Bamboo walls, palm frond roof, mosquito net draped romantically around the bed. Quiet sunset from any one of the many restaurants overlooking the sailing boats moored in the harbour, the silhouette of the rugged islands a stark contrast to the soft water.
We have arrived in Labuan Bajo at the far western end of Flores Island and it really is beautiful. The large population of young backpackers would be basking in the dream described above. We are too, but with another dimension. Spilt drinks, mediating arguments over the hammock (as the sun sets), “When can we get an ice-cream?”, “I’m STARVING!”
Arriving in a new place and walking and walking until I am lost and my feet are sore has always been a treasured travel experience of mine, a way of getting a feel for a city and finding hidden pockets that might otherwise be missed. To state the obvious, travelling with children is different in every way to travelling solo. Less than 15 minutes down the main street of Labuan Bajo and half of our party is hot and sweaty and their legs are tired and they can’t possibly go on without a Sprite.
I know – they ARE hot and sweaty, and their experience of hot and sweaty has just broken new bounds, AND they’re expected to walk down a dusty street where everyone’s staring and wanting to rub their cheeks. It must be uncomfortable for them. It slows us down.
And in our slowed progress we happen upon a magnificently coloured bird in a cage, hanging from the eaves of a rickety building tucked down an alleyway. Ellie hears it and follows the sound, whistling to it in response (our little bird whisperer). The poor thing has only one eye and one foot, but a rainbow of plumage. In our slowness, we spend the next 10 minutes listening to this funny old bird mimick sounds we make and other electronic and animal noises it already knows. We take photos of it to send to our birder friend to see if we can identify it and we play it ringtones from my phone to see which ones it likes and will repeat back to us.
A treasured travel experience.
Their perspective gives me a different perspective too. Entering the brand spanking new Labuan Bajo airport with its arena-like arrivals hall, shiny cream tiles on every surface and flushing porcelain toilets (always have to check out the loos!) the girls were in awe. “I haven’t seen a big open quiet space for ages.” “We haven’t seen a flushing toilet for AGES!” (a week is a long time in the life of a five year old!). Certainly no amount of excitement in a 40 year old can equal the exquisite fear of an 8 year old at being merely meters from 5 mature Komodo Dragons! “Oh hold my hand Dad. Do I go closer or do I hide behind you? I really want to have a better look but far out they’re so big and scary and RIGHT THERE!” And the squeals of unbridled delight (clearly distinguishable through a snorkel) at the schools of tropical fish off the reef. “This is so ace this is so ace this is so ace!” – still audible through the snorkel. Their ability to unwittingly entertain, in addition to giving me an altered view, is priceless. “Look Ellie,” cried Zoe with excitement. “That’s where the annoying music comes from, that green ball over there” as she pointed to the mosque from which the Call to Prayer blasted through the town.
It takes a frustratingly long time to tend to the logistics of travelling here – a frustration that can be exacerbated by feeling the pressure of keeping 3 little dependants happy. As it turns out, they don’t even notice the fact they’ve been hanging around the hotel all afternoon, they’re off riding grass broomsticks around the garden paths and making bougainvillea parachutes. Bless them.
It really is an experience to treasure, travelling with our children.