Sunday 24 November 2013

Dili - East Timor


It's striking how different things seem here in East Timor compared to the rest of Indonesia.

The Portuguese language and the little Jesus figures adorning the dashboards of taxicabs hint of the centuries of differing colonial experiences.  Yet, even after the Portuguese left in the 1970s, four decades of storminess with Indonesia has deepened rifts that still feel palpable in the air.  Moreover, the place is physically situated far closer to Australia than Jakarta, and clear echoes of the ancient kinship to the original inhabitants of Australia can be seen in the faces of the people.  It's a different place altogether.

Kind of feels a bit like Mozambique in the '90s with all the chauffered white Land Cruisers rolling around the streets, shuffling various aid workers and Important People from place to place.  There's also the ubiquitous little pale yellow dump trucks hauling rocks and decorated microlet minivans keeping the place busy.

All in all - I like it.  No idea how stable or sustainable or "good" it might be, but for now it's a buzzing place.  Glad we've visited.

(and the diving is amazing...)

More muck diving for us! We saw some really amazing critters including: tiny fish masquerading as blades of grass (which I couldn't believe were actually fish for a little while), lots of moray eels and lion fish, amazing transparent shrimp, scorpionfish, fingered dragonets, a turtle, puffer fish and a weird frog fish. Apparently the frog fish (last photo) can eat prey twice their size, including lion fish which are poisonous! The thermoclines on the second dive were bonkers, but apparently that is what makes such fantastic marine life in Dili. 
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Wednesday 20 November 2013

Dragons of Komodo


If they were just called "Komodo Lizards", they'd probably not attract quite as much mainstream attention... Nonetheless, the Dragons are definitely pretty fearsome looking, and the whole notion of a venomous land animal 10 feet long that can outrun anyone and regularly feeds on human flesh does quicken the pulse a bit!

I soon got over my mild disappointment about having to get on an airplane to skip East over several hundred miles of islands from Bali to get to Labuan Bajo on Flores.  Indeed, seeing all that mountainous terrain and churning sea whizz along beneath us in 2 hours definitely appeals over the alternative option of two to three days of crunching over the winding roads and bobbing across the straits in rickety buses and rusting ferries.  Even if the plane is just a cheap reverse-engineered Chinese knock-off copy of a 1950s Soviet Antonov 24.

The area is actually beautiful - tons of little islands.  We stayed out on a tiny island in a bungalo for a bit - nice.  Good snorkelling, and it was great to actually slow down a tad.  We had plans to go straight from the island to the Komodo National Park by a little boat the next morning to see the Dragons, then fly back to Bali the following day from Bajo.

That'd have been a great plan - except the annual monsoon rains decided to start abruptly the night we stayed out on the island.  The next morning, the caretaker of the bungalows informed us that the boat we'd arranged to take us to the park was was not coming on account of the weather.  Now, I suppose when the captain of small boat out here decides that he'd rather forgo the handsome charter fare for safety - you don't argue with him...

Luckily, we at least got back to the main town that afternoon, but by then no one would take us the two hours out to see the Dragons.  The weather was really bad, and it was getting late.  And our flight was the next day. Disappointment.

Anyway, we went to the airline office to see if it might be possible to change the tickets to the next day - and the guy at the station smiled and hinted at bribes, etc.  Great.  But we did discover that they'd re-scheduled the flight back until late in the afternoon - so we could go to see the Dragons first thing after all!

We made arrangements to get on a boat at 0600 the next morning - and sure enough the captain was there - with his tiny boat.  And so was the torrential rain and blustery wind.  Cause for concern?

Well, an old salty sailor on the pier glared at us and pointed out to the churning sea making it clear that he did not think it was a good idea at all.  He made gestures of giant waves and cast scolding stares to the wiry little boat driver that was to take us on the passage.  Perhaps he was just upset that he didn't get the job himself - who knows.  But his disapproval didn't exactly lift our confidence...

Anyway, somewhat miraculously the weather actually cleared up just before we set off, and we made it safely to Rinca Island - where there be Dragons!

All good!

Labuan Bajo and the surrounding islands are beautiful. I really enjoyed staying in a little room with a view of the port followed by a basic beach hut on the island of Seraya where it was fun to go snorkelling and watch the evening thunderstorms. 
It was a good job I had my sea legs for the boat journeys to and from the island as it was quite choppy. The wet season suddenly started and I was very glad we hadn't chosen our initial plan to take a boat tour all the way back towards Bali for 2 nights and 2 days.

On the final morning there we got on a wooden put put put boat at 6am to take us to the island of Rinca- home of the Komodo Dragons. The weather was atrocious and I was having second thoughts. However, we were committed, along with two other guys. The boat was rocking a lot for the first 30-40 minutes of the journey and I did feel a bit queasy, but it was a lot smoother for the rest. Soon after arriving on the island the heavens opened and there was torrential rain. Seeing the dragons in their natural environment was really interesting; particularly as I had watched 'Life' the night before which had dedicated a whole section to the dragons killing and devouring a water buffalo! The storm wasn't so good and we spent an hour walking through jungle in the pouring rain, mud and buffalo muck, only to be told that there were many types of deadly snakes that lived there that like to come out in the rain! 

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Saturday 16 November 2013

Sealife on the Liberty - Tulamben, Bali


Torpedoed at sea by the Japanese in WWII, the crippled USAT Liberty was being towed to port when it began to sink.  To salvage what could be saved, it was beached here in Tulamben, in the NE of Bali.  It did eventually sink though - as two decades later the island's big volcano erupted, pushing the ship into the sea.

It's now encrusted in half a century's worth or corals and sea life, but lies just a stone's throw from shore.  Pretty convenient to be able to explore the wreck - then just walk right out of the sea to a hot shower a few steps away!


It was awesome diving in Bali- led by our fabulous instructor Wolf! Ty and I really got into muck diving (no that is not a euphemism for anything dodgy!) It was incredible to look closely at the corals and underneath rocks to see tiny glass shrimp, ghost pipe fish, cleaning stations, nudibranchs and so much more. The night dive was fun as we saw an octopus and various other critters.

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