So you’ve done your research online, combed through the trip itinerary, or even scoured the sea charts like a modern-day Magellan off to discover the world, but what’s it really going to be like on a Sea Trek Sailing Adventure? What can you expect from your travel through the islands of Indonesia on this “trip of a lifetime?”
Its hard to say what one of our adventures will really be like, as each trip is unique in its own right. For example, I have been guiding our tour leader going back and forth on the same route between Bali and Komodo for years, but I never feel like I did the same trip twice!. Even if the itinerary is the same, there are always new ways to explore and experience every one of our destinations. Certainly wildlife, weather,and interactions with locals can vary wildly from trip to trip, but that’s to be expected from anything you call an “adventure,” right?
So I can’t tell you what your Sea Trek experience will be, but I can share just one of these trips from my perspective. On my most recent journey on the Katharina on a “Bali and Beyond” cruise I took a few photos and jotted down some notes about some of the daily excursions and highlights of our trip. I hope it gives you an idea of all the possibilities of living life at sea. Let’s go!
The departure day of any Sea Trek trip is always full of excitement. What exciting adventures will we encounter in the upcoming days? We began the day in Sanur, Bali, where most of our group had gathered for the transfer to the northern village of Amed, where the ‘Katharina’ lay at anchor along with the rest of the guests and our crew. After embarking and settling into the newly renovated ship, it was time for me to give an introduction to safety aboard and introduce our cheerful crew. We soon lifted anchor to move across the Lombok Strait, with a clear skies and calm seas ahead. I knew this trip would be lucky indeed, for as we crossed incredibly deep Lombok Strait, home to the “Wallace Line” we were escorted by pod after pod of jumping dolphins. I have never seen so many in this strait, but it turned out that abundant wildlife, especially dolphins, would be a definitive theme for this trip. It was afternoon when we arrived at the island of Gili Air and we were all soon in the water to test out our snorkel gear and skills in the warm and vibrant waters. Back onboard, we enjoyed sundowners on the top deck, feeling lucky to have an incredible sunset view of both Mt. Agung Volcano in Bali, and Mt. Rinjani volcano in Lombok. Everyone agreed, the trip was off to a good start!
Throughout the night, our vessel had ventured north, rounded the island of Lombok, and finally came to a rest just off the coast of neighboring Sumbawa. We first went ashore on the island of Pulau Bungin, where a small settlement of ‘sea-gypsies’ (bajao) lived in stilted huts above the water and still lived a subsistence life dependent on the surrounding waters. Arrangements had been made for a welcome ceremony, so as soon as our tenders arrived at the jetty we were treated to traditional music, dancing and even a martial arts demonstration by two cute little village boys. After the celebrations, our guests were free to stroll through narrow streets lined with houses on stilts. Today we spotted many fish and sea cucumbers laid out to dry, ready to ship out to buyers throughout Asia. The villagers were so friendly and welcoming that they didn’t want us to leave. The feeling was mutual! Afterward a quick, refreshing dip in the sea, we continued on to Pulau Moyo where we spent a few hours relaxing, swimming and snorkeling before cruising along the north coast of Sumbawa overnight.
A visit to the village of Wera is always one of my favorite villages to visit. This is a Buginese settlement famous for the activities easily seen along the beach – the building of traditional Phinisi ships, much like our ‘Katharina.’ We were greeted with friendly smiles and “hellos” as the village children excitedly led us on a tour of their hometown. We explored many boats of various sizes and in various stages of construction, the craftsmanship never failing to impress our guests. After what seemed like the entire village helped push our tenders from the beach, the Katharina weighed anchor and we proceeded on to Gili Banta. Nestled in a cove on an uninhabited ancient volcanic crater, the beach on Gili Banta is certainly one of my own “happy places.” Banta boasts a series of long,e beautiful stretches of pristine beach made of soft pink sand that meets the crystal blue waters. It is a place that makes me pinch myself a little to believe this kind of island paradise still exists. After basking in the sand and cooling off with some spectacular snorkeling, it was with reluctance that we returned to the ship. Our incredible day wasn’t over yet, however, as we set our course for Komodo National Park. we were treated with gorgeous sunset cruise, taking in magnificent views of Banta Island and Sangeang Volcano in the distance, (Little did we know that very volcano would blow it’s top in just a few weeks) and completed, of course by an escort of bottle nosed dolphins. Excitement was in the air, as we all knew that tomorrow we would be waking in the glorious setting of Komodo National Park and encountering the famous dragons.
I love love love (!) waking up in Loh Liang Bay of Komodo Island. Watching the sunrise over the Jurrasic Park -like landscape is always a treat, and this morning was no exception. As the sun rose behind the jagged mountains, some local squid fishermen rowed up to the Katharina to show off their catch from the night before. Our crew was delighted to buy a few fresh calamari from them! After breakfast, we donned our best safari wear and laced up our hiking shoes to go ashore for an early morning trek in search of the Komodo’s giant lizards. We were guided by two knowledgeable rangers whose keen eyes helped us spot several mega-pod birds, cockatoos, wild boar, timor deer and dragons, of course! Once spotted one in the distance during our trek up the hill, and one closer to the trail amongst the forest floor. That was enough excitement for most of our group, but our expectations were exceeded when we encountered a group of large dragons warming in the sun near the kitchen. They might look lazy to the uninitiated, but I have seen enough to know better! I regard the dragons with a healthy respect, indeed. Having survived our trek, we returned to the ship hot and weary but full of smiles and laughter as we relived our dragon encounters with excited stories and amazing snapshots. To wash the heat off, we sailed just around the cape to Komodo’s famous ‘pink beach,’ a favorite spot in the park due to both the beautiful pink sand and its easy snorkeling access to one of the ‘richest’ reefs in Eastern Indonesia. Some guest were lucky to spot moray eels and hawksbill turtles in the vibrant reef as well. I could spend hours staring in wonder at huge schools of surgeonfish, fusiliers, trevallies that school off the reef here, but was glad to eventually head back to the boat to dig into a well deserved lunch. Dragon action always makes me ravenous! Well fed and satisfied, we were all free to enjoy a book, a snooze, or just the scenery as we hoisted our foresails and wove through the many islands of the park to our western-most destination of the trip: Labuan Bajo, Flores.
After what had ended up being a lively night in the town harbor, we woke to greet the day in Labuhan Bajo. After gobbling down our breakfast, we headed high into the hills to the village of Melo, where we were rewarded with a cool breeze and breathtaking views of the National Park. The villagers first led us to into the traditional Manggarai house, where we were to treated to a welcome ceremony that included a sampling of beetelnut and local ricewine. Although both are an acquired taste, I must admit that I am growing to like them both more with each visit, and I am even getting good at spitting the red beetlenut juice through the floorboards like the local pros! After the intoxicating welcome ceremony, we were led out into the yard, where we were treated to local coffee, fried bananas, and a spectacular performance of traditional Manggarai dances. The dance for which this district enjoys national fame is called the caci, or “whip dance,” is the highlight, as warriors pair off and attempt to strike each other with whips amongst much singing, dancing and jesting. Weary after such a wonderful morning of dancing and celebrations, we were happy to get back to the Katharina and head towards the nearby island of Kelor for an afternoon of swimming, snorkeling. However, as the guests were relaxing, our crew was busy collecting firewood, tuning their guitar strings for the evening’s beach BBQ. There was so much grilled food on offer that night that we could hardly eat the birthday cake that was brought out for a special birthday celebration. The stars were bright in the sky as we danced around the bonfire to the songs expertly performed by the crew. We returned to the ship tipsy and tired, it had been both a day and a night to remember!
This morning we were to watch the sun rise over the rolling hills of tall savanna grass and soaring lontar palms that make the distinctive landscape of Rinca Island. Though lesser known than it’s sister island, Komodo, a trek in Rinca to see the dragons is not to be missed here. The scenery and hike to the viewpoint is one-of-a-kind, and the dragons here are more active and wild, lending a sincere air of excitement to any visit. The experienced rangers showed us the dens and nests of the dragons and were lucky to see water buffalo, macaques, and wild boars as well as many ferocious dragons. We were all given quite a show when we spotted two dragons that began getting aggressive with each other, most likely because mating season was beginning, and there are never enough female dragons to go around. I was just happy that they seemed to have no interest in us! Having survived yet another wild encounter, our ship set a northerly course, accompanied yet again (!) by a playful pod of dolphins. Our next destination was yet another marquee site of the park: the Gili Lawa Islands. Our plan for a short hike up the hill for a spectacular view was hampered by an unusual afternoon rain, but it didn’t matter to the adventurous snorkelers onboard. Even in rain showers the sea was warm and welcoming and our snorkel group was abundantly rewarded with turtles, reef sharks and an eagle ray sighting. What a way to say goodbye to Komodo National Park!
At the break of dawn, early risers watched the scenery pass by from the top deck. What looked like rather nondescript rolling hills once used to be the sight of a volcano over 4,000M high. It just so happens that we were passing the site of the largest volcanic eruption in recorded history. The tsunami that resulted from the eruption filled a nearby extinct volcanic crater of the island of Satonda leaving behind a great salt lake. As a destination, Satonda doesn’t disappoint. There’s plenty to do like take a short hike to the viewpoint, swim, sea kayak and snorkel. As always, I was most content to float along in the soft, warm waters of this tranquil and “magical” lake.
After lunch the wind allowed us to raise all seven of the sails as we cruised on to Moyo. Seeing the Katharina in full sail is splendid enough, but yet another pod of dolphins added to the magic as they leaped through the air guiding us to the island of Moyo. In the afternoon we took a short and easy walk through the jungle to enjoy a cool and refreshing dip in a waterfall, where limestone pools had formed so perfectly that often people think they couldn’t be real. Refreshed and rejeuvinated, we made our way back to the boat and enjoyed sunset cocktails as we cruised to the island of Lombok.
This morning our vessel is graced once again by the impressive Mt. Rinjani in Lombok. We disembark, ready to take on the sites and sounds the island we had merely passed by on our way East. We will boarded a local bus for a tour into the interior of eastern part of the island, an area that manages to maintain a more “untouched” feel, despite it’s proximity to Bali. First we made a stop at a vibrant local market, where we joked and bargained and bartered with the locals. Back on the bus was a “show and tell” where we showed off the marvelous and mysterious items we had found. Next it was on to attend a local dance performance that had been prepared for us, complete with some very impressive traditional stick fighting. From there it was on to a local pottery village, and traditional weaving demonstration. Finally it was time to eat, and we gorged ourselves on a fantastic “Sasak” (local indigenous people) buffet before heading back to the harbor. After such an action -packed morning, we were more than happy when the Katharina brought us to a tiny uninhabited island for a refreshing swim and snorkel before navigating around to the South of Lombok for the night. Dinner tonight was to be our special as it was our last night. The cooks went all out to provide us with an amazing spread, which we ate in the company of all the crew members. Of course it wouldn’t be a party without some lively songs from the crew, which had us up and dancing in no time. We danced and danced under the stars as we sailed to our final stop in Southwest Lombok.
Our last day on board began with yet another brilliant sunrise with the silhouettes of volcanoes and the glassy sea dotted with twinkling lights of small fishing vessels returning home with the night’s catch. We had ample time to relax and take in the morning rays on the beach at Gili Nanggu. The island not only has beautiful sandy beaches and a robust reef, but is also home to a turtle sanctuary where baby hawksbills are protected in tanks until they are big and strong enough to be released. There were hundreds of the cute little paddlers in the tanks. After our oohing and aaaawing, we wished them luck in the world, and headed to the reef to search for some of their bigger brothers and sisters in the sea. Finally it was time to leave, and it was with heavy heart that we weighed anchor one last time for our sail back to Bali. It is always bittersweet to say goodbye, but even harder when the guests and crew had made so many new friends amongst each other. We all exchanged contact information as readily as we exchanged hugs and even tears as we said our goodbyes, with promises on everyones lips that we would all be back to do it all over again soon.