Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Flores Indonesia: Here be Dragons

Another Lao New Year and another trip out of the country during the heat and associated chaos.  This year Indonesia was the destination, and more specifically the Flores Island area.  While we flew into Denpasar, Bali, our destination was a world away from the excesses of Bali or a 90 minute flight plus 1 boat ride.

The morning departure from Vientiane to Kuala Lumpur was delayed and we had a brisk walk through Malaysian Immigration, transfer to the other terminal and straight to the gate – we were always on track to make our flight but there was not a lot of time to spare.  It was still a relief to be on the flight and heading for the 2.5 hour journey across to Denpasar.  We stayed in a hotel beside the terminal and headed directly back into the airport the next morning for the 90 minute Garuda flight down to Labuan Bajo. 

There we were met by a representative of The Seraya, where we were staying for the next 5 nights.  There was also a family of four who had arrived on the same flight and we were driven 5 minutes to the harbour where we got on the little local boat for the 45 minute boat trip to Seraya Island. 

The main dining/meeting area had been built in bamboo (over steel beams) in the shape of a Manta Ray.  The effect was both aesthetically pleasing while being very cool & light.  

The plan for our time was one trip into the national park and then just daily snorkeling on the house reef.  Pure relaxation.

The reef was excellent and easily accessible from the long jetty.  Stepping off the jetty you were immediately in deep water, no wading out, no avoiding damaging coral.  The water was clear with good visibility and there was little or no current.  The clear depth would have been 4 or 5 metres and it was adjacent to a steep drop-off.  This meant we were able to see  so many brightly coloured fish – both big and small, swimming individually or as part of large schools.  We even saw a turtle.  There was plenty of healthy coral and some frames where coral was being re-seeded.  There were areas where coral had been destroyed but overall it was magnificent.

Our day trip was a full-on day.  We did it with the British Family who had arrived the same day as us.  Our powerful boat (with 2 150HP engines) chewed up the miles in the hour it took to get to Padur Island.  Here we paid national park fees, then climbed the steep hills – hard work but the reward was views over the 3 beaches on the island, black beach, white beach and pink beach.

Our boat took us on to a pink beach for a snorkel.  Rather nice to be in the water after sweating up and down the hills.  Then we were off to Komodo Island to see the Komodo Dragons.  We did a short walk and saw 2 dragons near the waterhole, a young and a mature older dragon.  

On returning the to main area we got up close to 2 more large dragons sitting camouflaged in the shade.  One got up and lumbered down to the beach as he had picked up the scent of 3 deer walking along the beach.  There was no mistaking the power in his physique - a dinosaur in motion.  Andrew struggled a little bit to remember the name of the dragons, and they were referred to as the Kumara Dragons more than once!!!

Back on the boat we saw a pod of dolphins who proceeded to play in the wake of our boat.  Later in the day we were planning to go to a place called Manta Point but we unexpectedly came across Manta Rays on our way to lunch.  The boat stopped and we all jumped into open water to swim with the Manta. 

Boating in turquoise waters and a tiny bit of a Manta Ray
It was a fantastic, albeit slightly scary experience.  We saw so many of them swimming about.  They were very large and as they swam to towards you it was slightly scary – even though our guides had told us how safe and gentle they were.  It was the highlight of the day!

picture from https://www.planetdiveholidays.com/blog/swimming-with-manta-rays/

After the swim we proceeded to a sandbar - or a desert island - for a snorkel and lunch.  Our boat driver said in the high season you couldn't see the island for people and there could be 10 or 15 drones being flown.  We are lucky to not be here in the high-season!

After lunch we went to Manta Point.  There were no Manta but the boat kept looking and then it was dive - dive -dive.  Our final experience was a single Manta Ray, but it was enormous - 3 to 4 metres across.  It was amazing.

One morning we Kayaked across the nearby island.  The sea was a millpond and it took us 25 minutes or so each way.  The island was part of a coral regeneration project where 250 frames had been seeded and were being monitored.  Other people had been over and said the coral colours were stunning,  However we found there was a very strong current in the morning and didn't really see the extent of the coral.  We didn't re-do the journey as Andrew and I struggle to co-ordinate in a two man kayak and a bit a 'discussion' is participated in.

The stay was very relaxing.  The accommodation well thought out and the evening dining with everyone eating at the same table was a good way to meet people and hear their stories. There was no internet but if you climbed up a hill nearby you could pick up some 3G - enough to check email and make sure no major had happened.  

It was back to Denpasar and on to Kuala Lumpur for 2 nights.  We managed to fit in a very nice steak meal one night at The Steakhouse and a bit of shopping.  As our return flight to Vientiane was at 6:40am that meant needing to be at the airport by 04:40am - therefore we stayed at an airport hotel where we could walk across to the terminal.  

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