Never outside a fairytale or Game of Thrones did I think I’d hear the words “we’re going in search of dragons”. But there we were, entering through a gateway flanked by ominous statues reminiscent of Jurassic Park, off in search of Komodo Dragons.
In my mind they were epic giant lizards who gracefully slither-strutted their way around. Instead, they were two meter creatures who were too hot to move so lay motionless, spread eagle out on their stomachs.
The anticipation may have been greater than the outcome. But no matter, we saw dragons!
The build up began when we boarded a small plane – the type tiny enough that you walk onto the tarmac and up a small set of stairs. The size meant it flew low enough to get a great bird’s eye view of islands. They say there are so many islands in Indonesia, that it would take over thirty years of visiting one inhabited island a day to see them all.
We landed on Flores Island in Labuan Bajo. A small town with one main street offering restaurants, hostels, hotels, and tour agencies. The heat was already full blast when we arrived so gracious Matt left me with the bags (we downsized taking only small carry-on backpacks, leaving the large ones back in Bali); he went off in search of accommodation and I enjoyed a Flores coffee in a sweet spot called Casa Selini.
Success! Matt found a great spot at Gardena Hotel. Great view, great room, but also a great number of stairs (so also great exercise). On our way we passed a very eager tour agent who tried very hard to sell us a two day, one night trip at IDR900,000, but after negotiation it was lowered to IDR700,000. And like that we were set to board our boat at 8:30 the next morning.
The first tip to take from us learning the hard way is to make sure you ask to see the boat before booking. There is a scale and unfortunately we ended up on one that seemed to anchor the lower end. Requiring many attempts and a spoon jammed into ignition to get going, we tried to let the beauty of the scenery overshadow the shadiness of the vessel. And to be honest, that wasn’t too hard. The green islands and the turquoise waters were captivating.
Then there was below the surface! The first snorkel spot had such a strong current I was out fairly quickly after getting in. There was a melee of boats and too many snorkeling tourists to keep track of for my liking. Matt and the others who stayed in came out saying “meh”. Fortunately, while en route to the next destination, Matt spotted a fin waving at us. It turned out to be a school of manta rays! This was the thing to see on Matt’s wish list and it was perfect; there were so many mantas!! This snorkeling was much more comfortable for me because we were the only boat and they threw out a nice long rope so I could swim face to fin without fear. And I’m glad because watching these creatures was magical.
There was one more stop after that, an opportunity to snorkel the cove and relax on the sands of Pinky Beach. But after the manta ray excitement everyone was a little underwhelmed. So before long we were making our way to a village on Kimodo Island to spend the night at the captain’s house. It was a very interesting experience to walk around the village. Hoards of shoeless children ran around, women walked by with buckets of water on their heads, and every male over the age of 10 was constantly smoking.
Before nightfall we were ferried out for a treat: flying foxes. In my mind they were foxes with extra skin in the armpits so they soared like flying squirrels. But no. They are the biggest bats of all the bats with a wingspan reaching one meter! Watching them hang upside down, fight with each other, and take flight, I understood the vampire-cum-bat mythology. To be honest, the flying foxes would likely have been a little underwhelming as well, but being on the low budget cruise may have helped the scene. Instead of waiting patiently in the bay for these bats to become active after sundown like all the other boats in the area, our young skipper drove up to the island where he and the other crew proceeded to shake all the trees scaring the poor creatures up into the air! While the animal lover in Matt was a little disturbed by this interaction, I enjoyed the photo op and not having to wait until after dark for these things to take flight and likely scare the crap out of me.
The next day it was on to dragons! We went to two islands – Komodo (with a fee of around IDR225,000, which included camera fees) and Rinca (an additional IDR20,000) – in hopes of spotting them in the wild along our hike. Alas, in both locations they were only found lazing about the ranger huts. A little disappointing, but hey, we saw dragons! Other wildlife spotted included deer, monkeys, a couple of wild boar and a water buffalo having a bath.
Finally it was time to putter – and I mean put-put-putter, we were overtaken by every other boat on the water – back to Labuan Bajo. The one benefit of being on potentially the oldest, slowest boat on the water was the spectacular sunset view.
Along the way Matt composed new lyrics to the tune of Lonely Island’s “I’m on a Boat”:
We’re on a boat an’
We’re going slow an’
I hope we don’t get stranded in the oce-an
Thankfully, we didn’t!