Week 1 with Cushla :)
07.08.2013 - 18.08.2013
So, where did I leave ye...? At the end of my stint on Hoga I believe.. I left Hoga at the crack of dawn on a fine Wednesday morning, having had barely 3 hours sleep, and joined between 5 and 10 other dive staff on our journeys away from there. It began on one of our long, narrow dive boats and a very slow trip (cos of the relatively big waves – our boat was the only where most of the people didn't get a good soaking!) across the channel to the port on Kaledupa to meet the public fast ferry to Baubau via Wanci. Some people disembarked at Wanci for flights on to Makassar (note to self: that route is much faster!), but most of us went as far as Baubau, where we spent the night. It was Eid – the Muslim celebration at the end of Ramadan, so the town was as buzzing as it probably ever can be. The following day we all took the tiny propellor plane across the southern end of Sulawesi to Makassar, where we had to say more goodbyes. Finally there were just three of us that flew onto Bali that evening. And at the airport we all went our separate ways.
Cushla was waiting for me at Bali aiport, her flight having gotten in not so long before mine. And so we added another country to our list of random meeting places around the world. We spent the night in Kuta as it's cheap and close to the airport. It's also got lots of restaurants that serve western food – I was in heaven trying to decide what to eat after 3 weeks of rice and veggies (I exaggerate of course, slightly!). The following morning we flew to Labuan Bajo on the island of Flores. We almost missed our flight! As it was the end of Ramadan, alot of people were on the move, and the domestic departure terminal at Denpasar airport was chock a block. By the time our flight was due to take off, we still hadn't checked in! We were fast-tracked to the desk and rushed thro' everything and finally got on our flight about a half hour after it was supposed to have left, with about half of the other passengers: clearly (and fortunately) we weren't the only ones to have been caught out by the post-Ramadan rush.
It was motor-bike taxis from the airport in Labuan Bajo to our accommodation, with my massive dive bag in front at the driver's feet! Labuan Bajo turned out to be a lovely little place, in my opinion at least. Some people we met felt it was very dirty, but honestly, it had a lovely atmosphere to it and a stunning harbour, and the dirt (I didn't think it was that bad) didn't bother me at all.
So, Labuan Bajo is the gateway to Komodo National Park: an area full of islands between the larger islands of Flores (in the east) and Sumbawa (in the west). The area is probably most well-known due to the famous Komodo dragon – a massive monitor lizard found on the islands of Komodo and Rinca. But it's underwater attractions have been drawing a growing number of visitors to the area, with numbers of dive centres exploding in recent years. We had hoped to do a liveaboard diving trip in the park, but the popularity of the area was much greater than I had expected, and so our attempts at reserving a spot two months in advance were fruitless, at least with the dive centres that had been recommended to me by Ben, a friend of mine from Dive Safari Asia, who knows the area really well. August is of course high season in Indonesia, so advance bookings for almost everything are very necessary (which sucks as I hate advance booking things – what if you want to move on sooner/stay longer? Playing it by ear is the way I prefer to travel..). Fortunately, from Labuan Bajo you can reach almost all of the best sites Komodo N.P. has to offer on a day boat, and so we had booked into the very professional Divine Diving for three days of diving.
Our first day of diving was AMAZING! Our first dive was on what is definitely the most pristine coral reef I've ever dived on. It was healthy and colourful and there wasn't a patch of rock that didn't have something growing on it. The visibility was crystal clear and I just really do not have the words to describe how beautiful it was – I could have stayed down there for a long time. On our second dive that day we did a drift dive over some fairly boring terrain – mostly dead coral, along a transect known for the presence of feeding manta rays – they love the current. And we were not to be disappointed – we saw eight, yes, EIGHT manta rays on our dive – it was INCREDIBLE!! I was utterly speechless after the dive. We were so lucky! We saw a group of three, a group of two and three individuals. One of them swam right over me – the adrenalin was pumping something else as it was approaching – I was trying to sink myself as deep as the sea bed would allow in case it would...do something to me lol! I don't know what it would do, but they are such big creatures, that when they approach you like that, it's kinda scarey! In a good way Our third dive that day – well, it was a pretty normal dive, if I remember rightly – nothing spectacular about it compared with the previous two.
Unfortunately I had in fact begun to feel sick the day we travelled to Labuan Bajo. I put it down to a few nights of bad, short sleep beginning on my last night in Hoga (and my incredibly unresilient immune system, which seems to give up at all the most inopportune moments). So that first day of diving I had literally drugged myself up on a mixture of things to make sure I could clear my sinuses while underwater – something I would never do in the normal way of things, but I did not want to miss dives in Komodo. But that first day of diving, plus the night out that followed (with a great bunch of people we'd met on the boat), put paid to any hopes I'd had of diving on day two. Instead I spent the morning having a much-needed lie-in and the rest of the day being very sedentary. It was an unfortunate day to miss, as Cushla saw ten reef sharks on one of the sites they dived at that day – TEN!!! Suffice to say, Komodo N.P. is definitely a place to go diving to see pelagics – the currents in the area are very strong, and that's what attracts the big fish
I did dive on day three: there was another stunning reef dive followed by a great muck dive (where you look for the little stuff in the muck). The third dive of the day was a “dry dive” on Rinca Island, where we went dragon-hunting. We hiked about the island for maybe an hour or so, but we had seen all the dragons we were going to see before we left the information area. There were four dragons hanging about there (they get fed, altho' this is denied, by the park wardens), but as it was the afternoon, they were all siesta-ing and didn't look in the slightest bit threatening or amazing.. They looked half-dead to be honest, some of them even looked like their skin was hanging off their bodies. I think maybe early morning or late evening would be a better time to spot the dragons, as this is when they are more active.
As I was still unwell in the sinus/ear department, we decided to leave Labuan Bajo and travel further east into Flores. We had flights back to Bali booked, so we had 7 full days on Flores. On day 4 we travelled as far as Ruteng – a 4 hour drive on a very windy road. But the views were fabulous. I could see why the Portuguese had named the island as they did, because there were flowers of all sorts and colours all over the place. It really was beautiful, with the blue blue sky, the lush green vegetation and then all the smatterings of colourful flowers. Of course, (and this is where it all begins to get a bit ridiculous!), en route to Ruteng, something wierd started to happen to my left eye... It began to swell up and there were funny darting feelings inside it. It was horrible! When we arrived in Ruteng I took out my contact lense immediately (I was only wearing one as the other had been a bit funny the previous day, so I'd left it out that day). By evening time my eye was well and truly swollen, and by the following morning: well, I couldn't open either eye without using my fingers to prise my eyelids apart, they were so stuck together with green icky stuff. My right eye was still normal looking, but my left eye looked like it belonged to someone from Asia – it was so swollen and tiny and slanted looking. I was a little bit worried to tell the truth. I've never had eye problems before, so I didn't know what it could be. An infection of some sort for sure, but bacterial/parasitical/viral? My imagination was on over-drive and I could see myself going blind – that's a really bloody scarey thought! First thing that morning we went to the local hospital in Ruteng. I seemed to get ushered thro' all formalities very quickly despite the large number of people sitting around waiting. I had to pay a grand total of 10,000 Indonesia Rupiah (13,000 is approximately 1 euro) to see a doctor and I ended up with my own private translator, who laughed shyly as the doctor asked her to ask me questions. Anyways, in about 10 minutes I left the hospital with a prescription for antibiotics (my second course in 6 weeks – way to go Aoife!) and antibacterial (I assume) eye-drops as well as directions to the nearest pharmacy. There I paid a little bit more than a euro for the meds, and entertained the locals as Cushla put the drops in. From there we walked into the town centre to check it out, while I tried not to scratch my super-itchy eye (or to scratch it when Cushla wasn't looking, cos otherwise I'd get a scolding lol!).
Ruteng wasn't a very exciting place. I believe there are things to do outside the town, but you need a driver or a motorbike to get to them. We didn't have either that day, and we weren't particularly in the mood to go looking for them. So we just wandered. The second night we were there, we stayed at a convent!! It was so so clean and really cheap. It was always full – it's a popular place to stay in Ruteng, altho' to be fair it doesn't have that much competition! It was lovely to wake to the sound of nuns singing rather than the call to prayer from the minaret (but I'd still rather that no religion woke me at the crack of dawn!). I left Ruteng the following day, still wary about my eye and wanting to be closer to Bali where there are “decent” (western standard) hospitals – so I went back to Labuan Bajo where you're only a flight away from Bali. I had booked myself in for some more diving on days 6 and 7 of our week on Flores, but I had to cancel them on account of my eye (I was still coughing a very dry raspy cough too, so diving wouldn't have been a good idea whatever way you looked at it!). Cushla stayed in Ruteng until the last day, and I hung out in Labuan Bajo enjoying some me-time and some internet-time too. In the evenings I hung out with people I'd met at the dive centre. Somewhat surprisingly, Labuan Bajo is full of amazingly good restaurants – there are apparently a lot of Italians living in the area. And so each evening I went somewhere different with someone different and enjoyed the delicious food and the great company. On our 7th full day on Flores, Cushla came back and we got ready for our next destination: Lombok.
I have to say, I really took to Labuan Bajo and the diving in Komodo N.P., despite only having done 5 dives there! It's definitely on my list of places to go back to, and even tho' we often say that but never re-visit the places, something tells me this is one that I will return to.
At this point I am home again, and have begun uploading photos into my Indonesia album, but there are *a lot* more to go!