Four days and four nights on a boat...just to see a big lizard???
11.07.2010 30 °C
It seems ironic that after a terrible experience on the 48 hour boat journey from Indonesian Borneo to Java, vowing never again to subject myself to such an uncomfortable length of time at sea, that within a week I would be booking a four day, four night trip on a small, unstable and uncomfortable looking boat, to travel from the Indonesian islands of Lombok through to Flores, via the famous Komodo National Park. After getting dropped off at the ferry terminal to Bali, following my adventures climbing Bromo and Ijen, true to my word in the previous blog, I wasted no time catching a hot and sweaty bus through to the small port village of Padangbai on Bali's eastern shores. Forced to spend a night in the quiet (and somewhat boring) town, amongst the tourist masses heading to the Gili Islands off Lombok, I was up early the following morning and boarding the ferry to Mataram, preferring to spend my time chatting to the locals and captains on the bridge than the hoards of suntan lotion covered westerners occupying every available inch of outside space, and stripping down to the barest minimum clothing, much to the amusement (or perhaps disapproval) of the onlooking locals.
Mad dogs and Englishmen...
Followed by dolphins
** Although I completely skipped Bali on this leg of my journey (before you all gasp in shock and horror), fear not, I shall be returning at a later date. **
Once in Lomok's capital, Mataram, I quickly sought out a good price for the boat trip to Komodo and was glad to find a tour departing the very next day. Being the only person to book from Mataram, I was the last to be picked up on the hot and cramped minibus, and, along with 18 other foreigners and one local tourist, we drove the two hour journey across Lombok to our departure point. The boat was very basic, to say the least, with a large, flat deck for sitting and relaxing during the day and just enough space to lay down mattresses in order to sleep at night. The safety standards of the boat looked as though they left a lot to be desired and with the worrying words of the Lonely Planet fresh in our minds, "inspect the boats carefully and make sure they have life vests and a radio. There have been shipwrecks," it was no surprise when, on the very first night, there was a deep shuddering throughout the boat, followed by a sudden and unexpected halt as we ran aground on the shallow reefs far out at sea. With no lights of nearby islands or other ships visible in any direction, the only option for the crew was to get out in the pitch black waters, onto the jagged reefs, and attempt to push the boat back to deeper water. With a lot of confusion from both crew and passengers, and the worrying notion that the collision with the sharp reef may have damaged the hull and already be taking on water, it was all hands on deck as we tried to help the crew maneuver the boat from onboard, using long bamboo poles, while they themselves walked barefoot in the inky, sea-urchin infested waters, pushing and pulling, until we finally worked the boat free of the reef and back to the deep sea beyond. Thankfully there seemed to be no major damage to the boat, although the damage to our confidence in the crew's ability to navigate at night took a little longer to repair!
Home for the next 4 days and 4 nights
Sunset, before the crash!
The following morning, after a cramped and uncomfortable night trying to sleep on wafer thin mattresses and dirty pillows, with no shower facilities on board, it was a welcome relief to jump into the refreshing sea waters and swim to the small nearby island of Moyo where, after a short walk through the forest, you emerge at a large cascading waterfall, or as we liked to see it, the best natural shower in Indonesia. Not content with simply showering in the cool, fresh water, we proceeded to climb to the top where the guide shocked us all by climbing a ledge and jumping straight into a small, shallow looking rock pool, only to suddenly disappear beneath the deceptive looking surface into an unbelievably deep hole. Of course, after seeing this we had no option but to follow suit, desperately trying to reach the bottom of the seemingly impossibly deep pool, with very little success.
Feeling slightly more alive and awake, we then had breakfast prepared for us on deck before proceeding to Satonda island where there was the opportunity to swim around the impressive coral reefs close to shore and visit the large salt water lake in the centre of the island. After relaxing on the beach for a couple of hours, and having yet another meal ready and waiting for us upon our return to the boat, it was then on to the longest part of the journey, a straight 18 hours at sea, giving everyone the chance to relax on board, have a couple of beers, play cards, lay in the sun on the front deck, or simply chill out and read, before having dinner and later heading to bed. Surprisingly, being out at sea actually make it easier to sleep with the lulling movement of the boat and loud rumble (which strangely seemed soothing after a while) of the engine below.
When we awoke to sunrise the next morning, we were just pulling up to the island of Gili Laba, where we once again woke ourselves up with a quick swim in the refreshing waters and a bit of snorkelling around the reefs, before heading onto the island and climbing the highest peak for a stunning view over the surrounding landscape. Looking down at our boat in the clear blue lagoon below, with an amazing backdrop of mountains and islands all around, certainly made the odd complaint and discomfort at the living conditions seem decidedly unimportant.
Home...doesn't look so bad anymore!
After clambering back down the mountain, which was a lot more treacherous than we had anticipated, especially as no one had proper footwear after swimming to the island from the boat, we returned for a well deserved breakfast and soon set off to our next destination, Red Beach. While the beach didn't particularly look very red from a distance, on arrival you could clearly see where it got its name as the white sand mixes with a million red specs, obviously from the coral that washes up on its shore. The snorkelling around Red Beach certainly ranks amongst the best I have done on this trip so far, possibly even beating Coron in the Philippines for diversity and colour. Thankfully the crew were in no rush and so gave us plenty of time to relax on the beach, enjoy the sun and swim in the crystal clear waters.
The much anticipated visit to Komodo Island followed shortly after leaving Red Beach, although left us feeling decidedly unimpressed and even a little angry. When we arrived, we were met by a local ranger who told us that we would be taken on the medium hike in search of the elusive Komodo Dragon, taking around 1 hour. We set off full of hope and expectation, only to find that the guide appeared to take no notice of his surroundings, and, after telling us that there was no guarantee of seeing the Komodo Dragon, simply rushed us through the trail, seemingly in a hurry to get the hike out of the way and march us back to park headquarters. After just 15 minutes he declared that we were at the half way point and that we would now be heading back, where hopefully we would get to see a Komodo Dragon near headquarters (making us think that there had been no chance of seeing anything during the walk and that we would simply be shown a docile reptile which stayed near the park headquarters to please any tourists who had been unable to spot one in the wild). Feeling a little angry with the guide's attitude and the speed with which we'd completed half the trail we asked if we could do the longer walk, to which the guide perked up and exclaimed that it would be his pleasure, so long as we all paid him an extra 20,000Rp. We said we would pay when we returned to the boat and quickly set off on the longer walk. As anticipated, the long walk, which should have taken 2 hours, took us just over one hour and left us thinking that we had just done the medium walk, which was included in our ticket, and that the original walk we were taken on was in fact the short trail. We still didn't see any Komodo Dragons, which didn't seem to phase the guide who still marched along without really looking at his surroundings, as if he was just content to take his extra money from us and get the tour out of the way as quickly as possible. When we finally got back to park headquarters another guide rushed from the building and exchanged a quick dialogue in Indonesian with our guide, before informing us that a Komodo Dragon had just been spotted on the nearby hill. We quickly rushed up to see the creature, who, while still impressive, did indeed look like the docile pet which we had expected to be shown all along. In fact the poor animal appeared to have bad legs, giving us the impression that it didn't really move much from that spot and that the guides would rush out to one another every day, exclaiming that they'd just discovered one, secretly knowing that the creature wouldn't have moved since the last tour to be shown it. Needless to say we queried whether we had in fact done the long tour, as we were back to the boat in just over an hour after arriving, and refused to pay the extra 20,000Rp each, causing the guide to erupt in anger and shout a torrent of abuse as we quickly sailed away from the island.
As sunset approached we drew up to another small island and dropped anchor. We then sat for dinner on the deck and watched as hundreds of huge bats (known as flying foxes) took to the sky from a nearby mangrove forest before jumping in the water for a quick evening swim, watching as the sun descended behind the mountains, staining the sky with a multitude of shifting red and orange shades.
The following day we arrived at Rinca, the other island in the Komodo National Park, which is also inhabited by the Komodo Dragon. After the experience of the day before we had little expectation and set out with the feeling that we would once again see very little. Thankfully, we could not have been more wrong. With two competent guides, both of which seemed passionate about their jobs and eager to give as much information as possible, it wasn't long before we came upon four Komodo Dragons warming themselves near park headquarters (where they are drawn due to the smell of breakfast in the mornings). Immediately we were content and began taking photos, only to suddenly find two more on the nearby hill, another heading off into the undergrowth on the hunt for food, and an eighth heading directly towards us in search of a female, as we were told it was now mating season. We watched as the last dragon approached the group and began its unsuccessful attempts to woo a female, before heading off through the bush. We then began our walk and came upon many monkeys, deer, buffalo, wild pigs and a few more Komodo Dragons strutting across the open plains on the hills. At one point I was walking directly behind the guide, only to have him push me lightly back as a huge beast came directly towards us on the narrow trail. The group quickly had to move into the bushes to allow the unconcerned reptile to pass, watching as it stopped opposite us to test the air (and probably our scent) with its long and sensitive tongue, before continuing its journey downhill in search of food. The experience of Komodo Island and Rinca could not have been more different, and after a long 6km hike, we returned to the boat feeling happy and enegised, with the unpleasant events of the day before long forgotten.
With the time already approaching midday, we headed out to the final island on our tour and took a quick swim before continuing on to the Flores port of Luaban Bajo. Although the trip had officially ended we were allowed to stay on the boat for another night, saving us all money on hotel rooms and giving us a chance to head out into town for some food and a relaxed drink. Not everyone stayed on the boat and with less people it became a lot more comfortable, with double mattresses and extra space, finally giving us the opportunity to have a decent night sleep. In the morning it was a long and drawn out farewell to people you'd spent the past 4 days living with, 24 hours a day, as everyone went their separate ways, and continued on their separate journeys. Having such a short amount of time left in Indonesia I decided to travel back to Lombok on an extremely uncomfortable and tiring 28 hour bus and boat journey, hopefully giving me time to relax on the beaches of Bali, before setting off to Singapore on the final stages of my 6 month journey.