Labuan Bajo, Futures, and Believing

Sunday, October 30, 2016


Realization is invariably ushered in by a parade of forgettable events. There's a limbo of some sorts, where memories are mostly smudged and runny, between elated forgetfulness and dreadful remembrance. Lunch at Tree Top was this limbo. It was my ninth day in Indonesia and here we were in a homey restaurant in the Nusa Tengara region, in Labuan Bajo – a small fishing village at the western end of Flores island. Five things were all I could recall from this meal: 1) Marcos saying that my stomach looked like it was always "flexed", to which I merely shrugged, 2) how happy I was upon seeing Vesta, our head travel consultant, who last joined us in Bandung, 3) my lens cap flying across a flight of stairs and me almost dropping my plateful of kropuk and fried fish, 4) making Indomie plans with Vindhya, Febry, and Mariza, and 5) being taken to a tour of the soon-to-rise bed-and-breakfast just behind Tree Top, to a spot facing the harbor where the sunset was apparently best viewed. But all these and everything else sped past like the LRT; I standing by, barely comprehending the montage of faces and things, eagerly waiting for the next train to arrive. There was the Doppler Effect, for sure; the slight variation in the series, but nothing – emotional-wise – that was truly remarkable. By then, the admission made in Lombok was swiftly taking full effect. All I could think of was exhaustion. And so, when we checked in at Laprima Hotel later, I did nothing but lie down and stare beyond the glass doors in my room, basking at the waning light.
where to eat in labuan bajo

where to stay in labuan bajo

where to stay in labuan bajo

The surroundings were already in sepia when we went to Paradise Bar for afternoon snacks. The place had a veranda jutting out off a cliff, adorned by kalachuchi trees and the sharp, clean smell of the ocean. From here, strips of land from both sides stretched like arms as if in embrace. Hills and a sprinkle of islets cut the vastness of the water.  The dock was decorated by commercial ferries and luxurious yachts. A vessel occasionally plies, briefly disturbing the smooth glittering sheet that is the Sumba Strait. I watched a strip of gold emerge across the silvery surface, growing in length as the sun dipped slowly on the horizon. All of a sudden, I was glad, for this change of pace was much needed. Downtime finally, I thought over chicken nuggets and fries. (Looking back, this was the only time I was able to really think.) The past days  converged into a whirlwind and the emotions finally caught up. They came as the sun faded out and the sky of violets and reds turned to black. First was the exhaustion, but it was evaporating now, and then there was the realization that soon this trip of wonders would just become another memory. I was sad, of course, but glad too. One charm of traveling is the prospect of returning home. And I knew in my heart I would be back in Indonesia very soon.
where to eat labuan bajo
Photo by Marcos Caratao

what to do in labuan bajo

Read: To Indonesia, With Love

After light had gone, we proceeded to have dinner. Sheila, Marcos, and I snuck out to walk around town; me with the main intention of getting some Chitato. When I got back to my room in La Prima, I panicked upon finding out that there wasn't any dental kit in the bathroom. My toothbrush was in my other bag that was now in Bali. Thank goodness for Nila who had a spare. I was then able to get ready for bed and dialed Kaye, my bestfriend, and told her how I liked this day, how I loved Chitato and that I'd bring her some.

Read: A Brief Affair with Bali and Alila Seminyak

The next two days were spent in the vastness of the ocean and the lands in between. In the islands of Komodo and Rinca, we had several close encounters with the Komodo dragon. We learned its mating patterns, what it eats, and how the lack of other predators contributed to its massive size. In Kelor, Kanawa, and Taka Massar, I halfheartedly did some snorkeling. Halfheartedly only because I don't like being in the water, not because I did not find these places beautiful – they were. I really liked Pink Beach, in fact. Its rosy shores curved subtly and looked so magnificent from the hills that surround it. The water was really nice here too. I even enjoyed swimming and snorkeling with Sheila. But of all the islands we've visited those couple of days, my favorite was Padar.
komodo national park

komodo national park

what to do in labuan bajo
Kelor Island

what to do in labuan bajo
Kanawa Island
what to do in labuan bajo
Pink Beach

The name rolls of my tongue and, even at this moment, still leaves a delightful taste in my mouth. Having traveled all over the Philippines, I was no stranger to breathtaking islands, but Padar was different. For one thing, there was trekking involved. Seeing the winding trail, I thought, "My limbs are made for terrains like this, for inclines and slopes and ridges." The trail was short, but the soil was loose and there was hardly any tree cover. But let me tell you now, like a lost soul finally returning home, it is all worth it.
When you reach a certain spot farther up the island, look back. You are there in the middle. To your right is Padar's pebbly beach which gives way to a deep aquamarine sea; to your left, two coves – one with pink sands, the other opening up to less calm waters. Three beautiful bays in total, separated by a spine of jagged mountains and hills.
what to do in labuan bajo

Standing there in that spot, I took lungfuls of air; each breath an attempt to memorize the details, an effort to shape its intricacies into a string of thoughts I could go over like a rosary.

Oh, how big, how blue, how beautiful.

Read: The Sights and Sounds of Bandung

And as what is now a running theme in this 12-day journey, I did not want to leave. I looked at the untarnished blue skies, contemplating how beautiful it would look like at night with the stars turning and the moon shining down. 

"My friend has a photo of the stars taken from here," Mariza shared, as if reading my thoughts. She's a local influencer who seemed reserved but in her eyes was a fire that burns for adventure. "I'm so jealous of that photo."

"Oh," I said, a thought clicking; an idea forming. "So camping's allowed?"

Mariza inclined her head. "Not sure. Maybe."

"Let's return here and spend the night if it's allowed. So we can get that photo."

Mariza smiled like I was humoring her. 

"I'm serious. We'll bring Indomie."

"Sounds like a plan," she said finally. 

I ask you now: How can I not go back to Indonesia? When camping in Padar, feasting on Indomie (and Chitato), is bound to happen at some point in the future? Besides, Mariza swore she'd help me check test papers if I bring them to Yogyakarta. My other noodle buddies, Mommy Febry and Vindhya, would surely join us too.

Read: 5 Cool Places to Dine in Bandung

Possible realities aside, when I glided my way down the trail, back to the beach where our dingy was tethered, my heart broke. A few steps from the trailhead, I saw heaps of trash.

I turned to Vesta. "We should've brought garbage bags."

She assured me that men would come in to collect the trash. I sure hope so, because I would be so devastated if Padar became another casualty in the war with litterers. But, like I said, Indonesia's heart is in the right place. She has my trust. 

Even back at my room at La Prima that night, I couldn't shake the beauty of Padar from my mind. Later on, Vesta and I would have a fascinating conversation – one of my favorites, as it was fluid, organic, springing out of nowhere – about this experience.

Read: Of Lombok and Admissions

When the heart is filled with emotions, some may spill from the eyes, said a line from Mulan. And such was the case with Padar. Rarely do I shed tears for beautiful places now, having seen so many. I'd feared I was no longer capable of appreciation, that the extraordinary had become commonplace and had lost its charm, or perhaps I have seen my lot of beautiful landscapes. But Padar brought me so easily to tears. 
what to do in labuan bajo
Photo by Marcos Caratao

I am not religious. There are far too many times I doubted God. But when faced with magnificence unfathomable and overwhelming in nature, my belief is unfailingly reaffirmed. In the sweet embrace of the island of Padar, the ocean calm, and the sky and the hands of lost loved ones seemingly within reach, I'd whispered a thank you. God is in the folds of the mountains of that island. There in the deep, deep blue of the bays is a piece of God's soul. You can hear God's voice in the distant lapping of the waves. And in the breeze careening towards you, ruffling your hair, is God saying, "I am here in this very spot, with you."

It's a rare and curious thing, when sheer beauty moves you into believing. So, if you go to Padar and tell me you did not feel this, forgive me, but I will simply not believe you. 

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