overland-underwater.com - A charity drive from the UK to New Zealand
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Final Statistics: Alex & Maz Total distance: 93,550km
Furthest Point: Rotorua, NZ Now settled in Sydney, Australia
Final Statistics: Martin Total distance: 79,698km
Furthest Point: Hobart, Australia Now settled in Bristol, UK

The long drive East

Written by Maz Towns. Uploaded 23 December 2006.

Indonesia, Country 24, Diary entry 13 - 21st Oct 2006, Total distance in Indonesia: 8396KM

HAPPY CHRISTMAS!!!!! We hope that all our followers have a very merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year wherever you are in the world. We're lucky enough to be able to spend it with part of my family this year - Mum, Dad and older sister Siobhan are with us to celebrate in Australia. If you'd thought about sending us a Christmas card, then we'd appreciate it if you'd like to spend the price of the card by adding a few pence to the charity instead. Every little helps! Hope Santa brings everything you'd wished for. MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!!!

Arriving at port in plenty of time to buy our tickets, we were told that the ferry to Flores was delayed. This was not really a surprise, however the reason was. They’d run out of fuel and were waiting for the trucks to bring some more. Martin had also had this problem 6 weeks previous so you’d have thought by now that they’d have realised timings were somewhat skewed and recognised this was a problem for the ferries running on time, but where would the fun in that be! :) The ferry eventually left early afternoon. We plonked ourselves in the VIP lounge as it was air conditioned. When the ferry eventually left port, the ticket collectors came, and in our politest voices, we jokingly acted shocked that they wanted even more money from us after we’d paid a kings ransom for the boat. Again, the inherent friendliness of the Indonesians did not desert the attendant at our hour of need and he smiled back at us and said we could have the special offer of 2 places in the VIP lounge for the price of 1. Bargain. Locals and their familes food for the trip!

Everyone on the boat were extremely friendly and smiley. We had the ever persistent ‘hello Mister’ whenever we walked by and within 7 hours we were docked. It was now dark and as we drove out of the dock through the one road town called Labuanbajo, we popped into Reefseekers to see if we could see Ernest and Kath to thank them personally for kindly donating the 5 day package of diving in the Komodo National Park with accommodation and a trip to see the Komodo dragons. Not realising they didn’t live in Bajo (as it is locally known) they weren’t around. We stopped at a restaurant for dinner. I ordered grouper and chips, although somewhat surprised that I had seemed to order separate dishes appearing 10 minutes apart rather than one. Just as I finished my dishes, Alex’s hot sizzling plate of chicken arrived, albeit minus the sizzle! A kind man on his scooter then showed us where to find the internet on the outskirts of town for a quick replicate before feeling too sleepy to do anything else. We found camp further out of town and after a near disastrous accident where Alex began to drive over a 3 foot edge before I managed to scream and get his attention to stop before the truck would have been truly stuck; we pitched the tent and fell into a slumber. Alex relaxing in comfort

Probably for the first time this trip, we had a hoard of people pass us in the morning, but not one interrupted us, with one girl running away when she saw us. Alex had just come out of the shower, so maybe it was the shock of that! We returned to town for a coffee and the kind man on the scooter last night, found us again for a chat. Still trying to find information about the ferry to Timor, he kindly offered to phone the shipping company ASDP to find out possible days that the ferries might depart. One of the official numbers we’d been given by the workers at the Sumbawa ferry terminal didn’t work, but we got an answer from one of the other numbers we’d procured. The crossing from Larantuka on the very east of Flores to Kupang in West Timor departed every Monday and Friday. It was a start, but we’d keep asking as we decided this was information we needed our average of 3 answers before deciding what was correct. Not having any information from Martin about when he went, we couldn’t work from his calculations to see if they tallied up. Ferries don’t go from Ende, but they did depart from Aimere on a Saturday which we couldn’t get to by tomorrow and meant waiting another week in one place. We might as well press on. Fingers crossed Tinfish would be able to get us there. Just one of the amazing views round Flores

We stocked up on food and water before heading on. It was a hard days driving ahead, the roads were incredibly windy. We thought we’d had our work cut out in Sulawesi, but with Flores’ turbulent volcanic past leaving a complicated relief of V-shaped valleys, knife-edged ridges, and a collection of active and extinct volcanoes, these were even worse. The island itself is only 375km long, but you have to cover nearly double that distance to get from Labuanbajo to Larantuka - there wasn’t a straight section in sight. I kid you not, covering more than 600km there were no more than 10 straight bits covering more than a kilometre. With the methodical flashing of the O/D light returning on a more frequent basis, we were beginning to get worried. Just to add more woes to our dilapidating Tinfish, every now and again the front diff light would blink red on the dashboard. It didn’t feel like it had engaged, but we stopped, engaged low wheel drive, locked all diffs and then take them out again to make the little red light disappear. A nice shaded camp for the night

Flores is beautiful, so mountainous. It begins quite barren, dry and brown and then out of nowhere, lush green crops appear. With the brown mountainside in the distance, it has a stunning beauty. Slash and burn is of course apparent, leaving scars and pockmarks as a constant reminder man will leave no soil unturned. I still find it amazing the steepness of the sides that are utilised along the way, burnt first and then terraced so crops can be grown. The tress seems different than the other islands…. the Wallace line coming into effect. The other stark noticeable difference is the people. We’ve left behind the long, straight flowing hair, here the Polynesian influence is obvious with tight curly locks bouncing on top of the heads. Little changes that you wouldn’t probably even think about unless you’ve driven all these kilometres and begin noticing the smaller things. Tinfish infront of Gunung Inerie

We drove into Bajawa in the dark, but had found a perfect camp spot just off the main road to return to after dinner. We started with a guacamole dip and crackers, then continued with pork rice, chicken sweet and sour and mixed veg. It was delicious and after a hard days drive, the beer washed it down a treat. We returned to our camp spot for the night. Waking in a cooler than normal tent as we were protected by shade from trees, we headed to Bena, a traditional Ngada village near Bajawa, passing spectacular views of Gunung Inerie As you turn up at the village, it is customary to make a small donation and sign a guest book which we unduly did. We then had one of the villagers act as guide take us round the village and tell us what was what.

Bena Village Two of the local women each weaving an ikat

The traditional Ngada village layout is two rows of high-roofed houses on low stilts. These face each other across an open space that contains ngadhu and bhaga and groups of human-high silver stones surrounding horizontal slabs. The latter are graves from important ancestors. Ngadhu is a parasol-like structure about 3m high consisting of a carved wooden pole and thatched roof, and the bhaga is a minature thatched roof house. The ngadhu is ‘male’ and the bhaga ‘female’ and each pair is associated with a family group within the village.

They are beautiful wooden houses decorated with carvings and some paintwork, consisting mainly of 2 basic rooms to live out of. Ikat weaving is a traditional pastime but luckily for our purse strings, none took my fancy! We wandered round the village while everything was being explained to us and walked to the top to appreciate the fine views of the volcano. We thanked and tipped our guide, then headed further down the valley to find the hot springs so widely talked about. We couldn’t actually find a sign saying we’d found them, although we found a river which Alex put his hand in and confirmed it was ‘warmish’ so we decided that was it. Nothing spectacular, so we turned round, parked on the side of the road and cooked up our now infamous mee goreng telor. Passing Aimere, we went to the port to check about ferry times once more. Confirming what we had been told on the phone, we pressed on, happy in the knowledge we only had one more opinion to ask. A ngadhu - representing the male

We reached Ende just as the sun had set and after stocking up on cash, stopped at a corner junction and asked some locals where internet was. Blank faces. “Warnet?”. Blank faces again. So we proceeded to ask for ‘warnet’ in a number of tones and intonations just in case we got it spot on and the local would understand us. Not this lot, so we carried on down the road. We stopped a few more locals and eventually someone who could speak English, well, interpret our motions of tapping on a computer, understood what we wanted and pointed us in the right direction. Unfortunately it didn’t work but the owner gave us an address of another one in town. Following the directions we found ourselves two shops back from where we had originally asked the first set of locals on the corner junction. Had we just looked a little closer as we were passing we’d have saved ourselves a couple of hours tooing and froing!

After dinner, we returned to the petrol station to fill up to find it had just closed and wasn’t opening till 8am the next morning. Asking if there was another in town (not a huge chance of that) a man ran over from the courtyard and said they’d open up for us so we could fill up. Just another shining example of the friendliness and kindness of these people.

A bhaga - representing the female Human-high silver stones next to a ngadhu and bhaga

We drove out of town with a full a tummy and a full Tinfish and headed towards Moni and then on to find the 3 spectacularly coloured lakes set deep in craters near the summit of Kelimutu volcano. We were hoping to drive to the top of the volcano to camp and get up bright and early to see the sun rise. However half way up the track is a check point. The gate was shut and I as popped out of the car to see if I could open it, a friendly soul descended on us and told us “no way up tonight ‘mister’”! Wondering what to do next as it meant even earlier o’clock if we ventured back down the mountain again and it was already 11pm, we asked if we could camp on the lawn outside the checkpoint. Although a little bewildered at our late arrival, it was no problem - this guy really was as helpful as they come - and we’d soon popped up the tent to his fascination, and clambered into bed to get a few hours kip before packing it all away again and heading up the rest of the way at 4.30am.

Pitch black all around, the alarm woke us but within minutes we heard the rumble of a bus turn up and people get out to pay their fees to enter through the gate. In record time we had decamped and after also paying our fees we were on our way up following the bus. With the sun beginning to cast pinks and oranges on the sky above, we had more than enough light to guide us on the path. Worried we might miss the sunrise we quickened our pace. We followed the path through the trees taking us past the first crater lake and continued up to the highest part overlooking all three lakes and waited.

The sunrise at Kelimutu The turquoise lake and brown lake just peeking from behind

The sunrise here is pretty spectacular, as not only do you have good views of all the lakes, you also have an awesome view of the whole valley below. As the sun began to rise casting it’s aura of pinks, oranges and yellows, it began to light up the fellow mountains in the distance and only then do you get to appreciate the whole beauty of this place. The lakes at the moment are turquoise, brown and black and as the sun got higher in the sky, they begin to luminescence quite spectacularly, especially the turquoise one. No one knows why they are the colours they are and the magic of them is that they have changed colour over time. Previously they have been blue, maroon and black and before that, blue, red-brown and café au lait!

Us infront of the black lake After deciding there was going to be no more kaleidoscope activity in the sky, we wandered round to the rim of the turquoise and brown lakes to get a closer look. Perilously steep sides make you err on the side of caution as you walk near the crater rim, but the views again are spectacular. The yellow of the sulphur can be clearly seen on the sides of the turquoise lake giving it bit of an 80’s neon look. After spending nearly 4 hours up there, we headed back to the car. We cooked up some breakfast and then decided to have a shower before starting our drive to Maumere. I rigged the shower and was just about to get my clothes off when a truck with 3 guys turned up. All with beaming smiles, they sat themselves on an empty stall just by our car and watched. Bugger. So, I packed it all away again and we headed on our way. Presuming they were workers and once we’d left, they might actually get on with some, we were more than a little annoyed when after 5 minutes we’d stopped to take a picture heading back down the mountain they passed us in their truck! I have no idea why they were there.

We passed through Moni and a few ikats hanging off a balcony caught my eye. We stopped and shouts were given that tourists had arrived and a little lady appeared quite breathless as she had run up from tending the field. They had some nice patterns but were asking prices way above my budget. After some hard haggling, I walked away with two beautiful pieces and a victorious handshake from the lady whom I’d bought them off, congratulating me on being one tough cookie to crack. Likewise, she gave a hard sell, but it was fun doing business with you!

Appreciating the views The colours are fascinating to see

As the roads continued to curve and meander, Tinfish was finding it harder and harder to carry on. With the O/D light now flashing pretty much constantly, we’d by now realised it meant we had lost 2nd gear. The only gear you really need on mountainous roads like these. We were just willing her to carry on until we got to East Timor so we could get her in a container and over to Australia to be fixed. Once we arrived in Maumere, we got a well needed car wash, as oil had leaked from a container in the green box on the roof and subsequently all over the car. The guys did a pretty thorough job inside and out, although upon inspection, I don’t believe it would have got through Aussie quarantine. Still, you can’t beat a good car wash for a couple of quid!

Alex had read about a wreck near here off a beach heading towards Larantuka so we continued on the road until we saw signs for diving at a resort called Ankermi. We enquired within with a lady called Claudia who owed the place and we were soon booked up to dive the next day. Claudia kindly let us camp on their land and this is where we made home for the next couple of nights. We relaxed for the evening and I lost three times at Carcassone! Must try harder.

Tinfish gets a well needed wash Even though it was a shore dive the next day, we were told it was still appropriate to rise for an early start. This is diving after all – all diving starts at early o’clock. Apparently the wind picks up as the day goes on which makes it harder to dive as the sea becomes more choppy. Obviously, Claudia said this for a reason – it was true – as we witnessed later the next day! So, we rose ready to rock and roll the next morning and kitted up. Kermi, Claudia’s husband was our dive guide. We took the gear down to the shore, where our boat cover (a canoe!) slowly rowed out to where the wreck was while we walked 500m round the beach and met the boat at the appropriate point. We quickly kitted up and sunk beneath the water.

The only thing known about the wreck is that it is a Japanese remnant from the second world war. Alex thought it was a large barge of some sort as it didn’t have propeller. It was a nice dive. Viz was pretty good being 10-15 metres and was covered in lots of soft coral in the shallows. As we started at the shallower end of the wreck some large snapper came to have a look at us. The wreck lies perpendicular to the beach and starts in 12m of water and sinks to 32m, so we made a beeline for the depths as we were only on air and therefore had limited bottom time. We were greeted by a huge shoal of jack fish at 30m. Whereas on the Liberty wreck at Tulumben I felt like a ballet dancer pirouetting around the wreck, today it felt like I was having an actual ballet lesson. Every time I posed for the camera, Alex would indicate that I needed to point my fins out this way, straighten my back more, lie in the water flatter or perhaps move myself in a completely opposite direction to what I was in. He is a hard man to please! We did however have a lot of fun and it was a very enjoyable dive. I’d just like to point out for the record that he is a very lucky man for having such a tolerant wife :).

Brekkie before the dive After half an hour on the wreck, we moved over to the muck as it had been a good couple of weeks since the liveaboard and Alex was beginning to miss it. We didn’t see too much, which for me and Alex is not surprising, but Kermi did point out a nice little ‘finger dragonet’ characterised by its tall head fin, looking somewhat like a Red Indians head dress. Alex’s find of the day was a stone. But not just any stone, one that he told me moved. Now…he was on air and may have been deeper than he was supposed to when I wasn’t looking, but he definitely said it was a stone that had legs! We’ve never seen anything like it, some kind of crustacean but our identity must didn’t have it. Mental note; must ask fish hugger Rich. After nearly 70 minutes we’d just about drunk all our air and it was time to come up. It was a super morning and we dekitted into the canoe and walked back to Ankermi.

We spent the next two days in the lifestyle that we are becoming accustomed to, relaxing. We are enjoying it immensely! After working so hard on the trip for the first year and a bit, we decided once arriving in Indonesia that we would relax a little more as we didn’t want to feel burnt out and knackered at the end of the trip, as that was the whole reason we left the UK in the first place. Now, I know a lot of you think we’re on one constant holiday, out of an office obviously means much more fun that stuck inside one, but we do work hard as well as having lots of fun. We’ve just decided that we’re going to have a bit more ‘switch off’ time than we’ve been giving ourselves when we can. These two days were part of this new regime. I managed to read 2 books in the two days we were at Ankermi as well as loose at Carcassone on a number of occasions!

The new regime We left at lunchtime the day before our boat was due out of Laruntuka to Kupang, giving us plenty of time to double check everything once in town. We’d shown Claudia and her son Adjuna (dressed up as Superman) around the car in the morning as he was keen to see all the goodies in the car. Once we had said our goodbyes Adjuna brought out a little treasure box where he kept his special things and kindly presented us with a coin as a good luck charm. What a darling thing to do. He’s only 6!

Arriving in Laruntuka, we soon realised that we’d just have to believe all the information we’d been told about the ferry times as nothing was open. We found camp down a short dirt track, only slightly visible from the road. As a treat we opened up the bottle of red wine we’d bought on the border of Malaysia/Brunei and settled in for the night. The next day we returned to the port in plenty of time for the ferry and were relieved to see a hummer of activity. The boat turned up at 9.30am so for an instance, I thought that maybe we’d leave on time. How silly am I!

Adjuna the superman The boat had to unload, so off drove the trucks stowed away along with the millions of passengers with motorbikes. It was then time for the waiting pickups to drive up to the front of the boat and be loaded with loose foods being carried on board. Nothing unusual in the procedure or process, we’d seen it all before. That was until I saw a herd of cows being towed along the jetty from the boat. That was a new one for me. We eventually boarded at 1.30pm, approximately 2 minutes after we’d just cooked up some noodles. So we scoffed them down and drove onto the jetty. We of course weren’t allowed on the boat just yet, we had to wait the obligatory 20 minutes or so parked up just past the gate heaving with people making a desperate bid to try and push themselves over it, before we were allowed to board!

Once parked up, it was free for all as every man, woman and chicken vied for a place on board. We headed straight for the VIP lounge in our normal stance of it’s air conditioned and therefore we need to be there. We were stopped at the padlocked gate at the bottom of the stairs which led up to the lounge and told we didn’t have the correct ticket. After a bit of defiance and pleading, we were allowed up. The lounge wasn’t half as comfortable as the ferry to Flores, but it was at least air conditioned and therefore better than the humid, sticky outside with millions of other passengers. Once the boat was sea bound, the ticket man came to check our tickets. Once again we pleaded our case of already having paid a lot for the car, surely we get this lounge included. Once again, we got our 2 for 1 offer.

It's busy with everyone standing - imagine them all lying down! After an hour or so, Alex went back down to the car to get some water, only to find we had actually been LOCKED IN. Visions of a sinking Titanic came into view. Why on earth have they locked us in!? It was soon to become clear. After a very longwinded way of getting back down to the car deck, he could hardly walk to the car for the throngs of people in the way. Every, and I mean every space was utilised, including under Tinfish! It was an incredible sight, which I could only liken to stories you hear about a jail in a third world country and really would only want to imagine. If the boat had sunk it would have been a bit of a role reversal of Titanic with steerage swimming free and the posho’s in the ‘locked lounge’ drowning like rats.

Once Alex returned with provisions (he brought more than water as he didn’t want to face going through the ordeal again – a lady with bananas nearly attacked him), he remembered he’d forgotten the camcorder. Not one to miss an experience, I managed to get one of the attendants to unlock the gate for me so I could have an easier path to the car than Alex had to retrieve the camcorder. It was amazing, people were just lying everywhere.

Once back in the safe hold of the lounge we passed time by reading, laptop and listening to ‘top hits nostalgia pop Indonesia’, finishing with a very poor movie in the evening. We then decided we’d built up enough energy to face returning to the car and getting some kip. With people sleeping on every inch of floor space, the attendant couldn’t open the gate without moving the person the other side. Unfortunately, the champion of ‘deepest sleeper’ had picked the space occupying the floor next to the gate and it was only by a ‘friend’ of this guy giving him a good kick that he woke enough for us to ask him to move over so we could open the gate.

Ready and waiting for the drawbridge to be lowered We crept as lightly over everyone as we could and put up the tent. Probably the first time we’ve not had much notice from the locals….everyone was asleep. It wasn’t long before we followed suit. The next morning we got a few funny looks, confusion more than anything else I think but mainly smiles and thumbs up. We put the tent down just as we were arriving in Kupang. The drawbridge was lowered as we hit the jetty and we were greeted with a sea of bodies blocking the exit! People were jumping on the boat along side those who were trying to get off. People were lined up with their boxes, chickens, pigs and whatever else they decided to carry (I didn’t see any cows this time) ready to break free. We just sat and waited. Eventually there was enough space in front of me to drive the car off the ferry. It really was an experience and a half and one I will remember for a very long time.

The time was now 5.30am and the plan was to make a beeline for the border to see how much we were going to be fined for being late out of Indonesia. The road didn’t get any easier for Tinfish and at once stage we wondered whether we were going to make Dili. Parts of the landscape were similar to Flores, but there was definitely a hint of Australian ‘outback’ lurking into view with eucalyptus trees being a dominant flora.

We approached the border and first had our passports checked by army officials. Once they had taken our details (no comments made about the date of entry and 60 day only visa) we headed to immigration. Smiling, with a story ready to go if discussions rose about our 2 day lateness, the guy just returned our smile, stamped the passports and wished us a nice day. Lovely! It was then on to customs. With our carnet expiring 10 days into entering Indonesia, so now 2 months out of date, we were hoping it would be like any other border crossing and they wouldn’t have a clue about the document. We were correct and after the initial look over, pretending to know what to do with it, but the frown giving it away, we showed them where to stamp and we were on our way again. We were out of Indonesia. As we were walking back to the car, we were pulled over by some more army looking dudes. They wanted to see all our documents and then took the carnet away. We thought we’d been rumbled when the guy returned but he wasn’t sure of our registration and needed to confirm which it was so he could document it in his records. All we had to do now was get into East Timor with an expired carnet and we’d be sorted….

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