We have been to many spectacular places this year each with special parts but there is no telling when you book what is going to capture your heart and why. Things can look so gloriously perfect online or even upon arrival but then reveal themselves to be lacking – or maybe just lacking in what we need. Sometimes after initial disappointment a place captures me completely. This has been Indonesia for me. This last week on Sebayur Island really was the cherry on top. Well not cherry more the perfect shell uncovered at low tide.
Who knew that after a little bit of a rough entry, made worse no doubt by our incredible entry at The Drop In Surf Camp, that Xpirates would be one of the most special stops so far. What makes the magic?
Ten steps before arrival – bike, boat, taxi, plane, taxi, walk, boat from Gili Trawangan to Lombok then fly to Flores and then an hour and a half boat to Sebayur. Our boat is wedged up against the huge pier between a giant tanker and more tour boats stretching the length of the pier. We have to slip between the roof of the boat and the pier balance on a small outcropping about four feet down the side of the pier and then slide over the rail and onto the deck of the boat. It’s advanced boat entry for sure. Once the boat navigates out of the harbour we spend the trip chasing down the sunset. It lasts almost an hour. We arrive in the dark and the boat ties up to a buoy and we again negotiate a tricky entry into a smaller boat with an outboard. We are deposited the longest jetty that leads to a sandy stairs up to a terrace built out over the beach. We are told to grab a table and dinner will be served then we will be led to our rooms after which we can tell them what we would like to do the following day. It’s hectic and a little confusing – dive masters skip between tables along with tour leaders. Everything is undecided until the last minute. In a way it’s great because you have a say in what you want and what dives are happening but you can also be out voted or just flat out denied by the dive masters. This with no promise of when the said dive or tour that you want might happen.
From two bedroom villa to mosquito net glamping with no AC and shared toilets. There is a million dollar view, the sound of waves and a bazillion stars. No beer pong. Very basic dinner buffets with food served in glass lasagna pans, the condiments in squeeze bottles. Boho chic wooden pallet style furniture with peeling paint in a variety of blues and whites. A sign reading – Hurricane evacuation plan – grab a beer and run like hell. I guess we are waiting on a similar welcome to the one we had at The Drop In on Lombok but alas XPirates is totally lacking. We sign up for two dives the following afternoon but discover that they do not allow children (aka Sabine) on the boat without a caregiver. This after an email from who we thought was the owner stating it would be no problem to have her on the boat. Then ensues a circular round about where an other guest offers to come on the boat to stay with Sabine – her sister is diving so she wants to go. Then they tell her she can’t go unless she pays the park fee of $30. She is a student traveler so doesn’t want to pay – we offer to pay and she gladly accepts.
The next afternoon, moments before we are set to leave, the dive master says no one extra on the boat and absolutely no children. They claim it’s too wavy and dangerous. Luckily for us Melou (the student) offers to stay with Sabine and a staff member also offers to play and help with her. So we are off!
Our first dive is called turtle city – it is filled with turtles, swimming, sitting, floating about. We follow them, float above them and, in general, just bask in the turtleness of it all. The second dive, a drift dive, is like a fast ride over a disco coloured array of giant coral and so so many neon coloured fish. One of the best dives I have ever been on – we were all high when we emerged – talking a mile a minute and Anderson even said does anyone want to spend an hour snorkelling right now. The current was incredibly fast it really was slipping past us so quickly. But also it’s the lazy gals dive as you just get to float on by. Of course I had a few moments of fear as the current would suddenly push you toward the surface and Anderson definitely drifted a few times with the dive master signaling for him to make his way back – then I just kind of stuck as close to him as I could.
The next day we opted for an all day tour with a couple of other families that were staying at the camp. We had the boat to ourselves – with soft mattress up on the top deck to lounge on while we sailed to our first snorkelling site. Manta point – where surprise surprise there is a good chance of seeing a manta – was packed. It was windy and fairly choppy. Sabine didn’t want to get in the water and I was more than happy to leave her behind – it’s really hard trying to snorkel with her on my back especially with the waves. Anderson was a little nervous so Chris was trying to calm him and encourage him to get in – the Aussie kids were ready in a heartbeat sitting on the edge of the boat waiting for the signal. The signal came and I hopped in – Anderson wasn’t ready and Chris was trying to convince Sabine to get in the water. I called to Anderson and our guide said don’t worry the boat is going to move forward and they will can catch up then. So off we went fighting our way across the choppy bay toward where people on other boats were pointing. Then the guide grabbed my arm and pointed in front – swimming toward us was a beautiful manta! Bigger than me at least seven feet across. We followed it kicking madly and drifting along on top with a dozen other snorkelers in mad pursuit. Sadly the boys missed the manta. You snooze you lose. But I felt guilty because I was just so easily able to abandon them all. The next stop was at turtle city – Chris and Anderson were first in the water this time determined not to miss out. We were rewarded with many turtle sightings as well as the mostu enormous and beautiful coral bed stretching further than the eye could see. The coral here looked like giant and colourful brassicas. Huge deep green broccoli, waving purple tipped kale, pink tinged cauliflower all sized for giants. Mostly greens and purples with rainbow fish darting about. I’ve never seen anything like it. Huge table coral and barrels as well. Next up was Rinca Island to see the famed Komodo dragons. We saw the dragons, huge and small, dinosaur claws and serpentine tongues. It was mid afternoon, smoking hot with very little breeze so the ones we saw were doing what any living thing does in the heat – laze about. We did see one that had just eaten – Komodos eat every two weeks – they prefer to take a whole dear or split a water buffalo but they will eat anything with meat. The recently satiated dragon was fairly exploding out of itself skin stretched taught over its sides, lying in the dust halfway up a hill where it had given up the ridiculous task of dragging its swollen self up. We carried on up – Anderson and I, Chris balancing Sabine on his hip as usual. Our tour mates children voicing the same refrain as Anderson – it’s too hot, when can we stop, I do not want to go on. So it’s not just my kids who find hiking to be a violation of their human rights. We get an incredible view of the bay, the tour boats waiting patiently. We have a leisurely ride back to the island for yet an other meal of rice, vegetables cooked with ketchup and some form of stew. Three meals in and I can see how the food will be the main disappointment of this week.
The next day we do two more dives helped out by a wonderful staff member, Christine, who offers to watch Sabine so we can go. Over the rest of the week Christine is our saviour – intuitively knowing when to hop in. She loves Sabine and engages with all her dolls and LEGO and play. Sadly Sabine is less enamoured of Christine and seems, rather, to be drawn to other guests namely the younger pretty blond women. It’s challenging. I know she has felt scared being touched and poked by strangers and so gravitates to people who look safe to her – meaning they look like Barbie. Luckily the women she tries to attach herself to are both lovely and accommodating and I am able to intervene to give them their privacy and time. It’s a touch tricky because no one hangs out in the “rooms” which are just three walled shacks on stilts with bamboo curtains and mosquito nets. There are two common areas – the beach and the patio where people hang between dives and trips. Plus we all eat together so there is no real escape.
The dives are spectacular – sometimes a little scary. On one our dive master, Edward, who accompanies us on all the dives and was the most senior diver there at the ripe age of 22, hooks into the coral and we cling to him as the current pulls our bodies straight. For five minutes we watch a manta flap staying in place in the current, mouth open capturing the bounty. Finally Edward unhooks and we float off along with the current -blowing over glorious coral and fish to then hit that weird wall of current and get swept up and over and then suddenly we are going in the other direction floating back over but at the same time totally discombobulated.
Over the course of our dives we see manta rays, eagle rays, sting rays, giant turtles, cuttlefish and sharks. It’s some very seriously incredible diving.
I take a day to hike and explore with Sabine – I have read about the pink beaches of Indonesia and we didn’t get to visit when we were on Lombok so I am determined to get to see one. Chris was less enamoured with the idea of a pink beach and warned us that they don’t really look pink unless you see them at sunset and sunrise. But I’m willing to take the risk. This excursion is on the same boat as the first but now there is just a couple along with Sabine and I. The couple includes the beautiful Barbiesk Joanna, originally from Queens now living in Hong Kong with her boy friend Chris, originally from the UK. We lounge up top on the soft mattresses and visit while Sabine does her best not to touch Joanna’s hair the entire time. Xpirates has also sent along Finlee, a lovely student and intern at the camp, to play with Sabine as we snorkel. Our first stop is at Padar – a small island with a stunning view over Komodo National park. Finlee joins and when Sabine tires they station themselves under a tree to play so I can hike to the top. Then we head over to the pink beach. It’s a half hour boat trip and we pull around a sheer cliff to a perfect crescent beach and clear lagoon, turquoise water and pink sand!!!! It is seriously stunning and almost completely deserted save for a few people snorkelling – one of whom emerges au naturel from the water. Sabine yells, “ Hey why is he nudie kazoodie?!” We spend a couple of hours snorkelling, floating with turtles, mesmerized by the intense blue, red and orange coral. This coral is completely different than the giant vegetable gardens we have been exploring. It’s more like little tree branches and super vibrant – interestingly the fish are less colourful. Sabine plays in the pink sand and Joanna and Chris play with their drone. We are dragged away for lunch on the boat and then a brief sail over to our last stop Manta Point. We hop in the water pretty much on top of a giant manta – ten feet wide – it proceeds to circle and swim below us for ten minutes giving us the best show that we can just float and enjoy. Then it heads off toward the deep and we carry on over the coral beds. We spot a shark in the distance and then two more giant mantas flashing their white underbellies and curling their wings upwards. So beautiful. It’s a perfect day. The next day we are back to diving – more drift dives, and walls to explore – more turtles, sharks and eagle rays.
I love emerging in the late afternoon light, the water tinged with silver and the sky pink, islands on top of each other layers of greys and blues in the distance. Once back on the little dive boat we get cups of hot sweet tea and crisp coconut biscuits. The water is always quite choppy as we head out in the afternoon and we get soaked with spray most days as we ride to the dive sites. But the rides home are spectacular as the sun dips and the sky turns rosy. It’s so magical we don’t even care that we are heading back to an uninspired dinner. Our last night we climb up the hill behind the buildings to see the sunset. I stop half way as the path is rocky and very steep, the light is quickly fading and I know it’s going to be harder coming down than going up. Sabine and Christine are waiting at the beginning of the trail and we head to dinner. As we are waiting for dinner, the sky now pitch black except for the stars someone mentions they saw a flashing light at the top of the hill and maybe people are stuck up there. A search party heads up – three guys from the resort bare foot run up to help guide Chris and Anderson back down. A little drama for our last night. I am so sad to leave – Sebayur Island and our little hut on the beach stole my heart. The colours of the sunrises and sunsets, the tides, the moonlight and stars. So many beautiful shells and fish. The extraordinary dives with mantas and giant turtles and the magical pink beach. It all proves again that you don’t need much – a little hut and some mosquito nets and of course a gorgeous environment. We rise with the sun and make our rounds hugging and saying goodbyes. Both Chris and I are a little teary. We walk down the long jetty, hop into the little white outboard that zips us to the larger boat for the hour and a half return to Flores.