As every single tourist in Ubud we attended a traditional Balinese dance show at the water palace which was well worth going to.
On our last day in Ubud, Bali, we rented a scooter early morning and visited several temples and small villages in the area. In the evening I went again for a walk in the rice fields to take some sun rise photos.
On the next day we travelled to the island of Gili Air, just off the North-West coast of Lombok island, the next big island East of Bali. The Gilis are a set of 3 small islands: trendy and party-oriented Gili Trawangan, laidback and underdevelopped Gili Meno and Gili Air, favorite among couples for good facilities and a bit quieter than Trawangan.
After finding a cheap cabin we headed to the beach where we had a nice lunch lying in the sun on some comfy cushions.
In the afternoon we had to make a decision about the way to go for the rest of our indonesian journey. We wanted to visit the island of Flores and visit Komodo islands on the way for some diving and Komodo dragon spotting. since all the flights were fully booked, the two options we had where either to get on a horrible 33 hours trip by bus and ferries or to get on a low budget 4days/3nights cruise with 20 other backpackers. We had heard bad reviews from both options but decided for the latter since it actually saved time and money doing this while seeing more of the country on the way.
Finally in the evening we did our first night dive with Gili Air divers, a newly open dive shop owned by a nice french couple. "Bibi" who is really passionate about macro diving showed us a lot of interesting species (frog fish, squids, nudies, etc..) for our longest dive so far in about 95 minutes.
On the next day we just relaxed, did some good snorkelling with strong currents though but it also rained a bit in the afternoon so we weren't particularly sad to leave the next day on our cruise.
The cruise to Labuan Bajo:
The first day of the cruise is mostly spent on dry land! We were transferred to Lombok where nothing happened for a little while and then we took a bus to cross the island of Lombok. We boarded the boat mid afternoon and the captain stopped the extremly noisy engine for the night after a couple of hours sailing. The conditions on board were very basic. We had mattresses next to each others on the very long and narrow upper deck, a tiny common area at the front for food and not much else. No showers of course and almost nowhere to rest. We didn't feel like talking to anyone on board which was fine because nobody felt like talking to us either. In the end we only talked to a nice spanish couple on honeymoon (remind me not to go on a boat full of backpackers for 4 days on my honeymoon!) and Lizzie from England.
On the second day we stopped for some snorkelling near Moyo Island, just off the main Island of Sumbawa. We also did a short walk inland to see a cool waterfall. The boat then sailed for more than 24 hours non-stop with a deafening sound and at times the see was quite rough, especially in the mioddle of the night... We could hardy get any sleep and with the wind we were really cold.
On the third day we stopped early morning for a short hike with really nice views of the surrounding islands. It reminded me a bit of some of the scenery that we saw in the Galapagos islands.
We then went to the island of Komodo to see the fierce dragons, which are the world's biggest lizards. We went on a 2 hours hike with a guide on the island but we didn't see any dragon there, which is not unexpected anyway. However, as expected, we did see the dragons near the camp site's kitchen where they usually hang out drawn by the smell of food. They are big, hughe beasts you don't want to mess around with!
Although it was very impressive to see them here it would have been much better to see them in the wild rather than next to the camp's kitchen. I guess they have become quite lazy and probably enjoy being shot at by tourists' cameras. In the evening we went to flying fox bay to admire thousands of big bats, also called flying foxes, fly off from the trees at sunset. There were so many of them that the reddish sunset sky turned black as it filled with a cloud of hungry bats going to look for food at night.
The bats were not the only hungry ones... at each meal on the boat we almost had to fight to get there first and manage to get hold of some food. There was plenty of food but our fellow friends on the boat didn't think twice before emptying the dishes before everyone had been served. That night, the engine was off so we thought we could get a good night sleep. Unfortunately most of the guys on board decided to have a wild night, drinking all night and raiding other boats moored nearby. We wished they'd been eaten by sharks while spupidly jumping of the boat, drunk, in the middle of the night.
The following morning, Charlotte, Lizzie, me and the spanish couple set off early with a private guide to visit the island of Rinca, also home to Komodo dragons. The rest of the bunch was badly hungover. The walk was pleasant and we saw a couple of small dragons in the wild as well as wild buffalos and a snake. Again, there were more dragons near the camp's kitchen but all in all the experience was better on Rinca than on Komodo. In the afternoon we finally made it to Labuan Bajo, on the Western part of the island of Flores and we rushed out of the damn boat to find a place to stay for the night. We didn't regret our choice of making that cruise as we saw amazing scenery and were able to visit Komodo and Rinca without paying too much but we wouldn't do it again!
Diving around Komodo:
Without wasting any time, we boarded another boat the next day for a 2 days live-aboard diving trip around the islands of Komodo. We dove with Dany'ssss dive shop who had been reccomended to us by the french divers on Gili Air. apparently there were some problems with petrol supply and hence on the first day we didn't go as far as expected from Labuan Bajo and although the diving was nice there was nothing exceptional and we started to moan a bit as the 2 days trip cost us quite a bit. The boat was nothing like the one from the previous few days though. We had a nice little area to sleep in on the upper deck as well as a lot of places to relax, enjoy the sun and the food that was prepared for us.
On the second day we managed to get more petrol and headed further away from the coast. We had a great time there as we saw big manta rays which we could watch for more than 30 minutes. One of them was going in circles around us and got within centimeters of me. On another dive we saw a lot of white tip sharks and generally speaking the visibility was great, the corals very nice and shoals of fish in abundance.
Road trip to Maumere:
We had arranged to hire a driver for 5 days to take us across the island of Flores. Although not impossible to do by public transport I think that with limitted time it would have been a lot less enjoyable as Flores is all about the scenery and natural beauty, which you can't really see or appreciate from a public bus window. Our driver, Donatus, didn't speak a word of English so we had to try to communicate in Indonesian using the few words that we could find in our guide book. Although frustrating a times, it turned out to be a very good experience. Donatus was very nice and kind to us but also the slowest driver ever!!
The main sights of the first day were the views from the rice fields, especially the spider web rice terraces that were trully stunning to look at from a distance on a hill nearby. The geometric shapes created by the cultivated areas are trully amazing and a photographer's paradise.
We stopped for the night in a convent at Ruteng, where the room was the cleanest we had in indonesia. Charlotte spent most of the day lying on the back seat with terrible stomach aches.
She was sick again at night and for most of the next day as well. Our driver felt powerless and brought back some paracetamol, which couldn't really help but the intention was nice.
On the second day we headed to Bajawa with again very nice views of the rice paddies and Gunung Inerie, the volcano next to Bajawa.
All day I could here from the car window: "Hello mister" shouted by local kids really curious and excited by the sight of a tourist. The island of Flores is quite poor but the people - mostly catholic here - very kind. As soon as I got out of the car to take photos, children often came out of nowhere to talk or stare at me.
On the third day the weather around the volcano was misty and rainy so we couldn't visit the indigenous village of Bena as planned in the morning. Instead we headed to the hot spring, which was a bit of a let down. We didn't even bathe and asked to leave almost straight away.
I manage to make myself understood by the driver who took me to another nearby volcano. A local guy took me up to the crater for a 1h30 minute speedy round trip up and down. I was exhausted. He was walking up the volcano really fast with flip-flops and I struggled to follow him. At the top there were two small crater lakes with a very bright orange color.
Charlotte was waiting in the car trying to recover. As I got back to the car I could see a lot of kids watching her from outside the car. In the afternoon we went to the village of Bena which is situated on the slope of volcano Inerie and contains traditional wooden huts with totem-like figures.
On the fourth day we headead towards Moni, a moutain village, with some great sea side and mountain scenery on the way. I got obsessed by rice fields and probably have 500 photos of them.
Moni is the base camp for trips up to the Kelimutu crater lakes.
On the 5th day we left Monni at 5am to drive to the start of the hike to Kelimutu. It was very "Kabut" (cloudy) and rainy so we didn't have much expectations. We headed there anyway for sun rise. The weather cleared up a bit when we got to the top so the views of the 3 lakes and the surronding mountains wasn't too bad in the end.
It wasn't as exciting as the description from the Lonely Planet but still a nice place to visit. Later that day on our way to Maumere, we stopped in some small fishing villages with white sand beach and Portuguese churches.
We reached Maumere for lunch which we shared with Donatus before saying goodbye as we were due to fly back to Bali the next morning.
For those interested in remote places without many tourists we highly recommend to visit Flores for its scenery and people. You'll have to cope with basic infrastructures and frustrating transports but for us it was a very rewarding experience.