Waigeo – Seeing the bird of paradise and discovering underwater beauty

It’s been a while, hasn’t it. We’re now on our way to Nepal and there is still so much to share about our last few weeks in Indonesia. I haven’t written or posted anything cause, one, of non-existent or very slow internet, and two, I have been focusing on getting the videos done instead. It always takes longer than you think and as I have limited tools to get it done, it just takes more time than it usually would, if I had a laptop, unlimited storage space, internet, etc.

But here we are, on our way to Nepal, with so many thoughts and images in my head from the recent weeks. Our stay on Waigeo, to date, is still my favourite despite being at the height of a cold there. It was just dreamy. The food was amazing, the people were friendly, the sounds of exotic birds in the morning added to the jungle feeling, the beach and water was just stunning. Did I mention the food? We didn’t realise that when booking on Raja Ampat Homestay, that it was full board. It makes sense because you’re not close to anything really to quickly grab something, let alone have a kitchen available to cook yourself. Though I did get to cook on the last night with Christine, the owner, in their kitchen.

Cooking with Christine at Warimpurem Homestay

We stayed at Warimpurem Homestay, about 30 minutes drive away from Waisai, where all the boats and ferry arrive and some leave for the other islands. The airport doesn’t seem to work anymore, a local said that flights were unreliable and people ended up going by ferries in the end. It only takes 2 hours from Sorong, so it’s quite alright considering the time you’d have to wait at the airport.

Sunset at Warimpurem Homestay, Waigeo, West Papua

Back to the homestay. It was basic, clean and everything you needed. The day slows down here, starting with the sounds of birds and waves. Eventually, we strolled over to the common dining/dozing-off-on-a-hammock area where we had breakfast and pondered what we’d do next. The first day we picked up our lost luggage at the harbour on a scooter driving over bumpy roads (I think people’s bums here become conditioned at a young age. I’m afraid mine will not get used to the pain) and learning that Sundays here really are Sundays. Everything was more or less closed and we could only fuel up with an overpriced bottle from a street vendor. The second day we went on a hike early morning (read before sunrise) to see the Red Bird of Paradise, which only exists on Waigeo, and the Wilson’s Bird of Paradise. On the third day, we went snorkelling around islands nearby and I got a sunburn on me bum. On the last day we explored the local village. Our stay there honestly felt so much longer than four full days. It was the right kind of activity-relaxation-ratio considering I also tried to get over a cold.

Saporkren Village, Waigeo, West Papua

What also helped with slowing down was one of their cats, Manis. I called her Meryll, cause her meowing reminded me of one. She rendered us immobile by wanting to snuggle or sleep on our laps all the time.

When in Labuan Bajo

We spent 10 days in around Labuan Bajo and though we are no experts for every little corner of the town like some expats working in dive centres, we did get to try enough to have some recommendations, should you ever decide to visit this place.

I admit, we could have eaten out more, gone snorkelling every day, stayed in a bustling hostel meeting plenty of other backpackers. But we didn’t. This was the first destination of our six months long travel adventure so we have to watch it a little. It is easy to get overexcited and want to try it all or get sucked in by all the delicious restaurants attracting all the tourists.

We had a budget and with that in mind, we planned a little around the things we really wanted to do whilst here and what we could probably give a miss.

Choosing the diving centre – Divers Paradise Komodo

Obviously, one of the main reasons for coming to Labuan Bajo was snorkelling and seeing the Komodo dragons, so we were hardly not going to go on a boat trip. I recommend going to a few of the shops to ask for a couple of different options of trips to get an idea for prices and feel of the people selling the trips. I think it is important to feel like they know what they’re doing and it’s not just a touristy thing where they drop you off and you have to fend for yourself.

We booked our trips with the Divers Paradise Komodo. They were a little cheaper than most, but they were professional and knowledgable, made us feel welcome, were conscious about the environment and impact of plastic and tourists, and made the best banana pancakes for breakfast and popcorn when you returned from your day trip. If budget is really tight or you’re short on time, make it a half day snorkelling and half day visiting the dragons. We did that a) because we wanted to see the dragons, b) didn’t want to spend a whole day on an island in sun burning weather and c) to give the snorkelling a test with this dive centre to see, if we liked it. Like it we did, so we booked another full day snorkelling tour. Even though everyone else was diving, we were well taken care of by our snorkeler guides and sometimes even got to see more of the underwater universe than divers did.

For the half day snorkel/half day trek, we paid per person:

  • IDR 500,000 for the snorkel/trek
  • National Park fee: IDR 165,000
  • Ranger (local guide) fee: IDR 115,000 (this varies day by day though)

Discovering the surroundings

Rent a scooter, if you’re staying a bit outside of Labuan Bajo or think that you will want to explore more than the city on foot.

A scooter for a day should costs IDR 75,000. If you’re renting for longer, I’m sure you could negotiate a better daily rate. In fact, we should have done that for our stay a bit north of Labuan Bajo.

Cunca Wulang and Cunca Rami are well worth a visit. You’d need a day for each of these unless you’re taking off at sunrise. Getting to Cunca Wulang is a little easier on the bum and on the arms for the person at the helm of the scooter. It also involves a jump of a rock, if it tickles your fancy. With anything worth seeing, there is local guide fee. We formed an impromptu group with two other couples and got a cheaper rate per person. It wasn’t cheap, but well worth it. We paid IDR 94,000 per person. I think it should only be IDR 50,000 but they are hard to negotiate with.

Cunca Rami isn’t too much further but, man, it’s a journey, alright. It says it’s 7km from the main road but it took us just as long to get there as it took us from Labuan Bajo. It paid off with a great local guide showing us all the trees and fruits on the way there and inviting us to his Sunday family lunch. We paid IDR 50,000 for the local guide and IDR 50,000 per person for the waterfall entry. We also gave a little to the local guide afterwards as a thank you for the free food. We felt it was right but may not be expected.

Food places in Labuan Bajo

Again, since we are on a budget for our longer trip, we didn’t have the luxury to go out every day and explore every restaurant created for backpackers and tourists. But we still tried a few and here are the places we recommend:

  • Warung Mama – cheap place, great local food, popular with young people and backpackers. Recommend anything vegetable, traditional rice, fried noodles and tempeh.
  • Warung Blue Corner – similar price range as Warung Mama. Great homemade local food. Recommend fried noodles.
  • Bajo Taco – Mexican inspired. Nice mocktails, great burrito. Brilliant view for the sunset over the harbour, though right next to a mosque and may be a little loud during sunset and dinner.
  • Happy Banana – Japanese and healthy fusion food. Most expensive of the four places, but worth as a treat. Good, if you want to have more vegetables and something closer to western food. Recommend, the vegan wrap, juicy quinoa burger, vegan dumplings, and any of the desserts. Coconut coffee also very delicious. Great atmosphere too, friendly staff and lots of cosy corners to sit and relax.

On days we didn’t go out and eat somewhere, we turned to instant noodles. It’s the most convenient life saver, if you are hungry, need to save money and just want to chill in your room/on your terrace. Also, if you have access to hot water, try making your own with the Asian noodles, instant flavoured sauces, some vegetables, chilli and sweet and sour sauce. The latter two are sometimes provided in homestays.

I definitely recommend staying in Labuan Bajo, if you’re not after a beach holiday. There are places that are not directly on the main street and are quite nice and being in the town makes it way easier to go on trips either organised or by yourself.

More photos from our time in Indonesia

Driving aimlessly and jumping off a rock

What a whirlwind of a few days it has been. We’re now on day 5, but spent two of those getting to this incredible place. The plan was to be in Lombok right now and get over the initial shock realisation that we’re actually doing this. Instead, because of the earthquakes, we changed things around and arrived in Labuan Bajo on Flores. The beach/read/relax bit is coming up tomorrow, but husband is feeling poorly (too much sun already), so we’ll see how that goes.

Labuan Bajo is a small town, mainly living off tourists coming here to see the Komodo dragons, dive or snorkel. There are a few bits inland to see, but the islands, underwater beauty and the Komodo National Park is kinda it, and don’t get me wrong, enough of a reason to come here.

Labuan Bajo Harbour

Labuan Bajo Harbour

Because this town mainly lives off tourists going on boat trips, the harbour is full of boats, sometimes even ferries. It also is a place where most of the plastic gets dumped unfortunately. On the bright side, they are trying to keep the National Park clean, doing some education for the locals and tourists on the impact plastic has and an organisation started an initiative to have less individual plastic bottles around for single uses. Like most people, we bought a gallon of water and reuse the same bottles we got on day one.

Before I go into what we’ve been up to, I just have to mention the Roti. I am still not entirely sure what’s in it, but the closest thing I can think of is a sweet milk bun with a crust of coffee paste on top. Sometimes they have a filling, but not sure what that is. Anyhow, it’s delicious. Also, shoutout to instant noodles. They saved us in Surabaya, cause everything was meat and we didn’t want to risk starting off our trip getting stuck on a toilet.

Another tangent, sorry, we craved vegetables already on the first day of being here. I think travelling for two-ish days didn’t help the feeling that we needed something other than rice and noodles. So we treated ourselves at Bajo Taco to some guacamole and a vegetable burrito. Since then, it seems, I am cured and also, we found local food that doesn’t just consist of chicken and rice, so all good now.

Labuan Bajo

Happy, tired and sweaty after eating some veggies

Cunca Wulang Waterfall

Day outside of Labuan Bajo on Flores

I highly recommend renting a scooter. It was IDR 75,000 for the day for one scooter. Helmets are included, though sizing was a big generic I think, cause mine was a bit too big and had to adjust it every time we hit a bump, which was basically every 30 seconds. But that was alright with me cause it was amazing to drive aimlessly towards inland on the one and only road. With no real plan, bathing stuff and a full tank, we just started driving. I knew there was a waterfall somewhere, but didn’t know how to get there. On the map the road just cuts off. Turns out there are two waterfalls, Cunca Wulang and Cunca Rami.

Day outside of Labuan Bajo on Flores

The closer we got, the more white people we saw and figured we had to go, if that many made an effort. At this point we were joined by two other couples and we teamed up to get a group price for the waterfall and guide. It ended up being slightly cheaper than had we gone just by ourselves. It does seem to be a bit of an arbitrary bargaining.

What we didn’t prepare for was that our sandals would be a bit of a challenge getting us through the “jungle”. I slid and fell, lost my sunglasses, realised I lost them only after we’d been swimming and found them again on the spot I fell.

Cunca Wulang waterfall on Flores

To get to the waterfall you have to cross a wooden bridge that looks questionable. I mean, the planks where only held by two nails each in the middle and some of them stood out. But not thrill enough, you have to jump off a rock to see the waterfall. Technically, you don’t have to. You can also climb in and then swim, but where’s the fun in that. I say that now, but I’ve never jumped from that high before (husband said it was 5-6m), so yes, I had butterflies and nervous tingles and my adult self saying “just climb down”. I know many might be saying “that’s not high at all”, but 5-6m is a long way down. Enough to think about what you’d just done on the way down. To think that “shit, I’m going under really far” or realising that you close your eyes too soon cause there is still a bit to go, or “hope my contact lenses make it through”.

But let me tell you, once you’re down, it’s gorgeous. Rocks formation carved from the turquoise coloured water. you have to swim a bit to get to the actual waterfall that comes through a circular opening, but it’s worth the price we had to pay and the jump I did.

More photos from our time in Indonesia