There’s a title you don’t see every day on a blog.
This is a part of Indonesia, a country most Australians only know as Bali. But Indonesia is a staggeringly diverse place with 300 different ethnic groups, 700 different languages and 17,000 islands.
I previously completed a ride in East Java and I had an idea to ride back to Yogyakarta from Bali one way. Then a blogger I follow Aki posted about riding Flores on his blog Sarawak Adventure Rider. This made me change my plans.
From Tokyo I flew Jetstar to Manila and was surprised it didn’t suck. No check in queue, no surly staff. People say bad things about Manila airport, only some of which is deserved, it used to be voted worst in the world by people who have have never experienced truly bad airports like Port Moresby or Kabul. I was going to briefly visit my mate living in Philippines but nothing went to plan. A typhoon had just dumped huge amount of rain leaving many areas flooded. Oh well no point crying over spilt milk as the saying goes. Nothing to do daytime but hang out at the mall.
After this I ended up paying twice as much as Japan for a quick dry shirt in Uniqlo which here apparently is upmarket boutique. Marketing spin. I did have some excellent American style pepperoni pizza and I found a pretty good bottle of Chilean wine in a Robinson supermarket so I’m calling today a win.
Breakfast in McDonald’s where there is a heavily armed security guard. Because Philippines. McDonald’s here sells fried chicken with rice or soft spaghetti like you get from a tin – which everyone in store is eating.
To pass the time I told a hair salon to give me the works. Good thing it will grow out as I am too old now for the fancy style.Used a Grab car back to NAIA thus avoiding the hassle of Philippine ‘no meter’ taxis. In the airport lounge I spotted the same sandwiches as when I last flew out of this terminal in 2012. Not the ingredients, I mean the very same ones still uneaten. How can a country surrounded by the fantastic food of SE Asia continue to have the worst.I took an Air Asia flight to Denpasar and ‘two for two’ this trip no queues and very friendly cabin staff. On a roll!
Ok that soon came to a halt. One hour and 20 minutes before my bag landed on the belt. I was imagining them being unloaded 2 or 3 at a time by one guy using a wheelbarrow back and forth. A very old guy. Also blind. I felt sorry for the other half of the plane still waiting as I literally yelled hallelujah out loud picking up my bag. Actually I didn’t feel sorry, air travel brings out the worst in people, I was bolting for the exit saying ‘so long suckers, blind Pete might get your bags to you before day break’.
1000’s of Aussies in Bali. The taxi driver asked me why. I think maybe it’s a place people feel not too removed from Australia. The Aussies all clump together in bars that sell meat pies and chicken parmigiana, watch Australian sports, nodding at each others ignorant statements about the rest of the world that they know nothing about.
After so much time spent abroad the Australian book of etiquette seems rather slim to me.I took a taxi to visit the bike shop I was renting through, Motor Adventure Bali. It took 40 minutes to get clear of the endless sprawl of Aussie bars, knock off clothing stores and tourist trap cafes such was the congestion.Rather than find a rental on Flores I pre booked a late model Kawasaki KLX150 with this shop as it seemed a reasonable machine for the route I had in mind. I got some good advice from the owner and a terrific old school paper map with more info than Google maps. Then I visited the Dues Ex shop in Bali and paid too much for a t-shirt. I had deliberately left with only a couple of shirts and a plan to get more along the way as very hard to get western size clothing in Japan. Hopefully I’ll not lose it in a laundry shop.My attempt at arty selfie outside Dues Ex Machina Bali. The thought crossed my mind to rent a bike but the traffic was nightmarish. Neither a swimmer, surfer or seeker of new age enlightenment I’ve not felt drawn to resort destinations. Pleasant enough here except for the tax that triples the price of wine but nothing to interest me after couple of days so I flew on to Labuan Bajo with NAM air.
I was worried I would miss check in. It took an hour to get to the airport in gridlock traffic but I need not have rushed, the plane was 4 hours late. Most worn out plane interior I have seen since flying in a Aeroflot IIyushin a lifetime ago, but it didn’t fall out of the sky so all good.
Labuan Bajo has recently hit gold being the gateway for tourists going to see the Kodomo dragons. A new airport is almost finished and new resorts are being built but at present it is still a dusty road of tin shacks. Most having become knock off t-shirt stores or ‘official tourist offices’ with touts for boat rides. No Australians here, all European or Chinese visitors. Get your SIM card in Jakarta or Denpasar before landing on Flores as very little wifi and they cannot do the registration needed here. And get Telkomsel SIM not XL Axiata like I did in Bali as they have poor coverage here.
Personally I wasn’t interested in seeing the lizards. I’ve seen 6 foot goanna’s in Australia but I would like to see the island views if I can find a short boat trip.I collect the bike and do a shake down ride. Above is a few kilometres south of town, big luxury hotel being built just off screen. Beer o’clock. I’ll think about boat rides later. Indonesia has a casual approach to safety and I do not swim.
Super keen to start today, no idea how people can sit around a hotel pool day after day. (they in turn have no idea what idiot would want to ride a motorcycle so all good)The roads are nice right from the word go. After leaving the town the corners begin and don’t let up. From the oppressive heat in Labuan Bajo you climb and soon are in the mountains.I did not bring my helmet as photos on the rental shop site showed quality ADV helmets available. Unfortunately that is in Bali not here and I regretted my decision. But I stop to take a photo and two girls on a scooter run over and want a selfie with me.Ok that lifts the spirits!I rode a KLX150 in Borneo. This newer one has a fuel gauge but it showed empty after just 70km. I figure the gauge cannot be relied on and seeing one of the few government regulated petrol stations I decide to fill up as fuel is only 65c a litre. No low fuel light, no trip meter. Come on Kawasaki … I will calculate the approximate fuel range once I do a couple top ups. Nowhere sells chain lube and the one on the bike is bone dry. A bike shop in Ruteng donates some oil which quietens it down a bit and bonus I get lunch next door. These shops with the bowls in the window are the only eateries I have seen in towns, no coffee shops, bakeries, road side cafes or other restaurants – but the food is good so no problems. A locals tip was get fresh ground green chilli. Out of town people everywhere yell out hello and wave. Young kids go wild waving their arms and running along. Guy on bikes toot their horn or wave to stop and chat. Girls sitting around with their phones smile and say hello sir. Guys riding in back of trucks almost fall off waving. Literally every person, and I mean every single person in each village yells out hello and smiles! I’ve been surprised in Sri Lanka and Nepal by how people respond to foreigners but it’s nothing compared to here. You feel like a famous movie star.
I stop for a iced coffee about 3.30pm at a small rural shop and become an instant celebrity. It’s an amazing experience that is refreshing and uplifting. People are very poor here but all laugh and smile. I cannot help but think back to many countries I have travelled where people have everything but possess such a bad attitude.It was nearly 4.30pm and I still had 50km to go but I felt in great spirits so stopped for a walk on the beach.I make the hotel on dusk, today my route was bit too long. Sorry the road is impossible to photograph but to paint a picture it is like your favourite twisty national park forest road. I know the term endless corners gets overused but look at the elevation in the route below and the only sections that were not continuous change of direction were the short sections at sea level. One of the most amazing days riding I have experienced. I stayed last night in Bajawa which is high in the mountains. The cold temperature was a surprise – it fell to 15 degrees overnight. The owner studied and worked in Australia and sounded like a Melbournite when he turned on the accent. Setting off with two t-shirts on usually cuts the chill when in Thailand with my mesh jacket but not today, this was much colder than I expected. I really never took notice that I would be high in mountains often on this ride, I thought Indonesia, 30 degrees.
From Bajawa it is a very long descent to the ocean on yet more excellent road. Impossible to capture but a lovely ride.Closer to the ocean the road changes to slightly more open sweeping curves. The survey style is immediately familiar to me as it was built by Australia and I could almost be back home in Northern NSW.Just imagine a island with very few cars with an amazing hotmix road of endless curves built by Australian taxpayers that runs for about 750km. Welcome to Flores. Riding along the coast the road is still non stop curves, I liked it even more here on the flat as don’t need to be working the engine all the time. I stop at a place called the Blue Stone beach which has lots of, you guessed it, blue stones. They look great on the black volcanic sand. Small storm brewing but I make it into Endes for a late lunch at another Makasan Pandang shop with the bowls in the window. Pretty easy, Nasi means rice, Ayam chicken and Goreng fried, that will do me.Pleasant ride from Endes up into mountains to Moni where I am staying tonight. Bit cool with some rain clinging to the mountain but I stay dry. Roof riding is big here. Also on the top of dump trucks or side of vans which careen around bends. Safety first!You see these markers along much of the way, 2016 and 2017 being when the cross island road was rebuilt.Still took most of day to ride this distance.Moni is a one street tourist village but it has beer on the left and fuel on the right and that will suffix. A New Zealand girl at the bar looking for a beer, I shout her one and ask her story. Says she quit her job to see the world. Great! where are you planning to travel? This is the beginning but she is angry being charged $2 for fried rice, insisting locals pay $1. Ok… And she is a ‘self confessed greenie vegan conservationist’ and upset about the rubbish everywhere so may cut her travel short and go home. Aha…
She downed her beer faster than a Bangkok bar girl and seems slow to realise I’m not interested to buy her another. I was going to mention the book Factfulness by Hans Rosling would give her a good understanding of the world before embarking further but figured the conversation had peaked shortly after hello.
Thanks for reading, my ride continues tomorrow. I shall post this soon as I can access the internet again.
Part two now posted here