Shortly after arriving back in Indonesia, I had the opportunity to travel to several cities across the archipelago, as part of inspecting and preparing sites that had not had an ETA before this year. This “Snapshot” series is composed of short pieces about my all-too-brief visits to these beautiful and fascinating places, which are now the temporary homes of ETAs from the 2016-17 cohort.
My final site visit was to Labuan Bajo, in Flores. It was not my first visit to the city: during my first ETA grant I visited Pulau Komodo and briefly explored the area around Labuan Bajo during my December break from teaching. This small city in Flores is fascinating and beautiful, and I was tickled pink to have the opportunity to visit it again.
Due to its proximity to Pulau Komodo and Pulau Rinca, and because of the excellent diving and snorkeling in the area, Labuan Bajo is definitly a tourist destination in Indonesia, which makes it a bit different from many of the other ETA sites. There is certainly a strong tourism influence in the actual city of Labuan Bajo, and some parts have even come to resemble a resort town, with western-style restaurants overlooking the harbor and the overabundance of dive shops that line the main street.
But Flores, in general, remains one of the poorest parts of Indonesia, and while that is still noticeable within the city of Labuan Bajo, it is quite obvious as soon as you leave town, and everything becomes smaller, a bit more traditionally Indonesian, a bit rougher around the edges.
When I visited Labuan Bajo in 2014, it was not nearly as touristy as it was when I visited in August. As we talked to the co-teachers of this year’s ETAs, we learned that tourism in the area has increased quite rapidly, far faster than anyone can really keep up with. This is especially felt, with equal parts excitement and trepidation, by the SMK (vocational) schools in the area, many of which have a tourism track.
The split between these two worlds, and the ever-changing tourist season, will most likely play a significant role in the grant of the two ETAs who will call Labuan Bajo home. This is a dynamic transition period for the area, and while that is certain to create areas of confusion and frustration, it is also extremely exciting to bear witness to. I cannot wait to hear the stories they will tell.