With Flores it was love at first sight, truly. My short flight from Denpasar to Labuan Bajo offered views of volcanic islands surrounded by perfectly clear turquoise waters, and by the time I landed on a runway practically built on top of the sea, I was all in. Our main motivation for the visit was to stop by neighboring Komodo Island National Park to say hi to the dragons, but one of my best friend’s best friends, Anna, who manages a dive shop in the area insisted that diving was a must, and she couldn’t have been more right.
We woke up early to board our speed boat, zipping past islands of all different sizes while I tried to count every shade of blue and green I could see. At the first site a turtle surfaced for a breath right as we were dropping anchor, although Gary and I were the only people on board that seemed excited to see him. As soon as we dove underwater the lack of enthusiasm from our fellow shipmates made sense- in any direction you looked it was almost impossible not to see a turtle. They were everywhere: scratching their shells on the coral, chomping away at sea grass, or serenely gliding past black tipped reef sharks. At certain points there were so many different colors and sizes of fish that my field of vision was completely clouded, like swimming though little explosions of live confetti. At the second dive site we crossed our fingers hoping we would see at least one giant manta ray, and were dazzled when just below the surface nearly twenty of them circled in a graceful ballet, occasionally swimming directly overhead and blocking out the sun.
Our time on the island of Flores itself was spent either relaxing at Anna’s place, or exploring via a rented motorbike. One day was devoted to crawling around a little cave within Labuan Bajo and checking out the scenery at the appropriately named Amelia Sea View. Another day we wound up steep mountain roads heading towards the heart of the island, arriving in a tiny village to start our waterfall trek. We walked with our local guide through town, while giggling children from doorways tried out English phrases. Eventually we reached a steep downhill trail through the forest, just as it started to rain. The trail quickly grew muddy and I abandoned my flip flops, as the rain grew increasingly committing. After rock hopping across a little stream, we swam across a river, and then worked our way up a rocky cliff for a 20 meter jump alongside the waterfall into the churning pool below. On the way back, the babbling brook we had initially crossed had become a raging river, and the trail uphill was possible only with the help of tree roots to pull myself up the muddy slopes. Completely soaked and covered in mud, the ride back down the mountain was a chilly one, and back in town I was thrilled to wring out my clothes and enjoy the sunset over a steaming bowl of chicken tortilla soup.
The visit to Komodo Island was actually an organized full day tour, although I was a bit skeptical as we launched out on a rickety, wooden slow boat that barely fit six of us. Our first stop was at the island of Padar, where I managed to sweat through both my pants and shirt hiking up to the highest point for the spectacular views. A couple hours later we finally arrived at Komodo, and after registering, two guards armed with pronged wooden sticks for protection lead us around the island. After a few minutes walk we saw several dragons lazing in the shade, nervously approaching them for a closer look. It really was like standing next to a dinosaur, massive creatures belonging to another era, watching us carefully while occasionally flicking out long, yellow, forked tongues. Later on the trail we were lucky to witness a real life National Geographic moment when three dragons started fighting over a dead boar, hissing like Voldemort and wacking one another with long, powerful tails. On the way back to the mainland we stopped a couple times to snorkel, enjoying pink sandy beaches and a welcome respite from the heat in the unbelievably clear water.
After a lazy day doing laundry and my first time playing Risk (you’re probably not surprised to hear that I did not win), we repacked our backpacks and set off again, this time bound for Sri Lanka.