|Happy travelers on New Years Eve. Rinca Island, Komodo National Park|
Jacquelyn and I are back in Sukadana after a whirlwind holiday across the Indonesian archipelago. In a little over two weeks we managed to set foot on seven different islands and were constantly amazed at the cultural and biologic diversity that this country holds.
The island of Java shouldn’t count - we only saw the inside of Jakarta’s airport, but the visit was notable because there we met up with Tom and Ashley, our two great friends from back home in North Carolina. Avid birders, fishers, divers and lovers of all things outdoors, these two helped us set a course for a few of Indonesia’s best natural playgrounds. We quickly caught a flight to Lombock, the western most island in the central chain called Nusa Tenggara.
|A big breakfast on Gili Air, before a big day in the water|
On Christmas Day we took the first of our many boat trips, this one carrying us from Lombock over to Gili Air. The easternmost of the three Gili Islands, Air isn’t as rowdy or thumpin’ as Gili Trawangan, but has a little more to do than beach walks and shade-snoozing on Gili Meno. We hit a couple restaurants with fresh seafood and enjoyed wandering through the villages on the island’s interior, but most of our time was spent either off shore in the coral or in a beach hut with breakfast or a beer, depending on the location of the sun.
|Tom, wishing the Gilis farewell and headed down to Kuta Lombok|
After a wild ride through a few too many tourist traps, we made it down to Kuta Lombok. Rain limited visibility of the sprawling rice fields and Gunung Rinjani’s jagged crest behind them, and kept us indoors for the first two days. We caught a bad case of cabin fever, so by the third day the rain didn’t matter, and we had a wonderfully wet surf session on Grupuk’s inside break. Not too hefty, the waves were right for all of us and Ashley and Tom looked nothing like first-timers by the end of the day. The evening was capped with a big score from Jacquelyn – a quick motorbike ride put us on top of the hill behind Kuta at a restaurant called Ashtanga, a vegetarian paradise with sweeping views of Lombock’s southern coastline.
|All smiles at Ashtanga, after a big day of surfing at Grupuk|
With the days of 2010 waning, we set off again, headed east by plane, over Sumbawa and onto Flores Island, where we hoped to spend New Years with some really big lizards. Labuan Bajo turned out to be a funky little port town, refreshingly devoid of tourist excess, but with a handful of excellent eateries and a garden hotel that boasted the best view I’ve had in quite a while.
|Enjoying an early morning mug of Flores coffee, en route to Rinca|
Rinca Island was our last of 2010. We caught a slow boat out of the harbor at 7am on the 31st, and enjoyed slowly waking up and sipping coffee as we puttered between grassy-peaked islands and primitive fishing outposts. Rinca is one of two islands that the Komodo dragon calls home, both very well managed by Indonesia’s national park system. The dragons are not to be messed with. Rows of teeth and Listeria-laden saliva have left water buffalo skulls littered across the island. Still, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of awe when staring into the eyes of these horrendous beasts.
|One of several big dragons we saw, getting every last bit of my zoom.|
After a quick snorkel (lion fish, turtles and eels, oh my) we made it back to Labuan Bajo for a big New Years Eve dinner and firework celebration. Not a bad way to wrap up an incredible year.
|Boom! Our staff waging a roman candle war on the hotels across the bay.|
We savored our fun on New Years day, but boarded another boat on the 2nd, bound for the smallest of our holiday islands, Seraya Kecil. Amenities here were sparse, but a dugout canoe, masks and snorkels and a couple of hammocks kept us quite occupied. The reef facing our beachfront bungalows was the best yet, with more colorful coral, diverse fish, and crazy crustaceans than we’d ever encountered. Quick hikes up to the hilltop yielded views of equally as deserted surrounding islands, and slivers of sunset through the rainclouds. The end of our third day and our last boat trip, back to Flores, came too quickly.
|Young man and the sea: Tom takes the dugout for a spin off of Seraya Kecil|
We had our last hurrah on Bali. As densely packed as it is, we welcomed the fluid infrastructure and sweet culture as much as it welcomed us. Predominantly Hindu, streets and beaches are lined with small temples and shrines, business is concluded in anjali mudra with a smile, and flowers seem requisite for anything that sprouts and bears roots. Our favorite beach didn’t have the waves we hoped, so we swam and laid in the sun instead. We had our final feast in Jimburan Bay, with fresh seafood in the sand, and were serenaded by a Balinese Mariachi band. They closed the night with the Stones’ “Satisfaction.”
Jacquelyn and I left Ashley and Tom to explore Bali for another week. An email today suggests they’ve already fallen in love with Ubud. Our two day journey back to Sukadana left plenty of time to reflect. This country, it’s 17,000 islands and cultures with over 300 languages, is absolutely incredible. We visited some of its best – safely protected and amazingly diverse coral, well managed national parks, and some local culture that blends almost perfectly with tourism. It’s good for us to see successful models of conservation, park management, and tourism. It’s also good to be back in Sukadana, and good to be back to work with ASRI, trying to bring similar success here to West Kalimantan.