Indonesia is composed of so many islands and it’s actually not that easy to get from one end to the other unless you fly. Since flying is much more expensive, we decided to take an overnight boat from Lombok to the island of Flores one way and then fly back to Bali on the way back. We looked up information on the Pelni boat, which makes the journey from island to island heading East once every 2 weeks. We managed to sync it up with our itinerary and caught it going out of Lembar on Lombok and then landing in Labuan Bajo on Flores. Labuan Bajo is where most people base out of when they do day trips to the Komodo Islands. The tickets cost about $16 each and the journey takes 27 hours. 27 hours!!! Our longest transit time yet. Another alternative is to go in a minibus overland which takes a little less than 24 hours, but you have a ton of transfers and the journey is broken up into 5 hour chunks. We heard a lot of bad things about the bus trip, so we went for the Pelni instead.
What’s scary is that the night before we left, I broke out in a rash all over my entire body and I thought it was hives. It was hot and super blotchy. I still wasn’t feeling well from my cold. After Mike did some research, we figured out that I was allergic to the antibiotic I started taking for the cold, Z-Pak (azithromycin), and got a photoallergic reaction. I’ve never had my skin break out all blotchy like that before. I took an antihistamine and went to bed, and miraculously it was gone in the morning. Whew! Needless to say, I stopped taking the Z-Pak.
We headed out of Gili T and down to Lembar really early so we could make sure to leave plenty of time to get tickets and everything. The ticket office is in a random port away from all the other tourist boats, so it took a while to find. It wasn’t open yet; we were the only tourists there. An hour later, a window opened and then Mike waiting in this “bench” line to buy tickets. Pretty hilarious. All local men.
Tickets in hand, we still had 2 hours before the boat would leave, so we headed down to the pier with all the others. This was really off the beaten track, and I think total we saw maybe 2-3 other small tourist groups the whole time.
The boat arrived an hour later than the scheduled time (as expected) and everyone crowded to board the boat. It was insanity, people running, pushing, and shoving to get up the stairs. I guess the spaces fill up pretty quickly so everyone wanted to get on the boat first to stake out their spots. Mike and I were really lucky and found two spots next to each other after circling the floor a couple of times. So college students had a section and let us have two of their spots after seeing us wander around frantically. It’s important to get a spot with a thin mattress pad since the journey is so long. Another tourist group we saw wasn’t so lucky and couldn’t find pads—I’m not sure where they ended up, but some people end up sitting on the floor.
The boat holds a capacity of around 500 passengers but it felt like there were much more than that on the boat! There are 5 levels of economy and only a few rooms for first/second class (at a much higher price). Many people smoke in Indonesia, so it made the inside pretty hot and smoky. Kind of feels like sleeping in a casino with everyone smoking around you. All of our clothes and bags reeked by the time we got off. We talked some with the Indonesians around us and a group of girls particularly took to Mike and sang us some Indonesian songs. Too cute!
Whenever we stopped in a port, vendors would come on board to sell food and water, and that’s when our friends signaled to us that it’s time to buy food now. Otherwise the food on the boat is 3 times the price. We got some pretty good snack lunches for just 50 cents!
After 27 hours on the boat, we felt pretty disgusting and were exhausted. The bathrooms on the boat were pretty awful so it wasn’t fun trying to limit the number of times you had to go. Getting off the boat was even more crowded than getting on the boat! The pier in Labuan Bajo was jam packed all the way back. Thankfully we got through okay. What an experience. Thank goodness we’re flying back, but I guess it was interesting to go through it once and super cheap!