Flores: Here Be Dragons (Part II of two parts—here is Part I)
Save a couple of days to see the Komodo dragons, the glorious waters and islands of the archipelago, and the quiet cultural pleasures of Flores Island, reached by an hour’s flight from Bali. In the main port town of Labuan Bajo and environs, major touristic development is underway, so NOW is the time to get here. On that note, the airport is expanding, to accommodate charter flights.
My guide/driver on Flores was Aloysius Sambut (“Alo”), who will arrange daytripping; diving and snorkeling off idyllic beaches, and Komodo (contact Alo through Forest Trails tour company.)
Flores is the jumping-off spot for Komodo National Park and for the water sports, which are world famous off the nearby islands. (If diving, take care to see the boat(s) before booking, and get recommendations from your hotel; some boats are old, beat-up wrecks, with old-beat-up dive equipment.)
As one-in-a-lifetime as the Komodo dragon sightings may be, spending a couple of hours walking in a dry, dusty forest on a HOT day to see mostly sleeping giant lizards, so you can take photos of them, is not my idea of a “must-do.” Nonetheless, if do it you must, you’ll enjoy the 1.5-hour fast-boat ride amid the dazzling blue waters of the archipelago. Also, the waters off the “pink beach” around the corner from the park entrance are delightful for swimming and snorkeling. For your daytrip to Komodo, take the fast boat, not one of the slow boats, which take forever and usually require an overnight stay, which is not likely to add to the enjoyment of your Komodo experience (the dragon islands are Rinca and Komodo).
On another day, a picnic, a swim and snorkeling on the coral reef off Angel Island is wonderful, and worth a several-hour stay––a veritable aquarium of tropical fish are waiting for you just a few feet off the beach. A small, pretty, upscale eco-resort with a scattering of small villas, Angel Island Resort makes for a romantic getaway and a chance to really enjoy the crystalline waters and the three island beaches. The resort has an SSI dive center, a fast dive boat and complete dive equipment, and you can take a private boat ride from here to Komodo National Park.
Melo Village in the Mbelong Mountains
Be sure to visit the village of Melo for a taste of Manggaraian culture in a spectacular mountain setting. Although a little touristy, this experience may be the highlight of your stay on Flores. The sound of a bamboo flute echoes across the valley and villagers turn out in costume to welcome you with palm wine in a shelter with a tamped mud floor.
After a short ceremony, the ritualized “whip”, bamboo stick and rice harvest dances begin, accompanied by women who play gong instruments and sing. Chanting in a sort of frenzy, young guys with animal skin shields and headdresses really get into the exciting, flamboyant ceremony of attacking each other with bamboo staffs.The kids are fun and the men and women are very sweet and sincere. The simple mountain village is clean, beautiful and verdant with vegetable gardens and flowers.
Tado is another village where Manggaraian dancing and cultural activities are offered.
Travel Sparks travel agency can arrange a guided visit to Melo Village, or you can take a local bus. Driving yourself up from Labuan Bajo enables you to see a few other mountain villages and enjoy the cool, green uplands and the zowie views.
To see the making of the gorgeous ikat-died textiles for which Indonesia is famous, plan a day or two in East Flores. There is a marketplace in the town of Maumere, and weavers’ villages nearby in Siika, Watublapi, Dokar. Ende and beyond. You can even stay at a weaving cooperative to watch every step of the arduous and complicated process of working with the raw materials, dying and weaving. Weavers from all over the world come to learn and be with the expert weavers of Lepo Lorun. Here is an idea of the spectacular sarongs, clothing, shawls, wall hangings and home accessories that are produced on Flores and throughout Indonesia.
Where to Stay on Flores: you won’t need a vehicle on Flores if you stay at a hotel that offers tours to Komodo, diving sites, snorkeling beaches, and villages.
Laprima Hotel: overlooking a beautiful bay, with 88 nice rooms and a nice pool terrace; complimentary full breakfast; restaurants and bar. Free airport transfer.
Jayakarta Suites Komodo Flores: 71-room upscale hotel with a gardeny swimming pool terrace, a PADI dive center, waterfront bar and restaurant, full-service spa, and fast boat to Komodo Island; free airport transport. Be there for the Saturday night al fresco buffet!
Disclosure: some of my adventures on Bali and Flores were sponsored by Tourism Indonesia. I think you’ll see in this article that I have been excruciatingly honest about the glories and the challenges of touring those islands.