We flew out of Sulawesi for Flores on August 21st, and as with all transport in Indonesia, it was long & non-direct – Manado (Sulawesi) to Makassar (Sulawesi) to Denpasar (Bali) to Labuan Bajo (Flores). We landed in Labuan Bajo, I quickly realized that the word “airport” was an overstatement. It was basically an airstrip with a small one room building next to it. They drove the luggage over to the building on a cart & we just picked our stuff off of it. No rotating belts here.
We spent the next day making plans for our trip to see Komodos, and getting massages. There is a foundation in Labuan Bajo that teaches sight impaired men and hearing impaired women to be masseuses, so they can earn a living and be independent, and we did our part to support them! The massage starts off with a nice foot soak, from a room with a beautiful view, and then you move over to a treatment room. I had the tiniest woman with the strongest hands, it was a good massage! I will sincerely miss leaving the land of the $10 massage when I go back home.
To go see the Komodos you have to charter a boat to Komodo or Rinca Islands. Lots of people combine this into multi-day diving tours, or at least an overnight with much snorkeling, but since my travel buddy has a bit of a seasickness issue we decided to just do a one day excursion & only see the closest island, Rinca.
Back in Tana Toraja we ran into a couple that had recently been to see the Komodos & recommended a captain to us. The recommendation went something like this, “So we had this really great captain, Aming, and yeah he's a deaf mute, but he has the best sense of humor and you can totally understand him because he has his own version of sign language that is totally universal. You just find the Matahari hotel and walk down the steps behind it, and ask the people living on the beach to point him out to you.” I realize I am crazy, but how could I say no to that? They also told us that he was very honest and would keep looters off of his boat. There is a bit of problem with looters hopping on board & going through people's bags when they are off snorkeling. We followed their directions down to the beach, and the first person we ran into happened to be Aming's wife. It was just that easy!
Along with the Komodos, one of the big sights during the overnight tours is docking for the night and watching thousands of flying foxes fill the sky just after sunset, as they migrate from their daytime sleeping spot on a mangrove island to the mainland to look for food. We wanted to add this to our one day tour, however it seemed everyone was quite hesitant to do the two hour cruise back to the harbor from flying fox island in the dark. Everyone but Aming, that is. He agreed & that sealed the deal!
You know you are getting spoiled from so many gorgeous sunsets, when you get peeved that the scraggly palm trees along the harbor are ruining your otherwise pretty photos.
We met Aming's wife the next morning and she took us to the boat, we had a crew of four – Aming, his wife, and two other deck hands. We set off making jokes about Gilligan's Island & the old Humphrey Bogart movie “The African Queen”, as our boat bore a striking resemblance to the movie's namesake, and was probably built around the same time.
Our first stop was a gorgeous little deserted island for some snorkeling. A wide variety of coral & sea life were just off the white sand beach in that crystal blue water. I was sad we only had an hour here, I could have spent all day!
Little volcano looking islands dotted the Flores Sea the whole way between Labuan Bajo & Rinca Island.
It took a couple more hours sailing after our snorkel stop to get to Rinca. Our little crew prepared lunch for us on the boat (chicken, rice, noodles, fried tempe, veggies, and watermelon), so we'd be fortified for our trek on the island. We had a great time “chatting” with Aming, just as our backpacker friends had told us he was very easy to communicate with, and he just had a bubbly, fun spirit about him. Although he couldn't hear or speak, he punctuated all of his communications with an infectious giggle.
We docked at Rinca, and were immediately met by our guide, who's name I've completely forgotten! There is no visiting the island, or it's larger sister Komodo, without one. Our guide was super personable & spoke great English. His only defense against the dragons (other than behavioral knowledge) was a forked stick. You can't help but wonder what good that stick would actually do in the event of an attack, but at the same time you don't want to think about it too much!
Once we went through a very brief orientation (don't pet the dragons, don't wander off by yourself, etc, but no info on what to do if one actually comes at you), our guide asked if we'd like to see a green pit viper that had been lounging in a tree near the guide cabins all day. I said YES! I had done a little research about poisonous snakes of Indonesia before my trip, just to be aware of what to avoid, and had not seen any. I knew I should be glad about this, but at the same time it was slightly disappointing. I wanted to see one, just not anywhere near where I was staying. Anyway he took us over to get a look at the baby pit viper in the tree. Baby venomous snakes are actually more dangerous that adults. They have the same amount of venom, but haven't learned to control the amount they release yet, so you are getting the full water buffalo take down amount if you are bitten, regardless of your size.
After the brief “pit” stop (har har har), we were on our way to see dragons! Usually a few of them hang out under the guides' kitchen cabin at any given time. The guides do not feed the dragons, but the dragons smell the food and stick around looking for opportunities. Opportunities such as when the guides forget to shut the door to the kitchen and they raid it. When this happens the guides have to grab the dragons by the tail & pull them out or they will never leave. If I were a guide, I think I'd make it a point not to forget to shut the kitchen cabin door, but what do I know?
There is an intelligence in their eyes that no reptile should have, and once they are full grown they have zero fear of humans! I am definitely uncomfortable not being the highest creature on the food chain.
I was really glad we were there during the heat of the day when the dragons were hot & lazy. These guys move extremely fast for their size.
Once we viewed the kitchen loiterers for a while, we started on our trek through the island. Our guide warned us that we might not see any other dragons – it was the heat of the day (upper 90's), and most would be hiding out in the shade taking it easy. However, not too far in we spotted a female guarding her nest. Komodo eggs have a nine month incubation period & the females stay near the entire time. They also have multiple nests in the same area, only one has eggs, and the other are decoys. I told you… way too smart!
These animals are really very dangerous. They do not fear humans and are vicious killers, oh and cannibals. Never trust a cannibal! Their preferred method with humans, is to knock a person down with their tail (often times breaking legs) & then rip into the neck with teeth & claws. Our guide was pretty matter of fact – yeah if they get you in the neck you are dead, if they get an arm or leg it's possible to survive maybe, if you get to the hospital in Bali in time. He personally knew people that hadn't made it. If the dragons don't immediately tear your jugular out, you'll be slowly poisoned by all the virulent strains of bacteria from their bite. Water buffalos usually last a week or so, humans less. Hmm so yeah, where's that stick again?
The nesting mom took off for the bushes after too much paparazzi & we continued along our way. We saw some interesting megapode birds, which our guide told us mate for life. If one bird dies the other withers away and dies shortly after due to a broken heart. Not sure if this is a true story or not. Also instead of being moved by the never ending love of the birds, I couldn't stop thinking they looked an awful lot like the alien birds from the Mavin the Martian cartoons.
We also saw a water buffalo, which is a favorite meal of the Komodos. I was thinking this one would soon be dinner. Sleepily wallowing in the watering hole seems like a bad idea.
Our trek took us up out of the forrest & into the bright heat of the day, where we had sweeping views of Rinca. These islands are hot, dry, and very non-jungle-y.
We did one more last loop past the kitchen dragons at then end of our trek, and they were just as creepy as before. They went from snoozing to completely alert in the flash of an eye.
We sailed away from our dragon adventure, and spent some time on another little deserted island as we waited for sunset.
Well I thought the island was deserted, but some very irritated bleating alerted me to the resident billy goat. I don't think he liked visitors, but I thought he was just too adorable!
The flying foxes (world's largest bat), leave their mangrove island at dusk to fly to the mainland in search of food, but something stirred them up a little early and they circled their island for a bit, so I got a picture in daylight. Flying foxes are a little different from the usual small bats. They have good eyesight, and don't use echo location, as they eat fruit, not flying insects.
The flying foxes flew over our heads just like the picture above for literally 20 minutes. There were thousands & thousands, and they all went straight to Flores, no deviations. It was really something to witness! All that was left of our day was navigating the pitch black water back to the harbor. Neal was nervous about hitting a reef or something, but hey that's what the professional captain's for right? Dinner eaten & disaster averted, we made it back in a couple of hours and checked another cool experience off the list.