Our final stop, and one which we have always looked forward to – Komodo National Park.
We stayed in the port town of Labuan Bajo on the island of Flores, the closest place you can stay to Komodo National Park. The town itself isn’t much to write home about, one main strip of restaurants, tourist shops and diving centres.
We stayed in a local homestay, which was brilliant. The family who run it are lovely people, and we even received an invite to their neighbours party. The party was for their daughter who had reached the age for her holy communion. As always an Indonesian party is a very social affair – loud music, lots of food and of course dancing. Paul kindly told the lady of the family we were staying with I liked to dance, so I was immediately dragged up to dance with the locals (thanks Paul)!
However it really wasn’t as embarrassing as I thought it would be, as the other ‘Bule’ guests quickly followed suit – including Paul!
We were taught the traditional dance routines to the delight of our fellow party goers, and it was quite fun! Again we were struck by how friendly these people are – we were at a party where we didn’t know anybody, but instead of being left out we were welcomed with open arms. Can you imagine this happening at home? Seriously, Western countries have alot to learn from the Indonesians when it comes to a party!
This part of Indonesia is primarily a Muslim country, so the call to prayer from the local Mosque was a regular sound during our 8 days here.
Komodo National Park is home to some of the world’s best scuba diving sites, and we spent 3 days exploring the outstanding natural beauty beneath the ocean. We did 3 dives per day, and saw some very special animals including Hawksbill Turtles, Black Tip and White Tip Reef Sharks and an Eagle Ray (this was particularly exciting as we had never seen one before and it was stunning). From the boat we also saw a pod of dolphins, their pectorial fins breaking the surface of the sea and giving us a tantalising glimpse! We would much rather a glimpse of a fin in the wild then force ourselves upon them in an artificial environment where they’re held captive and live in constant depression!
We dived some incredibly diverse sites, from pristine coral reef to the current fueled ‘Cauldron’ – a dive site where you have such strong currents you can see waves crashing above you where they meet. Komodo National Park’s ocean is famed for the strong currents and sometimes challenging conditions.
So after a fantastic 3 days diving, we boarded a 2 day 1 night boat trip to visit Rinca and Komodo – the two islands which are home to one of the most prehistoric animals on Earth – the Komodo Dragon (classed as Vulnerable).
We were fortunate to have some absolutely lovely people to share our two days with, who were great company and alot of fun!
When it comes to hunting the Komodo Dragons have developed a brilliant energy saving strategy. They lie in wait near watering holes or areas where prey commonly visit, and stay very still for hours on end. Their camouflage is highly effective – you’d think an animal of that size would stick out like a sore thumb but how wrong you would be! There were a couple of instances where if we hadn’t of had a guide we would have nearly stepped on one! Because they just do not move, and if you’re not paying attention, you will just not clock them – they look like logs in their dry arrid environment.
So, they’re lying in wait for a unassuming animal (or tourist) to walk right past them, then bang! They’ve bitten you with a mouth containing up to 40 types of bacteria at such a speed you run off in complete shock at what just happened! You won’t die instantly, but instead you’ll suffer for days or even weeks as the bacteria in the wound start infecting your body, making you weaker and weaker until you cannot continue. The Dragon has followed you with their powerful sense of smell, and once you reach the point you cannot struggle, they will then finally finish you off. Now what a fantastic energy saving way of catching your meal? Evolution at its best!
We had a 2 hour trek around Rinca Island, where the majority of Dragons we saw were actually hanging around the kitchen hut. Even though they’re such efficient hunters, they obviously cannot help but to scrounge an easy snack. Not the best way to see them by far but an interesting view of the relationship of one of the world’s most prehistoric animals and man.
We continued our guided walk to a known nesting site, where a female was gaurding her eggs.
We were fortunate enough to see a young Dragon of about 1 years of age up a tree – this lucky youngster had obviously survived the potential of being eaten by his/her parents!
We also spotted some wild buffalo sheltering against the hot midday sun.
It really struck us what dry, arrid conditions that these animals live in during the dry season. It really is incredible how animals survive in such conditions, especially as rivers and streams were completely dried up. We walked through a few dry dusty riverbeds during the 2 hours we were walking.
After our stop at Rinca we got back on our boat and made our way to Komodo. Interestingly Komodo has less Dragons on the island compared with Rinca (approximately 1,300) even though it is a much larger island.
We got off the boat and walked down the long jetty, and straight away we spotted a huge Komodo Dragon strolling down the beach! It was a thrill to see one in a much more ‘wild’ setting, and it was such an awesome sight to see one striding along – it really hit home just how powerful these animals are.
We past many wild pigs and deer, and again the landscape seemed very unforgiving.
We came to a water hole which was more like a few muddy puddles, and we all exclaimed in suprise as there was a huge Dragon lying right next to it! Thank God for our guide otherwise we would all have become Dragon food!
We spent a good 20 minutes watching this huge male, and the only movement he did was to glance our way once. I assume he wasn’t happy with us as we were making his whereabouts obvious to his potential lunch.
We moved on, walking through some forest areas, and came across Dragon poo! It looks like bird poo, just alot more of it! On closer inspection it also contained clumps of hair from the last victim (hair cannot be digested) – our assumption after investigation was that this was the remnants of a deer dinner!
We came across three more Dragons along the pathway, all of whom barely moved whilst we observed them. We all considered them lazy until our guide told us that they move with considerable speed and stealth!
We boarded our boat all feeling quite excited to have seen the Komodo Dragons, and all feeling much more knowledgeable thanks to the great guides we’d had.
That evening our boat anchored in a secluded bay, and we watched a Sea Eagle swooping down to catch fish whilst we ate our own dinner on-board.
We slept on the deck (albeit not very well as it was so hot) and the following day set off to our first of three snorkeling sites. At about 6.30am we were fortunate enough to see a pod of dolphins pass quite close to the boat. These dolphins don’t seem to enjoy jumping alongside the boat, they just keep themselves to themselves. We all enjoyed the moment, and it was a beautiful way to start the day.
The first site was at ‘Pink Beach’ – aptly named because the sand has a slight pink tinge to it. The water felt very cold for first thing in the morning, but it soon woke us up!
Our second snorkeling site was in fact a dive site we had visited during our scuba diving – ‘Manta Point’ is a spot were Manta Rays are commonly seen feeding in the strong currents just below the surface. Unfortunately it isn’t the season to see the large groups which are famously seen feeding together (20-30 individuals are a common sighting) but you can be lucky and see the odd one passing through.
Paul and I don’t seem to have much luck seeing the marine mega fauna (however we are always thrilled to see the small things as well as the big things – the ocean isn’t a zoo after all and nothing is guaranteed) so we were feeling hopeful about the Mantas.
There were probably about three other boats all looking for the Mantas too, and at one point we all jumped in thinking another group had spotted them. Unfortunately it was a false alarm, and we found the current very strong so we got back onto the boat a little apprehensive about getting back in again.
There was some excitement when one of our boat crew saw one quite close to the surface – we were pretty close to it! We all saw it from the boat and a few of us entered the water to try and catch a glimpse of this mystical animal – unfortunately it just wasn’t to be! The current was too strong and the Manta Ray too fast, but hey, this is the wild and the Mantas’ home so any glimpse of this beautiful animal is a special thing.
Our final snorkeling site was an island which came straight out of a luxury holiday magazine – it was stunning. The water was turquoise, the sand golden, and palm trees lined the beach. A little slice of tropical paradise, and a beautiful way to end 11 months of travel.
We leave nothing but footprints, and have taken nothing but memories.