Labuan Bajo, Flores

09/08/18

Indonesia is an emotional rollercoaster. Yesterday, we finally arrived in Labuan Bajo from Lombok, after a four hour delay at our stopover in Bali. Unfortunately, my bag didn’t make it past Bali; the carousel stopped, signifying it had finished delivering luggage, and I was left standing there bagless. Luckily my labelless bag was sitting in Bali, patiently waiting to be identified, so I was assured it would be on the first flight this morning (and it actually was). More fortunately, I’d been too lazy to properly pack my luggage the morning we left Lombok, so my hand luggage still contained my tsunami evacuation kit, and thus, spare undies and clothes.

In Labuan Bajo, we arrived at the “hostel” (wooden shed) that we’d booked via WhatsApp; for some reason online booking systems haven’t reached this part of the world, and we had great difficulty finding any accommodation at all and ended up messaging someone recommended by Lonely Planet… big mistake. The dorm consisted of five beds in what can only be described as a converted storage shed. The squalid living conditions were magnified by the diabolical bathroom, which was probably the dirtiest bathroom I’ve ever seen in my life. We’ve stayed in some pretty dodgy places out here, and if it had been really really cheap we would have been able to put up with it, but clearly they were taking full advantage of their LP mention, and it just wasn’t worth what we were paying. We left after one night. It’s worth noting that we do not do this lightly; this is the first and only accommodation of this entire trip that we’ve actually left early. So this morning we found ourselves wandering the streets of Labuan Bajo in search of something else. Luckily (??) my bag was still somewhere between Bali and here, so I didn’t have to carry it around. We found somewhere significantly better, and I’m so glad we packed up and left, despite us both fearing the awkward conversation that preceeded our exit.

Something extremely bizarre and scary happened when we went to the airport to collect my bag. We were a little early, and had walked there in the heat, so wandered around looking for somewhere to buy water. We wandered up a quiet staircase and through a glass door. We saw a shop and walked towards it, but suddenly realised there was a flight boarding next to us. We’d somehow wandered into departures; as in, the section of the airport you get to AFTER going through security. But here we were, no questions asked. We’d even walked past various members of staff who hadn’t challenged us. Not surprisingly, it didn’t fill us with confidence.

In our search for another room, we came across the “Boatel”. We were asking Le Pirate, a nice restaurant/hostel/tour company if they had any rooms available, which they didn’t, but they did have a space on their floating hotel for one of our nights. We initially dismissed this as we needed something for five nights, but over dinner it suddenly clicked what a wildly unique experience that would be, so we’ve booked that for tomorrow night and are going to go early to make a whole two days of it.

11/08/18

Yesterday morning we got the Le Pirate shuttle boat from the harbour to the Boatel. It’s basically a floating ten bedroom boat-come-hotel, anchored about 15 minutes away from the harbour, and nestled between some tiny islands. I’m so glad we arrived early; we were welcomed with iced tea, fruit and granola, and then we spent the morning just taking in the tranquil surroundings from the sun deck.

We went snorkeling late morning, where we saw an incredible variety of bright corals. We then spent the rest of the day relaxing on our huge net sunlounger; reading, and eating. In the evening, there were shuttle boats taking people to the mainland should they want to go get dinner there, but we didn’t want to ruin our state of peace and tranquility by going back to the busy town, so we took the alternative of eating on board.

This morning I was sitting in our room looking out at the two little islands in front of us, and suddenly about eight monkeys threw themselves from a tree on the right side island into the sea, and proceeded to swim across to the other island! I was so taken aback, I thought one had fallen by accident to begin with but no. I didn’t know monkeys were such good swimmers, I suppose it makes sense that they are!

Staying on the Boatel has been a truly unique experience. Despite being such a last minute plan, it’ll definitely be one of the happiest memories I bring home from travelling. Being out at sea is just so calming and therapeutic. I can’t really put into words the positive effects I think it’s had on me, but the two days of pure, quiet relaxation were definitely needed after the chaos of Lombok, and I’m leaving feeling fulfilled, liberated, and finally relaxed again.

12/08/18

After two glorious days on the Boatel, we were brought back down to earth with a bump when we arrived back to a full town power cut. These are incredibly common across Southeast Asia, and some hotels have generators which they use in this situation. Unfortunately ours did not. It finally came back on late evening, so we could at least sleep with aircon on, but we then woke up this morning with no running water. Labuan Bajo is definitely the least developed place we’ve been; although tourism is increasing quickly due to Komodo National Park, businesses are slow to develop in line with this. In complete contrast to this generalisation, “Le Pirate” – creators of the Boatel – have their branding spot on.

Today we went for a hike up to one of the highest peaks around Labuan Bajo. Not only did we choose the hottest, driest day to do this, but we also set off at the hottest time of day. Luckily we took three litres of water between us, which we drank all of, otherwise it would have been a struggle. Although difficult, the climb was absolutely worth it for the views we received at the top; the harbour, from where we had come, and also the runway of the airport (which, frighteningly, we could have just walked on to if we so wished).

13/08/18

This morning we set out before sunrise on a Komodo National Park tour. We knew the first stop was two hours away by boat, but after a short distance one thing became very clear; Komodo National Park is extraordinarily vast. Hundreds of tiny, but fierce, islands fill the ocean as far as the eye can see. The sea itself was curious; on the surface it seemed so still, and the boat was very smooth, but it was obvious there are ferocious undercurrents and whirlpools dotted around.

Our guide/captain didn’t speak an awful lot of English, but at one point on the journey he stopped the boat and shouted “Manta, Manta!” and directed us to jump into the water. Flustered, we all threw on our snorkel gear and jumped into the water. I almost had a panic attack immediately upon entering the water, as I realised we were incredibly deep and couldn’t see the bottom. Effectively, he’d just thrown us into the open ocean. I then looked down properly, only to discover my snorkel had a crack in it (top tip for travelling SE Asia: get yourself a decent snorkel and mask before you go so you don’t have to use theirs). I leapt back into the boat and decided to observe from safety; huge manta rays measuring upwards of two-metres across glided through the water! I can’t believe how big they were, so friendly as well swimming right up to people to have a good look. I don’t think I would have liked that anyway. They were incredible to see though, very majestic.

The first proper stop was Padar Island; we hopped off the boat and started up the path, which quickly turned into steep steps. We climbed up and up in the blistering sun (luckily it was only 9am else it would have been torturous), until finally reaching the top, where we were blessed with the most incredible views over the Island and further into the National Park. As it’s protected, the park and surrounding ocean is spotlessly clean, and really is beautiful.

We continued on to our scheduled snorkeling stop, at Pink Beach. The floor of the shallow water was covered in beautifully bright corals, making fascinating shapes and patterns. I’d never seen coral reefs before coming travelling, but even after many times snorkeling out here, they never cease to amaze me. The variety and intricacy of them is genuinely captivating. We arrived at Pink Beach, it’s name owing to the tiny pieces of coral broken up into the sand, giving it a pink hue.

The next stop was the one I’d anticipated most excitedly; the Komodo Dragons! We arrived at Rinca Island and made our way to the rangers station. From here, we were guided on a walk around the island by a ranger with a wooden pitchfork. Personally, I’m unsure how effective this would have been in the case of an attack, but I was reassured that that was all he deemed necessary. The dragons themselves are huge! They grow up to three metres long, but most are only around two metres. They eat only once per month, and are most active during the mornings. I assumed they sleep most of the afternoon, as they seemed to be just lying around with their eyes closed, but apparently they will never sleep during the day and just close their eyes to increase their camouflage. We saw a female dragon guarding eggs; they will dig a burrow around one metre deep and one metre wide, lay their eggs into it, and guard it from a distance of a couple of metres. They watch the eggs for around three months, and then abandon them! They will even come back later after they should have hatched and eat any remaining! So very ruthless; furthermore, adults often eat younger dragons, and adult males have no issues eating adult females either! Our ranger was incredibly knowledgeable so it was fascinsting to learn about their behaviours.

We journey back to Labuan Bajo was smooth, and we sat out on the front deck to soak up the evening sun. Overall, the Komodo National Park tour was really interesting; and definite must-do for anyone visiting Flores.

14/08/18

Today we fly to Singapore. We have a flight to Jakarta first, where we have a four hour stop, then we go to Singapore from there. Four hours seemed plenty of time when we booked all of our flights, but knowing what we know now about the punctuality of Indonesian airways, we should have left at least 12. With our recent luck, it would be the icing on our Indonesian travel cake for something to hinder our journey. All we can do is hope!

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