Disappointing Diving in Alor

Diving our way through Nusa Tenggara, I have to admit that I had high expectations for the rumored underwater treasures of Alor. Perhaps, after the spectacular U.S.S. Liberty in Bali, sunfish spotting in Nusa Lembonggan, the underwater splendor of Komodo and the quirky muck discoveries in Maumere, I had set those expectations a little too high.

Even our arrival in Alor kicked those unrealistic expectations up a notch. The unusually stunning – almost arctic – crytal blue waters around Alor simply look like they should provide the best diving in the world. As our ferry approached Kalabahi, the massive resident dolphin superpod – only the second superpod we’ve ever seen – surrounded our boat and escorted us to the island. How could this possibly be anything less than perfect?

But reality started to set in once we started looking for a dive shop. Realistically, if you are not on a liveaboard, you only have two options in Alor: the dive shop at La Petite Kepa and Alor Dive, based in Kalabahi.

The French-owned shop at La Petite Kepa has an excellent reputation for quality dives; it also has a reputation for snobby Continue…

Mr. Coca Cola

My name is Tony, and I’m a Coke addict. (They say admitting the problem is the first step.) I’ve known for some time that many around me believe that I drink too much Coca Cola. When friends Lisa and Garrett came to visit, they reported to my family on my troubling addiction, recounting that I would hit the bottle for breakfast. But I continued to deny my problems… until Alor.

When I stopped to grab a quick drink and a bag of chips at the local shop, the owner gave me the normal Indonesian afternoon greeting with one rather unique touch: “Selamat siang, Mr. Coca Cola.” He had my Coke waiting for me, but I had to request a bag of chips.

That was odd, I thought to myself as I left. Mr. Coca Cola?

I strolled down the main thoroughfare in Kalabahi killing time before I headed down to the bay, and a friendly local waved to me from across the street and yelled, “Hello, hello, Mr. Coca Cola, hello, hello.”

Hmmm. My denial was starting to fade.

Later that evening, as I was riding my motorbike back from the bay, another bike shot by flashing its lights and I heard, “Sooooreeee, Coca Colaaaaaa!” Evening, Coca Cola.

Clearly, I have a problem.

The Abui Tribe in Takpala

Fine, I take back what I said about Philip Morris. Geez, smokers can get so edgy!

No seriously, Martinus and I were just joking around in this picture, please don’t think the Abui tribe greets visitors with arrows to their faces. Quite to the contrary, they are some of the friendliest people we’ve met in Indonesia.

As you might have gathered, Katrin and I decided to take in a little of Alor’s amazing tribal culture by visiting Takpala, a traditional village on the volcanic slopes of the island’s northern coast. As you can see by the picture, we had a blast.

Renting motorbikes for the day, we drove out along the island’s coastal road past a series of small villages and black stone beaches. As Google Maps hasn’t quite made it to this part of the world yet, it took us a while to locate the access road to the village, which might be more accurately described as a steep path cobbled with very loose, uncooperative volcanic rock. (Not an easy ride.)

Stunningly situated in the mountains high above the coast, Takpala is inhabited by the Abui people, the first Papuan ethnic group Continue…

Risky Travel Business

As the title says, travel – especially travel to remote regions – can be risky business. While good medical facilities are available in most capitals and larger cities, more distant regions leave few options for treatment. During our time on the road, we have heard endless stories of people getting sick or injured miles from nowhere. Those stories can leave even the most experienced travelers feeling uneasy. Knowing when and where to seek treatment isn’t always simple. And I learned that lesson, yet again, first hand.

Days of stinging pain in the lower right-hand side of my stomach had my mind racing. What if I had appendicitis? How fast could I get to the closest real hospital? Where was the closest real hospital? Although Kalabahi, the capital of tiny Alor, had a small walk-in clinic, it was no place to undergo surgery. Knowing that I couldn’t just walk into a modern hospital pushed me to the brink of panic. Was my pain getting worse? Was my head playing tricks? Should I just wait and see? In the end, precaution took over. I decided to take advantage of Alor’s small airport and fly back to Bali to seek medical treatment.

Despite the pain, the decision to leave was not easy. Continue…

Kelapa Muda

Traveling through Indonesia, there are two important words everyone should know: kelapa muda, which means young coconut. While coconut water is the latest health craze in the West, it’s just another refreshment on a hot and humid day in Asia. Often compared to an isotonic sports drink, it’s definitely a few steps above Coca Cola, which – as we all know – is normally Tony’s lifeblood. But even he can’t resist a green coconut right off the palm.

One Rockin’ Beach

I do wonder sometimes if it’s all worth it. Our recent face-off with a bunch of immigration bureaucrats, the ethical dilemma of visiting a whaling village, and our grueling overnight ferry trip left me a bit down in the dumps. So it came as no surprise that I reflected on those experiences during our latest outing in Alor.

“Why do we put ourselves through all of this?” I contemplated aloud as we walked along the forest trail. But the moment I uttered those words, the most amazing beach came into view. “That’s why,” Tony announced.

The unnamed piece of paradise, about 30 kilometers from Kalabahi in the southwest corner of Alor, was the ultimate reward for a few days of discomfort: beautiful white sand, a giant mushroom-shaped rock, and pristine, crystal-clear water perfect for snorkeling.

But that’s just the nature of travel, isn’t it? For every amazing thing we see, there’s an obstacle (or a dozen obstacles) that we have to overcome. In the end, it’s that very challenge that makes the reward so much sweeter.

Christians, Booze, the Ferry and the Fight

There are two things you quickly notice as you move across Flores and into the Solor Archipelago beyond: an increase in Christianity and an increase in alcohol consumption. There is some unspoken link between the Bible and booze in eastern Indonesia, and when combined with the region’s tribal culture, the toxic combination can produce some uncomfortable situations.

Settling onto our scuzzy, rented floor mats preparing ourselves for the epic 16-hour voyage to Alor, Thomas, Katrin, one very scraggly chicken, and I found ourselves nesting in a densely packed crowd of traders and locals sprawled across every square inch of deck on the rusting car ferry. When you hit this part of Indonesia, there are no luxury options; all travelers are created uncomfortably equal. Exhausted by her last 24 hours, Katrin actually managed to fall asleep on the floor.

Packed into gaps between truck tires and stacks of cargo, a sampler of Indonesia’s wildly diverse ethnic groups chatted in a dozen languages. It was frenetic and fun, but I’ll admit that I was already fantasizing about a soft bed at the other end. Still moored at the dock, everyone was anxious to leave until, at the last moment, a dumptruck full of drunk construction workers pulled onto the ferry. A boatload of terrified eyes and a hushed silence revealed what everyone was thinking, please god, Continue…

Elma and Marnix

Dutch couple, Marnix and Elma, are the latest contemporary nomads we’ve traveled with. Back home in Nijmegen, the newlyweds decided to test their vows by bravely embarking on an extended honeymoon through Asia and Australia. Besides providing a great model for how to kick-start a new marriage, the pair’s travel plans include a very popular method of funding a long-term trip.

We first met Elma and Marnix on Kanawa where they were doing an advanced PADI course. They loved us so much that we decided to organize our Flores tour together. (Who are we to deny them? 😉 )

Marnix and Elma started their trip in Malaysia and Singapore and then moved on to Indonesia. Further plans were a little sketchy, but India, the Philippines and Australia were on the table. Of course, that’s where our expertise came in. We urged them to Continue…