From Darwin our next leg was a 6 day passage to Indonesia- a country that is rarely talked about outside of Bali ( and unfortunately the recent earthquake) but whose scale and diversity is truly staggering: 17,000 islands, 300 languages, 255 million people, 5,000 km end to end, multiple religions and even their currency has scale...1 million rupiah = £50.
We arrived in Kupang (East Timor), a bustling, administrative city where we had to spend 3 days checking in (they really do love their admin...and their uniforms). From there we spent the next 6 weeks hopping our way along the islands of Flores, Komodo, Rinca, Sumbawa, Lombok and Bali. While this only skimmed the surface of Indonesia we definitely got to witness the rich diversity of the life and landscape of this amazing country.
Much of Indonesia is still relatively new to tourism and lots of our journey has been steeped in local life. Colourful local markets, dodging fully laden motorcycles (6 people was the record!), waking up to the local Mosque’s call to prayers at 4.30 am (sometimes in stereo from competing Imans), traditional villages where the women toil over open fires to create palm sugar and hundreds of outrigger fishing boats that pepper bays and skylines both day and night have all left an indelible mark on our memories. The local Indonesian people are a joy too...the kids greet you like Royalty with the call of “hello Mister” (that goes for men and women) and everyone you meet is friendly, helpful and smiley, probably one of the reasons that their multiple religions co-exist so comfortably.
As we made our way from Kupang through the islands we were treated to some spectacular scenery, passing just some of the 139 active volcanoes scattered around Indonesia: our beach BBQ on the idyllic white-sand beach of Kroko island with a smoking volcano in the background will be a hard sight to beat (although seeing the sunrise from the top of Mount Batur Volcano on Bali comes a close second!).
Our route included a stop at Labuan Bajo on the West of Flores, a bustling town where tourism and local life really come together...trendy coffee shops sit next to traditional fish markets and charter dive boats sit alongside hard-working fishing vessels. Its popularity is driven by its access to Komodo Island - home to the infamous and dangerous Komodo Dragons. We took a trip to the National Park and very quickly spied a bunch of dragons hanging around the rangers huts in the hope of food...and yes they are VERY big and you definitely don't want to upset them. Komodo is also famous for its dive sites and we did 3 amazing dives that included seeing wonderful coral, a dolphin with her calf, numerous Hawksbill turtles and best of all the most mind blowing fly past by 3 majestic Manta Rays.
From Komodo we island hopped across to Lombok snorkelling in glorious isolated bays with crystal clear waters and visiting small remote fishing villages, where we were definitely a novelty. Our final destination was Gili Gede an island on the south of Lombok (luckily unaffected by the earthquake) where we left the boat for a jaunt to Bali with friends and family.
Bali was a totally different experience. We luxuriated in Villa Shambala (with 13 lovely staff), partied at Ku De Ta, Potato Head and Mexicola (where we danced on the tables like teenagers!), recovered with yoga and massages, went site seeing to Temples and Rice Fields and generally lazed around the pool with cocktails in hand....a week of pure fun and indulgence. While we were there we did however experience a few earthquakes, luckily not so strong or too near but they shook the villa and gave us just a hint of what it must be like!!
Our final week was back in Gili Gede, where we met up with all the Oysters in the brand new Marina Del Ray, celebrated Andy's 60th, said our sad farewells to The Tiggys, Calliope and Lisanne (3 of our friends leaving the Rally) and got the boat ready for the 3470 mile sail to Mauritius - via Christmas and Cocos Keeling Islands.