Labuan Bajo wasn’t part of the original itinerary for Trip of Wonders. But a volcanic activity in the west of the archipelago necessitated some last minute changes in the schedule. Hence, the happenstance to Flores’ tourism epicentre.
Maktub; the Arabs has a term for things that are fated. Serendipity; the English has, too.
When the plane landed in Komodo Airport, a knowing feeling— as if the island always knew I’d be there— stirred inside me. If only to feel the earth under my soles, I was tempted to walk barefoot. Glad to be where I was, I wanted to show gratitude that way.
But I got up at 3AM that day, having to fly back to Bali from Lombok, before catching another flight to Komodo. Being too sapped out of energy to think poetry, I didn’t walk barefoot. But I was thankful still, albeit in silence.
I ran the shower a little longer that afternoon. It almost didn’t matter that I was in an oceanfront hotel and my room had a boulder for a view. My priority then was to stay awake long enough for the promised sunset on the trip’s guide book.
Perched atop a hill, a bit away from the chaos of the town centre, was a shack-cum-bar aptly named Paradise.
At once, I rushed to the invitation of the open deck, boasting panoramic views of the Labuan Bajo coastline and the calm waters of Sumba Strait.
“Front row seats,” I announced whilst grabbing a chair to sit beside Indra, one of my new-found friends.
“HiSo!” he teased, meaning High Society, a moniker we’ve adapted during the trip to denote special privileges.
It was too early to party, so we settled with mocktails. However, judging from the makeshift stage on one corner, and a wooden bar on the other, I was certain what chill a place Paradise Bar is at night.
“Sons of the sea under a star-studded tropical sky, darn.” I mused, just as the yolk of the dying sun sank into the flaming horizon.
Whilst everyone else was on their cameras, I put mine down and sat back. “There is no way still photographs could capture this drama,” I mumbled. I then went back to my drink, savoured the fortune of just being there, and sang along with the soundtrack in my head:
“My youth, my youth is yours!”
The next couple of days passed in a blur as our jaunt was nearing its end. In speed boats, we hopped from one shore to another and explored some of the least frequented but most must-go-to parts of the Lesser Sunda Islands.
In between sunscreen spray retouches, I stood on the hull of the boat like a she-hero in a quest for lands to conquer.
In factions, we swept the woods of Komodo and came face-to-face with the last of the dragons. Perhaps, also of the dinosaurs.
The book nerd in me kicked in. My name was Daenerys Targaryen, Mother of Dragons. With a wardrobe ensemble pre-rehearsed the night prior, I completed the look with a wooden staff, borrowed from one of the park rangers.
By virtue of semi-matching outfits, Marcos, who was garbed in a multi-colored cape from the weavers of Sasak Sade, became an instant ally
“Travellers are the real fashion bloggers,” I declared, and we guffawed at our shared hilarity.
My first memory of Pink Beach wasn’t its salmon-coloured sand. Right after disembarking from the boat, someone I had a short chat with back in Komodo Island, asked if we could climb the headland together.
Because I disintegrate at the sight of tall, lanky Southeast Asian Chinese men, I reflexively responded with an excuse that really, meant No— much to the chagrin of my gay friend, Lloyd, who was crushing on Jakarta boy, too.
For the rest of the afternoon, I steered clear of the headland and settled with Woman Versus Wild snaps in the vast mousy field beyond the beach.
As a popular stop for divers and manta ray spotters, there were more amenities in Kanawa than most of the other islands. Drinks were sold too, albeit a bit overpriced.
There , the sea proved irresistible. Starfishes scattered across sand beds and baby sharks swam through calf-deep waters. Upon seeing the first baby shark, I jumped at once. Thankfully, it seemed uninterested and swam on to the foot bridge before the setting sun.
Nothing prepared me for the sheer awesomeness of Padar. It was the perfect backdrop for everyone’s perfect moment— NatGeo moment for explorers, Wallpaper moment for fashionistas, this-trek-is-so-tiring-imma-eat-afterwards moment for foodies. I was all three.
On one hand, I couldn’t wait to tell the planet about the magic at the summit. On the other, I wanted to keep the place a secret, if only to shield it from commercial exploitation.
I ended up sharing anyway. I am a teller of travel stories, after all.
An array of mangroves forming a barrier around Loh Buaya was Rinca’s most recognisable landmark. Unlike the other islands we’ve been to, Rinca had no beach. Or at least, I didn’t see one where we were.
A stone arch featuring a giant ora on either side was erected near the dock. From there, we had to walk across a barren field— an area reached by water at high tide, I was certain— to the base camp.
A short trek further into the island led us to sightings of more Komodo dragons, perennially patient but ever poised to slay.
Kelor was a subtle ending to a series of awe-inspiring discoveries. Its underwater wasn’t as colourful as Kanawa’s. Its sand wasn’t as fine as Pink Beach. But Kelor’s secret weapon was the undeniable charm of its twin island, Kukusan, acting as a photogenic backdrop.
There, I climbed on trees, like a warrior surveying distant lands for prey. I only saw beauty everywhere.
Labuan Bajo was the last stop in September 2016’s Trip of Wonders, an invitational trip for ASEAN travel influencers. It was hosted by the Ministry of Tourism of Indonesia. Opinions expressed in this post are my own and do not necessarily reflect the view of the Ministry.