When I told my parents I wanted to move abroad, they made it clear to me that they would come and visit. Now whether they simply wanted to see me, or I gave them an excuse for a holiday is up for debate, but I personally think it's a bit of both.
So when they came to visit me over Easter, we went to Flores to round off their Singapore/Indonesia trip. Flores is to the east of Bali and Lombok and is part of the Lesser Sunda islands. The town of Labuan Bajo is on the west coast and off it lies the UNESCO Komodo National Park. We used Labuan Bajo as our base for our 4½ day visit, spent 2 days exploring overland and 2 days on board a boat exploring the islands. Labuan Bajo itself is very small, one main road when all the restaurants, tourist information points and hotels are with the locals living on the streets that rise up into the hills. The town itself has no real tourist attractions, no museums or beach but it is the perfect place to use as a base. Labuan Bajo and the National Park is being touted by many as an up-and-coming major tourist destination, but for now it remains, thankfully, bustling - but not busy.
After 2 days exploring waterfalls and caves, we set sail for 2 days to explore Komodo National Park. For $200pp, we had a private boat, 4 crew members plus our guide, all meals, snorkelling equipment and all entry fees paid for, the only extras we had to pay for were souvenirs and tips. Our first day was reserved mostly for snorkelling. First spot was off the shores of Kanawa Island, a good starter place if you have not done a lot before, where you can just enjoy yourself. After that we moved on to 'Turtle Town' no prizes for guessing what we saw here. We were lucky enough to see 3 turtles, one of them was huge and seemed more than happy for us to swim alongside it for an extended period. Final stop was Manta Point and again I'm sure you can all guess what we saw there. I didn't realise before I came here just how big manta rays are as they glide through the water they appear more like they are flying than swimming. On each of these dives, the water got deeper and the current got stronger so there was a nice build up in difficulty throughout the day.
Day 2 on the boat began early, and we were some of the first people on the island. So, our guide armed with only a forked stick takes us off in search of 3-meter long dragons that can run faster, climb higher and swim deeper than humans. We saw dragons soaking up the sun in clearings and waking through the undergrowth. Then, as out circular route back to the base was about to end, our guides stopped us and asks us to follow him. Suddenly I can see a group of what looks like lizards. Odd, because as our guide had told us, Komodo's are solitary creature, living and hunting alone, the only time they group together is when they are eating. And eating these three dragons are! A small wild pig to be precise. Now most of this trip I've saying how I feel like at times we have been in a nature documentary, but this is it. This is real. Three massive lizards pulling apart a wild pig and feasting on it. This is what nature photographers wait weeks to capture on camera and we just saw it by chance.
Next stop is Padar Island. Another Insta-famous location where you can walk to the top of the island and see three bays; one with black sand, one with white sand and one with a pink. The pictures look beautiful and the view is equally incredible but let me warn you, this is no tree-lined hike with shade and a nice winding incline as you make your way up a hill. This is 789 (roughly) stone and wooden steps of varying heights, little shade and the blistering equatorial heat that hits you like a furnace. This is hard. Upon reaching the top you face is read, whole body is sweating and honestly the last thing you want to do is take a picture of yourself. However, the views are amazing and once you are at the top and there is a great sense of achievement.
Final stop was Rinca Island, another island filled with Komodo's. We saw a lot more dragons on this island, around 12 if memory serves, including a huge one; easily the biggest we had seen on either island that was just casually crossing the footpath in front of us. As we sailed back towards Labuan Bajo with the sun setting behind the boat, you can really appreciate how beautiful these islands are. Komodo island itself is being closed, likely for most of 2020, as there have been reports of people stealing dragons (though how they get them out I have no idea) and to build up the infrastructure ready for the expected increase in tourists in the future. These islands are absolutely worth a visit, I would happily go back multiple times but also take care of them. Don't let these islands lose their authentic charm or become damaged beyond all control.