The islands east of Lombok in Indonesia are pretty strung out, and some of them quite big - so it’s no surprise that a lot of people use aircraft to jump between places of interest. Of course this means missing a lot of local sights and having little interaction with everyday locals - anyway that’s what I told myself last month when I decided to surface-travel between Lombok and Labuanbajo in West Flores to pick up a Perama Cruise back west.
I bought me a through-buses/ferry ticket from a Wisata agent and started in the Gilis with the 7am public boat to the mainland, did the usual waiting around in the carpark in Bangsal for the minibus operators to organise themselves and then headed for Mataram. My ticket next included the overnight bus to Bima in Sumbawa - this was timed to leave at 3pm so I and a few other travellers spent some time in a big shopping mall in Mataram having lunch and doing some emailing. Nevertheless we ended up waiting hours around Matteram bus station for the 3pm bus to finally depart closer to 4. This was a huge Mercedes coach packed to the rafters with people, freight (hell, the stuff the locals carry in buses is more suited to a big van or truck), which then took on even more people and goods in the 2 hour+ crawl across Lombok to the vehicle ferry pier at Labuan Lombok - they had the usual plastic stools set up in the aisles for newcomers - trouble is there was so much freight in the aisles the newcomers were hard pressed to find some room.
The coach drove onto the ferry which took abt 2 hours to cross to West Sumbawa - upstairs was the usual passenger deck jammed with locals, long distance truckers and a handful of us travellers.
Once in port we jumped back on the coach and thundered across Sumbawa overnight.
This is quite a trip - it was a moonlit night and the road hugs the coast for quite long periods with some real nice scenery. The road is quite narrow and very twisty so when a bus or truck came the other way we often had to slow and inch past. At one stage we had to crawl behind a mob of half a dozen wild horses as they made their way along the road in the moonlight with not a worry in the world. Every now and then we would stop in the middle of nowhere and a passenger or family group would get off - sometimes needing 5 minutes to unload half the goods on sale in Lombok the previous day.
Note there was a meal-stop in a roadside place about 1 hour into the trip - pretty tasty tucker too. Tip, hold onto your ticket - passengers were giving their bus ticket to the waitress as proof of eligibility for the free meal - she wasn’t getting mine because it had to get me all the way to Flores. Two fellow westerners handed theirs in and had to repurchase a ferry ticket from Sarpe to Labuanbajo.
We reached Bima, a biggish town abt 80% across the island at around 3am. Everyone piled out and in a flurry of motorcycle taxis and private cars disappeared in about 2 minutes flat. I and 4 other Flores-bound westerners hung around the god-forsaken bus station for 3 hours - a young local guy with broken English kept talking to me - I eventually figured he was trying to line me up with a girl. Tell him he’s dreaming.
At 6am we all piled into a small no-legroom local bus even more packed with people and stuff and left for the ferry port Sarpe. Just like the previous bus, this kept stopping to pick up even more passengers. It seemed to be the morning school-special. 3 hours later, after a climb over an awesome mountain pass with great scenery, we reached the port town of Sarpe.
So when I walked into Wisata's Sarpe-port agent for the 8am ferry to Flores he told me there was no 8am - it hadn't run for months. As if Wisata's Lombok agents would not have been aware of this. They just want to sell you a ticket and stop you going to the airport.
Now Sarpe-port is even more God-forsaken than Bima bus station - the good news is 5 of us travellers bargained a small boat for 150K idr which took us to 2 very nice beaches on an island about 10km across the bay - the second beach had quite good coral by Asian standards - the first was more ordinary in this respect. That worked out at a day at the beach for $us3 each, a pretty good deal.
Then the ferry - 10 hours to do 100km! Had a bow ripple, not a bow wave. Packed with colourful locals which was good value - most Sumbawans are different racially to the average Indo , many of the girls seemed to have some exotic Indian features and the guys hoot and applaud like schoolboys at the love and sex scenes on the all-night movie channel - I think they were trying to make me feel at home. The big public deck above the vehicle area had about 800 people. Maybe 80% had found places to sleep on two big wooden platforms built for the purpose and the various seats plus the floor, but a hell of a lot stayed awake all night - mainly the guys - smoking voraciously as Indos do (the deck is open at the sides so ventilation is good).
I don't sleep on transport so by the time I got to Labuanbajo I was feeling pretty used after 2 nights with no shut-eye. We got in about 5am so there I was wandering the daggy main street until something opened. About 6am some local ladies set up a little roadside food market and I had a real nice brekka of pastries, fish patties and that caffeine-supercharched Flores coffee. An hour later Gardenia Hotel seemed open for business so I climbed the stairs, bought a large bottle of Bintang and sat and admired the great harbour /islands view while they prepared a budget bungalow for me in their nice garden setting. 4 hours of sleep later I was ready to explore the town.
Okay, it would have been so much easier to jump on an aircraft at Mataram. But I probably would have forgotten the flight this time next year. I think the details of my slow trip will stay with me a bit longer.
Thanks for that Tezza, really useful as well as interesting.
Are you planning on putting a report of this on your blog?
#2 kraver_alex has been a member since 31/5/2009. Posts: 8
No Alex, I was running out of space on my elcheapo camera's card for the Perama trip so I had to blitz virtually all the pix I took of the bus/ferry journey - the only one left is of the day at the beach and it is on the Kanawa-Searaya Islandsd/Labuanbajo page.
I just realised some of the times I give don't add up. I checked my diary and we reached Bima a bit after 2am, took off for Sape aound 5am, arrived about 7.30am.
I forgot to mention that after our day at the beach we walked up town from Sarpe pier and had a real nice elcheapo fish meal - when I wandered back to the pier the booking agent told me the ferry was leaving in 10 minutes at 7pm, not 8. Indo is like that - rubber time. Trouble is most of our group was still up town, trying to buy us some beer for the journey. So the agent sent a runner after them and I stood on the vehicle-gangplank while boat guys and passengers yelled at me to come onboard - I grinned, shook my head and pointed towards town. About 5 minutes later my friends arrived, to cheers - no beer, but at least spared another day's wait at Sarpe.
It's here, long story. Best solution is not to work off bookmarks -- as if I shift a thread to a diff topic you get a blank screen from the old url.
Yeah i know, not perfect... it's on my list.