After climbing Gunung Rinjani, I decided to strike east from Senaru, in the general direction of the island of Flores, from where a passenger ship would be departing for Sulawesi in just over a week's time. I got offered a ridiculously high-priced ticket from Senaru to Flores by a local tout, but I turned it down; he wanted 85,000rp for a trip that ended up costing me about 35,000rp, and he would have been using a ferry that turned out to be non-existent, an unsurprising discovery for this tout-weary cynic. Public bemos took me, bruised and cramped, to Labuhan Lombok on the eastern side of Lombok, crammed between locals with live chickens, dead expressions and suspicious eyes; one bemo even had to stop and fill a flat tyre with air, before it could crunch and grind its way through the dusty northeast of Lombok. In Labuhan Lombok I alighted, was grabbed by a tout trying to persuade me to come to his hotel for information on a ticket to eastern Sumbawa, and figuring there could be worse options I hopped on his bike. This time it turned out to be a good move.
Chris, the Indonesian proprietor of the losmen, turned out to be extremely helpful, and he was very well tuned in to the needs of travellers; it helped that he spoke English, French, German, Indonesian and a smattering of other languages, having spent a fair amount of time travelling in Europe. It didn't take much to part me from a bargain 27,000rp to buy passage from Lombok, across to Sumbawa, and almost right across that long island to Bima, from where a bemo would take us to Sumbawa's eastern port of Sape; the ferry to Flores, bypassing Komodo, would leave at 8am on Friday morning. Perfect.
Or, perhaps not. Ever been on a long bus journey? Well, take it and double the pain. Add in steaming temperatures; shocking roads; a driver who only knows how to accelerate at full whack and brake suddenly, often at the same time; a TV blaring out a terrible kung fu movie from America1, subtitled in Indonesian and guaranteed to hard boil even the most vacuous of brains; incessant Indonesian music, turned up loud, all through the night, bringing to mind an Indonesian Demis Roussos mixed with awful Bontempi organ; sweaty locals, sitting next to you and falling asleep on you, kretek2 ash dropping onto your trousers as the smoke licks round the holes in the seats; cockroaches crawling up your legs; a time schedule to disturb even the deepest of sleepers (leaving at 2pm, arriving at 2am... which actually turned into 4.30am); even the Australian long distance bus wasn't this bad, but I suppose it's unfair to complain too much when you look at the price.
Luckily I met a very pleasant French couple on the way, Luc and Marilyn, providing each of us with someone at whom to glance sideways every time something straight out of a disaster movie occurred (which was pretty much all the time). Sleeping sporadically and in positions normally reserved for tantric yoga, we eventually reached Flores, arriving at the western port of Labuanbajo on Friday afternoon, after yet another kung fu movie on the ferry's TV. Hi-ya!
1 Every bloody American kung fu movie has the same plot. Boy trains himself in ju-jitsu/kung fu/karate, is driving through the city, finds girl being attacked by no-good gang, beats the crap out of gang and saves girl, gets seen in the process by an old eastern mystic who used to be a wicked fighter in his youth, old man trains boy even more, boy goes on to enter and win big contest, in the process destroying a huge drugs/firearms cartel. Oh, and the acting's really lame. Now can I have my US$10,000 for the screenplay, please? Thank you.
2 Indonesian cigarettes, or kreteks, are something else. As well as tobacco they contain cloves, which means the smoke smells rather exotic and the filters leave a sweet, herbal taste on your lips. They're not that bad, but smoking a whole packet would be in the same league as eating a whole jar of Marmite, or sucking a whole packet of Polos in one go. They are certainly intense... but then again, so is the nicotine rush, because if there's one thing that kreteks are, it's strong. Which could explain the amount of deep-chested coughing you get round these parts...