INDONESIA: Riding East to Timor

Click on images to enlarge them.

Doesn't look like very far on the globe,
but lots of superb twisty mountain riding!
A 250 km ride is a hot tiring day.
From Surabaya on Java (left) to Dili E Timor (right.)

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Black Bike fans in front of internet café.
Just some guy Thao engaged in conversation.
Wearing Vietnamese-style conical hat.
Komodo dragon clan hangin' out near park entrance.
Monkey kid has lunch.
Perhaps a hundred dolphins put on a show for us.
Fruits & veggies we never see.

One keeps a motorcycle clean; a matter of professional (p)ride.
But when the roads are muddy daily & car washes rare ...
you just swallow your pride for a few days.
Wolfgang caught us in a rare riding shot. Wheezy is in shorts and t-shirt.
Just too sweltering hot for riding gear, plus one rides slowly in these parts.
Road rash is likely to be far less severe at 40 kph.

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Lombok island, 1 week.

Riding Lombok Island with Matt, Wolfgang and Ulla: In Indonesia it's generally illegal (unless you are well connected) to own any bike over 250 cc, and frankly one does not need bigger for most purposes. The power limit does not seem to be an anti-assassination law as in most countries of the Middle East; rather just a practical gas and safety ceiling.

Matt has a brand new Kawasaki 250 cc twin (his big 650 cc Ducati isn’t quite kosher under changed laws.) Wolfgang has a 225 cc Yamaha single. I rode both, they are great little bikes for the kind of riding they do – extremely light and maneuverable. Wolfgang has a BMW Boxer twin in Germany and is a really skilled experienced rider – he out-rode me on the bad bits. Ulla is truly a skilled and experienced passenger as I found out when I gave her a ride to town.

Riding with them for a few days was ideal; I followed, they knew the roads and led really well on routes we would not have tried without their local experience – they come here annually (see Bali blog about their lovely Ubud home for rent.)

Following Matt and Wolfgang/Ulla.
Lovely narrow country roads.

We took off when Thao got back from Canada; took the ferry from Bali to Ampenan on Lombok Island [map link], costing $20 – for bikes above 500 cc like mine, the rate is almost double the scooter price.

It took 5 hrs to do just 25 km on a rust-eaten, very badly maintained ferry. Matt 'n Wheezy saw quickly why there are frequent ferry sinkings and big death tolls in these current-laden waters; if the vessel’s visible surface is so massively, deeply rust-eaten, we don't even want to see the hull!

Too-frequent sinkings are explained by this superficial time-bomb.
Decks and bollards are relatively easy to keep rust-free and fix.
So what are they (not) looking after on the far more difficult hull?
Glug, glug ... but most ferries appeared in decent shape.

But we made it – again after the long offshore idle period at the end, awaiting limited dock space.

Lombok is the most popular of the Nusa Tenggara region or island chain [map link] that goes from Lombok to Timor.

The ubiquitous 'Lombok Ferrari' as it's affectionately called.

Disney-esque Novotel: Our first two nights in Lombok were at a tourist-package resort middle class Euro-style. Novotel is a big chain – part of the huge Accor Hotel group [link] of France. Our German friends disagree with us on much of this but to us, the Kuta Novotel [link] at $80.00 is very costly for Indonesia. Taste-wise, just so Disneyesque kitsch.
Everything has western conception of ‘native decor,' waaay over-decorated from the half coconut shell toilet paper covers to the bamboo water faucet with copper pipe inside – gimme a break with the native hut stuff, puleeze.

But the buildings are charming thatched pointy-grass-roofed and wood structures, evidently in traditional local native style, all on a gorgeous location in a private bay, perfect beach, nice open air dining area and monster buffet breakfast.

Meals in the resto were costly and often bad; a bloody offensive $10 for a Corona beer Matt and I each had in the land of $1.50 beer. Bad wi-fi access in the hot open air lobby area only, not available in your room, at $5 per hour on top of the high room rate. Rooms are nice Euro quality, but small and dark.

Lots of 'activities': Darts, massage, various lessons and the like, keep tourists busy. A pair of water buffalo pulling a board to flatten the beach each morning, with signs around their necks saying ‘GOOD’ on one and ‘MORNING’ on the other. Barf. At breakfast you have to listen to that Oz spoiled brat whining about other kids not wanting to play with him (gee, wonder why?), while mom trapsies around in her mu-mu with too much makeup and jewelry. In short, not our kind of place, nor were fellow guests our kind of peeps.

Oh well, another non-native slice of travel – but we long ago started to recoil from many white spoiled overly-loud and insensitive touristas. Too rich. Too insensitive to others. No idea about life locally, caring even less. Trying way too hard to make a personal statement. Not enough culture or quality. White-bashing of certain types, has admittedly become our top-ranking racial prejudice of this trip.

Sunset from the Novotel beach.
Typical Lombok Mountain road: Narrow, twisty, beautifully scenic.
Lombok coastal road, typical beach.
video

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The Google Map of tiny Lombok island [map link] unfortunately shows few roads. Hence we have scarce map links in this section. However here is an official tourist map that is extra-large so you can scroll through it.

Virtually the entire island has a sleepy charming undeveloped coastline; it’s simply non plus ultra gorgeous.

Our bike convoy toured the south coast Mrwuu beach; a series of perfect, absolutely stunning bays; turquoise seas; rugged hills; a quiet dry region; some locals living in tents, while others in thatched or tin or tile-roofed huts; world famous surfing at Desert Point.

[Sorry, cannot find many of these places on on-line maps.]


Lumbok even beats Bali in the Natural Scenery Dept.

Breathtaking mountain roads galore; as-they-always-were villages; endless unbeatable coastline. Mostly superb riding/driving. Just not many sushi bars, art shops or fashion stuff to tempt your Amex card. None in fact.

But change is coming. The new international airport is due to open soon in Praya [map link] – that will be the beginning of the likely big-tourism future of Lombok. Billion-dollar development deals have been made with Arabs and others. New infrastructure has already happened in terms of road and electricity, more is on the table.

Lombok is the next Bali – and it is planned that way. Prices will rise accordingly; indeed it may already be too late to buy land cheaply, but we’ll be investigating further.

A Norwegian we met had just bought 2 hectares (5 acres) of beach at the far eastern end of Lombok [map link], telling us that prices at the west end of the island are already approaching Bali-esque levels. Rich locals have grabbed much prime land and are evidently hanging onto it in the hope of a triple or quadruple.

Locals however do not covet beachfront for their homes: That's strictly a white man's thing. The only end-user buyers for the flawless beachfronts are us furriners and the hotel industry. That's the good news – ultimately you are only bidding against other whites who are not yet flocking to Lombok.

Kids in a river dam on the way to school.
Proud of his wee-wee, taunting Thao with it.

Rode the SE coast and into the NE, to Rinjani National Park [map link], encountering very few tourists. Stayed at Hati Suci Homestay in Sapit on the SE slope of Mt Rinjani [map link] – you'll need to find the town on a paper map if going there.

Very green, tropical forest, good twisty challenging-riding roads. Superb riding in fact. Here you are constantly surrounded by beautiful lush valleys, rice paddies, volcanic mountains, terracing extraordinaire. Rinjani volcano comes in and out of view, at 3700 metres (12,000’) the highest point in Nusa Tenggara.

Rice paddie with Rinjana volcano in background.
Photo: Ulla/Wolfgang
In front of Hati Suci Homestay with owner and waiter.
Crazy dude with guitar, a Sapit local.

At Hati Suci Homestay (in Sapit) you get a so-so clean room for $12 with cold intermittent shower, squat toilet, we again recommend bringing insect spray. But it has nice gardens, cool temperature from elevation, plus a very nice owner and staff. From your balcony you have views of a tiny village across the valley that produces tobacco.

It’s the only place to stay near to the park, and is a good base for those wanting to climb Mount Rinjani (during the dry season) offering guided hiking tours.

But it’s not for the luxury-minded!

In Mt. Rinjani Park [map link] great riding ...
got some snacks en route; 'bistro' owner was a fun guy.
New logo that Bill Andersen sent me – perhaps premature optimism
but ditto Pres. Obama's recent Nobel; my optimism relatively minor.

Next day off at 0730 toward Rinjani; too cloudy to see it entirely, but it’s spectacular.

Rinjani is of great importance to locals; it's the second highest peak in Indonesia, with the typical steep volcanic slopes, charming villages in the surrounding valleys, much agriculture at foot of the volcano (coffee, cocoa, cabbage, garlic). Kids in the region seem playful and happy; minimal tourism or traffic.

In the NW corner of Lombok rode 20 km south to Senggigi, the main beach resort, with expensive hotels, views of Bali volcanoes and beaches across the waters, stunning coastal drive, hilly, sweeping bays.

Thatched roofs, woven rattan walls & sat dish.
Traditional rice storage hut, in for-tourists village.
Cool t-shirt among Black Bike admiring crowd.
Bali volcano across the water

North of town there are countless empty coves with black volcanic sand beaches, with only cows and thatched huts around. A sleepy little harbor with boats at anchor, some happy to take you gili (Indonesian for ‘island’) hopping.

There are three gilis nearby: Gili Air, Gili Meno and Gili Trawangan – that have no police/army presence, just local chiefs are in charge. No cars or scooters; excellent scuba and snorkeling; budget pricing and a freestyle bohemian existence. Evidently there is a very fine and reasonably-price resort on one of the islands.

Rumour also has it that in these tropical paradises, all sorts of tsk-tsk drugs are available – which in Indonesia, with its death penalty for drug possession, seems a tad iffy; it just takes one stoolie to turn you in for a reward. We’re not against all recreational drugs, just not fans of dying for the buzz.

But local outrigger canoes laden with one white (with a Mohawk haircut – didn't that fade in the 70's?) and a busload of Japanese, seem to take advantage of a great island-hopping opportunity.

Boats await you for Gili exploring.
Many are dug-outs,
all have one bamboo outrigger for stabilization.

We simply didn’t have sufficient visa time left; on February 7th we had to be out of Indonesia due visa limitations, with some turf cover to in order to reach East Timor – whence departs the only boat from this part of the world that can take Black Bike to Oz.

If we’d had 90-day visas, we’d have gone to the Gilis and even further afield – leaving behind a few thousand more dollars that Indonesia needs. C'mon guys – let us money-generating tourists stay for a reasonable few months!

Just 4 km north of the town of Senggigi we stayed a couple nights at the Holiday (Inn) Resort [link] negotiated $50 for a fine bungalow near their private beach. Excellent pool, breakfast, comfortable with reasonably priced $1.50 per hour wi-fi. It was not over-the-top in décor, highly recommended as a destination holiday. There is a whole strip of fine-looking hotels in the area, which is blessed with magnificent beaches and excellent twistie cliffside roads.

Beaches below cliffs for miles – and empty.
An extremely gorgeous area: One cannot imagine a better beach-holiday region; indeed it may be the nicest beach and mountain region we have ever seen. Add it to your list; it’s on our come-back one.

Matt snaps a boat on the dry at low tide.

One evening we had dinner at the Australian-owned The Square resto in town, a fusion Indo-European place with a big western-tourist menu: Over-priced and pretentious with badly cooked food, we strongly recommend a pass. The hotel had recommended it, likely as a white man's place, oops.

A far better dinner in town was at Bumbu, Thai/Indo, smallish and friendly. Good Thai salads, curries plus grilled fresh fish and good prices. It’s local and popular, good value and very pleasant.

Went for drinks at Happy Café, a short walk down the fairly humble main drag. Not much to say about the drinks – but the band was a shocker WOW! Cynical showbiz-seasoned Wheezy generally abhors bar bands and wanted to skip: He was just plain wrong this time. A quick drink turned into immersing ourselves in fine music for a couple hours.

Where did those two lead guitarists learn to play so well? Seriously good! One of them is a not-bad fiddler too. Huge breadth of quality cover repertoire, including superb English accents, from The Stones to local. The lead singer, just amazing. And very cool stage presence.

Lead singer, superb. And way cool.

Too many Araq Attacks (a serious drunk) round our table – Ulla had a hangover next day. The place was packed by locals and whites; some great and some truly awful dancers from the crowd. Over-all a memorable musical surprise that lasted 'till they shut the place down.

Thao & Matt at Happy Café

Speaking of local Indonesia musicians – that jazz band in Ubud that Matt and Rita took us to see one night – ‘great’ is all I can say! Matt knows his jazz – we were all blown away and stayed until they packed up. Amazingly technically skilled plus emotionally talented. An older Brit gent from the audience had brought his trumpet to the club and joined in; su-perbly! Spot on, serious understated talent, whoever he was. An American borrowed a guitar and joined in; ditto. The guitarist, again brilliant. The keyboard player/leader – his group would have blown the crowd away in New York or Toronto.

Where did they all learn to be this good in Bali or Lombok? Who are the peers they learned from? As good as it was, the jazz crowd was teensie, perhaps just twenty paying customers entertained by a half-dozen musicians. The bar owner was not getting rich that night, nor were the artists.

Serious musical talent was twice in evidence in both the bar-concerts. Indonesian musical artists – again, who knew?

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Our last day of riding with Matt, Wolfgang and Ulla: Towards the SW corner of Lombok through sun-shimmered rice paddies, mosques, scenery much like Bali but far less commercialized.

Mostly good roads, although some challenging bits of asphalt long neglected with numerous rainy season washouts. On one mud-track stretch I even told our leader Wolfgang, that I was not going to risk it on this monster bike, its too iffy; go ahead without us, I’m turning back, discretion being the better part of valor here. Matt and Wolfgang agreed in good spirits, we went back to harder surfaces, but I felt a bit of the wimp killjoy.

That said, so far I’ve only dropped Black Bike once while rolling (in Cambodian potholed mud) on this round-world trip and that once was too often. I'm fairly un-macho in my riding, but we’re still in once piece and so is the bike.

Tree across road, plus huge mud puddle,
making riding more 'interesting'.
Photo: Ulla/Wolfgang

Picked up a very friendly vibe among the locals here, as we did in Bali. We felt welcome and were often cheered as we rode by – most often big Black Bike gets the cheers, not us.

They've just never seen such a machine. If there is any envy, we did not sense it, which says a lot of good things about the local folks.

However in Lombok the amazing Bali artistic activity is far less in evidence; a noticeable absence of furniture and art shops that line many Bali roads. One wonders why, so near yet so far in that regard. Although it's a very different culture: Moslem vs Hindu. Perhaps when tourism picks up, which seems not that far away given the new airport and stunning landscape...

Two roads were too muddy to pass as explained, so we turned around and retraced our route, via Mataram [map link] the capital, to reach the inland's NW corner.

A green valley road to the wonderful and aptly-named Monkey Forest: Monkeys just line the roads and gawk at us everywhere – very bold ones too, quite accustomed to tourists. They just did their thing, hoping we'd throw them some food.

An excellent road, a superb mountain twisty ride.

Roadside grey macaques a-plenty, accustomed to human gawkers.

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Then it was auf wiedersehen to Matt, Ulla and Wolfgang. They were back westwards to Bali, we were heading east to Timor and Australia.

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Wheezy & Thao rode the north shore of Lombok and spent the night in a pretty basic place 15 km outside Labuhan Lombok [sorry no map link] where next morning one catches a ferry across to Sumbawa, the next island eastwards.

Goat herd share the roads, several times a day.
video

Labuhan Panban has the best digs in the region – it’s called Gili Pandi Homestay. For $12 it’s as one would expect, quite basic. You get a dirty bungalow with a trickle of cold water for a shower and a good banana pancake and coffee for breakfast. The ceiling fan worked and again we were glad for the bug-killing spray can. We can't recommend it as a destination, but given there are no real choices and the owners are very friendly folks … it’s just part of adventure travel. Nice beach however, decent roads – and eventually it’ll have tourism. For now it’s just a necessary waypoint.

It was there we met the Norwegian father-son and dad’s charming, pretty, young Indonesian wife he’d met in Singapore. They had just bought 2 hectares (5 acres) on the beach for something in the $10,000 ballpark and were soon to build their new Indonesian home.
Conveniently located to Bali’s fashionable hot-spots – it’s not. Beautiful and charmingly ‘local’ – it is. With a car they can stock up on what they need every few weeks by driving a few hours to the west end of Lombok. The land has abundant fresh water just below the surface. Electrical hookup and a genset is all they need, backed by solar power. And five acres at some $2,000 an acre of beachfront – who can argue with that? I’ll bet a nice big house costs them $50,000 (or less) to build.

What a way for an offshore oil rig platform supervisor to semi-retire; he still works a month on and a month off. His son is studying computer science in Australia, not far away. It’s a great new life they are starting here; as we agreed over some Binteng beers, it sure beat the cold, the costs and the taxes of Norway. A similar statement can be said of Canada.

Magnificent isolated black sand beaches everywhere.
Not all autobahn.

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Sumbawa island, 6 days:

Next morning caught the ferry to Sumbawa [map link although very basic map!] This time 'twas ferry perfection, clean as a whistle. The crossing was perhaps $5, on-time, with zero wait for docking space.

Given the busloads, truckloads and scooter-loads of guys admiring and wanting to play with Black Bike, I stayed below decks and babysat during the two-hour trip; prudent precaution, sharing my bag of in-shell peanuts with some new best friends.

Aboard the ferry, couldn't leave bike. Too many fans.
TV transporter on ferry – 125 cc scooter.

From the landing dock, an excellently paved road on the south-west coast to Maluk passing some nice homes obviously belonging to folks with money – which comes from the massive Newmont open cut gold mine nearby. The latter is clearly the biggest industry on the island since Islam.

Errands like internet café, haircut and dinner came to less than $10 in total. It's a decent little town but not much to get one excited except perhaps the big white surfing beach. The town has great cliffs nearby, a very steep picturesque twisty mountain road that's a fun ride and the coast has evidently superb surfing from a brilliant white beach.

Fifteen kilometers further south is Sekongkang, apparently also a fine surfing town that the Newmont execs use for their R&R – it has upscale accommodations for whitey. But we didn't get there, our fast-dwindling visa time remaining was a constant pressure.

In Maluk we stayed at the Kiwi Inn Hotel where a VIP room is $25. Clean, air con, hot water – what else does one need? Forget English TV or internet basically from here eastwards. A top-bed sheet is something you usually need to ask for. So is a second towel.

Toilet paper? Why do you need that? That's what the hose next to the toilet is for, silly.

In hotels east of Bali, $25-$35 doesn't normally get you hot water, usually an unnecessary fantasy – and I'm talking about the best hotel in town. If the room has any kind of shower, one must always check that it works first; we've been frequently disappointed by that little detail.

We gladly settle for one working faucet and a plastic scoop. Normally you end up using use the 'mandis,' basically a big tiled wall mounted tub from which you scoop water, the bathroom floor being the drainage. Which is usually fine, if the mandi is either full or if water pressure to the hotel/room is actually working!

When you are sweaty hot, scoops of cool water feel wonderful after the initial shock– we eventually became pleased to have any sort of bathing.

The squatter toilet, which is standard equipment a good portion of the time, is something my bad knees have trouble with. But one copes.

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Next day we left late due to rains, rode a couple hours to Sumbawa Besar. Hotel-wise there are limited choices but the best looking is Laguna Resort which was full but we did have a really bad meal at their resto. As second prize we took a $35 room at Kencana Beach Hotel west of town. It's on a nice cove but the room had no sea view; the worst thing was that the shower was yucky brackish salty water! You soap up but do not quite feel clean afterwards, a thin salt layer lingers. The staff had a could-care-less attitude, lazy and unhelpful, an overall quite forgettable place.

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Riding into Hu'u, charming oceanside village.
video

On day three, a five-hour 250 km ride to Dompu [map link] where we turned south on less than velvet roads, toward the coast, stayed at the Aman Gati Hotel [link] in Hu’u [map link.]

Now this is more like it!

Mr. and Mrs. Sudantha are the owners, a nice couple who moved here from Bali. They created a beach resort, surfers' respite, nice new rooms, (the old ones are not that great,) air conditioning. The internet is awful, we had no luck. But a nice place and lovely gardens at $35 - $100. We suggest booking ahead and negotiating. But it's a fine resort for a few days' break, especially if you surf. Nice beach out front, scuba in the area.

Hotel resorts are not all 'camping'
Abandoned painted lifeboat on surfing beach in front of hotel.
Kid removes some possibly-useful hardware.
Craftsmen do sidewalks in attractive inlays of pebbles.
Well done, very pretty; each sidewalk stone is an original.

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Thao with a charming roadside seller we encountered.
Sape, Sumbawa.
Riding through a typical village.
video

Rice fields as art.
Water buffalo cool it.
Sumbawa salt pans.

After two nights in Hu'u we were rested and done with Sumbawa. Although the roads were mostly good and we liked this last resort, it's not our favourite island of the chain.

On the last day we drove just 100 km past some impressive coastline, towards the port town of Sape [map link] where we were the town’s rock stars. Visited the only internet café in town and were swarmed for hours by many dozens of adoring local fans. They were totally blow away by Black Bike.

Sape not a pretty town, nor one with much accommodation. We finally found the
Losmen Nusa Buja about a kilometre from the harbour, which at $4.50 [sic, that's four and a half bucks] was the best place. The dump right at the ferry dock is four times the price and is a rip-off disaster – stay away! Running water at our hotel came from a wall tap, there was a washing scoop, squatter toilet, ceiling fan and a very basic room. A few cockroaches tried to share the room with us admittedly, but our bug spray produced effective population control.

You come to this town only to catch a morning ferry – for no other reason. But we didn't hate our hotel, even as extremely basic as it was; the bike was secure behind a locked fence and the folks who ran the place were quite nice, friendly.

At 0300 next pre-dawn took off early for the ferry which ultimately left at 0630. We never got an accurate time of departure – many said 0800 – so we took the prudent risk of being too early. It was about an 8-hour crossing to Flores and only one ferry per day. Some cars and trucks had been waiting for their place in line for three days – with nothing to do. Bikes however do not have to wait, there is always room to squeeze one in.

Worst 20' bike ride of my life: Prior to boarding the bike, at around 0500 with barely any light, I had to deal with the my worst ride ever. Just 20' or so, but I was absolutely scared shitless, turned back a couple times refusing to do it without considerable muscular help. Locals thought I was a white sissy, but it was what it was. The skinny 125 cc scooters had it far easier, they had room for their feet on the ramp and balance corrections are a snap with a 50 kg bike; but not with this bike, or even a big BMW or Harley at a necessary near-standstill speed.

Seldom have I been more frightened about doing something on wheels. The driveway to the boat had broken, badly, with a gaping 1-metre gap – just big enough to fall 5 metres (15') into the ocean with a bike, ending the trip in hospital and a write-off vehicle.

One had to ride a skinny, extremely uneven, amateurly-built, steel ramp across the chasm. The ramp per se was perhaps 20' long and so steep on both ends Black Bike's ground clearance was inadequate, I scraped the engine bottom loudly at both ends.

The steel was slippery from oil and rubber, very uneven with barely room for the tires, no room to put your feet down for balance.

Trucks and cars crossing it had part of their tires scarily off the ramp! A veritable death trap on a fat 600 kg (1,300 lb) of loaded motorcycle. One tiny mistake or loss of balance/traction, it was truthfully game over for the bike and me.

Due to my refusal to 'just go for it,' Black Bike was the last vehicle aboard, the gates closed and I was almost not even let on. I finally agreed to do it but only with teams of 2-3 men on either side to help me keep balance and catch the bike in case of balance-loss.

Made it. I tipped the balance guys a couple bucks.

But man, was I sweating in unforgettable terror. Yes, it was that dangerous; I'm not so easily terrified – I am driving this round-world bike trip after all. But this was a man-made pinnacle of a death trap, and am still upset as I recall it weeks later.

Ferry bridge was broken with a big ocean drop-in gap,
so they put 2 improvised skinny steel ramps.
It was so bad I refused to ride it, first time in my life.
In the end, men balanced the bike while I inched across.
Not an inch to spare on the packed vehicle deck.
To get off this deck, I had to clamber over the railing,
boxed in by dripping cases of fresh fish.

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Flores island, 3 1/2 weeks.

Komodo dragons visit. In the port town of Labuhanbajo [map link], we hired a private boat with crew of two, to take us to the island of Pulau Rinja [map link]. The latter is part of the Komodo National Park that encompasses the several-island region, and is right next to Komodo Island [map link]; the main advantages being it's:
. . .(a) closer to shore and thus a much shorter day trip, and
. . .(b) has evidently a more dense komodo dragon population.

We shared the day and the trip with a Lebanese-Canadian-Russian-Christian-Arab we had met on the ferry –
Fadi by name. Quite a personable intelligent character with at least a couple passports, Canada's being one of them, travelling extensively throughout the world, alone. He's very Lebanese although living in Moscow and doing biz there – also speaking several languages fluently.

We have never met anyone who is so aggressive in his business dealings, very Middle Eastern hard-core brinksmanship haggling – even for simple things like $5 off hotel prices, $3 cabs or $2 food shopping. We wondered is he's a 'closet hyper-Israeli' – they can also be pretty rough nickel-dime to do business with. It's a regional Middle East characteristic this 'style' that the Indonesian locals were visibly shocked by. But he was a fun experience in any event and we hung out for a couple days.

Recommended hotel in Labuhanbajo as a base for visiting the komodos – the very quiet and year-old Puri Sari Hotel [link] which is Japanese and Indonesian owned, very modern large bright rooms with quality furniture and bath, nice staff, free wi-fi, about $35 with good brekkie and parking.

It's west of town, where the other beach hotels are, some of them highly arrogant, pretentious, major 'tude from the staff and preposterous pricing over $100 when they were virtually empty – remember this is contextual/relative for the region/season. All the better hotels are unfortunately along a few kilometres of really bad road.

We spent 3 nights and really enjoyed our hotel, it gets our highest possible recommendation – outstandingly one of the few classy low-key hotels we found in all of the Lombok-Sumbawa-Flores region. Nicest staff. Decent food.

The hotel's manager, Mr. Silvester Bugis, arranged a charter boat and crew us – it was $55 for the three of us which included some snorkeling off another island. Then you have to pay the Government Park $20 or so and you get a guide to take you for an hour walk. So all-in, it's a $75-$100 day trip for a couple.

A komodo dragon outing is a should-do once there, but not a reason to go to Indonesia in itself. We saw some water buffalo, some komodo dragons [excellent short article link] and had a walk along a path in the bush. A good two-hour boat ride there was perhaps the biggest treat, stunning islands surround you, amazing aquamarine waters, just gorgeous.

Not much else to report however, but here's some more komodo photos [photo link.]

We met a couple Hungarian guys who had chartered a mission-specific sleeping/cooking boat for three days and slept aboard, it took them to Komodo and other islands. That seemed like a good idea and a bargain at about $200 all-in, food included. Worth considering as an adventure option – however I'm still not sure what else you would see in three days versus one.

The Discovery Channel or National Geographic had a great show on the komodo dragons I had seen – perhaps rent the DVD if you are curious. It's the biggest/heaviest of the lizard family growing up to 10 feet long, whose saliva has a high and nasty bacteria count. They can bite a huge water buffalo or deer on the leg for example, then follow it around, waiting a few days for the infection to bring it down – then it's dinner time. They are carrion lovers.

When we were there it was hot and sunny so the lizards were just laying around in the shade. Evidently the dragons actively feed/hunt mainly when it's cooler. My guide could not recall any human attacks when I asked, or he chose not to say. One suspects the park feeds them to keep the lizards tame and tourists' money flowing; hospitalized tourists are bad for biz.

For example was a dragon family of perhaps a dozen snoozing under the guides' hut (photo at top of this page), just a few feet away from us – and dragons are solitary unsocial creatures normally. So obviously no one is afraid of anyone else and there was something in it for them to be there for us photo-snappers – most likely lotsa food.

But we can brag we saw the dragons in their natural habitat. They must have been a formidable and deadly surprise to the first explorers here ...

En route to the island.
A few of Indonesia's unoccupied 10,000 islands.
Dragons are extremely well camouflaged.
This one is 3-4 metres long.
Komodo dragon food, water buffalo in park.
Dragon of perhaps 3 metres, chillin' in the shade.
Stopped for a swim on the way home. Spectacular waters.

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After three days in Labuhanbajo drove some four hours to do just 125 km to Ruteng [map link]. Very difficult driving. Endless switchbacks, blind bends, tight hairpin turns, uphill curves. Great ride.

Although paved, definitely the most dangerous and challenging stretch of road we drove on the island of Flores – with Flores winning as the most sustained difficult riding we did in Indonesia, if not this entire trip.

We explored the town market a little. Plenty of folks in traditional clothing, colourful woven sarongs called 'ikat' which they often wear slung over one shoulder, or as a skirt, depending on the temperature.

In Ruteng [map link] the Sindha Hotel was about $25 for which you get, despite what they told us, no hot water. Indeed not even running water in the evening – due in our case to hotel pump problems. But they did bring Thao a bucket of hot water from the kitchen plus some clean sheets when we asked.

Next day’s driving proved not as difficult but challenging nonetheless – four hours to Bajawa [map link], a high elevation thus cooler town, where we found whisky at the market, rented a few DVDs for the evening, got takeout local food and beer. Nirvana!

Stayed at the Bintang Wistana Hotel, probably the best hotel in town, which for $25 gives you a working hot water shower. It's owned by a local guy who also owns a big tourist antiques shop in town.

------------------

The ferry search in Indonesia: Next morning headed towards Mount Kelimutu [map link] stopping en route at the town of Ende [map link] which is the biggest city in Flores. We'd heard there are ferries from here to Timor Island – which indeed there are, but they're passenger boats evidently, not vehicle ferries of late.

It took some doing, but we found someone at the local Pelni shipping office (the national ferry company) who spoke English sufficiently to explain 'no' and advise us to go to Larantuka at the end east of the island. Ferry service in Indonesia is a moving target. Information that the huge ferry/ship company Pelni provides online is basically worthless – even though one would think a huge company like that would benefit from having its online schedules being accurate and comprehensible. But they are neither.

Phoning is also pointless, unless you call the very same local office where the boat docks, plus if you luck upon someone at that very office who speaks a language other than Indonesian – and if he/she cares enough to know the actual schedule for that week. We got lucky with info a few times in person, but never by phone or web.

Online at Horizons Unlimited [link] – the best motorcycle-geared world travellers' web site – I had read that just a couple months back a motorcycle and car had hopped a ferry from Ende to Kupang on Timor. I even corresponded with the Oz bike guy by email, he was very helpful in providing info. But that was a couple months ago, old info; this week it's passenger boats only.

Travellers' wisdom is transitory – ours evidently included! Oh and timetables? Once a week, twice a week, daily – it changes and 'just depends' on many factors. But do not set your watch, let alone your high hopes, by any boat here. Be there physically well in advance, like a day or two in many cases.

. . .The further east you go in Indonesia, the more 'unreliability'
. . .becomes true. Indeed the further eastwards you go, and the
. . .more Third-World things become generally. Not just ferry
. . .schedules, it's the entire culture, economy and people too.

. . .We found the 'warmth-friendliness factor' declines as you go
. . .eastwards. Perhaps they just don't like us whites as much
. . .for valid/invalid reasons of their own. Not always true of
. . .course, but every rule is confirmed by the exceptions.
. . .This was our general impression anyhow.

Be prepared to be patient in your timing here, or do not go with wheels. Planes on the other hand seem to fly on time.

The coastal drive east to Ende is beautiful. Flores has endless mountain ranges, volcanoes, bamboo forests. Twisties the whole way but not hilly.

Sea view, mosque, volcano en route to Ende.

Flores is a gorgeous island. Absolutely superb driving and riding. Highest marks.

But creature-comforts-wise, less than ideal for the Four Seasons set!


---------------

Kelimutu Volcano Lakes: The tiny village of Moni [map link] is a tourist-busy place in some seasons – although not this specific rainy one. It's close to the base of the beautifulKelimutu Volcano [terrain map link] with the splendid lakes atop – photos below.

The Hotel Flores in Moni, well, for now it's likely the least-bad place in town at a wallet-busting $25 – the only place in this teensie village with hot water, when if you are fortunate to find someone who knows how to turn it on. The water pressure is challenge #2 – run by a pump the staff also has to also turn on, which they do intermittently when you chase them down a few times daily. They have no bread or eggs for breakfast, but make you a so-so crepe. We carried crackers and peanut butter, plus make our own coffee almost daily – a wise precaution even in USA/Canada where coffee generally sucks.

There's this really creepy courtyard garden that's decaying and weird; a quasi-Japanese little arched bridge of dirty ugly concrete, Med-style stucco; and it's all dominated by a huge Mary Mother of Jesus statue that holds court from a corner. But they do have some koy in the pond.

The entire place is evidently under construction since a few years back, an old copy of Lonely Planet comments on the same; it actually looks like it's closed. So your welcome is a mess of lumber, sand and bamboo scaffolding. The owner has clearly run out of money or is not paying attention – likely both.

Internet? None in the entire town.

The staff are friendly enough, but frankly thick. As a brick.

For example, tourists are advised in the guide books to see the volcano at dawn in order to catch the magnificent changing colours of the three lakes. The young lady who manages the hotel, the very existence of which depends on volcano tourists after all, said 'no problem,' she'd be up at 4 AM, give us breakfast and we can take off.

Except she forgot. Or slept in. Or cared less. Likely all of the above.

At 4 AM no water pressure for a shower let alone a coffee, no staff around, front doors locked, we tried every door in vain – no way we were getting out. Damn her lazy incompetence. When asked at 9 AM about why did it happen, she shrugged and said nothing.

So the first day, instead of volcano climbing, we rode to the town of Wolojita which reputably makes gorgeous woven cloth and is high in the mountains. The cloth struck us as being too costly at $100 for a big piece – although it turns out we were wrong and ought to have bought some. But the road there, OMG so bad. We were planning to go an extra 25 km but just gave up, it was going to kill us and the bike.

So very bad was that skinny one-lane mountain road, with tire-slashing sharp-edged potholes by the hundreds. Twenty kilometres was more than plenty. We hit the first town and turned back.

Exploring a horrid mountain road.
It was actually much worse than this in parts.
video

'Jesus is my homeboy' T-shirt
in town of Wolojita
Click to zoom, see the heavily stained bettel nut teeth.
Women especially in the region – not pretty smiles!

So we finally saw the volcano the next afternoon. In the rain. In heavy clouds. On our way out of town.

The road up to the volcano is narrow but good.
One bad section Thao had to walk as precaution.
video

And it was up there that I discovered a dangerously defunct, clearly defective rear tire. The good news is I discovered it sooner versus later. In another 100 km it might have been to late, at minimum a cause of serious road rash for us and the bike.

Kelimutu volcano lakes explanation
Kelimutu volcano 3 amazing lakes of very different colours.
The brown one - cocoa/coffee colour.

---------------

Kid has a worm-collection business.
Mie Goreng (fried noodle) lunch wagon.
Bamboo pedestrian bridge encountered en route to Moni.

---------------

Maumere: Two weeks of waiting for a tire. Maumere is 100 km from Kelimutu and has communication facilities, plus a fine resort. Internet even.

It was a gamble to ride on this nearly-gone tire through splendid twisty mountain roads, but it was that or truck the bike. Finding a truck and big steel ramp for a heavy bike like this? No way, hardly even worth looking.

Lucky I checked in the nick of time or we'd have ended this trip in hospital. I'll bet hospitals here have lousy air conditioning. Even worse, the bike might have been scratched while bouncing down a steep cliff.

Discovered this atop Kelimutu.
Tire is perfect except one small section complete GONE!
This is the other side of the same tire – perfect.
Factory defects happen.
Check your tires lying on ground and rotating wheel - often!
Garage that mounted tire; most sophisticated tire shop in town.
First time they installed tire backwards. Oops.

About the defective tire, if biker types are interested.
---------------

Matt flew in for another visit, which was great. We'd SMS'd him about the delay, he'd never visited Maumere, so he hopped on a plane. Spent another week exploring with him and hangin' out.

Father Heindrich Bollen & his missions in Maumere region: Maumere is on the island of Flores [map link]. We were there for two full weeks due to the faulty rear tire, could not continue until a new one was sent by a friend from Singapore.

But bad luck sometimes turns good.

We chanced upon the Catholic-church run Sea World Club [link.] German Father Bollen has been here 50 years [sic] and what a fine human being he is, and a fun one to be with. Religious preferences quite aside – he started a few orphanages and homes for handicapped kids, assisted financially by the fine resort which turns a small profit and some individual followers. Other Fathers we met started schools and other public services. We toured a few of these remarkable facilities: Mind-blowingly good.

We've seen charity-run places world-wide, many in Africa – this group tops the list. About as good as it gets. We could not be more impressed.

Check out Sea World Club [link] as an inexpensive, mellow, laid back beach and scuba/snorkel destination resort: Excellent German-run quality in the midst of a 'developing' Indonesian area. Reserve one of the beach bungalows for sure, nothing else. They are perfectly clean, very comfortable, excellent air conditioning – and you sit on your beachside verandah and watch the sun set over the bay every evening. One of the best places we have encountered in Indonesia once you get away from the big Euro-American 'formula' hotels – the latter you can visit anywhere anytime. This is special and memorably different. Better.

Blind girl who loves the Coke Father Bollen always brings her.
She sings well too and clearly loves, loves him – it's very mutual.
Church holds 1,000; is packed for 2 services, one for kids.
Playground as art: At the handicapped kids home,
an Indonesia artist made the funnest playground we've ever seen.
Those are monkeys sliding down the large climb-'n-play-thing.
A braille bathroom wall in the playground!
Two polio brothers the Father supports, visits weekly.
We gave out balloons and cookies/candy.
Balloons were a short-lived thrill however.
Handless Jesus: 'You are my hands.'
That's a Canada T-shirt
Thao gives out cookies. Kid is wide-eyed: Wow a cookie!

If anyone is interested in making a donation to a charity of this kind, links to some of the charities are in the Sea World blog. We can attest first-hand that every dollar is well spent and reaches the intended recipients, versus big organizational overhead and marketing costs.

Matt and Wheezy left a few hundred bucks in donations – enough to house/educate a few kids for many weeks/months; it's not expensive here. My hunch is most hotel guests end up leaving some extra cash behind when they see the fine work that has been done by quality volunteers.

Village we visited where they make cloth
from raw cotton and dye using plants only.
Traditional village band welcomes us.
Village woman makes thread the old fashioned way.
A smoking welcome step 1:
Each of us were given a welcome bowl of beetle nut, cigarette, spices.
A smoking welcome step 2:
Starting a fire by rubbing sticks.
A smoking welcome step 3:
Kindling turns to fire.
A smoking welcome step 4:
Lighting the local-made cig's, (a not bad cig!)

Scuba diving from Maumere: It's an excellent dive and snorkel area, with reefs right in front of the hotel beach, or an hour's boat ride away there's cliff diving.

The Sea World Club has a dive shop and equipment for rent ($80 all-in for 2-dive boat trip), so Matt and I went. There are massive whale sharks in the area, manta rays and sting rays, fish of every variety and great corals/plants.

All went well until our dive master attached my BCD (Buoyancy Compensation Device) to the air tank as we were getting ready to go in – it was defective. I couldn't dive. Triple-damn. So I did a little snorkeling, Matt did two 1-hour dives (good breathing Matt!) and was raving how beautiful it was – among the prettiest dive sites he has experienced. No whale sharks today however.

Outbound at some 20 knots, we stopped after encountering a huge school of dolphins, our estimate 60-100 of them, feeding and jumping from the water in groups of a half-dozen, just spectacular. While boating, small schools often play in your bow wave: It once happened to me, perhaps a dozen stuck with me for a few great hours on the USA east coast, just having fun and being friends with the boat, it was a touching and spectacular encounter. The Indonesia encounter was even more spectacular, such a huge school and really hunting and jumping – as Matt said 'it was worth the trip alone.'

Between dives our guides took us to one of the world's most perfect islands, actually a sandbar of perhaps a kilometer in length. Matt or I had seldom or never seen better in our world travels. Evidently no one owns this magnificent island, we asked, it's totally unoccupied. Surrounded 360˚ by the most perfect beach, gradual walk-in ocean and turquoise waters. Close to great scuba and fishing right out front. Perhaps an hour's boat ride from Maumere.

Flawless. Beach perfection. Magnificent.

One could build the most perfect isolated paradise here, sky's the limit in high-end luxury or just close-to-earth, or both. One needs to find water underground and make electricity, but ... Matt and I were awestruck and kept thinking what we could do with it. Just dreams, but very seductive ones: It could be a $5,000-$10,000 a night ultra-paradise private resort with a small airplane landing strip (lots of room for one!) – or one could just go boat-in low-end.

Either way it is breathtaking natural beauty as we have seldom or never seen.

Matt walks the flawless sand in one corner of the island.
The near-perfect paradise beach island?
Darned close, or at least we thought so.
video

----------------

Buy land here? We studied it casually during our two-week tire wait. We were even taken by Father Bollen and the land owner to see a hectare (2.5 acres) of beach front he has for sale. Asking price is US$20,000 – so inexpensive – for beach and more beach looking out on islands and a big bay. Stunning views about a km from Sea World Club. One could build a perfectly nice house there for $30,000. Its close to the power grid and has fresh water, a creek runs nearby. My guess is $60,000 all-in, including legal fees and taxes and all that.

Trouble is, Maumere is a pretty dead town, although it has an airport and decent flight schedules, it has reputably not recovered from the big tsunami of the 1992 which destroyed it. Why not? No idea – but it just has not happened. No good restos, one supermarket that is so-so, and not much for sale. It would mean flying stuff in from Bali which is an hour away by air. That's the big downside.

If, like many, one does not need much city life and just wants seaside perfection ...

Buy 2.5 acres of this kind of beach for $15,000?
Build a nice house for $30,000? Tell me its not tempting.
The actual beach section offered to us.
That's a fresh water stream running into the sea.
Maumere town market
Attractive woven bamboo on outside of houses,
typical in the area even in smallest villages. They do have their art.
Taylor shop in town.
Not exactly Saks but the latter doesn't sell $2 custom shirts.
Jousuf (Father Bollen's nephew) plays with kids.
Market scene.
Chess in quiet moment at market. Chess? In rural Indonesia?
Whew, heavy: Kid gives world the angry finger.
Good sense of humour underlies.

----------------

Finally with a new tire – and with a vitally necessary visa extension the local Immigration office granted due to the emergency (plus $100 cash) – we did the last 130 km from Maumere to the end of the island and town of Larantuka [map link].

Excellent twisty road through forests.

From there one catches a twice-weekly ferry to Kupang [map link].

We had some time on our hands awaiting the 1 PM twice-weekly ferry, so spent two and a half days at the spectacular $20 Hotel Tresna. It's a good place to avoid, the whole damn town. The hotel. The food. The town. Everything. But if you need to catch a ferry, there's no choice.

The local priest we sought out, told us this was the best place in town, even kindly led us there. Maybe it's the best, but no sheets. No shower, just a tub of cold water that gets filled intermittently when the town turns on the pump. No brekkie – peanut butter and coffee time.

We bought some pirated DVD's – 8 movies on a single DVD for $1.50 = a pretty good deal! Most are even playable. Plus some Indonesian whiskey at $3 for a hip flask – and worth every penny, for the finest paint cleaner quality.

Well, we didn't come here for snob culture eh? Good thing not, because the local food, sold from fabric tent-stands across the road, and a couple joints in town – was simply pathetically bad. B. A. D. The worst.

I tossed my rubber-texture fish discretely back into the ocean when the outdoor BBQ chef wasn't looking. The iced tea was beyond sweet, Thao couldn't swallow it and they didn't sell water or anything else. Her pork kebabs were also inedible rubber.

Indeed in two days we found no food, just ate stuff from packages and what little we could from the food stands.

Nightly I got drunk, Thao a bit tipsy, as we watched American action heros outgunning bad guys, as illegally taped right from a movie screen by some guy with a camera and tripod. That's what the $1.50 6-movie DVD's were – camera-taped copies from a screen. Sometimes the camera jiggled and was slanted, other times not. Subtitles in Indonesian. Luckily my MacBook Pro plays even the worst DVD's.

Then came ferry time, at 1 PM Feb 15, we boarded at 11 AM to be safe ... it's not a 4 PM departure as most rumours had it. Even the Pelni office told us wrong times. Good thing we checked and re-checked bad info. It's 1 PM to 6 AM next day – at least nowadays.

----------------

Ferry ride from hell – unless you are lucky about calm-ish seas as we were. Plus, unless you do as I did, which is to bribe a crew member $40 (negotiated down from $60) to get his private room. Good thing I did, or true misery would have resulted for this Canadian biker trash team.

The only alternative is to sleep on huge plywood bunks sans mattress (you can rent a 1" thick foam pad) that hold fifty of your favourite sleeping companions at a time, plus their luggage, in a big room. Blaring TV and bad music all night, music so loud it hurts the ears. Maybe all this is acceptable for backpackers, but it's too much roughing-it for us.

Plywood bunks for all passengers, even 'first class' paying ones.
Except us: Rented crewman's room in 'private' deal.

Thanks to Mr Crewman we had his electric fan, with windows always open – which was still insufficient ventilation. Plus a tiny private bathroom with bucket and squatter. We were able to doze on and off, lying naked in the sweltering heat.

That is, when poor Thao wasn't up-chucking from the motion sickness, which she did much of the night. At least she was able to throw up in privacy. Down on the car deck there was someone's vomit all over the floor next to Black Bike, plus many other places aboard.

At 6 AM the boat docked. Our crewman's bucket of water was too dirty to bother bathing in, so we just dressed hot 'n sweaty.

However at unloading, the boat's ramp to the concrete dock had a huge 1' drop – higher than my ground clearance or that of most cars/bikes. The crew dropped a pile of thick rope to try smooth out the drop a tad – but in my case insufficiently. A huge painful THUD as my engine hit the steel ramp hard, even at a crawl speed; the bike stopped dead straddling the ramp. I had visions of a cracked oil pan. Mercifully, upon checking, no visible damage.

A couple men lifted the front of bike a tad, I gassed it and made it over the extremely dumb hump.

Dumb? Very. A head-shaker of Olympian dumbness. They do this trip twice a week, facing the same no-brainer problem each time with countless paying customers. Cars and bikes by the dozens must smash their bottoms. Why has no one bothered to make a couple wood or metal triangles to bridge the gap and solve this dead-simple problem? The cost might be $20 tops using local $2/day labour and scrap materials.

Because no one gives a damn, 'Not My Job' syndrome – that's why. That shrug-off attitude is scary in the shipping business, which is highly maintenance-intensive. If they cannot solve a 1' ramp gap, what can they fix? Not by coincidence is Indonesia world-famed on the front page for its oft-sinking ferries and dead passengers.

But finally we were ashore on the island of Timor, our last ferry ride of the trip blessedly behind us.

Now to find a good hotel, get into a shower, wash our clothes and get some much-needed sleep.

--------------

Timor island (Indonesian side), 3 days:

Kupang [map link]. Found what we needed at the highly recommended
Sylvia Hotel, which is business-like, about $35 on the south end of town. It has a basic buffet breakfast, an acceptable restaurant, wi-fi in the lobby at a very reasonable $1 for four hours, lots of English TV, air conditioned comfortable room and hot water shower. What a relief after the last three miserable nights – like checking into a Hyatt after a camping trip.

Kupang is a big town, the capital and largest of the East region. But there's not much we can say to recommend it as a destination – although there are evidently nice islands and scuba diving nearby. If you choose to linger there is evidently good stuff to do: Lonely Planet offers suggestions. It also has flights and ferries to many other places, a regional transport hub.

To us however, being anxious to get to Oz after almost a year in SE Asia, Kupang was just a necessary waypoint en route. But for most travellers, at least it's big enough to have whatever you may need, being the first big city in a long time.

Two nights later we had caught up on our R&R and found a good bike-wash place, so headed 200 km east to
Kefamenanu [map link] on a winding but well-paved road made for easygoing twisty riding. It's all inland, no mountains and not much to see.

Found the year-old Chinese-owned
Livero Hotel, $30, for room with balcony, bright and spacious and clean, best in town for sure. No internet.

Our last hotel in Indonesia.
Friendly staff gathers for goodbye to Black Bike (also to us.)

Searched in vain for a nice meal to celebrate our last night in Indonesia after nearly three months here, but there were no good restos around. Just the ubiquitous ‘masakan padang’ places with iffy-looking stuff in bowls on display that you put over a plate of rice for $2-$3 each.

Next day we took off for East Timor – about 100 km to the border.

The last 10-20 km is on a ridiculously bad country narrow road that Indonesia intentionally neglects because they are not exactly in love with their neighbours, countless thousands of whom they brutally killed not long ago (see East Timor blog); still egg on the official face and ego perhaps. Nor do they evidently wish to make things easy for folks who travel back and forth. No signage either, you have to ask locals repeatedly which way to turn. A transparent official pout.

But contrary to expectations, the border crossing was a snap. No issues, no delay, no departure tax, no bribery.

The 'guides' at Indonesian Customs even changed our remaining Indonesian Rupiah to US$ at a reasonable rate – 10,000:1 which is about 5% higher than we paid to buy the Rupiah. Not bad.

Everyone was just courteous and professional – even though they have virtually almost zero road tourists crossing here. One cop told me so.

Expecting as I was, to be regarded as a 'mark,' a white guy on a fancy big bike going to a place they don't like –I was impressed to be very well treated.

---------------

Bye-Bye Indonesia: After three months it was goodbye Indonesia. For now!

We loved most of it. A lot.

The further eastwards you get from Bali, the markedly less developed it gets. Increasingly basic; much more Third-World; far less industry, verging on none; far less tourism, also approaching none; food gets worse to the point of disappointingly bad or awful; accommodation quality decreases dramatically. Way downhill over-all. There are much better places to travel in enormous Indonesia.

The people, seem – well no better way to put it – slower. Many we encountered verging on borderline thick. Poorer for sure. Less facial expressions, less smiles, cooler greetings. Generally what appeared to us as less-friendly to yellow-white biker trash.

A positive optimistic spark was just plain missing. We saw little in the way of trying to make things happen, or happen better. A major jolt of can-do, must-do is needed. Maybe it's just not in the culture or the genes.

Perhaps they are more resigned in the eastern end, to a fate of a same-same future. Perhaps the Government in Jarkarta is more out-of-sight-out-of-mind.

That's how we perceived it daily and commented between us frequently. Our experienced impression does not bode well for the distant future of the region. Compared for example, to Vietnam, Malaysia, or Thailand – all places where one sensed so much more go-go even in the boonies. Even further West in Indonesia.

In any event, we'll certainly be back to this vast and extremely varied country.

One must explore Java, Sumatra, Papua, Borneo ... and just soak in lovely Bali and Lombok – places where one could live in quite different forms of paradise.

What a huge magnificent country of so many human cultures; so many brilliant and rare natural wonders– both living and geographic.

We recommend strongly that you put it high on your travel-exploration list – whether you are a 5-star resort person, a backpacker or somewhere between. Various regions cater to all levels, inexpensively so.

A big wow.

Very big. Unforgettable wow.







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