On February 2 , we left Singapore and flew back to Bali, which was becoming our home away from home. The decision was made to take a ferry to Lombok and explore islands to the east, so we stowed most of our baggage at a hotel, put on our light backpacks and took off for Nusa Tenggara. Nusa Tenggara, or the eastward islands of Indonesia, includes Lombok, Sumbawa, Flores, Komodo, Rinca, Sumba, Timor, and many smaller islands.
The ferry we took was the kind of ship you read about in the foreign press, the kind that sinks and takes hundreds of people with her to a watery grave. It was a rusty, three story vessel loaded with trucks on the first level, a mid level, second class section and a first level, so called first class area. In reality no one stayed in any particular area, we all shared the facilities with equal courage. The seas were increasingly rough, with white caps breaking and the ship heaved sharply with the sizable swells. The sloshing water in the non-functioning heads made using them an option of last resort. On the bright side, we met some wonderful fellow adventures whom we ended up sharing considerable time with as we traveled east. I had a wonderful conversation with a young man from Brittany, named Lawrence. He was a true French gastronome, and we shared stories of the subtle nuances of wild mushrooms, while we clung to the railing of the ship. After land, familiar food, we decided, was the thing we missed most.
Our first destination was Gili Trawanga, a tiny island off the coast of Lombok. Many people on the island are descendants of Bugis immigrants from Sulawesi. The expression "careful or the boogie man will get you", comes from their reputation in the European colonial period as extremely skillful soldiers and pirates. We took a 12 person motorized outrigger for one very wet hour to reach the island. It was a popular diving destination, primarily with young Europeans, who generate the main income for the island. There were no cars allowed so the main transport was by buggy. (Or you just walked, as it took only an hour to circle the island). The main street, which followed the shore, was lined with dive shops and restaurant/bars and was a bustle of activity and competing rock music, day and night. As was the case in Bali, restaurants and bars also used bootleg movies to lure customers in.
We had no idea exactly how long we would be on the Gili Islands when we first arrived. But we knew that we had a keen interest in doing some diving and I was hoping to study some Indonesian. I had been working from a book and tapes and hoped I would be able to line up a tutor for practical pronunciation experience. As soon as we found a room, which was quite a delightful one just a couple blocks off the main drag, we put out the word that an Indonesian tutor was needed. Almost immediately, we found one. Lita, (pictured above) who lived just across the road spoke passable English and had the courage to take on the project. We set up a daily lesson of 1 hour and continued this for the duration of the time we were on Gili Trawanga. During the days we either went to the beach or diving off one of the local outrigger boats. There were numerous dive companies mostly owned by Europeans but staffed mostly by local Indonesian divers. A friendly and gregarious bunch. At night, all the restaurants were hopping with local fish dishes and doing their best to lure in customers. Most every night, we looked for a special movie attraction to accompany our dinner. In this competitive restaurant environment, the latest bootleg movie releases could provide the competitive edge. This was an area that in years past had been heavily damaged by fish bombing-- a method of killing and capturing fish that unfortunately has disastrous impacts on the coral and fish life and kills indiscriminately. While we were in Indonesia we read a story of illegal fish bombing that resulted in a high seas shoot-out with the police and at least one death. In our diving we saw Cuttle Fish, Moray Eels, turtles, Trigger Fish, and sharks. Tina even got close enough to a cuttle fish to pet it. Regarding the "Ticket to the Moon Magic Mushroom" pictured above, this seemed to be a popular vegetarian item on the menu at many of the restaurant/bars. We gathered this was the hallucinogenic variety of mushroom.
Behind the main tourist street was the village where life was very different. The soccer field was used by boys and young men every afternoon and evening, and many attended a mosque at the back of the village. Life was simple and relaxed, children ran along the dirt paths, chickens and cats scattering out of the way. Horses pastured beside small fields planted with peanuts and corn. We ended up staying 6 days and then headed off on a very long journey aboard a Parama bus across Lombok.
We had one stop in the city of Matarm, and managed to get conned out of $20, believing a very convincing young man selling "fast boat" tickets. At the time it seemed like a small fortune, and for him, it was. Everything is relative. Anyway, we survived the loss, although we were running low on cash. We were told there was an ATM at our next destination, Labuanbajo, on the island of Flores, so we didn't worry too much. ATM's were our source of cash because they gave a fair exchange rate and seemed to be everywhere. We had traveler's cheques which were our financial backup. However, we inadvertently left those cheques on Bali, thinking we wouldn't be gone too long. That almost proved to be our undoing.
So off we went on our crowded bus, bouncing and weaving over roads of every description. We met a couple from Canada, Trudy and Terry, and had wonderful conversations with them about traveling. Our paths were to become intertwined for the next week. We were also recognizing some familiar young faces from Gili whom we would also spend time with. The further east we traveled, the fewer travelers there were.
All day February 13th. we traveled across Lombok. The villages looked similar to ones in Bali except they kept goats instead of pigs and built mosques instead of temples. Fields of corn were becoming more common as the climate became drier. At Labuhan Lombok our bus was loaded on to another big ferry to take us to the island of Sumbawa. For the next day and night, we rode on hard, bouncy, noisy buses. At one point in the middle of the night in some town, the bus driver decided he didn't have enough paying passengers, so he circled the village square for an hour or more, looking for riders. This was not fun! Sleeping sitting upright was impossible. At dawn, we finally crossed the last mountain ridge and wound our way down through shimmering rice paddies towards Sape. The view was breathtaking with brilliant pink clouds reflected in the water around the stair stepped, emerald green rice. We stopped many times as the village awakened. Children rode to school, women took their hens to market and men traveled to farm and field. Neighbors and friends would greet one another as we watched in exhausted silence. It was wonderful.
We arrived in Sape with hopes of a quick transfer to a final ferry to Labuanbajo on the island of Flores. There was a very long delay lasting most of the day, so we made ourselves comfortable on a large bamboo platform outside a tiny restaurant by the bay. We came to know more people we were traveling with, especially since we were suffering together as a sleep challenged group. There were Jan and Jasmien, a young Belgian couple, Thomas and Carl, young Swedes, Trudy and Terry of course, and Lawrence from France. Most of us ended up sprawled on the platform resting as best we could. Later, Dale, along with Trudy and Terry, ventured into the village of Sape and took this picture. Rice flour is used as a sunscreen in many areas of Asia, as pale skin is greatly admired.
Finally the big ferry arrived. As was always the case, first it had to unload. Trucks and busses rolled off first, followed by the passengers clutching baskets, boxes and children. Goats wandering around the docks scattered, making way as the masses moved through the dusty street. Then we boarded and went to the top level, claiming several long benches in a corner for our new small entourage. There was some concern about the security of our bags should we all fall fast asleep, so we helped one another keep watch. Not that there would be much sleep on a pitching ferry with rock hard benches, mind you.
Making a voyage to another island was a big deal to many Indonesians, we discovered. There were many who had seldom or never done it. We talked to quite a few boys and young men who were also most anxious to practice their English skills as well. So we sailed on through the night, alternating between sleep and drowsy conversation and at about 3 am on Friday, the 15th, we arrived at our destination, Labuanbajo, Flores.
As usual, we had only our Lonely Planet guide book and word of mouth recommendations for places to stay. We ended up sharing the cost for a driver and small van and stayed together at a home stay hotel overlooking the bay. The photo on the right is of Trudy and Terry, with Jan to the side, in the hotel restaurant. We had just finished our complementary breakfast, typical of everywhere in Asia, banana pancakes and coffee. The photo on the left is of our group at a restaurant in town and dinner was usually meat or fish along with a nasi ( fried rice) dish or fried noodles. Drinks were usually beer or bottled water. We brought along a small water purifier so we made our own safe water out of tap water. At this point we were also back on anti malarial medications.
We went out on a dive boat one day, owned by a German couple. Our two dive points were Sebayur Kecil and Tatawa Besar, both off the coast of Rinca. Some of the strongest currents in the world occur in this area as the waters of the Pacific mix with the Indian Ocean. Our guides took us to the calmest areas, which still were challenging, and we did drift dives, with our boat waiting for us down current. There were many beautiful corals and small colorful fish, though we saw few larger species. Over fishing of large fish seemed to be a problem. However, on the second dive, we did see a giant manta ray, with a 'wingspan' of 9 feet, skimming the waters for plankton, which was just spectacular.
Our guide book said there was internet availability in the area, however it wasn't functioning while we were in town, much to everyone's dismay. E-mail and the internet was the way everyone we met kept in touch with family, friends and the world, for that matter. So we were now pretty much isolated and didn't have contact with anyone from home for the rest of our time in Nusa Tenggara. And even more disconcertingly, we found no ATM machines available and no bank that would give us a cash advance on our credit card. Cash was the only legal tender. We were directed to the next town down the road, Ruteng, for help. This was becoming quite a concern and we were now rationing our remaining cash, so I stashed enough cash in my hidden money pouch to at least get a bus to the docks of Maumere and a boat back to Bali. I had visions of a potential disaster, being stranded, isolated and broke.
Friday afternoon we had a group discussion and decided that to save money, we would all chip in together to hire a boat and crew to go to the Komodo and Rinca Islands to see the Komodo dragons. The best negotiators in our group haggled with some local outfits until an agreement was struck for a 2 day tour of both islands and some snorkeling, meals included. This is a picture of our boat, anchored off Rinca. The area below the red tarp is where we slept at night and the forward deck is where we ate and sat as we traveled. The lower enclosed area was the galley, head and crew quarters. Our skipper and crew were in their teens or early twenties and very sweet, but shy and spoke no English.
Early the next day we set out on our great adventure. Everyone was so anxious to see the magnificent Komodo dragons, having traveled and endured much to this point. The boat, we discovered, had two very old engines which made an unbelievably loud banging noise as each cylinder fired. Apparently this type of engine was common throughout the area because we heard the same noise passing other similar boats. After a while we got used to the noise and settled in for the journey. We passed many small islands and came into an area with amazing water turbulence. Swirling massive eddies and churning, bubbling water created a cauldron area where debris from shore had collected. You just instinctively knew if you fell overboard you would be in trouble. At this point I was thinking very seriously about the sea-worthiness of our boat and our young captain's abilities. But we continued smoothly and arrived at our first stop, Rinca.
Rinca, as well as Komodo, was lush and green because the rainy season had just come to an end. We joked that from a distance it looked almost like a resort with lush golf greens and swaying palm trees.
Our guide informed us that until recently, there were regular feedings of the dragons, which guaranteed visitors plenty of excitement. However they stopped the feedings when they realized the dragons, or Ora's, as they're referred to locally, had become accustomed to human feedings. They were beginning to chase and "tree" visitors looking for food. An elderly European man disappeared the year before, and was never found. He also told us that in fact, it is the extremely toxic bacteria in the dragon's mouth that is responsible for most deaths. The dragons bite their prey, then wait a day or so before eating, when the animal is dead or dying. We heard that you have 24 hours to get to a hospital after a bite, or you die. And there are no life-flight helicopters around here, so you just don't want to get bitten!
However, no golf greens have these obstacles! It is hard to describe the mix of emotions we all had when we saw our first full grown Komodo Dragons. They were magnificent, breathtaking giants, 9 feet in length, who looked and acted like they owned their islands. We were meek, polite visitors to their domain and went with guides on both islands to see them. The only concrete instructions we had from our guide, who was armed only with a long stick, was to stay together as a group. He said the dragons tended to pick off and eat the slower, smaller animals of a herd. We were a herd, we were potential prey. What a role reversal! Another tactic dragons use is to lay hidden in the grass and lunge out suddenly to bite their prey. We saw quite a few laying in the tall grass looking almost like logs until our guide woke them up with his long stick. We began our visits in the cool part of the day on both islands, so they were cold and sluggish at first. But then up they would rise and start flicking their long yellow forked tongues and sometimes look directly at you. Once they got going, they could move very quickly, in an aligator-like swagger.
This largest of all monitor lizards will use his powerful tail to knock down prey while hunting or as a rudder when swimming to another close island. When full grown, they feed on animals such as deer, pigs, goats and young buffalo and are carnivorous of their own dead. They seem to be deaf, but have a keen sense of smell. The females lay 20-30 eggs at a time and leave them buried in the dry wall of a river bank to hatch by themselves nine months later. For unknown reasons, the males outnumber the females by a ratio of 3.4 to one. The people of the area have never hunted the Ora, since they are considered animal cousins, and amazingly, the first published description of them was not until 1910.
We walked along the trails, our group of 8 with guide, and never ran into any other visitors. We were the only ones on the island. It was quiet and became hot and steamy as the day wore on. I didn't know it at the time, but I was starting to develop symptoms of a parasitic infection. I was tired and just kept having a hard time keeping up with everyone else. At several points the rest of the group was almost out of sight, and I started feeling nervous, remembering our guide's admonition. Then, thank goodness, Carl started walking slower and I caught up with him. I did fear being culled from our herd.
This picture has a sad explanation. One of the dragons died the day before we arrived, in spite of the park ranger's efforts to feed and revive him. Each animal is precious as their numbers are declining, at least in part due to poaching of their prey. This dragon was hung in a tree to keep it from being eaten because an official in Maumere wanted the skeleton. It gave us a unique opportunity to closely examine one. Their scales are unusual, hard and convex, and the claws are very long and sharp. The shape and size was strikingly similar to Dale's hand. It was a moving experience for us to be able to touch this impressive endangered species. This was a relatively small Dragon and it gives you some sense of its size when you realize that one of our home grown lizards back in the states would be about the size of one of this Dragon's fingers.
We wanted to stay longer but our captain was taking us on a final snorkel excursion and we had to be back before sunset. So off we went, watching a large herd of deer on the beach as we pulled away from Komodo.
We went snorkeling at Pantai Merah (Red Beach) off Komodo and found it to be one of the best sites we visited in Indonesia. There was an amazing variety of spectacularly colored coral and fish life, both large and small, with no evidence of fish bombing. The only challenge was the current, which was massive in sections and a challenge to swim out of.
Back at our home base in Labuanbajo, our travel group started breaking up. Trudy and Terry were out of time and decided to catch a little once weekly commuter plane back to Bali. They wanted some R&R before flying back to Canada. Everyone else was moving east to see the rest of the island and we all left via public bus at different times over the next few days. The bus drivers had a policy of circling town as long as necessary until enough passengers were riding to make it worth their while. This could take hours, we found out, but it was an interesting way to see many parts of town and the comings and goings of the locals.
After many bouncy, sweaty hours we wound our way up into the cooler mountains and arrived in the small town of Ruteng. We were tired, almost broke and with only our Lonely Planet Guide book for help. We found a small hotel and started looking for a functioning ATM. The one that we could use wasn't working, to our total horror. We went into the bank and were told they could not do cash advances on credit cards. This was a crisis. We were starting to truly panic. We didn't have enough money to sleep another night in a hotel. The bank employee said it had something to do with limited and sometimes non-functioning phone lines, a common problem in the area. He said to try again at 10pm that night. So we took off on a walk around town to see the market and try to forget our troubles. This town had a large muslim population and while all the younger men and women seemed very friendly, the older men were non-smiling and non-engaging. They sold parangs (traditional long sheathed machetes) in the market which contributed to an uncomfortable feeling for us, especially since we were just about the only foreigners in town. We had dinner at our hotel and afterwards befriended a young fellow who was there visiting an employee. When the time came, we asked him if we could hire him to escort us, as we walked across town to the ATM and back afterwards. He agreed. We got our money that night and made it back safely, and were most anxious to move on the next day.
In the morning we caught another local bus for the 4 hour ride to Bajawa, home to the Ngada people, and a specific destination for us. Because of the island's isolation off the main historic spice trade route and lack of contact with other cultures, the Ngada are one of the most traditional groups on Flores. Catholicism was introduced by the Portuguese in about 1560, who also gave the island it's name. Today the religious beliefs of about 85% of the island are a fusion of animism and Christianity.
The weather was quite cool in the evenings due to the elevation and we had to put on layers of clothing to keep warm. We checked into a little hotel and then, after a rest, took off for dinner at a little restaurant in town (about the only one). We ran into Lawrence there and had a nice visit and update on his travels since our ferry trip together. We also inquired with the restaurant owner about a guide to visit the villages. She recommended Moses, no kidding, an English instructor in town.
Moses, at right, was college educated (master's level). He dreamed of a position in the local government but his application was turned down in favor of a 21 year old who had connections. Not an unusual story in the area. His command of English was superb as was his knowledge of the area and his family, the Ngada people.
The village of Bena was very old and was located in a defensive position on a high ridge with a view of the valley and coast below. Nine clans had their high thatched houses on either side of the central courtyard. The structures in the center, the parasol-like ngadhu (male) and the miniature thatch roof house bhaga (female), symbolized the continuing presence of ancestors. Many elaborate rituals were associated with the construction and maintenance of these structures.
The tall stone sliver at left, along with the altar, marked the grave of a heroic village ancestor. Ancestor worship and agricultural fertility rites were practiced, which could include buffalo sacrifice. We were told that no one knows where the stone for the megaliths came from, nor how they were moved there. It is unlike any stone found on the island. The Ngada oral history places their origins in Java. Their society, uncontaminated by later cultural influences because of their isolation, may have originated from the Dongson culture of southern China and northern Vietnam, 2700 years ago.
Another fascinating fact was that the Ngada people have a matrilineal culture. That is, home and property are handed down from the mother's family to the daughter. A man goes to live in his wife's home or village at the time of marriage. Should he repeatedly fail to provide for his wife and family, he is forced out of the home and village. We met a young man who suffered such a fate. He had no village to live in so he stayed in town, trying to sell necklaces and trinkets to survive. Everyone, according to Moses, knew his story and had little respect for him. The contrast between this and the male centered Muslim culture around the coastline of the island was striking, to say the least.
This girl was weaving ikat fabric, for which the region was famous. It was very labor intensive and involved the intricate dying of both the warp and weft of the cloth. Different villages wove in different styles and colors and the patterns could be floral, geometric and include human and animal figures. We saw the fabric being used as sarongs for both men and women, as well as for blankets and shawls. Some women wore ikat sarongs sewn into large cylinders which they somehow arranged into a dress of sorts. If it got cool, they would bring extra fabric from the back of the dress up over their heads, creating a hooded dress. Hard to explain, but it was very effective costuming.
Care of children in the village was the responsibility of all and we saw a number of older boys with woven slings over their shoulders carrying toddlers. But frequently children were cared for by grandmothers. You can see a slightly red color around these women's lips which is from betel nut chewing, popular in more remote areas of Asia. Chewing it is a statement of adulthood and has symbolic meaning. The green stalk represents the male, the nut represents the female and the lime symbolizes the sperm. When chewed together, a flood of red saliva is produced and spit out, which is believed to be returning the blood of childbirth to the earth. We were never offered betel nut but they say if you are, it is impolite to refuse. Just put it in your pocket if you don't want to try it's bark like flavor and mild stimulant qualities. If you do try it, be sure to spit often and don't swallow, or else you may really embarrass yourself!
We were invited on to the porch to have a cup of the local, robust coffee with this young mother and her daughters. The hospitality of the people in these mountain villages was heartfelt and touching, and gave us a chance to talk and share stories. As was the case elsewhere on our trip, family and home pictures worked very well as an introduction. One common topic to explore was food. I mentioned to Moses that I noticed more corn cultivation than anything else but had never seen a corn dish at a restaurant. He said that there was a staple dried corn stew dish of the area but that no one thought foreigners would like it. We told him we would like to try it, so he took us to his aunt's home and she offered us a whole bowl to share. It was made with dried corn, a meat stock, and green papaya leaves, and was........the most bitter stew imaginable. I don't think we all shared the same type of taste buds. Dale tried a few bites and then handed the big bowl to me. With a smile on my face, not wanting to offend, I ate all the stew. I am sure it was very nutritious, but they were right, it wouldn't sell at the tourist restaurants.
Moses took us to an abandoned village where the megaliths were still standing and being slowly swallowed up by the forest. He told us that this village had been offered incentives by the local government to move to a new location where they would have some modern conveniences like electricity. After having done so they were now having second thoughts. They missed the tranquility and beauty of their previous location and found they could not protect their historical heirlooms, the megaliths, from potential poachers. They worried that their ancestors were unhappy with their move and when ancestors are unhappy they invariably find a way to mete out a punishment. They also reasoned that like other villages they might be able to move back and draw some tourist interest. Tourists weren't particularly interested in electricity but they were keen on these megaliths and ancient village sites.
Later, when we were waiting for a local bus ride back to Bajawa, one of the women shyly asked why we wanted to see their village and people. She said they were poor and she almost seemed embarrassed with our presence. This was a difficult and poignant moment that drew attention to the slim line between polite tourism and intrusion. With Moses's help in delicate translation, I told her that for me, it was a voyage of friendship and discovery. It was a chance to share common experiences and discover the roots of all people in a village environment. She smiled and shook her head and seemed to understand. I felt great respect and humility towards this lovely Indonesian woman.
The time had come to say good-bye to Moses and board a local bus for our last stop, Maumere. The journey took most of the day and again provided a glimpse into daily life on the island. Cargo was loaded and unloaded from the roof rack of the bus as people traveled to their destinations. Bound chickens and roosters laid quietly on the floor while their owners talked with family and friends. There were some young foreign travelers but for the most part only locals were riding. We stopped at a restaurant for lunch and most people got off the bus. However, the fare collector and a few young men remained behind. Within minutes, Dale realized his wallet had fallen out of his pocket, and ran back to the bus to retrieve it. There it was, intact except for being emptied of all the cash. We had money saved in a money pouch, so it was a manageable situation, though frustrating. It did provide Dale an opportunity to use his fairly good skills with Indonesian to explain to everyone on the bus what had happened. He had their rapt attention when he started speaking in bahasa Indonesia! So, having made a large donation to those fellows, off we rolled down the road. As we neared Maumere, torrential rains developed and the churning rivers turned brown with mud and rocks. You could see the effects of the slash and burn agriculture with the erosion and mud slides. Everywhere there were tiny huts with large families living in significant poverty, even by Indonesian standards. At one point the bus came to a screeching halt and the driver jumped out. We saw a huge snake slowly slithering across the road and were told that it could be a spirit, good or otherwise. It was very bad luck to harm a snake and our driver waited and watched until the snake was a great distance from the bus before he continued on. This, no doubt, helped ensure our safe, all be it exhausted arrival in Maumere late that Sunday. We got off the bus in a downpour and started walking in the direction of downtown, clutching our guide book, backpacks in place, getting drenched. The bus came along side as we were walking and the driver asked if we wanted a ride. It was a nice gesture, but given all we'd been through, we declined. After walking a kilometer or so, we found a nice hotel and decided to splurge and stay.
Maumere was a large town with wide streets and established businesses. You couldn't tell that it was devastated in 1992 by an earthquake and 60 foot high tidal wave, which killed thousands. The only residual was the heavily damaged coral reefs in the area. Although we didn't dive there, we heard that the coral was regenerating, all be it very slowly. Our plan was to take the luxury fast boat back to Bali, which ran twice a week, so we had a day to look around the town. Dale scouted out the ikat weavings available in the shops in the area and then we went together to do some serious bargaining. Having lived in Asia for the better part of 6 months, we felt we had to put our new skills to good use. The shop we zeroed in on was one of the two largest shops in town which had a courtyard in back with smaller houses and storage areas. Family, friends and neighbors milled about with children, chickens and roosters under foot. Our dealer sold ikats from all over Nusa Tenggara and we looked at many before deciding that we each wanted a different weaving. I balked at the price for one, so the dealer said he'd reduce the price for two. It was still too high for me so I walked out of the store. This was too much for the dealer and he came running out after me, offering to reduce the price again. In the meantime Dale had found another ikat he liked and now we had 3 we wanted. We haggled and negotiated for some time and thought the price was still too high and walked out of the store together. By this time a large crowd was gathering to see the action. The dealer ran after us and put his arm around Dale and said "make me an offer!" and pulled us back in. Back and forth went the offers in broken English and Indonesian. He brought in hot tea for us. This was serious negotiating and we were determined to dance this dance well. Finally we agreed on a price for three weavings and the crowd watching broke into loud congratulations and smiles, almost cheering for us. We shook hands and the dealer quickly wrapped up our weavings. The time to pay had come, cash only of course. I had our money, a huge roll of rupiah notes, 10,000 to $1, and I did not want to pull them out in front of our ever expanding audience. But wherever I tried to hide to count my money, I had people looking over my shoulder. I was surrounded. So, in frustration I sat on a stack of carpets in the back courtyard with everyone looking and counted out over a million rupiah. Oohs and aahs came from the crowd as I handed our dealer his money and he instantly put it in his pocket without counting it. We knew from the guide books that you had better be correct with the amount you hand over because it is the last you'll see of it, and it was. We also wanted a receipt for customs but apparently the dealer didn't usually give receipts because he had to scribble out one using a scrap of paper. It was good enough for us and so with smiles and hand shakes, off we went leaving everyone satisfied and entertained for the day.
The next day we checked out of our hotel and walked to the ferry dock to wait for the fast boat back to Bali. Who should we meet there but Jan, Jasmien, Thomas, Carl and Lawrence, in addition to some other young travelers. It was amazing to see how fate kept bringing us all back together. We sat at a little food stand and shared stories of the past few days while we waited. Later we went right up to the dock where the boat would moor and watched as these little boys played in their dugout canoe in the water. They were having a great time and swam literally like frogs, their legs kicking out to the side as they moved in the water. Seeing these kids at play was an unusual and happy sight. We also ended up with a crowd of children surrounding us. Some were curious where we were from and others asked if they could practice their English with us, while clutching lesson books. It seemed to be the school assignment. Finally the boat arrived, a first class luxury ship, the finest we had seen. It would transport us in 24 hours the distance it took us a week and a half to do by bus and slow boat. We all bought first class tickets for the trip to Bali and settled in to watch English movies on the top deck. The chairs were upholstered and reclined and the toilets had a western design. Yippee, a break from squatting! The center of the top deck had a large, curtain enclosed prayer room for the faithful, though we never saw it being used. What a difference from the ferries we had been taking, we were all so happy for the creature comforts at that point. It had been a long trip for everyone, and Dale and I in particular. This was the most remote and rugged, action packed time of our travels in Asia. And some of the most interesting as well. The boat moved at an incredible speed, I think it was a hydrofoil, and after a few meals and sleep, we were landing in Bali. We shared the cost of a van and were transported to the Perama bus stop in downtown Kuta. After exchanging e-mail addresses, we said a final good-bye. Everyone else was continuing their travels to other islands and countries and we were heading for home.