Fwd: Onward to the Komodo Islands, West Flores

Wed 25 Aug 2010 03:33

Position,  08.32S  119.50E

 Since the last blog we've travelled south west about 350 nautical miles (680 km) to Labuan Bajo, the stepping off point to the Komodo Islands, famous for diving, and of course, the famous Komodo dragons. In the course of the trip south, in very calm conditions, we crossed the invisible Wallace's Line which separates the zoology of the Australian continent from that of Asia. Basically this means we now see monkeys and water buffalo while in remote areas there are orangutans, tigers and elephants.  Sorry not to include any photos of the Komodos at this stage, but when we went ashore they were sleeping. They are very large and quite ferocious evidently--will get some photos for the next blog.
As well as crossing Wallace's Line we have moved from unspoilt Indonesia to touristed destinations, which has come as a bit of a shock. Whereas previously the local people have just wanted to practise their English, now boats come alongside trying to sell us Komodo dragons, cheap-looking jewellery, beer, diesel etc. Now if they could come out with some nice beans or bananas, that would be welcome.
Lonely Planet describes this area as 'the next big thing' in Indonesian tourism, and certainly it is a magnificent cruising area, not unlike a volcanic Bay of Islands, Hauraki Gulf or Whitsunday group--but without all the yachts. (We are a couple of weeks ahead of the rest of the Rally due to needing to drop Robyn and Barry off somewhere where they could catch a connecting flight back to Australia.)  Bali this is not, with the local town of Labuan Bajo lacking any charm at all. Apart from an Ecolodge and a hotel tower housing Chinese miners looking for gold, there is only the most basic accommodation, a pot-holed dirt main street, and a few dive offices. Having run completely out of rupiahs, not to mention fruit and veg, we've had to negotiate the kilometre-long main drag a couple of times in the heat and mud. Having lugged provisions, a slab of beer, and a computer yesterday,  we collapsed into the only vaguely westernised caf for a Bintang beer and a nasi goreng.  There we met up with Randy and Sally Christine who are cruising in a magnificent one-off yacht called Convergence. Randy was the founder of the big American chain, Westmarine with which we have all spent large sums of money over the years. Convergence has a very unusual wishbone rig, like a huge windsurfer. It goes like the clappers and Sally Christine is terrified that they will hit something at night. She swears that Randy tries to race tankers! 
The harbour which LP describes as picturesque is indescribably filthy, so we sometimes anchor off the Ecolodge although we can only get the dinghy across a sand bar a couple of hours either side of high tide. Next to the Ecolodge which caters mainly to Dutch and French travellers is an excellent little restaurant which serves wine made in Bali--not too bad at all.
Yesterday we worked up enough energy to deal with the port authorities and the harbour master, all of whom required two copies of every document we possessed. There were at least six uniformed officers doing the work of one person--and sharing a typewriter amongst them. All were perfectly charming and no bribes were required, thanks to our being members of the Rally.
We'll probably stay in this area for another 10 days or so, waiting for Harmonie and others to catch up. Where we are at present has good reception for Radio Australia, so I'm up at 6am every morning to hear the latest in the Australian election drama as it unfolds. 
The islands in this area are surrounded by extensive coral reefs, so we are looking forward to spending lots of time snorkelling before we head west to Lombok and Bali where we need to renew our Indonesian visas. Our satellite connection with the computer seems to be on strike, so we may need to venture back into town tomorrow to find an Internet place--none were working yesterday. We're looking forward for Don from Harmonie to arrive as he is the expert on all things Mac--and most other   
matters technical.

1. John with two of the lovely girls from Wakatobi who had come out to the boat to invite us to a party. The guys are all VERY   happy in Indonesia.

2. Lunch at the island of Hoga in the Wakatobi Group. There is a very simple dive 'resort' on Hoga run by a charming Dutch woman who does wonderful work with the local Bajo(sea gypsy) people. We gave her a big bag of kids' clothes and books to distribute. She pays the locals to keep the beach clean and says hers is the cleanest island in Indonesia--which it probably is.

3. One of the dozens of fishing rafts we encountered in our overnight trip. These rafts are substantial and would cause a lot of damage if hit during the night. Amazingly, they showed up on the radar, which each of us was glued to during our particular night watch.  Unlit fishing boats and rafts make night voyages a scary business in this part of the world.

4. We travelled south in company with our American friends, Tom and Suzie on their yacht, Priscilla. Tom is showing off the didgeridoo he bought in Darwin. Tom and Suzie helped us celebrate John's birthday--they gave him a can of worms (soft baits for fishing)!