￼Traveling back to the mainland from the Togians takes a couple of days. Because our visa has expired we leave Indonesia and stay in Kuala Lumpur for a couple of days so we can travel back to Indonesia. We fly to Bali from which we take a flight to Labuan Bajo, the most western village on Flores and the start of a visit to the Komodo National Park.
After considering the pro’s and cons for a while we decided to go ahead and book a liveaboard, a boat on which we will stay and dive for four days. The owner convinced us with her enthusiastic answer when we emailed about Noa coming along. The staff on the boat will watch Noa while we dive and are looking forward to welcoming him aboard. And that is an understatement, we don’t know if any other children have ever come along but Noa is welcomed with open arms.
Everybody immensely enjoys his presence, he constantly has seven men waiting for a chance to play with him. There is always at least one pair of eyes focused on him so he can endlessly play on the big ship.
MANTAS, mantas, sharks and more mantas
On the boat there is space for eight passengers, but next to us there have only been three others who confirmed for the trip. Because of that there is lots of space to relax. We have a two persons cabin with a big matras on which Noa sleeps as well as us. Upstairs there is a space with a table where all the meals are served, and on the from deck are eight mattresses with towels where everybody lounges all day.
A deck above that the captain has his hut and in front of hime is more space to sit on beanbags and relax. All the way at the back of the boat all dive gear is stored and assembled, and half way on the boat are the toilets where it is possible to take a shower with salt water all day and once a day with regular water. The other passengers on the ship are a British guy, a French man, a Canadian and our dive masters; a British lady whom’s name is Lisa and an Indonesian guy named Ronny. Lisa is one of the most passioned dive master we have ever met and we spent hours talking with her and the other guys about diving on the lounge deck.
Because the currents in Komodo national park are some of the most challenging of the world the dives are slowly build up from easy to hard. The first dive is at a gorgeous reef with great visibility, we see lots of known fish but also see some special things like a Leaf scorpion fish (fish that pretend to be a leaf and sway in the water) and eels that stick out their heads from the bottom with hundreds at a time and quickly retract them whenever a diver comes close. We dive three times a day and do some amazing night dives as well, the diversity of the fish is amazing.
We have bought a replacement underwater housing for the housing that flooded, and we are really glad we were able to take it along. After spending a day at a reef with strong currents where you are attached to the reef with reef hooks to see sharks swimming by we move on to manta point.
In the dive briefing it’s explained that there is a possibility to meet a manta, but it can also be multiple mantas. When we cruise above Manta Point with our dingy (a small boat which we use to get to the reefs) our dive master Ronny checks the conditions underwater. He comes back up waving excitingly – quick, quick, lots of mantas. We quickly go down and see two mantas just in the first few minutes.
What humongous animals, with a width of up to four meters, I keep hoping we will see another one. The wish for another one comes true, and then another one, and another, and another, on our first dive at Manta Point we see a total of seventeen Manta’s (video). Some alone, but sometimes even groups of two or tree at once, what a dive.
On the second evening of the live aboard we arrive at a mangrove forest, when the sun sets bats begin to fly out of the trees. Thousands of gigantic fruitbats rise to fly to the main land to look for mangos, bananas and papayas. Check out the movie we made of them.
After the show we sail towards the bay of the island Rinca, so we can visit it early the next morning at seven o’clock before the heat starts. When we walk towards the rangers station we see a big komodo dragon just laying on the path – wow, we haven’t expected to see one right away.
We walk past a breeding spot to reach a hill where the dragons come in the winter to warm up in the sun. Although it’s not the winter we do see a dragon who is blocking the walking path, he’s a lot smaller than the first dragon we saw but impressive none the less. While the ranger stands ready with a stick to defend us, we are allowed to take pictures. They are impressive animals, out of all the eggs laid by a female dragon just 35% actually hatch, after which birds, and other wild animals and most frightening of all, their own mothers eat them a big part of the babies. Thankfully the animals are protected in this park because there are only a couple thousand left.
As a goodbye to the people on the liveaboard we go and have some beers on the mainland that night with our divemaster Lisa, after which we have dinner together as well, wow these were some amazing days.
With the end of the liveaboard the time has come that my sisters will arrive on Flores. They will travel with us for three weeks, something we have all been looking forward too for months. The next day we check out of our homestay and take our backpacks to the airport. Danielle and Wendy have arranged a resort somewhere as a surprise, and the resort will pick all of us up at the airport.
An emotional meeting
When we see Danielle and Wendy at the luggage pick up there is no way to stop Noa, he runs through security to them. It’s so good to see them after so many months, and at the same time it’s like no time has passed. Noa has to get used to them for a bit, he gets shy and hides behind my legs, but fifteen minutes later he tells them about all his adventures of the past months. We hear him telling them details that we have already forgotten.
To start off Danielle and Wendy’s holiday we all go to have ice-cream and go swimming in the beautiful swimming pool of Bayview Gardens. We have two rooms and a shared living room that looks out over the bay of Labuan Bajo. We can’t get enough of the gorgeous views and take about fifty pictures of the setting sun, one even more beautiful than the other. After a luxurious breakfast in our living room we go trekking to a nearby white beach. It feels really unreal that we are now with the five of us, laying in the gorgeous turquoise water.
For both birthdays of my sisters we have given them a test dive as a gift and because Divine Diving was such a good experience we go to the Komodo national park and visit two reefs. The first dive Wendy and Danielle learn the basics of diving and the second dive we go to Manta Point. The whole way there Michiel and I keep hoping that the currents won’t be very strong, because if they are Danielle and Wendy won’t be able to join the dive as rookies. It’s a perfect day, the currents aren’t bad and the manta’s are curious and swim in groups of sometimes up to five manta’s and come and actually hover over our heads to see what we are. What an amazing experience.
After being in Labuan Bajo for a couple of days we head east. We have arranged seats on a minivan to Ruteng and have the driver drop us of at a convent that is well know for it’s clean and big rooms. Unfortunately it’s full and we walk over to Hotel Rima, only a couple of hundred meters further, the rooms are very very basic and old, but clean and the family who runs the place is very friendly.
Because it’s still early we put on our walking shoes and trek to a viewpoint on the other side of the village. Everywhere in the street we are approached with questions – where are we going, can they practice English, or can they shake our hand. My sisters experience the same kindness and interest of the Indonesian people like we have on all out trips to this gorgeous country. It’s so special to be welcomed everywhere.
The next morning we are all really excited, we walk into the centre to haggle with the bemo drivers to take us to Luang Bua. It’s a cave where parts of a skeleton now called the Flores Hobbit were found. 50.000 years ago there was a tribe who lived on Flores, were 1.1 meters high and lived together with the komodo dragons and miniature elephants. One of the nine skeletons that was found was intact and gives a really good representation of how the human beings that lived that long ago looked. The cave in which the skeletons were found is huge and surrounded by gorgeous ricefiedls. In a small museum down the road there is lots of information about the project, the environment the Flores Hobbit lived in and the animals from that time.
The drive to the cave is an endless one across unpaved roads and through the mountains, and the end of the trip our driver waits for us because there is no public transport to take us back.
After our first successful bemo charter we are feeling proud and go back the next day to find a bemo to Cancar, a village with a gorgeous viewpoint over very special rice terraces which look like a spiderweb. The rice fields are shared and farmed by multiple families in a village. Every year a different part of the web is assigned to a family based on how many members it has. It’s a very special way of farming and something that is incomprehensible in the Netherlands.