12 Nov 2022

12 Nov 22 - Indonesia - Banda Sea Cruise Day 17 - The Last Morning Of The Banda Sea Cruise

I awoke for first light as it was our last few hours sailing into Labuan Bajo at the end of the Banda Sea Cruise. I had packed the evening before, so that I wouldn't lose any Birding time, as I had a good chance in this section of seeing my first Aleutian Tern. We were due to arrive in Labuan Bajo around 10:00, so there wasn't a lot of time to find one.
Sunrise as we sailed towards Labuan Bajo
There are a lot of small islands in this area, but all looked to have heavily degraded habitat
This island has its own private dive hotel & degraded habitat
Aleutian Tern: This monotypic species breeds in Alaska & Siberia and winters around Singapore & Indonesia
Aleutian Tern: Sadly only record shot photos, but it's good to have finally seen an Aleutian Tern
Aleutian Tern
Arrival into Labuan Bajo
A final tour photo
Unsurprisingly, there was a delay on our flight from Labuan Bajo to Denpasar. So we had some time to kill before our early afternoon flight. We ended up getting lunch in a restaurant a few minutes from the airport. There were these great-looking wooden Komodo Dragons by the entrance. This showed off one of the two main reasons why most tourists visited the town. It was either to join a dive boat or to see the nearby Komodo Dragons. Fortunately, I had seen them back on the trip in 1991 when it was a lot cheaper & there were far fewer tourists. On that occasion, there was just Keith Turner & I staying on the island in the park's accommodation, although a few more backpackers arrived the following morning from the boat they had slept on.
Wooden Komodo Dragons
Sadly, it was the end of an excellent trip with some good Birding company. We had visited a lot of very obscure Indonesian islands & seen some very tricky to see endemic Birds. Also, plenty of Cetaceans. I will leave you with a photo of my highlight of the trip.
Fraser's Dolphin: The dark & light stripes on the sides of the body & the distinctive short beak are diagnostic of Fraser's Dolphin (10 Nov 22)
Our arrived into Bali's Denpasar airport was the end of Banda Sea Cruise. Most of the passengers were to enjoy a final comfortable evening in the nearby Sulis Beach & Spa hotel. My bags also enjoyed the night there. However, after grabbing the laptop & a few other items, I headed back to the airport for an evening flight to Kuala Lumpur & an uninspiring hotel close to the airport.
Towel folding in the Sulis Beach & Spa hotel: I've never stayed in hotels that have indulged in this towel art before
When I visited Indonesia in 1991, we were able to obtain 60 day visas on arrival. Unfortunately, these had been reduced to 30 day visas on arrival when Indonesia reopened after the Covid shutdown. I needed to extend or renew my visa, as I was travelling in Indonesia for seven weeks on two back to back Bird Tour Asia tours to minimise the international flights. In theory, it was possible to request 60 day visas, but only from a few limited cities & with the likelihood of a lot of unnecessary bureaucracy & at least one or two days to obtain a visa extension. Therefore, the easiest & most certain option was to fly to Kuala Lumpur as the nearest international destination & then return the following day & pay the $35 US dollar fee for a new visa. I flew back the following evening to Denpasar & finally checked into the Sulis Beach & Spa hotel. Sadly, it hadn't been possible to fly to & return from Kuala Lumpur in the same day, despite only being less than three hours flight each way.

It was a very early start on the morning of the 14 Nov to return to Denpasar airport for a set of flights to Ternate. This was the starting point for the Bird Tour Asia Remote Moluccas tour.

The next section is a warning of the pitfalls for anybody planning to book internal flights in Indonesia: good luck if you have to book flights. When I booked the flights about three months earlier, I booked to fly with Lion Air from Ternate to Makassar (formally Ujung Pandang) in Sulawesi, with a connecting flight to Ternate. While I was in the middle of the Banda Sea Cruise, I received an email on one of the few occasions the Lady Denok's wifi connected to the outside world, to tell me the flight to Makassar was rescheduled to arrive after the Ternate flight left. I couldn't find any other direct flights for earlier than morning from Denpasar. Bird Tour Asia had advised that I book my internal flights in Indonesia before & after the Remote Moluccas tour with an Indonesian website called Traveloka. They proved to be a good website for making bookings, but totally frustrating when the flights changed. You then had to start a protracted chat conversation to describe the problem which ended up with a promise some back office team would look into it within a few hours. Generally, they failed to respond in that time & the time was changed to a response within one to three days.

I could see there was an alternative Lion Air from Denpasar to Surabaya & a second flight to Makassar in time to meet the connecting flight to Ternate. I asked Traveloka to change my booking to that set of flights, explaining that I was in the middle of the Banda Sea with limited wifi & giving them the authorisation to book the flights & confirmation I would pay any extra charges. Typical for Traveloka, they passed the request to the back office team who failed to do anything, other than add another day or two to the delay every time one or two days when I had a wifi signal. Eventually, after nearly a week, they responded with the statement that there was the alternative flight via Surabaya (that I had originally told them about) & did I want to consider that, followed by closing the conversation as resolved (having done nothing), as I hadn't responded within fifteen minutes. This was a new level of total incompetence for them.

It was now only four days before my flights & I still didn't have a connecting flight. In the end, I had to buy a new flight to Makassar via Surabaya & request cancellation of the direct flight from Denpasar. I then started a new three month battle with Traveloka with the help of Barclaycard to get my flight refunded. Traveloka insisted on only refunding 75% less fees of the cancelled flight stating it was my decision to cancel, not the airlines. In the end, I was forced to accept that, although Barclaycard were sympathetic & agreed to refund the remaining 25%. After I got my money back, Lion Air responded with a refusal to refund the cost of the flight as they hadn't cancelled it, despite the fact it was part of a single booking from Denpasar to Ternate. But I had at least got my money back by that point. They were no better than Traveloka.

I am not sure of the best way to sort out internal flights in Indonesia. Nearly every flight I booked a few months in advanced changed the time by a few hours. Most were not a problem apart from longer waits in airports. Another flight from Ambon at the end of the Remote Moluccas tour was rescheduled by Garuda to one day earlier, resulting in me having to cancel that flight (as I was still on the tour & on Buru). Again Traveloka were useless at helping & left me having to book at alternative flight with another airline & ask for a refunded of the Garuda flight. This was another four month battle with Traveloka & Garuda, after Garuda refused for the first two months to refund the ticket & only offering me a voucher for another flight to use within one year. Eventually, I managed to get about 75% of the ticket refund, with an additional refund from Barclaycard.

I was told by Mike on the Remote Moluccas tour to use Traveloka to work out the best flights & book the flights directly with the Indonesian airlines. He had experienced a quicker refund within a few weeks when a flight was changed. Whether that is always the best way is uncertain. What is clear is booking flights in Indonesia is about as unpleasant an experience of having things go wrong with Ryanair. However, I have a choice with European flights which involves refusing to use Ryanair. It is not that simple in Indonesia.