Saturday 10 September 2011

Labuan Bajo – Lombok

5 -10 September 2011
When we upped anchor and left Labuan Bajo the plan had been to sail straight through to Medana Beach on North Lombok with the trip planned to take two and a bit days including two nights. We headed straight out to sea well clear of the islands of the Komodo National Park to avoid the tricky currents that are common around the three major straights in the area that connect the Pacific and Indian Oceans. The water here is extremely deep but there are a number of huge under sea mountains, so when the water rushes through from one ocean to the other with the tides these underwater obstructions generate some really weird eddies and back currents.

This was as close as we got to Komodo Island this trip

As it turned out we ended up with a strong current pushing us along and surprisingly a 15 knots wind kicked in so we made a lot better progress than anticipated. For the first night, luck of the draw saw Rob with the midnight to three am watch with Karen following on from there so we headed to bed early to try to get some rest before hand but with the boat getting pretty rollie in a partially beam sea it was pretty much a forlorn hope. More so when all of a sudden about 9.30pm the wind unexpectedly whipped up to 25-30 knots in an instant and caught us totally overpowered with full main and headsail out. We were quickly on deck to help get things reefed down and back under control.
Taking over at midnight Rob enjoyed a pretty good sail for almost all of his watch and then the wind disappeared almost as quickly as it had arrived. So much so that he furled away the headsail completely and started motoring just before Karen took over for three hours of chug chug. Even so when dawn broke we were far further along than planned which provided its own dilemma. If we kept going for Lombok we’d arrive at our anchorage at Medana Beach Marina in the early hours of the following day and have to negotiate our way in through the reefs in the dark. Not a good idea so Milin came up with plan B and just after lunch we anchor up in the lee of the delightful little island of Palua Madang in an extremely remote area just off the north coast of Sumbawa.
There’s a very small fishing village on the island and we were quickly approached by some young locals in canoes. Good news for us, they had just been diving for lobsters. One guy in particular was very keen to talk purely to improve his English. His pronunciation and grammar were surprisingly good for such an isolated place but it was his vocabulary which was pretty limited. What he could say he said well but struggled at times to be able to convey all he would of liked to say.
While we were quick to offer to buy some lobsters he was able to explain that money wasn’t much use to him as there was nothing he could buy on the island. The village was very poor, with no electricity or any of the services we take for granted. There’s was a subsistence way of life. He would rather barter goods for the lobsters. What he really wanted was an Indonesian-English dictionary so he could further improve his English. He explained that better English meant better chance of moving to a bigger community and getting a job. Unfortunately it wasn’t something we had had the foresight to bring so we couldn’t help him. He then pointed to his very threadbare shirt and said “T-shirt”. No problem there. Rob grabbed a good clean one out of the cabin and we had a fresh lobster on board. Then our friend pointed to Rob’s sunglasses. Still no problem. He couldn’t have Rob’s prescription pair but we did have a brand new pair of Oakley knock offs in the cabin amongst our spares and another two of the tasty crustaceans came aboard in exchange. How good is this. We then wondered what it was going to take to secure the one nice example remaining in the bottom of the canoe when he again pointed to Rob’s head and said “Hat”.  Absolutely no problem here as Rob’s very sun bleached cap came straight of his head and onto our new friend’s. For all of our drag racing friends reading the blog, we bet you would of never thought you could get a beautiful fresh lobster dinner for a Willowbank Raceway cap. We did eat well that night. Four lobsters for one second hand t-shirt, a very second hand cap and one $5 pair of knock off sun glasses.
In all honesty we would of much rather given this young guy, so keen to improve his life, the dictionary that could of helped. Before he left, we even asked if we could post him one when we could get it but he explained there was no postal service to the area. If we ever sail this way again we will be making sure we have a supply of these life changing books on board as everywhere we’ve been in Indonesia language skills have equated to increased opportunities. Our Palua Madang experience was an eye opener. Here in this land of millions, where every second person seems to have a mobile phone and the most modest hut a satellite TV dish outside, there are still communities like this one where money is of little value because it won’t buy anything without a full day’s or more canoe travel to a market.
On Nae Hassle the master cabin is located in the stern, just below the cockpit. As Colin and Milin regularly head to bed early, in the evening we three crew often lock up the companion way and retire to the bow with a bottle of wine and chat there rather than disturb the bosses. Rob and Karen have the port side cabin in the bow while Marc has the starboard. Being a big 57 footer, both are  very comfortable and much larger than you would usually find on a yacht. Both also have a large hatch in the deck above the bunk through which we emerge on to the bow for evening chill out time.
If you can envisage the sight of a head emerging from the deck, looking around 360 degrees to see if anyone’s about to be followed by another doing the same on the other side of the boat before said heads disappear again to grab a bottle, plastic cups etc and then re-emerge you will understand why we’ve nicknamed the bow “Meerkat Manor”.  Us three meerkats now regularly emerge from our burrows and spend many a very pleasant hour discussing philosophy and solving the woes of the world while enjoying the tropical evenings under a sky full of brilliant stars. If only we could remember next morning all the solutions we came up with the night before.
Anyway, a much enjoyed good night’s sleep was followed by a leisurely departure about 9.30am but again Milin’s passage plan came unstuck as, with no tidal assistance and only an hour or so under sail with a weak land breeze before the engine came back on, we hadn’t left ourselves enough hours of daylight to reach Medana Marina. Time to find another anchorage for the night. We settled in behind another small island, Gili Lawang, this time off the north east coast of Lombok. On the mainland we could see the reasonably big towns of Koloh Sepang and Dasan Baru but on this occasion no one came near us. Unfortunately no lobster for dinner tonight.

Gili Lawang anchorage

We departed early next morning for the run across the north of Lombok and it’s coastline constructed of thousands of years of black lava flows from the volcanos that tower above all in the centre of the island. Once again the early land breeze faded quickly and we had to resort to internal combustion power to aid the flaccid mainsail. It was a pleasant but fairly unremarkable morning passage but, as only Murphy’s Law can predict, within minutes of furling away the main to head inshore through the coral surrounded channel the wind began to blow. With gusts regularly reaching over 25 knots the sea soon became a world of short, sharp chop and white caps as far as the eye can see. Not ideal reef spotting conditions to say the least.
Nae Hassle is equipped with a great array of electronic navigation aids including GPS chart plotters etc but it has to be remembered that these wonderful electronic charts have been developed directly off the good old paper versions. In Indonesia many of these were originally charted by the Dutch well over a century, or in some cases, two centuries ago. We have regularly found islands and reefs to be half a nautical mile from there shown position so obviously the nearer the coast we get, the more careful we are. Fortunately on this occasion the chart proved to be fairly accurate and with the latest electronics backed up by good old Mark One eyeballs we were able to pick our way through and anchor up in time lunch. Murphy did have one last twist for us though as after being blown all over the place getting the anchor down and hooked in nice and firm, no more than five minutes later the wind dropped out completely again. It seems the Irish Legislator just likes playing with us.

Nae Hassle anchored offshore at Medana Beach Marina
The Medana Beach Marina is actually a fairly lose use of the title marina. It is actually a fairly tight bay lined by reefs which dry at low tide with a collection of mooring buoys closely bunched near the beach. With almost all the moorings already occupied we took the safer option of anchoring out a little further with plenty of room to swing. It also better suited our Scottish skipper’s character as we then didn’t have to pay an $8 a day mooring fee.
We enjoyed a casual afternoon ashore and backed it up with an even more laid back time visiting a nearby resort the next day. Visitors like us could use the pool and other facilities as long as we had a meal at the poolside bar. Cold beer, great food, free wifi AND a fantastic pool for a salt free swim or five, sheer heaven.
Lombok is a large island we have been very much looking forward to exploring so on Wednesday morning we headed up to the ATM in the nearby township by the local pony and cart taxi service to top up the cash reserves before heading off. The six kilometre round trip took about an hour and cost less than $3 each. It was a real experience as trucks, cars and untold motor scooters wound their way around our trotting pony and little cart on the main coastal road.
The population here is predominantly Muslim and while not as hectic and crowded as Bali, the island has certainly embraced the tourist dollar with a lot of development over the last decade or so. It’s becoming increasing popular though with much of their marketing describing Lombok as “like Bali 20 years ago.” The catch 22 is that if they’re successful with their campaigns, Lombok may soon be “just like Bali now.”

Karen grabs aTaxi Lombok style

Just nearby to our anchorage are the three perfect coral islands, fringed with white sand and swaying palm trees laying in sparkling clear waters off the north west coast. Over recent years the Gilis have been come very popular with western backpackers and visitors looking for something beyond the Bali experience. Gili simply means small island but these three are a bit special and have become known collectively as the Gilis. There are no cars or motorbikes on the island and other than walking the only form of transport is by pony and cart known locally as cidomo. (ch-id-o-mo)
All three islands have developed separately and have their own character and style. Gili Air is the closest to the mainland and has the largest population of local people. It also has a good anchorage and many of the Rally boats chose to stop here rather than at Medana Beach. With good restaurants, great snorkelling, diving and even a good surf break why not.
Gili Trawangan is the largest and furthest away but most famous of the three with a reputation as a party island. Popular with the younger crowd there is no shortage of bars, clubs, watersports of all varieties and accommodations options ranging from cheap home-stays to up market 5 star resorts.
In the middle, Gili Meno is the smallest, with lowest population and least developed. This is where we decided to spend a few relaxing days getting away from it all before heading off for some exploring on the main island and what a good choice it was. The island has a laid back, castaway feel with small restaurant bars and beach hut accommodation. We stayed at the “Malias Child” in a nice little hut literally on the beach and only five metres from the high water mark for the equivalent of $45 a night including breakfast. This was actually one of the dearest places on the island but we couldn’t go past the location. Their restaurant also featured private bamboo pavilions built over the beach in which we were served a great range of Indonesian or western style food while we reclined with a cool drink on plush cushions gazing on the unbelievable scenery and, much to Rob’s delight, a never ending parade of skimpy, bikini clad backpackers passing by. (Not that Karen wasn’t also enjoying the equivalent stream of fit, young six pack equipped travellers)

Now that's what we call a seafood restaurant
Forty metres down the beach was another similarly laid out resto which has the most amazing seafood bbq at night. Take your choice of big, whole fish, hige prawns, fresh squid or an array of fish steaks and fillets. Karen chose a huge marlin steak while Rob went for a very big, whole squid which were both beautifully bbq’d on the spot and served with a baked potato, whole bbq’d corn cob plus salad. Throw in a few drinks and the bill was $19.
We needed the two and half walk circumnavigating the island next morning to wear some of our excesses off. We were really pleased to find out Gili Meno is a sea turtle sanctuary with an active program where turtle nests are guarded by locals and when the hatchlings dig their way to the surface from deep in the sand they are taken and raised in protection to a larger size more likely to survive before they are released to the wild.

Turtle bath time as they and their pond are cleaned
As recently as 2007 there was a problem with Chinese poachers who reportedly took over 150 mature turtles and an estimated 10,000 eggs from the area. As Karen’s favourite sea creature is the leatherback turtle she was delighted to be able to get up close and personal as one group of little turtles went through bath time with each shell lightly scrubbed with a brush before their pond was thoroughly cleaned and filled with fresh sea water.
Life is good on Gili Meno.We’re supposed to head off exploring more of Lombok tomorrow but it may be hard to leave our latest piece of paradise. Whatever happens, we need to be back on Nae Hassle on the 14th to head for Bali. Time, and the next episode of our blog, will tell.

Cooling off on Gili Meno - Life is good.
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If you have only recently discovered our blog and would like to read how it all started, or work through our previous adventures, click the link to go back to our first blog entry. Stuff it. Let's just go sailing anyway.  We hope you enjoy reading the previous posts to catch up on our story.

Saturday 3 September 2011

Riung to Labuan Bajo

August 26 – September 3 2011
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.
To stay right up to date with what we’re up to these days and see lots more photos check out and 'like' our Dreamtime Sail Facebook page at Dreamtime Sail on Facebook
If you have only recently discovered our blog and would like to read how it all started, or work through our previous adventures, click the link to go back to our first blog entry. Stuff it. Let's just go sailing anyway.  We hope you enjoy reading the previous posts to catch up on our story.