Almost everyone transiting through Bima is on their way to Rinca or Komodo Islands to see the famous Komodo dragons, exactly what we were going to do. There are no public ferries to these islands. Chartered boats are the only way to get there and are easy to arrange through tour operators. (More about this later.)
Bima is a small town, again, with nothing to see. Mr. Parhan pulled up in front of the tacky looking La’Mbitu Hotel, considered the best in town. Too tired to even care what the hotel looked like, the receptionist spoke English and a porter helped carry suitcases up two flights of stairs. The shower hose was held together with black plumber’s tape leaking all over the bathroom floor, but the water was hot and the toilet flushed, good enough for one night. Last minute instructions for tomorrow from Nasip: breakfast at 5:30a; taxi will pick up and drive us to Sape where the chartered boat will be waiting. Fast goodbyes to Nasip and Mr. Parhan who were chomping at the bit to begin their marathon road journey back to Lombok.
With instructions from the receptionist, Steve and I set out to find an Internet place two blocks away from La’Mbitu Hotel. Happiness is a fast connection and 3,000 IDR (less than 50 cents U.S.) for one hour.
Restaurant and Hotel Lila Graha next to the La’Mbitu had been recommended as the best restaurant in town by many sources. It served Indonesian food, had an English menu and was willing to cook an early dinner for us. A Bintang beer, gado-gado (vegetables with peanut sauce), special fried rice and crispy noodles perked up spirits and filled stomachs with very delicious food. This entire meal cost 106,000 IDR (less than $10 U.S.) and we couldn’t finish it all.
While eating, Steve noticed young students peeking in the window at us. They’d gather, talk among themselves, leave, peek in again until one got up his nerve to come inside and talk to the owner. They were local high school students eager to practice English on the rare tourist who came through Bima. It showed a lot of courage to approach total strangers who do not speak your language. We were thrilled to death, and spent about 15 minutes trying to communicate back and forth while the owner translated when they didn’t quite understand what we were saying. Simple questions. “Where are you from?” A pleasure to say Chicago whenever asked that question because everyone, without exception, responded, “Obama.”
The very sweet 16-17 year old teens then whipped out cell phones, and shyly asked if they could take pictures of us before leaving.
This convivial encounter was the sole highlight on Sumbawa, and put smiles on our faces. A good thing because breakfast the next morning at La’Mbitu Hotel was pitiful. One scrambled egg, a cup filled with ground coffee (not instant) and hot water. Fortunately, I wasn’t hungry at 5:30a.
If you think I’m being negative about omitting Sumbawa (and I am), this is what the owner of Restaurant Lila Graha said when we asked how many westerners come through Bima. He replied, “Maybe 60 a year!” Just think; fifty-eight other dorks passed this way. That statistic will not make the Sumbawa Tourist Bureau jump for joy, will it.