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Travel reports

Serpentine roads, volcanoes, komodo dragons ... and an escape

Left, right, left, right. Almost every 10 seconds I turn the steering wheel in 180° movements from one side to the other while we drive along those endless serpentines on the green island of Flores. If it would like this all the way till Germany, we would need another three sets of new tyres. And Nadine would get out of the car at the next airport and send me and the car to hell. As co-dirver one feels these windy roads in a different way than the driver himself.

After leaving Maumere we follow the road westward and on the way towards Gunung Kelimutu we do a little detour to a more remote village using a 'road' which actually not looked like it was to be used by cars.
Later, back on the main road, we find the secondary road heading up to Kelimutu. This volcano, located in the southern central part of Flores, gained awareness due to its three differently shaped crater lakes.
While we, along with lots of local people, walk the foot path up the hill we have to stop about 15 times to allow locals taking photo with us. Especially Nadine with her blond hair seem to attract the locals much more than Kelimutu itself. This situation reminded us about our trip to China in March and April 2013: the local people always used to be to shy to ask for a photo. We never understood why. But as soon as one dared to ask (we then never say No) we immediately got accompanied by lots of other people! We then sometimes felt like being handed over from one person to another like a cute looking animal in a zoo and had no other choice than patiently smile into on camera after another. But this brings you in contact with the people! After unscrewing the smile from our faces we walk on top of the first viewing platform offering a view at two of the three crater lakes. We were amazed when seeing a small rocky wall separating an ice blue shaped lake from a black shaped one. Still the cause of these different colors not completely understood. But basically dissolved minerals cause the shapes. While the ice blue (bright turquoise) shaped crater lake with its ascending vapours always keeps the same shape, the black one also can show red and yellow shapes with the time. The third lake, which can be seen from the peak, showed a dark green shape.
The locals of the nearby village Moni believe that the spirits of deceased people find their way to one of those three lakes.

Street on Flores
Nadine and some locals
Macaque and crater lake

In the afternoon we are back on the road. Left, right, left, right ... ... ... left, right, left, right.
The next town on our way is 'Ende'. But before getting there we have to pass another road work on a very narrow and windy section of the road. Two excavator vehicles with hydraulic hammers are loosening and removing rocks from the mountain side to later widen the road. The work is going with no interruption while the both directions of traffic are directed alternately on the hill side line of the road. There was already a lot of scree on the road and there was not much room left between our car and an excavator when it was turning right in the moment as we passed it.
What was about to happen in the next scene we only knew from movies so far: while we continued through the road work with walking speed we suddenly had to notice a rock with a size bigger than our 4WD in the mountainside right next to us getting loose. Some of the nearby road workers suddenly shouted 'Hatu Hatu!' (Watch out!).
The rock got loosen more and more. Only a few thick roots seem to prevent the rock from falling while lots of small rocks and gravel came down left and right of it. Regardless of the scree on the road in front of us I pressed my whole body weight on the gas pedal and drove off.
We did not know if, when and how the rock came down. In any case, we haven't seen any other cars following us for a long time.
At the end we arrived in Ende where we bought some 'Nasi Ayam Goreng' and 'Nasi Ayam Ikan' (steamed rice with vegetables and chicken / fish) for take away, refilled the car and finally moved on (left, right, left, right).

Rice terraces on Flores
South coast of Flores
Gunung Ebulobo
Enrico and some locals
South coast of Flores

In the late afternoon we park the car between some palm trees right next to a beach to spend the night there. In the evening the situation should force us to escape.
It was about 9pm and we just wanted to lie down and sleep after watching a movie when we noticed flashlights and voices around our car. At least two people were running around our vehicle and tried to light up inside. It was already dark and due to our sun shade in the wind screen, the black mosquito nets over the side windows and our curtains it was impossible to look into the car.
Then knocking and a loud ‘Hello?’. Then another one. I stuck my head out through one of the rear side windows and saw two boys probably 16 to 18 years old. They stank of alcohol. ‘Hello! What do you want?’ was my first question to them before I noticed it was four of them. While whispering with each other the inspected the car very accurately from every side like they have never seen one before. I quickly realized they did not speak any word in English as they have not even been able just to read the phrases of our vehicle signs. In Indonesian, they tried to tell me something. With a smile on my face and making gestures for ‘I do not understand’ and ‘please leave us alone, we want to sleep’ I tried us to get rid of them. They did not leave but, instead, continued smoking their cigarettes and tried somehow to look grimly. For about two minutes it went back and forth, me talking in English, them in Indonesian. They just did not go. While one of these guys was inspecting the bonnet like a corpse another made a phone call which to me sounded like he was calling for some more friends to join them. While the third and fourth still tried to make me understanding what they want I clearly understood one word: ‘Rupiah! Rupiah!’. With a long but quickly spoken English sentence I continued trying to convey a lack of understanding and confuse them. But now it was clear: the wanted money. They did not make a move to go. On the contrary: inexplicably they did grab and scan the whole front area of the car with their hands like … like … I don’t know … like caressing a naked woman! This already was looking like ‘sexual harassment of a car’!
After a moment the boys again stood next to both sides of the car. Their voices now sounded more vicious and determined. That was too much. We felt the situation becoming dangerous now.
Now I really was glad of the training in escaping with a car obtained when doing my military services some years back and also by reading a book from the German survival expert Rüdiger Nehberg.
The car was parking in the direction of escape (as we always do). The driver's seat was completely free (as always). I crawled to the front of the car, put in the first gear, released the hand brake, removed the sun shade from the wind screen, started the engine and drove off. The guys shouted after us and also threw something after the car. Fortunately it was not a stone.
Barefoot and only in sleeping pants I drove back to the main road, while Nadine was still in the bed in the back of the car. After about two kilometers we stopped at the side got changed and moved the luggage to the back before we found ourselves looking for another place to stay overnight. After a few kilometers we parked next to a small side street.
So at the end this day provided a ‘certain amount’ of adventure. New conclusion after this happening: we love our car! Fortunately we could not find any visible damage on the car in the next morning.

Spiny orb-weaver
Labuan Bajo Sunset
Komodo NP

After arriving in Labuan Bajo we refueled the car for the equivalent of around 40 $US and then were looking for accommodation. Shower, air conditioning and wifi connectivity. Luxury at its finest. Labuan Bajo is the gateway to the nearby Komodo National Park. Both home of the up to three meters long komodo dragons and a large diving area. We lined up in a diving excursion including a visit to the komodo dragons on Rinca island on the following day.
On the boat we met Italians, Spaniards, Australians and Germans. At first we make a stop on the island of Rinca where we do a one-hour trekking tour which makes us see five komodo dragons, three of them even up close. While those up to 3 meter long animals, which grow for up to 20 years to reach their full body size, they usually spend most of the time with motionless lying in the shade (so they told us). So according to the guide we have been lucky when by seeing two of them in lively motion and one female building a nest, too. In addition to the monitors we also have been able to spot orange-footed scrubfowls, Sunda sambar and long-tailed macaques. After walking on top of a hill, from which one again has a pretty good view of the neighboring islands, we get back to the boat and then head for the first dive spot. Prior to getting there dive guides and other divers spoke in highest terms of the dive spots we were about to see. This unfortunately screwed our expectations too high. At the end we were a bit disappointed, also by the second dive, which aimed at looking for manta rays. But due to low current (and therefore insufficient plankton) we have had no luck.

Komodo dragon
Green turtle
Island of Rinca

Today, on Wednesday the 6th of August, we went to the harbor in the early morning and waited for the ferry ticket office to open, just like two days ago. Then, a slap in the face: no ferry before 8th of August. This was then confirmed by three other locals. Booking extension at the hotel. More money to spend in a place that we actually already wanted to have left behind us for a long time. Due to time constraints we will now have to cancel a trip to the Gili islands next to Lombok. We are sitting on pins and needles. And the gasoline evaporates and the car registration expires while we stand around here in Labuan Bajo.
Maybe we now go under water once more, as we are forced tto stay here anyway. Crossing Sumbawa in one and a half days - let's see if it will work. But caffeinated beverages are indeed very cheap around here.

After we made it to Bali we then can say goodbye to serpentines and winding roads, but must then expect a lot more traffic on same.