People head to Flores because the SCUBA diving is absolutely spectacular, and I am no exception. I was drawn in by the promise of manta rays, mandarin fish, amazing reefs, and the awesome challenge of a little bit of drift. All of these things made sailing in Komodo a wonderful experience.
I’d paid the painful price of around $300 to fly from Medan to Labuan Bajo in Flores after trekking in Sumatra. I was not about to pay another $100 to get from Labuan Bajo in Flores to Lombok, where I planned to take another trek, and I most definitely was not willing to bleed closer to $200 to take a tourist boat between the two points. I had just spent six days sailing around the beautiful Komodo National Park and had therefore already seen most of what we’d be sailing through, not to mention, those boats have terrible records of sinking in the middle of the night.
What’s a thrifty backpacker to do?
Take the local transport for only $22.80.
“What time does the boat leave for Sape in the morning?” I must have asked about 5 different people. I was told everything from 6am to 9am, so safe to say, it varies. I was advised that since I’m a “whitey” it’s best to show up early. Arriving at 7:30am, I decided this was true as I took one of the last seats available, which was thankfully near a window.
The cost of the ticket is posted at 53,000 Rupiah. I bypassed the man selling a combo ticket all the way to Mataram in Lombok having heard that sometimes connections are missed and the busses don’t wait, making people lose out on the bus portion of the ticket. I’m not even sure what he would have charged, but suffice to say, it would have been more than I needed to pay.
Unlike tourist boats, the ferry is huge, transporting cargo and vehicles as well. I was much less worried about this behemoth sinking than a flimsy little boat in the strong currents of Indonesia.
Immediately, the old lady next to me started speaking to me in Bahasa (Indonesian), holding out her hand and stroking my hair. She wanted money from me. I groaned internally and simply shook my head.
This had potential to be one long boat ride.
Around 9:45 the boat groaned and started to move. I looked around. I was the only foreigner.
I’ve done it right.
It was packed to the brim with families taking over floor space sleeping, eating, smoking, and chatting. A poorly-made horror movie played in the background. I was glad to have brought along a good book and some music to listen to.
Over time the discomfort between the woman and I evaporated and I offered her cookies. She responded by offering me noodles and rice a couple of hours later. I offered her some peanuts, she insisted I take some bread and bananas. I bought us coffee.
We became friends.
Before long, she and nearly everyone sitting around us was trying on my sunglasses and taking photos together (sidenote: I must be in, like, 100 random Indonesian Facebook photos at this point). We had somehow gone from an awkward situation to a downright hilarious and friendly one.
Communication was nearly impossible, but her daughter helped explain that they would help me get to Bima, and that the boy in the row ahead of us “liked” me (a common thing in Indonesia), which I pretended not to understand.
The ferry docked 6 hours after taking off. Several public mini busses waited at the port to take us from Sape to Bima where I would then board a bus, then another ferry, and then board the bus once again bound for Mataram on Lombok.
Sure enough, the old lady motioned for a young man whose English was fairly decent to usher me to the minibus. He teased the others on the boat, “Why his English no good? He not finish school!” and then translated for me when another passenger said “Lombok has a lot of coconuts,” which they all found hilarious. I smiled awkwardly.
The bus took 2 hours and cost 25,000 Rupiah (I watched as the locals paid the same amount) driving through truly stunning countryside. The bus stopped at a depot where I was immediately pointed out as the only foreigner as a swarm of ticket touts closed in on me. The signed price for the combo ticket for an overnight bus and ferry to Mataram was 210,000, but eventually, I bargained it down to 150,000.
The trip was relatively painless and worked like clockwork from there. The coach was nice enough although the chairs barely reclined and, per usual, my long legs hardly fit between myself and the seat in front of me. After almost 10 months in Southeast Asia, this was standard and did not bother me much.
Indonesian karaoke music continued to blare in the background.
Finally, arrival at the Mataram bus station occurred around 7am, almost exactly 24 hours after I had started my journey in Labuan Bajo. All-in, it cost me 228,000 Rupiah ($22.80), and ended up being an experience worth writing about.
Do it yourself:
- Get to the ferry terminal at Labuan Bajo (it’s pretty obvious in this small town and any local can point it out to you, there is a giant white ferry waiting at the port) and buy a ticket from the official ticket window for Sape. Try to arrive by 7:30-8am to secure a seat
- Board and take a seat in the economy section. Snacks can be purchased on board if needed during the 6-hour journey
- Find a bus to Bima at the ferry terminal (there will be many) pay the fare on board the bus
- Arrive at the Bima bus station and haggle a fare for an overnight bus and ferry combo ticket to Mataram. The price should be no more than 150,000 Rupiah (one can also use this method to get all the way to Jakarta for around 410,000 before bartering)
UPDATE: November 2014 – Reader Chris left the following super helpful information in the comments:
9am Ferry to Sape left Labuan Bajo (60,000)
4/5pm Arrival in Sape (ferry had to wait almost 1 hour till dock was free)
5pm Bus to Bima left (50,000)
6pm Arrival in Bima
7:15pm Overnight Bus to Mataram left Bima (210,000)
2am Overnight Bus drives on Ferry for Lombok (ferry ticket is already in bus ticket included)
7am Arrival in Mataram
8am shuttle Bus to Bengsal (70,000)
9am Arrival at Harbour
9:30am Boat to Gilis (10,000)