The Wrath of the Wrasses: Diving in Labuan Bajo, Flores

Many Indonesia-traipsing travelers stumble over the rice/blossom offerings that smatter Ubud’s alleyways or poke among the quivering tide-pools that populate Gili Trawangan’s shores. However, few amble to Flores – a deceivingly understated island where inbred cats hiss from the crannies and collapsing piers shiver beneath one’s footfalls. Yet it was here that my travel companion Sara and I ventured in search of the glorious beasts that thrived beneath the knifing waves.

We contracted a dive boat and set out first thing in the morning. After struggling into wet-suits that fit less like gloves and more like rectal-probes, we sank into the aquatic ether. We had barely touched bottom when a shadow abruptly cloaked us; two manta rays the size of kitchen tables passed above our heads. They circled one another with bellies facing—as if fixed to opposite sides of a spinning orb—and their black-and-white bodies created the impression of a fragmented yin-yang. I nearly swallowed my mouthpiece in disbelief; ten minutes in, and this was already proving to be the most lucrative dive spot I’d ever encountered.

Our second dive presented us with shoals of reflective fish interlocking in geometric formations (to deceive predators), and golden stingrays zipping by like psychedelic frying pans. All of a sudden, we caught sight of a two-meter reef shark. My pulse quickened but I reminded myself of what our dive master said: reef sharks were mostly harmless as humans were too big to eat. Just then, a second reef shark came into view, and a third. Soon, my tally reached twelve—although there were certainly more that I couldn’t see due to the tunnel vision of the diving mask.

On our third dive, we explored a coral pinnacle buzzing with microcosmic magnificence; if this reef was nature’s Tokyo, then the forest was the relative Saskatoon. Sara and I repeatedly grabbed each other by the fin to point out something incredible—only to lose it in the neon bedlam of tiny life. I caught glimpse of what I thought was a seahorse no bigger than the tip of my thumb… but it slipped into a nook before I could get a proper look. As I craned my neck, she gave my fin another tug.

Phoro by Fir0002/Flagstaffotos

Humphead Wrasse by Fir0002/Flagstaffotos

Less than fifteen feet from us were two enormous hump-head wrasses.

BLUBLUBLUB!” I screamed, and tried frantically to paddle away—but she grabbed my wrist and motioned for me to calm down.

The wrasses lived up to their name. Their foreheads bulged as though their brains were swelling out of their skulls while their lips boasted the over-inflated look of a starlet after too many collagen injections. Between the sloping brow and the bulbous mouth, they resembled some sort of fish/Neanderthal hybrid.

With wide eyes and a clenched sphincter, I struggled to recall what our dive master had said about wrasses. They ate crustaceans. They were toxic, although I couldn’t remember if they had venomous teeth or if their meat was poisonous to eat. What would be worse: if the fish bit me or if I bit the fish? Not that I had any plans to sample the wildlife like it was sashimi á la carte.

As the Jaws theme echoed in my head, the wrasses began swimming towards us.

I wrenched my arm out of Sara’s grasp and floundered madly to the other side of the pinnacle. Peeking out from behind the coral, I watched the wrasses gain speed and aim straight for her. What are you doing?! I raged internally. Swim away, you fool! But at the last second, the two fish split up, arcing around her on opposite sides before regrouping and continuing on into the blue.

Blublublub!” chirped Sara. She won’t admit it, but I’m sure she was laughing at me.

Susan BedfordAuthor: S. Bedford is the newest addition to the growing ranks of Vagabond Travel writers. Ms. Bedford is a Toronto, Ontario, Canada resident and an avid traveler, having already backpacked through 50 countries. In fact, to call her a resident of anywhere is misleading. It would be more accurate to describe Ms. Bedford as someone returning from somewhere, on her way to somewhere else. Not only will Susan be contributing articles to, but she will be the Vagabond Travel on camera spokesperson, touring the planet to share her experiences via video posts on this website. Connect with Ms. Bedford on Twitter: @SBedford86

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Vagabond Travel came into being April 16, 2014 when I departed Canada heading for Mexico City. I have no destination in mind, nor an itinerary to follow. This is a sort of website, journal and travel blog all rolled into one. That’s about it.

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