Wednesday, June 28, 2000

Greetings from Singapore!

Hi Everyone!
Before I begin - a couple of explanations :
SaraGrace and I have made some changes to our internet usage - we found it difficult to maintain 2 distribution lists with most of the same people on it, so we merged them. Therefore some of you will be getting their first email ever from me, and others will soon be getting their first email ever from SaraGrace.
Due to space limitations, SaraGrace and I have created this email address for sending out our group emails only. Please continue to use our personal email address's for corespondance.

So, When I last left you, we were about to board a boat for Komodo.

Well, we did board the boat - but 3 days later than planned due to an unexpected case of Bali-Belly on SGK's part. Boy would that have sucked! imagine 4 days on a tiny boat in the Indonesian sea with the runs - and the only toilet is straight into the sea!
It actually worked out better that we left later as on that next trip were some people that we had met on the Padangbai-Lembar ferry; Frank, Una, and Brent.
The boat trip was FANTASTIC! We got to see a part of Indonesia that would have otherwise been completely inaccessible - the Islands north of Sumbawa. The downside of the boat was that we had to sleep on the deck - and got soaked as the waves continually crashed over the bow.
Komodo itself was quite worth the trip - not just for the legendary Dragons, but also the snorkeling was out of this world. After the disappointment of Gili (the Coral at Gili seems to have all died since we were there 2 years ago) I must say that the coral at Komodo is the best I've ever seen.
So, after 5 days, 4 nights on the boat eating nothing but Fish, Rice and noodles; we were ready for Flores.
Labuanbajo on the western end of Flores is a little slice of heaven. Quiet! No hawkers yelling at you to buy their wares! Our whole group liked it so much that 10 (out of 14) of us decided to hire a bus and take a trip across to the easternmost part of the island to see the coloured lakes of Keli Mutu.
Well, the LP guidebook says that it's 15 hours driving time to Keli Mutu from Labuanbajo. They are dead wrong. DEAD wrong. It took us the better part of 4 DAYS. That's driving all day, with only a few VERY short stops. Down bumpy-ass roads in a bus with bad springs. One other thing about Flores is that it's pretty primitive - there are next to no facilities on the whole Island. I mean NONE. The restaurants we were forced to eat in only had Giardia-infested meat and probably hadn't had another Boolay (Indonesian slang for Gringo) show up at them for years.
The hotels had moldy, lumpy mattresses that made both of our allergies go ape-shit. I don't think that there was a proper western style toilet on the whole island.
Aside from that, our group was great. We were quite a mix - Diana was Sumbanese from Java; Kevin, SGK and I from CA, Marrion and Michael of 'Team Holland', Debbie whose last name is Holland but from the UK, Frank who's fathers name belongs to a famous Dutchman, but is really a Hamburger, Johan the only Snuss-less Swede I've met, and Jason-of-the-Giardia also from the UK.
When we finally pulled into Keli Mutu we found that the road had been washed out. But have no fear! Our bus driver decided to go for it anyway and managed to get the bus stuck in a river. We spent a couple of hours pulling on ropes and digging in the mud, but eventually got it unstuck. Whew! Now only an 8km hike up to the top to see the lakes. DAMN GOOD THING it wasn't fogged in after all of this!
Now for the second part of the plan - we had all purchased tickets to take the PELNI ship back to Bali.
PELNI is a passenger shipping line in Indonesia. We had all wanted to buy the Rp249,000 (about $25US) second class tickets for the 4 day journey, but the guy at the office would only sell us the Rp74000 (about $8.00US) Ekonomi tickets. No amount of pleading would change his mind, so we bought them anyway.
When the boat pulled up, there were literally 3775 people in Ekonomi class already on the boat (it's licensed to carry 914). Next to none got off. About 1000 people did manage to get on. SGK and I didn't. We found out the exact amount of the overbooking from the Capitan whom we met later on the dock. He said that 4 people DIED on the way from Timor due to overcrowding, and that that was considered normal for a sailing.
We thought that we were now well and royally screwed. We didn't want to take another 4 day bus ride across Flores to Labuanbajo to catch the Sumbawa Ferry then an 18 hr bus ride to another ferry, for yet another 6 hr bus to yet another ferry to yet anther bus back to Kuta on Bali. When we had enquired several days before about flying, we were told that no planes were flying until July.
We decided on his advice to try and fly from Maumere (8 hrs drive away) instead of trying to fly from Ende (where the boat left from) as there are more flights available from there.
Indonesian bureaucracy never ceases to amaze me. There were flights, and they were empty! But they wouldn't let us on them! We tried telling them that SGK was preggers. Nope. We tried telling them that our Visa's were in danger of expiring. Nope. SGK even turned on the tears. Nope. I even tried bribing them with the equivalent of 30 days wages. Nope. They let a plane fly with empty seats rather than let two Boolays on who lacked proper paperwork onboard.
That evening we splurged on the only air conditioner in town. We needed to at least feel partly comfortable. One good thing though is that the Merpati guy (Merpati is the airline - their motto: It's Merpati, I'll fly if I want to!) felt sorry for us and came to our hotel that evening and put together the proper paperwork for us to be able to fly the next day.
Well we finally made it back to Bali and caught up with everyone else. After much drinking we caught an early flight to Singapore where we are now.
We have already spent a couple of days here in Sing with Bill, Ling, DJ CC, and Pizza-Pie Nini. He's living in absolute expat-elegance. A 4 bedroom, 3500 square ft apt on the 23rd floor overlooking the South China Sea with a 500 square ft balcony and a live in maid!!!!! Wow. Way cool of him to let us stay!
Well, where do we go from here??? Tomorrow we go into Malaysia to enquire about flying to Borneo to see the Orangutans, then on to Brunei and back to peninsular Malaysia. We plan on seeing the Cave's again after we return from Borneo - Bill wants to do some diving in Malaysia, then we are off to Thailand to see my other friend Bill, then Cambodia where we hope to meet SGK's friend Wolfgang and see Angkor Wat, then back to Thailand with SGK's Brother and his wife before jetting out to India.

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