First Time On Troubled Waters – Padar Island – Komodo Bay – Flores
We woke up bright and early, ready to check out of our hostel. We were due to meet our boatmates at the Alexandra travel shop, a hundred metres up the road, before boarding a boat and heading to Kanawa Island, Manta Point and then Padar Island. The only issue was that we were due to do it at 7am. Another early start.
We made it on time, and were soon joined by a group that would represent half of our band of boaters. We picked out snorkelling gear and walked down to the the harbour, where the boat was moored. I don’t know a great deal about boats, but this one was currently above water, which I considered was a good sign.
We boarded and dropped off our bags, which sat on the lower (but still open) deck. Progress was slow leaving the harbour, apparently we weren’t the only people attempting to get out to sea at this ungodly hour, and the other boats exiting past us didn’t leave a lot of room for manoeuvre.
Eventually we made it out to open water, crossing over to our first port of call – the term port, in this case, being used very loosely. We were roughly the fourth boat lashed on to a number of other boats in turn lashed onto a small pier running out into the water. We pulled up amongst the other, fancier looking boats, feeling a little like the group that had brought a beetle to a formula one race. Their boats were kitted out with beanbags and mattresses on the top deck, whereas ours was purely the wood that made up the roof of the boat.
The idea was to debark to do some snorkelling here, but as Laura had a tattoo a few days before, she wasn’t able to go in the sea. I stayed with her for moral support because I am thoroughly thoughtful and virtuous, and not even slightly because of the fact that I nearly drowned only metres from the shore on my previous attempt at snorkelling.
This was a pity, as the water was a beautiful shade of blue, and apparently the coral that laid beneath the waves was beautiful and full of fishes. There were also black tip sharks visible in amongst the coral. Laura and I used the opportunity to do some sunbathing, as despite the fact we’d been out in Southeast Asia for a month and a half, neither of us had managed to get beyond a slight patchy tan.
Soon enough everyone rejoined us on the boat careening off to our next destination – assuming it’s possible to careen at about 10 miles per hour. Arriving somewhere in the region of Manta Ray Point, the boat dropped its anchor and everyone jumped out to go for another snorkelling session. Sadly there were no manta rays to be seen here, although we probably wouldn’t have had much of a view from our vantage point on the top deck of the boat. Andrea, the marine biologist who happened to be among the tourists on our cruise was very effusive about the diversity on show in the coral though. Laura and I continued to lay out in the sun. We started to crisp.
After picking everyone else up, we made our way over a slightly calmer sea to Flying Fox Point, an absolutely stunning set of coves that sits on Pulau Padar (the local name for Padar Island), an island between Komodo and Rinca. Flying Fox Point appeared on most of the advertising that we’d seen in Labuan Bajo for tours, usually with a Komodo dragon photoshopped into the foreground. During wet season, each cove is meant to be a separate colour, showing off pink, white and black hues at once. Although as we arrived in dry season, this would not be the case for us. We jumped off the boat into water that looked deceptively shallow but came up to thigh height – possibly writing off a pair of earphones in the process. We headed up the white sandy beach, which was soon exchanged for brown desolate scrub as we started to climb the hill to reach the famous vista.
After Mount Batur at 2am the climb on Padar Island was brief and fairly straightforward, although swelteringly hot from our exposed position, as we reached the first (and most famous) of Flying Fox Point’s views on our path. We got a couple of photos – capturing an array of blues – at this point only competing with the rest of our boat to get pictures. This made a nice change from the relative insanity of everywhere else we’d visited in Indonesia, which teemed with tourists at every turn, and photographing any feature was made more complex by the abundance of people looking to take multiple selfies with it.
Ascending further there were some questionable parts where the path had partially fallen, giving way to a sharp drop into the sea down below. There was also no real guide to speak of, as our group had spread out and Thomas – our handler on the boat – had stayed a little further down. Ascending beyond a certain point was very much at your own risk. This was one of the first times that I had felt a little concern at the lack of health and safety culture in South East Asia. I was fine, as I’d anticipated climbing Mount Kinabalu, and had over prepared on the footwear front, but climbing down in a pair of trainers was a much more daunting prospect.
Reaching the false peak – which had caught me out as I continued in the hope of scaling something – I was dismayed to find that it didn’t offer a better view of all three coves. However, the view out over the Eastern part of the Island and to Komodo beyond was sublime.
The descent was rather more arduous than the climb, as the loose stones and dusty path made for fairly treacherous going, particularly when combined with the threat of a sharp drop.
Eventually we made it back to the boat, and we soon shipped off to our destination for the night – a bay in the island of Komodo that offered protection from the waters of Komodo straits.
The crossing from Padar to Komodo was amongst the most unpleasant experiences of my life. The tour doesn’t always make the trip around the southern coast of Padar as a fearsome current combined with inclement weather conditions can cause boats to get into problems.
We rounded the bottom of the island shortly before sunset, and were treated to some wonderful views of the shear cliffs that we had climbed just shortly before.
However, reaching open water we ended up crossing at 90 degrees to both current and wind, the effect being sizeable waves crashing into the side of the boat. The boat rolled against roil after roil, every third wave beating against the side and sending us into a disconcerting lean as all of the passengers – who had been taking in the view on the top – deck scrabbled for grip, each stomach churning roll prompting a new set of expressions of anguish and nervous laughter from the group. The only exception being Andrea, who, considering her vocation, had a sturdier pair of sea legs than the rest of us.
On one particularly gut-wrenching occasion, all of us lurched to the right, which felt like it was perilously close to tipping the boat. Fortunately, in our lying down positions, we were able to hold on. Whilst there were barriers along the side of the boat, I had no intention of trusting my life to a length of 2 x 4 and some nails of suspect quality.
The trip was made longer by the fact that the driver had to turn the boat to ameliorate some of the effects of the large waves, resulting in us ending up someway back from the straightest possible route, entering the bay further north than originally planned.
Eventually, and mercifully, the terrible surf of the strait gave way to calmer waters of Komodo bay. We’d made it, and were shocked to find that our ordeal taking place under the final vestiges of daylight had only lasted about 45 minutes and that the time of arrival was only 7pm. There was a collective feel of relief as the boat dropped anchor for the final time that day.
We found out the following day that in the eyes of the crew, the crossing had been very rough, and Thomas – our captain – sternly told the boat heading the opposite way that they would not be able to visit Padar Island as it would be too dangerous for their ship. Their ship was only slightly smaller than ours.
We ate dinner and played spoons as a group (incidentally, this was my first time playing spoons), and soon enough were ready to turn in for bed. We slept on the deck of the boat, on some plastic-clad mattresses (mattresses being a very generous description of what were essentially gym mats). Wrapped up in my hoodie, I managed to get a surprisingly good nights sleep on the hard deck of the boat.