My taxi picks me up at 05.45 and makes its way out of Ubud, swerving between stray dogs, mopeds and women carrying stocks from the morning market on their head. I am surprisingly sad to leave my little hideaway, Suryawan homestay. It was clean, spacious, with great owners and nice house guests from Jordan, Netherlands and America. For a brief moment we were a little family, under the supervision of Ayuk, our landlady. For £6 a night. At the airport I get to talking to Sergio, a Milanese man who looks like an overgrown schoolboy, is a hospital clerk and has travelled extensively all over the world. He shows me 100 pictures of the volcanoes he has visited and has his entire 30-day trip organised in a ring binder. We share a taxi to Labuan Bajo and find a hotel together. He gets a bit intense and I sneak off.
I am now in Flores, with Komodo National Park just off the coast - home to the famous Komodo dragon, and some of the best diving in the world. Two oceans meet here, and deep upswells of cool water meet warm tropical pools making it an epicentre for biodiversity, with big and small wonders to experience under the surface. Labuan Bajo is the base for all dive and snorkel excursions and it’s where everyone stays - but is it a depressing place. The town consists of one long, dirty, poor and busy main road lined with dive shops and basic hotels, separating the harbour from the mountains beyond. I spend the afternoon in a Mediterranean restaurant, finding a friend in my table neighbour Maxim from Paris. It’s strange to be somewhere that feels like the edge of the world and yet hear Italian, French, English, Dutch and German being spoken. Outside my window I can see six naked little boys, all brown, all the same size, that jump into the water from a desolate fishing boat. It’s boiling hot and there is no other place to cool off.
I go about changing my depressing hotel. Short exercise in the results to be had by shopping around in South-East Asia:
B&B 1- 200, 000 rupiah (£13):
Uninterested staff, with the rooms atop a steep hill in the middle of building site, no air conditioning, cold water shower, bucket to flush the toilet, walls made of bamboo with gaps at the edges, no sink. Naked long life bulbs in the ceiling. Staff remind me three times (and there is also a sign in the room) to lock all doors and windows at night because there is no security. The window, however, won’t close.
B&B 2- 375,000 rupiah (£25)
Smiling staff, help carrying bags to the room, large bright room with air condition, TV, two chairs and a table, phone to reception, nice normal newly renovated hotel bathroom, hot water shower and large sink, Wifi in room! And then they knock on the door to give me a welcome drink.
I go in search of a dive operator, hoping against all odds that there is a liveabord trip departing tomorrow, with room for one more. I am extremely lucky to find that being the case, in one of the highest rate dive shops. Dive Komodo, into doing a trip starting tomorrow. We will stay on the boat for three days and dive together with a small group and instructors. It allows you to see many different dive spots in the big national park and also see the dragons. It’s expensive but I’m so glad I made it happen. I am told stories of schools of giant manta rays.
In the evening Maxime takes me to a night market he’s found, for some cheap street food. The world must be shrinking, because I run into Chloe from my Borneo trip. It’s a dear reunion and the night market offers some really good food. Later we go to the Treetop café, lie on cushions drinking fresh melon juice and watching the boats in the marina. It's nice to meet new friends.
Tomorrow my last adventure for this trip beckons.