(View from Bintang Flores Hotel)
A mere three weeks ago I was on the remote eastern Indonesian island of Flores, staying in a comfortable 4-star hotel in Labuan Bajo, the Bintang Flores, which overlooked a “squatters” camp which had
no fresh water or electricity but which shared the view over the sea. The children played happily.
Today I am a world away on the glitzy and glamorous Gold Coast of Australia visiting friends. And while I enjoy a view over a scenic canal bordered by luxurious mansions my mind returns to beautiful Flores and a world filled with gentle people who need little in life but their families, their health and a few rupiah to buy rice for their bowls.
It is difficult not to be cynical when I compare these two very diverse worlds. But I actually feel more lucky because I am content in both. When I first arrived at Labuan Bajo I found the poverty confronting. The streets, where they were paved, were dirty and filled with rubbish which nestled in amongst drying fish, covered in flies, and tired fresh vegetables and fruits wilting in the sun. The stench of fish was oppressive. The fishing village of approximately 12,000 people was the poorest environment I had every encountered.
The Squatters Camp
I was on Flores with my companion, Damien, to visit the Komodo National Park. It is a UNESCO heritage site which apart from the unique Komodo dragons is filled with a marine wonderland, the likes of which I have never seen before. The snorkeling opportunities were boundless. We were able to go out with our German dive master and other divers and snorklers four times. During the days in between we jumped on a motorbike and explored Labuan Bajo and surrounds. And slowly, but surely, my eyes and my mind became more accustomed to the sights and smells. My “cultural compass” found its bearings.
After a couple of days I found myself waving to the little children who called out a raucous “hello” to me as I passed. We all laughed together and shared our delight when the sun peeped out from the heavy rain clouds which typify this region during the “wet” season.
And I also found myself wanting to visit the markets with the dying fruit and vegetables as the innate “foodie” in me longed to find out which spices complemented which fish and rice dish. We had massages at a centre for sight and hearing impaired people…the most wonderful massage for me by a girl with no hearing but the broadest smile and shining eyes who recognized me with a wave whenever our paths crossed in the village.
Labuan Bajo village, from the motorbike
After our nine days we farewelled our gentle hotel staff and made our way to the little airport. To our initial horror we found that we would not be flying as our local airline had gone bankrupt that morning! So after making arrangements to fly with another airline the following day we returned to our hotel, checked that all was as we had sadly left it two hours earlier – the familiar “squatters” camp, the stunning ocean views – and settled down very happily for another day in a poor, but particularly perfect, paradise.
A bankrupted airline?