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Labuhanbajo
Explosively growing fishermens village

During the tourist season in the summer of 1990, Labuhanbajo, along the western coast of Flores, was flooded by tourists All losmen and pensions were full, but the ferries continued to bring in tourists from Sape (Sumbawa), and busses continued to spit out visitors which came overland from Ruteng. Many words were said about new losmen and hotels, but only two were being constructed.

With that many tourists the people in Labuhanbajo have stopped staring at tourists. Even the children have enough of saying 'Turis! Turis!' and 'Hello mister!'.

At the end of the 1970's a tourist was something like a visitor from another planet. Many things have changed, good as well as bad. Nowadays Italian women in bikini get of the ferry without being worried about the feeling of the local Islamic fishermen. During a last visit there was not a single rat which tried to nose through my hair, and experience which I had 15 years ago, which I wouldn't prefer again.

Changing views

Unless the recent attention, Labuhanbajo in fact is a quiet fishery village. Most of the 3.000 residents earn a living on the water; the bay is full with spider-like trimarans, canoes in different sizes, sailboats and motorized boats. The bay, scattered with islands, is one of the nicest in entire Indonesia.

There still is a plan to tear down a part of the pillar dwellings between the road and the sea. Of course the residents are not happy with this 'improvement'. Until the time of demolishing - and maybe it will never happen - this is one of the best spots to overview the bay from the restaurant or one of the restaurants on the hill across the bay. The view during the sunsets is breathtaking.

For the best panoramic view on the harbor you have to climb the Pramuka, the hill just south of the village. Especially during sunsets the view can be extremely spectacular. The easiest way to climb the mountain is from the northern side.

Who likes nice panoramic views should certainly make a walk to Tanjung Waturamba, north of Labuhanbajo. Take the coastal road towards the north. Turn right at a road with several pillar dwellings. The road runs along the coast for another ten kilometers when you reach Tanjung Waturamba.

This peninsula, protected by the island of Seraja Besar, is the northwestern most tip of Flores. The road crosses an area where hotels are planned and the road should be improved by now.

Just outside Labuhanbajo you have a good view over the boats which have anchored and over the pillar dwellings. On your left side you will see a few panoramic views as far as about five kilometers from Labuhanbajo. Here, a hill - unofficially named Amelia Seaview - behind the Waicicu Bungalows gives a view over the sea in the east, where you can see a pearl farm, but also the already familiar islands and the sea in the west. From here it's about five kilometers to the most remote tip of the peninsula.

Explosive development

However the sound of the mosque still awakens religious and non-religious people every day before five in the morning, the character of Labuhanbajo is changing rapidly. Not only because of the arrival of the many tourists, mainly Europeans on their way to Komodo. Another important factor of the completion of the 136 kilometers of paved road to Ruteng, which has created new opportunities for the former remote fishery village. Daily there are several buses both ways, and they are always full.

Reo, located along the northern coast, still is the most important harbor of the district Manggarai, but the development in the environment of Labuhanbajo is fast.

Health care is improving (especially the fight against malaria) and now there is clean drinking water and electricity. There are gradually more elementary schools, Catholic as well as Islamic and public.


A number of families from Manggarai - mainly Catholics, which form a majority in the district - have settled in Labuhanbajo after the completion of the road. Some have important jobs in the fastly growing sub district of Komodo, of which Labuhanbajo is the main location. Others are farmers, which have left the crowded and remote hinterlands with governmental support. About three kilometers outside the village, along the main road, a new market can be found.

Corn, rice and manioc are the main products, but the farmers experiment with different trading crops: oranges, fruits, cacao and cashew nuts. The Catholics that settled here found another source of income: in the village of Kaper, five kilometers outside Labuhanbajo along the road to Ruteng, and a few other villages, they perform swip fights for the tourists. The fights are performed very good, under the sound of music.

Fishing

Before the construction of the road there were little farmers in Labuhanbajo: only a handful Bimanese which sold their products locally. Most of the population is fishermen. The village is named after it's Islamic fishers: Labuhan (harbor) Baja or Bajau; the fishermen are Bajau and Buginese. For them the good season is that of the southwestern monsoon, from October through March. They catch big amounts of squid which is salted and shipped to Singapore. Most of the year they fish in the dark nights with the help of lights, which attract fish. They hang out a fine net under the lights, which is raised when a big amount of fish has gathered. The nets are carried by bagan, fishing platforms with sails, a small hut and a double or even triple hull. With the help of the bagan fish is caught in a big diversity.

In the meanwhile growing seaweed has become a commercially interesting thing as well. Twigs seaweed, attached to a line, are connected to the seafloor, or on a floating platform. The seaweed grows best in shallow and quiet waters. Fishermen collect trochus shells to extend their income. There are two pearl farms, one on the island of Rinca, the other on mainland Flores, in the environment of the landing strip of Labuhanbajo.

Stone forest

In the hilly area south of Labuhanbajo, on a place which is named Dataran Lemes, are several stonified trees. The trip to it isn't fun. Follow the main road towards the south from Labuhanbajo and turn right after eight kilometers; with another ten kilometers you will arrive at the stonified forest. By foot this trip takes three hours. An alternative is a rented jeep.

Just after the turn you cross the river Wai Capi. During a short trip, near the villages of Kampung Capi and Tanah Dereng, the road is in pretty good condition. Here, an irrigation project is planned for growing 4000 hectares of wet rice fields. After this flat area the road gets worse. After passing two villages you reach Kampung Benteng, named after the fortress that stood here some time ago.

The stonified forest is located one kilometer ahead. You will see some remains between smooth rocks and besides a path, a little ahead, you can see bigger parts. The best piece, which looks like one single tree stem in parts, is located on top of a hill. On one piece you can still see something of a bark, the rest is taken away by tourists. Who is planning on visiting the 'forest' is advised to hire a guide through the Bajo Beach Hotel. Otherwise it's possible you spend a lot of time looking at small parts.

Mirror caves

A much more easy and even more affording excursion is the trip to the Batu Cermin caves. (Stone Mirror). They are located at the end of a four kilometer road which starts just outside Ruteng and is especially built for accessing the caves. From the parking lot it's several hundred meters to the two entrances. In the big and partially open spaces stalactites and stalagmites have formed in places. Where the roof is gone, long tree roots hang down.

Sunlight only enters the caves between about 9.30 and 10.30. During weekends the cave attracts loads of visitors from the environment. Witnesses of that are the graffiti and litter left behind.

Snorkeling near white beaches

Around the islands off the coast of Labuhanbajo you can snorkel and swim, but just lying on the beach being lazy is also possible; bikinis are allowed on these remote islands. The boat from Labuhanbajo takes just over 15 minutes to get to these islands.

But natural-born-snorklers can better go to the Sebolo islands, one hour away, where you have a big chance of seeing reef sharks, sea turtles and other deep-sea life. But most people will be happy with the very white beach of the island of Bidadari. The reef of the coast has a big diversity of inhabitants, among them big tropical fish. A rocky mini-island off the coast, about 100 meters of the beach, is home to several Napoleon-fish.

It's possible to swim to Pulau Serang, a small rocky island about 250 meters of the coast. Think about the currents! There is little fish and coral, but along the western side there are several interesting and shallow caves. The biggest attractions are the small water tunnels, through which you can swim from one side to another side of the island.

Across Pulau Serang is Pulau Sakure with a white sandy beach at the southern side. Here you find several soft corals and interesting fish. It's the only place on Sakure where you can snorkel good enough, because the coral at other places - and with that all sea life - has been destroyed by fishing with dynamite. From Labuhanbajo Sakure seems to be a part of Pulau Bajo, the most northern island. Only when you sail along is, you can see that they are separate islands.

'Monkey island'

A small island of the coast west of the harbor - Pulau Monyet (Monkey Island) - got it's name because of the crab-eating monkeys which sometimes go here when it's low tide. Across the bay is a rocky bald cape. There are also some scattered islands, of which the slopes are covered in dry grass and a single tree.


    
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