“Sorry sir, the flight has been canceled.”
I could have guessed. Starting at 08:00 this morning I had asked for updates on my missing flight every hour on the hour and they always told me to come back an hour later. 8 hours later and I was still sitting in Denpassar airport in Kuta waiting on them to figure out how to get the FIRE light on my tiny airplane to go off.
Oh well, better that it happened on the runway and not once we were in the air.
I thought of sticking my head into the security X-ray machine at the thoughts of spending yet ANOTHER night in Kuta, but to the airline’s credit they transported the 10 passengers including myself to a fairly nice hotel away from the budget scene in Kuta and put us up for the night – I couldn’t believe it!
The other passengers moaned and complained about the place, but with hot water and proper towels, it turned out to be the nicest place I have stayed at on this trip! To make things interesting, I was flying with military security representatives from England, the US, Australia, and Germany that work in the embassy in Jakarta.
We had a nice chat about the upcoming elections (in 45 days) and what I should look out for in case it cooks off like it did in Thailand recently. They were very intelligent and friendly professionals and its comforting to know that they are here in the embassy should I need someone.
At 07:00 the next morning, we tried again and after only a short 2 hour delay, I found myself buzzing along in a noisy propeller plane toward Flores. I deliberately took a window seat and watched as island after island dotted the sea below us. I could make out all the major volcanoes because of the clouds that gather around them and there were scores just waiting to be explored. As we approached Flores just 2 hours later, I could even see the huge reef systems through the turquoise water.
I can’t wait to see them up close. Komodo has some of the toughest water but best diving in Indonesia.
Labuanbajo airport was tiny as expected, and to everyone’s horror I put on my rucksack and walked the 2KM to town as they drove by in their tinted SUVs. When traveling you will find everywhere that the airports, trains, and buses usually stop on the outskirts of town and you can save a fortune by not packing too heavy and just walking to the centre.
Plus, its much more satisfying to come walking into a brand new place with your life on your back. A vagabond’s entrance.
The Lonely Planet claims that Labuanbajo has a “ramshackle charm”. I definitely found the ramshackle but haven’t exactly located the charm yet. Maybe hardware stores with toilets sitting in the front was the writer’s idea of local charm, but so far this place is pretty utilitarian. There isn’t really a proper market, just the usual identical small shops selling cigarettes and buckets with loads of unemployed hustlers hanging around trying to talk you into boat trips.
Something else I noticed right away, maybe as the 5 liters of sweat poured off of me during my stroll, was that it is way hotter here. Ridiculously hot. In fact, this is probably the hottest and most humid place I have ever been in the world. It makes Cambodia (which is way more north of the equator) seem temperate. This isn’t a nice dry Egypt type hot, the sweat can’t seem squeeze itself out of your pores fast enough here.
The harbor is picturesque and exciting, with islands scattered across the sea and loads of boats of all sizes coming and going. There isn’t a proper beach, and if there was I wouldn’t want to swim anyway based upon all the petrol, bags, and discarded flip-flops floating in the water around town. Along the water is a small fishing community, about as poor as I have seen here, and their spread looks like something directly from the set of Slumdog.
The smells of drying (and rotting) fish are almost overwhelming and once I was spotted in their small community, I was surrounded by a horde of barefooted, fly-covered kids. I passed up a dozen National Geographic moment photos because I hesitated to bring out my giant SLR camera just yet. The kids were cute, but from the shadows of the shacks were some very angry looking young Muslim men watching my every move. Not that they would do anything in the daylight, but it wouldn’t exactly be hard to figure out where I was staying in a town with 2 empty guesthouses.
I set up shop at the Gardena Hotel (billed by Lonely Planet as the “best place to stay in town”). Wow, I have never seen the Lonely Planet effect more pervasive than here. The staff are the rudest, most unwelcoming, uninterested group I have come across in Southeast Asia. Maybe this place was great two years ago when LP made their last Indonesia guidebook update, but now the attitude and prices are terrible. Aside from the nice open-air restaurant and common area with a view of the water, Gardena is a dump and I would have left in a second had the only other option (Bajo Hotel) been any better.
Still, if the Lonely Planet is good for anything, its good for finding other travelers. You can pretty much guarantee that they will be in the top picks, and I need some companions to team up with for hiring a boat over to Rinca where the Komodo dragons live.
Some deadly lizards, maybe diving if I can manage to shake this chest cold in the next few days, and then I’m going to be glad to leave Labuanbajo behind on the dusty road.