I am writing this as a 3-part story.
Start: Labuan Bajo, a small town in West Flores, an hour and half flying distance away from Bali.
I was here because I wanted to see the Komodo Dragons. When I boarded the old 30-seater plane at Bali, it did occur to me that for a holiday, I was seeking some kind of a thrill, but then no one said that adrenaline rush was bad, right?
This trip was going to cost me USD400 despite the fact that I was sharing the boat with a Latvian family of four. I was OK with it. Although I was not sure how I was going to talk to my co-passengers if they spoke no English, I was eager to go.
When I landed at Labuan Bajo, after a scary, yet uneventful flight, I knew I had made the right decision. I had managed to get some nice videos of small islands dotting the sea (the planes don’t fly very high and if the weather holds on a clear day, with a really good cam, you can shoot clear pictures of the islands).
Thirty people descended from the aircraft, claimed their baggage that rested in the cockpit (!!) and I wasn’t surprised that I was the only Indian woman among the other pleasure seekers that included Latvians, Poles, Russians, British and Germans. My first picture was shot by a Pole, traveling in a group of two and visiting Labuan Bajo for dragons and diving. Since then, I have always loved Poles.
LBJ airport o far the smallest airport I had seen and also the most convenient – no queuing up, no security checks, no waiting to claim to baggage…just walk through the single big hall and out into the arms of your guide waiting to escort you (if you have booked a tour. If it is the first time, it is advisable to book in advance, lodging options are limited in this tiny town and is always full, according to what my guide Mathias told me later).
Then I met my co-travelers for the Komodo Island trip. Amanda with her parents and a friend named Peteris – from Latvia. (Over the next two days of grueling boat ride in the sea, I managed no more than a couple of sentences with Amanda, very little with Peteris and none at all with Amanda’s parents)
Past the lovely green countryside, we bumped over narrow roads to arrive at the port, where our fishing boat-turned-house boat stood. We stopped briefly at the tourism office (yes, there is such a thing as a tourism office here, a smallish room with few maps, a table, no chair for visitors to sit down and some brochures advertising diving/snorkeling trips). I suppose people didn’t stop by for too long at the tourism office, and if they did stop at all, it was only to seek directions or get information about hiring diving gear.
After the customary stop, we headed to the Port. I remembered later that I should have had the good sense to pack snacks for the trip, but seeing that it was a all-included trip I decided against this, determined to survive on what was given. If there was nothing, I would do with nothing.
How to get there
From Denpasar, Bali, fly Indonesia Air Transport (IAT), Merpati Airlines or Lionair to Labuan Bajo in West Flores. At LBJ airport you must pay domestic departure tax of Rp 10,000. Don’t expect to be able to buy a ticket last minute. Book at least a day in advance.
A tiny fishing village few years ago, today it is the hub of tourism. Being the starting point of trips to Rinca and Komodo Island. This little one-horse town is rapidly gearing up to cater to the hordes of adventure tourists (diving and snorkeling among the hot favourites), but often there is not enough rooms around town to fill the demands. Book early.
Golo Hilltop is a great place (swear by it), with fantastic views of the sea. The hotel’s restaurant has good food though expensive compared to the many little eateries around town. There are few Indonesian, Chinese and Western restaurants.
If you have had your fill of Komodos, try diving or snorkelling, visit the caves and surrounding beaches.
What to buy
Plenty of small shops selling all things Komodo; trinkets, postcards, local clothes (sarongs) or wood carvings (usually always Komodoa). There are ATMs in the town.