From West Sumbawa to Labuan Bajo: In for the long haul

Our friend, Hendri, drove us to the Maluk bus station at 6AM for us to catch the 6:30AM public bus to Sumbawa Besar. The bus ride was 3 and a half hours long, and extremely unpleasant. Although Norm and I paid for specific seats, which we booked in advance, it counted for nothing. The back row of the bus had 3 seats, of which we had originally had 2 (as you would expect). Then a family showed up that needed to be squeezed into the already packed bus. 2 adults and their 2 children proceeded to join us in the back row of 3 seats. Needless to say, the journey was extremely uncomfortable and it irked me that we already paid more than the local price for the seats and Norm and I basically ended up sharing 1. To make matters worse the one child puked into plastic packets for the entire duration of the drive.

Luckily we had had the foresight to book a guesthouse and spend the night in Sumbawa Besar before really setting off on the long leg of our trip to Labuan Bajo. It was modern and clean, and more importantly had a western toilet and shower! Sumbawa Besar is a really odd place because although it is the most developed town on the entire island, it doesn’t cater for tourists at all. It actually had a sort of spooky feeling to it, and we felt uncomfortable walking around the streets.

The following day we caught a night bus to Bima. The guesthouse owner arranged us tickets for a coach bus with air-conditioning for 100 000 IDR each. We left at 7PM and arrived in Bima station at about 12:30AM. The bus ride was okay because Norman and I chatted the first 2 hours away and then napped a bit. It was slightly frustrating though because it stopped so many times, often for no apparent reason, and also like 3 times in one very small town.

People were eager to sell us public bus tickets to Sape, the harbour of Sumbawa, from the moment we climbed off the bus. We bought tickets and climbed aboard the smaller bus, ready to head to Sape. We then found out that it was only going to leave at 5AM, so we spent the wee hours of the morning in a hot, sticky, mosquito infested bus listening to locals chatting and playing songs off their phones. I shoved my ear plugs in, smeared myself with mosquito repellant, and tried to sleep on the back seat of the bus. It was damn near impossible but I think I might have managed an hour in total, which is better than nothing.

As we have come to expect, even if you have a seat on a bus it doesn’t mean it is yours. The driver of the bus picked up so many people and squeezed them into the bus. I half hung out of the window for the 1 and a half hour journey to Sape, trying to get some fresh air to fight off the nausea from lack of sleep.

We arrived in Sape at about 7AM and bought our ferry tickets for 56 000 IDR. After buying some rice and boiled eggs for breakfast we headed onto the ferry. I was feeling so disgusting at that point that I grabbed my Dettol soap and toothbrush and went to go freshen up in the bathroom. Feeling slightly better I settled in for the 8 hour ferry ride…

To be honest the ferry was the most comfortable transport we had taken thus far, and we both managed to sleep quite a bit as the chair reclined really far back. It was your usual Indonesian ferry so it had people chain-smoking everywhere, laying about on the floor, playing chess or eating rice with their hands. A guy tried to take a pervy photo of me with his phone when he thought I wasn’t looking, but I looked him straight in the eye and slowly shook my head. He got the message after about 5 minutes, when he realised I was on to him and he lowered his phone.

The sight of Labuan Bajo was a welcome one, as Norman and I were so ready to be done with this leg of travel. We found a (rather dingy) backpackers on the main road called Cool Corner Backpackers and booked for a few nights. Our sheets were dirty so we asked the owner, Gregorius (that is his real name believe it or not) if we could have new ones. He told us he only changes them every second or third guest, but I flashed him my best smile and he gave us new ones.

It was an exhausting journey, but I was just glad to finally be in Labuan Bajo. Plus, we saw several Italian restaurants as we arrived, which meant we could finally eat something other than rice! And that night we treated ourselves to some overpriced but delicious pizza.


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