Well, to say that one should always be prepared to be unprepared and expect the unexpected seems to be a valid point, well, in my case at least. Here’s a few things that happened since arrival that took me by surprise but was not so much of a shock to Aaron – mostly down to our differences in experience with travelling thus far.
So, a little history before we begin, in 2016 I left the UK to travel Australia with my partner in ‘avoidance of real life’, Rachel. How did that go? Well, I made it to Sydney (the plane did that hard bit for me there), then over to Perth and after that I took three stops on a coach up the West Coast and found myself in Coral Bay, a tiny settlement on the edge of the coast sat alongside the Ningaloo Reef, and there I stayed for the remaining nine months of my visa, along with both Rach and Aaron; who incidentally I met out on the boat he was working on, on the Ningaloo Reef. So, here we arrive back in current time in Labuan Bajo…
… and it must be said that I have found it a slight struggle to deal with, well, any of the situations thrown at us so far. The uprooting of our life and full throttle pace at which this journey has begun and maintained over the five days so far has been rather exhausting and, though I claim to be a carefree soul who wants to spread wings and fly, I genuinely struggle with getting off the ground with no home comforts for a the first part.. Like a little fledgling, mustering up the courage to jump out from the nest. But there’s a quiet confidence within me that I will soar when I do it. After all the last time I did it I had the best time of my life! Whereas Aaron, he definitely knows he can fly, that dude was born ‘falling with style’ and has evolved to be an Eddie the Eagle kinda guy.
So, we arrived in Labuan Bajo and found that our double room had been allocated and ours was a twin room, *cue melt down*. Just push them together, I hear you say. Yes, I’d have said that to me too.. That was, me before we moved all our stuff, flew across the world, spent three days doing endlessly awesome things and didn’t sleep all that well – yes, that is exactly what that me, rational me, would say because it’s not a drama. But, ladies and gentleman, this is an exhausted, overheated and PMT situation now, so on that account you’ll excuse the dramatics, right? Because I did, eventually rearrange the beds and then obviously complain about the gap – just to make a bigger point. As you can tell, there’s a lot of flapping and not flying at this point.
But fast forward a day and here we find ourselves, we’re sat in our hotel room, two twin beds pushed together after a day of bewildering and incredibly genuine kindness from a man we bumped into, whilst staring through a closed shop window in hope of answers!
Introducing Talise, a middle aged, friendly faced man who tells us the shop is most certainly, closed but that the good news is, much like a lot of the shops nearby – he has a bike to rent! It just so happens we are in the market for a bike, we’ve been asking around to get an idea of prices and it seems we have found that the price is variable depending on the size and state of the vehicle. Well, long story short, we took the bike because this man wanted to show us not only the bike but houses and rooms for us to rent in the village. We had been reliably informed that the place was basically filled up, so we couldn’t just potter around – we needed to get to know the area, so it sounded like the perfect opportunity.
We took to the road, the one main, extremely dusty road that runs one-way straight through the middle of the town from the airport. There’s a couple of ring roads that loop around and off to local houses and one that runs you through the centre of the Island of Flores for over 13 hours before you reach the next stop. But otherwise, there’s a whole bunch of mopeds, vans, trucks and a few cars that run the dust dry all day and night from what we’ve seen so far.
From 10am to 2pm we drove from home to home, house-stay to house-stay, with Talise introducing us and explaining our situation at each stop. Luckily for us, because few locals speak more than a few words of English – we saw a huge variety of accommodation on offer. Unnervingly though, with the nicer, higher standard of accommodation being full we were left to get to grips with the idea of squat toilets, fan only rooms with a mattress on the floor – no bedding, no furniture and rarely a dry ceiling or solid door. Disaster.
During our visits the locals were incredibly welcoming and kind to us, we were asked to sit and have some food or tea at a lot of the houses (green bananas are delicious here) . But, asides from the lack of western toilets, we decided later on that the reality of driving up the hill away from town when it is pitch black here by 7pm wasn’t entirely enthralling for either of us. So, we bid farewell and thanks to Talise for the day and we came back to our now very luxury looking hotel to rehydrate, reconsider and rest a bit after what had seemed a very long and very unsuccessful morning of home hunting.
To shake off the frustrations of home hunting we decide to head over to introduce ourselves to the dive shop teams and get an idea of what the plan of action might be for the Advanced and Rescue courses and Divemaster Training and see if anyone else had any bright ideas for accommodation. It’s exciting to start to think about getting in the water here, one morning of being around the town has made us feel dusty and excited to jump into the main event – the entire reason we packed up our jobs and lives in London – to dive here, in the Komodo National Park!
What we hadn’t anticipated in doing so, is how developing Labuan Bajo is; the construction work is either ongoing or abandoned on many buildings whilst others lay vacant and disused. The pavements are halfway complete with huge holes and big drops to the drain network simply left uncovered and unmarked – pretty smelly. There’s essentially pot holes and death traps everywhere so you have to keep an eye on your footing and quite frankly I don’t envisage myself getting legless here without the potential of actually becoming legless.
The bizarre nature of this place is that it feels safer to be on a moped than your feet – the driving system works with toots and a respectful awareness of mopeds as the locals will have their entire family balanced on one at any one time. So, as long as you’re not fast, flashy or too reactive with the breaks and obviously wear your helmet.. it’s generally a safe bet . So we had decided by the end of our few hours with Talise to rent the bike from him, if nothing more than for his kindness during the day. And so we had finished the day with one strong accomplishment – transport! Tomorrow is a new day and more specifically – my birthday! So we shall see what gift fate brings along for me, hopefully a decent home for us for the next few months!