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Published: October 29th 2008
Fresh water buffalo. More pictures of the feast are below.
The last week has been a whirlwind of boats, dragons!, sunrises, and deserted beaches ringed with coral.
We spent the first part of the week with eighteen fellow travelers aboard the vessel KLM Salawasi on a three-day trip from Lombok to Flores, via Komodo and several smaller islands.
The first evening, we watched the sun set and ate a dinner of just-caught fish around a campfire on a tiny private island shadowed by Lombok's highest volcano. Our mellow was harshed, however, when the crew had us sit together by nationality (we were the only Americans) and told us that the night's entertainment would be each group performing a song from their country. For a minute we thought no one would bother, but we realized we needed to get to work when the French group began harmonizing, and the Germans put the finishing touches on a horned helmet made from coconuts and conch shells and began rehearsing Der Ring des Nibelungen. Panicked and drunk, we could only remember the words to two non-anthem songs--Parents Just Don't Understand ("OK, here's the situation...") and, to our horror, Take Me Out to the Ball Game. Lacking accompaniment, we eventually resigned
Sunrise over the Komodo Islands
Our 5:00 a.m. wake up call on the boat.
ourselves to the latter, after our prayers to be suddenly stricken with food poisoning went unanswered. We followed a somewhat melancholy (but well received) Swiss number, and we really made an effort to belt out a spirited version, but the ensuing scattered applause was luke-warm, at best. Just after it trailed off, the Dutch guy sitting next to Jub turned to him and said "at least it was short"--a statement Jub is convinced may have been meant as a compliment that lost some of its warmness in translation.
Back on the boat, we hit it off with a group from Germany, breaking the ice in a way that our meagre repertoire could not by exchanging lines from the Big Lebowski--their favorite movie, along with Jub's--and by discussing old-school American rap groups, although one of the Germans (who's from a small town outside of Dusseldorf but who has obviously been paying attention) had to correct Jub by pointing out that Run D.M.C. is technically not from New York City, but from Jamaica, Queens.
The $30 extra we paid for a claustrophobia-inducing 7' by 4' double-occupancy cabin proved to be a good investment later that night when a torrential
downpour swept over the boat and soaked the majority of passengers who were stuck sleeping on deck ("the Irish Quarters"). We rode out the storm by keeping our eyes fixed on a long, horizontal crack in the wall of our cabin and pretending it was the horizon, and by trying to think of a good name for a cocktail that is four parts beer, one part NyQuil, and garnished with Dramamine. We eventually managed a few hours of sleep, and woke at 5 a.m. to calm seas and a beautiful sunrise. In the afternoon, we went snorkeling on Red Sand Beach, a pristine site with an amazing 40 different kinds of coral clustered together in a two hundred yard stretch--so much multi-hued, multi-textured and tiered coral, that there were times when we didn't know whether to look at the coral or at the schools of tropical fish swimming by and around us.
After another night of carousing, followed by brief fits of sleep in "The Mausoleum," we took in the sunrise over Komodo, and went on a half-day hike in search of dragons. For the first several hours, we saw only deer and pigs; while cute, they
This kid took great care with his dad's boat. Plus, he loved posing for pictures.
were tough to look at because they all had the same hollow, resigned-to-their-fate look in their eyes--not unlike Brad Pitt at the end of Legends of the Fall. But then, just as we came back into the entrance compound, we ran across two huge Komodo dragons--which our guide estimated at 180 pounds each. We got to watch them for maybe five minutes before they moved on, and Anna was nice enough (or sleep deprived enough) to agree to stand right behind one of them so there would be a sense of scale in the orgy of photos being snapped by our group.
Later that day we made our final landfall on Flores, at the small port city of Labuanbajo. While more of a jumping off point to Komodo and various inland adventures than a destination itself, we enjoyed Labuanbajo as a quaint, inexpensive slice of near-normal Indonesian life, with random, colorful storefronts, small fishing boats trolling in and out of the harbor, and lots of friendly faces on the streets.
We were also big fans of the transportation options in town. The first was to travel by Bemo--private vans holding up to ten people that cruise a circular track
Our trusty captain
On board the Perama boat
around town. The Bemos in Labuanbajo sported colorful motifs--with nearly all of them covered inside and out by rock n' roll or reggae decals and playing corresponding, SUPER loud music regardless of whether the passengers were 8 or 80--to such an extent that the first Bemo we rode in was playing "Hotel California" with the bass turned up so loud that we thought it was a rap song until the brief break-down part when we could make out the guitar and lyrics ("Mirrors on the ceiling, pink champagne on Ice...") The second, and ultimately preferred option, was to wait for two of the numerous motor scooter driving teenagers in town to slow down and offer to give us a ride on the back (the going rate was about 50 cents). After our first few rides like this, we couldn't figure out why Anna's drivers were all super friendly--asking her name, where she was from, how she liked the town etc etc--while Jub's drivers were silent and all business. That is until we realized that instead of holding on to the handles attached to the seat like Jub, Anna had been putting her arms around either the shoulders or waist of her scooter
drivers--a riding style that also probably explained why Anna's drivers had a tendency to gun their throttles and pull away from Jub's at a high rate of speed.
After two days of cruising around Labuanbajo, we decided we hadn't gotten our fill of dragons, so we hired a small boat to take us two hours to Rinca Island, which all-but-abuts Komodo and has an equal number of what were rumored to be superiorly flamboyant dragons. This proved true as we had to take a wide birth around a two-hundred-pounder within a minute of disembarking, even before we procured a guide (all of whom are "armed" with long wooden sticks that they can ((allegedly)) use to pin down the head of a charging dragon). Once we met up with a guide and began our trek, it took only thirty minutes before he furiously waved us forward, and we first smelled and than laid eyes upon a writhing mass of sixteen (16!) dragons simultaneously ripping into a huge water buffalo, sushi buffet style. Now, the thing about Komodo dragons is that they are not strong enough to pin down and instantly kill the deer, pigs, and buffalo they like to
One of the Kimodos' dangerous weapons. The most dangerous thing, however, is the crazy deadly bacteria in their saliva. Yuck.
eat. Instead, a dragon will surprise its prey and bite it just once. The dragon's saliva contains sixty-five different kinds of sketchy bacteria, resulting in the prey getting a mean infection, which slowly spreads and festers and, in two weeks time, leaves the prey too infected and sick to do anything but lay down meekly at a water hole and try to lap up some soothing water. Thus, dragons are always found near watering holes waiting for immobile, weak, infected animals to come by, at which point they move in for the easy kill, with other dragons slithering in by the multitudes thereafter since they can smell blood from five miles away. We spent about forty-five minutes watching the resulting horror movie chomp-fest, heading back to our boat once we realized we could close our eyes and still see a blood drenched swarm of dragons.
About half way home, our boat's engine died and we spent an hour drifting with the current before we spied another boat in the distance, which our crew managed to flag down with some help from Jub's terodactylian wing-span. We then managed to get a tow as far as a group of fishing shacks
Me and a dragon
Just for scale(s). I didn't feel very safe even coming within 10 feet of these guys.
a few islands from Labuanbajo. Furious, gesticulation-heavy negotiations ensued between our crew (who spoke no English), and some locals, and we worried for a few minutes that they might be trying to barter Anna for a new crank-shaft or whatever. But what ended up happening (we think) was that a deal was struck whereby our guys got to borrow a small fishing boat to take us back to town. Our new ride was the aquatic equivalent of a '64 Gremlin, but it got the job done, and we had fun snapping shots and joking around with the Gremlin's owner's 5-year-old kid, who apparently got sent along to keep an eye on things, and also to pour oil and gas into the running two-stroke engine at various points along the way.
But we made it back to Labuanbajo; the following morning we flew East to Java where we are presently holed up in Indonesia's second largest city, Surabaya (pop. 14 million), planning this week's trip to a steaming volcano, a cultural hub, and a thousand-year old sprawling temple, before our Indonesian visas expire. Three pages of pictures follow, so be sure to scroll through using the gray/blue "Next" button
in the bar near the bottom of the page. We also made our first attempt to post a video here -- click the "play" button up top. And stay tuned.
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