The grandly named Trans Flores Highway cuts through forests, climbs over mountains and skirts around volcanoes on its 550 kilometre route from Labuanbajo to Maumere. Although it’s a single lane highway throughout it is an impressive feat of engineering, with spectacular switchback routes crossing a wild, luxuriant, dramatic landscape of dense forest, landslides, ricefields and lakes.
For whole sections of the journey, signs of human habitation can be sparse. But the highway links the towns and cities with diverse, traditional rural cultures that seem unchanged in centuries alongside the five distinct linguistic and cultural groups that make up the islands population, from the west to the east.
This beautiful four day roadtrip (and our diving in Komodo, of which more later) plunged us right back in to South East Asia, after our brief visit back to England (see ‘Home & Away’ ) in September. It was a fantastic way to acclimatise to the adventure and excitement of travel, we were back on the road and in a spectacular landscape full of wonder.
In comparison to Bali, Java and certain sections of Lombok, Flores seemed less developed in terms of tourism, and the locals less reliant on this as a source of income. The overwhelmingly rural economy seemed productive and people looked to have larger houses, gardens and a sustainable way of life. Of course poverty is never far away, but the roads were full of children walking to school and we were met with lots of smiles and laughter.
Origami proved popular 😊
The land in Flores seemed productive. Vivid green ricefields stretched across valleys, fruit and vegetables were on sale in roadside warungs and the forests themselves were full of jackfruit, papaya, mangoes, cashew, macadamia, bananas and pineapple.
Of course much of central Flores is mountainous and pretty near impossible to cultivate. The terrain and the thick groves of bamboo, rising 20m+ mean that some areas are impenetrable.
We passed by some impressive volcanoes on our journey, some of them like Agung Inierie, currently active.
We also came across a tribe of monkeys, foraging for food, on our journey through the mountains.
Traditional villages in Flores
We visited a number of traditional villages including Bena, where housing is a collective endeavor, built and lived in by families, some of whom are said to originate from Java. Although declaring themselves Catholic, it was clear that this was a religion bolted on to the ancient adat/animist beliefs which governs their daily lives.
We were able to meet and interact with many people on our journey. The general lack of tourists and the company of Mr Donatus and Herman helped (along with a bit of origami for the children).
Their pictures and portraits capture the beauty and diversity of Flores.
Above and below are residents of the traditional village of Bena. In the full resolution picture of the girl below you can see the entire village reflected in her eyes.
We came across a festival/celebration on the way to Bajawa, we still don’t know what it was about, but everyone was happy!
Stopping for a coffee at a roadside Warung, we met this couple.
This family came running out to say hello when we stopped to look at the view.
Even Mr Donatus posed for a photo
And there’s always kids playing football …
… or marbles
On our final day of the roadtrip, we got up at 4.00am to see the sun rise over the stunning volcanic crater lakes at Gunung Kelimutu. The three lakes, Tiwu Ata Bupu (Lake of Old People) is usually blue and is the westernmost of the three lakes, Tiwu Ko’o Fai Nuwa Muri (Lake of Young Men and Maidens) and Tiwu Ata Polo (Enchanted Lake) are separated by a shared crater wall and are typically blue green or red respectively.
The lake colours are meant to change on a periodic basis, due to their differing connection to the volcano beneath, although it seems their colours have remained stable for some time. It’s a wonderful sight though, 1,600m up and a little chilly as the sun rises behind the lakes and the clouds swirl around.
It would be remiss not to mention our time with Scuba Junkie again in Komodo, where we spent six days of wonderful, exhilarating diving, prior to the roadtrip. The story of the diving is similar to our last post from Indonesia Here be Dragons and we once again saw the ocean’s beauty in an unspoilt, majestic environment.
One creature that deserves a mention this time around is the ‘black and gold sapsucking slug’, a rarity underwater, but with a name that seems somewhat unfair, given its beauty.
We also had some challenging dives, where the current (on a full moon) was the strongest we have ever experienced. Hooked on in the aptly named Cauldron, we struggled to avoid being swept away (I saw a snorkel fly by at one stage). Fish were being thrown around likes leaves in an Autumn storm.
We kicked hard to reach the shelter of the coral gardens and Anne needed help from dive buddy Daniel to get out of the current. I was doing relatively OK, until I realised that with my exertions to cope with the current, I’d used up all my air! Again Daniel was able to help, sharing his second stage for our safety stop. Bintang for the BFG at beer o’clock. 🍻
We are now in Sulawesi, diving in Bunaken with Living Colours and thinking about where next on our journey, as the wet season is beginning to arrive in this part of SE Asia.
Just realised, this blog post is without a sunset, that would never do. Click ‘follow’ to get updates, and comments are always welcome😊
It was Anne who first suggested a trip back ‘home’ as part of our journey, and it turned out to be a great idea. Of course home needs to be in parenthesis as our house is still rented out and despite all the wonderful family and friends we have been able to catch up with, the local haunts revisited and familiar food and beverages consumed, it still feels like we are ‘on the road’, although in a very familiar environment. Landing at Heathrow (yes there was light rain!), the Piccadilly line to North London where we’ve spent the last three decades brought a smile to both our faces.
We’ve spent just a few short weeks in these refreshing, cooler climes and now before we know it, we’re flying back to Kuala Lumpur later today.
So this blog post is not like the others. Whole sections of this part of our trip are not photographically recorded – those times were spent in the company of loved ones, family and dear friends, catching up, talking – often late into the night, and just hanging out with each other smiling, laughing and enjoying the moments. Inevitably there were people we failed to see or others where we only had a brief time to share stories of these last ten months. But that’s life and there’ll be plenty more to share when we finally return.
We managed to catch England and Scotland in the last throes of summer, so there were blue skies and sunshine interspersed with those grey days which will soon be the norm for the autumn and winter to come. It was wonderful to walk in the still green countryside and feel a cool breeze on a long warm evening. Fond memories to take back to SE Asia.
Of course we are visiting a country that has been crushed by seven years of ‘austerity’, a political dogma that has hurt so many and visibly damaged so much of the infrastructure that ordinary folk rely on. People stressed and depressed trying to do a job in sectors like health, social care and education, where funding cuts make it is impossible to deliver to those in need. Meanwhile wealthy politicians make light of the million plus people, many who are working hard every single day, yet rely on food banks to survive. There is a palpable viciousness here and the ticking time bomb of Brexit looks set to make it worse.
But for us, our thoughts are now all about the next stage of our trip, we feel lucky to have the chance of adventure and the resources to backpack the world. We feel energised by all the company of these last weeks and are keen to get back to diving again in Komodo.
Our flights from KL to Denpesar on Saturday and then to Flores the next day may yet be disrupted by the rumbling Mount Agung, that looked so majestic and peaceful just a few weeks ago. But that’s a story for the next blog.
After a few days in London, happily spent with Oona and close friends we flew up to Edinburgh to see Grant and Virginia – who were busy preparing a film shoot in the Outer Hebredies with Stella (looking forward to seeing the end result!). Edinburgh has its own character, steep streets with elegant Georgian gardens and buildings, all overlooked by the castle. And now the tram line is working, its easy to get to and to get around.
The Tower of Glenstrae
And then we were off out West, back to Glasgow by train and then on to the fabulous Tower of Glenstrae and our dear friends Maggie and Takki, where we like to think we started this adventure in November last year. This time our good friend Anne joined us, her first visit to the tower, and conversations, wine and whisky flowed long into the nights as old friends reconnected in a wonderful environment.
We made the most of the good weather with a trip to Mull, thanks to Takki for all the driving, and providing the brilliant walking weather!
After Anne L headed back to Glasgow, the weather stayed (mostly) kind and we explored Stirling (great castle) and the magnificent Kelpies, where again the stormy sky added to the dramatic environment.
A brief stop in Glasgow for haggis, neeps, tatties and some street art, then back to London town.
We enjoyed our time there, connecting with friends (thanks for the grand shed accommodation Julie!), organising our visa for the next two months in Indonesia and shopping for essentials. Then we spent a wonderful week of family time in Bristol – great to see Pam in good spirits, before heading to Stroud to catch up with Simon, Liz and family. Back to stay with Mary in London. And that is about it.
But as I said at the start this blog is missing the core part of our trip ‘home’. The hugs, the smiles, the craic and the loved ones – you’re with us in our hearts every step of the way.
Our plane is about to depart, goodbye London town… Asia, here we come!
In the past, maps were sketchy, illustrative affairs with missing detail, unchartered territory and oftentimes relied on rumour and superstition, when information was lacking.
It was the 16th Century Lenox Globe that first warned ‘hic sunt dracones’ when mapping East Asia, and certainly this could be related directly to tales of Komodo dragons told by local fishermen. More probably though, as with other maps outlining fantastic creatures, wild beasts and frozen seas, it was simply warning the intrepid traveller that they were about to enter unknown and uncharted territory and should expect the unexpected.
Now of course we travel with a digital map in our hand, where routes are already plotted and a search engine tells us whether dragons lie ahead before we set out. We search the globe seeking the new and exciting, while simultaneously clutching reviews and guides telling us where others have been before and what to do when we arrive.
Luckily, in defiance of Google Maps and Lonely Planet, as the ancient Greeks observed ‘No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man’. So for us, this section of our trip is unchartered territory, containing more mystery excitement and adventure – and yes, here there be dragons … and other wondrous creatures besides.
Towards the end of our time in East Bali, we again hired a car and travelled the less populous sections of this beautiful island in a 14 hour day of driving, exploring temples, coastlines and remote villages.
The luscious green rice fields, lakes and mountainous volcanic landscape of the Balinese countryside is spectacular.
Temples can be ornate and stylised …
… but also a bit scary
Pura Ulun Danu Bratan is on a lake amongst the clouds
After our month in Amed, we headed back down to Padang Bai for a few days diving in somewhat tough conditions (strong winds, cold water and heavy swell in a fishing boat) before taking a ferry to Gili Air, then on to Lombok, and from there heading to Flores for diving in Komodo.
With only sand for roads, there are four types of transport in Gili Air
We headed down to Kuta, in the southern part of Lombok, famous for its beaches, clear water and surf.
This part of east Asia still has plenty of travellers, but the roads are often less well made, or non existent in places, the beaches more remote and pristine and the lifestyle slower. We had a definite sense of the road less travelled as we bounced our motorbike along dirt tracks in southern Lombok (but yes, Google Maps was still there!), and we began to anticipate our final diving adventure for this part of our travels in remote Komodo
Sarongs and bracelets for sale …
Yes, we bought a bracelet.
The trip from Lombok to Flores takes three days by sea and road, so with our visa running short we had to fly back to Denpasar and from there to Labuan Bajo.
Our time diving at Komodo was simply fantastic. The environment above the surface is serene – calm seas, clear water and a beautiful unspoilt landscape. The resort was relaxed, friendly and peaceful and all the staff at Scuba Junkies Komodo worked hard to ensure everything came together for some world class diving. Plus we met some wonderful dive buddies from around the world, with evenings re-living the days dives, telling tales, smiling and laughing over a meal and a cooling Bintang. Happy times.
As always, I struggle to describe the experience of diving. It’s exhilarating, tranquil, awe-inspiring and breathtakingly beautiful all at the same time. The coral is teeming with life, the pelagics are majestic, in a boundless crystal clear sea. Whether you are hooked on in a pumping current surrounded by Mantas, sharks and devil rays, or gathered around an impossibly tiny Zebra crab, bemused by the mating rituals of cuttlefish, or just astounded by the wonder of it all, diving is special. We are lucky indeed to share this joy with each other.
Thanks to dive buddies Kristin, Sascha, Louisa and others for sharing these
Here be the Dragons
On our final ‘no dive day’ before flying to Denpasar and then on to Malaysia, we visited the nature reserve to see the Komodo Dragons. Perhaps not as graceful as the marine life we’d been witnessing over the previous days, but, with their armoured scales, flicking tongues and reputed speed, still pretty impressive.
So, we are currently in Melaka, Malaysia and we board a flight for our short trip home next week. We are really excited about catching up and hearing all the news before getting back on the road again.
At the end of September, we plan to dive in Sulawesi (and perhaps back to Komodo, depending on visas), then maybe heading towards NW Australia, aware that we will need to go looking for some new dragons.
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