Our upmarket trip on pirate ship to Komodo and back

Friday 5th May, 2017 Ubud, Bali, Indonesia to Lombok Island, Indonesia
We’re starting another 10-day snorkeling boat trip today. However this one is a lot different from our last one, both in comfort AND price. According to the blurb, the boat we’re going on, Al Ikai (Queen of the Seas) is a two-masted wooden sailing ship traditionally known as a Phinisi (some call them “pirate ships”). Nowadays they don’t sail, as it is too labour intensive. It was originally hand built in 2005, but was completely refitted five years ago, and all cabins are air-conditioned with ensuite bathrooms with granite floors and tumbled marble walls, and with hot and cold water provided by a desalination plant. It is 37 metres long, with a 9-metre beam, has a crew of 12, and takes a maximum of 15 passengers, but the four of us (Debbie and Mike are coming too) will be the only ones on board. We’ve booked with the owner, Amanda Zsebik (info@indonesianislandsail.com), a 60-year old Australian, and the total cost for the ten days for the two of us (after 5% discount for booking early for four people) was A$7,267, so we have pretty high expectations for this trip.

Mike has organised with the hotel for a cab to the fast ferry wharf at Pantai Dolfin (Dolphin Beach) in Serangan, for 350,000Rp, so we pack up ready for a 12 noon checkout. Dianne still can’t walk very far, and has spent the last couple of days resting her injured ankle. To fill in time she has been watching Netflix “13 Reasons Why”, and is just downloading the end of episode 8 when we leave the compound, and runs out of Internet range before downloading is finished. The run to the ferry wharf is uneventful, but plagued with traffic jams and delays. We get a few rushed photos of tourist highlights on the way, but don’t expect much from them. Maps.me, and descriptions issued by Amanda, get us to within striking distance, and Murray sights the black statues in the instructions, and we arrive to find our uniformed crew waiting for us. We embark on a fibreglass tender in short order and are transferred at some speed and a fair bit of splash to the MV Al Ikai, a large Bugis ketch, black hull, varnished uppers, two masts, sails neatly(and permanently) wrapped in canvas, twin traditional steering oars. There is a very nice teak gangway lowered to water level for us to climb aboard. The boat is very impressive at first sight, with lots of great lounging areas up the front.P1060393

On the way out through the reef, we are given running commentary on the various boats, some more successful than others. Once outside the reef, we find ourselves punching into a large swell, which makes the boat, with its extreme sheer, hobbyhorse alarmingly, but after about half an hour we turn to run north, parallel to the coast of Bali, and the motion is less dramatic, although there is plenty of spray coming over the starboard rail.P1070117

We can see plenty of fast ferries making the crossing, some making a better job of it than others. A large yellow wave piercing cat going the other way seems to be running pretty slowly, but pitching a lot. The seas ease in the lee of Lembongan and Penida Islands and we have lunch before we enter the rougher water on the crossing to the Gili Islands, off the north west corner of Lombok. No-one loses their lunch, but no-one was all that comfortable. We went to bed early, but didn’t get a lot of sleep until the early hours of the morning when we anchored off Lombok Island, near where the ferries for Gili Islands leave.P1070178

Saturday 6th May Official Day 1 Lombok – Gili Islands –towards Moyo Island

Originally we were to take one of the fast ferries this morning, and meet up with the boat nearby, so this is the official first day of the cruise. We wake up anchored west of Lombok Harbour. We do a snorkel off the village, nearly cancel because of cloudy water, but find better water further along. See a bright blue ribbon eel, razor fish, turtle, and generally dead looking reef.

A week ago we had been surprised to read that a lot of the reef between here and Komodo (the places we are going) died last year, so we’re a bit worried about what we are going to see. This seems to be about the same time that the Great Barrier Reef had its whitening episode in the northern parts of it.

We move the boat to anchor off the north east tip of Gili Trawangan, and use the speedboat to cross to Gili Meno, and do a snorkel along the drop-off in the channel between the two islands. See a turtle, black and silver sea snake hiding in a sunken bicycle in the graveyard of the bikes, razor fish, a turtle, and a sunken barge, probably a landing barge used as a wharf for Meno, which hasn’t one. Also see a large stack of old concrete beams used as an unsuccessful artificial reef. We are back on the main boat by 10.40am.

We go ashore on Gili Trawangan after lunch. Amanda plus three of us track down a massage parlour which can do four massages at a time (A$20 with tip) on the second attempt. Dianne’s a bit worried that they’ll hurt her foot, but they let her rest it on a rolled towel, and don’t go near it. Murray’s not into massages, and borrows Amanda’s camera to walk the streets of the large town, hardly a village, taking photos which show the changes, which are enormous, which have occurred since we were here in 1992. Now looks like dozens of other places with a street of continuous restaurants, shops and bars. On the way back to the boat, Dianne calls in to a clinic, gets an opinion on the ankle and a very expensive card of anti-inflammatories, which, after googling, find is just a strong version of Voltaren.

We go for the third snorkel of the day at the north east corner of Gili Trawangan, looking for turtles among the parked day-boats, and see a large one in the murky water. Back on the boat and away by 4pm for the 12-hour all-night leg to Moyo Island, in fairly rough conditions for a lot of the way, not helping sleep. We’re a bit worried by the pictures above our head, which move a fair bit in the rough seas. Obviously we weren’t the only ones worried, as they are later taken down and put in the cupboard. Apparently these rough seas have only recently arrived, and will be like this for the next few months, which is why trips for the next few months don’t do this itinerary.

Sunday 7th May Day 2 of cruise -off Moyo Island, West Nusa Tenggara to off Desa Sangiang (Bugis Village), Sumbawa Island

The highlight of Moyo Island is visiting a waterfall, which you reach on the back of a motorbike. P1000298 Dianne’s seen plenty of waterfalls, and is very worried about the ride on a motorbike, which we are told is pretty scary, with her ankle, but in the end decides to go. We anchor a long way offshore, dress for walking rather than snorkelling, but take swimming gear for the waterfall. Amanda has booked motorbike taxis for the four of us plus a couple of crew minders, so we come ashore at the wharf, and are put straight onto the back of motorbikes, with an instruction to be like a sack of potatoes behind the driver, make no attempt to balance the bike, don’t put your feet down, and hang onto the rider. We move straight out when we are all seated behind our designated driver, holding on tight. The road through the village is good quality concrete, and this continues up the first steep hill, which the bikes handle surprisingly well, but it deteriorates into two concrete wheel tracks, each about a foot wide, with occasional deep drop-offs either or both sides. The track is further broken up with rough limestone outcrops which require low speed, and foot support from our driver. P1000302

We’re told the road was originally put in in 1993 so Diana Princess of Wales, could sit and look at the waterfall and contemplate when her marriage was failing. Whenever the road was put in, it’s obvious it’s had no work on it for a very long while. Apart from a few scary moments nearly running into the bike ahead, narrowly missing trackside tree trunks, adjusting position when steep downhills crowded the passenger forward onto the driver, the ride, while scary, was handled pretty safely by the drivers. The ride was worse for Dianne, who couldn’t adjust position while the bike was going, as couldn’t put any weight on her right foot. Her driver soon learnt to stop momentarily while she adjusted position. On the way back the discovery of grab handles on the rear of the seat also helped with the downhills, but probably unbalanced the bike more.

The track was pretty consistently uphill, and terminated at a roofed platform in a clearing in the dense scrub. From here a path, considerably better than the “road” led down and across the slope of the mountain to a viewing place for the falls. Dianne, happy to be relatively unscathed, stopped here.P1060401

The falls are much better than we were expecting – quite pretty, with a number of cascades and terraces as usual in limestone, with the main fall being about 10 metres high and about 5 wide. The direction of the sun, and the spray from the falls makes photography from the top difficult. There are terraced pools upstream and a bridge made from a log with the top flattened. On the far side is a track down beside the waterfall to reach the pool at the bottom of the main fall. Photos are better from here, once the group of locals taking selfies has finished. Debbie, Murray and guides and drivers carried on down the track beside a number of terraced pools till they got to a pool about a hundred metres long, where swimming was allowed. Some of the locals had a swim, diving off the lip of the terrace above. From here the track led sharply uphill and back to the top of the main fall.P1060422

After we reassembled at the motor bikes, we were asked if we wanted to see a second set of falls “only a few” minutes away, and we agreed. We didn’t know it was only a few minutes from the village, reached by a road along the coast to the east. The road reaches the river and follows it up, past a bridge with locals bathing and washing clothing. Here it becomes more of a track, taking us up some steep rises, past irrigation canals and finishing at the river. We walk through the river and about a hundred metres to where the river has been dammed above an interesting waterfall, the upper part limestone terrace, the lower part a convex curved face which stops into a pool about 4 metres below. There is a swinging rope set up from a high, overhanging branch, and the local lads have perfected the art of swinging out, then running back up the face of the waterfall to swing high over the top pool. There are no takers among the tourists.

The irrigation works associated with the dam are in a pretty sad state, with slide gates rusted through, broken channels and disused takeoffs, but they must be good enough for their needs, with plenty of water running in the canal we passed, and extensive rice paddies on the flat land near the coast.

We arrived back in one piece at the wharf (at least physically, can’t say the same for our nerves), tipped our excellent drivers, and back to the boat.

We then did a couple of snorkels. The first had the most fantastic clarity – best of the whole trip. Unfortunately a lot of the reef here died last year, but was still good. Saw unusual green anemone.

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For the second snorkel went to a tiny coral cay, made up of a coarse gravel of dead coral just rising half a metre out of the water, where we had a wonderful photo taken of the four of us. We snorkelled to a sandy drop-off with LOTS of large garden eels. This is only the third time we’ve seen them, one of the other times being Aqaba in Jordan.CAMERA

Back to main boat for lunch, then carried on up the coast of Moyo Island to the east in the big boat looking for the third waterfall, visited by the Mitt Romney group from a previous charter, but not previously by Amanda. We stopped off a beach which had a promising valley running down from the mountain backbone, and dropped anchor (almost literally). The water proved much deeper than they had estimated, and it was only saved by quick thinking (or not thinking, as it was pretty risky) by a crewman who secured the loose end before the whole thing went to the bottom. The anchor was winched back up, more line was fixed to the end of the rope and we moved closer in to find bottom in 80 metres of water. The first anchor line was only 60 metres long.

Ashore about 1.30pm. The crew located a path hidden by high bushes, and we walked about half a kilometre through fairly open forest, crossing the river several times. The crossings looked slippery, but limestone deposits which look smooth are actually textured and quite non-slip. Dianne is helped across by staff members. At first sight, the waterfall was not as spectacular as the first, but on closer inspection it was pretty good – a set of cascades, falling about 15 metres, but it was all in terraces, and the lower ones made excellent bathing pools, a bit like swimming in a fountain. All except Murray took advantage of the baths, while the crew climbed the smaller terraces right to the top of the falls. P1060464

Back at the beach, all changed into snorkelling gear, with Murray changing into swimmers on what he thought was the discreet side of the boat, not realising that Suci, the woman cook, was a non-snorkeller and was sitting in the shade right behind him. We snorkelled off the beach, with clean sand leading to good bommies and a drop-off further out. Notable fish were large lion fish.

We departed about 4pm for the long haul to the Bugis fishing village of Desa Sangiang on Sumbawa Island, passing the extinct volcano with a sea-level crater lake on Satonda Island on the way just coming on dark. Also see the flying foxes which live on the jungle-clad island just starting out on their nightly flight to the main island. Soon after we pass the infamous Tambora volcano on Sumbawa Island, which when it erupted in 1815 was one of the most powerful eruptions in recorded history, and the ash from the eruption dispersed around the world and lowered global temperatures, leading to worldwide harvest failures, and became known as the Year Without a Summer. In spite of losing its top to form a crater 6km wide, what is left is still nearly 3 km high, but the crater rim was shrouded in cloud on our way past. We cruised on relatively smooth seas in the lee of Sumbawa all night, dropping anchor about 4am. We woke soon after the sound of mosque and roosters in the village of Desa Sangiang.

Monday 8th May Day 3 of cruise off Desa Sangiang, Sumbawa Island to off Rinca Island

We’re going ashore this morning to see a typical Bugis village. We’re ashore by 7.30, and start by checking out a 20-metre classic Bugis boat under construction. The boat is built upright, on the sand, with props supporting the planks to the right height. The planks are typically 150 x 45, bent to shape using heat and water in wet cloth to help with the process of bending in three dimensions, plus twisting to get the sharp bow, shallow vee amidships and vertical post at the stern to take the stern tube. The keel projects to support a conventional rudder behind the propeller. The planks are pinned together by wooden pegs driven through holes bored through the plank edge-to-edge, and into the plank below. They use modern drills to make the holes, but shape and size the dowel pins by hand, sizing them by driving them through a metal plate with a gauge hole.

The hull is almost complete to the stage where ribs and grown knees are added to make the fairly sharp turn in the bilge. These boats are generally made to order, but this one is a speculator, and the timber is pretty weathered, and work has probably stopped waiting for a buyer. There is a smaller boat under cover next door, with newer timber, probably a work in progress.P1060534

We walk through the streets, stopping to look at weaving done in the conventional manner, sitting down and using a back brace to tension the warp. The loom is a lot shorter than the one we saw in Tana Toraja. Mike makes a purchase of 250,000 Rp for a length of cloth to make a traditional sarong. We walk around the streets, looking at more weaving, the mosque, gravel soccer field where they play barefoot. A pickup truck is offering rice to the householders. We look at some captured birds in a cardboard box cut to resemble a cage, with bars. The birds are for sale, but we don’t need any. On the way back to the boat, we get some good village photos, including mothers and babies, one only a few weeks old, and schoolgirls in their very restrictive school uniform.P1060570

Birth control is voluntarily practised here using long-term injections. We check out an outrigger boat which is upside down, painted pink, with cracks in the paint revealing that the keel and lower section of the boat is dugout construction, and the high sides are planked construction, pinned with wooden dowels, with scarfed joints in the timbers.

The village was pretty typical to most of the villages we see, with a fair bit of rubbish around. We compare this to another Muslim village – Sawai, on Seram Island, which was immaculate, and wonder why the difference.P1060552

We get back to the boat without incident at about 9am. There has been a change of plan, as we are picking up another two passengers from Labuan Bajo on Flores Island. They had been on the boat with their family for the weekend a couple of weeks ago, after buying the trip in a charity auction, and enjoyed it so much they are going to join the trip.

From the moored boat, and more so as we get under way, we get good views of Sangeang Volcano (on Sangeang Island) which is missing the perfect cone it had a few years back before it blew. It now has a cone with two peaks and a crater, and is producing a substantial plume of gas and ash as we watch.

The island is inhabited, and the lower slopes are divided into properties and terraced. There is a bank of clouds around the peak which comes and goes. As we pass through the strait, about 9.30am, we see a brown scar on the mountainside, the most recent ash flow, but by 10.15am the clouds are completely obscuring the upper peaks. By 11am we can see the peaks again, and they are visible all the way till sunset, which is spectacular, with lurid colours and the smoking mountain dominating the view.P1070009

We pass through a distinct change in geography as we pass Komodo Island and head for Flores Island, stopping just short of it, near Situri Island, to avoid confrontation with the Flores harbourmaster, who sets his own scale of fees for tourist boats, which appears to be pretty common all over Indonesia according to various people we’ve spoken to. The landscape is just as rugged, with a lot of steep cone peaks, but there is almost no forest except on the highest peaks. Most of the land is covered with green grass, which turns brown in the dry season, which is coming. There is a lot more visible mineralisation in the rocks and cliffs, giving colour to the sand, so that the famous Pink Beach is not the only one, as most of the beaches you can see from the boat have a pink tinge. Nearing Flores, we see several villages and/or resorts, one with a very long jetty, which seems a bit strange as there are lots of islands with deep water close to the shore.

Our first snorkel of the day is about 4pm along a beach, backed by a cliff, on Bidadari Island off Angel Island Resort, while one of the speedboats go to the main town of Labuan Bajo on Flores to pick up our two return trip passengers. Snorkelling spot didn’t look that promising when we arrived, but was actually quite good – see barrumundi cod, turtle and eel.

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In the late afternoon, on board the boat, we take photos of a spectacular sunset over the smoking Sangeang Volcano, as we head towards the bay of Rinca Island where the komodo dragons and Komodo National Park is situated. Get to talk to our new passengers, Leonardi and Yuli from Bali. Dianne has trouble getting to sleep as she hurt her ankle a couple of times during the day.

Tuesday 9th May Day 4 of cruise Rinca Island and Komodo National Park

We have another colourful sunrise from 5.30am. We’re on the wharf at Loh Buaya, and the entrance of Komodo National Park by 7am where we meet our two rangers. They are armed with two-metre long forked sticks which can be used to ward off dragons the same way snakes are handled. We have already passed a sign warning of crocodiles. Pass along a broad path at the foot of a cliff beside the mangroves in the estuary to a ceremonial gate with record size dragon sculptures either side. Proceed on a raised pathway across a large patch of bare gravel, to see our first dragon sunning himself off to the left. P1060722We stop for photos, and notice a large dragon on the path ahead of us. One of the rangers goes forward to induce the dragon to move, and he does so, turning around and walking away from us towards the settlement. Off to the right we see a collared kingfisher, and one of the deer which populate the island, and together with buffalo and monkeys, provide food for the dragons. Another of the deer almost walks over a dragon which is lying on the brown gravel, almost the same colour as the dragons. We see more deer, a long tailed macaque, and as we arrive at the settlement, see more deer and half a dozen dragons lounging around the cook shack. We’re told they use to feed them, but don’t now, but they hang around the cook shack because of the smell. We take photos, and set off on the short trek, towards where there is a dragon nest.P1060702

On the way we come upon a very large dragon, like a small crocodile, lying on the path and the guide takes photos of the tourists standing behind the dragon. After we find the nest, which is dug into an old mound of a scrub fowl with habits like our brush turkeys, Dianne goes back to the settlement with one of the guards while the rest do the medium, but generally flat ground circuit, through open forest country, with remnant wetlands from the wet season, and a sandy bottomed creek with a little water in it. While walking we ask the guide what other sort of fauna they have as prey for the dragons, and he mentions spitting cobra, pit vipers, green snakes and lizards. In the scrub we locate with some difficulty a goshawk on a tree branch eating some prey. We see no dragons until we emerge onto a grassy hillside, and the guide notices a small one with his head above the long grass further up the hill. We watch it for a while, get some photos, and continue back to the settlement, passing a couple of dragons on the way, one particularly large. As usual, most of the wildlife was around the civilization, rather than out in the wild.

Dianne spent the time talking to a couple of crew members, seeing just as many dragons as the others who took the trek. Andi, the captain, says he has some good traditional oil that she can use on her ankle.

Back at the settlement, the daily rush of backpackers has started, but most of the dragons have disappeared now it is getting quite hot. Advice to come early definitely paid dividends. We tip our guides and head back along the path to the wharf, this time with only our crew to protect us, and no forked sticks. At the wharf, a whole pack of backpackers is landing. On a large, white painted trimaran with cloth enclosed upper sleeping deck, loud music is playing, and we give thanks that we can afford a better standard. On the long haul back to the boat we take photos of the landscape of dragon country. All looks very peaceful, with green, rolling hills and peaks, no sign of any sort of danger. The shipwrecked sailor making it to shore could be in for a big surprise.P1060799

We were back at the boat by 10am, where we breakfast then head to Pink Beach on Komodo Island, crossing a lot of the Komodo area and arriving at midday. The beach has a number of backpacker boats anchored off it, and a fair sized crowd of tourists ashore. We find a shady tree to leave our gear under, take some photos, and snorkel up and down the reef off the beach for an hour, with some quite good coral bommies a fair way out.

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The famous pink beach isn’t all that pink when you look at it, but shows a distinct pink colour when the waves wash the sand. There are small red flakes of some sort of mineral which come to the surface when it is sluiced with water.

After the snorkel, Murray walks the length of the beach taking photos, but does not venture inland, not even as far as the gazebo, just above the beach, as this is Komodo Island, dragon country.P1060805

We are getting good use out of the sim card we bought for our ipad. There are phone towers on every island, and we get reception most of the time. We’re told that the phone reception is helping in the government’s attempts to control corruption, as now locals can report it to a corruption phone line in the capital, whereas before officials in outlying areas could do what they liked.

One of the news items we read was about a man from Singapore who was bitten by a komodo dragon a few days ago (the first in five years). There were all sorts of stories, including that he had to have his leg amputated, and could die, as one of the ways they kill their big prey is to just bite them, then wait for them to get infected and die, as they have about 54 different types of bacteria in their saliva. This had made us pretty wary today, but when we get home and later google, we see pictures of him a couple of weeks later walking around with two legs, and just a bandage covering where he had 43 stitches, which just proves you can’t believe all the gossip you hear.

. We are back on the boat by 2pm, heading back towards Flores, across some pretty savage rip tides from the tide funnelling through the narrow gaps between islands, and moving from deep to shallow water. The rise in the tide here is not all that much, so the currents are more a factor of terrain than absolute tide rise. By 5pm we are back at anchor near the Komodo resort on Sabayur Besar Island. It took longer than we thought to get here, but we were all keen to snorkel, so did so along a good drop-off down as far as the resort.

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By the time we got back to the main boat it was 6pm and getting dark.

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In the evening we have another fabulous sunset, with the sun sinking just south of the active volcano on Sangeang Island. Take a lot of photos, each one more spectacular than the one before. The captain massages Dianne’s foot with his oil, which seems to help (and does for another couple of nights, but doesn’t seem to help as much as first night). Starting to worry that foot is worse than we thought, as improved for a while, with a few setbacks, but is now not getting any better.

Wednesday 10th May Day 5 of cruise Manta Alley, Komodo National Park

Dawn is relatively subdued, but photo-worthy. We are under way early to arrive at Manta Alley, east of Komodo Island, and south of Manta Point, a small island, by 7.30am. In water 8am to do a drift snorkel. We are only one of many boats on the scene. Some are large, with tenders like ours, others are backpacker boats, where the mothership acts as the dive boat. We have a really great snorkel, seeing two eagle rays, a black tipped feet shark, and mantas close up, and feeding on the surface. Dianne gets great video of manta that was so close she couldn’t photograph it. At one stage worried it was going to run into her, but veered off at last moment. Exhilarating! Definitely one of the highlights of the whole trip!

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Have a 45 minute rest, then in again to see more mantas, then out for lunch. Back in again to snorkel to a sand spit. It was pretty ordinary, but Amanda saw a small whale resting on the bottom. We were picked up and put back in the channel, for what started out as an ordinary snorkel in deep cold cloudy water until we saw a very large Manta and followed it for a while.

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We are back on the boat by 1pm, and motored back to last night’s anchorage, arriving at 2pm. Have a rest, then another fairly ordinary snorkel at 4pm with a difficult current.

We get another spectacular sunset, with lots of photos, including one of the full moon rising while the sun sets.

Thursday 11th May Day 6 of cruise Manta Alley to off Satonda Island.

Start off at 8.30am. Stop at an island for a short snorkel in pretty choppy water, which made swimming hard, particularly for Dianne still swimming with only one flipper. Saw a turtle. Headed back to Manta Alley for another try at mantas. We do a drift in a fairly fast current, see five mantas, but water is fairly murky. We are out of the water by 11am.

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We carry on to Lawadarat Island, the island with the high view point, and a good beach, and reportedly free of dragons, although there is a rumour that rogue dragons are placed on small islands to keep them out of trouble.

Murray, Leonardi and Yuli go ashore with crew to do the climb. It is stinking hot, with not a lot of breeze and the track is rough and steep. Murray goes Ok for a while, requests stops that the others are happy to take, but near the top he is starting to feel the heat (and age), and decides to call a halt and let the others go on. From the viewpoint you can see where the shallow bay we are anchored in deepens to a dark blue semicircle and narrows to a deep tide race between Komodo and Lawadarat Islands.P1060965

Unfortunately, where he stops is out of the breeze, and in full sun, so rather than recuperate and carry on, he decides to descend slowly to where there is a bit more breeze. Going back up doesn’t seem a good option, so he descends slowly, taking some good photos on the way, but missing out on views to the east. Back down at the bottom, he sits in the shade and recuperates while the others come down slowly.

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After lunch we have a very good snorkel off the beach in very calm water, being careful

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not to go near the tide race between the islands. See good coral, lots of fish, and a nudibranch.

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It wasn’t all perfect though, and one small area had lots of rubbish carried into it by the current.

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There was talk earlier that we might snorkel to shoot the rapids caused by tides emptying through the narrow channel, but this doesn’t happen, and we set off about 2.30pm for the 14-hour boat trip on our way back the way we’ve come. Circle back around several islands before setting a course west. Running along the north coast of Komodo Island, we can see what looks like the channel we might have run, but the general topography doesn’t correspond to what the photos from the viewpoint show. Sangeang Volcano provides another spectacular sunset as we motor west, and a very yellow full moon rises astern of us.

Friday 12th May Day 7 of cruise off Satonda Island to off Saringi Island

We are still motoring when we wake up after a very rough night of wind and seas, with the cloud shrouded rim of Tambora volcano on the port beam, and the extinct volcano of Satonda Island ahead of us. We drop anchor about 6am and go ashore about 8am, after breakfast, getting off at the jetty and walking through landscaped grounds which lead to a set of steps which take us over the low rim of the volcano, and down to the crater lake at sea level. The lake is quite warm, indicating that there is still some volcanism about, but there is no foreshore, not a lot to see in the lake except for some flounder, so we check it out, take some photos from the path which climbs along the rim of the volcano, and head back to the beach.

Murray is still feeling a bit puffed from his effort yesterday, so doesn’t snorkel, just walks to the West Point of the island along a well-made gravel path, then to the east end of the beach, taking photos. Dianne snorkelled, finding it tough going in a choppy sea, and not seeing a lot.CAMERA

This is obviously an excursion place, and there are quite a few other boats here. Dianne talked to people off the backpacker boats, who travelled the same route as us last night. It was bad enough in our large boat, but apparently terrifying in their small boat, with things flying everywhere, including the door of their cabin which was ripped off and disappeared into the night. Makes us glad we’re on an upmarket trip here. Other backpackers were packing up tents from a night camped on the island. We watched four large westerners and two crew make a perilous passage to their backpacker boat in a very short fibreglass dinghy.

We left the island about 10am, passed the location of the third waterfall, and the waterfall village, on Moyo Island, and carried on through choppy seas until they eased by 3pm. Anchored off Saringi Island, off the northwest coast of Sumbawa Island in West Nusa Tenggara at 4pm. Nearly 5pm by the time we went for a short snorkel off the small Bedil Island. Fairly ordinary except for the fact that there was a section that was covered in anemones, some of which were shut. Have never seen so many anemones in the one spot. Back on board for a fairly ordinary sunset. After dinner, a large boat like ours with a lot of lights anchors a short distance away, but it is gone before dawn.

Saturday 13th May Day 8 of cruise off Saringi Island to off Layar Island

We wake to a spectacular sunrise at about 6am. We can see the volcano on Lombok with a plume of smoke coming out of it.

We decide to go with Leonardi and Yuri to a small island to get some supplies from a single family which has been squatting on the island for many years. The couple has one son, in his ’30s living at home, the other nine children spread over the archipelago. They have cleared and planted acres of coconut palms, sweet corn, cassava, custard apples, cashews, limes and bananas, all with no permanent water supply. They can apply for ownership after 30 years, but the government thinks it is worth $70,000, which is obviously impossible for them. They have a very basic hut, and they obviously work very hard with their limited means.P1070090

Everything has a use. They have a pile of thongs that have washed up on the beach which are used on the fire to start the coconut husks burning. They could definitely teach some of our experts a thing or two about self-sufficiency, and not wasting anything. We take photos, walk around with the crew while they make purchases. Leonardi buys two bunches of green bananas, some coconuts and an immense cassava root which the son levers out of the ground using a short strop and a bamboo lever. There are plenty of chooks, including clucky hens living in woven palm frond nests nailed to the side of the house. P1070105

The possibility of Indonesian Chicken Curry on the menu arises, and Madame demonstrates how you catch chooks with a large, square bamboo cage suspended under the verandah. A handful of rice and a few chook-chook calls bring about 30 running. They are a bit shy at first, but eventually most of them get under to where most of the rice is. From the 20 or so caught, three likely starters are selected and hung by the feet to calm them down, but one decides to give Mme a good nip on the leg. We decided against watching the “chook with its head cut off” spectacle, and are glad to see the plucked chooks are in a bag when we get back to the boat.

There are a couple of graves on the island and we’re told they are the “dynamite fishermen”. Not sure whether their dynamite killed them, or they died from something else. Dynamite fishing has destroyed a lot of reef around the world, including around here. Back on the boat, we go for two fairly ordinary snorkels. Decide not to go to the fishing village we can see across on the main island, as it was going to take about two hours, and we looked like being the only starters.

We head further south, and anchor off Kenawa Island. We do a couple of snorkels off the beach. First one is against the wind and is pretty ordinary, though there were lots of clown fish. After, go ashore where there is a coffee shop, and a lot of shelters for day picnickers. There is a high viewpoint, but it is right up the far end of the island, and Murray only has snorkelling bootees, and there are vicious burrs on the vegetation. We endure locals taking some selfies with us. Our second snorkel is beyond the wharf for day trippers, and was pretty ordinary too. We are back on the boat and away about 3pm for the next 12-hour passage.

Late in the afternoon, Murray looks astern, sees an island he has missed, with an unusual red band around it at water level. The island has a number of dark peaks on it, looks like a small volcano. Inspection of the telephoto taken reveals it to be a monster barge with four piles of wood chips on it, and the red band is just the painted top of the barge.

Sunset is colourful, but less than spectacular, with Mt Rinjani on Lombok showing capped in cloud to the south of the setting sun. We motor all night along the coast of Lombok, and anchor about 3am in a sheltered location off Layar Island, in the archipelago of SW Lombok.

Sunday 14th May Day 9 of cruise off Layar Island to off south west Lombok coast

Wake to a very modest sunrise. From our anchorage can see a circle of local fishing outriggers fishing in the deep channel just south of us, and we can look across to a unusual mosque, with an Iranian-looking dome, and the tiled roofs of a resort.

Our first snorkel of the day is off No-name Island, the small island south east of Asahan Island, where we do a muck-dive in the sea grass, where Ilham turned up a sea horse and moved it to where we could all take photos. The seahorse didn’t look all that happy, but probably survived. Later Dianne found another in the sea grass, plus a small moray eel sharing a burrow with a shrimp of some sort. Later, Amanda discovered a decorator crab, which was very well camouflaged, only given away by its movement while eating. Visibility was bad, and coral pretty ordinary.

After the snorkel, we take the speedboat around the corner to Asahan Island, to the Eco Lodge and Restaurant for drinks, shouted by Amanda to help with their charity projects. After drinks, Murray, Dianne and Debbie did the climb of the disabled (Debbie had a knee reconstruction earlier this year) up the steps to the Yoga Shala, a platform with a thatched roof, no railings, and views over the islands, and some good photos.

The second snorkel of the day was off Layar Island, and again pretty ordinary, producing a small moray, and a small colourful flat worm – white with black lines and yellow dots.

After lunch, Murray, Leonardi and Yuli did a very hard yakka snorkel off Rengit Island starting east of the cruise boat terminal, finishing west of it – a long slog against the wind and chop, with the added feature of keeping clear of the sloping members of the deteriorated concrete structure in the chop. Saw a lot of large Moorish idols.

After they returned, Amanda, Debbie, Mike and Dianne went to the Kokomo Resort on Gede Island for a A$20 one-hour massage by a reputed healer. Massage was quite good, and the resort was very nice if you like that sort of place. Trip back was in the dark, about 7pm, and Dianne was soaked from the spray.

For the last evening meal of the trip, the three chickens we saw being trapped featured in a traditional chicken curry, surprisingly tender for cross-country chickens. Sunset was up to the usual high standard.

Monday 15th May Day 10 of Cruise off SW Lombok to Kuta, Bali

Boat sets off about 4am, heading for Padangbai on Bali, from where we got the car ferry to Lombok in 1992. Dawn is pretty ordinary, smooth seas, and just a small patch of bright orange with the mountains of Bali on the horizon, but shrouded in cloud. The sea state was a lot better than the outward journey, but still with confused wave patterns, tidal currents and the usual hobby-horsing of the boat. The volcano remained out of sight in the clouds, and never reappeared. Closer to Bali, we could see the ferries hanging around Padangbai, the oil terminal and the cruise terminal, and resorts on the high coast. Amanda has a good store of stories about the various resorts and their owners, and points out Candidasa, the area further north where she lives.

About 7.30am we anchor off the oil wharf, next to platforms which charge fishermen to use them. They are operating, but not particularly popular. We get into our gear and take the speedboat across to near the shore on the north side of the long, concrete cruise terminal wharf. The snorkel is under the full length of the wharf, among the barnacle covered piles, with a strong low swell coming in from the sea, and sloshing around the piles. The main exercise of the snorkel is staying clear of the piles, and avoiding the fishing lines which are being swept under the wharf by the tides – not easy for Dianne swimming with only one flipper. The water is quite deep, with the bottom of the sea not visible, and the big schools of big fish have taken the day off, so we endure the swim, and get back in the boat.

Our second snorkel is along the shoreline to the south, but a fair way off shore, past the funpark mother ship and tourist submarine, and the fishing platforms – we’re definitely back in mainstream tourism country. The exercise here is to feed the small fish bread, without losing fingers. The fish are pretty small, but there are hundreds of them, and the teeth are quite sharp. There is a technique of offering small morsels between two fingers, but you have to keep the rest of the food out of sight and smell, not all that easy. Murray was helped out in the feeding process by being given a soda bottle full of bread fingers which extrude when the bottle is squeezed. It works quite well, and is useful for attracting a big school of fish. We had an interesting encounter with a large pipe fish which was inquisitive, but didn’t seem to actually want to eat the bread.

Back on the boat, we said farewell to Amanda and Suci the cook, who is going home to her village, then set off south about 10.30am. On the way we had a lunch of bangers and mash, and handled the increasingly rough seas with the aplomb of 10-day sailors. Back at the anchorage, we said farewell to our crew, took group photos, and went ashore. The six of us have all got on well, and Leonardi and Yuri have invited us to dinner at their restaurant tonight, and in the meantime stay in their hotel in Kuta.P1070243

In the afternoon, we went for a hobble down the street to buy grandchildren’s presents, then find a way to the beach, following maps.me down the barely legal path through a hotel grounds, past the laundry and down a long walkway to the beach. Down this far, the beach has pretty well disappeared, and there is a paved walkway along the foreshore. We walk back west until we find a flash gateway which leads through gardens and cottages to the main hotel building, which turns out to be the back neighbour of our hotel, and we complete the circuit.

In the evening, we meet Debbie and Mike in the foyer and wait for Leonardi to meet us. We are having dinner at his upmarket Thai Restaurant, but on the walk to it, we stop for a look at his house. The entrance is a large, red painted door beside a very ordinary forex office, which leads to a long brick walled walkway. The walkway opens up to a beautiful classic Balinese garden, with a swimming pool, carp pond, and open plan rooms directly off the garden. The building is beautifully decorated with lots of interesting pieces, a real oasis from the busy road out the front. We have a really good, not too spicy Thai meal, and during the meal, two of Leonardi’s daughters join the group, and later the third daughter and his wife, Yuli turn up, and we have a really good conversation around the table – a great end to a great trip. We say goodbye to Mike and Debbie as they are leaving on a night flight, and settle into the room for Internet, lounging and a night’s sleep in a non-rolling bed.

Tuesday 16th May Kuta, Indonesia towards Sydney, Australia

We have late checkout and transport arranged for tonight, so can have a lazy day on the internet and packing our gear. For lunch, we walk up the main road to the large mall, walk through to the beach, and back to the street front for a Burger King change from Indonesian food.

We are down early to get our arranged transport, end up with the hotel car, and have an uneventful drive through heavy traffic to the airport for our 10.30pm flight.

We are able to check in as soon as we arrive, are given a warning that our bags are unlocked, and it is possible for criminals to slip contraband into it. We were prepared to take the risk, and carry on to security and immigration. Dianne is beginning to feel there is a lot of walking, then we are directed in a zig-zag course through duty free before finding out that Gate 6A is a great distance down a seemingly endless corridor. Murray hails a passing electric vehicle, shows the driver Dianne’s crook foot, and we get a lift all the way. 6A is downstairs, but there is a lift, and we get there with a minimum of walking. We are pretty early, find seats and wait to be called, checking regularly on the indicator boards. It is only by luck we find out that our flight has been relocated upstairs to Gate 6, and then Gate 4, which requires a lot more walking. Fortunately we arrive at Gate 4 just as they are calling for people now seated to get up and line up at the security checking table, and are able to get first in the line, minimising the time Dianne has to stand up. We lose the water we have just filled up, and the bottle itself, as we can’t leave our place in the line to empty it, which isn’t good when you are flying Jetstar, where you have to pay for water bottles.

When we boarded Dianne asked if there was any possibility of getting two seats so she could keep her leg up. They checked on the computer, but they didn’t have two seats together that were free, so she hobbled to her seat. Ten minutes later an attendant came and told her they had organised two seats for her (I assume they had moved someone who had a free seat next to them).Thought this was pretty good for a low-cost airline. We are on opposite sides of the aisle, Murray slightly in front. Murray has paid for the Jetstar entertainment package, so endures a couple of hours of La la Land, plus other movies, including an airline hijacking drama. Dianne watches more episodes of “Thirteen Reasons Why” which she had downloaded on Netflix. Neither get much sleep.

Wednesday 17th May Sydney

Get into Sydney about 6.30am. Our main task for the day is getting help for Dianne’s crook ankle, which she has now had for four weeks. Have a doctor’s appointment, followed by an Xray and MRI, which showed that it was a lot worse than we thought. Official report says – “ there is a minimally displaced fracture of the distal fibula at the level of the syndesmosis which is extending further superiority. However there is also a full thickness tear of the AITFL and a full thickness tear of the inferior syndesmotic ligaments. There is increased signal intensity and evidence of fibre discontinuity in relation to the PITFL.”

Spend a lot of the next day in Emergency at RPA, finally getting a half-plaster on her leg, which she has to have for two weeks, using crutches and putting no weight on her foot. Has to visit fracture clinic in two weeks time, at which time they will xray it again and decide what happens next. There is a possibility it will have to operated on, which we are hoping to avoid, as we are supposed to be leaving for Europe on the 20th June.

Summary of our Thoughts on Indonesian Island Sail

We thoroughly recommend Indonesian Island Sail. The highlights of the trip were Moyo Island (snorkeling and waterfalls), snorkeling with the mantas at Manta Alley, and the seeing the komodo dragons (more for the fact of having done it, rather than the actual experience).

Initially we were comparing this boat trip with our Raja Ampat trip, but then realized they can’t be compared, as they are two completely different products. The Raja Ampat trip was all about the snorkeling, as well as the scenery at Wayag Island, and nothing about comfort and lifestyle (and we paid accordingly) whereas the Indonesian Island Sail was all about comfort and lifestyle, and being waited on hand and foot (which took a bit of getting used to initially). Most of the snorkeling was fairly ordinary, with a few exceptions, but there were plenty of other things to do as well, particularly the waterfalls, resort, village and farm visits, the crater lake, and enjoying vivid sunsets featuring a smoking volcano.

We would recommend that you check the weather patterns before you choose when to go, as you don’t want to do this trip during the windy season. We just had the start of it, but it made sleeping hard, and getting to and from upstairs cabins a bit precarious.

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