I was welcomed with hugs and kindness to the Check In Hostel in Kuching.... and considering I'd only stayed there for a couple of nights before my Red Ape Trail adventure it felt very nice indeed. I stayed for a couple of nights whilst I sorted out my flight to get me to Flores in Indonesia.... Flores is one of the most Eastern main islands. To the west of Flores sits Lombok, then Bali, Java and Sumatra.... and these all featured in my plans. East to West across Indonesia. The image below shows East Nussa Tenggara near the bottom right.... Well that's Flores.
When my Uber driver showed up in his plush air conditioned vehicle I thought to myself I'd hit jackpot! As it happens I was taking his Uber virginity.... I was gentle.... Especially when he messed up the fair to the airport losing all the details that Uber provide him. I recalculated the return journey to where we'd come from, hostel to airport, and gave him the fare based upon this. He seemed more than happy. My flight to Flores was at a rather inconvenient 9pm and was indirect via Bali's Denpasar airport. After a nice delay (typical of these Asian airlines) our flight landed in Bali at around 1am.
On landing my options were as follows, take the free 30 days on arrival visa, or pay $35.00 with the option to then extend my visa by another 30 days during my third week in Indonesia. I approached the immigration counter and began the search for cash, then realised I had no Indonesian Rupiah, only Malaysian Ringitt... I had dollars stashed somewhere, but the last thing I wanted to do was empty my backpack to access them. I headed to the ATM machine.... I was rejected. Hmmmmm. The immigration guy informed me that I could pay by credit card. Done!
I walked out in to the arrivals hall, then headed upstairs to find some comfortable seating for the night. I relaxed but I didn't managed any sleep. It was quite the stop over. My flight wasn't departing until 11am.... A long, boring stop over....
At 9.30am I headed over to domestic departures. Once again I tried the line of 5 ATM machines. Each one rejecting my request for cash. I had a feeling that even though I'd travelled through Myanmar, Thailand and Malaysia that the Isle of Man bank had a problem with Indonesia and had put a lock on my card. This was incredibly inconvenient. I decided to use my Barclaycard.... It was accepted. I was right. A quick email to a bank manager friend who checked my account confirmed my theory. He gave me a number to call. The next day all was sorted. The good news in the meantime was that my flight from Bali to Flores was leaving on time! Wow! We touched down around midday.
Whilst I waited for my bag to appear on the small conveyor belt I noticed two young English fellas and an Aussie. As we spoke on the way out of the airport under a barrage of taxi drivers throwing random prices at us we decided to split the fare and share the ride to Labuan Bajo, Flores' main tourist hub, where dive schools and boat tours to reefs and the infamous Komodo Island reside.
Everyone was jumping out of the taxi before me. I had booked a cheap hostel with a shared dormitory, the others had booked a little upper class as they were on a few weeks holiday. Having said that my hostel was tremendous, and as always hostels are a great place to meet new people. Later whilst out exploring LB I bumped in to Brihanna (the Australian girl). She was looking to book the snorkelling and Komodo island tour. We caught up with the guys and threw a group of four together. We bartered with a couple of places, agreed upon a fair price and got everything booked for the following day. We arranged to meet up later at 'Pirates' which was the hotel where Bri stayed, in the meantime we all headed to our prospective homes to clean up and sort out what we needed for tomorrow's 5.30am meet.
'Pirates' had a nice bar, good food, and lovely little balcony pool. It was rather delightful. The staff were really smiley and friendly. Woodsy, Bri, Ben and myself had a few beers and headed up to the Paradise Bar, the only really late night place in Labuan Bajo, apart from a couple of very quiet clubs. On arrival Ben and I immediately noticed the pool table. Ben's eyes lit up. We had another couple of beers and started playing. Before we knew it we were smashing the locals on their own table.... Over and over again... We were looking good! It seemed to be one of those nights. Then we began playing for beers..... We won again.
Everything remained in good humour. Lots of laughing and good banter.... Then it was time to go. We walked back down in to town and said goodnight to one another..... Well I did. And Ben did. Ahem... Woodsy & Bri went for 'dinner'.
I continued the five minute walk to the hostel from the fish market area. I was aware I'd had maybe one beer too many. I could just feel it.....Then what happened next was a bit of mystery.
I awoke lying on a small wooden coffee table. A girl walked past me heading towards a bathroom. I wondered where on earth I was. I was uncomfortable. I moved from the small, solid surface where I awoke in the foetal position on to the slightly larger, just as hard wooden bench that accompanied the table. This would have to do for now. I was confused. A little befuddled you might say. A little while later I woke again. I was aware of light streaming through one of the windows. A girl walked by. 'Do you know the time?' I asked, somewhere around 4.30am she thought.... I knew there was something I was meant to be doing. Then it hit.... The snorkelling and Komodo Island tour.... Oh God! It can't be 4.30am, it's light!!!! I ran downstairs to go out on to the street to find out where I was. I recognised the bottom of the stair case.... Hmmmmm.... It was familiar.... This was my hostel?!! Well that was convenient. I ran back up the stairs and past the wooden coffee table where I'd slept. Right beside the table was my dormitory door.... Why had I slept outside of the dormitory? I got to my bed and my iPhone was sat there on the top.... I'd obviously made it to my bed. Bizarre. I picked it up to check the time. 5.38am!!!!! Meeting time was 5.30am and I was a solid 10 minute walk away. I grabbed my bag my flip flops and ran like the 'hungover, dehydrated wind'.
As I over shot the small tour agency I heard the laughter from the organiser (who could no doubt hear my flip flops, flip flopping from 100 metres away), 'HA HA ha ha ha.... There goes Mark.' Woodsy shouted me and caught my attention. They were just about to come searching for me. I didn't feel good. Smoggy headed and tired. Today would be a challenge.
The only explanation I had for what happened was that I'd gotten up during the night and gone sleep walking then never made it back to my bed (it used to happen in the old days).... But I honestly don't think I'd drank enough beer for the weird, confusedness that I experienced during the night.... Had I been spiked? I very much doubt it.... I just can't handle alcohol in greater quantities these days. We headed towards the harbour.....
The boat plodded along over the loud drone of the engine.... We all slept for the two hours it took to reach the docking point where a half hour uphill climb to a view point to overlook the islands. Yes it was stunning. And yes I was feeling better!
We chilled and observed, then headed back down to the boat....
Komodo Island awaited us.
When we arrived a couple of dozy dragons lay out the back. They almost looked sedated. This wasn't what I was expecting. As we walked the trail, obviously lead by an unnecessary guide we encountered a standalone beast near the watering hole.
This was far more impressive.
Getting close was kind of risky, but they only eat every few weeks if they've had a big feed. I hoped this one had as I got within four or five metres. I needed to remain out of 'fire breathing' range, this one had already powered up by drinking molten rocks, what we know as lava. Through drinking daily doses from the lava pools these Komodo dragons retain the power that all dragons once had. The incredible ability to breath fire whilst suffering no internal or oral damage whatsoever...... Ahem....
The overgrown lizard walked around with no fear. It knew too well if it wanted to cause an issue it could. A bite from one of these beasts would lead to a fast boat ride back to Flores and a bad bite could lead to flight from Flores to Bali for intravenous antibiotics..... No treatments? Slow death.
The dragons tongue flitted out tasting our scent on the air....
He lumbered around, but we were well aware how fast he could move if he needed to. We remained vigilant.... Watching and taking photographs of this beautiful reptilian goliath.
Whilst on the trail a local Indonesian Giant picked up one of the Komodo Dragons by it's tail. This is the only time it is possible to see the dragon's wings which are now considered to be vestigial, though rumours have it that on every Halloween the Komodos of Indonesia fly from island to island eating small children and packets of vanilla cream Oreo cookies which ensures their thick skin remain sweet and crunchy.... something that the Komodo tick utterly detests.
From Komodo we headed to Pink Beach for a spot of snorkelling over the coral gardens. I brought my GoPro but left it on the boat, and by then it was too late.... I was enjoying the wonders that lay 4 metres below me. It really was the most incredible coral I had ever seen. Simply stunning.
Those that entered the water without fins regretted it. The current was strong and to hold position required continued effort.
From here we headed to the infamous 'Manta Point'..... Here you can (go on guess).... Point at Giant Manta Rays.... No you can actually snorkel with them. The boat man mooched around the area until we spotted these huge, graceful creatures about 8 metres below us. We all jumped in. I swam down to get close but today my lungs were weak, and the mask I had was leaking. They were huge!
The picture I have shared here is of a friend, Steph, swimming down to one of the mantas when the visibility was better. Here you can get a real feel for the size of them. There were bigger too!
It took a couple of hours to get back to Labuan Bajo, there's a lot of sea, and a lot of islands. Strong currents tear through the gaps between this archipelago. Boating around is a slow process. It had been a long day.... almost 12 hours from when we left the harbour.... and the sun had scorched us all. That evening we shared a couple more beers, then hit the hay a lot earlier and a lot less intoxicated than the previous evening.
Tomorrow I needed to be up early, and I needed to be fresh. I'd arranged a scooter for 6 days. I was heading off to explore Flores on a two wheel solo adventure!