Happily, we caught our flight to Flores without a hitch. We were relieved when it turned out our plane was a rather new jet instead of the old, propeller plane we'd feared. Though, it must be noted, we had our doubts about our safety as each passenger and their baggage was carefully weighed and we noticed several passengers hiding their carry-on bags to avoid being charged excess baggage fees. When the plane began to land and we couldn't see a runway anywhere, we feared the worst. Eventually, the runway was found, but was nearly too short for the plane. We stopped just before we ran out of runway.
The hour flight to Labuon Bajo was very scenic with many small islands and coral reefs, when the clouds didn't obscure our view. And, the town of Labuon Bajo (population ~15,000) was much prettier than expected. Set in the hills overlooking a beautiful harbor, there were several good hotels and restaurants in this tiny town, which even had partial sidewalks!
Organized a daytrip to visit the island of Rinca (opted to skip the multi-day trip that would have also taken us to Komodo as fears of rough seas and hot conditions overwhelmed our desire to explore more of this world heritage site). While we didn't make it to Komodo, luckily, the closer island of Rinca (part of the same park) gave us plenty of opportunity to see the Komodo dragons.
We hired a boat (along with a friend, Kevin, who we met on the plane) to Rinca and left early in the morning to avoid the heat of the day. Being the first tourists to the park had huge advantages as our ranger-guide took us to a watering hole that we would have to ourselves for nearly an hour. Much drama was unfolding at this watering hole. A buffalo, that had been bitten or broken his leg ~6 days ago, was standing in the water on the brink of collapse. Surrounded by ~10 hungry dragons, he could not rest. As soon as the buffalo would lay down, dragons would approach to see if he was ready to eat. They would probe him with their tongues (we even saw the oldest, hungriest-looking dragon try to bite him) until he would get up and force their retreat. We were torn between wanting to see his suffering end, and dreading it. In the end, other tourists arrived and it was their turn to watch the drama. We continued with our 5 km hike (that had begun at the ranger's kitchen where many dragons visited and taken us past nesting sites where we saw a dragon looking for eggs -they're cannibals). The trail revealed beautiful views of the island (mostly grassland, though sparsely forested with palm and fig trees) and sea below. Fantastic experience! The dragons are much bigger (and we got much closer to them) than we expected. We finished the day with some snorkeling in the afternoon (John saw lion fish and a turtle, Christy was too busy getting jellyfish stings to notice).
Our time in Flores was very short, but we loved it. This is a place we would like to return someday. People here were so friendly and proud of their islands (they are beautiful!). Indonesia is so huge and diverse. Seems like we could have spent months here and not run out of things to see. Time is just too short!
Our flight out left an hour and half before schedule (we learned this when we called to confirm the night before). Fears for our safety continued when we saw two guys on motor bikes go out onto the runway to herd the goats out of the way before the plane arrived. Yikes!