Indonesia is huge and thus one of the more diverse naturally countries I have visited. Bali was quite “tropical jungle”, but the area surrounding Komodo Island was much less lush. In fact, the grass rustling on the hillsides of these islands reminded me of the prairies of the American plains states. Except, ya know, with water.
Padar is a beautiful island located a three-hour slow-boat ride from Labuan Bajo (you can spend more money to get there faster). We left the port in Labuan Bajo at 6:30am, taking in the sunrise over the hills and boats of the city. The boat operators provided a lovely breakfast of pastries and bananas (as well as unlimited coffee and tea). There were also mats and pillows with which we could to snooze the early morning away.
We arrived at the little dock on Padar Island at 9:30. After hoisting ourselves up to the ground (the dock is a bit taller than the boat but there are plenty of people who can help get you up, which I and my very weak upper-arm strength greatly appreciated), we followed the trail, past several vendors who had also travelled several hours to get there (which made me feel bad that nobody seemed to be buying anything), towards the hill.
A fair warning – it’s not the most grueling hike you’ll ever take but it’s no walk in the park either. It's a relatively steep hike to the top of the hill and even at 9:30 in the morning that equatorial sun is hot. It’s worth the sweat though. There are three visible beaches on the island, each with noticeably different colored sand – black, white, and pink. Yes, pink. This hue is a result of tiny pieces of coral mixed with calcium (I'm no scientist though, so that's the most information I've got on that front).
After admiring the stunning view and taking approximately 1,000 pictures, we headed back down to the boat. Our next stop was that very same pink beach. It took about 40 minutes for the boat to go around the island. We enjoyed the beautiful hills (I kept telling my friend Alyssa that the views reminded me of the Irish coast even though I’ve never been. It looked so much like pictures I’ve seen) and, more excitingly, THE DOLPHINS that were playing in the water nearby.
Upon arrival at the pink beach we had to swim in order to get to shore because the boat could only get so close, and it anchored in water that was about ten feet (three meters) deep. We had been provided snorkel gear, including flippers. However, I don’t like flippers so my plan had been to just swim in my water shoes. But as soon as I hopped in the water I knew that had been a mistake. Damn, the current was strong. I am a good swimmer (hell, I was a competitive swimmer for years), and I struggled to get back to the boat in order to have Alyssa toss down my flippers. After that, it was still a little hard but perfectly manageable. Moral of this paragraph: beware of strong currents!
Once I had my flippers on and felt more comfortable in the water, I waited for Alyssa to join me in the current. This took a hot second though, because the woman is, uh, a bit concerned with the ocean. I had to call out a few “you’ll be fine, it’s deep enough so you won’t hit anything but not too deep that its scary!” lines before she finally jumped in. A 30-second panic attack (while she clutched my hand), she was good to go and we made our way to the beach.
As a side note, we were such good travel partners for Indonesia: I am scared of flying and she held my hand for the flights. I am glad that I was able to return the favor in the ocean. Or, well, I'm not glad she was uncomfortable but I am glad I could be of service.
As the pink sand is made from tiny pieces of coral, it would have been nice to have had the shoes for this portion of the stop. It was hard to walk on the beach itself because the pink bits hurt and the more sandy bits were too hot - I actually ended up floating in the shallows next to the beach for awhile so that I could look at the sand without hurting myself.
We had about 40 minutes to enjoy the area and I spent it in a mixture of snorkeling around the brightly-colored coral (so many Angel fish!) and trying to walk along the beach. Padar doesn't provide the best coral I've seen, but even mediocre coral is still beautiful. I love to watch the various tropical fish swimming around the vibrant colors of reefs, so despite its small size I was still happy as could be.
For as wonderful as the morning was, my absolute highlight came towards the end: I was on the beach itself and stopped walking in order to just take it all in. I didn’t have my glasses on so it wasn’t as vibrant as it could have been, but even through my poor eyesight I could see how beautiful it was. The pink sand, the turquoise water, and the green hills were simply stunning and a travel memory that I wanted locked in my brain forever.