The boat trip didn't begin very promisingly, but it turned out it be a great adventure. The website for Kencana Tours promises a maximum of 20 people on the trip, but there were close to 50 milling around the office on the day of departure. Not to worry, I thought, as I'd read that they divide large groups up and use two vessels. After waiting around for an hour and a half we finally set off for a 3 hour cramped bus ride across the island of Lombok to the port on the eastern side. We were not even given a mediocre packed lunch until around 3pm.
My heart sank further as I saw that we were all going on the same boat. All 45 of us. Luckily, everyone on the trip was like-minded and easy-going so it made things a lot easier, but there was really not much room to move and even less to put out the mattresses on deck when it came time to sleep. Because of the late departure we didn't set sail until 4pm and it was dark within a few hours so we didn't see the bats we were promised as part of the first days's programme.
Darkness falls quickly here once the sun has set. I talked to some fellow passengers, made some new friends and played cards on deck, as the boat cruised through the pitch black night. We anchored at Gili Bola until 2am and then set off again. With the engines now running, I found it almost impossible to sleep.
We arrived at Gili Moyo the next morning. This island lies to the north of Sumbawa island. The day was perfectly clear, the weather bright and sunny, the sea a gorgeous deep blue, while jade green hills rose steeply in the interior of the island. We trekked inland to a waterfall and I conquered my fear of heights by climbing up the rocks at the side to the pool at the top. Afterwards we went snorkelling and I have now become quite addicted to it. The underwater life in these parts is famously good. The colourful fish and coral are really amazing. In the afternoon we continued to Gili Satonda where we swam in a salt lake.
The second night was spent sailing again and this time the sea was quite rough and we pitched and tossed the whole night. We disembarked at Gili Laba grateful to be on terra firma again and hiked up a steep hill for breath-taking views of the sea below and opposite to Komodo island, our next destination. On Komodo we saw a few dragons. They are actually a type of monitor lizard, but huge and vicious and can quite easily attack and kill humans. You have to visit and trek with rangers who are armed, slightly worryingly, with nothing but a pointed stick.
Komodo dragons are only found in Indonesia and only on four islands. They were the subject of one of David Attenborough's first programmes, Zoo Quest, in which he attempted, unsuccessfully, to capture one and bring it back to the UK. How times change! On our last day we visited Rinca island and apart from more of these extraordinary creatures we also saw deer, monkeys, wild pigs and water buffalo. After a final swim and snorkel on the idyllic sandy beach at Gili Kalor, we finally docked at Labuanbajo on the western side of the island of Flores.
The trip was in the end well worth it, despite the basic conditions on board. The boat takes you to places that are otherwise inaccessible by land. However, as I drifted off to sleep, I was grateful finally to be in a room that wasn't moving! The 4.30am wake up call from the muezzin of the nearby mosque was not so welcome. It's a sound I love at dusk, as the combination of the call to prayer and the visuals of a blood red setting sun can be quite magical, but not when it wakes you from a deep sleep.