Flummoxed in Flores

Trip Start Aug 05, 2011
Trip End Oct 14, 2012

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Flag of Indonesia  , East Nusa Tenggara,
Thursday, August 16, 2012

We are well and truly back on the less beaten track, first stop the domestic terminal of Bali's Denpasar Airport, after the 10km walk from the taxi drop off point. Upon checking our bags, which were not weighed (thankfully, we are sure we are a little over our 15kg baggage allowance) we were posed the questions; is there money in your bags?, cameras?, laptop?, water?, anything of value? Either Lion Air has very little faith in your bags actually arriving at your destination or the check-in clerk is making a little extra cash on the side pointing out which bags are worth stealing! We were a little surprised at the departure tax of 40,000 IDR per person, considering we are staying within the country, hopefully when we pass back through Dempasar in 11 days we won't have to pay that again. 

To their credit the Baliense are trying to improve the 1970s style airport with a huge renovation but the domestic departures terminal is currently less than glam and would benefit from a little fresh air once in a while

We were late to board our plane but eyeing the propellor mini jet any time frustrations were soon forgotten and the camera came out to capture the occasion. There were roughly 60 passengers on our plane for the hour and a half flight over to Flores. We fought the need for some shut eye and enjoyed a BBC3 moment watching breathtaking islands pass by under us as we tried to work out what was what using our trusty Lonely Planet and listening to The XX. 

When we arrived at Komodo Airpot the plane drove to the front door of the building and baggage claim entailed barging nuns out of the way to regain possession of our backpacks through a window onto the run way. There were no passport checks, simply hand over your luggage stickers and your off. 

We had booked into the Komodo Eco Lodge for our first three nights and were glad of the free airport transfer they offered, once again meaning we could avoid the hoards  of waiting 'taxi' drivers on mopeds. Hurrah. The lodge is nice enough, the rooms are huge and breakfast is included but it was pricey as at the time of booking everything else in Labuan Bajo was sold out. Breakfast is toast with your choice of eggs, simple but perfect for us. The main 'town' area is a few km away but there is a hotel shuttle for 35,000 IDR one way, to get back entails a ride in a Nepali style bemo or ojek, basically a transit van with a bench down each side, holes in the floor and a spare tire tied onto the drivers seat belt. 

Our main purpose of a visit to Flores was to see Komodo Dragons in the wild within the Komodo National Park. We are not sure if we like the animals or it is the name dragon which attracted us but we were excited to see these prehistoric looking creatures all the same. We did consider booking a trip to either Komodo or Rinca Island through our lodge but thankfully shopped around first. We decided upon Rinca as our Island of choice, although the dragons are smaller, there are more of them and therefore you are more likely to spot them. We booked through Thomas Adventures and paid 1,000,000 IDR for both of us, saving a whopping 680,000 IDR on the hotels best offer price and having the park admission and camera fee included. We liked Thomas a lot, he was very knowledgable and had a lot of time for all of our questions and quotes. One of the nicer things about this tiny company is that they take on students during the summer break and teach them the industry as well as giving them a chance to improve upon their English, we were much happier handing our money over to them. 

Rinca is reached by a two hour rickety boat ride from Labuan Bajo, across smooth waters thanks to Komodo Island taking the brunt of the waves. The island had a census in 2009 and was found to be home to 1,300 Komodo Dragons but as our ranger informed us, this could now be more, or less. Although Komodos have no predators one of Thomas' students shared his knowledge that the dragons are not only carnivores they are also cannibals in the mouth. Our ranger went on to tell us that the mothers often eat their young, unless someone else gets there first and they have never found Komodo remains as when the dragons die other Komodos eat them, including the bones...without chewing. The lifespan is up to 50 years and the first three years are spent living in trees to avoid being eaten by your mum. To live this long they feed on certain days and can eat up to 80% of their body weight. We were very lucky as we saw over 10 dragons, monkeys, wild pig, chicken type birds, a snake, butterflies and a few lizards. We even saw a deer...being eaten that is by three very hungry and muddy dragons. 

In order to visually hunt out these creatures we embarked on a trek, after being advised it was only medium and the hard trek took only one hour. Two hours later we had seen many dragons, got very sweaty in the mid day heat and in L's case had a spot of swelling. 

The nice thing about the Komodo National Park trips is that they are combined with a second stop for snorkeling, unfortunately this is another hour and a half away at Bidadari Island. This was our first real trip to the beach since Aus and we were not disappointed. The sand was white, the sun was shining and Dave and his trusty Fiji Film Xpro had an awesome time snorkeling/filming. The current was pretty strong and after the endurance trek, the swelling and the stares at the strapping L took the sensible,if not boring option and sat this one out. 

Our day trip only consisted of four people, it was really nice to be in such a tiny group. Our boat sharers were Spanish and only the guy spoke english so we were pretty much left alone to enjoy the day. We did however, learn some things about the rest of Flores from the Spanish chap; the roads are terrible and very indirect covering a distance of 700km on a 400km island. The suggested stops are at least 4 hours apart and most people fly into one end and out of the other, we of course have booked flights in and out of Labuan Bajo and are now somewhat flummoxed. Our intention was to visit Kelimutu, three volcanic crater lakes which change color, the problem is that by road it would take at least 5 days to get there and then we would have to get back! Did we mention we only have 11 days in total in Flores? 

To say that we have had some difficult decisions to make would be putting it lightly. We don't want to waste our time here but on the other hand we don't want to spend lots of time and money doing things we don't want to, not to mention the small issue of L's continuing back pain saga.  Somehow the endless bumpy roads do not seem all that appealing. The other consideration is that Flores is in general a lot more expensive than Bali, we did get a quote for a 6 night tour to spend a lot of time on the road but to somehow get to the volcanic lakes and back, for the driver (which is the recommended and most reliable form of transport here), car, petrol, drivers meals and accommodation, meals and accommodation for us and the tours in between would be a colossal 6,500,000 IDR EACH that's  $1300 for both of us. Far too much than we are willing to pay to be in pain, seeing places we have no interest in just to pass the time and then we would have two more nights to sort out somewhere. It is all a conundrum!

We have tried to get back to Bali earlier than planned but all flights are sold out, flying to the other end of the island to see the lakes doesn't work out date wise and we have exhausted pretty much every other option. It is really hard to be a backpacker when one of you can't sit in a car/bus for extended periods of time, god damn gym! The best option is looking like staying here in Labuan Bajo and resting up...but who knows!
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