Flores - In search of some cheaper diving

Trip Start Aug 26, 2007
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Indonesia  ,
Monday, December 10, 2007

Having looked into diving in Bali, we both concluded it was a ltitle too steep. For the places that we wanted to go they were asking as much as $175 for two divces which, when you've been used to diving for free for 4 months, is a lot of money. We managed to talk to Roy, our local travel stall ownerm who guaranteed that they dived the Komodo Islands (supposedly fantastic) from his hometown in Indonesia and that it was much much cheaper from over there.

We stumped up the cash for the short 1hr flight to Labuan Bajo and went back later in the evening to collect the handwritten tickets. I hear what you're thinking, "What sort of airline has handwritten tickets?" and I believe the answer is an airline who still uses propellor planes and weighs every passenger  onto the plane and not their bags. The plane only had 30 seats but each one was privvy to the most stunning views of all the hundreds of timy islands as we flew over Indonesia. The colour of the water was incredible and so clear, in parts it was hard to distinguish what was above and what was below the surface.

The airport at Labuan Bajo perfectly summed up what was instore for us in the next few days. As the plane landed there were several goats on the runway and the arrivals/departures lounge (the airport only had one room and reassuringly no bag scanning devices) was filled with nuns. it was obvious that this place was little bit extraordinary. We chose to stay at what looked like the more exclusive of the two available options at a whopping expense of US$5 between us per night.

Adventuring into town to sort out some diving for the next day, it was obvious that L.B didn't see an abundence of westerners patrolling its streets. All the kids were running up, shouting HELLO and then sprinting off screaming and giggling. Of the three dive shops we investigated, only one had an english speaking employee instantly making it the right decision for us. We couldn't believe how cheap it was in comparison to Bali. We were to pay $150 for 6 dives over 3 days including B/Fast adn Lunch on the boat with a trek to see Komodo Dragons thrown in for good measure. Sold!

The most incredible thing is that it turned out we were to be the only two people on the boat. There were more boat crew than divers. In K.Tao you're lucky if you get into the water with less than 40 others off the boat. Here there were to be 3 of us and what's more is we didn;t see another dive boat in 3 days, remarkable considering the quality of the diving.

It took 2.5hrs to get to and from the dive sites every day and so there was plenty of time to catch up with a few naps after the early morning starts. The first day as we approached the sites, our Divemaster, Anka, asked us what we particularly wanted to see, and to us it was obvious. We wanted to see a Manta Ray. I had previously spent a week, 22dives, on a liveaboard looking for one of these annoyingly elusive beasts and it was getting a little frustrating and also a little competitive as to which one of our group in Thailand would see one first. Anka couldn;t believe we'd never see none before and was confident she'd be able to find us "a couple". Looking back now, it's no wonder the poor woman was baffled by our scenario.

As we approached "Manta Point" the Captain stood at the fornt of the boat pointing out the shallow coral for the driver to avoid. It wasn't until I went and stood next to him that I realised he wasn't pointing out coral but huge triangle shaped shadows swooping past either side of the boat with the regularity of London buses. There were Mantas everywhere. Excitement levels reached an all time high.

Finally the boat stopped and we jumped into the water and after a whole week of lookiong for one, I managed to count over 20 within the first half and hour. Some of these things are huge, over 5m from wing tip to tip and truly dwarf you as they glide past. You could hear us both laughing for the entire dive, not quite believing how little looking we'd had to do for them. Even during the lunch break we could just sit watching the ocean and the Mantas breahcing the surface, jumping clean out of the air and landing with an almighty crash.

The final day diving we were joing by one other guy and asked if we could return to Manta Point in the hope of having a dive half as good as the first. We sat in the water and saw the now familiar black kite glide below us. Unfortunately, the new guy had forgotten his weight belt and was having a spot of bother sinking.

While he went back to the boat, we looked at each other and couldn't resist going down and risking him not finding us. As soon as we got under it was obvious we'd made the right decision. We'd see nmany individuals before but directly below us was a group of 10 all swimming in formation. There was one hell of a current but that worked perfectly in our favour as they were just happen to sit in it and let it bring all the food to them. We fought like crazy hauling ourselves up on rocks to get into the centre of the group and stayed there for half an hour. As they got more used to us they became more friendly and loved swimming over you in the bubbles we were giving off. They were getting so close that one actually gave me a little nudge.

When we were finally tired of holding on for dear life we just flew along with the current and several of the groupo followed us for the rest of the dive which happened to be just as good as the first half. We saw 3 turtles, 2 octopus, Bamboo sharks, and a school of 8 huge humphead parrotfish which in itself equalled what I had seen on the previous boat trp. We stayed down until we'd both run out of air as it was definitely the best dive I'd ever done. Don;t think there's any point even trying to better it.

The rest of the dives were nice enough but these were the two that really stuck out. There was nothign else to do in Labuan Bajo but spenidng literally all day on the boat meant that there was little time to kill elsewhere. the room bill for 4 nights including food and drinks was $40 each although by this point I'd given p on being surprised at how much stuff costed in the cheapest place on earth.

Other things of note are that the people were by far the friendliest I've encountered so far, especially considering I'd just arrived from the bedlam of Bali. One example is that we needed to change our plane tickets and so asked a guy at the hotel if there was an office in town where we could do this. Before we knew it he'd stolen the tickets and refused to give them back sayign that it's give him something to do on his day off. He probably wasn't joking but the very fact that he genuinely wanted nothign in return for this favour was incredible. We managed to persuade him to have a few beers later on that evening where he told some amazing stories of his home island of Siluwasi where apparently if a family member dies, the family keeps the body until they have enoguh money to buy a bull. then they have a massive party and put a chili up the Bulls bum to make it mad. then they kill the bull and eat it and finally bury the body. Crazy. One other conversation went:

Me: "So you eat dogs as well?"
Him: "Oh yes. But you could never eat your own dog as it'd be like eating a friend."
Me: "Oh right..."
Him: "No. You have to make a swap with your neighbours!"

He was dead serious as well - you'd have to find a local with an equally sized, equally unwell dog and strike a deal close to the time of death. Reminded me of swapping Panini Soccer Stars at school. Trying to find someone with a card that could equal the spare Shiny Terry Butcher Limited Edition one you had.

Anyway, before we knew it, it was time to get the crazy plane back to bali. it was general concensus that the effort of getting there was well rewarded and well worth making. It was straight to an interent cafe to email the people in Thailand who'd been looking for one of these damn Mantas for 10 years. Ha ha ha ha.
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