Every place we visit, I like to post photos that capture the everyday magic of a place. For Indonesia, I combined this post to encompass all of Indonesia versus each place since our time was more compressed. Enjoy!
Indonesia is composed of so many islands and it’s actually not that easy to get from one end to the other unless you fly. Since flying is much more expensive, we decided to take an overnight boat from Lombok to the island of Flores one way and then fly back to Bali on the way back. We looked up information on the Pelni boat, which makes the journey from island to island heading East once every 2 weeks. We managed to sync it up with our itinerary and caught it going out of Lembar on Lombok and then landing in Labuan Bajo on Flores. Labuan Bajo is where most people base out of when they do day trips to the Komodo Islands. The tickets cost about $16 each and the journey takes 27 hours. 27 hours!!! Our longest transit time yet. Another alternative is to go in a minibus overland which takes a little less than 24 hours, but you have a ton of transfers and the journey is broken up into 5 hour chunks. We heard a lot of bad things about the bus trip, so we went for the Pelni instead.
What’s scary is that the night before we left, I broke out in a rash all over my entire body and I thought it was hives. It was hot and super blotchy. I still wasn’t feeling well from my cold. After Mike did some research, we figured out that I was allergic to the antibiotic I started taking for the cold, Z-Pak (azithromycin), and got a photoallergic reaction. I’ve never had my skin break out all blotchy like that before. I took an antihistamine and went to bed, and miraculously it was gone in the morning. Whew! Needless to say, I stopped taking the Z-Pak.
We headed out of Gili T and down to Lembar really early so we could make sure to leave plenty of time to get tickets and everything. The ticket office is in a random port away from all the other tourist boats, so it took a while to find. It wasn’t open yet; we were the only tourists there. An hour later, a window opened and then Mike waiting in this “bench” line to buy tickets. Pretty hilarious. All local men.
Tickets in hand, we still had 2 hours before the boat would leave, so we headed down to the pier with all the others. This was really off the beaten track, and I think total we saw maybe 2-3 other small tourist groups the whole time.
The boat arrived an hour later than the scheduled time (as expected) and everyone crowded to board the boat. It was insanity, people running, pushing, and shoving to get up the stairs. I guess the spaces fill up pretty quickly so everyone wanted to get on the boat first to stake out their spots. Mike and I were really lucky and found two spots next to each other after circling the floor a couple of times. So college students had a section and let us have two of their spots after seeing us wander around frantically. It’s important to get a spot with a thin mattress pad since the journey is so long. Another tourist group we saw wasn’t so lucky and couldn’t find pads—I’m not sure where they ended up, but some people end up sitting on the floor.
The boat holds a capacity of around 500 passengers but it felt like there were much more than that on the boat! There are 5 levels of economy and only a few rooms for first/second class (at a much higher price). Many people smoke in Indonesia, so it made the inside pretty hot and smoky. Kind of feels like sleeping in a casino with everyone smoking around you. All of our clothes and bags reeked by the time we got off. We talked some with the Indonesians around us and a group of girls particularly took to Mike and sang us some Indonesian songs. Too cute!
Whenever we stopped in a port, vendors would come on board to sell food and water, and that’s when our friends signaled to us that it’s time to buy food now. Otherwise the food on the boat is 3 times the price. We got some pretty good snack lunches for just 50 cents!
After 27 hours on the boat, we felt pretty disgusting and were exhausted. The bathrooms on the boat were pretty awful so it wasn’t fun trying to limit the number of times you had to go. Getting off the boat was even more crowded than getting on the boat! The pier in Labuan Bajo was jam packed all the way back. Thankfully we got through okay. What an experience. Thank goodness we’re flying back, but I guess it was interesting to go through it once and super cheap!
There’s no shortage of beachfront seafood barbeques on Gili T, so we decided to try Fortuna Café near our hotel one night. They have live music every night, but it’s really funny since they specialize in female power ballads—not quite what you think of as beachside genre live music.
Anyhow, there’s a display of all the fish out front and you pick the one you want for dinner. We settled on the barracuda since those looked really fresh.
After a few songs of Kelly Clarkson and Faith Hill, out came our fish! It was done perfectly and was really good. Tender and grilled with just some garlic, butter, and lime.
For some reason, there are stray cats all over Gili T, so as we were finishing up, sure enough, a cat started mewing at our table for some fish. Sorry, we ate it all!
On Gili Trawangan, we purposely stayed near an area of the beach where there was good snorkeling outside. We love snorkeling so it’s nice to have a good spot close by. The current actually was incredibly strong though, so you had to walk all the way north up the beach and then get in and drift back down. It was pretty fast moving, so we usually held on to a buoy rope to stay put for a while and watch the show. There were tons of fish and they seemed to like Mike a lot for some reason—he was surrounded!
We saw a scorpionfish silently waiting at the bottom—it was really neat. There are different types of scorpionfish and lionfish are the better known ones, but this one was really camouflaged. Any time you’re diving and want to hold on to a rock, the dive guides always tell you to wave your hand back and forth in case a camouflaged scorpionfish is there.
Lots of other great colorful fish swimming around and the visibility was great—so clear.
Sorry it’s been a little while since the last update, we’ve been on boats for the last week and I haven’t had very much downtime to write!
Back to Gili Trawangan…we decided to do 1 dive on Gili T with Gili Divers (where we were staying) to check it out. There’s a site called Turtle City, which is the shallower version of Shark Point, supposedly one of the better dive sites around there. With our open water certification, we can only go down 18m by PADI standards (but that will change when we get our Advanced Open Water certification in Komodo!). Turtle City was an amazing dive. We saw bumphead parrotfish for the first time and they were HUGE. We got really close several times and they were in a school of about 12 fish. The bumphead parrotfish were about 5 feet long and pretty wide. It was an incredible sight. I don’t have a diving camera, but here’s a photo I pulled off of Google images so you can see what these fish look like.
And of course from the name Turtle City, we saw maybe 5-6 sea turtles, both green turtles and hawksbill turtles. How you can tell the difference between the two is that hawksbill turtles usually have dirty looking or scratched shells. Since they like to hide under coral and eat it, their shells tend to be more scratched up. On Gili T, they have a sea turtle rehabilitation project and large tanks with tiny baby sea turtles. It was really cute, some of them were so small, only a few inches across.
The nice thing about diving in Gili T is that all the dive sites are so close to the island, only a 5-15 minute boat ride away and you can in tiny boats. So really you just do 1 dive at a time versus the usual 2 dives per boat trip. Great experience!
After 4 intense days of trekking, we rewarded ourselves with 3 days on the small island of Gili Trawangan, known as Gili T. It’s the largest of the Gili Islands off the northwestern shore of Lombok and just a 40 minute boat ride from the port Bangsal. There’s no motorized vehicles on the Gili islands, which lends a nice calm feeling. You can get around by cidomo, which are horse drawn carriages, but Mike and I never used them once since you can walk pretty easily everywhere you need to go. It’s a nice contrast from Ko Tao and Ko Lanta. Gili T definitely has beautiful white sand beaches, snorkeling right outside our hotel, and a good variety of restaurants within easy strolling distance. So we would rank Gili T as our top pick if you wanted your all-in-one package. We stayed north of the pier at Gili Divers which was in a perfect spot for snorkeling. We avoided south of the pier since it’s more known for its nightlife. But after walking down there at night, it’s nothing compared to Ko Tao! Definitely wouldn’t be a problem if you stayed down there, but no snorkeling out front.
All the hotels and restaurants are on the east side of the island, but you can walk to the northwestern end of the island to catch the sunset. The low tide is pretty extreme on this part of the island, so there are a ton of rocks and reef showing, but it makes for a great reflection of the sunset.
At night, there is a bustling night market with street food stands. We found a chicken satay lady who wins for best Indonesian food we’ve had so far! You get a bunch of everything: glass noodles, rice, pickled vegetables, chicken skewers with peanut sauce, and chili sauce. The chili here in Indonesia is so good, smoky and tomato based—I want to bring some home! The peanut sauce was really tasty too, I’m usually not a fan since they’re always so sweet, but her sauce was nice and savory. Definitely went back again another night.