We were delayed in Labuan Bajo because of bad weather on the Gili Islands, which were our next destination. The forecast didn't bode well, but we decided to risk it because we figured that bad weather in a new place would be more fun than staying on in a place we'd already had time to explore. We booked a flight with the regional airline Merpati Nusantara. There were no direct flights connecting the islands of Flores and Lombok, so we picked one with a layover in Bali. The flights take place aboard a Chinese Xian MA60.
The Xian MA60 is a turboprop passenger plane made by Chinese manufacturer Xian Aircraft Industrial Corporation, and is an extensively modernized version of the Soviet An-24. Equipped with modern engines, avionics and interior, the MA60 is intended for regional flights of up to 930 miles (1500km). Since 2004, the plane is operated by several Asian and African airlines.
Boarding at Komodo Airport in Labuan Bajo:
Counting down the seconds to takeoff:
Since the flight wasn't lengthy, the meal was correspondingly small – a sandwich.
Passing over the Gili Islands. They will be our final destination.
Below us is the airstrip of Selaparang Airport, which I thought would be where we would land on our final flight. However, it turned out that the government had built a big international airport further inland as part of its economic plan for the development of Lombok as a tourist destination. It had only opened a month ago, and that's where we were headed. However, since the new airport was assigned the same code as the old one, I hadn't realized the change had been made. The old airport is now closed, although it was actually located much closer and more conveniently to Gili.
The label below says that turning on a mobile phone onboard the plane can be punished with up to 2 years in prison and a fine of up to 200 million rupiah ($25,000).
Arrival on the island of Bali, disembarkation in the airport at Denpasar:
We had to wait for a while in Bali Airport's overcrowded waiting area for regional airlines. Our flight was delayed by 1.5 hours. Given that everyone's flights were being delayed and the overcrowded state of the waiting room, I think the airport was simply having trouble dealing with so many flights and so many passengers. People were stuffed like sardines in a can.
Finally, we boarded the next plane. Another Xian MA60, but a different one:
Takeoff. The runway of Bali Airport projects into the sea like a breakwater. When a plane comes in for a landing at this airport, to the passengers it looks as if it's about to hit the water. The tarmac surface appears only at the last second.
Before the opening of the new airport, the flight from Bali to Lombok used to take 20 minutes. Now, it's more like 40. The new Lombok International Airport, located next to the city of Praia, greeted us with torrential rain. Note the high-tech method used to unload luggage without getting it wet.
When it rains in Indonesia, it rains hard, and it rains fairly often. The flight attendants offered all passengers umbrellas as we were exiting the plane. I thought it was a very thoughtful touch.
Piling into a taxi at the airport, we headed off to Bangsalu, from where you can get to the Gili Islands by ferry. In Indonesia, it's auspicious to celebrate weddings on a certain day of the week, and this happened to be that day, so the taxi kept getting stuck behind wedding processions. As a result, the trip to Bangsalu took 2.5 hours instead of 2, so by the time we got to the docks it was already dark. After that, we spent a long time looking for a boat to get to any of the Islands, and after turning down some completely outrageous offers ($100), and even getting into a shouting match with one of the boatmen, we finally manage to book passage with a tanker boat transporting fresh water to Gili Eir, which has the reputation as the hardest-partying of the islands.
I should note that with the new location of the Lombok airport, it's actually a lot more convenient to get to the Gili islands by taking a ferry from Bali (a trip of about 2 hours), than by plane.