Before I start writing about our time in Indonesia in more detail, I thought I’d outline where we went and what we did to make it all easier to follow. I am so thrilled with the itinerary we ended up following for this trip – I think it was the perfect mix of different landscapes, cities, underwater attractions and general moods. Our original plan had been to spend a week on Gili Air and a week exploring Komodo and the surrounding islands, but we kept that second week flexible just in case we wanted to switch gears and do something else. We ended up heading to Amed, on the north east coast of Bali, for our final couple of days, to check out the famous wreck and explore a bit of Bali. This was a busy trip; I think there was only a single day where we didn’t have to be somewhere before 8.30am. But I feel so good about how much we crammed into fifteen days in Indonesia and couldn’t be more glad that we planned such an exciting and full schedule for ourselves.
After leaving London on Friday evening, we landed at Denpasar airport on Saturday evening, having flown seven hours to Dubai and then nine more onto Indonesia. We’d booked ourselves a cheap room near the airport and crashed immediately, buzzing with the excitement of being back in the tropics in a brand new country.
We woke up early the next morning to grab breakfast with Sophie before we had to jump in a car and drive an hour up the coast to catch our boat from Padang Bai port to Gili Air. I had looked for a boat leaving from some of the ports closer to Canggu, which is where Sophie lives, but they were all early morning boats and would have meant that we had no time to spend with her at all. The boat from Padang Bai was the only option for an early afternoon ride, but fortunately the drive was only ninety minutes or so and cost us around £15. As far we could tell, there were not many public bus options that were reliable for these distances, and we found the price of long drives to be good value for a private taxi.
That first afternoon, the Sunday, we arrived on Gili Air and checked into our dive school. We spent the next five days diving everyday with the dive operator Two Fish, with Jake completing his Open Water and Advanced diving certifications and me getting my Advanced too, along with completing the Peak Performance Buoyancy specialty and four fun dives. Gili Air was the perfect place to learn; the dive sites were varied but simple, the wildlife was spectacular and, by pure luck, we were the only students there that week and received 1-on-1 tuition for no additional cost. Travel in the low season, guys. Gili Air was also a great place to hang out for the week. It’s a small island that you can walk around in an hour, with soft sand, lots of beachside restaurants and beautiful sunsets. There are no motorised vehicles on the island, with everyone getting around by foot, bike or horse and cart. Gili Air is not an unknown island by any means, and it was definitely the most expensive place we stayed, but that’s not saying much. It was still fantastic value for accommodation, food and diving. Wandering along the sand to the dive school every morning, spending the day out on the boat and the afternoons brushing up on my technical diving knowledge before heading over to a bar on the west side of the island for sunset was a dream schedule.
After a week on Gili Air, we took the boat back to Padang Bai and a car back to Denpasar to catch a flight to Labuan Bajo airport, which is the closest aiport to Komodo National Park and all its associated activities. We seriously considered getting the four day, three night boat from Lombok to Flores (the island on which the city of Labuan Bajo is located), partly because it looked fun and partly to avoid flying because climate change. Unfortunately, it turns out that these boats don’t have stellar safety records, and it also looked like the kind of multiday group travel experience of which both Jake and I are very wary. Given that it would comprise a sizeable portion of our trip, we knew that it had to be just what we wanted to make it worth it. Flying it was, then.
We flew into Komodo late on Saturday. We spent Sunday and Monday doing three dives each day with iDive, which was bliss. Komodo is known for its strong currents, which our guide thrust us into during our very first dive so he could see how we handled it. We handled it fine, though we did burn through our tanks at a spectacular rate. I typically get between 45-60 minutes out of a single tank, depending on the depth. This dive only lasted twenty-five minutes. Currents are nothing to scoff at.
Aside from the currents, the diving in Komodo was spectacular. I have never seen such healthy, vibrant, diverse reefs stretching so far and wide. We also saw turtles, sharks, manta rays, all manner of tropical fish and other small critters. It was definitely the best diving of the trip and I am so, so grateful for having had the chance to visit these incredible ecosystems.
We also spent two days, shudder, on land in Komodo. We spent one day visiting the Moonshine and Rangko caves, which ended up with me suffering from a severe dehydration headache that lasted for eight hours, and spent the following day on the classic Komodo boat tour, which left Jake with a massive fever. The boat tour did surpass my expectations, however, which was a big surprise. All I wanted out of this day was to see a Komodo dragon and I didn’t care if the pink beach and snorkelling with manta rays turned out to be marketing gimmicks. But amazingly, the beach was bright pink, we swam alongside beautiful manta rays and I saw two Komodo dragons! The tour delivered. Jake did almost end up in the hospital but we’re not focusing on that.
We flew back to Bali on Thursday morning and drove straight to Amed. I have already written about our haphazard arrival in Amed in detail, but safe to say, it was not the most relaxed morning of the trip. Fortunately, it did pick up soon after that with the six wonderful dives I did in Amed, again with Two Fish, along with obtaining my Nitrox certification. Amed is home to stunning black sand and the most gorgeous rugged coastline. I also tried muck diving for the first time, which was, er, interesting. Muck diving is all about searching in the sand for tiny little creatures, which can yield fantastic miniature finds or involve looking at a lot of sand. For now, I think it’s safe to say that I am a much bigger fan of big stuff and amazing reefs than staring at sand for an hour, but I would still rather be searching fruitlessly beneath the surface than whiling away time above it. The big draw in Amed was the USS Liberty wreck, which I dived at twice and was astounded by. I officially love wreck diving and can’t wait do more of it this year – if I’m willing to brave the UK’s chilly waters, that is.
Our final day was spent in Canggu with Sophie, getting dumped by enormous waves at the beach and trying one of her favourite restaurants. We headed to the airport as the sun went down, ready to start the eighteen hour journey it would take for us to touch down in London.
…so, there you have it. Two jam-packed weeks in Indonesia, four different beds, twenty three dives and a hundred mango lassis. I loved the spots we chose for exploring Indonesia. All three places were so different, both above and below the surface, and I couldn’t be happier with our first glimpse of this fantastic country. What a beautiful trip! I can’t wait to write about it in more detail over the coming weeks.