Komodo

The island of Komodo captured my imagination a long time ago. In part the mystic behind it but largely because of those giant lizards that make it, Rinca and the Northern part of Flores its only habitat. It was only in 1910 that Dutch explorers confirmed their existence, shooting dead two and taking their skins back to the shock of many who had dismissed it all as a legend. If Borobudur was what convinced me to stay in Indonesia for two months, it was Komodo that made me want to come in the first place.

To get there I opted for a three day boat trip from Lombok through to Flores. I would be sleeping up on deck as the boat sailed through treacherous waters that have claimed many ships in the past. Forty or so other people joined me on the boat. It was a typical Indonesian affair really with most being French, a number stereotypical finding themselves continually apologising for rudeness (I kid you not), Dutch, in this case nearly all families and a couple of other nationalities. There was a very short term holiday feel to the passengers so I was relieved to meet Keith, whose stories of ice climbing in the Himalayas and the Andes as well as most of the routes up Ben Nevis’s North face kept me entertained.

Despite the volume of people, the sometimes bumpy ocean and the ever changing moods of the French contingent it was a superb trip.

We set off at eight in the morning and boarded a bus heading for the port of Labhuan Lombok. It was a slow start stopping off at a pottery village and later a boat building village. The pottery one was interesting up to the point of the numbers of people intruding on the villager’s daily life. But I guess they are used to that.

As soon as we took to the waters everything changed. First stop was around an hour or so away. I can always judge a good tour by the food they serve and in the intervening time the buffet that appeared was delicious, as I should say was every other meal. Arriving at the small island it took some time to shift everyone off of the main boat and onto a small rickety motor boat to shore. However people dispersed quickly finding their own patch of sand on this deserted island. That evening we had a wonderful fish barbeque before retiring to the boat to sleep.

I got lucky in my position on the boat. Others didn’t with water splashing in through the windows. Alas I slept well and awoke to find us nine or so hours further down the line. Breakfast was on the boat before we went onto another but this time much larger island. In the middle was a salt lake. There was also a very nice walk up a hill through a forest. The snorkelling off the island was brilliant with a huge range of fish and good quality coral. I am very glad to report that not only did I find Nemo, he has also had a family since the end of the film.

Back on the boat we sailed for much of the afternoon. With the sun beating down and the beautiful island of Sumbawa to admire from afar Keith and I made the prow of the boat our home. Book in hand I lost count of the amount of times different people said ‘it’s a hard life.’ or something similar.

Before the sunset we made our way to another stop, this time on a beach on Sumbawa. It was the only disappointment that I can think of but at the same time a nice break from the boat. That said despite the murky water and poor beach, the sunset was rather nice.

The next day it was all about Komodo. I awoke early and took in the sunrise over the various islands. The captain appeared at my side and told me about that a boat by the same company had sunk here only a few months ago. For such a big boat it was slightly concerning that the staff set about organising all those who were awake onto different sides of the boat to help with the balance! We arrived boat in tac.

Komodo is the largest island in the national park. It also has the biggest number of dragons with 1288 on last count. The approach is dramatic with big mountain peaks dropping down into the ocean. A wide sandy bay sits in front with a wooden dock.

We were greeted by a number of rangers and walked through to a couple of wooden huts where we split into groups. Our rangers picked up their long wooden sticks and took us on the start of a two hour hike on the island. I was incredibly lucky to be in the group that went first. Purposely I made sure I was right at the front and within ten minutes of the walk starting I stopped and pointed further along the path. ‘Dragon!’ the ranger said and we picked up the pace.

It was a male dragon, estimated at around thirty years old. He strolled down the path without the least bit of interest as to the crowd that were beginning to gather. The size took me back. I had expected to be a little disappointed after seeing a number of large monitor lizards but this thing was massive. Its claws were vicious, the forked tongue and the long tail, I found myself shaking at the thought of being in its presence.

The dragon was truly a king in his domain. I can think of few animals that would show such little fear in the presence of human beings. The guards however were far more worried, keeping everyone back and following it slowly. The dragons may only have been responsible for two known deaths of humans on Komodo but they were not taking any chances. Eventually the dragon got tired and laid down. Then it was time for photos and a chance to look at it head on.

Not long afterwards we spotted another. It had a gaping wound and was laid by a mud pool. Slightly smaller but no less mesmerising I began to think just how lucky I was to see these unbelievable beasts in their natural habitat.

The rest of the walk was beautiful; the landscape never boring; baron, with rolling mountains marked by bare and dried trees. On the way back into camp we saw four more dragons including a younger one who showed far more fear, pelting it into the bush, than his peers. These were slightly cheating because unlike the first two there was a certain human intervention as to them being easy to spot. Unavoidable the smell from the ranger’s kitchen attracts a few every day who stop by out of hope that they may get a scrap.

Outside of the dragons we saw numerous colourful birds, wild deer, antlers and all, and wild pigs. The ranger told me that it is currently mating season, so to see so many dragons, especially the ones earlier on in the walk was very lucky indeed.

We returned to the boat and took off to another part of the island. When at sea you realise the stunning white sand beaches that line Komodo. We stopped at a popular one called Red Beach. Its sand was pristine, the waters crystal clear. In an hour and a half I had three snorkels, coming out for only the briefest of breaks. It was by far the best coral reef I have snorkelled. So much colour and life. And then there were the fish, thousands of different species ; from the very small to the very large. It just capped off the time spent on Komodo brilliantly.

From there it was a three hour trip into the port of Flores. From a distance Labuanbajo looked every bit of a far out port town. Tin roofs and lots of wooden structures, many of the buildings looked as if they were going to flop into the ocean. Boats old and new lined the harbour. Touching the ground again I thrust the bag back onto my back and started the long search for accommodation. The chores of the oncoming hour were soothed by the memories of the wonderful adventure that I had just come from.

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