way. Too much. Way too much. I’ll give you 80,000,” she says. “No, no, can’t do” he says, “ You have other pair for 70,000?”, referring to an inferior pair Karen had previously looked at and discarded. “I don’t want them,” Karen tells him, “I pay you 100,000 for these. Last price, no more, 100,000, yes or no otherwise I leave, go somewhere else.” The quick reply came “OK, OK, OK Missus.”
Karen decided to leave the sandals on her feet and rather than switch back to the flip flops she had been wearing and as we walked down the street was feeling very pleased with both her new purchase and her bargaining skills to get such a good deal. That was until Rob asked her to stop walking for a moment, reached down and pulled off a tag that was attached to the sandal strap. It was a price tag that read “67,500 Rupiah”. Pure genius. As the credit card advert says “Priceless!”
The next Mastercard Moment for the Nae Hassle crew was also not far away. The jetty in the harbour where we bring the dingies in is a little rough to say the least with uneven concrete steps covered in oysters ready to slice you up at the first opportunity. Enter Marc, driving the dingy ashore with Colin and Milan and arriving just as a huge inter-island ferry is loading and unloading literally thousands of locals packed onto the wharf. After successfully disembarking the skipper and Milin, Marc goes to step off onto the steps with the though going through his head “That’s a bit far. If I try that I’ll fall in.” Unfortunately brain did not communicate with feet and his own prophecy was quickly fulfilled with a loud splash accompanied by raucous laughter from the locals on the wharf suitably entertained by the clever westerner. Now you have to give it to Marc, despite splashing in chest deep to the murky bottom by instinctively thrusting his right arm high he was proudly able to keep what he was carrying totally dry. Good thing because it would of been terrible if that bag of rubbish off the boat had got wet.
Marc picked peak hour to entertain the locals with a fall into the harbour
As our skipper wanted to head off into the Komodo National Park the next day we ran around most of Monday getting laundry, banking and other various personal issues handled before eating ashore that night. The following morning Colin told us we wouldn’t be going until Thursday as rather than pay national park fees to take the boat into Komodo National Park he and Milin had decided to take a local tour to see the dragons on Rinca Island on Wednesday. We were then going to bypass the islands and sail straight to Lombok, 240 miles away. This was a huge disappointment to us as the National Park is widely regarded as one of THE very best diving and snorkelling areas in the world. This opinion was constantly confirmed to us by every one of the cruisers on the Rally we spoke to who had experienced it. Many had already spent a week or more in the area and were planning on staying even longer.
Having seen the dragons on both Rinca and Komodo when we visited the area last year, we quickly decided to try to organise a dive trip with one of the local operators for ourselves instead. Unfortunately this didn’t prove possible as the Tuesday trips had already gone and the Wednesday trips were booked out. As a result we spent another two days stuffing around town. Bugger.
Then on Wednesday our departure was changed again, this time to Saturday, as our owners had found out their friends, Alan and Noi aboard “Rogue” would be arriving on Friday from their deviation north to Wokatobi to go diving and they wanted to catch up with them. As it was again too late to book a diving trip for the next day we decided to book a trip to a gorge and waterfall in the mountains and a local limestone cave complex for Thursday but at last we were able to book a dive trip to the famous Manta Point in Komodo for Friday. We were extremely excited about this prospect having just spoken to the crew of the boat “Further” who had already spent four days diving the spot seeing numerous huge mata rays, along with reef sharks, eagle rays, plentiful reef fish and great coral on every dive.
Karen, Jim and our guide before the trail got steep
We headed off early on Thursday morning with crew mate Marc and Americans Jim and Barbara off “Contrails” for our trip to the waterfall and cave. Add the obligatory local tour guide with minimal English plus local driver with none and there were seven of us squeezed into a smallish Hyundai 4 wheel drive. Away we went up the very marginal mountain roads and it only took minutes for the debate to start amongst us as to the best way to describe our driver, Andretti, Moss, Fangio or Lunatic. In the end we all settled on the later, a decision strengthened when after surviving the hour long thrill ride we pulled up at a small village and our local guide promptly threw his door open, leapt out and deposited his breakfast on the side of the road.
Here we were to begin our walk down to the falls and much anticipated cool swim. When booking the trip we’d asked how much walking we would need to do and were assured it was “Not far, not far. No problem”. After pleasant stroll through the village we headed down a track towards the rain forest. We then descended deeper and deeper and steeper and steeper into the thickening canopy of vegetation. The lower we went the higher the temperature and humidity rose. So anyway, when we emerged at the valley floor an hour later as perspiration dripping shells of our former selves we were more than ready for our reward of a cool swim but wait there’s more. We then trekked up the sides of the valley into a narrowing gorge before stopping by a lovely deep pool where we could hear but not see a waterfall.
Our guide was able convey the message that to see the falls you swam up through the two meter wide, sheer walled ravine. After surviving both the drive and jungle descent, none of us were going to miss actually eyeballing the falls. Rob was first in and lead we five intrepid adventurers against the current brushing away the spider webs spun across the ravine as he went. We were well rewarded with the sight of fresh mountain water cascading not down a rock face but actually through a huge hole in the smooth granite that had been warn away by thousands of years of constant flow. Unfortunately none of us had a waterproof camera so sorry – image not supplied. Besides, if you want to see this wonder of nature you too should have the excitement of the lunatic loose behind the wheel and the mountain goat trek through the jungle.
We really did enjoy a great swim for a couple of hours while we recovered and prepared for the climb back. The good news about our early departure was that we had the falls to ourselves with the first other tourist arriving as we were preparing to leave. The bad news was that we were climbing out at Noon, the hottest and, more significantly, the most humid part of the day.
Our guide with Barb, Jim, Karen, Rob & Marc at the gorge
Onboard the boat we have both been reading Peter Fitzsimons’ fantastic account of the battle for Kokoda Track and very early in our climb back out from the valley floor our thoughts quickly went to how tough those diggers must have been doing it in far more atrocious conditions, lugging weapons, ammunition and supplies while all we carried was a light back pack with the added advantage of not having anyone shooting at us.
With no breeze penetrating the thick rain forest and the humidity at 100%+ the air was so thick you could almost cut it with a knife. Unfortunately it was this factor that was to be Karen’s undoing. The trail was exceptionally steep in the lower part. In many areas we needed to use tree roots and whatever was available as hand holds to haul ourselves up. About 20 minutes into the climb, Karen’s chest began to tighten with asthma, a problem that hasn’t surfaced at any stage during our Indonesian adventures. Fortunately she always carries her inhaler with her as a precautionary measure. So with a few good puffs and many rest stops we eventually emerged back into the sunshine of the village and our four wheeled dash down the mountains with Lunatic.
Fortunately our visit to the limestone caves just outside Labuan Bajo itself proved less athletic with only some crouching and a little crawling through low spots involved to experience a truly wonderful piece of geology complete with fossilised fish and turtles in the cave walls proving the area had at some point been part of the ocean floor.
We enjoyed some well deserved cold drinks and another great meal that night, this time at the Tree Tops Restaurant. Rob had a huge feed of big local king prawns for the equivalent of $5.00 Australian while Karen enjoyed a very tasty Indonesian Chicken dish with a big serve of Gado Gado vegetables.
Sunset from the Tree Tops Restaurant
Unfortunately when Friday dawned Karen was still feeling just a little tight in the chest from the previous day’s exertions so, despite her insistence that all would be fine, Rob erred on the side of safety and after all the previous struggles to get on a dive trip, reluctantly headed ashore to cancel our booking.
We have now spent a week on the doorstep to the world’s best dive sites and have not been in the water. Even worse, later today we are going to sail straight past them, and numerous other boats from the Rally anchored there and not stop. We really have to get our own boat.
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