Flores #2 – Komodos and a desert island

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Here we are in hot, sweaty Labuanbajo on the west coast of Flores. Really the humidity is not to be believed, of course they are still having downpours of rain – “so unusual this is the dry season” – which makes the situation much worse. LBJ as I fondly call it, in the interests of brevity is, according to our Dutch hotel owner, Indonesia’s “next big thing.” Hard to imagine as the main street is a rutted, muddy, unpaved wreck and the whole area is littered with plastic garbage, fish guts, old flip flops and anything else that someone felt like tossing out the door onto the street that day. Very congenial to tourism…. However it is one of the gateways to the trans Florean trip and one way to access Komodo and Rinca Islands to see the Komodo dragons. The snorkeling at the offshore islands is fantastic and many people come here to board live aboard dive boats.

We have a lovely hotel, high on the hill overlooking the absurdly picturesque harbour with islands dotting the brilliant water and many many fishing boats anchored in the harbour where the sun sinks into the sea as we sip our evening Bintang on our terrace. From up there we can’t see the garbage and the mud so the town looks like a charming, down at heels port city. Fortunately bemos ply the route to the town as it is excruciating to walk very far in this climate particularly uphill. Adrian the Dutch owner moved here in 2000, cashing in his Amsterdam apartment to tide him over til he gets a pension from Holland. (He is currently 61) He began with the idea of building a botanical garden, but after getting that started, decided to put in a gorgeous little 7room “boutique” hotel. Remember this is Indonesia, we are not talking 4 star, not even 1 star but really the bathroom is so clean and the water is warmish and the view is to die for. Also the only decent breakfast since our one morning in Bali and tea and coffee whenever we like, I was trimming down nicely until we got here! Adrian has married a stunning woman from Sulu a very remote island near here, who is 30 years younger than he is and has imported 20 family members to work here. She doesn’t speak English, they converse exclusively in Indonesian, but she has her finger in every pie as far as running the hotel goes. Amazingly nice people and so helpful and kind to us.

We booked a day trip to Rinca island with 4 other people from the hotel. There were 2 Belgian bankers who travel at least twice a year for 3 weeks at a time. It is impossible to name a place they have not been. They feel they traded having children for their traveling — we felt SOO sorry for them! The other couple was comprised of a criminal lawyer who had apparently burned out after 20 years in Toronto and now lives in Nunavet (perpetual darkness a good treatment for depression you think?) where he works for a Legal assistance agency on salary. He had met the tiny little bird like woman he was with on the Internet. She is a spice trader from Surabaya and sharp as nails, they were traveling around Indonesia checking on her spice farmers. She told me she hopes to visit Nunavet as soon as she can train her brother to take over her company for a month or two — I suggested summer might be the season, she weighed at most 65 pounds and I figure stepping out of the plane in winter would freeze her like an icicle.

Rinca Island has over 1000 resident komodos, about the same number reside on Komodo. There are also some of the animals they eat like wild buffalo, wild pigs, deer, monkeys and so on. In my opinion, you’ve seen one lizard you’ve seen them all. They are big and ugly, and horribly speedy and vicious, but.. They lay their eggs in pits they make, like giant turtles and then lie around guarding the nest. They are so well camouflaged I nearly stepped on a guarding female before I saw her. We were accompanied on our hour long hike by two young rangers in training, who carried long forked sticks which they assured us the dragons mistook for the forked tongues of really big dragons and hence were deterred from attacking. Since they can travel at 18 kilometres per hour and smell their prey 5 kilometres away they are basically the top of the food chain. Their bites are often lethal as they not only tear you to shreds, their mouths are loaded with bacteria and they have venom in their saliva. One of the rangers was bitten lately but survived in LBJ’s hospital, but two villagers were not as lucky. They also have cobras on the island, one of which they had discovered under the head rangers hut just 2 days previously. Altogether a great place to visit — and leave.

On the way back we stopped for snorkeling over a magnificent coral reef. Sadly the tiny spice trader did not know how to swim so we spent a bit less time than I would have liked, but it was gorgeous. We then teamed up with the Belgians for dinner which was interesting though rather stressful as he had vehement opinions on everything and would get very worked up, his wife’s role was to say “Uh huh” constantly.

We just returned from three days on Saraya Island about an hour by noisy fish boat from LBJ. The “resort” would not be quite what most of you might picture, the description “basic” was charitable, with power and two buckets of fresh water for bathing available briefly after dark. However the wealth of fish life in the offshore coral reef was extraordinary to us and it turned out, according to an Aussie Quantas pilot who comes to Indonesia to scuba dive 3 times a year, astonishingly diverse. He had gone there to kill a couple of days before his live aboard dive trip departed and helped us identify numerous things that we had seen. We have a Reef Guide to Indonesia and that helps too. We loved the snorkeling and enjoyed chatting with the people we met there. We seemed to go from Sumba never seeing another tourist to meeting a fair few of them here on Flores. However there are by no means a lot, this is not high season. Another odd, childless couple, older than we are who have also traveled a huge amount befriended us. They were American and became simply irate when the Aussie guy (who was also extremely opinionated) declared that the U.S. was a done deal and China and India were the economies of the future. Seems obvious but Charles took violent exception with the most ridiculous arguments to which he would brook no dissenting opinion — finally said we weren’t understanding him, or surely we would see the light. Fish, fish and fish to eat but we didn’t suffer from hunger as we had feared and it was very fun. Sadly Doug finds the squatter toilets a real trial — we are getting on in years you know and despite the yoga he just doesn’t fold well. Fortunately he is male, so I just have to haul him off the john once a day.

We are here for a couple more days and then depart for Sulawesi.

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