Monday, January 4, 2010

Trip to Komodo: Part III - Stuck in Labuanbajo, a Night on Kanawa

We awoke the day after Komodo fully prepared to leave Flores for the return journey to Lombok. Labuanbajo's bay glittered beautifully while we enjoyed our breakfast:

Lonely Planet advises leaving plenty of breathing room in any travel plans to this part of the country, mainly because ferry schedules are so subject to breakdowns and delays. We budgeted an extra 36 hours - an extra night in Lombok at the nearby Gilli Islands should our return journey go according to plan.

After breakfast we loaded up our stuff and walked to the ferry port in the hot 7am sun. The clear sky betrayed no bad weather, but we quickly found out the ferry was not running that day because of rough seas. The ocean between Flores and Sumbawa is some of the roughest sea in Indonesia, so it wasn't a huge surprise. But we were disappointed for sure, after having prepared mentally for the long return. We wandered back to the hotel restaurant to regroup and figure out what we would do with the extra day.

I had read in Lonely Planet about a couple of small islands with bungalows in the port of Labuanbajo, just an hour or so away. The hotels reportedly would transport you to the island for free if you were going to stay a night. So, we investigated the islands and settled on Kanawa Island. For 200,000rp ($20) per bungalow for one night, plus transportation, the Kanawa agent said they would take us on the 1-hour ride around noon. Return transport, he assured us, would leave around 7 - plenty of time to make the 9am ferry (that usually ends up leaving at more like 9:30am). We killed a few hours reading and eating at our old hotel's restaurant before departure. Kanawa's boat transport was even shoddier than what we took to Rinca Island:

The engine was a pounding jackhammer. Seated right next to each other, we had to scream to be heard. "We can stay up late tonight - and sleep on the way back!" I yelled. It was supposed to be a funny joke. At the time I thought the engine was so loud that sleeping was obviously impossible, but it only took Carrie ten minutes to doze off, and somehow we all slept soundly on the way back.

Soon we were able to pick out which of the bay's countless islands we were headed for:

As we got closer and saw the water and the beach, we realized: this is a classic tropical paradise!

A long, lone dock protruded from the island to greet visitors:

We spent our first moments, or indeed the entire time we were there, gawking at the view. They ushered us to the lone restaurant, then gave us the keys to our bungalows. Excitedly, we unloaded our stuff and got ready to jump in the water. Here is the beach twenty feet from our bungalows:

The beach, turquoise water, distant islands, billowing clouds, and expansive sky:

One of many facebook profile candidate shots we each took:

After a quick dip we walked the beach, picking up seashells, coral, sand dollars, and other classic natural beach debris:

I also noticed these little fellas and spent more time than I needed to indulging my inner child and catching one:

I was so excited, I even showed it off to the island's resident deer. This fella, captured on another island and domesticated 11 years ago, was in nearly every respect a dog:

I'm not sure what this was about:

In a further indulgence of my inner child, I convinced the others to join me climbing one of the island's hills for the sunset:

The view was the most expansive I have ever seen. In fact we agreed we had each never seen so much, so far, at one time. Pictures really don't do it justice:

We had a splendid night, ordering a few dishes from the delicious restaurant (including a huge and oh-so-fresh grilled fish) before gathering around a beach campfire under the stars. We shared music and danced with each other, the Indonesian staff, and a fellow tourist from Malta (Malta?!). Even the deer was hanging out, which gave me pangs of missing my own dog. "Do you think I could wrestle the deer the way I wrestle my dog?" I asked the others. In a fit of nostalgia, I was pulling the deer to the ground before it or my human companions could believe what was happening. Shaken, the deer took off, returning a few minutes later. Conclusion: doglike pet deer are not good at wrestling.

Kelly and I decided to get up at 5 and climb the island's hills, even higher than before, to get some shots of the sunrise. The higher vantage point gave us close to 360 degrees of sky and ocean:

The deer, like any good dog, wanted to be part of the action. He followed us up:

Again, the pictures can't do it justice:

Another dramatic facebook profile candidate:

Here you can see most of the island's 14 bungalows, and the restaurant on the right:

The sun emerged as we climbed downhill to make the 7am boat departure:

Here's our bungalow with the hills we climbed in the background. You can even see my dogfish head t-shirt drying on the porch!

We had delicious banana pancakes for breakfast and got back in the loud boat with the rest of the island's inhabitants. The Indonesian who drove this thing bears, I think, a remarkable resemblance to Willem Dafoe, the Green Goblin from the recent Spiderman series. Locating Indonesian look-alikes to American celebrity actors and actresses is one of my favorite games:

We glimpsed our last of Kanawa Island before dozing off:

When we got back and walked out to the ferry dock, we were greeted by a queasy inaction. The ferry was not, we found out, leaving that morning. Doh! One person seemed to think it had left earlier, at 6am, while others thought there was no ferry for that day. Later the 6am story was corroborated. I think the ferry from the previous day was trying to leave earlier to avoid another bout of potential rough seas in the afternoon. We should have spent more time the day before ensuring the actual departure schedule of the boat, since someone would have to have known it was leaving at 6 the day before, but that was part of what we learned is necessary in Nusa Tenggara Timor (this eastern Indonesian province). You can't rely on the regularity of any schedule; every departure has to be triple-checked.

Dejected, we retreated to one of our restaurants that had wireless internet. There were whispers of an afternoon ferry, but even a 3pm departure would be cutting it terribly close to our flight on Christmas Eve at 5pm the next day. Another ferry did depart that day, but not until 8pm. Unfortunately, there was no way we were going to make our flight. We would have to spend a night in Mataram and leave on a 6am plane for Jakarta on Christmas day.

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