TIA

Trip Start Oct 15, 2012
1
5
11
Trip End Mar 15, 2013


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Flag of Indonesia  , East Nusa Tenggara,
Friday, November 2, 2012

Friday, 2 November 
 
We are now on a predominantly catholic Island called Flores in a harbour village called Labuan Bajo, where a spectacular sunset over the sea can be included in your dining experience, which is slightly better than the MacDonald's Happy Meal experience at Hammersmith Broadway.
 
Our transport to Labuan Bajo is by a prop plane and as I walk across the runway i mutter to myself about bumpy rides and poor decompression. On board there is a prayer card in the various major faiths. The prayer is one about making this a safe flight. On the back are a set of instructions of what to do in an emergency.
 
The flight from Denpasar lasts a little over an hour. Despite it being a prop plane, it's a smooth ride unlike our landing which is probably one of the worst and certainly the most fearful landing I've ever had. The descent begins gradually enough but the nearer we get to landmass the steeper the declination. Ok, this a little weird, I think to myself, but its ok as I like a bit of weirdness and danger in my flight. I remember my first trip to Oz during which I experienced such bad turbulence the other passengers started crying out whilst I sat there with the biggest grin on my face. There's something about danger that I really like. So as we get closer landmarks become easily recognisable but our declination does not ease and then the plane does a sort of nose dive, not a complete dive but the pitch is severe enough to catch the attention of the most seasoned flier. It's at this point I imagine the warning system in the cockpit is going mental: WOOP WOOP! Pull up! WOOP WOOP! Pull up! Christ man, pull the fuck up. And still we plunge to the earth. WOOP WOOP! Pull up! Goes the klaxon in my mind. Holeeeeeeey shit, the runway is just there! Pull up you fucking fuck. I look at Emily convinced that the pilot has decided to embark on a (losing) game of Chicken with the runway. As I look at her I try to look calm and just like my GCSE maths exam I fail miserably. This is what happens when you take a shit during the call to prayer. What seems like a last minute decision, or more like an afterthought, the pilot decides to pull up. Fucking aye! 
 
For whatever reason the pilot lands the plane sideways, a manoeuvre more popular with small prop planes in Alaska as they have to battle and counter the affect of severe wind shear - this technique is called crabbing. However, we're in Flores, Indonesia it is sunny and there is certainly no wind to speak of and no need for the pilot to be pulling off crabbing manoeuvres. The explanations I can think of for this unusual landing technique can only be: a) The pilot has only landed a plane a couple of times prior to this b) He's showing off. The landing gear shudders remarkably under the great stress as it takes all the weight first on the left hand-side and after some considerable time later, the right side also touches down. I stare at Emily with wide unblinking eyes. Did the guy just get his pilot's licence? I say to her. Later Emily tells me that after she saw the reaction on my face she closed her eyes for the remainder of the landing.
As we disembark I look back at our plane and notice the mountains in the distance from the direction we flew in, thereby explaining our rather rapid descent. I guess the pilot had to lose altitude rather quickly in order to make the runway.
 
The "airport" is a tiny shack of a place and the heat is terrible. I'm tired, grumpy and hot. Emily and I had make a 20 minute walk this morning in a 30 degree heat with 80% humidity in order to make our flight from Denpasar airport. So I'm not really in the mood for the unexpected surge of attention we receive for as soon as we set foot in the shack we're surrounded and hustled by taxi hawkers.  
 "Taxi, sir? Taxi?" My temper reaches boiling point instantly flashing into anger as we're surrounded. My bags haven't even been removed from the hold so why would I need a taxi now, this minute?! I look at the gentleman in front of me and rather than give in to my base desire of a harsh retaliatory dismissal, I think of Blue and his ugly wife. This driver has a story, too. I politely but firmly tell him we don't need a car as Emily has already booked an airport pickup, but she's not sure if they'll be there as she didn't receive a confirmation email.  
 "Once we get our bags and if he isn't there we'll come get you if you're around." We tell the hawke
 “Ok, I cheaper. How much you pay?” 
 “Nothing, it's free. Part of the hotel pick-up." We tell him. 
 “Ok, ok. I give you good price.” This guy has the bartering skills of a gibbon.  
 “Dude, i say doubting that he even knows what a dude is. “We haven't even got our bags yet. If we need you, we'll come get you.” But he simply doesn't leave us alone. By now i want to go all Liam Gallagher on him. So I walk off with Emily in hand to the seating area. A couple minutes later he comes over, fag in hand, and sits next to Emily and tries to persuade her to take up his services all the while puffing smoke in our direction. We ignore him as best we can.
 
Much to our relief the pick up is out there waiting for us. The sign reads: MRS. CURTIS EMILY. So many wrong things in just 3 words. We're taken to the car where another young gentleman is waiting to help. We climb on board and get settled in. As I'm fumbling with my daypack the car starts off and I'm immediately on edge as I recognise the all too familiar feel of someone who hasn't quite mastered the balance of the clutch and gas. The older gentleman who met us with the sign mutters something to the young driver in a quiet reassuring tone. Wow. Wow. WOW! This is really happening. This is really really happening. I'm allowing myself to be driven around by a learner driver, on roads where there are fewer laws here than there are at Guantanamo. I stare at Emily completely bug eyed. It seems as though someone else is going for their licence. In Africa there's a saying amongst travellers: TIA, This Is Africa. Basically its used when weird shit happens in Africa that the locals take as normal daily life occurrences. For instance the electricity will go down for several minutes to several hours. Or one day you'll wander outside to find your security guy is chopping off the heads of several black mambas that he found in the garden area. As I jerk around in the car progressively lurching toward our hotel, I think to myself TIA: This Is Asia.
 
Saturday, 3 November
 
Labuan Bajo is a very small village that has a remoteness to it and is off the normal tourist trail. Labuan Bajo is definitely backpacker territory. It feels good to be away from Gili T not because I disliked it there but the call to prayer was seriously messing with my head, and I never thought I'd say this but being on an island full of Catholics felt fucking great, and I'm not religious by any stretch of the imagination. I just needed to be rid of the megaphone.
 
Our lodgings for the next 2 nights is the Centro Bajo hotel that is home to a mutant sized gecko that's so big it appears to defy gravity as it casually stares at us from the surface of a wall. A gecko so big that it makes me think twice about walking past it. 
The locals are very friendly and quick to smile once you greet them and even quicker to laughter when you take their picture. Initially this can be quite challenging as the locals tend to stare at you with a stern expression but this hard exterior melts once you make the effort with them. And so it is not long before I'm shooting away on my camera. Children offer the best shots because they're cheeky and curious and battered looking so hopefully one will provide me the chance to win a National Geographic portrait award. So at every opportunity I'll take a photo of several groups of kids or of a lone child but they all look too happy, damn it. However, I start to feel a bit conscious that I'm paying too much attention to the children; Emily reinforces this feeling by saying: 
  “Careful, people back home might think it a bit weird having so many photos of young children. They'll probably think you're a mate of Jimmy Saville.” Damn it, she's right and I used to work for the BBC.
 
We wander around looking for the best deal on tours to the Komodo Island and its during this time that we bump into 2 guys one of which asks us where there is an ATM, which we direct them to. Moments later after an unsuccessful negotiation with a tour operator we bump into them again. “Did you find it?” I ask. “Yeah, long walk,” he says with a smile. We get chatting and we ask them whether they're going on the Komodo tour, which they are. We ask if we can join them and they're more than happy to as it will reduce the cost. The 2 guys are Jochem (Dutch) and Fernando (Chilean) there's a girl in their group whose name is Emma (Australian). They're a really cool bunch of guys and easy to get on with. Jochem reminds me of my friend Jean in terms of the way he says certain words and phrases and has an uncanny resemblance to Woody Harrelson. Fernando's exterior expression is quite misleading as he looks a little stern when he's not talking so you could be forgiven for initially thinking that he's a little stand-offish. But he's not, he's a great guy with a good sense of humour and a great love of beer. Emma is great and makes the conversation flow easily. She strikes me as a strong character and not one to push over and, i suspect, has a low tolerance for bullshit. Basically, I like them all, as together they make a good group. Apparently they met up on Gili T and have been together since.
 
After successfully booking our tour, during which a rumour of tourists being killed by the Komodos is neither confirmed nor denied, Emily and I decide to rent one of the rooms at the Villa they're staying at (Casa Selini) the next day. Although the Centro Bajo hotel is ok it is a little way from the centre of activity.  Also the food there is pretty shit, which probably explains why there are more flies than guests in the restaurant area. My first meal there consisted of slop and grease and whilst eating I was continually attacked by the hordes of flies which I had to wave off like some budget remake of King Kong.  And to round off the Centro Bajo Hotel experience there is an animal living in our bedroom walls that likes to scurry about at night, probably the mutant gecko. Whatever it is it sounds big. Again I think back to Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings as he advises his fellowship: "...There are far fouler and evil things than Orcs and Goblins in the deeps." Whatever we have in our room, it sounds foul and is deep within our walls and I'm unarmed. I think back to how it took 30 mins to kill one bastard cockroach. It would take me at least a day to kill this monster. Tomorrow, or soon, I must get tooled up and bring the fight to the bugs like Rico did in Starship Troopers.
 
Approximately 7pm
 
AAAAAAAAAAAYYYYYYYYYAAAAH ALLAAAH HU AKBAR!
The megaphone is back and just as loud as ever if not louder. I curse my misfortune as we're informed that whilst Flores is 90% Catholic we happen to be in one of the few parts that practices Islam and that we're slap bang in the middle of two mosques. Now I have the call to prayer in stereo.
 
Pick-up for the Komodo Island is at 5:30am.Fuck! Where's my lie in? I'm supposed to be on holiday damn it.
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