The bangs of the fireworks hurt my ears. But the burst of star rain is phenomenal. It is Chinese New Year. The year of the pig is heralded. So it is the year of Piggy !! Unsuspectingly, I booked my flight to Singapore on this 5th of February. The reason to go to Singapore is because my Indonesian visa has almost expired. I could easily apply for a new visa for 2 months. But yeah. All offices are closed during these holidays, including the Indonesian embassy. All in all, there is not enough time left for getting a visa before I fly back to Bali after 4 days. It thus I must be satisfied with a VOA (Visa On Arrival) upon arrival in Indonesia with the possibility of an extension of one extra month.
Since Singapore is an expensive city for my budget, I am busy for a while finding a cheap place to stay. I find a hostel with a kind of space capsules. A white plastic cabin for 20 Euro a day. I am very satisfied with it. Clean bedding, good lighting, climate control and a wonderful mattress. The communal shower rooms are crystal clear and the staff are extremely friendly and helpful. Since I am out and about the entire day, such a capsule is ideal for just sleeping there.
After arrival I immediately use the modern and efficient metro. The station is diagonally opposite my hostel. Within half an hour I walk across the Marina Bay quay and look out over the imposing skyline of Singapore’s economic heart with its imposing high-rise buildings. Drinking a beer on a terrace costs 12 Euros here. More away from the center 6 Euro. What a difference with cheap Indonesia. But my 4 days in Singapore are worth it. I enjoy the modern architecture, the efficiency of public transport, the exuberant lighting of the skyscrapers, bridges and other buildings, the cleanliness (no plastic and other waste on the street) and the many modern works of art.
They are 4 fully filled days. There are many sights on my list: the roof of the Marina Bay Sands with a fantastic view of the city, the Garden by the Bay with its mushroom-shaped “artificial trees” with its daily light show, the famous zoo with its famous white tiger and his absence of cages.
They are quite tiring days and after 4 days of being amazed by modernity, opulence and (over?) organization, I fly back to Bali with satisfaction, where I quickly make the decision to continue cycling the last 2 months over the different islands towards Timor. It is a huge distance that I certainly cannot just cover by bicycle. That’s why I skip Lombok (a shame because it’s a beautiful island) and Sumbawa and fly, with my bike as luggage, to Komodo Airport in Labuangbajo on the western tip of the island of Flores.
One of the first things I want to do here is to apply for a visa extension for an extra month. Prepared for another lengthy procedure, I enter the immigration office. After a full week I finally have my extension in my passport. This time 4 separate visits are needed after problems with the server in Jakarta and absence of the authorized person to put the final stamp. I long to return to the organizational capacity of the Singaporeans, but this soon fades away after I have the paper in my pocket.
In the meantime I do some beautiful dives in the Komodo National Park. Again with nice encounters with manta rays, sharks, turtles, barracudas and sea snakes. Of course there is also a visit to one of the islands to see the Komodo dragons. On the island of Rinca I am part of a group that is guided by a guide. Around the visitor center we see many dragons, large and small, close to the food. I learn, among other things, that the young animals live in the trees so as not to give their older counterparts the opportunity to eat them. However, it is not the right time to see them. During the day they seek shade and in the early morning or early evening they come out of their sheltered place to go hunting.
After this “vacation” week, my bike tour across the islands starts with a bus ride on the roof to Ruteng. On the map I have seen that the route follows a winding road with many altitude differences. This tour will mostly be done uphill by bus and downhill by bike. The heat is huge and windless places give me the feeling that all the moisture is being sucked out of my body. Why am I doing this to myself. I used to like this, but with age the urge to perform disappears. Now I am happy with the descents by bike through the beautiful nature while the higher places are reached by motorized vehicle.
In Ruteng I rent a scooter and use it to explore the area for a few days. Yet this is also adventurous because occasionally I come across narrow goat paths that lead through beautiful forest areas and to isolated villages. In this way I reach, partly on foot, the authentic village of Wae Rebo. It consists of a number of round family houses with a thatched roof. Every visitor is expected to go on an audience with the ‘kepala desa’, the village chief. First of all, he requires a fixed “donation” followed by a short ritual in which the new guest from Belanda is welcomed. The “roundhouses” stand in a semicircle around a central lawn where cinnamon is dried and children are playing. During high season it seems to be a major tourist attraction, but now, during the rainy season, it is nice and quiet. After a meal and the Indonesian kopi tubruk (coffee with drab) I return to the scooter. Flores is a beautiful mountainous island overgrown with vast forests. Outside the asphalted Trans-Flores Highway that runs from east to west, you soon come to bad roads and paths that connect the small villages through the dense tropical forests. A special feature of Flores are the so-called spider web rice fields. Seen from the sky, it indeed looks like a spider web, with the sacred part in the center where ceremonies are offered to the ancestors and the gods to ensure a good harvest. Old beliefs and rituals have mixed here with Catholicism, which is in favor of the vast majority of the population of Flores. The Muslims live mainly in the coastal areas. The segments that belong to the different families of the village originate from the center of the spider web. These segments are subdivided into segments that belong to the various family members. The head of each segment is the oldest man in the family. In the Cancar Spider Web, near Ruteng, a pig has just been slaughtered for the planting season. The women have since started planting the rice plants and have just had a lunch break in the shade between the surrounding bushes. There is a lot of laughter and a visiting tourist is always a nice change from the heavy work in the sun. I get a plate of food in my hands and meanwhile I am introduced to the family members present and I get a detailed explanation about the family structure. The head of the family, the chief of their lot, is also present. The 86 year old man still looks remarkably young. There are hardly any wrinkles in his face.
The 100 kilometers between Ruteng and the coastal town of Aimere are largely descending. So on this route I use the bicycle again. What a fantastic descent. The winding road leads along green mountain slopes and has a view of various conical volcanoes in the distance. During the 1200 downhill meters you can feel the temperature slowly rising as the altitude drops.
Bajawa is back in the mountains again and from there I make trips to the traditional villages of Bena and Luba. Both in the shadow of the impressive Inerie cone. Just north of Bajawa is the cave where the remains of the Flores man were found in 2003. The creature was no larger than 1 meter. If you want to know more about it, just click on the link. In the adjacent neglected museum you can see, among other things, the skeleton of this wonderful creature. The museum, however, is closed, but while I am drinking a kopi tubruk with some young people in front of the adjacent building, the key keeper is called who arrives after 10 minutes with his scooter and opens the museum door for me.
The 124 km to Ende are mostly descending and the last part I get a lift from a pickup truck. Here too the people are wonderfully friendly and helpful
In Moni I find a very nice hostel with its own veranda. The crater lakes of the Kelimutu volcano are nearby. Again with a rented scooter I leave before dawn for the parking lot below the top and after a 45 minutes walk I reach the 3 crater lakes that are famous for their changing colors
Further east, bicycle and bus are alternated to reach beautiful places on the island. Sometimes I stay somewhere for a few days in places where life is good. A lot of snorkeling, swimming and walking on the south coast. I notice that constant traveling sometimes has to be interrupted with moments of rest in places where I can relax, read and edit photos.
When I finally reach the eastern city of Maumere it appears that I have two weeks left before I return to the Netherlands for a few weeks. The decision was quickly made to spend these final weeks on the island of Timor. Here too I rent a scooter again to drive to the young independent republic Timor-Leste with its capital Dili.
The island is less mountainous and exuberant in its nature than Flores. Here too I visit a few traditional villages where the last head was hunted less than fifty years ago. There are beautiful waterfalls and the women walk around in often beautiful colored ikat sarongs. Despite the explicit assurance of my hotel owner in Kupang, who is also the lessor of my scooter, I can drive the scooter across the border to Timor-Leste and back without any problems. At the border post it appears that I do have to show import papers for the scooter. I can get it at the police 50 km back. This will take too much time. The result is that I unfortunately have to return and remove Timor-Leste with his capital Dili from my to-do list.
In a few days I drive back to Kupang and brave some huge tropical showers. The road surface changes into a fast-flowing river, my shoes are soaked. I hear that these showers , near the city of Jayapura in Papua, where I was walking around not so long ago, have caused severe flooding with more than 75 fatalities and many wounded and missing. Indonesia has had to deal with many disasters in the six months that I have traveled here with a lot of casualties: plane crash, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, tsunamis and floods caused by extreme rainfall. Fortunately I as not there at those moments.
The plans for the coming months:
At the end of April, after a few weeks stay in the Netherlands, I return to Piggy in Mongolia, where I will continue my journey overland to Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Iran and maybe Oman.
I just learned that overlanders with vehicles with a cylinder capacity above 2500 cc are no longer allowed in Iran. This means a complete revision of my plans, but for the time being I remain optimistic. Rules in these countries have the characteristic of frequent changes. We will see!!
TAKE A LOOK AT THE UNDERWATER VIDEO: Indonesia – Komodo National Park: Close encounter with a seasnake