The Lunar New Year of Vietnam (Tet) is fast approaching. During Tet the entire country is on vacation, which means there is no work for me. I have known about this since my first days here and I have been saving money for some sort of aggressive traveling during those weeks. The problem is that nobody in Vietnam seems to know exactly when Tet is. All I really know is that it starts in mid February and stretches through the end of the month. I haven’t been working weekends for the past 6 months for just a short little trip so I shrugged and blocked out about 3 weeks. I have known that I wanted to do something a little bit crazy so I had been brain-storming things I could do during Tet for the past few months. So without further adieu, here’s the plan.
- Fly to Indonesia
- Rent motorbikes
- Island hop east across Bali, Lombok, and Sumbawa to an island called Flores
- Get a boat to a remote spit of land known as Komodo Island – the Komodo Dragon sanctuary.
I want to stress that the following itinerary is very loose. We have about 3 weeks to accomplish all of that. This will likely play out as follows...
Starting Point: Bali
We will fly into Bali. From there we will rent motorbikes and spend a day or two exploring the island (and getting to know / test driving our newly rented bikes).
Heading East Across Lombok
We will take our motorbikes onto a ferry that goes from Bali to Lombok. Then we will make our way across Lombok to the next ferry. Apparently Mt. Rinjani (the volcano with blue fire at the top) will be closed due to hazardous conditions while we are on Lombok, so that’s a bummer. Oh well. On to the next one.
Sumbawa: "The Forgotten Island"
We will take a ferry from Lombok to Sumbawa, which has been called "the forgotten island." This is where things will get interesting. There's not a lot of information out there about Sumbawa, but what I do know is that it is long, and relatively undeveloped. However, there is a highway that runs the length of it, which is supposedly not too treacherous. And at the end of said highway is another ferry that runs daily. That is our ending point. It will take us a couple days to get across Sumbawa.
Stopping Point: Labuan Bajo, Flores
There is a daily ferry that will take us to Flores from Sumbawa. The port in Flores is a city called Labuan Bajo. Flores is even bigger, and in some ways even more unknown than Sumbawa, but we will not be crossing this island. This island is our jumping off point for Komodo.
The Komodo Islands
Situated between Sumbawa and Flores, the Komodo Islands is quite small. All of the islands in the group are covered in Komodo Dragons, but only 2 are open to the public. These are Komodo Island and Rinca Island. The tentative plan is to take a boat from Labuan Bajo into the islands, and then to stay there for a few days. While there, we will be able to enjoy the beaches, swim with the exuberance of marine life, and hunt down some Komodo Dragons.
Once we are finished on Komodo we will leave and go back to Flores for a hot sec. This is where the plan gets sketchy. I'm not going to say too much but it would be great if we could take a ferry down to another island called Sumba. What happens at this point though will be a game time decision.
...And back to Bali Again
Whatever happens after Komodo, the punchline will be the same: we make our way back to Bali (somehow) to return our bikes and catch our flight out.
Since my travel companion refused to fly Malaysian Air (which is understandable considering their recent record of sketchy plane crashes) we decided to book tickets with Air Asia… ironically. The wreckage of Air Asia Flight QZ8501 is still being pulled out of the Sea of Java as I type these words. But those prices man – can’t be beat! Oh and did I mention that our flight is on Friday the 13th?
My experience booking tickets with them did not inspire confidence. If they can’t even keep their website from crashing it’s no wonder they can’t keep their planes from crashing. It took me at least 10 attempts over the course of 3 days to book my tickets once and for all. But statistically airlines are the most safe to fly with in the wake of a tragedy like Flight QZ8501… okay, I guess that wasn’t true for Malaysian Air.
There were no ‘through’ tickets from Hanoi to Denpasar (Bali) so we had to book both legs of the flight separately. This means that at our connection in Kuala Lumpur we will need to go through customs, get our bags at baggage claim and then re-enter the airport. It was astoundingly cheap in comparison to the non-Malaysian Air flights available though. On our way back we ended up needing to schedule in a full day in Kuala Lumpur, which I was okay with. That’s a city I never thought I’d travel to. Per person the flight tickets worked out to cost just a little more than $250 round trip. But I’m banking on not being forced to check my backpack. That will add to the price slightly.
The Cliff Notes On Indonesia
Indonesia is actually a HUGE country. It is the most populous Muslim nation in the world and spans a distance similar to that between New York and Los Angeles. This is a chain of islands so vast and so remote that the total island count remains unknown. It is estimated to be somewhere in the neighborhood of 18,000, only 8,844 of which have even been given names. And of these 8,844 only 922 of have permanent residents. That means that only 5.1% of Indonesia’s islands actually have people living on them… that we know of. Like the Amazon Jungle, this is a place where new tribes of people are still being discovered – people who have been living in complete isolation from the rest of the world since the dawn of time.
We are planning on riding what are essentially motorcycles across a series of jungle islands so there is a lot that could go wrong. What am I doing to prepare for these possibilities? I’m packing medical supplies, learning to change a tire and ditching my automatic transmission bike in favor of a semi (just to learn). Automatic transmissions are dangerous to drive in mountainous areas because the brakes have a tendency to go out. That about covers our mostly likely issues.
In the immortal words of Ludacris:
“Why tip-toe through life to arrive safely at death?”