We knew that our guesthouse wouldn’t be the best we’d experienced – tourist numbers in Labuan Bajo have grown faster than the accommodation supply, so it’s very overpriced. Our room had hot water and A/C, but it was bare and shabby, and not especially clean. It was also very, very noisy.
I don’t normally mind early morning prayer calls – they don’t last very long and I fall asleep again quite quickly. But here was different. For a start, the mosque was next door. It actually sounded as though the speaker of their PA system was in our bathroom. And it was Ramadan, so instead of a short prayer call around 05:30 we had a “wake up and eat breakfast now” call at 04:40, which consisted of a Qu’ran recitation for a good 20 minutes (although it was quite melodic). I’d just about fall back to sleep after that, when the actual prayer call was made (different guy, not melodic at all). Then I’d be woken again by what I assume was a “stop eating now” call.
Breakfast in the Casa Selini started at 07:00, so that’s when the staff switched on the stereo, about 2ft from our bedroom window, and the first of many, many repetitions of the same few tracks began. The only variety was provided by one of the staff singing along – but they would actually sing a completely different song, in Indonesian, and badly.
Then there was the traffic. With the one way system, every car, minibus and truck that came into Labuan Bajo had to drive past the Casa Selini, along with the vast majority of the motorcycles. The minibuses were bemos, a kind of share taxi, and their method of drumming up business was to honk their horn at every single pedestrian, just in case they might hop aboard.
The lunchtime, afternoon and sunset prayer calls were mercifully short, but then we were treated to more Qu’ran recitation – not, unfortunately, by Melodic Guy, but by what sounded like a tone deaf 10 year old boy. For TWO HOURS. At maximum volume. It was purgatory, and I pondered which of Labuan Bajo’s few shops might sell wirecutters.
The only respite was to go out. Labuan Bajo is not exactly a nightlife hotspot but there was a place called the Lounge, from which emanated loud music that was only marginally less irritating than the mosque. We headed instead for one of the restaurants that faced out over the bay, of which there was a surprising number – almost all were aimed at tourists, and one in particular appeared to be a rather cliquey hangout for divers.
Casa Selini is Greek owned and its restaurant serves Greek food, kind of – as best it can with such limited supplies. It wasn’t great. There are also several Italian places – a couple are quite famous but were beyond our budget, so we adopted the more modest La Cucina as our regular place. It was run by a young Italian couple who made their own bread, which was served gratis with balsamic vinegar and good olive oil in cute little cans. Goodness knows where they get their supplies, and I bet they have to keep a close eye on those cans. When we were feeling particularly parsimonious we went instead to Warung Mama, a simple place perched above the main road where you just point at which of the dishes you want on your plate. No beer here, so dinner for two came to about £3.
Wherever we ate, we of course had to return to Casa Selini to grab what sleep we could before 04:40, when the cycle started all over again. I couldn’t live in Labuan Bajo – not during Ramadan anyway. I imagine the town’s indigenous population of Flores Catholics aren’t too chuffed either, since the Muslim population of the town are almost all fairly recent migrants from Java. I don’t know what sparks the sporadic and sometimes very violent instances of communal friction in Indonesia, but noise would do it for me.