Labuan Bajo is a city that I had looked at least 100 times on the map. I don’t know what I expected it to look like but it was looking pretty amazing from the deck of the boat as we blew closer to the harbor. It was looking amazing simply because it was land. If you’ve read my past few posts you know that this had been a pretty traumatizing voyage. It was high seas that day as we approached the end of our trip but I stood out on the open deck counting this minutes down until we got to the harbor and I could live the rest of my life on dry land.
So, Labuan Bajo – here’s a place you’ll probably never go to. Labuan Bajo is not quite substantial enough to even be called a city. It is a far-flung outpost for sailors, scuba divers and adventurers. The harbor there is the most the substantial place to dock a boat for hundreds of miles. The ‘city’ consists of essentially one road that winds up into the green hills and mountains of Flores. This road is crowded and dirty and packed with small restaurants, boating/diving companies and a few bars. I guess that’s all that it needs. Most of the westerners walking down the street were obviously scuba divers. I couldn’t help but think how sketchy this place felt. How could these scuba divers live here? But then again, they spend all day on a boat in crystal clear waters in a place with more marine biodiversity than almost anywhere else on the planet. Their lives are not in Labuan Bajo; that is just where they sleep. Their lives are out amongst the coral reefs and green, sloping islands.
We docked our boat in the shadow of a massive cargo ship, tightly squeezed between 2 other smaller boats. We had to throw our bags over the water onto the dock and then hurdle the precarious gap between the dock and our moving boat. On the dock local children curiously crowded around our boat to get a good look at us. Older Indonesian men glared at us.
We were planning on flying out of Labuan Bajo but there were others on our boat that had paid for a 2-way ticket. NO THANK YOU. There wasn’t enough money in the world to make me go through THAT again. I think that sentiment was shared by everybody on the boat... everybody except for Ulf, the old Swedish man. He happily cashed in for his return voyage through hell. Still, some of our fellow passengers asked if they could stay aboard the boat that night as it floated safely in the harbor to save on hotel costs. I don’t think the crew had obtained proper clearance to dock in that harbor because they needed to get off the dock as soon as possible in order to go anchor off shore. Staying on the boat that night would have meant not being able to get off the ship at all; it would have meant eating the leftover scraps of rice and noodles for dinner. Ew. Memories of vomit. We all gave an uneasy wave goodbye to Ulf, who looked happy enough, and headed out towards the main road.
On our way out, who should we run into, but the Swedish couple that had abandoned us at the dock when they saw the sorry state of what was to be their vessel. I mentioned them 4 posts ago when we first boarded the boat. They had taken a series of buses and ferries to get to Labuan Bajo. We assured them that they had made the right call by not getting on that boat and continued out to the road.
We had been told that there were no taxis in Labuan Bajo. We knew only the name of our hotel there – the CF Komodo Hotel – no address. We stood at the side of the road looking lost for a few minutes before a rusty van pulled up next to us and asked us where were going. We weren’t sure if we were going to find a better option as far as transportation went so we took the van to our hotel for 20,000 IDR (2 USD) each.
The hotel looked great from the outside… until you opened the bathroom door. The bathroom was outside, which was sort of a buzz-kill in a place with this many bugs. And bugs are attracted to light. So I multi-tasked with showering and frantically bug-swatting to protect my man parts.
We ventured back out for food down a long urban staircase that led us down a steep slope, cluttered from both sides with small hostels, restaurants and homes that ranged from tin to shingled roofs. We had dinner at an Italian restaurant that somebody’s lonely planet guide had vouched for as ‘authentic’ and ‘delicious.’ It was okay. Definitely better than what we had been eating on the boat. I had had slices of pineapple and Pringles for breakfast that morning in order to avoid eating anymore of that slop, so the bar wasn't set very high that evening.
The next day we got in a cab to go to the airport 2 hours ahead of our flight. Little did we know that the airport was actually less than a minute’s drive from our hotel. We were at our gate and through security within 15 minutes of leaving our hotel room. The Labuan Bajo airport is about as small as it gets. But we had a smooth flight back to Bali. I watched our last 4 days pass by outside my window over the course of an hour and a half.
I never wanted (want) to get back on a boat again. Still, I'm glad that it happened. I would never want it to happen again but now that it is solidly behind me... great story.