Monday, 26 May 2014

The Elusive Ferry and the Three Coloured Lakes - Flores

After our final awesome breakfast at Happy Happy, we got on the road and on our way. The plan was to get to the famous Kelimutu, swinging by the town of Ende on the way to enquire about ferries to Timor. As we had come to expect from Flores, the drive served up some incredible scenery, combined with twisty spaghetti roads. Whilst we quite enjoy the corners, they are evidently not to everyone's taste. As we followed a pick-up full of people, one poor man leaned out of the back and vomited spectacularly. It really was quite impressive, albeit not something we felt the need to look at too closely. Oli braked sharply, then overtook as soon as the opportunity presented itself.

The mountain road eventually hit the coast, skirting around the cliff edge, and swooping up and down past picture-perfect ocean views. The sea was a vibrant turquoise, its colour enhanced by the black sand of the beach. Some of the beaches were pebble rather than sand, the stones an unusual colour, almost a duck-egg blue/green. Sadly their unique shape and hue makes them a desirable commodity, and they are much in demand. The local villagers were collecting huge sacks of them. The scale of the removal was terrible, and it seemed quite possible that the pebble beaches will soon be gone forever. To make things worse, people were still living in poverty, so they do not seem to be benefiting from the destruction. Probably a middle-man buys the goods for a pittance, and is selling them on for a huge profit.

Our coastal drive brought us into Ende. We had heard that ferries departed from here to Timor, but had not been able to find out the day. We assumed it would be a simple case of asking around, as surely somebody would know. Unfortunately however, I don't think it is an exaggeration to say that nobody had the slightest of clues. Annoyingly nobody actually admits that they don't know, and instead just makes up a day. In the course of asking around we ended up with confident answers covering every day of the week, at varying times and even from varying locations. Even the police officer manning the empty port didn't know, but guessed Saturday.

After an hour of fruitless questioning we were no further forward than when we had arrived, although we had seen the coast again. Somebody had said the boat to Kupang usually went from Nga Keo port, ten miles back down the road. Nobody knew anything about it there either. Slightly frustrated, we decided to abandon the mission and work out our options later.

Moni village was not far away, and we were keen to get there and kick back. Of course it was not that simple, and just a few kilometres out of Ende we encountered a road block. The cause of this was some pretty hefty roadworks, which seemed to be aiming at widening the narrow mountain route. With not many roads there was no chance of a detour, so we joined the gang of scooters and lorries steadily building up. After about half an hour they let the bikes go, which involved a rather exciting element as we had to tightly squeeze between a digger and a cliff edge. Happily, the rest of the drive was far easier, the only thrill being the gorgeous mountain scenery on the way.

Flores accommodation so far had been relatively expensive for what is on offer, so our expectations were fairly low. However, we were pleasantly surprised to find that the first place we asked at was clean, decent and within our ideal budget. The price even included hot water, a luxury for us these days. Also staying there were a Dutch couple. It was the lady's birthday, so we all celebrated with a dinner at the fanciest restaurant in town (all things being relative). The food was decent, very local fare. A nice change from the usual offering of rice and noodles.

We arrived back at our guest house to find that the owner had decided to throw a party by way of birthday celebrations. In all honesty I think it was mostly an excuse to have his mates round for an arak (local, home made palm spirit) drinking session. We hung around for a while enjoying the guitar playing and singing of one of the guys, but after a while left them to it. We had been told that the best time to see Kelimutu was sunrise, so tucked in to bed and hoped the early start would be worth it.

Kelimutu is perhaps the best known attraction on Flores island. At the peak of the mountain are three volcanic lakes. What makes them special is the fact that they regularly change in colour, with turquoise, green, chocolate and red all being reported over the years. At the time of our visit one was aqua, one chocolate, and one dark green. However, just two months before our visit the chocolate one had been turquoise in colour. Nobody is entirely sure on the reasons for the colour shifts, but it is widely hypothesised to be related to changing mineral contents in the water.

Oli and I usually avoid sunrise excursions, but after the experience of Bromo we had started to reconsider this stance. We were up accordingly at 4:30, riding the bike up a steep, winding mountain to get to the national park gate. I went in to buy our tickets, and was disappointed to find that not only were  tickets considerably more expensive for foreigners, but that there was also a fee for taking in a camera. The camera fee itself cost more than both our tickets together, and was also ten times more expensive for us than if an Indonesian person had wished to bring in theirs. I complained politely to the ticket attendant, who just looked uncomfortable and giggled in response. Dual pricing has been my pet hate of travelling, and has been an issue in almost every country since Turkey. I just don't think it is a very nice way to treat visitors.

We parked up the bike and began the short climb up to the lakes. In the dark we could see that it was a little misty, but we hoped that it would begin to clear as the sun rose. Sadly, it did not. If anything, it got worse. We climbed all the way to the top and stood despairingly as the cloud swirled around us. Sunrise was non existent, just a gradual realisation that it was no longer dark. At one point the mist cleared slightly for about ten seconds, affording us a tiny glimpse of the vibrantly coloured aqua lake. Gradually the other tourists peeled away and went home, leaving just us and three other visitors. We got chatting to one of them, who was an Indonesian traveller and blogger from Java. He was a lovely guy, and told us that this was his third attempt at seeing the lakes, with each visit being thwarted by the weather. Eventually he decided to leave also, so we wished him luck for next time.

We sat it out for a little while longer, before also deciding that conditions were unlikely to improve. On the way back down we walked to the edge of the turquoise lake to see if we could get a closer look, but again only got a tiny glimpse when the mist gave us a few seconds grace. Wanting to try and get our moneys worth from the camera fee, we instead consoled ourselves with looking at the interesting patterns and colours in the rocks around us. All in all it had been a bit of a disappointing visit, especially considering that it had been a significant detour for us. We walked back to the bike, feeling slightly dejected. To make things even better, it rained on us all the way back down the mountain, making the road treacherous and slippy. We couldn't even photograph the beautiful rice paddies, as the camera lens kept steaming up.


Back in Moni, we were looking forward to a relaxing day, planning to just sit on the porch and watch village life trundle by. After doing this for most of the day we went for a nap, then awoke to bright sunshine. As we looked up at the hills it seemed that conditions were clear. With nothing to lose we thought we might as well try again, so hurriedly put on our bike gear and scrambled up the mountain in the fading afternoon light.


When we arrived at the park gate, the ticket officer wanted us to pay again. This seemed decidedly unfair to us, seeing as our morning views had consisted of bugger all. Luckily I am not too dignified to beg, and just pleaded desperately until the lady wavered and allowed us through. At this we switched to thanking her profusely, then carried on for the last few kilometres to the car park. We marched up to the lakes as quickly as possible, huffing and puffing due to our questionable fitness. There wasn't much light left in the day, and we very much wanted to make the most of it.

It was well worth the effort. In the clear light of the evening we were in a completely different world, nothing like the foggy soup of the morning. The landscape was revealed as an epic and rocky expanse, the lakes themselves sitting brightly within. The colours of the aqua and chocolate lakes were enhanced beautifully by the evening sun, and the views from the top were fantastic. We sat for a while drinking it all in, very glad that we had given it another chance.


The light was fading fast, and if at all possible we wanted to get down the harder part of the road before the dark set in. Oli however decided he couldn't resist trying to chuck some stones into the lakes, so instead we spent the last rays of sunlight doing this. The walls of the lakes are a lot higher than they appear from the top, as the stones fell for a long time before making any noise. We got back to the bike just as night fell, working our way back down the hair-pin bends of the road. With almost no light pollution the stars were beautiful. We paused on the side of the road to better admire them, thousands of twinkling lights against a jet-black sky.

We rather liked Moni village, so the next morning were toying with staying an extra day. A lot of asking around had confirmed that there should be a ferry to Kupang from Aimere on Saturday, so we had a day to kill either in Moni or back in Bajawa. The peaceful atmosphere of the village was definitely tempting us to stay, but after a little deliberation we decided it was more practical to go back to Bajawa for a night.

The included breakfast at our hotel was tasty but small, so we greedily decided to go out for a second. Opposite the restaurant we saw a couple of cars stop, with tourists getting out, disappearing along a path for a while, then coming back. Thinking there must be something worth seeing down there, we thought we might as well take a detour before walking home.

As we started to descend the footpath, we were met by three elderly ladies, their teeth stained red by chewing betel nuts. We greeted each other and walked on, Oli and I noticing that each of them was carrying an enormous machete. Carrying knives has been fairly common throughout rural Indonesia, but especially so in Flores. Even young children can often be seen casually  wandering around with eighteen inch blades either in their hands or strapped to their belts. Of course here they are used for practical purposes, but we could easily imagine the national crisis and Daily Mail headlines if the same situation was to be transplanted to England.

It turned out that the footpath led to a waterfall, set prettily within the woodland. In front of it was a slightly precarious looking bamboo bridge. Oli went to check it out, and we were both impressed that the old ladies must regularly navigate it. It was a tranquil spot, with no noise other than the sound of running water. It would have been easy to stay for a while, but alas we needed to get back on the road. 


It was a tough 100 miles back to Bajawa. We had to pass the same roadworks as before, waiting on the roadside as lorries cleared huge loads of soil and dumped it into the ravine. Due to lack of detour options in much of Asia, it is often necessary to ride right through the thick of major works. Mostly this is okay, but sometimes it can be a little unnerving. Waiting on the road whilst somebody goes at the crumbling cliff above with a pneumatic drill is perhaps not the safest of situations. Thankfully we made it back to Bajawa unscathed, and spent a pleasant evening relaxing back at the Happy Happy Hotel.

Ideally we would have liked to spend the next night in Bajawa rather than heading down the mountain to Aimere. However, estimates for the ferry departure time ranged between seven a.m. and two p.m. As the boats are not exactly frequent, we couldn't run the risk of missing it, so decided to ride to Aimere and spend the night there. Somewhat predictably accommodation options were limited. We ended up in a just about acceptable place, complete with a menagerie of cockroaches and mosquitoes. The bathroom looked like it had never been treated to a good scrub, but the price was right, and it was only for one evening.

Paranoid about missing the boat, we were up and getting ready at 5:30 a.m.. Oli popped down to the port before seven to check if anything was going on, and was told by somebody hanging around that the boat wouldn't leave until the afternoon. Not quite willing to take their word for it, we rested until eight and then went to wait at the port instead. This time the ticket office was open. We purchased our tickets, then were told that we had to buy life insurance to board the boat. We tried in vain to explain that our travel insurance already covered us, then realised we might have to accept it as just one of those stupid rules. Plus, it was only £1 for both of us, so not really worth the argument.

We spent the next seven hours hanging around the port. We talked with one of the port officials, who was not only a lovely guy, but also had a side business brewing arak. He talked us through how it is produced, backed up with illustrative photos from his phone. As well as our port friend, we also met a sweet girl who was moving to Kupang to study English, and also got stalked by some cheeky children. They kept asking us for money, until Oli started babbling Turkish, which seemed to scare them. Amusingly, one of the kids was wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with Thomas the Tank Engine, complete with the phrase “Built for Speed”. I wasn't aware that Thomas was known as a speed freak, but enjoyed it nonetheless.

Interestingly, as we waited inside, we noticed that the insurance guy was not insisting that everyone purchased it. Oli and I were annoyed that we had been singled out, especially as we are probably the only ones who had it already. Oli marched up to the man and asked for our money back. Amazingly, the guy handed it back without a fuss. To be honest we don't even really need life insurance, as its not like we have any assets to sustain or a mortgage to pay. I know it's sad, but getting our £1 refunded felt like a mini victory.

After what seemed like an age, the boat finally arrived at the port, everyone rushing towards the dock in a flurry of activity. As we boarded people were still unloading their cargo, which included two live pigs. One of these was a huge boar, and was not keen on moving at all. At first I thought it was just lazy, then realised that it seemed to be struggling to stand. Its owners were being really rough with it, eventually dragging it off squealing, which was quite upsetting. Unfortunately the pigs had also crapped all over the parking deck, and it was immediately obvious that their mess was going to stay there for the duration of the next crossing. People didn't seem to mind though, as several families were setting up camp on this level.

As soon as the bike was secured we got out of there, looking for a quiet spot. The ferry was heaving with people. It was a new boat, less than two months old, but was not really adequate for the purpose. It was designed as a vehicle ferry, but the vast majority of people on board were foot passengers. There was nowhere near enough capacity for that many people, and everyone had already spilled out of the tiny lounge, setting up camp in the corridors as the dormitory was similarly stuffed. We followed our usual strategy of heading straight to the top of the boat, ending up on the highest deck, entirely devoid of other passengers. Compared with the chaos below, it was almost too good to be true.

We quickly deduced that the reason for this might have had something to do with the “crew only” signs on the doors and the locked emergency exits, something we had entirely missed on our search for peace and quiet. Nobody seemed to mind though, and we even had a large table and two benches to ourselves. The crew also didn't care that we were using their toilets through the night, a real bonus considering that there were just three for men and three for women in the public areas. As if this wasn't awesome enough, we even had a fabulous view of the sunset.


There had to be a catch somewhere. Food has been readily available on all the crossings so far, even if it is just instant noodles. Seeing as this crossing is by far the longest, we assumed it would be no different. We had come prepared with a few supplies, including a chocolate bar that I had purchased for the name alone. Unfortunately the rice cakes we had bought in Bajawa had not fared too well in the heat, and were now inedible. Oli went to go and buy us some food from the cafe, then reappeared looking dejected, with only a pack of biscuits in his hand. We couldn't believe it, packet noodles were even available on the short crossing between Sumatra and Java. This one was going to take a minimum of fifteen hours, and the only food available for purchase on board was biscuits. We bulked out our dinner with a few oranges from our meagre supplies, then settled down to try and get some sleep.


Considering that our beds were just narrow, slatted benches, we slept amazingly well. It was actually quite pleasant sleeping outside in the sea air, even if I did wake up aching every hour or so. We were awake in time for the sunrise, and started to get excited about arriving on dry land. As the boat  cruised steadily along, we saw seemingly infinite flying fish. Neither Oli nor I had ever seen these creatures before, and were amazed at the distances they could cover when out of the water, their silvery bodies gleaming in the sun. The last few hours passed quickly, and it didn't seem like long before we could see the shores of West Timor.


As we approached the docks, Oli and I descended back down to the vehicle deck. It was grim down there. People had made no attempt to keep it clean, and rubbish and fruit peelings were strewn everywhere. The pig crap had been trodden all over the place and dried out, mingling with the litter. Even worse, our bike had been parked by a ladder, and people had used Oli's seat as a stepping stone, treading pig mess all over it. Somewhat fairly I feel, we were not impressed with this. Having actually had quite a pleasant crossing, we were instantly seized with the need to get out of there as quickly as possible.


We had been on the ferry for eighteen hours by the time we disembarked, but were feeling surprisingly good as we rolled off and hit the road. There was light at the end of the tunnel. As a treat, we had booked ourselves into Hotel La Hasienda, a Mexican themed hotel run by a German ex-pat. We had heard great things from other overland travellers, and couldn't wait to arrive. Comfort and cleanliness awaited us.

Monday, 19 May 2014

Island Hopping - Sumbawa to Flores

The crossing from Lombok to Sumbawa took less than two hours. We managed to find a quiet and breezy spot to sit, which made for a pleasant trip. As we approached the coastline, we could see that it was noticeably drier than where we had come from. We had heard that outside of the wet season it could be dusty and arid, so were not sure how enjoyable the riding was going to be. Once we left the port area however, the greenery increased. Although nowhere near as lush as Bali or Lombok, it was certainly not the dust bowl we had expected it to be.


We rode as far as Sumbawa Besar that day. With the exception of a small surfing scene in the south, Sumbawa gets very few tourists. This, combined with the harsher climate, contributes to Sumbawa being considerably less affluent than some of Indonesia's other islands. With this in mind, our expectations for accommodation were not high, so we were very pleasantly surprised to find a perfectly acceptable and affordable room with very little effort indeed.

Knowing that if we got comfortable it would be hard to move again, we set straight out in search of water and fruit. As we innocently drove along we heard a noise behind us, sounding suspiciously like a minor crash. I looked back in the general direction, but couldn't see anything. Oli then saw a man waving at us to stop. We did, but a safe distance down the road. A scooter rider had pulled over and was rubbing his leg. We looked at him for a while and he looked back at us, before apparently deciding that he was fine and driving off. We have no idea what  happened, but think he might have been gawping at us rather than paying attention (a worryingly common event on the roads here), not noticed that we were turning, then maybe tried to squeeze past us, instead hitting the high kerb. Who knows really. Anyway, there was no way we were taking the blame for this, even if the man who had waved for us to stop maybe thought we should.

The next day we were aiming to get to Bima, the closest town of any significance to the ferry port. It was only 160 miles away, but we were very mindful of how long a similar distance could take in Sumatra, so got going early. The roads far surpassed our expectations, curvy but wide and racetrack smooth. This combined with the almost total lack of traffic meant that progress was great. The scenery was also fabulous, and we spent the day cruising through mountains and past pristine bays.


We ended up arriving in Bima far earlier than we had anticipated. The town is still 50km from the port itself, which would have meant a very early start the next morning. We weren't sure if there would actually be anywhere to stay at all in Sepa, but decided to risk it, theorising that there should be at least one option due to the port. The drive there encompassed some of the best scenery of the day, but unhelpfully there were monkeys at all the best viewpoints, so no photos.

We arrived in Sape to find that it was unfortunately a bit of a hole. It consisted of one main street with mostly ramshackle wooden buildings lining both sides. There were two losmens (lorry driver hostels) in town, both of which looked highly unsatisfactory. The room we ended up in was cheap but very grim, with filthy walls and a general air of decline. Still, we can put up with almost anything for one night, so grudgingly agreed to take it. The other guests were all single male travellers, and stared relentlessly at us whenever we happened to be outside at the same time as them. They didn't mean any harm, but it got a bit much for me. I retreated to the room, whilst Oli attempted to out-stare somebody. Apparently this made the guy uncomfortable. I don't know why some people are so persistent in watching us, knowing that they hate it if such behaviour is turned back on them. Also, I am sure they wouldn't be too pleased if Oli was to stare at their wives as they did at me. Never mind.


Eventually the other guests tired of us, and we went out for a walk. Sape was actually quite pretty in the flattering light of the evening, with picturesque views over the glassy shallows. Sadly though, like many places in Indonesia it had a serious litter problem. Even our hotel owner would periodically walk over to the boundary wall and just drop rubbish over the side. Some of it got burnt, but looking at the build up it was very obvious that a lot of it was just left there. I don't know what the solution to this is, but it definitely seems to be more of a problem in some towns than others. In some places, people just don't seem to see chucking rubbish on the floor as wrong.


The ferries between Sumbawa and Flores are nowhere near as frequent as the other crossings that we have done so far. The departures are usually just once a day, early in the morning, with one possibly going in the afternoon if there are enough people. There was no way we wanted to spend an extra day in Sape, so made sure we got to bed early, as we would need to be up with the sunrise. We were pretty sure it wouldn't fill up, but were not happy to risk it, so planned to get there with plenty of time to go.

Our early night was not the success we envisaged. Unfortunately for us, the outside wall had absorbed the afternoon sun, and was now radiating heat into our room with zeal. The fan was not even close to being up to the job, but somehow I managed to fall asleep. I woke up less than two hours later, to see Oli staggering around in the middle of the room, frantically shining a torch around the floor with a crazed look in his eye. Apparently when he had got up to use the facilities he had trodden on a spectacularly large roach, then spotted its even bigger friend, which had been running about at an impressive speed. Oli wanted it dealt with before attempting to go back to sleep, but understandably it was not cooperating with his plans. Eventually I managed to convince him to see it as just a massive beetle, and we once again tried to get some rest.

Sleep was not easy to come by in our hot-box of a room. We tossed and turned, then conceded and went outside for a while to cool off. Eventually we did manage to sleep a little, but were awake again at five thirty. Thinking we might as well get up and get out, we started to pack up our things. There was a plus to all this though, as the sunrise over the water was beautiful to behold. In our keenness to escape Sape, we were the first ones at the ticket desk, then were parked up and settled on the ferry with an hour and a half to go until the departure time.


We thought we had found a nice, quiet corner to while away the seven hour journey, but were sadly mistaken. We were quickly joined by a family. The kids were really sweet, but they then proceeded to tuck in to a supply of boiled eggs and peanuts that could have fed an army. Parents and children just chucked all the peelings and any other rubbish on the floor, despite the fact that they were less than three feet from the bin. In under an hour they had made a horrible mess of that seating area, so we decided to remove elsewhere.

This was definitely the most crowded ferry we had caught so far. The others had all been rather pleasant. We had been starting to think that the bad Indonesian ferries were a myth, but this went some way to doing that reputation justice. We did manage to find a more peaceful spot eventually, sat in the shade on the very top deck. Scenically though, the journey was beautiful. We slowly sailed past seemingly infinite deserted islands, including one that looked volcanic to our eyes, its profile dominating the horizon. The water was gloriously blue, and impossibly smooth for almost the entire crossing. Unfortunately though this surface was very adept at reflecting the sun, and despite being sat in the shade, we managed to get rather burnt.


Seven hours after departure, and almost nine hours since boarding the boat, we arrived at the Flores harbour. We had to wait for another ship to leave the dock before we could disembark, so floated around aimlessly for almost an hour, which was a bit frustrating. That obstacle removed, we made our way down to the bike, only to find that we were completely blocked in by huge baskets of stinky fish. Oli and a few guys moved them out of the way, but by the time we were freed people were already starting to try and drive onto the boat. This was being done without any apparent direction or strategy, so we only managed to get through the scrum of vehicles with a lot of waving and liberal usage of the horn.

Labuhan Bajo is a small town, but has undergone a tourism boom in the last few years. With this in mind, we were hoping it would mean decent and affordable places to stay. In reality the hotel offerings were all very overpriced compared to the other islands we have been on. We went with one that was a little over budget, but very good value compared to the other options. It was actually a lovely room, and after the previous night's adventure we had never been more ready for air-con and a comfy bed. Our sleep that night was as good as it gets, with not a cockroach in sight.

We had formed a last-minute Flores plan the previous evening, as no internet for a few days had made any significant research an impossibility. Our destination was to be the small town of Bajawa.   The drive there was nothing short of spectacular, and even with the tiring few days we had had previously, we fell in love with Indonesia all over again. The mountain scenery of Flores is hard to beat, and the road twisted and carved its way up steep ascents and down plunging slopes. The rice paddy terraces were stunning, putting the ones we had gone to see in Bali to shame. We stopped for numerous photo breaks, as almost every corner seemed to reveal some new wonder.


Whilst it had been a picturesque journey, it had also been an incredibly tiring one. We arrived in Bajawa dreaming of hot showers and comfy beds. Unfortunately the  nicest looking guest house was fully booked, and the next best option had only the luxury room available, which was too expensive for us. We drove around town for a while, seeing several places that looked very depressing from the outside. Eventually we found a room at a place run by a very kind and motherly lady. We felt well looked after, but sadly our room didn't deliver on the hot water. We are very used to the bucket shower now and don't usually mind it, but the climate up in the mountains is just a little too fresh for it to be comfortable. Cleanliness was also questionable, as we found cigarette butts from previous guests in the bathroom and under the beds.

We didn't sleep brilliantly, so decided to try somewhere else in the morning. I went in to enquire at the Happy Happy Hotel, which had been full the night before.  The room was actually quite over our ideal budget at £17, but the lure of a bright, clean space, hot water and wi-fi proved too much for us. Plus, I knew for a fact that we would have clean bed sheets, as I saw them being changed with my very own eyes.

Excited about our indulgence, we got back on the bike and set off to do our exploring. Bajawa is known for its surrounding villages, some of which are still built in old, traditional styles. We usually avoid visiting this sort of thing, as sometimes they are presented almost as a human zoo, which feels very wrong. We hoped this would not fall into such a category, as we were interested in the architecture rather than in watching people live in a staged way.

We ended up enjoying our visit to Bena far more than we anticipated. There were no obvious staged elements, and it definitely avoided feeling like a voyeuristic experience. It was a really interesting place, with two rows of traditional thatched houses looking out over the central area. More information can be found here for those who are interested, but we found it fascinating how Christianity appeared to be blended with deep, cultural traditions of animism. At the peak of the village lies a small shrine to the Virgin Mary, with some of the most breathtaking views imaginable. Whoever picked the spot for this village chose well indeed.


Having had our fill, we got back on the bike and started making our way back up the mountain. The drive to Bena is worth the excursion in itself. The steep road twisted and snaked through quiet forest and small villages full of friendly people, all cheerily waving and shouting at the bike. Every now and then we also caught faint smells of sulphur, a reminder of just how close we were to Mount Inerie.

On the way back to Bajawa, we stopped for fuel. The distances between stations on Flores are reminiscent of the Sumatran back-roads, but there appears to be a lot more demand. It has not been uncommon to see that places have run out entirely. The queues have also been a lot longer in Flores than any of the other islands, but thankfully they usually move pretty quickly. People selling fuel in bottles on the side of the road has been a feature all over Indonesia, but Flores is the first time we have seen people regularly set up within a few metres of the station itself. They sell a litre for between two and four times the price at the station, which is all well and good if it is empty, but surely not a booming business when the pumps are up and running.


We arrived back in Bajawa in the early afternoon, excitedly settling in to our room. After a hard few days a bit of comfort was just what we needed. As we relaxed, I realised just how broken I was feeling. Oli was also very much in need of a rest, so took no persuasion when I suggested staying an extra day and taking a break. Just knowing that we didn't have to ride the next morning was a relief, as I just felt physically exhausted. A week of little sleep, long drives and not enough food had certainly taken a toll.

Randomly, our hotel is run by an older Dutch couple. The breakfast offered was more European in flavour, which went down a treat with both Oli and I. We started off with a very generous portion of fruit, followed by proper home-made bread and omelets, washed down with a fresh juice and a lot of good coffee. As a bonus there was even some cheese. Even though it was processed, I was overjoyed. The higher room rate was truly worth it for that breakfast alone.

We haven't done much today except rest, potter around a little, and be amazed at the availability of a hot shower. In fact, Oli was so convinced it wouldn't really be that hot that he turned it on full and almost scalded himself. This is what has happened to our expectations in regards to hotels. Having a day to relax and recharge has felt brilliant, and we can once again look forward to the road ahead. Tomorrow we will head further east, hopefully finding out about the Timor ferries on the way. Whilst it can be challenging Flores is unbelievably beautiful, and we can't wait to see a little more of it.