By the time I made it out of the Papuan highlands, I found it very easy to convince myself that I was due for a little relaxation. The past 9 months had been full of adventures and plenty of interesting experiences but now I was craving a little time eating good food and spending the last of my 2 weeks being horizontal on some white sand. I had my flight to Bali booked and looked forward to some easy days ahead.
Bali has a reputation as one of the worlds great tropical island getaways but upon arriving in the dirty congested and hassle infested streets in Kuta, I began to wonder just what everyone was raving about. Kuta is where everyone heads to upon arriving in Bali due to its proximity to the airport and is also known as Party Central of the island. Blaring disco’s jossle for space with massive resorts and tacky tourist vendors attacking everyone in hopes of making a sale of their junk. I hated it! I was faced with a decision to move to a quieter part of the island to spend my last few precious weeks (in Bali’s defense, Amed and Lovina are supposed to be nice) or head off to another far flung corner of this amazing country. My time on the beach was going to have to wait as I opted for the latter and purchased a flight out the next day to Labuanbajo, the gateway to Komodo National Park.
I had heard some rumours about the incredible diving in the waters just off shore in Komodo and this was my primary draw but also the chance to walk amongst the unique Komodo dragons was certainly going to be a once in lifetime chance. My feet on the ground in Labuanbajo, Flores I liked what I found. An actual Indonesian fishing town lined with a single street of dive shops and a couple backpacker-esque restaurants and locals smiling ear to ear in greeting and I felt a million miles from the nightmare that is Kuta.
It took a little searching to find a suitable place to stay as their seemed to be a lack of accommodation options in Labuanbajo with most of the backpackers staying in Gardena which only had one very sad looking room available for what I thought was an overpriced rate. In fact, all the accommodation options in Labuanbajo seemed slightly overpriced for what they offered but eventually I was happy with a room I found for 12 USD at Bajo Beach.
I signed up to do some diving the day following with Bajo Dive Club since it was recommended to me back in Sri Lanka by some friends we met. I spent the remainder of my day talking to some dive masters from another shop in the small breakfast restaurant and getting acquainted with speaking the English language to native speakers again.
When it came time to dive, I was pleased to see our boat had only 6 or so other divers which makes things far more enjoyable underwater when you are not bumping into each other for space trying to look at a 1 inch long nudibranch. Our first site to dive was Manta Point which was going to be a shallow drift dive over a Manta Ray cleaning station where the giant rays come to be cleaned by small fish called cleaner wrasse. Having dived multiple sites in the past where these rays are occasionally seen and been unlucky thus far, I had my fingers crossed that here in Komodo I would see my first. Upon entering the water, the site is less than thrilling as most of the coral is damaged and pretty boring to look at. It was clear this site was going to be one of those where you are looking for nothing but the main attraction which the site is named after. After 20 minutes or so I was discouraged and felt the dive was going to be a bust, but just then out of the blue came 4 Mantas gracefully swimming against the current as they moved past us with ease. These would be the only manta’s we would see on the dive but everyone was ecstatic over it and I felt the dive was a great success.
The second site for the day was at Batu Balong, a small island with huge currents ripping by but was reportedly one of the best sites in Komodo. This time I learned why Komodo is commonly referred to as one of the best places in the world for diving. My neck was sore by the end for the entire dive I did not know where to look with coral gardens stretching as far as an eye could see.
There were large groupers, sweet lips and sharks crusing around in the deeper holes and psychedilic nudibranches and crabs hiding amongst the the fluroescent corals. What did it for me though was the sheer number of fish swimming surrounding our group of divers. It was an amazing dive and I craved more and immediately signed up for another days diving when we arrived back at the shop.
Everyone from the day before had moved on and I found myself the next day with just one other diver who had never seen Manta’s and hoped we could go to Manta Point. I wasn’t going to miss a second chance to dive with such an amazing animal and so I agreed it would be fine with me to go again on our second dive of the day. The first dive was at Tatawa Besar and was another sensory overload of colours with pleasent currents and plenty of biodiversity. My dive buddy was hellbent on seeing the manta’s and when we arrived at manta point and the rays were thowing themselves out of the water (think 4 meter pancake coming out of the water) we were both pumped to get in there. Thinking things could not get better than seeing four the day before I was again proved wrong. While hanging on to the bottom to remain still in the current we had a large manta pass infront of us before moving into the blue and returning back this time right over our heads.
In the end our manta total was 6 rays including a few black tip reef sharks as an added bonus. We had signed up for the three dives that day and after lunch we headed over to Tatawa Kecil aka Current City, a name that should not be taken lightly. Already a little tired from the previous dives the current on the third site was a sharp reminded of why we need to respect the ocean and despite my confidence in the water, I am not the most experienced diver and for the majority of the dive, struggled with the currents while also trying to admire the underwater life.
I returned completely exhausted but still made it out for a little socializing in one of the few western restaurants serving up pizza and plenty of cold beer which was the perfect way to finish an already perfect day.