Lombok to Flores by boat (part one)

Sometimes you do things you will never forget. For me, one of those things is the four day boat trip tour I took from Indonesia’s Lombok to Flores. It rescued my bad start to Indonesia and, 10 weeks in, it remains the best thing I’ve done so far (here are some of my other highlights).

Initially, I booked the trip as a means to do the one thing I wanted to do in Indonesia: see Komodo Dragons, which was part of the trip’s itinerary. But, reading into it, I soon realised much more was to be enjoyed: swimming, snorkelling, trekking – not to mention that I’d be living on a boat for four days. It sounded like, and proved to be, an absolute adventure.

Day one

Things didn’t start well. Me and two others were shepherded by boat and horse & cart from Gili Trawangan to Lombok, where we were to start our voyage. But before we could do that, two things had to happen. Firstly, we had to sign a form at the tour operator’s office that basically said should the boat sink or we be eaten by a Komodo it was our fault not theirs. Secondly, we had to wait for our boat to be given a license to sail… Yes, I assumed a boat tour operator would’ve secured this beforehand too, but this was Indonesia after all. This took about three hours, two of which were spent wandering nearby farmers’ fields and sitting in a roadside shack outside our operator’s office.

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My ‘I’ve been sat here for two hours, what the f’ face

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Eventually, the now seven of us were taken to our home for the next four days where we were joined by three others guests. I had no expectations for the vessel, which was good because if I did then I would’ve been brought down faster than an anchor. Off-white and made of wood, she was tired but experienced; rickety but robust; basic but essential. She was also an 88 foot long and whatever-tonne reminder that the words “health and safety” aren’t in the local dictionary.

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You boarded via the bow-cum-sun deck, a rust-stained space that was home to the shower: a bucket-on-a-string attached to a blue barrel filled with fresh water. A quick jump down and you were on the main deck, a sheltered area flanked by benches that was kept dry with curtains made of what looked like those big plastic laundry bags found in laundrettes. If you wanted to retrieve something from your backpack, you had to remove some of the faded decking and jump down into the dark hull to find it. From the main deck, you could bounce off of corridor walls – avoiding another barrel of fresh water (used for washing dishes) – to the kitchen: a small area home to little more than a gas hob, tired work surface and makeshift storage areas. To one side were found the toilets. No bigger than a storage cupboard, you had to forcefully slide the door to get in and out, and ‘flush’ by pouring fresh water into the bowl. There were also four cabins, where the five crew and a couple of guests slept, and an open stern from which a paddle boat hung.

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Climb a ladder to the top deck and you found where the rest of us slept (well, lied down with eyes shut as the rocking boat and growling engine did a superb job of keeping you awake). It was a narrow space with about three feet of head room and open sides, panelled just enough to stop you from sliding into the sea. For ‘comfort’, we were treated to a pillow with as much cushioning as candy floss and a mattress close in thickness and texture to the crash mats you find in school gymnasiums. For warmth, a thin blanket was provided.

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Room with a view

Eight of us shared the top deck. As one of only two singletons, I nestled myself down the far end; smart because I avoided any awkward sandwiching between couples, stupid because it meant I had to scuttle like Gollum to get to my bed while trying not to stand on others and hit my head on the wooden beams (which I did, a lot). The deck could allegedly sleep close to 20 people, though I imagine the caveat there would be everyone has to spoon in two long lines. Thankfully, it was near-low season so the only spooning I had to do was with my bag during one stormy night. 

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The wheelhouse was at the end of our sleeping area and boasted little more than the wheel, throttle, a compass for navigation, an adapted plastic patio seat and solar powered charging points. No computer, GPS system, radar or radio were in sight, which made me feel both nervous and excited. The setup was starker than I could’ve imagined, heightening the feel of this being a true adventure. There were no bells or whistles; frills were left behind.

There was also no source of internet, which proved to be a very welcome break.

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Little was actually done on the first day except sail, as we didn’t leave until gone lunch and had some ground to make up to reach a rest point seven hours away. We did, however, stop off for a quick dive & dip with Lombok’s Mt Rinjani as a backdrop.

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After half an hour or so, we set off with the glowing sun as our backdrop. As I drip dried on the main deck, I spotted what would become a familar sight: a crew member casting a fishing line from the side of the boat.

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Unfortunately, that day’s fishing efforts proved fruitless which meant a simple dinner of rice, curried tempeh, curried vegetables, crackers and fruit. The set up was humble: in the middle of the deck, a blanket was laid out and our food placed on top. Me and the nine other guests sat cross-legged under the one hanging light, in an arrangement that would become the norm for our three meals a day. That night, we enjoyed conversation with nothing but the sound of the Bali Sea rippling all around us. I say conversation; I often sat quietly as the only Englishman among five people from Spain and four from France. 

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After a couple of hours resting in a bay close to Pulau Sulat, an island off Lombok’s northeastern shoulder, the engine was fired up again for an 11 hour overnight sail to Moyo Island. This meant the first night’s sleep would be spent with the boat on the move.

So, after brushing my teeth over the boat’s edge, I negotiated my way up the ladder to top deck and to my bed with nothing but a fading head torch for light. With the engine running and sounding like a tumble dryer on ‘extra spin’ mode, I whacked in some much-needed ear plugs, shut my eyes and tried to get some sleep while calmly being rocked from side to side as the boat negotiated the waves…

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