Visit to the Flower Island: Part 1
Flores, Indonesia, 2009-03-20 12:00 by Martin
We had been invited to stay with Olivia’s family in Flores, and set out on an eight days vacation to the flower island together with Timo, Yulun and of cause Olivia. We boarded a small Fokker propeller plane bound for Labuan Bajo airport and after initial small-plane worries by the girls, we had an amazingly beautiful flight with clear skies and views over Bali, Lombok, Sumbawa and the Komodo islands. We contemplated on how many fantastic beach hide-away resorts this area could encompass, but luckily for the independent traveler, and probably only due to lack of infrastructure, it only holds little tourist industry.

We landed on the little airstrip two hours later and headed for downtown Labuan Bajo, a small port-town on the eastern tip of Flores, just outside the Komodo National Park. The Komodo National Park is an ocean area covering the two main islands of Komodo and Rinca, and is famous for being the only natural habitat for Komodo Dragons and boosting an incredible diverse marine life with unbelievable beautiful coral reefs and many unspoiled islands and beaches. A few islands have small settlements, but for most parts only daytrippers and divers roam the park in small boats – it is indeed one of Indonesia’s most attractive places I think. We had time enough to go to the local beach in the afternoon and lazed a bit while we tried to teach a not so willing Olivia to swim. On the way back, we saw the most beautiful sunset and when night fell we went to the harbor and had delicious Ikan Lalapan (grilled fish with rice and mixed vegetables) while we gazed to the horizon with the many small boats rolling gently on the dark waters.

Later in the evening we headed up to the Paradise Bar, where live music was in good swing. Lots of locals were hanging out together with a few foreigners; some of the first were even dancing. We drank some Bintangs and played cards, before being joined by two American guys and their bottle of imported tequila. It became a long night, with a lot of drinking games and consequently tequila shots! But it was fun and with good company and a nice, lively atmosphere we had a great time.

The next morning we split up; I wanted to do some diving while the others went out for a day on the beach. After the escapades the previous night I was a bit red eyed and tired when I got up at 6 o’clock, but luckily I didn’t feel nauseous – the idea of puking in the oxygen mouth piece sounds very unappealing to me! I had never seen Manta rays and I had heard that the Komodo National Park was a good place to see them, so I signed up for a daytrip with three dives through one of the local diving agencies. Diving is roughly 25 dollars per dive, and then there is an entrance fee for the national park costing you 15 dollars (valid for three days). We sailed out in a nice little boat, a group of 3 divers (including me) and 1 snorkeler + a Dutch divemaster and the boat crew of 3 locals. On the way out the stunning scenery unfolded, the blue waters, green almost barren islands and clear skies, a truly serene and unforgettable setting.
Diving was worth every penny. The first dive took us to a coral wall of a little rocky island, which was a techno-color of red, blue, green, yellow – well, every color of the rainbow in fact. The corals where teeming with life; many, many coral fish, bigger school fish hung in the blue, nudibranches, reef sharks and some hawksbill turtles feeding amongst the few dead corals + a single sea snake. The coral wall looked very healthy, no bleaching or massive coral death as seen at many other dive sites around the world, and it was so large an area that we didn’t cover much of it on our 50 minute dive.
Second dive was to the famous manta point, a large flat sandy bank just of Komodo Island. Here waters from the South China Sea flow downwards to the Indian Ocean bringing lots of plankton with its currents; the plankton attracts a big number of both rays and whales, including the giant Manta ray. As we approached the dive site we spotted the first Mantas skimming the surface; their huge shadows gliding through the clear, turquoise ocean. The currents were strong and the visibility “only” around 12-15 meters (caused by the abundance of plankton), but following small patches of corals dotting the sandy ocean floor, we could rather easily get around. At first we only spotted the Mantas gliding in and out of our field of view; out-of-worldly creatures checking out the newcomers. But soon we found them hanging suspended over the sand, majestically “flying” with heads against the current having a feast on the plankton. Their size and strength is amazing; the biggest some 4 meters wide having absolutely no problems staying in place directly up against the strong currents. We on the other hand struggled closer to the large but gentle creatures, which seemed to not notice us. Hanging on to the few rocks on the sandy bottom, we simply watched them while inching closer. One of them, maybe done feeding, maybe wanting privacy, swam up and just over us, gliding its huge body a meter or two above our heads, an exhilarating experience. We saw around 15 Mantas in different sizes in total; their magnificence so attractive to me, that I have completely forgotten what other marine life we saw on that dive (I think we saw some more reef sharks passing by, and of cause a lot of fish in the patches of coral).
The third dive was a drift dive, where we cozily drifted along another coral wall; again the corals where amazing and marine life more than abundant, giving us a close encounter with a big hawksbill turtle that wanted to take a look at the stupid looking surfacers clumsily floating with the current. All in all I cannot recommend diving in the Komodo National park highly enough – if you have the slightest interest in diving, this place is heaven!

Unfortunately as I don’t have an underwater camera, the picture of
the Manta-ray has unscrupulously been stolen from someone else.