We’re going on a ride to Larantuka, a small historic port languishing on the eastern tip of the island of Flores and 1,367km from Bali along Indonesia’s volcanic vertebrae.
According to Google it’s about 40 hours by vehicle including 10 hrs of inter-island ferries between Lombok, Sumbawa and Flores, but given it’s about the journey not the destination we think 3-4 weeks should do it.
Denpasar Bali to Tetebatu Lombok on the slopes of Mt. Rinjani. We celebrate crossing the Wallace Line in the Lombok Strait with its historic narrative and rushing tides – our beginning … Jalan dimulai.
A small group of homestays dot the local villages around Tetebatu on the slopes of Mt. Rinjani. At a local market Pak Padjiri, a proud Sasak wins our favour as he provides insight on local customs, flora, fauna, history and geography. We visit the National Park and his small village, we admire his neighbour’s crops, orchard & enjoy their local coffee; laughing & friendly hospitality… Pelajaran satu, terbuka dan ramah.
Tetebatu Lombok to Sumbawa Besar Sumbawa. This morning we had a nice rural ride to the port followed by Ferry Karaoke – where locals out of tune and with bad rhythm, sing loudly – we lay waiting at harbour for an hour for the Captain to have his turn and to find a docking slot. So where are our earplugs?
Our spirits were lifted by the coastal panorama and sea breezes as we cruise the north shore to Sumbawa Besar, great road, no traffic…just goats. Goats know nothing about road rules and are more kamikaze than a schoolie in Kuta… Membuat rencana kecil.
I love travel itineraries that say today is a free day ‘take your time to explore the streets and markets and try the local food of Sumbawa Besar’. It’s a bright and cheery place with some colourful deco buildings, a couple of cafes and lots of friendly ‘hello mister’ …Tidak buang waktu sibuk.
Sumbawa Besar to Dompu. We pass up glam camping on Pulau Moyo National Park and climbing Mt. Tambora’s 2,851 metre slopes and head to Dompu – a great ride through the valleys and around the coast with spectacular views and cornfields that go on forever.
Through quiet villages startled children giggle and grin, women smile and nod and men stroll to prayers. It starts to drizzle but the roadside animals with support from the occasional monkey cheer us on into Dompu… Selalu membawa jas hujan.
Dompu to Lakey Peak. No-one is in a hurry in this tidy little town in the heart of Sumbawa corn country. We are the only two at breakfast in the spartan Hotel Anisa, charming young Iman serves our breakfast, a keen photographer she takes us to her favourite rice field view – dawn is better she explains.
A sunny drive to Lakey Beach, we are surprised by a downpour so hold-up in a warung, much to the delight of the local children.
Lakey is quiet and friendly with a haphazard tropical island feel and a renowned surfing enclave with swells from the Indian Ocean and surfers from around the world. We spend a rainy afternoon on the deck watching the surf from FatMah’s while long term resident Rodger Boal spins a few yarns. We decide to stay another day… Cari bernaung jika badai.
Lakey Peak to Bima. Morning overcast and cool we return to Dompu and onto Bima, winding our way through misty mountains, down and around glassy bays. Bima is no tidy town and the Lambitu Hotel should be up for a kitsch award. In the evening we wander downtown for a street stall snack and find a neon lit concrete stallion standing proudly in the park – it’s time to move on… Ayo Flores.
Stranded in Sape. Early morning we climb over the misty range leaving Bima behind and run down to Sape in time for the ferry to Labuan Bajo, Flores. At the port, truck drivers and backpackers huddle in the drizzle around a small fire – there’ll be no ferry today.
Now, Sape is a small dusty port on the eastern tip of Sumbawa that turns into a muddy swamp when it rains. Home to fisherman but only a technical stop for travellers. Accommodation is slim pickings, we make the best of it and hit the town.
In a small warung we escape from the drizzle. Cathy videos the locals, then a cheeky goat tries to join us. In utter surprise it bleats and jumps as the owner grabs its hind leg and drags it away. The locals gather around, there is much laughter – play it again, play it again.
New morning, new hope… yes, we can pay the ferryman.
So Long Sumbawa…You surprised us. Great travelling, beautiful scenery, really friendly people, great roads, no traffic, some worthy destinations, reasonable accommodation, OK food, and crazy roadside goats.
Sape Sumbawa to Labuan Bajo Flores. Excited about Flores we board the ferry early and watch the comedy of lorry loading and leave three hours later. Overcast with a brisk breeze and bad ferry music we navigate the islands of Komodo National Park.
The Island of Flores is book-ended by Labuan Bajo and Larantuka – 640km and about 16hrs according to Google. Labuan Bajo is the staging point for Komodo National Park – home of very, very big lizards and beautiful dive sites. It comes with plenty of tourist infrastructure so it’s time for us to clean up, drink up and fatten up.
Labuan Bajo is a busy frontier tourist town popular with divers and travellers to Komodo National Park. Rapid tourist growth has placed sophisticated restaurants and hotels next to warungs and backpacker hostels. Dusty, muddy broken roads, souvenir shops, dive and tour touts, it’s abuzz with activity. With a strong Italian influence it’s a pleasant place for us to grab a cappuccino, dine out and nurse a head cold.
We take a boat tour to the National Park – a dramatic island-studded vista floating on a sea of glass. Our guide spots a bank of dragons lollygagging around, having feasted on a water buffalo for a few days. We snorkel a couple of reefs with colourful fish and coral – there are over 50 named dive sites like ‘banana split’ and ‘end of the world’. It’s time to head for the hills… Tidak, saya tidak mau tiga hari dive tour terima kasih.
The Highlands – Ruteng & Bajawa. We spend a few days in the highlands massaging the volcanic vertebrae of Flores with more ups and downs, twists and turns than a Hitchcock thriller – all the while sulking over a mobile phone and camera malfunction. Mostly great roads along ridges and ravines with occasional villages clinging to the sides, long stretches of jungle through drizzly clouds, across verdant green rice plateaus and valleys, farmers waving, kids shouting ‘hello mister’ Not just a destination, Flores Highlands is great travelling!
Ruteng. We rest at a warung and become the day’s entertainment, on past the Wae Rebo turnoff and down into Ruteng, a sprawling hill town of one way streets. At 1,200m it’s cool, often wet and set against a beautiful mountain backdrop.
In a café a local suggests visiting Liang Bua – the Hobbit Cave. A ride through small villages and along smaller and smaller roads, we find ourselves standing in this renowned cave, where in 2003, a one metre high adult fossil skeleton was discovered possibly representing a new human species. For such an important site, it’s a casual environment. Cathy chats to the Head Archaeologist who is a bit surprised to see visitors as I walk around taking a few photos.
Bajawa. We wind our way onto Bajawa at 1,500m – it’s a cool, compact and tidy hill town, with a nice set of themed concrete statues and a phone shop. With a new phone we head to a ‘rustic country homestay’ at Manulalu and look out over Mt. Inerie, one of Flores’ misaligned volcanic vertebrae. In the morning we visit Bena Traditional Village and politely pass on the invite to join the wake, but toast the departed while sampling the ceremonial breakfast coconut arak and rice.
Bajawa to Ende. On the road to Ende we eventually leave the ranges, wind down to the coast and around the long sweeping bay – we see Ende glistening in the distance, it’s less shiny up close, and the Safari Hotel is rather underwhelming.
Ende to Moni. Breakfast, haircut and drizzle that turns to sun as we wind and climb our way around Mt. Kelimutu to the hillside tourist hamlet of Moni. Resting in relative luxury at the Eco Lodge we watch the clouds descend. After two days with no break in the weather – we abandon our hike to the mystically coloured three crater lakes, we settle for a downloaded googled pic and decide to push on to Maumere.
Moni to Maumere. You know how the script goes – hapless travellers in unusual circumstances overcome the odds. We are in Moni in the mountains, it’s been raining heavily and we want to go to Maumere on the coast about two hours away, but don’t want to drive the bike in the rain.
Scene 1. We organise a driver and transport, and watch as four locals manipulate our scooter into the back of a passenger van.
Scene 2. We drive slowly for three hours as we wind our way through the mountain clouds and rain with trees, rocks, mudslides and water over the road. The driver seems competent but a bit surprised by the amount of water and mud on the road and the overflowing creeks. It appears heavy rain has blanketed the whole area.
Scene 3. We are now on the homestretch, only 15 kms to Maumere and the rain has stopped. We round the corner to a sea of buses, trucks, cars and bikes. It seems the bridge has been washed away and they are building a very temporary crossing – but only for bikes -it should only take another hour or so – locals are notoriously bad at estimating distance and time! The digger driver provides the entertainment as he pushes and pulls the earth and steel into place – the crowds observe his every move, all are bemused by our presence.
Much later the first bike cautiously makes its way across a very temporary crossing and up the muddy bank -cheers break out. Many hands help us unload our bike, nurse it over the crossing and up the bank. We thank them, wave goodbye and head to Maumere.
Maumere to Larantuka. The sun is out and while the port town of Maumere is no beauty, it does have a couple of nice concrete sculptures and sits on a spectacular bay with over 30 named dive sites like’ Fish Soup’ and ‘The Crack’.
After an overnight stay in a surprising comfortable hotel in downtown Maumere, we head out along the coast towards Larantuka. It’s a three hour ride east, the sun and the rain play hide and seek as we head around the bay, over the range, and around the headland. We glimpse our final destination – Larantuka clinging to the shoreline against a dramatic backdrop of the cloud topped volcano lle Mandiri. It’s a quaint sleepy town and historic Portuguese trading port loaded with spice island stories. We find some lovely accommodation sitting on the shores of the Larantuka Strait.
The town is in tidy-up mode for the historic Semana Santa (Easter celebrations) which starts next week attracting Catholics from around the world. In 2010 over 15,000 pilgrims celebrated five centuries of their religion in Flores. For next week’s celebrations they’re expecting a full house – may their prayers be answered.
Larantuka has good diving and some great stories about the Ancients, Indigenous, Portuguese, Dutch and Japanese. Our hosts Maria and Chris are delightful and informative, there is much still to explore here.
We have reached the end of Flores and our journey… but not our story.
Larantuka to Bali. The Pelni Ship KM Awu which was to ship our scooter back to Bali is in dry dock and the Pelni shipping office is now rather vague about what to do with our bike. With the help of locals we have success with JNE Freight and a forest of paperwork later our scooter is wrapped up like a mummy and ready to go home.
We are up at sunrise for our flights – breakfast in Larantuka Flores, lunch in Kupang Timor, afternoon coffee in Waingapu Sumba and touch down for dinner in Seminyak Bali. The flight back over the islands offers a different perspective of the twisting roads, mountains, rivers, ravines and volcanoes than we had seen on our ride.
Farewell Flores. We loved your friendly smiles, your history, your beautiful scenery and empty roads that wind along mountain ridges and ravines. We are grateful for your hospitality, accommodation, food and very temporary river crossings. But most of all we thank you for the great travelling.
‘Traveling—it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.’ Ibn Battuta.
Denpasar, Bali to Larantuka, Flores
Scooter: Honda Vario 150
Luggage: Total 16kg in 2 x 20lt saddlebags + day pack
Duration: 25 days
Total Km: 1,725 km
Total Cost: AU$2,500 (excluding AU$600 return airfares & bike shipping)
Distance: 70km av. per day
Total Cost: AU$100 av. per day
Food + Drink: AU$36 av. per day
Accom: AU$43 av. per day
Other: AU$20 av. per day
Travelling: Develop safe travel habits early: ID, wallet, phone, keys, etc. Take your time and enjoy the journey.
Accommodation: Plenty of cheap and uncomfortable places. We tried for better rather than cheaper, this was often difficult or poor value and we were occasionally surprised by limited vacancies.
Food: You won’t starve, but it’s handy to get to know the local warung specialties and it’s safest to eat where locals are eating.
Roads: Surprisingly good with little traffic, very windy in the ranges. Bike Safe rules always apply, keep an eye out for children, animals (especially goats in Sumbawa) as well as occasional road damage especially on bridge approaches. And try avoid driving late in the afternoons or evenings.
Ferries: These can leave earlier or later than schedule, they are often dreary with bad music. Locals are always up for a chat, carry your valuables, ear plugs, music and or a book.
People: Always friendly and helpful, and just love a chat, but don’t expect much English and directions are not necessarily reliable. A smile and a wave goes a long way.
Luggage & Packing: Less is better, and layering is good. We carried about 8kg each. A raincoat is good for rain and wind. Lean towards more conservative clothing especially in Sumbawa.
Weather: We had occasional mist and rain especially in the ranges and an unusual deluge in the east. Best travelling is after the wet when it’s still green and avoid the European holidays.
Directions: Google maps on and off the highway, local city paper maps if you can find them. Locals are helpful but few have travelled and they can have trouble reading maps and estimating distances and times.
Technology: Telkomsel 3/4G coverage is widely available as is WIFI in decent accommodation. We used a quality mobile for camera, calls, email and posts.
Health: Valid travel insurance is a must, be sensible about food and drink. Hospitals in bigger towns, Clinics in smaller towns, Doctors in many places and Chemists (Apotiks) everywhere. Selamat Jalan…