Tiny Boats, Crowded Boats and Wrecked Boats

Trip Start Jul 16, 2012
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Sunday, September 22, 2013

After spending so much longer in Malaysia than we planned our time in Indonesia was significantly shorter than we had anticipated, we initially wanted to head to Sulawesi and Papua New Guinea but with just 3 weeks to spare we decided that Lombok, Flores and Bali would have to do.

We started in Lombok and after arriving in the airport to be mobbed by rogue taxi drivers all trying to rip us off and to have Tim negotiating with a 10 year old boy (Tim still insists he was just a midget) to drive us to our hotel, I was immediately not loving Indonesia. We arrived in Sengiggi at our hotel which was lovely, a huge room and a nice pool on the beach front. The beach was a bit odd with black sand and huge waves crashing over the beach.   Sengiggi was pretty but it was absolutely dead, there were hardly any tourists (which was a relief when we tried to make a video for our friends Jeremy and Kara to wish them a happy 15 year wedding anniversary) and not really anything much to see or do, so after a couple of days of being wind burned trying to sunbathe we admitted defeat.

We had planned to go to Flores as I have always wanted to see the Komodo Dragons, however to get there we had to fly to Bali to then fly back on ourselves which is a bit annoying, but my main problem with this was when I looked at the airlines that fly to Flores every one of them is banned in the EU due to poor safety standards.  The alternative to flying was a boat and looking at the waves crashing onto our beach and reading the reviews of the constant sinking of poor quality boats we both agreed that the Komodo dragons would have to wait and instead we were going to island hop to the Gili Islands.

There are three Gili islands, Gili Air, Gili Meno and Gili Trawangan (Gili T).  Gili T is the main party and backpacker location, Gili Meno the relaxed honeymooner location and Gili Air somewhere inbetween.  So we decided to head to Gili Air.  This was easier said than done, the main way to get to Gili Air is by the public taxi boat which is notoriously overloaded and leaves as and when it is full so you can wait for 2 hours or end up paying more to get the boat moving, so we managed to find a small company that takes you across on their glass bottom boat.  When I say small company, their boat matched their stature and I was a little concerned mid ocean when the waves were lapping the side of the boat and I was grasping my rucksack like my life depended on it, willing us to reach shore.  We eventually did reach shore and amazingly we were dry, next form of transport a horse and cart.  Yet again the smallest horse and cart I have ever been on and I did feel ever so slightly sorry for the poor horse.  The Gili Islands all have only horses and carts and bikes, it was quite a welcome treat not to run the risk of being run over by speeding cars and mopeds, although one evening during dinner I am pretty sure someone got run over by horse and cart, we opted to stay put and not find out what the commotion was about.

So Gili Air was supposed to be one of the more peaceful islands… whoever said that was an almightly liar!  We had music blaring every night until 5 am and then the beloved neighbours at our hotel started using power tools at 8am so peace and quiet was very much lacking.  The beach however was beautiful and there was the most stunning reef just minutes from our hotel and we therefore spent the vast majority of our stay underwater trying cautiously to get photos of the adorable Peacock Mantis Shrimps.  Peacock mantis Shrimps are one of my favourites, they look a lot like bright green lobsters with no legs, but in fact they have little arms tucked in underneath them which they use to punch their way into shells and crabs to eat, they have also been known to punch divers masks and cameras and can punch at an amazing 50mph and have been known to shatter aquarium glass, too cool!   We did contemplate diving in the Gili's but it was pretty rough and they are notorious for strong currents, which we don’t particularly enjoy.  We went on a snorkel boat trip which took us to the other two Gili’s and had a real treat when on our first snorkel we were faced with a sea full of green and Hawksbill Turtles, not even close to the numbers on Pom Pom but still any turtle encounter is a treat for us.  I did however become the turtle police and had a full blown mid ocean row with some French tourists who decided that they wanted a photo holding onto the turtle.  The Poor turtle was trying to hide in a piece of coral a quarter her size to get away from them so I used my best free dive skills to swoop down between them and the turtle and give the turtle a chance to get away then gave them a piece if my mind.  People make me so angry!!!

Anyway regardless of the idiots messing with my turtle babies we had a great day. We visited a turtle sanctuary on Gili Meno and whilst they mean well, it was pretty sad to see baby turtles being kept until they are 8 months old before being released into the sea.  These are the most special times for baby turtles, known as "The Lost Years" because nobody knows where they go or what they do.  Despite scientific developments it is one of those rare phenomena’s that people just don’t see baby turtles.  When they hatch they have a 3 day swim frenzy and get themselves deep out onto the reef and they are not seen again until they are much, much bigger.  Keeping the babies in 3 inches of water and feeding them 3 times a day is probably not going to set them up particularly well for the big bad ocean world.  However it is a step forward from selling or eating the eggs so I don’t want to be too critical, it is a step in the right direction.

Given that Gili Air was not the peaceful island retreat that we thought we decided that we may as well head to Gili T where there were more bars and restaurants and from our tour we knew there were turtles on the house reef, what better reason to island hop.  The problem with island hopping is that it meant going on the dreaded taxi boat.  The sea was pretty rough and choppy but when we hopped on the boat was significantly bigger and felt more seaworthy than it looked.  We left Gili Air with just 30 people on board and I was pretty happy and comfortable, then unbeknown to us we stopped on Gili Meno and filled the boat to capacity and then some.  Suddenly the boat was a foot lower in the water and for the remaining 20 minute crossing we had waves breaking over the boat straight over us and our luggage, awesome.

Thankfully we had prebooked a hotel on Gili T and amazingly it was just 2 minutes from the harbour (I say harbour, it is actually just a bit of beach dedicated to boats).  We arrived at the hotel reception and told them that we had a reservation and suddenly there was a full blown conversation going on it Indonesian between the staff.  I could see my name on the board with the room number so didn’t entirely understand the problem.  There was however a problem and seemingly they had given our room away?!  This however was not a problem for long as we were very swiftly upgraded to a one bedroom suite, result.

Gili T is known for its wild parties and it totally lived up to its reputation.  Having had this on Gili Air we were not bothered, what however did bother us was the fact that the music stopped at 5:30am and the mosque started at 6am and actually didn’t stop, ever!  We made the most of our time here just enjoying our nice room and kitchen, eating out, and of course snorkelling with our turtle friends. Exhausted from sleep deprivation we decided to head over to Bali.  I took a trip to the harbour to check out the boats before we booked and managed to find a small speedboat which was brand new and had a really good reputation for not overloading or sinking, so we booked it and had a surprisingly comfortable trip across to the mainland.  We got talking to a girl on the boat who had been diving in Gili T and she confirmed as we expected that it was not that relaxing as there were really strong currents.  She then went on to tell us that one dive company had lost a diver just two days ago and decided not to tell all the other dive companies as it the protocol so this poor diver was out at sea for 23 hours and was found alive just off the coast of Bali, crazy stuff, so glad we opted not to dive here!

So our first stop in Bali was Tulamben.  There really is nothing in Tulamben except for a large volcano which is a rather beautiful sight on the horizon and some pretty special dive spots, our reason for visiting.  We found a hostel which offered the most amazing dive packages we have ever seen, 50 for 5 dives!  This by anyones standards is a bargain so we signed up and were not disappointed.

The main reason for diving Tulamben is the Liberty Wreck, which was a WW1 United States Transport Ship.  In January 1942 she was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine whilst en route to the Philippines and was beached at Tulamben where she stayed until 1963.  In 1963 Mount Agung erupted and the tremours caused the Liberty to slip into the sea creating one of the best wreck dives which is accessible from the shore and the top of the ship is in just 5 meters of water.

We explored the Liberty snorkelling which was pretty special, but we couldn’t wait to get under the water and diver her.  By staying in Tulamben we definitely got to see The Liberty at her best as in the mid afternoon every dive company from across Bali and driven here and the main problem with visibility was caused by the sheer amount of divers in the water!  Our first dive was spectacular with huge bump head parrot fish, tiny leaf scorpion fish, miniature lion fish and a whole sea floor filled with garden eels to mention just a few of the sights.  The coral garden which is literally an underwater park filled with statues and the drop off did not disappoint either; we even saw our first cuttlefish.  Our routine in Tulamben was a pretty good one.  Sleep, eat, dive, eat, sleep dive, dive, eat, sleep.

But it was time to move onto our last stop in Bali, Seminyak.  We knew better than to stay in Kuta in Bali as it is the Benidorm of Bali which we knew we would hate so we opted to go a couple of beaches along to Seminyak.  We had problems when we booked our hotel as no hotel seemed to be near the main beach, streets or restaurants but we finally settled on a hotel that we knew wasn’t near much but had a pool and was actually a little one bedroom apartment.  It turned out that we made the perfect decision as we just put our feet up and relaxed around the pool and made ourselves dinner to eat whilst sitting on the sofa watching TV, it really has been so long since we had the comfort of a sofa.

We did go into Kuta and into Seminyak and quite frankly I am still not sure where one ends and the other begins, Seminyak is just an extension of Kuta which claims to have a better reputation but the beach was an absolute sewage pit with raw sewage being openly pumped into the sea which was a bubbling pit of poo, nice.  What astounded me is that the tourists were still happily swimming in it??!!

We always knew that we wanted to see Flores, Sulawesi and Papua New Guinea but we made do with the short time we had and sadly didn’t see the best of Indonesia, but we always need to leave some places to come back to some day!

Feeling relaxed and tanned and ready for some western civilisation it is time to catch our flight to Australia, Perth here we come!  
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