Two Days/One Knight…Dragon Hunting (Sept 25th – 29th)

Enough with tourists, we jumped on the ferry from Bali to Lombak. After dark we arrived and loaded into a van taking us to Mataram….the island’s largest city. There we rented a cheap room and found a bite to eat (the local dish…a spicy chicken something or other).

The next morning we decided to rent motorbikes and get in a quick snorkel before catching a bus later that afternoon. We enjoyed some complimentary noodles for breakfast, then headed to the bus station to buy tickets. Try and figure this one out! While stopped at a red light, we were flagged down by a cop. Obeying the ‘law’, we pulled over only to be told in broken English we were in violation. The officer was trying to tell us that in Indonesia you are not supposed to stop at a red light if you are on motorbike. As unheard as that sounds, Michelle and I both knew what was happening. The cop asked for our licenses, but mine being stuck in Thailand held by their law enforcement officials didn’t help out very much. We were escorted up the stairs of a tiny run down police building where we began our argument. It was futile to try and defend our reasons for stopping (red for crying out load), so we switched our tactics from pleading innocent to negotiating. They came at us with 150,000 Rupiah (15$), but we got them down to 100,000 (10$). The entire ordeal was a waste of money and a huge scam, but to prevent hassling again by the local cops, we got them to sign a piece of paper saying we already were pulled over and fined. We left and finally made it to the bus station wasting precious time.

We found a bus departing at three, and it now being 10am left us a few hours to spot some fish. As we hurried to the coast, once again, a cop motorbiked in front of us and flagged us down. You know it’s corrupt when the pigs fly at you from all angles for doing nothing out of the ordinary. Before even giving the chance to hear our charge, we handed over our signed slip, and reluctantly the cop let us on our way. What a system!

Michelle and I decided to split ways for the afternoon. She didn’t want to rush; rather she fancied taking pictures of local people and villages along the way, whereas I wanted to get out of the baking heat and into the waves. No hard feelings as we parted ways, the plan was to meet back at the hotel at 2.

Soon after I was solo, I made it to the ocean along a high coastal mountain road. It was so unique, how the sea appeared alive and vibrant, while the land was dry and arid. Lombok is way different from Bali (which is tropical) and is known as a dry island. It will actually be the first of many in the stretch of islands we soon plan to visit. I saw from above a neat area that looked like great snorkeling, so I parked the bike on the side of the road, climbed down a rocky terrace, and leapt into an aquatic paradise.

The corals weren’t that spectacular, but I saw a lot of neat things. Giant tubeworms were everywhere; some came in beautiful neon orange but most were green or brown. In addition, many different species of starfish dotted the sand. Some of them were huge, the size of a cookie sheet, while others were small (millimeters) with flashy colors. My favorite of course, were the brittle stars….with each leg moving independently like the tentacles of an octopus. Time went by faster than expected, and before I realized, I was rushing as fast as possible to get back to the guest house.

Reuniting with Michelle, from the hotel we mini-bused it quickly to the station. There, we hopped aboard and strapped down for another long voyage. By morning (an overnight trip), we planned to be all the way on the other side of Sumbawa (another dry island)…the next island from Lombok. One highlight from that bus ride was when Michelle decided to use the onboard bathroom (a luxury in these parts). If you don’t know what a squatter is, you’ve never been to Asia. The toilets here are much different then the western ones of which you are probably accustomed. To make a long story short, while Michelle was squatting in her crammed little cubicle of a restroom, the bus slammed on its brakes to avoid plowing into a hefty cow. Another giant bus barely avoided rear ending us (thank goodness) as it veered into the other lane. I heard Michelle slap against one of the walls in the bathroom and it made for a funny story when she emerged from doing her business.

From Sape (the port at the end of Sumbawa) we took the 7 hour ferry to Labanbajo, the first city on another dry island, Flores. Passing mountainous bone-dry islands, we arrived at around 5pm. We got a cheap hotel room for 50,000 Rupiah (five bucks) right on the water, and had some unbelievably delicious garlic chicken at the restaurant upstairs. I thought Flores was going to be more developed, but it was a welcoming misconception. We talked to Marcel, who lives at our guesthouse about visiting komodo, and being the cheapest we found for what we wanted to do, we booked our boat and captain for tomorrow at 6am sharp…..We’re doing it!

Bright and early, anxious to go, we packed up then dropped off our bags in Marcel’s room. Armed with only food, water, cameras, and swim suits, we headed to the port excited to see our boat and meet our captain. To our surprise, the boat was enormous, and we had more than just one captain. In total, it apparently took four people to man the vessel. We met our new friends, then pushed off towards an awaited adventure once only dreamt about.

The boat was huge, at least 30 feet, with a mast stationed at the bow. Its wood hull was painted white, and a picnic table was placed on a covered deck for us to sit on out of the sun…relaxed, comfortable, and worry free as we venture into the unknown. The staff was considerate and hospitable, but none spoke English which made conversation a little difficult. The scenery couldn’t have been scripted for dragons any better. If massive reptiles were to roam, this would be their territory. The sea was a bright, royal blue with the gigantic arid mountains reflecting the rising sun off their red soil. Middle Eastern looking palm trees sprinkled over the otherwise empty, rocky landscape. The first stop was Rinca (3 hours away from Flores), a lesser known of the two islands making up Komodo National Park. Here it is apparently easier to spot the mighty reptiles, and leaving the safety of the boat we now walked upon land no longer the dominant species.

This became reality faster than expected. Right off the dock, a large Komodo dragon was sumberged amongst mangroves. While we were taking pictures, I turned behind me and saw what a ‘BIG’ Komodo Dragon is supposed to look like…..and it was coming right at us!!! This guy was a monster, literally! I have seen many of these lizards on TV or in zoos, but nothing could prepare me for the feeling I got when the king of all living reptiles began galloping towards us at an unnerving speed. I got our captain’s attention and alerted everyone of the situation, and we quickly jumped up on a slightly raised platform out of harms way. What an introduction!! This dude must have been around 10 feet, easy….with his tongue flickering the air in our direction in hopes of a meal (us!!). As quickly as he came, he lost interest and continued onwards, Wow….Welcome to Komodo National Park!!!

While walking just a short ways to the headquarters, we were escorted by a ranger. Unable to venture into the bush alone, we were constantly in a group of three. At the headquarters, we met our (mandatory) guide, Johnny. For a guide he wasn’t that bad, but still someone Michelle and I could do without. We began our trek into the island’s interior.

The unique landscape reminded me of an African savannah carpeted over the Appalachian Mountains. We passed a troop of Macaque monkeys, then a wild buffalo wallowing in a dried up river bed. We even spooked a pig out from a thicket of dead grass and spiny bushes. What do we, humans, have in common with these three species?……..Here, we are all on the menu!!!

An hour and a half of circuitously tracing a dried riverbed, we were finally led to a spot where a little water still remained. Just as expected, here was where the kings were cooling down from the hot sun. We inadvertantly startled them from their bath, and in all directions the massive beasts scattered. One of them we followed up a hill, keeping one eye on the animal and one behind the shutter of the camera. Capturing an unbelievable experience by photo, we truly walked amongst dragons in their kingdom. Eventually we parted ways with our 11 foot scaly friend, and headed in the direction of headquarters along a different route. We passed two buffalo carcasses that had recently been fed upon, leaving only the rib bones, skull, and horns as evidence of mighty predators. Everything else, from leg bones to stomach entrails, was devoured and digested. Being cannibalistic, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to search for a komodo claw amongst the white, dried feces of another Dragon. Sadly, I came up empty handed.

Further down, a beautiful palm tree invited me to climb up its trunk, and high above I could see the varying colors of blue making up the surrounding ocean. It gave me a moment to reflect what an incredible treat it was to see Komodo Dragons in their domain. I felt like an explorer in this land, discovering dinosaurs for the first time, experiencing a lost world written up in a fictional story to scare little children. To add frosting to the cake, as if 12 dragons in total weren’t enough, in a head-high orchid inches from the trail coiled a spectacular Green-Tree Viper. In most environments, this for me would be the prized find, but in this exotic land of fantasy, this stunning green snake was merely a bonus to the beginning of a spectacular day.

We traded our guide back for our captain and sailed off into the horizon. Three hours later, we tied up to a buoy and I leaped into the water. I immediately thought I died. Not because of the beauty of the underwater world, but because the ocean was freezing cold! I was not expecting the sea near the equator, surrounded by desert, to be this frigid. As my heart began to stop and the circulation slowed down, my body adapted as much as humanly possible. I warned Michelle about the drastic temperature change, but she just waved it off as me being a baby. After an hour of snorkeling however, we both needed to retreat from the sea and warm up on the deserted sun-blasted sand of our private beach. Michelle went for a short jog to rejuvenate heat into her extremities, while I used the time to ascend a cliff and scout out our reef! It was a beautiful sight!

The sea was a rainbow of colors. Fish, coral, and even the rocks came in all sorts of designs, shapes, and patterns. New discoveries appeared in every direction. My personal favorite were the nudibranchs (sea slugs)! We found two; one was sky blue, with darker blue and yellow blotches randomly speckling its back, while the other was long, about five inches and electric orange spotted with yellow circles!! I got good pictures of both, don’t you worry!

After diving back into the ocean, spotting endless patches of xenia and hard coral as well as a giant school of coral catfish and a blue spotted sting ray (!!), we exited the chilling splendor back to the warmness of our boat. A short ride from there anchored us meters away from the town of Komodo! The sun was setting, and the illuminated village appeared primitive at best, lost in time along with the rest of the island. Two naked kids paddled in a dug out canoe to our boat to try and sell us some carved dragons made by their father. Michelle ended up purchasing one of the souvenirs in order to evoke timeless smiles on their faces.

Soon another, a slightly larger boat came to us. Aboard was Efan, a local Komodian and he was offering us a ride to his village. We eagerly accepted and soon found ourselves standing on Komodo! The village was as basic as they come. The only building material was wood, and everyone was out and about, especially the children walking up and down the only street (unpaved and unlit of course), paralleling the adjacent sea. We saw all of the town and met all of it’s 100 people in about fifteen minutes, then tip toed into Efan’s house. We were introduced to his wife and his brother, a hunter of local pearls, and they presented to us some in hopes to make a deal. I was obviously uninterested, but thought it was interesting to see all the different colors they come in. Everything from common pinkish…to some containing tints of yellow, green, and even blue. They had several black ones as well, which were my favorite. Michelle contemplated buying one of the little treasures, but decided to save it for when we return to the village the following day. We said goodbye to our new friends, and Efan drove us back to our boat. There, after dinner, the crew laid out some mattresses for us, and we fell asleep off the shore of Komodo rocking to the waves of the ocean beneath.

Once again, we awoke to another day of dragon hunting. The sea was smooth and the village in the rising sunlight glowed as orange as the mountain backdrop. We pulled up anchor and set off around the bend to enter the park. By wobbly dug out canoe, we were paddled to the dock where we walked to park headquarters. We signed in, then assigned a guide. With foliage more dense then Rinca, we began trekking inland. A top a hill, we saw a beautiful view of komodo as her mountainous coastline trailed off into the haze of evaporating sea water. With landscape just as exotic and science-fiction as Rinca, we spooked pigs and stumbled upon buffalo, but this time also bumping into a heard of Komodo deer (another staple food for the dragons). Now, with pictures of every dragon food source, all we were left with was finding one of the reptiles on their island’s namesake. Then in happened………No, not a Komodo dragon, but a different dragon!! A dragon that flies through the trees!!! Don’t believe me, wait till I show you the pictures. I halted Michelle and the guide, cause camouflaged to the trunk of a tree was a flying dragon. I snuck around to the other side, and with Michelle verbally positioning my hand, I swung around and captured the little reptile! YEAH! I couldn’t contain my excitement as I gently stretched out its extra folds of skin along its rib cage. Unbelievable! A reptile that has adapted to soar through the sky. When threatened, this tiny guy (about ten inches long, including tail) leaps into the air, fanning out two symmetrical scaled membranes, and literally drifts to safety. Here it was, in my hands!! We took a million pictures, then let the lizard glide back to his tree, only to disappear to the canopy. Komodo, what a magical place!!!!!!

Continuing onwards, under cockatoo infested trees, we returned to headquarters without spotting one of the giant dragons. Our luck changed however, as one of the monsters strolled right up to a neighboring building!! What a beast it was too, reaching about 12 feet in length. A Komodo Dragon on Komodo…can it get any better?? Content, we returned to the boat to venture back to the village. I wanted something to remember the occasion by and Michelle wanted to buy her pearl. Off we went.

Canoe-escorted by a local, we were now back in the ancient village. We returned to Efan’s house, and Michelle purchased her pearl. I strolled down the dusty street and found some villagers repairing a wooden boat with what looked to me like tools excavated from Neanderthals. I expressed interest in a ‘hammer’ (wait till you see this thing), and showed them money to see if they would trade me. With smiles and laughter, we made the transaction, and I became the proud owner of a block of wood on a stick! I was probably more excited about it then I should have been!

Back aboard our house boat (essentially), we headed towards Flores. We stopped for one last snorkeling session in the crisp blue sea, amazed by the colors of soft coral and a giant school of spadefish that stretched for meters. The photos of our two day venture I’m sure will be money, but the memories, even more precious. I had the time of my life, and I’m sure Michelle felt the same way. We made friends with man and beast alike, and have treasures to remind us of the moments forever. Wow, Komodo….a place that lived up to everything I imagined and more. Where dragons, snakes, and flying lizards survive amongst villages all trapped on an island forgotten by time. Can this holiday of ours get any better? For one, I have no idea, but I’m sure going to put myself out there and give this world its fair shot!!! I love this place!!!!

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