Through the ocean mist in Labuanbajo

Posted: April 22, 2011 in Indonesia
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The Komodo trip, though exhilarating and worth every penny, damn near broke me. I touched down on terra firma with a nasty eye infection, scabby arm and exhaustion from lack of sleep. The plan to hook up in the evening at Paradise Bar for a session to celebrate the trip was short-lived. My eyes were bright red and itching. The eye bogeys had come to town and the smoke in the bar was killing me. For those of you who know me well, I don’t do ill. I lasted 1hr before my grump drove me away and to the peaceful confines of our over-priced room up in the cliffs at Chez Felix.

Labuanbajo harbour Flores

I awoke to sore eyes and major disappointment. We had planned to take a 2-day detour inland to Ruteng to explore the beautiful countryside of Flores but my eyes were too painful to consider the dirt and grime of bus travel. Muneeza urged me to find a Doctor but I insisted it would clear up soon enough. At 4pm I went to the Doctor. My eyes were like bright red saucers, reminding me of the worst days of childhood hay fever. The kind lady had a quick scan (obviously I mean that she scanned me, for the pedants among you) and then reassured me it was a common infection and she has seen much worse. Tablets and drops were dispensed quite cheaply and I strolled out of there with a renewed spring in my step. The drops burned slightly but a little pain is usually a good sign, right?

We sat around The Lounge, a very cool bar cum restaurant hangout popular with locals and backpackers alike. It’s the best place in town for high-speed wifi that enables decent Skype indulgence. A friend of ours, Caroline, told us about a snorkel trip run by an American chap called David who lives in Labuanbajo. He’s a volunteer English teacher, in his 50s and very laid back. Every few weeks he organises a boat trip out to some of the nearby islands that offer incredible snorkeling and beautiful beaches. He charges each tourist 100,000Rp (about £7) to cover the boat hire and then invites local people to come along for free in exchange for making a basic nasi goreng (fried rice) lunch. It’s an admirable gesture because most local people can’t afford to make the trips that tourists take for granted. It also encourages visitors to mix with locals and get to know their culture a little better. And it enables young kids to see the natural beauty of their home and you can’t say fairer than that. Some people have kind souls.

I encouraged Muni to talk to him, as I was land locked for 3 days on Doc’s orders and didn’t want her to lose out as well. After a quick chat she decided it was a good option and booked for the next day. Early Saturday morning on the 16th I walked my jani to the meeting point, then headed to The Lounge to catch up on some work. Yes I still live life on the edge.

At sea, with no care in the world

As Muneeza was not due home until 6pm, I had a somewhat leisurely day on the Internet, indulging in some networking to try and set up work from my return. The corporate whore lies dormant but not for long.

As the day dragged on for the man with no eyes, I became more and more envious that my jani was spending a day island hopping in this paradise and getting to meet the locals. As 6pm approached and passed, I became more and more impatient. I wanted food! A call at 17.30 told me they were on their way back but at 20.15 still no sign. Alarm bells started to ring. You hear of boats sinking without trace in Indonesia due to the rather lackadaisical health & safety standards, and my paranoia mounted. It then also struck me that I knew nothing about David. Could he be a twisted sex pest in disguise? Was he the kidnapping type? I fired up Skype and phoned a friend to keep my mind for wandering into the abyss of imagined horror. I was genuinely relieved when Muni walked into the bar around 20.30, somewhat exhausted from a long day.

Luckily she had a great time with David and the local posse. The women brought their young kids with them and Muni’s body clock is ticking louder than a terrorist’s vest, so she was happier than a heroin addict in the golden triangle.

Over dinner Muneeza recounted her day’s exploits. It made me rather jealous. They explored some of the smaller, secluded islands and enjoyed wonderful snorkeling, apparently the best of our trip so far. Having described to Muneeza what vibrant reefs are like, I was happy that she had finally experienced one. For her though the most enjoyable part of the trip was playing with the children and helping teach them how to snorkel. She’s a natural with the little people, must be why we’re so suited!

Repetition, repetition, repetition

The next few days became like Groundhog Day. We got up, ate the oh so basic free breakfast at Chez Felix and walked down the hill to town, always passing another guesthouse and asking ourselves, “are the rooms better value there”.  On the penultimate day in Flores we discovered they were and much cleaner as well. We cursed ourselves at spending a whopping £5 too much per day. My birthday came and went in the blink of an eye; to add to my present of dodgy eyes, my Macbook packed-up and sat there beeping at me intermittently. Was Karma trying to tell me something?

Each day, once in town, we would do some admin on the Internet, such as sorting accommodation and flights for the Philippines. Next would be a cheap lunch at a local shack where really nice fresh fish, rice and vegetables cost only £1 each. Most afternoons we would return to Chez Felix for a siesta, then head back to town late afternoon for some random walking, wrapped up with a nice meal before heading home around 21.00. The tablets I was taking were making me drowsy, so I was in bed and asleep by 21.30 every night. After 5 days of taking my medicine and using the drops, the eyes were hardly any better and I started harbouring fears of eternal blindness. You can’t beat that spiraling male hypochondria.

On Tuesday we finally left Flores and flew back to Bali. All flights were delayed due to bad weather at Ende, so we sat at Labuanbajo airport for 2 hrs trying to pass time. The airport is a classic island affair and there is absolutely nothing to do, so the time dragged like a limp body.

We got to Bali and headed direct to the beach town of Bingin, about 45mins south. It’s a long and winding road to Bingin and the area reminded me of Cornwall. Narrow windy lanes lead down to obscure parking bays from which narrow beaten paths trail down to rocky outcrops and golden surfing beaches. Due to its remote access, the hoardes of booze hands head north to Kuta and Legian, leaving the more chilled surf customer in Bingin and the nearby towns. It meant we had a lovely time in peace and comfort and the surprisingly good quality Bingin Gardens. Surfers amongst you, it’s a very cool place to hang out.

Bingin beach Bali

It took us 30mins to get to the beach, by which time we were drenched in sweat. There wasn’t really a sunbathing area as the bay was riddled with rocks but the scenery was stunning, enhanced by the slowly fading sun as it set for the day. We got back to our cottage around 6pm and my eyes were really hurting, no doubt ruined by the sweat-sun cream killer combo. I felt sick and couldn’t face food, so passed out by 8pm. I was starting to wonder if I would ever see clearly again.

Singapore bound

We headed back to Kuta mid morning on the 20th and stopped enroute at a pharmacy as I’d had enough of the worsening eye situation and was actually genuinely concerned. I discovered that the eye drops I had been given were useless; they were meant for kids, so it wasn’t surprising the infection had not cleared. With new medicine and renewed faith, we boarded the plane for Singapore and a brush with the pace of a modern city after so long in the wonderfully slow lane of Indonesia.

Love jamer & muneeza x

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