Lacy: Rob wrote a really great post about our last week. We covered a lot of ground as we continued east across Sumbawa. From the tips of volcanoes to the shores of epic surfing locations we completed our tour of Sumbawa. A 7 hour ferry ride later, I am assembling this post in Flores, the next large island to the East. Enjoying our last week with our motorcycle rental we will explore this island, but first I’ll soak in the sunset on the beach of Labuan Bajo and hit “publish…”
We started out early with the motorcycle. It was a hot but a pretty 4 hour ride along the coast and into the mountains. Once we reached a little town of Pancasila at the foothills of Tambora, things began to get interesting. The paved road became a dirt road and then a one track dirt trail. The following 5 Kilometers were a slick clay dirt mud and rock trail that climbed very steeply straight up the base of the mountain. Although our bike was made to go off road from time-to-time, it was still a big heavy bike laden with big bags full of gear. The rains over the previous 2 days created big mud puddles that I had to just guess at what the bottom looked and felt like before sloshing into them. The muddy path and ruts in it where anywhere from 4 inches to 2 feet deep in long stretches. I wrestled and wrestled with the weight and the sloppy wet clay underfoot. I was wet with muddy water up to my waist. The vines grabbed at the handlebars, mirrors, bags, pegs and tried to hold onto anything they could. Since it is a brand new rented bike, I was paranoid to put a scratch on it but the thick ferns grow like weeds in the high jungle and had the path closed down to about 2 feet wide at some points where I had to put a 3 foot wide bike (with travel bags) through. About 95% of the way up, what felt like an hour of exhausting battle, the slimy clay, overheated clutch, spinning rear tire and my rubber legs & arms finally lost to the hillclimb. Thankfully is was an extreme slow motion rear wheel spin out, slide and flop into the ferns. The ferns and vines were so thick that they actually held up the bike so I could climb from the vines, that I was all tangled in, out overtop of the bike and with the help of Lacy and a local, pull it back fully upright and back onto the path. No damage, except to my ego. Mt Tambora was already beginning to test our mettle.
We chose to trek this particular volcano because of it’s vast size, remoteness and remarkable history. In 1815 Tambora suddenly blew its top. Over 1/3 if it’s height disappeared from the mountain and went into the atmosphere. 1816 was the year without a summer worldwide and the weather of the whole earth was affected for 3+ years. Last year only 120 souls were able to reach the top of Tambora’s caldera. Compared to Mt. Rinjani, which is actually taller but much more accessible which had 100,000 people climb last year, we chose the path very much less traveled. Tambora is also located very remotely on an end of the island of Sumbawa who’s shape resembles a big Rorschach ink blot. There is little to nothing within hours of driving from even the foothills of Tambora. After we spent 2 full days in challenging logistics to reach this part of Sumbawa, we needed a good night to rest before we even geared up and got our hiking boots tied tight.
Rik, Dutch ex-pat, and his wife Nural, Indonesian, were fantastic hosts who run the Tambora Guesthouse which is in the highest point of a vast coffee plantation and serves as base camp for all Tambora treks. For dinner, she presented a big bowl of Spaghetti Bolognese which was the carb load we needed to insure our bodies were ready for the physical part of the climb. Plentlyful glasses of Brum, rice wine (more like rice mead), a comfy bed and fan also helped my mental preparedness.
The lush jungle enveloped us…
We started off about 8:30 the following morning. Our experienced guide, Samuda has lead 40 treks up to the caldera over his years. Amir the cook and eager, young Faisal were charged with carrying loads of gear and food for all of us. The lower to mid point of the mountain was lush and thick with foliage. The guys literally needed to machete us through certain places. At times, I knew someone was just 10 feet in front of me but I couldn’t see them or even see the greenery moving, it was so thick. This was also the first time we had ever hiked or climbed and were required to use a local guide. With the thick jungle and maze of unmarked trails, now I knew why. Lacy marveled at the wild orchids and we both smiled as we discovered the micro orchids that reminded us of the the micro versions of other flowers we saw during last year’s Pacific Crest Trail Hike.
After about 3 hours of trail and climbing, we stopped for lunch. We had done 2/3 of the distance already for the day but would need just as much time in the afternoon for the remaining 1/3 due to the conditions and sharp increase of the incline from now on to the top. The air was wet and humid. Our bodies were wet and humid. In fact, everything from our clothes to the gear, boots and hair were now soaked through with jungle and sweat. The thick overhang of trees, vines and multiple layers of plants upon plants was a bit disorienting to me. The compass showed me North but we had lost sight of anything familiar or discerning other than pure jungle for about 2 days now and it let a little vertigo creep into my senses. It was a minor case of pure green chlostrophobia. Our first evening was full of hearty food and anticipation for the next segment. We tried to read and rest as soon as it turned dark inside our tent. Even tired from the ordeal just getting to Tambora and our first leg up the mountain, we found it difficult to get to sleep. Our alarm was set to go off very early at 1am, just a few hours away.
Lacy awoke first and went out to insure coffee was brewing for us. I love how Lacy takes extra time and makes the extra effort to keep things as nice as possible for us in trying times. Was it early morning or still late evening if the bats were still out munching on mosquitoes? The coffee was thick, black and welcome. Salty Japanese noodles and rice further fortified our big climb ahead. Amir stayed at the campsite with all of the gear so we could take minimal weight up to the rim from here and return to the same place to spend the next night. We set off at 2am for a target of reaching the caldera by sunrise. With new batteries in the headlights and everyone in lightweight mode, we made great time even with big elevation to cover. We drove ourselves and each other at a strong pace higher and higher. We began to notice the stars as we climbed out of the dense jungle canopy and into savanna and open sky above the tree line. The Milky Way stretched across the full sky above us and was breathtaking to admire. Stargazing gave us a little break or two along the steep climb up and up. We continued up into the clouds and you could feel the temperature dropping and the wet mist in your lungs. 4 solid hours after starting out, Faisal announced that we had reached the rim. He needed to announce it because the clouds were so thick that all I could see was about 5 feet of the rim’s edge itself.
The sun began to lighten the clouds but they persisted to remain all wrapped around us like a wet sheet. We found a niche out of the wind and snuggled ourselves around each other to hold out the chill. We both fell solidly asleep in each other’s arms after the very short night of little rest. Over 4 hours later, we stirred and stretched to hear an excited call from Faisal. The wind had changed and was now slowly clearing the clouds and mist from inside the volcano. We could finally see over the edge and into the caldera. Over the next hour the temperature continued to warm up and the green yellow sulphuric lake at the bottom came into view. The caldera was impressive to see now all the way to the other side of the rim. The sheer drop off that was inside of the outer rim looked just like you would draw a pretend volcano as a little kid. Creeks, grasslands, cracked rock fissures in only 200 year old lava flows and the lake filled the inside of the caldera’s bowl. One of the nicest things was that we were there alone and had this amazing view just between us. It’s difficult to express the sensation of being up on the edge of something so big and striking but rarely seen.
After Gizmo took a few more selfies, we all set off back down the mountain. We arrived back at our base camp after the 13 hour round trip to the top. Steaming rice and veggies didn’t have to wait long for us to devour them. I’ve come to love a squash they have here that looks a lot like a big hard winter acorn squash but has a soft edible skin and sautés like something in between a zucchini and a potato. Yummy green and starchy with spicy sambol and rice! We turned in early to rest knowing we would begin the last leg home at sunrise the next morning. After a quick breakfast we bounded down the mountain at a brisk pace arriving after only 4 hours of wet slick trail and pushing through rain soaked foliage. We stopped for more of the great local coffee from the plantation around the guesthouse along the way. I truly needed it as I was beginning to feel the physical toll. A quick but well needed shower to remove the layers of volcanic dust upon foliage slime upon sweat felt great.
The draining physical trip to ride the Beast from Bali back down the muddy trails to the road was next up. We took the heavy bags off the bike this time and sent them down separately on other bike taxis. Lacy also road down this way precariously on the back of a local’s off-road motorcycle. This gave me a lot better maneuverability coming down with the motorcycle than going up. My shoes and legs were soaked through with muddy water again but we made it without too much more than a little drama. Once reassembled at the Ranger Station, we aimed the bike 5+ hours away to a surfing area called Lakey Beach (Peak).
We pulled into the sleepy beach town just after dark and a very long day of coming down the mountain and riding on the bike. There was ice cold Bintang and Tequila waiting in a little beach bar called 3 Waves. It was the first place we reached in the town and we were so warmly greeted by proprietors, Alex and her husband, John, that we decided to stay in their newly opened guest rooms. They are both from Australia and have been developing their place for the last 7 years. Their hospitality and attention to detail showed well. Our room was beautiful with one full wall of glass. We both slept in late the next day and awoke to the sound of the surf just 50 feet away. The tide had come way, way in from the night before. The surfers were out to catch morning waves at the onset of high tide. We lazily strolled the beach for the next two days watching the surfers and soaking in the sunsets from Ali’s Bar just down the beach from our room. Ali is an ex-Chef From Australia and his spring rolls lived up to the hype. The sunset view from his bar’s deck is a front row view over the bay as the sun sets into the clouds and mountains on the other side of the water. The respite from the trekking and previous long motorcycle riding days made a really nice vacation within our travels. On our last evening, Alex made us great Tequila Sunrises and John whipped up pizza long after the regular kitchen had closed, thus winning our hearts for a lifetime.
Lakey Beach seemed to be a mix of Ex-pats who were making their investment into building a little community on a little known but world class surf break, well away from the rest of the tourist areas. So far, so good since it has all the amenities needed for a beach getaway without the tour hawking and in-your-face tourist treatment of other islands. Restaurants open when someone comes to eat for lunch and close when the last patron turns in for the night. Although a bit more expensive than some of the other places we’ve stayed in Indonesia so far, we just might come back for more!
At 4:30 am we packed up the Beast, fired up the engine and pulled out into the cool coastal air headed toward the port city of Sape. We flew along the uncrowded roads while the cows and goats were still sleeping limited only by the brightness of the auxiliary driving lights. Ahhh. 6th gear in some stretches of better road. We slowed as we came through Dompu and Bima. Two mid sized working class cities on the interior of the island. In between these cities and the port we passed through many villages thriving with people out in the earliest morning hours. It is the very beginning of Ramadan and here in Indonesia, they have many local traditions during this month of prayer, reflection and family. Most Indonesians travel back from Jakarta and other main cities to their home villages. Even to their ancestors villages. Since they fast during the sunlight hours, a special call to prayer, family meal and community time begins around 4am. After a light meal, everyone takes to the streets to gather for prayers at the local Mosque but also in public gathering areas and in small groups right in the road as they meet and pray with neighbors along the way. Kids seem to form their own smiling masses and everyone is dressed in their formal clothing. For the next month, we will eat snacks during the day, as most warungs will be closed. Then big meals at night when the fast is broken for the local community and all of the warungs and restaurants will fill up quickly.
After making the town of Sape in record time, (4 hours vs 5) we quickly boarded the ferry and I secured the bike wedged against the wall of the cargo area. Port cities and ferries are not on the post card tour of the country, so you get in and out of them as efficiently as you can.
While we were on Tambora we crossed paths with an aspiring young Canadian MountainBiker named Alex. While buying a Coca-Cola and some Oreos at the Ferry’s commissary, I looked up to see him standing next to me. We were both surprised and happy see one another and to quickly share our Tambora caldera stories. He was shooting a video for his bike sponsors and lugged his bike through the same jungle path we had taken except he needed 2 extra days due to the slow down of carrying the bike most of the bottom 5/6ths of the way. He mentioned two Americans he was visiting with up on the top deck of the ferry who were from Colorado and had also done some ecological housing work in Indonesia. I was instantly curious to meet them so we went upstairs. Will & Sarah turned out to be the couple who came behind us on Kenawa Island to work on the Earthships as we had! They had a much shorter stay than Lacy and I and were also on their way to explore Flores.
Approaching Flores at sunset was another gorgeous view with the many smaller islands that surround this island of flowers…
We all agreed to meet for dinner and drinks once the long 7 hour ferry ride was over and we are safe and sound in Labuan Bajo. At the Paradise Bar, the local Arak rum flowed and we shared stories from our Earthship experiences. They were craving some non-Kenawa Island food so we walked to a Mediterranean restaurant in the tourist area of the city for dinner. With Alex along also, we had lots of food and fun. It was a surprise to meet them as we both know of one another but had never met. I’m certain we will all reconnect back in Colorado where they live as the mountains and ski areas of SW Colorado are on Lacy and my target list of places to check out and possibly start our own eco home and business.
Alex is off to shoot more downhill mountain bike videos here on Flores. Will & Sarah are searching for a motorcycle for themselves. Lacy and I will be at the Immigration office in Labuan Bajo to try and add 30 days more to our Indonesian Visas first thing tomorrow morning before we head out into the island of flowers, Flores.