23 September 2014

Labuan Bajo and Komodo National Park

View on the harbor of Labuan Bajo
Reunited after some time apart, we headed for another divers paradise, where we finally both could enjoy an awesome day of diving. Labuan Bajo, the port on the very western tip of Flores consists pretty much of one street, where one can find dive shops, tour operators, hotels, international restaurants and whatever else a traveler might need. Compared to most other destinations in Indonesia – except Bali and the Gili Islands - is Labuan Bajo very western. The atmosphere is quite cosmopolitan and European, Australian and American travelers clearly dominate the main street and night life in town. Most of the locals can speak English, European bread, muesli, pizza, pasta, cocktails and many other European things are easily available and the town is growing extremely fast.


Liveaboard in Labuan Bajo
The special thing Labuan Bajo has to offer is a huge variety of islands to go to; day trips for divers or boats to remote little islands to get the “Robinson Crusoe experience”. Whether you’re a low budget traveler or you want an exclusive beach resort, you can access it all through Labuan Bajo, a great home base. And it is the starting point for expeditions to see the Komodo Dragons on Komodo or Rinca.

A tiny paradise just off Komodo
We originally wanted to go to Kanawa island first, already had a reservation on the island for several bungalows, as we agreed to change rooms every night. High season really is high season here, but we wanted to get our little cottage on the beach and were ready to get it with a little compromise. We extra booked it all Swiss style with consideration of local circumstances, so we planned to fly to Labuan Bajo, stay there one night to make sure that we would catch the boat the next day at 12pm. But the flight from Bali got canceled, and Trans Nusa, the airline, booked us for the flight the next day, which was supposed to fly at 10am, so that we would be in Labuan Bajo at 11am. We called the Kanawa island resort to make sure that we would get on the boat, in case our flight would be a little late, you never know in Indonesia. But they promised to wait for us. We took the flight, which was one hour delayed, so that we arrived at 12pm in Labuan Bajo, we called the resort again, they said they’d wait, we hopped on the next ojek as soon as we got our luggage, arrived at the port, but the boat was gone. No explanation, no solution, and no boss to talk to, he was taking his nap and nobody dared to wake him up. Clearly a resort that has no idea about hospitality.

Our cottage in Labuan Bajo
Stuck in the port, we were quite disappointed and unhappy. We looked for the closest hotel, which turned out to be the Gardena Hotel that we originally wanted to book for the first night, but they don’t take reservations. A little pissed off we gave it a shot anyway, and did not get disappointed. Little cottages all over the hill with an amazing view, 220’000 IDR (15 EUR) per night, clean, simple, with fan and mosquito net and so on. Somehow we were quite happy to find probably better cottages and more comfort in a hotel close to the port than the pricy, badly maintained cottages on the island. Good for the budget, good for our mood.

On the way to the next diving spot
Once settled, we checked out our diving options. We checked with about six dive shops along the “main” street (there is only one). Prices are everywhere pretty much the same (1.1 to 1.3 million IDR (80 EUR), the people were friendly and left a competent impression. We decided to book in an Austrian owned shop, the closest one to our hotel. Later on we found out that they had difficulties in the past, but they did everything they could to improve service and safety. As Fabian got sick (high fever and headaches), we could dive one day only, but it was an amazing experience and we got to see everything we wished for: sharks, sea snakes, mantas and thousands of fishes we don’t know yet. A wonderful day with a great crew.


We're still wondering what's in the "jungle
survival kit"
And they even organized a home visit of a doctor for Fabs, as he got very high fever within a few hours on our second day on Flores. Not that you could do a lot, as there is no hospital in Labuan Bajo, there isn't yet a decompression chamber for divers. We did not investigate further on health care facilities as Fabs’ fever disappeared again soon, but be prepared not to expect any serious facilities when you go there. Bali with its good health care services (for Indonesian standards) is close, but still a few days’ boat trip away, and the airport has connections, but the flights are not really predictable as we found out ourselves. Lucky nothing serious happened to us.We can highly recommend diving in the Komodo National Park from Flores, maybe we will go back there as we did not see the Komodo dragons this time. But make sure you are healthy and up for adventures with plenty of time and a good mood.

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