Our original plan had been to travel east from Labuan Bajo by chartered taxi but it appeared that prices had shot up, and it would cost almost twice what we expected. £60 per day for the four days it would take to reach Moni (allowing for stops and detours) was too much. I discovered that we could fly to Bajawa or Ende, thus cutting out 2 or 3 of the driving days, but we would miss the scenery in between, which was the whole point of going. It would leave Kelimutu, a volcano with 3 crater lakes of different colours, as the only reason to go. The trouble was, as soon as we flew east from Labuan Bajo it would mean at least two more flights to get back to Bali, either via Kupang in Timor, or back to LB, or via Maumere if anyone was doing that route (I couldn’t find any definite information). Was it worth it?
In the end we concluded it wasn’t. We’d gone to Flores for a specific reason and while Kelimutu looked interesting, we’d never actually heard of it before researching the island – going there wasn’t a lifelong dream. Given the impending expense and busy itinerary of Australia what we really wanted was a cheap and relaxing period, so we decided to head back to Bali.
But the flights to Bali were all full. Labuan Bajo’s visitor numbers have been increasing by 30% a year recently, so it’s no longer possible to just rock up at the airport and get on – we were stuck in Labuan Bajo for an extra two days.
Another day trip was therefore in order. Being a less than confident swimmer Mr Vagabond has never been enthusiastic about snorkeling – quite often I’ve gone on my own, leaving him to find a drier pastime. But now that he had a GoPro camera there was the opportunity to try some underwater shots, so he agreed to give it another try. We booked a snorkelling excursion to the islands of Kanawa and Bidadari, trying our late booking trick again in the hope of calling the shots on the timing. However, when we arrived at the office the next morning we found 2 young couples trying on flippers. Oh well, it meant we got a substantial refund on the price of the trip.
It was only an hour to Kanawa and we pulled in close to the resort, a collection of bamboo huts behind an open air restaurant and bar. The price of rooms here is outrageous for the standard, but for a snorkeling enthusiast the location would be hard to beat. The reef is wider than at Bidadari, and the water even clearer. There were a couple of dozen other snorkelers but the boats waited away from the beach and there was plenty of room for everybody.
With Mr V happily pootling around near the beach I went to explore the edge of the reef. The upwelling cold water attracts different fish from the warm shallows, and I love swimming out over the drop-off into the deep water – it’s like flying. On the way back in I began to appreciate why the Sape Strait is not regarded as a good place for novice divers. At low tide the tops of the coral platforms were uncomfortably close to the surface: at times I found myself wondering how I had got where I was, and which was the easiest way out. Luckily the water was calm, but as the tide turned a strong current started to flow from the south as the Indian Ocean poured back through the strait into the Flores Sea.
I couldn’t see Mr V when I got back to the beach. Puzzled, I walked around to the restaurant in case he was having a sneaky beer but he wasn’t there. Eventually I spotted someone standing and waving half way across the reef. I wasn’t even sure that it was him at first, but as I swam nearer I could see that he was waving a flipper – not a good sign. You don’t take your flippers off when you’re in the middle of a reef. Sure enough, there had been a mishap. The strong current that I had experienced had swept him over a high area of coral and, lacking experience, instead of making himself as flat as possible and just kicking with his ankles, he had used his legs to try to swim away, gashing them on the coral and losing a flipper.
With him walking and me swimming to scout a coral-free route we picked our way back to the beach, and once on the boat doused his knees, shins and feet with drinking water. Although there were a lot of cuts luckily none were deep and they stopped bleeding quite quickly – there was no first aid kit on board, so little more we could do.
If we’d been on our own we would probably have asked to go straight back to Labuan Bajo, but Mr V’s injuries weren’t serious enough to demand that the others forgo their second snorkeling stop, so the boat headed for Bidadari as planned. After Kanawa it was a bit disappointing though, and I couldn’t even find the electric blue coral that I’d seen before
Back in the tour company’s office we had to pay for the missing flipper. It had been made clear before we left that we would be charged for lost equipment and it was understandable – replacements have to be sent from Bali and unfortunately it had been a brand new pair. Lessons learned: make sure your flippers fit tightly, and snorkeling has its risks even close to the beach. Mr V’s cuts are all healed now, but I’m not expecting him to try snorkeling again any time soon.