Indonesia’s Mother of Dragons.
Flores is the perfect escape for those seeking more from travel than the watered down drinks, and tepid personalities that attend Bali’s southern coast. A cheap flight (cheaper than following the hordes of high fades, shiny new beards and Ellesse t-shirts to the Gili Islands) dropped us an hour from Denpasar on the western tip of Flores, in Labuan Bajo, and the gateway to dragons.
We hauled our bags into the back of a taxi at the airport, and then one and a half minutes later we were in Labuan Bajo, it turns out the town is less than 2km from the airport; a popular sophism of the road creepers in Flores, and not the last time we would encounter such blatant trickery throughout the island.
Labuan Bajo is a port town, a fairly downtrodden one, keeping its head afloat by extorting foreigners that flood to this place for the dragon islands. A dirty, busy main road, papered with offices selling boat tours, nothing of any interest other than the vessels tethered to the dock. We booked our day trip to Rinca a little away from the turmoil of the main drag, for 250,000rhp after a little haggling, prices always drop where the holidaymakers dare not venture.
A 7am start followed, low season gifting us a boat of only three, our little wooden floater plodded out from the shore; to one side open ocean, to the other a seemingly endless parade of deep green volcanic islands, their peaks rising from the ground like the Pillars of Creation, approaching and receding as we sliced the turquoise sea. An hour or so passed, the majesty on the left never ceasing, as we rounded the bay to Rinca Island giant barracuda relieved themselves of the oceans shackles and skimmed by us like stones from the bay. Our guide met us on the deck (the same guide used by the Planet Earth 2 crew), and we headed over the marshes toward the main lodge, one solemn Komodo, a teenager at best, crossed our path with a slow purposefulness that only a species that has survived a millenia could.
No sooner had we paid our entry fee of 200,000rhp, we were face to face with the great Komodo, a pile of giants sat across our path, attracted by the smell from the guides kitchen, no longer the stuff of mythology or fantasy, Flores has legitimate dragons. Their eyes demanded my full attention, we kept a distance of a few metres, a cars length from dinosaurs, what a time to be alive. For the next hour or so we were walked a few kilometers around the island, sometimes on a path, sometimes in the middle of dense grass and trees, sometimes giant buffalo bathed in lagoons a few feet from us, sometimes long tailed macaques disturbed the leaves over head. We saw no more dragons, I suppose eleven or twelve dragons in one day is enough.
The boat ride back stopped twice so we could snorkel the reefs, more fish than I thought existed in all of the oceans, giant orange starfish carpeted the floor, we finished some beers on the boat and before we knew it our Jurassic adventure was over.
That day at breakfast we had met what turned out to be our favourite people of these past three months travelling Asia, Roxanne and David, themselves at the end of a year long round the world trip. A dutch couple, as friendly as the day is long, David an imposing but always smiling figure, Roxanne his diminutive equal. A few days after our dragon encounter, we all shared a car to Bajawa in the middle of Flores; stopping on the way for a high view of the splendid spider rice fields in Riuteng, long spiraling roads arrived us in Bajawa late afternoon, a beautiful small town set in the heart of Volcano country.
We rented scooters and explored the mythical Bena, a traditional village 18km out from Bajawa, decorated with megalithic stones and straw huts, it is said that the stones were carried here on a great flood of biblical proportions 12,000 years ago. I had the pleasure of meeting the village elder Joseph, he was featured in ‘Magicians of the Gods‘ a book on ancient civilisations by the beguiling Graham Hancock, I left my copy with Joseph who seemed to come alive from his sheltered slumber as I showed him the passages about himself and his home.
Our next stop was the natural hot springs, where boiling water careers down a valley, mixing with cold waters of the river, to soothe three weeks of volcano trek weary muscles. Being the only white people in the area, we drew a crowd of photograph happy young locals (be prepared to be photographed like a drunk movie star when travelling around Flores).
Our last stop in Flores was the mountain village of Moni, the place to explore Mount Kelimutu from. The homestays here are a well oiled machine of deception, pick your stay carefully, random people will tell you places are full in order to lure you their way, stand your ground and you’ll be fine. Kelimutu on the other hand, is a racket. The price for non foreigners entry to the park is a meagre 5,000rhp, for us pale faced imposters, 150,000. We had accepted this as the norm and headed up there for sunrise at 4.30am, then true to form they increased the price ‘that day’ to 250.000rhp, their reason, a hindu holiday…on a predominantly christian island…the muslim girl behind the counter told us. Lovely stuff. David and Roxanne begrudgingly paid the fee, we did not, we walked ourselves the 13km back down the mountain, cutting off the main path through small villages littered with sleeping elders, baby pigs and cattle, arriving back in Moni before breakfast.
Another share taxi with Roxanne and David took us to Maumere in the east for 150,000 per person, this seaside town was where we flew back to the mainland, and where with heavy hearts we said goodbye to these beautiful people we had shared a week of at times arduous, but overall joyous adventures with.
Flores makes you feel like a walking wallet, but a little assertiveness is rewarded with sensational landscapes and some glimpses back into a magnificent time in humanities distant past.