Hunting Komodo by camera

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March 12th 2009
Published: March 14th 2009
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Day 253: Monday 9th March - A party in Labuanbajo harbour

Nine of us climb on board to join the five guests and eight crew already on the Perama boat. We are later joined by others who have sailed west to east and who have got off at Labuanbajo for a farewell/arrival party. This is a bigger group than I expected, but it seems a good group and I get acquainted with a number of the group. Joining me are two girls from New York, Liz and Ivy; a French Canadian couple, Alex and Sandrine; a couple from Dorset, Mike and Trudi; an Australian girl, Philippa and an Indonesian guy. We join up with an Australian couple, a Swedish couple and a French guy who have already been on the boat for 3 days sailing to Flores from Lombok. The crew get the party started by offering around some Arak, the local firewater. A fellow traveller’s previous description of a mix between whisky and paintstripper proves not to be far off the mark as the 85% proof palm spirit burns the back of your throat. The crew also do a line dance to welcome us. It’s so refreshing to see local people having so much fun and free from the drive to make money from tourists, which seems to be my overriding impression of the Indonesian people to date. Everyone is so friendly and I begin to unwind and relax after my arduous travel across Flores the past few days. I spend most of the evening talking with Liz, a recent college graduate whose conversation is both interesting and intelligent. At midnight, the party ends and myself along with 5 others settle in to our bed for the night, on the top deck with the boat still positioned in Labuanbajo harbour.

Day 254: Tuesday 10 March - Hunting Komodo by camera

At 5am the engine starts disturbing everyone’s tranquil sleep under the night sky. For me, it has been a restless night. My silk sleep sheet was inadequate to provide warmth, and I woke up several times in the night with a chill. I also got my first wake up call from the mosque in Labuanbajo at about 4am, so the engine isn’t the first intrusion into my sleep this morning. Once we start sailing, the wind makes it even cooler and before long I reach for my sleeping bag to pull it over me and roll over to get an extra hours sleep before the heat of the morning sun awakes me again. What a way to wake up, the green folds of the islands and the few clouds in the almost perfect blue sky reflect on the mirror-like water. Shortly after 7am we arrive at Rinca Island, the second biggest island of Komodo National Park and one of only two islands in the world (Komodo Island being the other) where the world’s biggest monitor lizard, the Komodo dragon can be found in the wild. The Komodo Dragon population numbers only 110 on Rinca and the total population in the wild is no more than 300. We don’t have to walk far to spot our first Komodo Dragon, half a dozen of them are collected around the park warden’s huts attracted by the smell of food. They can grow up to three and a half metres in length and they kill their prey (wild buffalo, boar and deer) by delivering a fatal bite and wait for the deadly bacteria contained in the bite to incapacitate their victim over a course of days. We leave the warden’s huts and accompanied by our guide, Tom and two park rangers we set off on a two hour trek around Rinca Island in the hope of spotting more Komodo Dragons, deer, wild buffalo, wild boar, macaque monkeys and snakes which can all be found on the island. On the wildlife front it’s a fruitless hunt, but the rolling green hills of Rinca covered in savannah grassland and palms offers enough compensation. As we approach the entrance of the park once more, teeming with sweat in the already scorching temperatures and suffocating humidity despite it still being only 9:30am, we’re in luck and see a further two Komodo Dragons.

From Rinca Island we sail for 3 hours to Gili Laba for swimming and snorkelling. First, we have another hearty lunch. I pack my plate with what I think is tasty Pork Satay only for Ivy to inform me it is Tampe, a dried salmon soya food. Sounds disgusting but it ends up being as tasty as it looks. When we arrive at Gili Laba we all jump into the gorgeous waters below from a variety of heights off the boat. I’m not as brave and daring as some, only opting to jump off from the deck. Others jump from the top of the mast. I then don a snorkel and mask and swim off towards Gili Laba, exploring the marine life as I go. The corals are mostly dead, but there are still a number of brightly coloured fish, clams and starfish in the waters. I make it to the coral beach of Gili Laba, and sit relaxing on there with Liz for a few minutes, admiring the peace, beauty and tranquillity of Komodo National Park before the allure of the water gets us once more. The boat sets sail once more and most of us head for the deck for a snooze and to soak up the sun’s rays - what a life. We’ve a long sail ahead of us to Moyo island, off the top of Sumbawa, where we will alight tomorrow morning. As we sail between Sangiang Island and Sumbawa, a pod of 3 dolphins swim past leaping out of the water all to briefly, but still it’s the first time I’ve seen this graceful creature in the sea before. Sangiang Island is striking, it consists pretty much of a perfectly conical volcano - which the island takes its name from - which rises almost two kilometres out of the sea in no time. Everyone, guests and crew alike, look exhausted from a hot and humid day and thankfully it’s a fairly early night. All spots on the top deck are taken, so I settle on the lower deck, falling sound asleep despite the roar from the engine.

Day 255: Wednesday 11 March - Finding a secret island

We’re awoken once we reach Moyo Island, and after breakfast we go ashore and walk past Labuan Haji village for half an hour to reach a waterfall. There’s a host of friendly kids on the beach ready to practice their English with greetings of “Hello Mister”. Also in the clear turquoise waters there are a number of fishermen looking for their first catch of the day. We spend an hour at the waterfall, plunging into the pool below with the help of a rope swing. It’s a good spot in the shade of the forest, the canopy and the refreshing water providing respite from the already intense morning heat. We leave Moyo in the mid-morning sailing four hours west to Keramat Island. What an incredible setting, very reminiscent of the tropical islands of the Pacific, this speck of an island is ringed by a white coral beach, has tropical vegetation in its interior and is surrounded by a ring of azure blue waters which we snorkel in. I spot a couple of Nemo’s whilst snorkelling and some of the branch coral is an incredible bright blue colour. The island itself is tiny, taking no more than 5 minutes to walk around, but oddly it is inhabited. Keramat means ‘secret’ in Indonesian, and what a secret island to discover.

From Keramat we have a further four hours to sail to Lombok, disembarking after a superb couple of days at Labuan Lombok on the eastern side of Lombok. The company has been good, the trip very enjoyable despite not being quite the same comfort level as my last outing on the seas in the Whitsunday Islands, Australia. The weather has behaved, we’ve barely seen any of the late afternoon rains typical of the wet season. To see Komodo’s and Dolphin’s in the wild have been the highlights but the incredible island vistas we have sailed past haven’t been far behind. We are met off the boat by a Perama shuttle which drops me along with several others off in Senggigi, one of Lombok’s better beach resorts late in the evening.

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12th April 2009

nice reports!
Hi Andrew, I've just read through your reports of Indonesia, very enjoyable stuff! We're going to do a very similar trip starting June 1st (java->bali->flores->lombok) before heading to Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand, so it's great to see the pictures and hear the stories. Sounds like you're having a great time, well mostly anyway. I'm jealous of the rest of the trip you have done and will still do as well. I've been in Australia for the last 12 months so it takes something to make me jealous :) Hope you continue to enjoy yourself and I'll look forward to the next blog! Cheers, Martin
17th June 2011

"Keramat" means "sacred", not "secret"
So the island is a sacred island, not a secret island :)

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