What was a dusty main drag heading up a hill from the port, with stilt houses and rickety bars and restaurants looking out on the water, plus a few dive shops, is no more. Instead it's wall to wall shops, supermarkets, a few fancy restaurants, and more dive operators than you can count. There's fancy hotels and guesthouses, backpacker accommodation in dormitories, and lots of new construction going on. It's on its way to becoming the new Bali.
To it's credit, the scenery around Labuan Bajo is spectacular, with multiple small coral reefed islands, not to mention the World Heritage listed Komodo National Park. I'd visited Komodo on a dive liveaboard way back then, so didn't feel any compulsion to spend big on going diving again. And once you've seen the dragons, well why go again?
My main reason for visiting LB was to extend my visa, so first thing Monday morning I picked up a hired motorbike and made my way to the Immigration office. I knew there was a lot of running around involved, hence why I'd hired myself some transport. The evening before I'd asked my Homestay host, Kornelis, if he would be my sponsor, and he agreed. I said I'd be happy to pay him $20-$30, unlike one sleazy chap at the motorbike hire place who offered himself for $100! Kornelis has two daughters studying in Bali, so the money will be welcome.
So here's the process:
- Turn up at Imigrasi at least 4 working days before your visa expires. Check that there are no public holidays, and weekends also don't count. Imigrasi opens at 8am, I arrived before then, and had to wait.
- Wear appropriate attire. No shorts, singlets or thongs, it's a government office not a beach.
- Pick up the forms required and instructions regarding filling them out. For extending a 2 month B211 visa you receive an application form and a 2 page form for your sponsor to fill out and sign.
- Get a photocopy of your passport, your visa page, and your sponsor's ID card. Your sponsor must be a resident of the Province in which you are applying for the extension. There was a photocopy place just down the road from the office, and the cost was only 1000Rp for the two pages, Kornelis already had a photocopy of his card to give me.
- Go to the Post Office and purchase a 6000Rp Materai stamp. This stamp is placed on the sponsor letter, and then the sponsor signs over the stamp. Somehow, this makes it a legal document.
- Get your sponsor to fill out the details on the sponsor letter and sign it, whilst you fill out the application form. The application form is quite detailed, requiring next of kin, email address, and your sponsor's details, including phone number.
- Return to Imigrasi with your photocopies and all your forms filled out and get them to check that all is correct. If the forms aren't filled out correctly, you'll have to start again. Mine were fine.
- Receive a receipt of application and your passport back, and get told to return in three days time. I did my application on Monday, and was told to return on Thursday.
- Amuse yourself for the next three days any way you please.
- Return to Imigrasi after 3 days. I returned on Thursday morning but the electricity was down so they were unable to process my application, so I had to return later.
- Take two: return to Imigrasi later in the morning when the electricity is back on and hand in your passport and application receipt. Pay 355,000Rp for your extension, have your photograph taken and all ten fingers scanned using a digital fingerprint scanner.
- Wait a while for your application to be processed, and for a new stamp to be put in your passport. The new stamp shows your old expiry date and your new expiry date, which is extended by 30 days. Not a month. I tried to wheedle an extra day as I have accidentally booked my flight home for the day after my extension expires, May having 31 days in it. Unfortunately I was unsuccessful, so will need to pay the overstay fee of 300,000Rp per day. Usually it's not a problem for a day or two overstay to just pay the penalty, overstaying longer, however, is another story.
- Take your passport and be happy you didn't plan to do anything else today anyway…..
Luckily, even if you don't want to go diving or see dragons, there's quite a few things to do around Labuan Bajo while you wait for the slow wheels of bureaucracy.